Move Your Money: Campaign grows to divest from “Too Big to Fail” banks to local banks, credit unions

Published by Democracy Now! on Wed, 11/02/2011
by Amy Goodman

As participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement continue protesting the record profits made by banks bailed out by taxpayer money, a group of grassroots activists are hitting America’s largest banks—including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo—where it hurts most: the wallet. Dubbing this Saturday, Nov. 5 as “Bank Transfer Day,” activists are urging people to move their money out of the banks deemed “too big to fail” into local community banks and credit unions. Bank Transfer Day draws on an idea popularized by filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, economist Rob Johnson and columnist Arianna Huffington, among others. In 2010, they created the short film called “Move Your Money,” which became a viral sensation. We speak with filmmaker Eugene Jarecki.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn here to New York and the Occupy movement. As participants in Occupy Wall Street continue protesting the record profits made by banks bailed out by taxpayer money, a group of grassroots activists are hitting JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo where it hurts most: the wallet. Dubbing this Saturday as “Bank Transfer Day,” activists are urging people to move their money out of the largest banks in the country into local community banks and credit unions.

Bank Transfer Day draws on an idea popularized by filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, economist Rob Johnson, and columnist Arianna Huffington, among others. In 2010, they created the short film Move Your Money, which became a viral sensation.

For more on the Move Your Money proposal, I’m joined here in New York by filmmaker Eugene Jarecki. His works include Why We Fight, which won the 2005 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and The Trials of Henry Kissinger, among others.

Eugene, welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how this movement began.

EUGENE JARECKI: Well, it’s a wonderful story. Really, it was an idea among some friends. I mean, I had a lucky chance to have a Christmas dinner with Arianna Huffington. Everybody should be so lucky. It was very interesting. And a few people sat around, and we talked about, where is the outrage? All this is going on with these “too big to fail” banks. Banks fail, and they get bailed out. We people, when we fail, nobody bails us out. Where’s the outrage? And this “where is the outrage” question drove us, at the table, to come up with this idea of, well, what if we told people to just move their money? Why don’t people just move their money? And that became a bit of a slogan, literally during dinner.

And I went off, and I made a short film, which is a three-minute film that did go viral and was this film called Move Your Money. And what it did was it took the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, and it said to people, if you’ve ever watched It’s a Wonderful Life, and you know all the points you usually get choked up and you cry for George Bailey, because you love George Bailey—you love George Bailey because he’s a small community banker, and you don’t like Mr. Potter, because he’s a rapacious, predatory large banker. And if you don’t like Mr. Potter, you should get your money away from Mr. Potter and get it with George Bailey. Seems sort of obvious that people should just do what they most idealize. So that’s where it started. Now it has a life of its own.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, about two dozen people were arrested at a Citibank branch here in Manhattan when they attempted to move their money out of the bank. The protesters were reportedly locked into the bank, then detained. Bank officials accused the protesters of being disruptive. Video shot outside the bank shows an undercover police officer dragging one woman into the bank and then arresting her.

EUGENE JARECKI: Well, we’re in a wonderful new world. I mean, there is a lot of stuff happening around this country. For example, this Saturday, November 5, is the Bank Transfer Day. That’s a—I woke up one morning, read the paper that people were doing something called Bank Transfer Day. What is it? It’s a day where you move your money. You take your money out of the “too big to fail” banks that have so damaged the American people and so benefited at our expense, and you move it into small community banks, credit unions.

And there’s a way to do that. You can go to, and you can type in your zip code, and you can learn about banks in your area that are good, that are sound, that are small, that are, you know, in the interest of your community.

But what’s amazing is, things like Bank Transfer Day, these activities that are happening, they’re happening with a life of their own. You asked me when I came on the program, am I sort of involved or responsible? No. This is happening all over the country. It’s happening in a viral kind of way, in a way that’s very hard to stop. And I think it’s because people find the idea exciting. They find it morally right. And they know it’s in the interest of the future. And they’re doing it. And I think everybody should come out on Saturday and move their money, absolutely. It’s a big deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Eugene Jarecki created the short film Move Your Money in 2010 that went viral. And now that’s what a lot of people are going to be doing this Saturday, November 5th.


Sustainability Lessons for the United States

How Germany became Europe’s green leader: A look at four decades of sustainable policymaking

by Ralph Buehler, Arne Jungjohann, Melissa Keeley, Michael Mehling

In Brief

Over the last 40 years, all levels of government in Germany have retooled policies to promote growth that is more environmentally sustainable. Germany’s experiences can provide useful lessons for the United States (and other nations) as policymakers consider options for “green” economic transformation. Our analysis focuses on four case studies from Germany in the areas of energy, urban infrastructure, and transportation. We show how political challenges to the implementation of green policies were overcome and how sustainability programs were made politically acceptable at the local, state, and federal levels of government. Within the three highlighted sectors, we identify potential opportunities and barriers to policy transfer from Germany to the United States, concluding with specific lessons for policy development and implementation.

Key Concepts

  • Germany’s experience with policies aimed at “greening” the economy provides several lessons for the United States about how to make sustainability politically acceptable in a federal system of government:
  • Start small and implement policies in stages. Many sustainability policies in Germany were first implemented at a small geographic scale or with a small scope. Successful pilot projects were expanded in stages over time.
  • There is no silver bullet. Policies have to be coordinated and integrated across sectors and levels of government to achieve maximum effectiveness.
  • Foster citizen participation and communicate policies effectively. Citizen input reduces potential legal challenges, increases public acceptance, and has the potential to improve projects and outcomes.
  • Find innovative solutions and embrace bipartisanship. Successful green policies in Germany were designed to meet the needs of multiple constituents.

How does one “green” an economy? For governments seeking a cleaner, more efficient, and ultimately more sustainable pathway to economic prosperity, this question entails both promise and great challenges. For one, the scale of transformation it requires is exceptionally daunting: in his 2011 State of the Union speech, for instance, President Barack Obama called on the United States to generate 80 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources and to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail, both within 25 years.1 Compared to where the country stands now, these objectives presuppose unprecedented levels of investment in new infrastructure, new technologies, and relevant skills and education; yet at the same time, they also hold the prospect of new opportunities for job growth, innovation, industrial efficiency, and energy independence. With that in mind, one will invariably wonder, is such a transformation feasible at a time of constrained public budgets and slowly recovering economies? And perhaps more importantly, are the expected benefits of such a green transformation compelling enough to persuade a public that is exposed to conflicting messages about the underlying rationale, is critical of new regulation and expenditure, and generally is disillusioned with political authority?

Fortunately, the green transformation of economies is no longer a theoretical concept. Several nations have put the green economy to the test. While far from being the only country to venture down this path, Germany has earned wide recognition for its successful alignment of prosperous and sustainable growth. Unlike many of its European neighbors, Germany has emerged from the recent recession with a robust economy, thanks in large part to flourishing exports. Germany has a dominant market share in various green technologies as well as a substantial part of its workforce employed in the environmental sector.2 Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in absolute terms, effectively decoupling economic growth from Germany’s environmental footprint.

Admittedly, not all factors contributing to this success story can be replicated in other countries and regions: challenged with scarce natural resources and a high population density, Germans have traditionally been forced to embrace sustainability in virtually all facets of economic activity, from land use to transportation. Historical transition processes, such as postwar reconstruction and, more recently, the reunification of East and West Germany, also resulted in the renewal of infrastructure and replacement of outdated industrial facilities.

Still, the greening of the German economy is also unmistakably the product of several decades of targeted policy design and implementation, particularly in the past decade. Policies related to environmental protection and resource conservation have been mainstreamed in all areas of economic activity and have been described by a former government minister as central to Germany’s recent success: “green policy is merely good industrial policy.”3 Drawing on a series of relevant case studies, this article shows that the transformation witnessed in Germany would not have been conceivable without the policy decisions that preceded it. Each case study—energy taxation, renewable-energy promotion, green infrastructure, and sustainable transportation—offers valuable insights into how to design and implement green policies.

Photo: Green roofs like this one in Berlin, Germany, support specialized, hearty vegetation and provide environmental services such as stormwater retention, urban heat island effect amelioration, habitat for urban wildlife, and energy savings resulting from better thermal insulation.

Pricing Energy for Jobs and Resource Conservation: Germany’s Energy Tax Reform

After months of heated political debate, especially regarding the role of nuclear power in Germany’s energy mix, the federal government adopted its new Energy Concept document in September 2010, setting out a broad framework for German energy policy until 2050. Developed by the ruling center-right coalition, this document aims at turning Germany into one of the “most energy efficient and greenest economies in the world, while enjoying competitive energy prices and a high level of prosperity.”4 In line with a campaign pledge set out in the government’s coalition agreement, the new energy policy defines ambitious targets for the medium and longer term: primary energy consumption is to fall by 20 percent from 2008 levels by 2020, and at least 50 percent by 2050; renewable energy is to account for 18 percent of final energy consumption in 2020, and at least 80 percent of electricity consumption in 2050; and greenhouse gas emissions are to see cuts of 40 percent by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050, both relative to 1990 levels.

Energy pricing through taxes and other fiscal instruments has traditionally held a prominent position in the German energy policy mix. As any visitor to Germany will be quick to notice, gasoline prices are significantly higher than in most other regions: in early 2011, a gallon of regular gasoline cost over U.S.$7, more than double the average price in the United States. The price difference is almost entirely due to higher tax rates on oil and other fuels, a system of excise taxes that dates back to prewar Germany and has since been harmonized at the European level. It was not until the late 1990s, however, that energy taxation also became a vehicle for Germany’s green agenda. In 1998, a center-left coalition of Social Democrats and Green Party members pledged to introduce new fiscal instruments to reduce the tax burden on labor and shift part of it to energy consumption. This campaign promise sought to harness the multiple dividends invoked by advocates of environmental taxes, including greater flexibility and cost efficiency than traditional regulation, incentives to develop innovative clean technologies, and the ability to raise revenues for public investments or tax cuts in other areas, such as labor costs.5

In 1999, the German legislature passed the Ecological Tax Reform Act, which mandated gradual increases in the tax rates on oil and gas and introduced a new levy on electricity.6 This initiative was by no means uncontroversial. From the outset, it encountered public opposition triggered by rising prices for crude oil and concerns over industrial competitiveness. Resistance to this measure was, in fact, so great that many observers expected the energy tax project to be a casualty of partisan politics. And yet, in 2006, new legislation by the European Union and a change of government in Germany, coupled with a yawning gap in the federal budget, heralded a new chapter in German energy taxation. That year, the legislature adopted a comprehensive Energy Tax Act, setting up a common fiscal framework for energy products through harmonized definitions, taxation rules, and exemptions.7 This important step led to a complete revision of the framework for energy taxation in Germany, effectively ending years of deadlock in Parliament; but critics were also quick to say it would do little to help transform the German economy. Nearly half a decade later, what has the German energy tax reform achieved?

A Positive Macroeconomic Balance

Between 1999 and 2003, Germany’s energy tax reform resulted in a gradual increase in energy costs. A number of exceptions motivated by social and economic considerations were initially included to safeguard the competitiveness of the manufacturing, agricultural, and forestry sectors and to avoid undue hardship for lower-income households. Overall, however, the fiscal burden resulting from the energy tax reform has been moderate compared to already existing taxes: for instance, only €0.15 of the €0.66 currently charged as taxes on every liter of gasoline is a result of the tax reform, with the far greater share originating in the excise taxes already imposed prior to 1999. Altogether, the share of environmentally motivated taxes in the overall tax revenue only rose from 5.2 percent in 1998 to 6.5 percent in 2003 and has since declined again to 5.3 percent in 2008, nearly the level where it started in 1999.8 Not only does this reflect the fact that other tax categories—notably value-added taxation—have seen greater increases in recent years, but it also is a direct consequence of changing energy consumption patterns.

Fossil fuel consumption has continually declined in Germany since the introduction of the energy tax reform. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, gasoline consumption in 2000 decreased by 4.5 percent compared to the previous year, and it continued to decrease in 2001 and 2002 by 3 and 3.3 percent, respectively, exceeding the previous average reduction of 2 percent due to general improvements in vehicle technology and transportation planning. The targeted increase in energy costs has also created an identifiable incentive for behavioral change in other sectors, encouraging deployment of energy-efficient technologies and processes, including alternative energy sources. Reductions of CO2 emissions are estimated to have reached 3 percent annually, equivalent to 24 million metric tons of CO2.9 At the same time, revenues of the energy tax reform have been almost fully returned to taxpayers, with the largest share used for a gradual reduction of social security contributions. In 2003, for instance, roughly €16.1 billion raised through the tax reform was used to reduce and stabilize nonwage labor costs, allowing pension contributions to be lowered by 1.7 percent.10 With hiring rendered less expensive, the energy tax reform has helped promote employment and has contributed to the creation of an estimated 250,000 new jobs. A smaller fraction of proceeds has been used to subsidize the deployment of renewable-energy projects and the modernization of buildings.

Lessons from Energy Pricing in Germany

Like everywhere else, taxes are a politically sensitive issue in Germany. Unsurprisingly, opponents of the energy tax reform—including the current ruling coalition—were quick to launch a determined media campaign against the proposed legislation. Given the complexities of its design, it was easy for critics to portray the tax reform as a mere increase in the fiscal burden, while downplaying or disputing the accompanying reduction in labor costs and expected employment benefits. Germany’s parliamentary system and its strict party discipline allowed the governing coalition at the time to pass the tax reform against partisan resistance. In countries with different legislative processes, that option may not be available. Ironically, the need to close a growing budget deficit has made the current conservative government, previously an ardent adversary of environmentally motivated taxes, now dependent on the revenue created by the energy tax. As the rationale and benefits of the tax reform have become more widely known, there has been greater public acceptance of the incremental increase in energy cost.

Photo credit: Ralph Buehler. The light rail system in the car-free city center of Freiburg, Germany. In the mid-1970s Freiburg was the first German city to ban cars from a network of streets in its city center.

It stands to reason that better communication in the initial stages of the tax reform could have alleviated some of the early concerns. Also, its portrayal as an environmentally motivated tax may have incurred avoidable partisan strife; focusing on the innovation and employment benefits of the proposed tax may have been strategically preferable. And clearly, a gradual and transparent trajectory of rate hikes was of central importance in making the tax reform acceptable in the first place. Ultimately, however, the positive outcome of the tax reform is the most compelling lesson from the German experience: contrary to the early fears, behavioral change and innovation prompted by the rising energy prices have actually strengthened the German economy. Energy-efficient technologies are now among the fastest-growing export products, and the incentive to reduce energy use has helped the German economy become more resilient to fluctuations in global oil and gas prices. Overall, greater efficiency throughout the economy has translated into lower energy costs for households and industry. Despite significantly higher energy tax rates, average German utility bills and fuel expenditures tend to match or lie below those seen in the United States. As the Federal Environmental Agency has concluded, the Ecological Tax Reform Act delivered on its promise of improved labor conditions and greater sustainability, resulting in what the agency describes—in a typically German understatement—as a “positive macroeconomic balance.”11

Promoting Renewable Energy

As a member state of the European Union (EU), Germany’s energy policies are driven by a mix of national and European legislation. Formally, the 27 EU member states regulate energy policies within their own national borders. However, EU treaty provisions concerning the European internal market, free competition, and environmental protection have created a European energy policy.12

In 2009, a major piece of renewable-energy legislation was passed as part of an overall climate and energy package. The European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive13 requires each member state to increase its share of renewable energy—such as solar, wind power, biomass, or hydroelectric—to raise the overall share from 8.5 percent in 2010 to 20 percent by 2020 across all sectors (e.g., power generation, heating and cooling, and transportation fuels).

Achievements in Renewable Energy

Germany has seen a remarkable expansion of renewable energy in the last decade. The share of renewable energy in electricity generation rose from 6 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2009.14 Over this time, the German government revised its own targets twice, given that previous targets had been exceeded ahead of schedule. The German government is expecting a share of 38 percent renewable power by 2020 and continues to drive the transformation “towards an energy system based completely on renewable energies.”15,16

The economic benefits of this development are impressive. By 2010, the field of renewable-energy-related jobs employed around 340,000 people, most of them in biomass, wind power, and solar.17 In comparison, the German lignite industry employs only 50,000 people—from mining to the power plant.18 The key policy responsible for this success is the Renewable Energy Sources Act, first enacted in April 2000.19 This feed-in tariff policy is embedded in a climate and energy policy framework that promotes renewable energy and efficiency technologies, including laws to encourage combined-heat-and-power plants, a cap and trade system, the energy tax reform described earlier in the article, and several additional measures. The next planned revision to the law will aim to incentivize grid access and grid improvement, offshore wind power, and technologies for peak management and power storage.20

Comparison with Renewable-Energy Practice in the United States

The United States currently employs a mix of short-term tax credits, loan guarantees, state-level renewable portfolio standards, and limited feed-in tariffs. In contrast to Germany, the U.S. policy framework has evolved less quickly at the federal level, where time horizons have been shorter-term. The uncertainty engendered by this short-term policy framework has led to repeated falloffs in renewable-energy capacity additions in the United States as support measures have neared expiration.21 For example, in contrast to Germany, new wind turbine construction in America has fluctuated greatly from year to year, because incentives have repeatedly expired.22 Even with this policy uncertainty, however, the United States in 2008 still led the world in total installed wind-power capacity, with 20.8 percent.23 In 2008, renewable energy provided 9 percent of electricity production in the United States, with large-scale hydropower being the largest source.24

Photo credit: Ralph Buehler. Cyclists on Freiburg’s car-free Wiwili bridge. The bridge was closed to cars in the early 2000s and is now open only to cyclists and pedestrians.

In many ways, the United States relies more on a state-level approach through renewable portfolio standards to increase renewable-energy capacity. These standards require power companies to provide a certain proportion of electricity from renewable-energy sources. Currently, renewable portfolio standards regulations apply in 29 states and in the District of Columbia; five additional states have established targets for renewable expansion.25 In many cases, long-term supply contracts for green power have been signed. Typical target percentages for green power are 15 percent for 2015, 20 percent for 2020, and 25 percent for 2025. These figures are significantly lower than the target set in Europe (21 percent for 2010).26

Feed-in tariff policies, the most common renewable-energy policy in the world,27 are slowly spreading in the United States. In most cases, these policies guarantee grid access and a 20-year premium contract for renewable energy technologies. As of January 2011, Gainesville Regional Utilities, Hawaii, and Vermont have adopted feed-in tariff policies based on the cost of generation. Maine and California have also adopted a light version of a feed-in tariff, though in California legal struggles are being fought. In addition, representatives in ten different state legislatures have proposed different feed-in tariff models.28

Transferable Lessons for Renewable Energy in the United States

The German success in rapid renewable-energy deployment relies on a robust feed-in tariff law and an overall comprehensive climate and energy framework with a long-term perspective. This policy environment comes with streamlined administrative procedures that help shorten lead times and bureaucratic overhead and that minimize project costs. All of the above create a high investment certainty that the United States overall and most of its states independently currently lack.

Given the abundance of natural resources (e.g., wind, biomass, solar) in the United States, the deployment of renewable energy should be cheaper than in Germany, which has an average solar input close to that of Alaska (and Iowa’s cornfields alone, which could be used for biogas production, are double the size of Germany’s agricultural land).29

Across the political spectrum, all major German parties support an industrial transformation toward a low-carbon economy, and there is a strong consensus concerning the need to address climate change. Constituent groups from both the progressive (e.g., renewable-energy industry) and conservative side (e.g., farm community) benefit from this approach. The understanding is that strong environmental policies drive ecological modernization and create new market opportunities. Germany as an export-oriented country aims to sell the solutions to a carbon-constrained and high-energy-price world.30 By contrast, the United States lags behind, where political debates over climate-change-related policy actions are hindering opportunities and leadership in this arena. As long as the public perceives a trade-off between environmental regulation and industrial competitiveness, it will be extremely difficult for the United States to fundamentally turn toward a low-carbon economy. U.S. policymakers should adjust elements of a feed-in tariff policy to regional contexts to drive rapid growth in renewable-electricity markets, to promote strong manufacturing industries, and to create new jobs in a cost-effective manner.

Encouraging Green Infrastructure

Over the past 40 years, northern Europe, and Germany in particular, has been a hotbed for the innovation and application of green technologies to enhance the urban environment.31 These technologies, sometimes referred to as green infrastructure or low-impact development, include such innovations as green roofs, green facades, and permeable pavements. They mimic the natural processes of soils and vegetation to provide “environmental services” such as stormwater management, urban heat island amelioration, and habitat, even in dense urban areas.32–38 What is clear is that the proliferation of green roofs and other green infrastructure in Germany has been supported by a complex assortment of incentives and requirements at multiple levels of government.31 Significantly, federal nature-protection laws and building codes require “compensation,” or restoration, for human impairment of natural landscapes and of environmental services in greenfield developments (development on previously undeveloped land).39 In many cases, green infrastructure techniques can be used to fulfill these requirements. Federal laws also require that German states create landscape plans.40 As a result, German states have innovated a variety of approaches to environmental protection, many of which have involved elements that first incentivized and later required the creation and maintenance of green infrastructure.

Photo credit: Melissa Keeley. Potsdamer Plaz is an office, entertainment, and retail center at the heart of Berlin, raised during World War II and then redeveloped after the reunification of east and west Berlin in 1990. This mixed-use site features an elaborate, naturalistic stormwater retention system designed to minimize the burden on the city’s existing water infrastructure. The system incorporates green roofs (seen here) on most buildings in the complex to reduce stormwater runoff.

In addition to this, a series of German federal and state court rulings beginning in the 1970s have required increased transparency and equitable rate structures for stormwater services.41 As a result, the majority of German households are charged for stormwater services based on an estimate of the stormwater burden generated from their properties. This approach of individual parcel assessments (IPAs) differs from the approach used in the United States, where the same charges are levied on all parcels or all parcels of the same class (such as residential). Since IPAs in Germany are used to assess fees that relate directly to conditions present on specific parcels, and because land-use decisions (like paving a driveway or installing a green roof) have major impacts on the amount of stormwater leaving a property, this approach creates incentives for individuals to incorporate green infrastructure on their properties.41

Comparison with Green Infrastructure Practice in the United States

While there is interest in the multiple benefits of green infrastructure in the United States, green infrastructure techniques have gained recent attention in relation to stormwater management. Federal Clean Water Act programs require that local governments overhaul stormwater-management strategies to protect and improve surface-water quality.42 The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, for instance, has already invested U.S.$3.1 billion in a multiphase tunnel and reservoir plan to improve stormwater management.43 To raise needed funds, the creation of stormwater utilities and the assessment of stormwater fees are becoming increasingly widespread. To date, however, the vast majority of U.S. cities have chosen to assess stormwater fees on a class basis; they assess the same fee to all parcels within a given class based on the average stormwater burden their property type contributes.44 This methodology is used almost exclusively for residential parcels and greatly simplifies billing.

Transferable Lessons for Green Infrastructure in the United States

While the United States has focused attention on green infrastructure in relation to stormwater, most U.S. municipalities currently lack the kind of overlapping, reinforcing incentives and requirements that have led to the prominence of these techniques in Germany. This is particularly important given the multiple benefits provided by green infrastructure—such as stormwater management, air-quality improvements, and enhancement of urban quality of life.

Focusing on stormwater management specifically, however, there are further lessons that the United States could draw from German experience with parcel-level assessments, or IPAs. Specifically, this approach might improve watershed planning and stormwater management and address the public relations needs of cash-strapped water-management authorities in three ways: (1) data from IPAs could increase public awareness of human impacts on watersheds; (2) this detailed information could inform watershed planning; and (3) this data could be the basis of fee systems designed to create incentives for on-site stormwater management where cost effective.41

In Berlin, public participation in assessing IPAs is credited with helping the public understand the connections between land-use decisions on their own property and environmental problems in local lakes and rivers. IPAs also provide detailed spatial information about impervious surfaces and their connectedness to the storm sewer system. The latter can only be assessed through on-site surveys, and thus it is otherwise rarely available to engineers and planners. Since connected impervious surface coverage is such a key variable in estimating stormwater burden, this information could enhance watershed planning and the development of stormwater models designed to optimize the efficiency of existing systems.41,45

Photo credit: Melissa Keeley. Stormwater runoff in Potsdamer Plaz is collected in this pond. Vegetation on the banks of the pond and other treatments are used to purify and remove nutrients from the water, which is then reused in a grey water system for toilet flushing, irrigation, and fire systems within the complex.

Ascertaining each property’s share of the stormwater burden effectively turns what is a diffuse, nonpoint pollution source into a point-source problem. Such a fee-assessment system makes it possible to reduce fees for parcels that manage stormwater with green infrastructure or other best practices. IPAs could, therefore, create a foundation for economic incentives, such as a fee-and-subsidy system or emissions trading, to encourage green infrastructure where it can cost-effectively manage stormwater.46 A significant obstacle to this in the United States is the low rate currently charged for stormwater removal.47 It could prove politically and legally difficult for U.S. stormwater utilities to charge fees high enough to serve as incentives for on-site stormwater management.48

Implementing Sustainable Transportation

Governments at federal, state, and local levels in Germany determine the sustainability of the transportation system. Federal gasoline taxes, sales taxes, and regulations make automobile use and ownership expensive and encourage demand for less polluting and smaller cars. In 2008, sales taxes on automobiles in Germany were three times higher than in the United States, and gasoline taxes were nine times higher.49–53 However, higher gasoline taxes do not translate to higher household expenditures for transportation in Germany compared to the United States. Germans own fewer and more energy efficient cars and drive fewer miles than Americans. Thus, in 2008 transportation accounted for roughly 14 percent of household expenditures in Germany, compared to about 19 percent in the United States. The German federal government provides dedicated matching funds for investments in local public transportation. Flexible federal matching funds for local transportation improvements can also be used for local public transportation, walking, and cycling projects.54 German states distribute federal funds for regional rail systems and coordinate public transportation services statewide.55 Many German states set minimum parking requirements for local developments. Federal and state governments provide the framework for more-sustainable transportation, but cities have played a crucial role in developing and implementing innovative policies (see Box).

The Freiburg Model of Transport Sustainability

Since the late 1960s, the city of Freiburg (population 220,000) has been at the forefront of promoting sustainable transport.1,2 Since then, the number of trips by bicycle has tripled, transit ridership has doubled, and the share of trips by car has fallen from 38 to 32 percent. Since the early 1990s, the level of motorization has stagnated and per capita CO2 emissions from transportation have fallen, in spite of strong economic and population growth. Up to the late 1960s, Freiburg promoted greenfield development, widened streets, abandoned trolley lines, and built car parking lots. Motorization increased rapidly, transit ridership plummeted, and the city was sprawling. Air pollution, traffic fatalities, and traffic congestion caused by cars and other environmental concerns shifted public opinion away from automobile-centered growth.2 Freiburg achieved a more sustainable transportation system by (1) successfully integrating land-use and transportation planning, (2) coordinating and integrating public transportation regionally, (3) promoting bicycling, (4) restricting automobile use, and (5) encouraging citizen participation throughout the process.2,3

Integrating Transportation and Land-Use Planning

Even though Freiburg started implementing sustainable transportation policies in the early 1970s—such as creating pedestrian zones in the downtown area—there was no formal link between land use and transportation planning. The two have become more formally coordinated since then. The comprehensive transportation plan of 1979 called for explicit integration of both planning sectors. The land-use plan of 1981 prescribed that new development was to be concentrated along public transportation corridors. In 2006, two-thirds of Freiburg’s residents’ jobs were located within a quarter mile of a light-rail stop.2

Freiburg’s most recent land-use and transportation plans in 2008 were developed simultaneously and are fully integrated. Both reiterate the goals of reducing car use and favor central mixed-use development over settlements on the suburban fringe. Vauban and Rieselfeld, two new inner suburbs built around light-rail line extensions, are good examples for today’s complete integration of transportation and land-use planning. Both communities are compactly laid out and mix residential, commercial, educational, and recreational land uses. Car access and parking are limited, and streets are traffic-calmed with speed limits of 30 kilometers per hour, or even 7 kilometers per hour, to give priority to pedestrians, cyclists, and playing children.2

Expanding and Coordinating Public Transportation Services

In the early 1970s, the city decided to expand its public transportation network, but it took until 1983 before the first new light-rail line was added to the existing 14 kilometers of track. Since then, Freiburg has opened four new lines for a total of 36.4 kilometers in 2008, and the amount of light-rail service has tripled. In 1984, Freiburg’s public transportation system offered Germany’s first monthly ticket—transferable to other users.4 In 1991, the geographic coverage of the ticket was expanded to include the city and two adjacent counties. Services, fares, subsidies, and timetables for bus and rail operators are coordinated regionally. The monthly ticket offers unlimited public transportation travel within the entire region for about U.S.$60. Over 90 percent of passengers have monthly or annual tickets.2,3 Due to the high demand, Freiburg’s transit system has become one of the most financially efficient in Germany—requiring operating subsidies of only 10 percent (compared to 65 percent for public transit systems in the United States).4

Making Cycling a Viable Transportation Alternative for All Trips

Separate bike infrastructure and cyclist-friendly streets make the bicycle a feasible option for all trips and all destinations in Freiburg. Since the early 1970s, Freiburg has expanded its network of separate bike paths and lanes fivefold to 160 kilometers in 2007. This network is complemented by bike routes through forests, traffic-calmed roads, and bicycle streets. Additionally, the city has traffic-calmed almost all residential streets. In 2008, nine out of ten Freiburgers lived on streets with speed limits of 30 kilometers per hour or less. Slow automobile speeds encourage more cycling and make it safer. The total number of bike trips in Freiburg has nearly tripled since 1976—amounting to almost one bike trip per inhabitant per day in 2007.2

The city requires bike parking in all new buildings with two or more apartments, as well as in schools, universities, and businesses. Between 1987 and 2009, the number of bike parking spaces in downtown and at transit stops increased significantly—including a major bike parking garage at the main train station, with space for 1,000 bikes.2

Restricting Automobile Use

Many of the policies that promote public transportation, bicycling, and walking involve restrictions on car use—such as car-free zones and traffic-calmed neighborhoods.2,5 Freiburg’s official goal is to reduce car use wherever practical and to accommodate automobile trips that cannot be made by any other mode. Thus, the city combines disincentives to use cars in the town center and residential neighborhoods with improvement of arterials in various ways (such as widening) to increase their carrying capacity. Freiburg’s parking policy is designed to make car use less convenient and more expensive. Parking garages are relegated to the periphery of the city center, which was converted to pedestrian use in the early 1970s. In many residential neighborhoods, parking is reserved for residents only and requires a special permit. On-street parking in commercial areas of the city becomes more expensive with proximity to the center.2,5

Citizen Involvement

Since the 1970s, citizen participation has been a key aspect of transportation and land-use planning in Freiburg. For example, citizen groups worked with the city administration to redevelop Vauban into an environmentally friendly car-free neighborhood.2 Moreover, Freiburg’s latest land-use plan has been developed with sustained input from 900 citizens, 19 neighboring municipalities, and 12 special-purpose governments in the region. Citizen involvement and public discourse has kept the environmental benefits and sustainability of the transportation system in the news for decades in Freiburg. Over time, public opinion has become more and more supportive of sustainable environmental policies. Even politicians from the conservative party have accepted restrictions on car use and have promoted public transportation, bicycling, and walking as alternatives.

Lessons Learned from Freiburg

It is inappropriate to assume that Freiburg’s experience can be copied wholesale in the U.S. However, there are many lessons from Freiburg for U.S. cities that intend to become more sustainable.2,5

First, Freiburg implemented most of its policies in stages, often choosing projects everybody agreed upon first. Residential traffic calming was initially implemented in neighborhoods whose residents complained most about the negative impacts of car travel. Successful implementation in one neighborhood encouraged other areas of the city to request traffic calming as well.

Second, Freiburg phased in and adjusted its policies and goals gradually. The initial decision to stop tearing out the trolley tracks was made in the late 1960s. In the early 1970s, the city council approved the extension of the light-rail system, which finally opened in 1983. Once the expansion proved successful, more light-rail lines followed.

Third, Freiburg has simultaneously made public transportation, cycling, and walking viable alternatives to the automobile, while increasing the cost of car travel. Improving quality and level of service for alternative modes of transportation made car-restrictive measures politically acceptable.

Fourth, citizen participation has been a key aspect of transportation and land-use planning in Freiburg. For example, citizen groups worked with the city administration to redevelop Vauban into an environmentally friendly car-free neighborhood.

Lastly, changing transportation, land-use systems, and travel behavior in Freiburg took almost 40 years. Planners in the United States should curb their expectations for quick success. Clearly, some policies can be implemented quickly, but changes in travel behavior and the development of a more sustainable transportation system take much longer.


  1. Please see the sources cited in the four publications listed below for more detailed references and additional information for this case study.
  2. Buehler, R & Pucher, J. Sustainable transport in Freiburg: lessons from Germany’s environmental capital. International Journal of Sustainable Transportation 5, 43–70 (2011).
  3. Buehler, R. Transport policies, automobile use, and sustainable transportation: a comparison of Germany and the USA. Journal of Planning Education and Research 30, 76–93 (2010).
  4. Buehler, R & Pucher, J. Making public transport financially sustainable. Transport Policy 18(1), 128-136 (2011).
  5. Buehler, R, Pucher, J & Kunert, U. Making transportation sustainable: insights from Germany (The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, 2009).….

Sustainability Lessons for the United States

Implementing German-style policies in the United States requires careful consideration of the political, cultural, and institutional context. For example, legal and political barriers could hamper a transfer of German policies to the United States. Nevertheless, our case studies of energy, urban infrastructure, and transportation provide some overall lessons that could help encourage development of sustainability policies in the United States.

First, start small and implement policies in stages. Many sustainability policies in Germany were first implemented at a small geographic scale or with a small scope and were expanded in stages over time. Small-scale pilot projects allow policymakers to experiment and the public to experience a real-life example of the proposed program. Unsuccessful projects can be discontinued and successful programs can be expanded. For example, many German cities initially implemented traffic-calming technologies in those neighborhoods where residents complained most about traffic safety, noise, and air pollution from car travel. Successful implementation of a pilot project in one neighborhood led other neighborhoods to demand traffic calming as well. This approach can also work at other scales and in other sectors. For example, the German Renewable Energy Sources Act initially covered only very basic technologies, but it was extended over time and rewarded innovations and new approaches. To some extent the United States is using this approach already, as witnessed by the creation of pedestrian zones in New York City’s Times Square or the new bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. On the federal level, however, the U.S. Congress does not have a consistent history of passing incremental improvements to energy policy or climate legislation.

Another aspect of staged implementation is political acceptability. For example, the German Ecological Tax Reform Act, which increased taxation on energy to reduce social security taxes, was implemented in stages, with taxes increasing annually over a period of five years. Consolidating the staged tax increases into one large tax hike would not have been politically feasible. Staged implementation, the five-year time horizon, and lower social security taxes enabled citizens to adjust to the new taxes. Similarly, many policies encouraging green infrastructure on private properties began as financial incentives and only later were replaced by requirements, once there was greater acceptance and experience with these techniques.

Photo credit: Ralph Buehler. Pedestrians and light rail in Freiburg’s car-free zone in the city center.

Second, there are no silver bullets. Policies should be coordinated across sectors and levels of government to achieve maximum effectiveness. Despite the high public visibility of flagship projects like the Ecological Tax Reform Act, no silver bullet has proven to be the single factor for successful results. The case studies show that individual policies were integrated into a larger policy framework. At its best, this framework is comprehensive and long-term oriented. For example, in transportation, the German federal government increased taxation on gasoline, while local governments improved conditions for walking, cycling, and public transportation—thus offering a viable alternative to the car. This approach increased political acceptability with the public, since drivers had a choice to continue driving at higher cost or to shift modes of transportation.

In Germany, green infrastructure has been incentivized and in some cases required by a suite of overlapping programs. Significantly, these initiatives come from various governmental levels and sectors and were created because of different benefits provided by green infrastructure—such as stormwater management, air-quality improvements, and urban quality of life. It is this suite of policies as a whole that has moved green infrastructure into the German mainstream. Energy policy is another good example of coordinated decision making and planning: Germany’s policy portfolio comprises more than 30 legislative measures that address all aspects of energy sustainability, with binding long-term targets guiding implementation efforts and the necessary review of policies at regular intervals. In the United States, by contrast, short-term incentives, fragmented regulations, and a lack of planning certainty—in the absence of a binding policy framework—have dampened private-sector investment and technology deployment.

Third, foster citizen participation and communicate policies effectively. Policies that affect people’s everyday lives have to be developed with active citizen participation. Citizen input reduces potential legal challenges, increases public acceptance, and has the potential to improve projects and outcomes. Public participation in assessing parcel-level charges and new stormwater fees in Berlin helped the public to understand how their properties contribute to environmental problems. Further, individuals can take steps to reduce fees by integrating green infrastructure techniques on their properties. The initial draft of the city of Freiburg’s land-use plan was rejected by the citizens as not being progressive enough (see Box). The second draft was developed with the ongoing participation of 900 residents. The public sector has to effectively communicate the intentions of policy. This often involves political trade-offs. For example, Germany’s Ecological Tax Reform Act increased the cost of energy but at the same time reduced social security taxes. While many citizens agreed to increase taxation on energy, the reduction in social security taxes was also very important.

Fourth, find innovative solutions and embrace bipartisanship. The implementation of several of the highlighted policies came with strong political controversy in Germany. However, the policies survived because, over time, parties across the political spectrum benefited from them or could not afford reversing them. For example, the Renewable Energy Sources Act was supported by both the political left and right because both the progressive renewable-energy industry and the conservative German farm community benefited from its implementation. Before and during the introduction of the Ecological Tax Reform Act, Germany’s center-right parties opposed the reform and promised to roll it back once they were in power again. However, after winning elections in 2005, the conservatives found it impossible to forfeit the robust tax revenue generated by the reform.


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Ralph Buehler: Assistant Professor in urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech
Arne Jungjohann: Director for the Environment and Global Dialogue Program of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Washington, DC
Melissa Keeley: Assistant Professor in geography and public policy and public administration at George Washington University
Michael Mehling: President of the Ecologic Institute; Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University


Published on Energy Bulletin (

Published by Solutions on Mon, 10/10/2011 – 08:00

Original article:

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.


ST Sustainability Book Sale

Sustainable Tucson is offering a very special Book Sale fundraising event at our October  General Meeting. We have more than 150 titles, including some hard-to-find classics. The winter reading season is coming, so come and browse this rich collection of sustainability literature. You can shop with gifts in mind for particular friends, relatives, or colleagues and remember that most of these books are used and are being recycled. The Sale will begin before the meeting at 5:15 and will end after the meeting at 8:30.


Sustainability books and materials –  all proceeds will benefit Sustainable Tucson


Architecture and Energy, Richard G. Stein, 1997, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak, Kenneth S. Deffeyes, 2005, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine M. Benyus, 1997, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Biosphere 2: Human Experiment, John Allen, 1991, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Biosphere Catalogue, Tango Parrish Snyder, 1985, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Biosphere, A Scientific American Book, 1970, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Biospheres: Reproducing Planet Earth, Dorion Sagan, 1990, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Blueprint for Survival, The Ecologist, 1972, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Breaking Gridlock: Moving Toward Transportation That Works, Jim Motavalli, 2001, paperback/hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Build it with Bales, Matts Myhrman and S.O. MacDonald, 1997, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future, Neil Postman, 1999, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Building the Earth, Teilhard De Chardin, 1969, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Building with Straw, VHS video Set: Vol 1 Strawbale Workshop, Vol 2 Strawbale Home Tour, Vol 3 Strawbale Code Testing, Black Range Films, 1995,   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough & Michael Braungart, 2002, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered, Bill Devall & George Sessions, 1985, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Desert Gardening, Sunset Magazine & Sunset Books, 1967, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Design For a Livable Planet: How You Can Help Up the Environment, Jon Naar, 1990, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Direct Use of the Sun’s Energy, Farrington Daniels, 1964, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Divorce Your Car: Ending the Love Affair With the Automobile, Katie Alvord, 2000, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Dr. Art’s Guide to Planet Earth: For Earthlings Ages 12 to 120, Art Sussman, 2000, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Dream of the Earth, Thomas Berry, 1988, paperback/hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, Rosemary Morrow, 1993, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Ecological Identity: Becoming a Reflective Environmentalist, Mitchell Thomashow, 1995, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Ecology and the Biosphere: Principals and Problems, Sharon La Bonde Hanks, 1996, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Ecology of Commerce: Declaration of Sustainability, Paul Hawken, 1993, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomez, & Allen D. Kanner, 1995, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Encounters with the Archdruid, John McPhee, 1971, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

End of Money and the Future of Civilization, Thomas H. Greco Jr., 2009, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

End of Nature, Bill McKibben, 1989, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

End of Nature, Bill McKibben, 1990, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Environment, Power, and Society, Howard T. Odum, 1971, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Envisioning a Sustainable Society: Learning Our Way Out, Lester W. Milbrath, 1989, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Evaporative Cooling Made Easy: Complete Operating Manual, 1985 paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Every Drop For Sale, Jeffrey Rothfeder, 2001, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Evolution’s End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence, Joseph Chilton Pearce, 1992, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Exploring New Ethics for Survival: Voyage of the Spaceship Beagle, Garrett Hardin, 1966, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, Elizabeth Kolbert, 2006, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future, Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb Jr., 1989, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Forgotten Pollinators, Stephen L. Bachmnann and Gary Paul Nabhan, 1996, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Full House: Reassessing the Earth’s Population Carrying Capacity, Lester R. Brown & Hal Kane, 1994, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Fundamentals of Ecology, Eugene P. Odum, 1959, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Fundamentals of Ecology, Eugene P. Odum, 1971, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Future of Life, Edward O. Wilson, 2002, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Gaia: The Atlas of Planet Management, Dr. Norman Myers, 1984, paperback/hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, Alan Weisman, 1998, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Global Brain: Speculations on the Evolutionary Leap to Planetary Consciousness, Peter Russel, 1983, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Global Mind Change: Promise of the Last Years of the Twentieth Century, Willis Harman, 1988, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Global Warming: Are We Entering the Greenhouse Century?, Stephen H. Schneider, 1989, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Green Plans: Greenprint for Sustainability, Huey D. Johnson, 1995, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Green Reader: Essays Toward a Sustainable Society, Andrew Dobson, 1991, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Healthy House, John Bower, 1997, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Heat Is On: The High Stakes Battle Over Earth’s Threatened Climate, Ross Gelbspan, 1997, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Hothouse Earth: Greenhouse Effect and Gaia, John Gribbin, 1990, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

House of Straw: Strawbale Construction Comes of Age; U.S. Department of Energy, 1995, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

How Much is Enough: Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth, Alan Durning, 1992, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage, Kenneth S. Deffeyes, 2001, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Human Impact on Ancient Environments, Charles L. Redman, 1999, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Humanure Handbook: Guide to Composting Human Manure, Joseph Jenkins, 1999, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

I Seem To Be a Verb, R. Buckminster Fuller, 1970, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, Michael Pollan, 2008, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity, Sandra Postel, 1992, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Last Whole Earth Catalog, Portola Institute, 1971, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, Margaret J. Wheatley, 1999, paperback/hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Limits to Growth, A Potomac Associates Book, 1972, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, James Howard Kunstler, 2005, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Machinery of Nature: Living World Around Us-And How it Works, Paul R. Ehrlich, 1986, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Making Peace With the Planet, Barry Commoner, 1975, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Mankind at the Turning Point, Mihajlo Mesarovic and Eduard Pestel, 1974, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Millennium Whole Earth Catalog, Howard Rheingold, 1994, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Money and Debt: A Solution to the Global Crisis. Thomas H. Greco Jr., 1990, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender, Thomas H. Greco Jr., 2001, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Natural House Book: Creating a Healthy, Harmonious, and Ecologically-Sound Home Environment, David Pearson, 1989, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Natural House Book: Creating a Healthy, Harmonious, and Ecologically-Sound Home Environment, David Pearson, 1989, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Nature and Properties of Soils, Harry O. Buckman & Nyle C. Brady, 1960, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

New Economy of Nature: The Quest to Make Conservation Profitable, Gretchen C. Daily and Katherine Ellison, 2002, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

New Money for Healthy Communities, Thomas H. Greco Jr., 1994, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Next Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand, 1980, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

No More Secondhand God, R. Buckminster Fuller, 1963, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

One-Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka, 1978, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, R, Buckminster Fuller, 1963, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, R. Buckminster Fuller, 1969, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Our Common Future: The Bruntland World Commission on Environment and Development, The Commission, 1987, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth, Mathis Wackernagel & William Rees, 1996, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Owner Built Home: A How-to-do-it Book, Ken Kern, 1972, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Passages About Earth: An Exploration of the New Planetary Culture, William Irwin Thompson, 1973, paperback/hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, Lester R. Brown, 2006, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Plant and Planet, Anthony Huxley, 1974, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Population Resources Environment: Issues in Human Ecology, Paul & Anne Ehrlich, 1970, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Power Down: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World, Richard Heinberg, 2004, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Quiet Crisis, Stewart L. Udall, 1963, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Real Goods: Designing & Building a House Your Own Way, Sam Clark, 1996, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Rebirth of Nature: Greening of Science and God, Rupert Sheldrake, 1991, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Rebirth of Nature: Greening of Science and God, Rupert Sheldrake, 1991, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis & the Fate of Humanity, James Lovelock, 2006, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Safeguarding the Health of Oceans, Ann Platt McGinn, 1999, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Sand Country Almanac, Aldo Leopold, 1966, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Save the Earth, Jonathon Porritt, 1991, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Sea Around Us, Rachel L. Carson, 1950, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Timeless Wisdom from the Science of Change, John Briggs & F. David Peat, 1999, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, 1962, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, E.F. Schumacher, 1973, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Soft Energy Paths: Toward a Durable Peace, Amory B. Lovins, 1977, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Revolutionary Approach to Man’s Understanding of Himself, Gregory Bateson, 1972, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Strawbale Homebuilding, Alan T. Gray & Anne Hall, 2000, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

The Way: An Ecological World-View, Edward Goldsmith, 1992, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Thinking Ecologically: The Next Generation of Environmental Policy, Marian R. Chertow and Daniel C. Esty, 1997, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander, 1979, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism, Warwick Fox, 1990, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us), Tom Vanderbilt, 2008, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture, Fritjof Capra, 1982, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Twenty-Ninth Day: Accommodating Human Needs and Numbers to the Earth’s Resources, Lester R. Brown, 1978, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Voluntary Simplicity: An Ecological Lifestyle the Promotes Personal and Social Renewal, Duane Elgin, 1981, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, Fritjof Capra, 1996, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Wisdom for a Livable Planet, Carl N. McDaniel, 2005, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

World Changes: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, Alex Steffen, 2006, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

World Made by Hand, James Howard Kunstler, 2008, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

World Without Us, Alan Weisman, 2007, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Worlds in Collision, Immanuel Velikovsky, 1965, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig, 1974, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]


Other Books – may or may not relate to sustainability, you decide…

Adventures of Ideas: A Brilliant History of Mankind’s Great Thoughts, Alfred North Whitehead, 1933, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Age of Missing Information, Bill McKibben, 1992, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Age of Paradox, Charles Handy, 1994, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Age of Unreason, Charles Handy, 1989, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1969, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004, Steven Pinker, 2004, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World, Jeremy Rifkin, 1998, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principals of Economic Life, Jane Jacobs, 1984, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

City In History, Lewis Mumford, 1961, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, Allan Bloom, 1987, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Complete Pregnancy Exercise Program, Diana Simkin, 1980, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Complexity: Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, M. Mitchell Waldrop, 1992, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Crackpot or Genius: A Complete Guide to the Uncommon Art of Inventing, Francis D. Reynolds, 1993, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Essays in Pragmatism, William James, 1948, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Facts on File Biology Handbook, Diagram Group, 2000, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Free to Choose: A Personal Statement, Milton & Rose Friedman, 1980, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstruction of Social Order, Francis Fukuyama, 1999, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Grunch of Giants, Pre-publication Draft, R. Buckminster Fuller, 1982, Xerox copy   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Hegel Selections, Jacob Loewenberg, 1929, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, Stewart Brand, 1994, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

How Things Are: A Science Tool-Kit for the Mind, John Brockman & Katinka Matson, 1995, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society, Norbert Wiener, 1950, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Introduction to Organic Laboratory Techniques: Microscale Approach, Saunders Golden Sunburst Series, 1990, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Ironwood 28: Listening to the Invisible, Emily Dickinson & Jack Spicer, 1986, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Liar’s Poker, Michael Lewis, 1989, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Man and Wildlife in Arizona: American Exploration Period 1824-1865, Goode P. Davis Jr., 1982, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Man, the Unknown, Alexis Carrel, 1935, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Mankind Evolving, Theodosius Dobzhansky, 1962, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Maps of the Mind: Charts and Concepts of the Mind and its Labyrinths, Charles Hampden-Turner, 1981, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Masonry, Time-Life Books, Home Repair and Improvement, 1976, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Our Final Hour, Martin Rees, 2003, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Our Knowledge of the External World, Bertrand Russell, 1929, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Periodic Kingdom: Journey Into the Land of the Chemical Elements, P.W. Atkins, 1995, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Michael Polanyi, 1958, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Politics of Experience, R.D. Laing, 1967, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Pragmatism, William James, 1907, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Reconstruction in Philosophy, John Dewey, 1920, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Rocks and Minerals, Herbert Zim and Paul Shaffer, 1957, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman, 1996, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn, 1962, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

This Man from Lebanon: Study of Kahlil Gibran, Barbara Young, 1945, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

True Believer, Eric Hoffer, 1951, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Uncommon Wisdom: Conversations with Remarkable People, Fritjof Capra, 1988, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Up From Eden: Transpersonal View of Human Evolution, Ken Wilber, 1981, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Virtual Reality, Howard Rheingold, 1991, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century, Michio Kaku, 1997, hardcover   [search amazon google wikipedia]

What is Cybernetics?, G.T. Guilbaud, 1959, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

What to Eat When You’re Expecting, Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Murkoff, and Sandee Hathaway, 1986, paperback   [search amazon google wikipedia]

Massive default is best way to fix the economy

Massive default is best way to fix the economy
by Brett Arends – MarketWatch

Clearing away the debt is the only way forward

You want to fix this economic crisis? You want to put people back to work? You want to light a fire under the economy?

There’s a way to do it. Fast. And relatively simple. But you’re not going to like it. You’re not going to like it at all.

Default. A national Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The fastest way to fix this mess is to see tens of millions of homeowners default on their mortgages and other debts, and millions more file for bankruptcy. I told you that you wouldn’t like it. I don’t like it much either. It sticks in the craw that people got to borrow all that money and won’t have to pay it back.

But you know what? The time to stop that was five or 10 years ago, when the money was being lent. It’s gone.

And mass Chapter 11 is, by far, the least obnoxious solution to our problems. That’s because the real cause of our economic slump isn’t too much government or too little government. It isn’t red tape, high taxes, low taxes, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, too much government debt, too little government debt, corporations, poor people, “greed,” “socialism,” China, Greece, or the legalization of gay marriage. It isn’t, in short, any of the things all the various nitwits say it is.

It’s the debt, stupid. We’re hocked up to the eyeballs, and then some. We’re at the bottom of a lake of debt, lashed to an anchor. American households today owe $13.3 trillion. That has quadrupled in a generation. It has doubled just in the last 11 years. We owe more than any other nation, ever. And for all the yakking about how people are “repairing their balance sheets,” they’re not. From the peak, four years ago, they’ve cut their debts by a grand total of 4%. And a lot of that was in write-offs.

More than a quarter of American mortgages are underwater. Many are deeply underwater. In states like Nevada and Florida the figures are astronomical. The key thing to understand is that most of that money has gone to what a fund manager friend of mine calls “money heaven.” Most of these debts will never, ever be repaid in real money. Not gonna happen.

Think how corporations handle this kind of situation. It happens all the time. Banks and bondholders find they have lent, say, $1 billion to a company whose assets and earning capacity will only repay, say, $300 million. What happens? Does the company soldier on with $1 billion in debt it can never repay? Do the stockholders send back their dividend checks? Do they sell their homes to pay off the bonds?

Not a chance. The company goes through Chapter 11. The creditors ‘fess up to their blunder, they face up to their losses, and they fix it. They write down the loans and take the equity instead. The balance sheet is cleaned up, and the company starts again. Why not homeowners?

Most of the objections to this idea are well-meant, but misinformed. A fund manager I asked raised the issue of “moral hazard.” Why should anyone pay their mortgage if some people were getting a pass, he asked? The answer: For the same reason GE and Verizon kept paying the coupon on their bonds while Lehman Brothers defaulted. You want to keep your credit standing. And you want to keep your equity.

If a company defaults, the stockholders get wiped out. If a homeowner defaults, the bank takes the home. I like keeping my home, as well as my savings, and my credit rating. Most people are the same. Some will say the financial impact would be terrible. But the banks would just be facing up to reality. And a lot of these mortgages are already trading at distressed levels. Some will say, “why should people get away with borrowing imprudently?” The response: Why should the banks get away with lending imprudently?

There’s no point telling people not to borrow money. They always will. I have yet to see a Wall Street executive turn down free money. I have yet to see a company in an IPO say, “Don’t give us so much money!” People like money. They will take as much as they are offered. In a free economy, the people who are supposed to ration the loans are the lenders. Banks are supposed to lend carefully and responsibly. What else are they paid for? Accepting deposits? You could hire people on minimum wage to do that.

Some will say, “it’s immoral” for borrowers to default. Alas, most of these people are being inconsistent. They are usually the first ones to defend a company when it closes down a factory and ships the jobs to China, or pays the CEO $50 million for doing a bad job, on the grounds that “this ain’t morality, pal, this is business!” But when Main Street wants to do the same thing, they start screaming “Morality! Morality!”

We don’t live in an economy based on morals and fairness. T Mobile doesn’t charge me what’s “fair” each month. They charge me what’s on the contract. Your employer doesn’t pay you more if you need more. He pays you your economic value. Did Dick Grasso give back his bonus? Bob Nardelli? Dick Fuld? We operate in an economy based very firmly on contracts, and nothing else. Companies, and the wealthy, live by the letter of the law.

American mortgage contracts allow for default. Half of the states in this country are “non-recourse,” which broadly speaking means you can send in the keys and walk away from a bad loan. The other half are sort of “semi-recourse.” The bank can come after you for any shortfall, but only in a limited way. Broadly speaking they can’t touch retirement accounts and basic assets. You can typically keep your car, personal effects, often things like life insurance.

Most of the people who are deeply underwater don’t have that much anyway. And the banks knew this. When they were lending $500,000 to a bus driver with $1,000 in his checking account, they knew that their loan was only guaranteed by the value of the home. If they didn’t know it, they should have. Their incompetence is not our problem.

It’s tempting to say, “if someone borrows money, they should repay it.” Generally speaking, I agree. I pay all my debts. But while that makes sense when applied to any individual, it doesn’t work so well when it’s applied to everyone.

We have tens of millions who cannot repay their debts. But they are all trying to. That sucks huge amounts of money out of the economy. And that means these people cannot function properly as consumers or workers. That’s the reason people aren’t coming into your restaurant. It’s the reason people aren’t taking your yoga class. It’s the reason they haven’t hired you to redo the kitchen.

And so tens or hundreds of millions of perfectly responsible business owners and employees are also suffering from this slump. That’s the reason we have a shortage of demand. That’s the reason no one is hiring. Even worse: People who are underwater on their mortgage, but who do not want to default, cannot move to where the jobs are either. They are stuck with their home.

You want to break this logjam? Try Chapter 11 for the nation. Massive defaults. Clear the decks, clean the books.

What are the alternatives? Government cutbacks, higher taxes, and a balanced budget? In a normal economy, fine. But in this situation, when the private sector is also slashing its spending, that could lead to absolute catastrophe. That’s what happened in the Great Depression. And our debt levels are worse than in the Great Depression.

Government borrowing? That’s the Keynesian solution. “The consumer can no longer borrow like a crazy person,” says the Keynesian, “so Uncle Sam has to do so instead.” It’s just transferring private madness to public madness. Inflation? That’s probably the least bad alternative. But it’s just default by another name. And instead of taking money from the imprudent banks that caused the problem, it robs grandma’s savings.

Twice before, advanced economies have gone through what we are going through now — namely a massive hangover after a massive debt binge. The first was the U.S. in the 1930s, the second was Japan in the 1990s. The U.S. didn’t get out of it until the 1940s unleashed inflation and reduced the debt’s value in real terms.

Japan still hasn’t gotten out of it. They have deflation, while government debt has skyrocketed. The correct moral hazard is to punish the banks who lent imprudently by making them eat their own losses.

I told you that you wouldn’t like it. I don’t either. But the alternatives are worse.

Updated Primer on Ongoing Financial Crisis

The Automatic Earth is a unique, one-stop website which presents the world’s best current writing on the ongoing financial and economic crises. The following Primer lists key articles and analyses written by the Automatic Earth team.

Nicole Foss (aka Stoneleigh) writes:

It is time to undertake the yearly review and update of our primer guide, with a view to making it easier for our readers to see the entirety of our TAE worldview in one place. Primers are continuously added in order to flesh out the biggest possible big picture. This will continue as we move over to our new site later this year. These essays are not tied to the events of a specific day, week or month, but are the ones that take a step back and look at the world through a wide angle lens.

We have covered a wide variety of topics in the three and a half years of our existence. The point is to tackle complexity and make it comprehensible, rather than assuming away the context as most analyses do. All the strands of our century of challenges are interwoven, with each affecting the others. It is vital to understand those interactions, as well as to understand each separate topic and their relative timelines. Different factors will act as primary drivers at different times.

We retain our primary focus on Ponzi finance and the nature of markets, since the consequences of a major bubble implosion will have the greatest impact in the shortest time. Exploring those consequences, both within and beyond the financial realm is of immediate importance, given the scale of the impacts and how quickly they can manifest as a contraction picks up momentum to the downside.

As always, we cover energy as the master resource, and this year the major focus of new energy primers has been the catastrophe at Fukushima. We have also begun to cover the natural gas situation in North America in some detail, returning to the familiar theme of Ponzi dynamics.

Ponzi Finance:

The Resurgence of Risk, which appeared at The Oil Drum Canada in August 2007 provides the background to how we came to be in our present predicament. It is by far the longest of the primers, and its purpose is to explain in some depth the nature of our credit bubble, the role of ‘financial innovation’, the distinction between currency inflation and credit hyper-expansion and the mechanism by which value disappears as a bubble deflates.

For further explanation of the ponzi nature of bubbles, the spectrum of ponzi dynamics underlying many economic phenomena and the implications of this for where we are headed, see From the Top of the Great Pyramid.

This ties in with an earlier piece from The Oil Drum Canada, Entropy and Empire, detailing the progression of hegemonic power from empire to empire, as each rises, over-reaches, falls and passes the mantle on to its successor.

Real Politik:

The picture in terms of real politik (ie the way the world really works behind the scenes) is further developed in

A more specific look at Europe can be found in The Imperial Eurozone (With all That Implies).


When bubbles reach their maximum extent, they invariably deflate. Our explanation as to why this is inevitable can be found in Inflation Deflated, followed by, The Unbearable Mightiness of Deflation, a rebuttal to inflationist Gary North, and Debunking Gonzalo Lira and Hyperinflation.

The Nature of Markets:

We dispute classical economic theory and the received wisdom as to the nature of markets. Markets are not objective, mechanical and rational as the Efficient Market Hypothesis would have you believe. Our explanation of markets as human phenomena grounded in destabilizing positive feedback can be found in Markets and the Lemming Factor, A Glimpse Into the Stubborn Psychology of Fish and The Future Belongs to the Adaptable (with kudos to Robert Prechter, who has been developing the hugely important theory of socionomics for many years). Historical perspective with regard to bubbles and financial crisis is provided in The Infinite Elasticity of Credit, and a view of finance and ecology as analogous systems structure can be found in Fractal Adaptive Cycles in Natural and Human Systems.

Real Estate:

We have a number of articles on specific aspects of our current crisis. Our view of real estate can be found in Welcome to the Gingerbread Hotel and Bubble Case Studies: Ireland and Canada. Employment is covered in War in the Labour Markets and An Unstable Tower of Breaking Promises.


The Special Relativity of Currencies and Dollar-Denominated Debt Deflation address our view of currency inter-relationships and the value of currency relative to available goods and services.

Precious Metals:

Our take on the future for gold can be found in A Golden Double-Edged Sword, and our view of -global- trade is covered in The Rise and Fall of Trade.

Oil and Gas:

Our view of the intersection between peak oil and finance can be found in Energy, Finance and Hegemonic Power and Oil, Credit and the Velocity of Money Revisited. The notion of shale gas as a game-changer and a clean source of energy is challenged in Get Ready for the North American Gas Shock and Fracking Our Future. Ponzi dynamics feature once again.

Renewables and Electricity:

The prospects for renewable power are encapsulated in Renewable Power? Not in Your LifetimeA Green Energy Revolution? and The Receding Horizons of Renewable Energy.

Nuclear Power:

Nuclear power, in the aftermath of the Fukushima catastrophe, is covered in a series of articles written in the two months following the earthquake: How Black is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?The Fukushima Fallout FilesFukushima: Review of an INES class 7 AccidentFukushima: Fallacies, Fallout, Fundamentals and Fear and Welcome to the Atomic Village.


Departing from finance and energy, our contribution to the health debate, which is relevant to future food supply and storage, can be found in Our Daily Bread, or Not, As the Case May Be.

Summary and Lifeboat Prescriptione:

A point-form summary of our views for the future is available in 40 Ways to Lose Your Future, and our prescription for facing hard times is presented in How to Build a Lifeboat.

This is our attempt to convey what we as individuals can hope to do about it for ourselves, our families and friends. We cannot avoid living through a Greater Depression, but we can take action, and, being forewarned, we can hopefully avoid many pitfalls. We can attempt to avoid becoming part of the herd that is determined to throw itself off a cliff.

The big picture is of crucial importance as we have reached, and passed, the pinnacle of a golden age. We are moving into an era of uncertainty and upheaval such as none of us have hitherto experienced but all of us must try to navigate successfully. We at The Automatic Earth will continue to provide what assistance we can with that process. The TAE world tour continues, recently in the US, currently in Europe and in Australia after Christmas.

What is building Resilience and Sustainability?

Sustainability is the capacity to continue a desired condition or process either social, ecological or both. Resiliency is the ability of a system to adjust its configuration and function under disturbance. Both concepts are important as we seek to ensure a sustainable built-environment and economy which can function under changing conditions in the emerging future…  read more »

The peak oil crisis: reality on hold

The peak oil crisis: reality on hold

by Tom Whipple


As much of America bakes in some of the highest temperatures ever recorded and while Washington argues interminably over taxes, budget cuts and debt caps, one is struck by the unreality of it all. When the House of Representatives votes to preserve the incandescent light bulb for a while as a symbol of personal freedom, it is as if we have entered a wonderland where black is white, up is down and as a nation we have lost touch with reality.


Our media, the cornerstone of our democracy, clearly has failed to communicate something of great import to us. Perhaps it is the information overload of the electronic age. There is so much news that the big picture is lost in mountains of trivia – there are only so many minutes in day. Another possibility is that there is so much bad news out there, that nobody really wants to hear or think about it. Denial is overwhelming us.


At last count there were at least a dozen mega dangers looming on the horizon all of which have the potential to change the nature of global civilization in profound ways. Yet the body politic seems to take little or no notice and concerns itself largely with issues that will soon be swept away by change. These dangers range from the depletion of our fossil fuel and mineral resources, to shrinking food and water supplies, to rising oceans, to political upheavals.


Someday either the atmosphere will get so hot and food will run so short, or the gasoline will become so expensive, that every last sensate being will have absorbed the message that our civilizations and lifestyles are changing whether we like it or not. Not even the most demagogic politician’s claims that things can be put back the way they were will be believed. This day is clearly some years and more likely a decade or so away.


Thus we are in a period when some, perhaps much, of what we are doing will be in the long run prove to be counterproductive and lead to the widespread waste of non-renewable resources that could have been of much benefit in easing the hardships for ourselves and our progeny in the centuries ahead. Some of the problem we face is vested interests that fight to the end to preserve the current way of life. It is ironic that prominent among the opposition to the House vote to extend the life of the incandescent bulb was General Electric that had already spent heavily on producing the next generation of bulbs.

As a founding father said “We all hang together, or we all hang separately.”


The massive waste of resources that comes with continued construction of massive highways, inefficient gadgets, poorly insulated buildings, aircraft, etc. that are bound to be underutilized in the coming era of ultra-high energy costs is only one problem. The massive waste of education in training our young for jobs and professions that will not be useful in the coming age is another.

During the current period of denial, we are caught in a circle. Many are reluctant to admit that the problems we will soon be facing are so pervasive that only government can set policies and guide civilization in generally sensible directions. Most of those arguing for freedom to choose light bulbs have not grasped the idea that 90 percent of us would have trouble lasting six months should our electricity stop, our gasoline stations close, the water cease flowing, and the food stores shut. We live in a complex, interdependent civilization in which most have lost skills and the means necessary for self-sufficiency. As a founding father said “We all hang together, or we all hang separately.”


However, so long as a lot of us believe that we can reestablish economic growth, and wait for the return of the climate to “normal” our politicians will try to satisfy or at least say they will try to satisfy these aspirations. Change will only come when enough people realize that a return to life-as-we-knew-it a few years back is no longer possible or is at least unlikely. Unfortunately most of our media starts with the assumption that our current woes are only temporary and if we only wait long enough economic growth will resume has it always has in living memory and climate change will not turn out to be so bad as alarmists fears.


Changing a circle of unwarranted optimism that starts with the media, and carries on the voters, their elected representatives, and senior government officials, and then back to the media will be difficult. Realistically we can expect little to happen in the immediate future. Even weeks of 100 degree temperatures or even $4, $5 or $6 gasoline is unlikely to shift many prejudices in the short term. It is going to take a more severe shock — say food shortages or $10 plus gasoline — to shake the notion that a return to life as we knew it is still possible.


The idea that an economy can continue very long based on borrowed money, financial services, retail, and building houses will fade. America has some real assets to cope with the troubles ahead. Although we will no longer be able to enjoy the current rate of energy consumption, there is considerable room for the world to keep moving through more efficient utilization of dwindling energy resources. A simple shift in dietary habits to include less grain-wasting meat would have a major effect on the U.S. and world food supply. From transportation to recreation to housing, opportunities for massive efficiencies at very little cost abound.


Some of these efficiencies will come on their own merits; other will take some help. While alternatives to the incandescent bulb may cost much more, their much longer life and much lower power consumption will lead to much lower consumption and great benefits to society as a whole. Someday we will all understand this, but until that day there is much education to be done.


Tom Whipple is a retired CIA analyst who volunteers his services to ASPO-USA, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil -USA.


Published by Falls Church News-Press on 07/20/2011

Original article:



Welcome to the Post-Growth Economy

Welcome to the Post-Growth Economy

by Richard Heinberg


During recent weeks, evidence has piled up that U.S. and European economies, far from recovering, are swirling back into recession. Failure of American politicians to address the federal debt crisis, the U.S. credit rating downgrade, and increasing fragility of European economies have investors running for the hills.


Concern is being voiced that we may be at a fundamental economic turning point. Deutsche Bank’s strategist Jim Reid even suggests that the western world’s financial system might be “totally unsustainable.”


As it happens, I’ve just published a book, The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality, that reaches the same conclusion, and that foresaw the economic relapse that’s playing out in headlines. The book’s content was finalized in March, when economic data appeared to show the nation in a recovery. I suppose I’m justified in saying “I told you so,” but others are as well. Herman Daly, former World Bank economist, has pointed out the absurdity of expecting continual economic growth on a planet with limited resources. Paul Gilding, former head of Greenpeace International, explains in his book The Great Disruption why climate change and resource depletion are bringing world economic growth to a close. And Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of GMO (one of the world’s largest investment funds), argues that, with ever more humans competing for a finite supply of natural resources, rising prices of metals, oil, and food are decisively choking off GDP growth.


Even if we are being proven right, this is no time for victory laps. Here’s the point. Daly, Gilding, Grantham, and I are saying that as humanity has chewed through the low-hanging fruit of our natural resources and has turned to lower-grade and more expensive ores and fuels, managers of the economy have attempted to keep growth going by piling up debt in the mistaken belief that it is money that makes the economy run rather than energy and raw materials. Now we’ve reached limits to government and consumer debt, and the realization of that fact is sending financial markets into fibrillation. If energy supplies and debt are both stretched tight, that means more economic growth isn’t possible. Worse, if policy makers fail to realize this and continue assuming that the current crisis is merely another turning of the business cycle, then we lose whatever opportunity still remains to avert a crash that could bring civilization to its knees.


Admittedly this is still a minority point of view. After all, in the “real” worlds of politics and economics, growth is essential to creating more jobs and increasing returns on investments. Questioning growth is like arguing against gasoline at a NASCAR race.


Liberals believe that stimulus spending by government will boost employment and consumer spending, thus flipping the economy back to its “normal” growth setting. But stimulus packages of the past few years have produced only anemic results, and governments can’t afford more of the same.


Conservatives nurture faith that if government spending shrinks, that will liberate private enterprise to grow profits and jobs. Yet countries that implement austerity programs show less economic growth than those whose governments borrow and spend—until the spending spree ends in bond market mayhem.


Neither side wants to acknowledge that its prescription no longer works, because that would imply the other side is correct. But maybe both liberals and conservatives are wrong, and growth is finished.


If Daly, Gilding, Grantham, and I are right, this is scary business. But there will be life after growth, and it doesn’t have to play out under conditions of misery. With less energy to fuel globalization and mechanization, there should be increasing need for local production and labor. We can reorganize our financial and production systems so that everyone’s basic needs are met. Indeed, if we focus on improving quality of life rather than increasing quantity of consumption, we could all be happier even as our economy downsizes to fit Nature’s limits.


But that benign future is unlikely to transpire if we all continue living in a dream world where growth knows no bounds.


The alarm bells are ringing. Wake up to the post-growth economy.


Published by Post Carbon Institute on  09/08/2011

Original article:



ST September General Meeting

Sustainable Tucson General Meeting
Monday, September 12th,  5:45 – 8:00 pm
Joel D. Valdez Main Library 101 N. Stone
(free lower level parking – off Alameda St

September’s General Meeting will include presentations by members of GMO Free Project of Tucson <>  and a film, “Deconstructing Supper”, on GMOs and how genetically modified organisms are threatening our food systems and food supplies. This discussion will help prepare us to participate in the Eat GMO Free Challenge during non-GMO month in October.

GMO Free Project of Tucson <>
Live GMO Free!
Pick up a copy of the non-GMO shopping guide at New Life Health Center – Speedway or New Life Health Center – Ajo.
Download one at <>  or <>


SEKEM: A visionary Egyptian desert project

Learn about an important example of sustainable development in Egypt.

SEKEM, founded by Ibrahim Abouleish, winner of the Right Livelihood Award — the “Alternative Nobel”


Sekem: Born of the sun  5:17


Ibrahim Abouleish – Founder Sekem Group   9:58


SEKEM English Part 1   9:51


SEKEM English Part 2   2:47


Sekem website film


Official SEKEM website

“We are experiencing a high level of uncertainty”

August 4th , 2011 from


Dow Sinks 500, Worst Day Since Dec. 2008


Stocks plunged sharply Thursday, with the Dow down more than 500 points, in its worst one-day drop since December 2008.


All three major averages tumbled into negative territory for the year as investors were rattled over an intensifying global economic slowdown and ahead of the widely-followed monthly unemployment report.

The major indexes are firmly in negative territory for the year. In addition, all three averages fell into “correction territory,” defined by a drop of 10 percent from its peak from its intraday high in Apr. 29.


The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, surged more than 35 percent. The last time the VIX closed this high was on July 1, 2010.


Volume was at its highest level this year with the consolidated tape of the NYSE at 7.15 billion shares, while 1.82 billion shares changed hands on the floor.


“We’re not steering this bus—it’s all coming from Europe,” Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS Financial Services told CNBC. “We’re hearing reports of funds drawing out of European banks and we’re pretty close to something that might turn ugly.”


“It may translate into a strain on the financials system and earnings on the multinationals, which have been carrying the load for Wall Street,” Cashin added.


European shares hit a two-year low. The Bank of England and European Central Bank both left rates unchanged, but it did little to improve investor confidence. The ECB signaled it was buying government bonds in response to a deepening European debt crisis.


Investors were also spooked after ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said “downside risks may have intensified.”


“It is true that we are experiencing a high level of uncertainty, not just in the euro zone,” he said.


On the economic front, weekly jobless claims were little changed last week, edging down to a seasonally adjusted 400,000, according to the Labor Department.


“The jobless claims number was not too encouraging … we need to see more of a significant improvement than the data just squeaking by,” said Doreen Mogavero, president and CEO of Mogavero Lee & Company.


The claims news comes ahead of Friday’s government non-farm payroll data, which likely increased 85,000 last month, according to a Reuters survey, after rising only 18,000 in June. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 9.2 percent.


“We’ve reduced our equity exposure by half at the end of the second quarter,” said Rob Stein, portfolio manager and senior economist of Astor Asset Management. “We’ll need to see the economic data stabilize.”


Adding to day’s woes, JPMorgan [JPM  37.92    -1.98  (-4.96%)   ] cut its third-quarter U.S. economic growth forecast by 1 percent, pointing to recent developments in the U.S. economy. The firm added that it doesn’t expect the Fed to raise interest rates until at least 2013.


The dollar soared against a basket of currencies. The greenback’s surge came amid a weakening economic outlook and moves by Japan to intervene in the forex market to bolster the yen.


Meanwhile, gold reversed its gains, trading below $1,653 an ounce as investors opted for cash to cover losses outside of the bullion market amid deepening losses on Wall Street.

August ST Film Night  “First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture

Sustainable Tucson General Meeting
Monday, August 8th,  5:45 – 8:00 pm
Joel D. Valdez Main Library 101 N. Stone
(free lower level parking – off Alameda St
This month’s General Meeting will continue our project on “Becoming a Desert Community” by presenting films relevant to desert natural buildings  and thriving desert communities.

Our Main film is    “First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture.” Length: 90 minutes.

First Earth is about a massive paradigm shift for shelter-building healthy houses in the old ways, out of the very earth itself, and living together like in the old days, by recreating villages. An audiovisual manifesto filmed over four years on four continents, it proposes that earthen homes are the healthiest housing in the world; and that since it still takes a village to raise a healthy child, we must transform our suburban sprawl into eco-villages.

First Earth is not a how-to film, but a why-to film. It establishes the appropriateness of earthen building in every cultural context, under all socio-economic conditions, from third-world communities to first-world countryside, from Arabian deserts to American urban jungles. In the age of collapse and converging emergencies, the solution to many of our ills might just be getting back to basics, for material reasons and for spiritual reasons, both personal and political.

First Earth features curving art-poem dwellings in the Pacific Northwest in Canada and the US; thousand-year-old apartment-and-ladder architecture of Taos Pueblo; centuries-old and contemporary cob homes in England; classic round thatched huts in West Africa; bamboo-and-cob structures now on the rise in Thailand; and soaring Moorish-style earthen skyscrapers in Yemen. Featuring appearances by renowned cultural observers and activists Derrick Jensen, Daniel Quinn, James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Starhawk, Chellis Glendinning, and Mark Lakeman as well as  major natural building teachers Michael G. Smith, Becky Bee, Joseph Kennedy, Sunray Kelly, Janell Kapoor, Elke Cole, Ianto Evans, Bob Theis, and Stuart Cowan.

We hope to see you there. Bring a few friends and neighbors.

Building Resilience and Sustainability


So what is the sustainable path forward?

The most often-adopted definition of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  What is important about this definition is that we have to consider the needs of future generations. What is most productive though is that considering this definition leads people to the logical conclusion that almost everything we do is fundamentally unsustainable because everyday we are depleting non-renewable resources at irreplaceable rates and loading the atmosphere with climate-changing, carbon-based greenhouse gases. While this definition may be effective in raising awareness about unsustainability, it provides little guidance or tools to move forward.

At its base, sustainability is the capacity to continue a desired condition or process either social, ecological or both. Resiliency is the ability of a system to adjust its configuration and function under disturbance. Both concepts are important as we seek to ensure a sustainable built-environment and economy which can function under changing conditions in the emerging future.

At a pragmatic level, considering sustainability entails answering these bounding questions: “of what, for whom, for how long, and at what cost?”  Thus, clarifying our values is just as important as understanding nature. This leads to a synthesis definition informed by both ecological and social science: “Sustainability is maintaining, or fostering the development of the systemic contexts including both ecosystems and the built-environment that produce the goods, services, and amenities that people need or value, at an acceptable cost for as long as they are needed or valued.”

In this highly uncertain transitional period we are living through, one characteristic is certain. Simply put, our present economy does not have the capacity to withstand the converging challenges of the twenty-first century.

Building resilience is our biggest challenge as the complexity and uncertainty of our situation make it evermore problematic how we are going to thrive.  All is not lost however, because with resolve and purpose, we the people of this region can redirect our energies in this remaining window of opportunity to secure our future. The next 10 years will be the most critical period of the last four thousand years in which a human economy has existed here.

The focus of Sustainable Tucson’s April meeting will be to put the pieces of the economy together and explore how we got into this mess and how we may get out of it.  The future of our economy should be the fundamental conversation in the community.

Because it is yet unclear whether sustainability and resilience will emerge as a core value and goal, ST is encouraging everyone to get involved with community initiatives at any level and lobby for a strong sustainability framework to facilitate the community-wide coordination of actions.

Fulfilling this mission entails a sense of urgency, especially concerning how we respond in this next critical decade to significant change. The past five years have taught us that we are already transitioning to a new set of sustainability issues which are gaining momentum at every turn. Whether it’s real estate collapse, foreclosure crises, rising unemployment, extreme weather and climate changes, new migration patterns, increasing health problems, significant shortfalls in public revenues, rising energy and food prices, growing debt and shrinking credit, troubled youth, and dysfunctional political discourse, the world is presenting us with increasingly unsettling events and trends which spell a dark future unless we respond now with imagination.

After four presentations, attendees will explore and offer ideas for economic initiatives to make the vision of a resilient economy a reality in Tucson.




June Sustainable Tucson General Meeting

On Becoming One Desert Community

A Desert Community is a group of people that have the culture, the tools and knowledge, and the commitment to thrive here in the normal times, and survive here, in the worst time.  Becoming a desert community is our future, or we don’t have one.

What will it take…  What can we do… to become a Desert Community?  Join your neighbors and some of Tucson’s best thinkers and practitioners, and find out at “On Becoming One Desert Community”, the new initiative of Sustainable Tucson to go beyond more talk to Action.

Sustainable Tucson has initiated an effort to re-think and re-create Tucson as a sustainable, resilient desert community that thrives and survives in the 21st century and beyond.  This series of presentations  will address:

* What does it mean to BE a “Desert Community”?

* What do we need to be good at?  (REALLY good at)

* What stands in our way and what are our strengths?

* What, specifically,  can we do?

At each meeting, you will hear from some of Tucson’s best thinkers on what we need to BE and need to DO so we can HAVE what is important.

And you will find ways to Act.  Representatives of groups that are acting on important pieces of this puzzle will invite you to join them to do something important.  And, as you share your ideas, we will help you find others who want to develop other ways to make a difference.

Come to the next Sustainable Tucson meeting, as we continue the never-ending journey toward a bright, resilient and sustainable future.   Learn from experts and each other, what it will mean to BE One Desert Community.


Resilience 2011: An upcoming conference

March 11-16, 2011, Arizona State University

Welcome to the Conference Website for Resilience 2011;

Resilience 2011 website

A conference that will bring together scientists from a broad spectrum of disciplinary backgrounds who are interested in the major science and policy challenges that face us all as a result of global change. The conference is organized around intellectual themes that aim to integrate knowledge from multiple perspectives.

Local Climate Change Symposium

A symposium examining recent evidence that climate change may be affecting desert ecology in Saguaro National Park will beheld from 9 am to 4:30 pm, October 2nd at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum’s Warden Oasis Theater.

Jonathon Overpeck, co-director of the Institute of the Environment and leader on the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Travis Huxman, director of Biosphere 2 and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the Universiy of Arizona, will be keynote speakers addressing reecent research that led to Saguaro National Park being listed among the top 25 national parks most threatened by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.

Admission is free but RSVPs are required: call 733-5153 to attend.

This event is not to be missed by the sustainability community!

To find directions to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, go to their website:

Film and Discussion Night: The Age of Stupid

The Age of Stupid
September 12th, 5:00 pm. Film starts at 5:45

Sunday Night at the Movies at St. Francis in the Foothills Church, at Swan and River Roads. Bring a potluck dish to share in the main meeting space. Questions? Call Liz 299-9839

Pete Postlethwaite stars as the narrator of the film, an old man living alone in what is a devastated world of 2055, looking at archive footage from 2008, asking why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?. Pete’s character is the founder of the Global Archive, a storage facility located in the (now melted) Arctic, dedicated to preserving all of humanity’s achievements in the hope that the planet might one day be habitable again. The stories Pete’s character uses to illustrate the plight of planet earth when something could have been done, include those of six individuals across the globe, whose lives have been affected in some way by climate change. NR 92 min.

The discussion after the film  will be facilitated by Bob Cook, co- founder of Sustainable Tucson. Long an activist for sustainable development in the Tucson area, he will help us relate the messages in the film to what is happening now in our local environment and how choices made today will impact our quality of life in the near future.

Remembering the remarkable Matthew R. Simmons

By Steve Andrews, Sally Odland, John Theobald and Randy Udall.  Andrews and Udall are retired co-founders of ASPO-USA. Odland is a former ASPO-USA board member. Theobald is a former ASPO-USA conference organizer.

Published by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas – USA (ASPO-USA) on Mon, 08/16/2010

Original article:

Matt Simmons was arguably the most influential individual on this side of the Atlantic to warn about the coming peak-and-decline of world oil production. Beginning in 2001, when he published his ground-breaking white paper on the world‘s giant oil fields, Matt alerted presidents, politicians and whoever else would listen that our energy joyride was headed for deep trouble. He drove himself tirelessly, riding the speaker circuit at breakneck speed, visiting some 25 countries to deliver over 400 fact-filled energy talks to industry, investment, academic, and general interest audiences.

Then, suddenly, he was gone. Matt died Sunday evening, August 8th, at his home in Maine. He will be missed enormously by his wife Ellen, five daughters, his close associates, and all of us who knew and respected him.

Matt was a contrarian thinker with high-level access and influence. The access was due to his decades of stunning success in the energy investment banking business, where he made his fortune; the influence came from his research, timing, acumen and luck-and from swimming ahead of the crowd. Matt‘s energy investment firm, Simmons & Co., Int’l., helped clients navigate through the oil industry‘s historic down cycles. By the mid-1990s, with a high-profile column in World Oil magazine and a growing number of top-level media appearances, Matt began to leverage the reach of his ideas.

How high up the ladder did his viewpoints climb? To the very top. Matt co-chaired the energy task force of presidential candidate George W. Bush in the fall of 2000. (He also shared his energy insights with staffers for a Democratic candidate earlier in the year.) Matt helped Bill White win election as Mayor of Houston, and provided advice and support to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in his 2008 campaign. During a short session in the Oval Office with President Bush in early 2001, Matt shared his concerns about our emerging energy crisis. In subsequent years, he would testify before several House and Senate committees, an experience he would compare to “shouting down a well.” More recently, he gave a one-hour presentation in the Pentagon auditorium that stretched another hour with intense questioning.

In 2003, Matt began questioning the conventional wisdom that Saudi Arabia could someday produce 15 or even 20 million barrels a day. This forced the Saudis to publicly defend their reserves and production capacity. In early 2004, at a symposium sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Saudi Aramco officials worked hard to directly rebut Matt’s claims that their oil fields were depleting faster than acknowledged.

Of course, Matt wasn‘t the only one speaking about peak oil. In 1998 Campbell and Laherrere had published a landmark piece in Scientific American, “The End of Cheap Oil.” A number of excellent books soon appeared, from Deffeyes, Heinberg and others. But Matt, along with other industry analysts like Charley Maxwell, Henry Groppe and Tom Petrie, helped bring peak oil to the boardroom and to Wall Street. He doggedly pushed the topic on cable news shows, buttressing peak oil‘s intellectual and numeric underpinnings, reinforcing its respectability. In doing so, he helped animate a new generation of researchers whose findings would be published in books, magazines, and websites like

When Matt’s opus, Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, appeared in May 2005, it was an instant sensation. Within Saudi Aramco, engineers fixated on a few of the book‘s factual errors, thereby missing the big picture. On the world stage, however, the book brought a harsh dose of reality to the happy talk proffered by Cambridge Energy Research Associates and others. Daniel Yergin might remain a cheerleader for abundance, but no longer could it be assumed that Saudi Arabia‘s “endless oil” could solve the world‘s larger energy problems.

In response to Twilight’s assertions, Saudi Aramco mounted a PR campaign, stating it could boost production to 12 million barrels a day and maintain that level for decades. Ironically, this knocked some stuffing out of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, whose annual forecasts often seemed like a vision in search of reality, particularly those which foresaw Saudi production reaching 20 million barrels per day by 2020.

Matt was flooded with speaking requests. His presentation style was always memorable: the phrase “drinking from a fire hose” borders on understatement. Passionate, animated, face flushed, words flowing, Matt commanded the podium, bombarding his listeners with facts, figures and original graphics that often connected established dots to make new points. His material was usually fresh, always insightful, often provocative. He brought a teacher‘s mindset as much as a businessman‘s to his talks and appearances. Periodically, he made outlandish statements. Though we admired his chutzpah, Matt‘s $5000 bet with a New York Times columnist in 2005 that oil prices would average $200 a barrel by 2010 struck us as ill-advised.

Throughout this period, several key threads flowed through Matt’s papers and presentations. One was his relentless plea for data transparency; the lack of reliable production numbers frustrated him no end. The most important “missing evidence” was depletion data from mature oil fields. Although drillers took depletion for granted-waged war against it incessantly in their own fields “they hated to talk about it in public. Matt lent his voice early and often on the need to obtain better data on decline rates, thus helping to spark the decline rate study that the International Energy Agency published in 2008. He also called attention to -rust,” the aging of energy infrastructure and trained workforce, and to the high-wire act that is deepwater drilling.

Apart from his book, Matt‘s most insightful analyses derived from two early papers: “Revisiting Limits to Growth: Could the Club of Rome Have Been Right?” (October 2000) and “The World’s Giant Oilfields” (late 2001). In “Revisiting Limits,” Matt swam upstream against cornucopian groupthink, which held that resource limits would never constrain economic growth. When he reread the book, what he found surprised him.

In September 2000, Matt emailed: “I have just finished the most important white paper I‘ve tackled…I always thought this Club of Rome thing was some bad joke. But I am now of the opinion that historians will mark the book as perhaps the most important piece of ‘writing that got ignored’ in the last half of the 20th Century.” Seven years later, Matt hadn‘t changed his mind about the value of the “Limits” study: “The world sleep-walked for three decades while believing all natural resources would last forever.”

The research that fully awakened Matt to the impact of oil field depletion, however, was his trail blazing “Giant Oilfields” paper. In early 2001, he had noted a worrisome fact: almost 30 years had elapsed since the discovery of the last super-giant oil field that could produce 1 million barrels a day. Then he dug into the numbers. The resulting paradigm-shifting paper proposed that, rather than projecting the world‘s oil future by examining the size of its debatable reserves, “perhaps it is time for the energy world to focus on the critical role played by today‘s aging giant oilfields.”

Although he was forced to guesstimate production for some fields, the paper highlighted how critically important giant fields are to world production; the largest 3% of fields produced 47% of the world‘s daily supply. Pair Matt‘s “Giant Oil Fields” with Chris Skrebowski‘s research on future mega-project development and you have all you need to convince alert scientists and astute businessmen that it would be wise to start planning for a pending peak in oil production.

“Petroleum is industrial oxygen,” Matt liked to say. The more he looked, the more convinced he was that much of our energy system was being red-lined, run on the ragged edge of disaster. Matt was alarmed, and sometimes-as with recent ill-advised comments about BP‘s Gulf of Mexico oil spill-he could be alarmist. But no matter. The contribution he made was titanic, in every sense of the word.

Aspects of the private Matt that few knew: he painted with water colors, often used on his Christmas cards. He was a devoted family man – his presentations were sometimes delivered via live webcast so that he could attend a daughter‘s graduation from high school or college. He loved to play the marimba. He liked to cook for his family to relax after a hard day. He and Ellen revived the historic Strand Theatre in his adopted Maine hometown of Rockland-one of the many “pay it forward” endeavors that will be the legacy of this remarkable man.

Let‘s give the last word to him: -As oil becomes a scarce resource, its use will have to be rationed in one way or another. There are ways to allocate oil use and direct it to its most valuable applications. But achieving such a rational plan will require a carefully orchestrated global effort. Left unattended, this process could quickly evolve into genuine chaos. The global economy can function after oil supplies peak, but not in the same manner in which we live today.‖ (Twilight in the Desert, p. 347)


Other remembrances from colleagues and friends

Matt’s impact on the petroleum industry stemmed from his incisive analyses of underlying fundamentals and his willingness to be an effective iconoclast when dictated by his conclusions. As a result, we didn’t always agree, but he sure challenged us to think, and often rethink, our views and expectations of the future. In sum, Matt epitomized “energized thinking outside the box.” Tom Petrie, a vice-chairman of Bank of America/Merrill Lynch

I think there were several important aspects to Matt‘s personality that made him stand out and endeared him to his friends. He was dynamic, diligent and outgoing. He focused on both the big picture as well as the details and was not afraid to speak his mind when he thought the issues were significant. Those who criticized his conclusions missed the global issues he was addressing: maturing oil resources, an over-extended industry, runaway energy demand, and the absence of a “Plan B”. Those issues remain and we are still looking for “Plan B”. Sadad al Husseini, consultant, retired executive vice president of E&P for Saudi Aramco

With the sad and premature death of Matt Simmons, we have lost an important analyst who played a prominent and successful part in raising awareness of the critical issue of so-called Peak Oil. His experience as an investment banker helped him penetrate the barriers of lax reporting to establish the true position. He drew the media’s attention to this critical turning point for Mankind, and he will be sorely missed. Colin Campbell, retired petroleum geologist, founder of ASPO

Matt was a gentleman, a patriot, a talented analyst, a nice man, and a good friend. His contributions to informing the public about the impending dangers of the decline in world oil production are legion. The country and the world owe him a debt of gratitude. Bob Hirsch, senior energy advisor at MISI

Matt’s passion for better understanding all energy issues was stimulating and inspiring to all who had the privilege of knowing and working with him from the time he came to Houston. We will miss him intensely. Henry Groppe, cofounder oil industry consultants Groppe, Long & Littell

As an environmentalist, I found Matt Simmons to be a delightful surprise: a wealthy Republican who talked openly and intelligently about limits to growth! He refused to be held back by friends, colleagues, and perhaps even by clients in the oil and banking businesses who no doubt wished he’d just shut up and go back to making money. He went where curiosity and evidence led him, and that meant probing the inscrutable monolith of the oil industry–Saudi Arabia. I don’t know of anyone else who would have had the courage and respect within the industry to accomplish what he did. Richard Heinberg, senior fellow, Post Carbon Institute

I first met Matt in 1989 when he presented an analysis of the state of the drilling industry and what it would take to get it back to profitability. His presentation featured the insightful analysis, backed up with superb graphs, that we have all become used to. Because I have a hobby of checking out predictions, I followed the drilling business with unusual interest over the next few years. And Matt’s analysis was correct on what it took to slowly evolve back to profitability. I learned a lot from Matt’s analyses of the productive capability of oil and natural gas fields through the years. You might not always have agreed with what he said, but if you ignored what he said, you did so at your own peril. Vince Matthews, State Geologist of Colorado

I first met Matt around 1982 at his Investment firm. Roice Nelson, a founder of Landmark Graphics, was there to introduce me to Matt, but it never got that far. Matt came charging into his “trophy room” with all its glass mementos to the millions of shares of hundreds of companies his company had invested in, shaking both our hands while launching into a blistering dialogue on the “rusting” of the offshore oil industry worldwide. Matt had just calculated, on the literal back of an envelope that he produced on the spot, that within 20 years industrial accidents from rusting old rigs would “explode”. I reflexively thought of Matt when I first heard of the Deepwater Horizon” explosion this spring. Though it was “brand new”, I knew Matt would come out railing. We will sorely miss Matt’s always frank, often politically incorrect, prodding of what he considered “the established group think” of the oil industry. Roger N. Anderson, Con Edison Senior Scholar, Columbia University.

Matt touched my life in a profound way. Within weeks of reading Twilight in the Desert, I was flying to Denver to hear him speak at the ASPO-USA conference. With book and camera at the ready, I pounced on him as he left the podium and he graciously honored me with both a picture and an autograph. Our paths have crossed numerous times since then but I will be most grateful for our last visit this past spring when I had the good fortune to sit with him for several hours and talk about our energy future and to personally thank him for making my life richer and deeper. Matt, we will miss you. Debbie Cook, former City Council Member and Mayor of Huntington Beach (CA)

Matt saw Peak Oil as heralding the end of an era. It was something that struck him with alarm and something which he knew we needed (as a society and as individuals) to prepare for so that it would not sweep away our way of life. He did not have the satisfaction of knowing that his calls to a new preparedness were being answered because he was taken too soon, but he did sound a “certain trumpet” in respect to what he saw ahead. Therefore, his passing could be an occasion when experts and the public alike might take a moment to reconsider Peak Oil as a global force for imminent change. Charles T. Maxwell; senior energy analyst, Weeden & Co.

Tributes to Matt Simmons

Matt Simmons, global energy expert, dies at 67

Statement by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas  – USA

August 9, 2010

ROCKLAND, Maine — Matt Simmons, Chairman of ASPO-USA’s Advisory Board, died Sunday night at his home in North Haven Island, near Rockland, Maine.

The founder of Houston-based Simmons & Co. International, Matt wrote the 2005 book “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy,” addressing  concerns about Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves and the impending peak of worldwide crude oil production.

Simmons also founded The Ocean Energy Institute, a think tank and venture capital fund in Rockland to promote offshore wind energy research and development.

The institute is a part of the consortium led by the University of Maine, which aims to design and test floating deep-water wind turbine platforms.

“Matt Simmons was an innovative thinker who pushed ideas that have the potential to yield a more environmentally and economically sustainable future for Maine and the world,” said Maine Gov. John Baldacci, who attended the opening of the institute’s headquarters last month.

Matt was an unstinting supporter of ASPO-USA and an outspoken energy reform advocate. He wrote and spoke fearlessly to warn us about the dangers of status-quo energy policy.

It is impossible to define Matt by any single aspect of his wide ranging interests or any one period of his life and work.  He was a husband and father, an investment banker, an author, and a friend and visionary who lent his name and energy to the organization and evolution of ASPO-USA.  He will be missed by us all.


The Death of Matt Simmons is a Great Loss

By Kjell Alecklett, Geophysicist, Uppsala University, Sweden and President of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas International

August 10, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I received a message from Matt Simmons’ assistant Laura Russell that I found difficult to believe – it read that Matt had died suddenly. A few hours later the news had spread over the entire world . It is with great sorrow that I now write these words.

In the autumn of 2001 I visited Colin Campbell in Ballydehob in Ireland. During the visit we discussed the possibility of organizing an international workshop on Peak Oil in Uppsala during the spring of 2002. I remember that I said that we needed speakers from the Middle East, Russia and the USA if we were to call the conference “international”. From the USA we thought of Matt Simmons. Matt had just studied future conventional natural gas production in the USA and was of the view that the conventional gas production had reached its peak. He was also very concerned about the impending peak in world oil production. We contacted Matt and he agreed to attend.

Our workshop was held during a Thursday and Friday at the end of May in 2002. I remember that Matt was feeling stressed because that Saturday his daughter was to receive her high school diploma. Matt gave his presentation on Thursday and on Friday morning he flew back to Houston. We had managed to interest Bruce Stanley of AP, Associated Press of London, in attending. He came to Uppsala and wrote about our workshop. When Matt awoke on Saturday morning in Houston he could read on the first page of his local newspaper that he had been and spoken in Uppsala. It was in that article that the expression “Peak Oil” was used for the first time in the international press :

”The dispute centers on the precise timing of what is variously described as “peak oil” or “the big rollover” — the predicted date when existing oil production, together with new discoveries of crude, can no longer replenish the world’s reserves as quickly as consuming countries are depleting them.”

The thing that made Matt’s involvement especially interesting was that in 2000 he had been an advisor on energy to George W. Bush during his presidential campaign. Matt’s lecture in Uppsala became the beginning of a deep engagement with Peak Oil.

Since the first Peak Oil conference it was a given to invite Matt Simmons to all those that followed. Together with Colin Campbell his presence was one of the main attractions.

In 2005 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences established an energy committee and their first project was to research oil depletion, i.e. whether “Peak Oil” was close at hand. I was given the task of organizing a symposium on “Global Oil Reserves” in Uppsala and they wanted me to invite a number of important speakers.

It was obvious that I should invite Matt to this important meeting and, since he also thought it important, he took a plane from Houston and came to the meeting on 23 May, i.e. three years after our first Peak Oil conference in Uppsala. I know that the discussions that the energy committee had with Matt had a significant impact on their final report, ”Statement on Oil”.

During the years since our first meeting we met in person about 10 times but through email and over the phone Matt was always close at hand when I needed his help. We will miss him greatly. Naturally, my thoughts go to his wife Ellen who used to accompany him on his trips. Normally they had time for a dinner or some other social activity. I hope that Ellen will also be with us in future when we ASPO folk meet.

Matt Simmons’ engagement with Peak Oil will continue via innumerable presentations on, for example, YouTube and through his writings. His book on oil production in Saudi Arabia, “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy” is already a classic that has been translated into several languages.

Thank you Matt for all you did – we needed you also in our future.


Maine Governor Mourns Passing of Matthew Simmons

Statement by the Ocean Energy Institute

Augusta, Maine (August 9, 2010) — Governor John E. Baldacci today learned of the death of Matthew Simmons of North Haven. Simmons was a leading energy investment banker, a former White House energy advisor, an author and the driving force behind the Ocean Energy Institute, based in Rockland, Maine. The Ocean Energy Institute (OEI), founded by Simmons in 2007, is a nonprofit think-tank and venture capital fund dedicated to expanding offshore energy through research and development.

“Matt Simmons was an innovative thinker who pushed ideas that have the potential to yield a more environmentally and economically sustainable future for Maine and the world,” said Governor Baldacci. “I visited Matt and his team last month and thanked them for their partnership with the State as we aggressively build an independent energy future for Maine. Our State has been viewed as a leader in alternative energy in part because of the groundbreaking work spearheaded by Matt Simmons and the Ocean Energy Institute. His leadership and commitment to a better world will be missed, and we need to continue Matt’s work and vision as a way to honor him. Matt was also a kind and generous man. At this difficult time, we send our deepest sympathies to his family.”

Simmons is the author of the 2005 book “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy,” which laid out an argument of peak oil, that the world was approaching peak oil production. Simmons believed that to meet future energy needs, we need to look beyond fossil fuels and to develop energy by harnessing our vast natural resources in a responsible way. He met with the Governor a number of times and the Ocean Energy Institute is a part of the consortium led by the University of Maine that has received millions of dollars from the federal government to research and develop offshore wind turbines. Governor Baldacci also recognized Matt Simmons’ leadership during his State of the State address delivered earlier this year.


Matt Simmons Embodied Integrity

By Nick Snow,  Oil and Gas Journal, Washington editor

What I remembered first when I learned that Matthew R. Simmons died at his summer home in Maine on Aug. 8 was the anguish in his voice when we spoke by telephone in early 2001 as it became increasingly clear that Enron Corp.’s problems extended to other companies and businesses.

“It’s truly awful,” he said when I mentioned my dismay that the so-called Chinese Wall between investment banks’ research and marketing departments had simply disappeared. “It will take years, if not decades, for our business to regain the trust it has lost. I’m not certain that it ever will.”

Trust mattered a lot to Matt Simmons. Several years before, when his brother, L.E., bought a share of another trade publication I worked for, the two of them tracked me down during the Offshore Technology Conference because I had cited a Simmons & Co. International report in one of my stories. They weren’t satisfied until I assured them I’d used the material because it was good, and not because it came from a company run by the brother of one of the newspaper’s new owners.

I saw Matt frequently in Washington at trade association and government events. Often, he would be on his way out the door to get to the White House or Department of Energy for meetings, yet he always made time to talk. His concerns about the actual extent of Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves still make some people nervous. They deserve to be taken seriously because his track record on other issues is so good.

When he started the Ocean Energy Institute after he retired from the helm of what probably is Houston’s most successful energy investment bank, Matt made OEI a venture capital fund as well as a think-tank to address the challenges of US offshore renewable energy.

“OEI approaches energy R&D and investment from a systems point of view; not just generation, but usage, storage and transmission all together as an interdependent set of opportunities and the next driving force of the international economy,” its web site notes. “OEI is working to coordinate the diverse factors that will help make ocean energy a reality: energy system architecture, offshore wind technology, environmental interests, stakeholder concerns, industrial partners, academic research, financial firepower and political factors.”

“Oceans are the last energy frontier, yet we know so little about how to harness them,” he said. “The Ocean Energy Institute’s mission is to quickly fill this knowledge void and let our oceans supply us the energy that fossil fuels have provided for the last hundred years.” Others share that vision but aren’t working out specific solutions. Matt and other thoughtful men and women began to do something about it. They will continue the work he started. More information about OEI is available online at

Matt Simmons: “Twin Resource Threats – Oil and Water”, Dead at 67

Matt Simmons, a leader of the Peak Oil movement and global energy expert,  died suddenly on August 8th.


His 2005 book, Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, was a significant factor in waking up business and political leaders around the world to the critical implications of the emerging end of cheap oil resources.

When this website first went live, Sustainable Tucson posted an article he and Tucson native son and former U. S. Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall co-wrote concerning the energy myths that plague the world. Click here to read that article.

In early 2010, Matt expanded his campaign to educate leaders everywhere about the twin threats of oil and water shortages. Click here to download his 32-slide PDF presentation.

To read more tributes to his life and work, go here.

During the past five years, Sustainable Tucson Core Team member, Bob Cook discussed sustainable energy systems as well as the risks of peaking world oil production with Matt at the annual world oil conferences of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas .

Arizona’s Future

All political parties including independents are accountable to the emerging challenges of sustainability. The G.O.P. in Arizona is particularly accountable for the state’s catastrophic condition both now and going forward.

Despite voters’ May approval of Prop 100 to tax ourselves to solve some of the current deficiencies, the G.O.P. and its Tea Party affiliates continue to nudge us toward disaster and beyond.

The following disturbing article in the current July 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine is an excellent summary of Arizona’s example for the country. Click the following link for a PDF file of the article:

Arizona’s G.O.P. Governance(Harpers)

The Truth About Alcohol Fuel: Our Path Beyond Petroleum



The Truth About Alcohol Fuel: Our Path Beyond Petroleum,

with David Blume

Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 5:30 pm

Tucson Public Library, 101 N. Stone Ave.  Lower Level Meeting Room:

Co-Sponsored by the Community Information Resource Center and Sustainable Tucson

Permaculturist David Blume will present the history of alcohol fuel, and outline how localized, small-scale alcohol fuel production can contribute to economic vitality and regional energy and food security.

As oil fouls some of the most precious and productive ecosystems in the US, polls show that Americans are ready for a radical shift away from dependence on oil.  Recently President Obama stated from the Oval Office:

The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny.

There IS an alternative to oil that we can embrace NOW!    You are invited to spend an evening with David Blume as he discusses appropriate scale alcohol fuel production – a way forward that creates plentiful green jobs and supports our economy, while improving our environment.  And best of all, alcohol fuel can be used in our current autos and trucks to make any car an eco-car!

• David will discuss how the proud history of alcohol fuel (the original auto fuel) has been conveniently left out of the official history of energy in America; and how Big Oil’s billion dollar “Food vs Fuel” PR campaign buried the best alternative to oil under an avalanche of misinformation and propaganda (until now).

•  David will introduce you to a new paradigm of permaculture-based food AND fuel production, and discuss how to unleash an economic and energy renaissance in Tucson, in the Southwest, and beyond.

A biofuel pioneer for over 30 years, David Blume is the author of Alcohol Can Be A Gas, Executive Director of the International Institute of Ecological Agriculture, Permaculturist, and most recently, founder of Blume Distillation, LLC.  David has devoted his career to exploring how to create abundant food and biofuels, sustainably helping navigate the challenge of our time:  the end of the age of cheap, plentiful oil.

There is no charge to attend this event.


Transitioning to a Sustainable Economy: Tucson’s Future?

Sustainable Tucson is republishing the following call to the community which we originally presented in February 2008. The message is not only more relevant today but portends some of the events which have already happened since then. As we prepare to participate in the upcoming Imagine Greater Tucson process this coming Fall, let’s focus on the key challenge we all face: transitioning to a sustainable economy.

Transitioning to a Sustainable Economy: Tucson’s Future?

What is the greatest challenge we now face in Southern Arizona?

This question becomes more important as we join together this year in community conversations about our future. Increasingly, people are realizing the main challenge is not growth, but rather sustaining and improving our quality of life including our economy. Managing growth is necessary, but only part of what is required for success.

Our mounting problems are largely the result of over-dependence on population growth to keep our economy thriving. In addition to our attractive climate, desert landscape, and friendly, diverse culture, people migrate here for the affordable lifestyle. Until recently, we offered many low-cost advantages – cheap water, cheap energy, cheap labor, cheap capital, and cheap land. We also subsidized the expansion of public infrastructure and services to serve growth, mostly out of general revenues. As long as these favorable, artificial conditions for growth prevailed, people continued to move here. Only one year in our history – 1990 – did out-migration outpace population in-flux. And that was a year when our economy last hit bottom.

Our region’s long-term average population growth rate has been a little over 2% per year. The annual growth rate for Arizona as a whole has been more than 3%, resulting in doubling population and the required built environment every two decades. Job creation has generally kept up with population, yielding low unemployment rates, mainly because population growth has been the driver of job growth. Even though public systems and services were under-funded, this growth dynamic benefited most of us as long as the base kept growing.

But what happens when the conditions underpinning growth change? This is the situation we find ourselves in today – a drying, warming Southwest with looming water shortages; the end of cheap oil, natural gas, and coal; unprecedented price rises for food imports; people refusing to subsidize urban sprawl; increasing limitations on jurisdictions to maintain and expand infrastructure and services; a super competitive global economy driven by advances in science and technology; new accounting and costing proposals including measuring and limiting carbon impacts – and in the face of these growing uncertainties – questions about the declining health of the American economy and its financial systems. What does sustainability mean for us here as we confront these major, converging challenges of the 21st century?

Instead of debating the infinite pros and cons of growth, maybe we should focus on what really matters most to us – how are we going to successfully transition to an economy which sustains our quality of life into the future but doesn’t require unsustainable growth to keep it thriving?

The Arizona Department of Commerce initiated an important study several years ago to answer this question. However, that prospectus was mostly neglected and to date, remains little known. The bottom-line finding is that we are well-positioned to sustain our economy by developing a Sustainable Systems Industry based on already existing strengths in engineering, optics, biosciences, environmental design, earth sciences, and natural resources. Our sustainability challenges can all be converted into opportunities for centers of excellence in economic development. These sustainable systems and technologies would include resource-efficient products, services, and practices in the areas of water, energy, food, health, transportation, and housing. And perhaps most important, these industries would supply both the local economy and rapidly growing export markets – all responding to the new demands for higher performance standards.

Development leaders in both Tucson and Phoenix are already discussing the growth limitations of each city – the prospects of “population build-out” in the future. Some say our region should grow to 2 million, some say we can sustain another half million people, but others ask: How will we sustain even the current million people without fundamental economic innovation and investment in our deficient public infrastructure and services to support a new economy? Regardless of scenario, population growth will go away as the driver of the economy.

More immediately, growth is certain to slowdown naturally as development subsidies are reduced and demand for new development declines. Growth patterns will be better managed as we direct development and re-development pressures toward more compact, mixed use, transit-oriented urban form. The big questions that remain are: Will we respond to these sustainability challenges in time to ensure that our quality of life becomes sustained and not further eroded? Will we build a new economy based on the opportunities of sustainability? Or will we witness these converging challenges become the first step of long-term economic decline?

In his inspiring 2008 State of the City address, Mayor Bob Walkup called upon people and groups in the community to join together in building a new sustainable economy. This should be Goal One if we are to build economic resilience and attract sufficient investment within the next five years. Surely, we need clarity about where we are and where we’re headed. And we need a way to common ground, common vision and full community participation.

– Sustainable Tucson, February, 2008

Industry leaders seem to be showing more openness to energy descent issues

Industry leaders seem to be showing more openness to energy descent issues

Published on Energy Bulletin (

Published Tue, 05/04/2010 – 07:00 by The Oil Drum

This is a guest post by George Mobus, who is an Associate Professor of Computing and Software Systems at the University of Washington, Tacoma. His blog is Question Everything.

I’ve spent the last two days at the Institute for the Future’s Ten-Year Forecast retreat in Sausalito, CA. The attendance list for the retreat reads like a “Who’s who” of corporations (and a number of vice presidents from those companies), but includes governmental officials from all over the world who have a hand in strategic planning.

There were a few of us academics as well. At this retreat, I introduced ideas relating to peak net energy, and the possibility of major changes in the years ahead. I found industry leaders much more open than I had expected to listening to and understanding our energy predicament, and talking about what may be ahead. In this post, I would like to tell you about my experience.

The Retreat

My role was to report on the energy picture (which was linked with the carbon issues in climate change). I was asked to be provocative, which I found easy to do after just having read David Korowicz’s Tipping Point paper [here (pdf)] and on The Oil Drum [here (html in a series in reverse order)]. This started with a set of “lightning” rounds, each only five minutes long, to frame the issues and provoke thinking. That was followed by breakout sessions where those of us who gave the lightning rounds led group discussions about our particular issues.

The covered issues were: The Carbon Economy (my piece), Cities in Transition, The Water Ecology, Adaptive Power, and Molecular Identity. The Institute staff had developed a number of scenarios for the future related to signals (signs of change) that they have been tracking on a global basis. The scenarios included Growth (what we ordinarily think of as BAU), Constraint (more or less self-regulation of society), Collapse (a theme often voiced here!), and Transition (essentially adaptation and mitigation in all of the issue areas). The genius behind what the Institute staff did to relate all of these was to generate potentials for actions by adding a third dimension to the discussion in the form of motivations: Happiness, Resilience, and Legacy. The whole meeting became a group exercise in identifying actions in these three dimensions and at least hinting at the system interrelationships.

You might be interested to know that my breakout session ended up being the largest subgroup, with about 25% of the participants, indicating that I had been successful in provoking interest and that many of the participants were indeed very interested in energy issues. Carbon took a back seat. Concern for finding ways to reduce CO2 emissions seemed a lot less immediate compared to peak oil and peak net energy.

Lightning Round Presentation

Mobus_The Good

Mobus The Bad

Mobus The Ugly

Below I show my lightening round presentation. I had to get the message across in just three slides and the words that went with them. Unlike most presentations on peak oil, where you start out with the bad news and then try to lift spirits with some kind of good news at the end (raise hopes?) I chose the Clint Eastwood movie “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” saving the worst to last. I wanted the audience to be nervous at the end!

The Good News

I was prepared for what I assumed would be the typical blow back from a crowd who I presupposed were committed to profits, growth, and the whole western capitalism ideology. As I watched the group gather for my breakout session, I grew nervous. The size of the growing group led me to think I might be in for a real show down.

As the questions started to come in, I realized that nothing could be further from the truth. The overwhelming sentiment seemed to be one of grasping the principles followed by concern for the implications. I had told them that society would soon run out of energy to keep the kind of consumer-oriented, high powered economy going and they were acknowledging that they basically got it. Incidentally, one of the client companies is one of the world’s largest cruise ship enterprises. Another is a major ground delivery service company. Fuel is an important issue to them as you might imagine.

Companies like these are concerned with international business and profits from sales all over the world. Governments are concerned with revenues that they get from taxes on incomes of companies and individuals. All have developed their revenue generation models based on cheap energy, so my message was not welcome. But it was also not rejected (actually there was an investment banking representative who was a bit dismissive, telling me his analysts had assured him there would be no problem until 2030 to 2050). Instead the prevailing attitude was one of “OK, so what can we do to plan for this?”

Of course there were the usual questions about alternative energies replacing fossil fuels; I didn’t raise their hopes with my answers to that. There was some discussion about natural gas filling the demand vs. supply gap for fuel; I explained some of the important caveats on the developments of natural gas wells. But by and large there seemed to be an overall sense of acceptance of the predicament. I even saw a number of heads nodding in agreement when I explained how the financial crisis of 2008 to the present was triggered by the oil price spike and that the bubbles that existed had been driven by the growing gap between real wealth and paper (phony) wealth based on declining net energy flows vs. gambling on our future ability to pay back all the debt we’d been creating trying to keep BAU afloat. I think most of them got it.

So the good news for me was that so many high level executives, thought leaders in major companies, and governmental officials charged with thinking about the future were open to the possibility that the collapse scenario (of the economy as we know it) would be brought about by the decline in net energy flow. Of course this was a small group compared with the number of companies still out there, presumably planning on futures based on growth and increased profits because they think the world will just go on as it has forevermore. These people were presumably at the retreat because they already understood that the world was changing in fundamental ways, and they were looking at the Institute to help decipher the signs.

Confirmed Impressions

For the balance of the day, yesterday, and this morning, I had several opportunities to confirm my first impressions as during breaks, at a wine reception, and at meals many people came up to me to thank me for being so direct and blunt about the future challenge. A number of executives engaged me in extended conversations with respect to their companies and what a decline in fuels or net energy would mean for their long-term operations. I don’t remember ever collecting so many business cards at one event as I did over the last two days — cards proffered on me by executives who expressed an interest in knowing more.

During another, more free-form breakout session, a number of us had a very frank discussion about the problems with capitalism and profit motives and how the culture of corporations is at direct odds with achieving a sustainable future. I was amazed to hear these executives express what I consider extraordinarily enlightened understanding of the fundamental problems. Of course, those same executives are hard pressed to go before their boards and state as much. There is still a very long way to go.

Nevertheless, this experience was heartening. I came prepared to be booed and have rotten tomatoes thrown my way. Instead we saw contemplative consideration of the issues. Kathi Vian, Director of the Ten-Year Forecast program, told me that she had been amazed at the reception that these executives and minister representatives had expressed for the basic ideas in the forecast (esp. even considering Collapse).

She contrasted the attitudes with those of the last retreat when most people were more optimistic about the future. They had convinced themselves that some technological solution to carbon pollution would be found, and a vigorous carbon trade market would solve all problems. She had been anticipating some push back to the way the current forecast had been framed. Instead, she too was gratified to see the openness that participants had for discussing potentially devastating topics. Of course, the purpose for discussing these issues was to seek pathways through the map of challenges to achieve happiness, resilience, and legacy. People were eager to explore those pathways. The purpose of these retreats is to consider solutions to problems. People are still motivated to thrive and find meaning in their activities. No one is motivated to watch a society collapse into chaos or a new “dark age”.

What It May Mean

I don’t want to read anything more into this one experience than is warranted. There were about 100 people at this retreat, an admittedly small sample. Even though they represent some real powerhouse companies, it is but a miniscule fraction of the total of capitalist institutions and their governmental enablers. Bob Johansen, Distinguished Fellow of the Institute, expressed the reality that the people who come to these futuristic sessions more largely represent “soft power” rather than the “hard power” associated with marketing and finance, let alone the executive control, of their companies. A lot depends on these folks’ influence on those centers of hard power.

However, I do think it significant that Kathi’s comment and my surprise experience may at least point to something of a beginning of a trend. There seems to be a group who is growing in awareness of the real issues we face today. These people are ones who historically have been committed to the conventional capitalist model (including growth), and who are thinking more seriously about the future. They have noticed that the environment has somehow fundamentally changed, and have become open to conversations that suggest that an end to the capitalistic system is at hand. I suppose for those of us who have been trying to communicate the need to rethink everything (to Question Everything), this is a cause for hope. We may yet be successful in our attempts to communicate with some.

I am pretty sure that given the motivations of the participants, the message of declining net energy as a new experience for humanity is still not completely absorbed. It seems likely that the implications of declining energy have still not been completely grasped. But there is a nose under the tent! People are aware that something is not quite right with the world and are becoming open to understanding what is wrong and why. That is, I think, hopeful.

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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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[7] Good.jpg

[8] The Bad.jpg

[9] The Ugly.jpg

Bill McKibben on “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough Planet” (video)

Bill McKibben on “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough Planet” (video)

by Michael Brownlee


As part of his current book tour, author and climate activist Bill McKibben spoke at the First United Methodist Church in Boulder, CO on April 27, co-sponsored by Boulder Book Store and Transition Colorado. The video of his presentation is below, following the introduction that was given by Michael Brownlee, co-founder of Transition Colorado.

Many of us know Bill McKibben as the inspirational force behind Step It Up and more recently, which has taken the lead globally in raising awareness about the urgency of meeting the challenge of global warming, coordinating last October what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.”

Others of us have known Bill as the author of The End of Nature in 1989, the very first book for a general audience to sound the alarm about global warming.

Still others of us remember when Bill published Deep Economy three years ago, and he was here in this very room then to tell us about the need to relocalize our economies. That was the same year our organization launched what we envisioned as a ten-year campaign to relocalize Boulder County.

Few here may know that Bill is also a member of a strategically significant think tank called Post Carbon Institute, which in 2003 was the first organization to sound the call for relocalization as a crucial response to climate change and peak oil. At Post Carbon, Bill joins nearly 30 of the most important thinkers and researchers on these issues—including such luminaries as Richard Heinberg, Michael Shuman, Rob Hopkins, Majora Carter, Gloria Flora, Wes Jackson, Stephanie Mills, Chris Martenson, David Orr, and Bill Reese.

With these Fellows, Post Carbon Institute is “leading the transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world,” and is a key strategic partner in the visionary efforts of the Transition Movement, which we’re now a part of. We find it very inspiring that these leaders are joining together to help discover the way forward.

Nearly four years ago, James Hansen said, “We have at most ten years. Not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to fundamentally alter the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions.” But we still have not yet begun to do this.

Bill helps us realize that the fiasco at Copenhagen last December gave us two clear signals: First, the scientific consensus is that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are already having a devastating impact on the ecosphere that supports all life, and this will get very much worse in the future. The clear implication of this, along with the peaking of global oil production, is that our current way of life cannot and will not continue. We are entering an unavoidable period of energy descent.

Secondly, Copenhagen demonstrated that our governments are simply not going to be able to rise to the occasion in time to mitigate the impacts of global warming. We’re going to have to learn how to adapt to the consequences.

Because of Bill McKibben, the numbers 3-5-0 are indelibly embedded in our collective consciousness as a threshold we should never have crossed and now to which we must work our way back down. Bill has helped build awareness of our predicament around the globe, and he has helped us realize that we now must urgently move from awareness-raising to commitment, followed by rigorous action—beginning locally.

As Bill suggests, it takes a community to respond to global warming. And if we take what he is saying seriously, starting right here in Boulder, we must now unequivocally commit together to quickly transitioning off of fossil fuel dependence, to learning how to feed ourselves locally again, and to learning how to make our communities resilient and self-reliant for our most essential needs.

To put it bluntly, if we follow Bill’s arguments, the inescapable conclusion we will come to is that we must commit as communities to simply ending our contribution to global warming. Could that begin here in Boulder? Could we inspire other communities to do the same?

Well, it’s going to take far more than “two techs and a truck” here in Boulder to do this. It’s probably going to take more like ten thousand neighbors and whole fleets of bicycles! And it’s going to take a real revolution in local food and local farming, something we’re helping to catalyze with our county-wide EAT LOCAL! Campaign and 10% Local Food Shift Challenge and Pledge.

Let’s not leave here tonight without making a commitment to Bill and to ourselves that we will rise to the occasion here in Boulder and Boulder County—that we will quickly end our contribution to global warming. And meanwhile, let’s give Bill McKibben the hero’s welcome that he deserves!



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 <>

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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La Vida Verde Picnic

Hello peace and sustainability advocate:

You and your affiliated organizations are invited to the La Vida Verde, potluck picnic and open space event, Saturday, November 7th at Reid Park, ramadas 14 and 15, from 11am to sunset. Passive tabling is encouraged.

This event will focus on uniting our Tucson community and organizations in pursuit of our common vision and goals.

It has been said that 100 concerned and informed people, especially if they represent a diverse cross section of our community, can effect significant changes in our culture and our laws.

It has also been said that a concerted effort by a broad base of organizations can transform project initiatives into the actuality of existing programs in our culture.

We, today, have that capability.

Come and participate at the picnic and be a part of this process.

For more information contact Tom Mendola at 400-4489.

jpeg-picnic la vide color

Land Institute President Wes Jackson announced as new Post Carbon Institute Fellow

Land Institute President Wes Jackson announced as new Post Carbon Institute Fellow

Published Mon, 09/28/2009 – 07:00
by Energy Bulletin (

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

From the Post Carton Institute website:
Wes Jackson is one of the foremost figures in the international sustainable agriculture movement.

Founder and president of The Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas, he has pioneered reserach in Natural Systems Agriculture — including perennial grains, perennial polycultures, and intercropping — for over 30 years. He was a professor of biology at Kansas Wesleyan and later established the Environmental Studies program at California State University, Sacramento, where he became a tenured full professor. He is the author of several books including Becoming Native to This Place (1994), Altars of Unhewn Stone (1987), and New Roots for Agriculture (1980).

The work of the Land Institute has been featured extensively in the popular media, including The Atlantic Monthly, Audubon, The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, and All Things Considered. Life magazine predicted Wes Jackson will be among the 100 “most important Americans of the 20th century.” He is a recipient of the Pew Conservation Scholars award and a MacArthur Fellowship, and has been listed as one of Smithsonian’s 35 Who Made a Difference.” Wes has an M.A. in botany from University of Kansas, and a Ph.D. in genetics from North Carolina State University.

Future Farming: The Call for a 50-Year Perspective on Agriculture

Robert Jenson, dissident voice
As everyone scrambles for a solution to the crises in the nation’s economy, Wes Jackson suggests we look to nature’s economy for some of the answers. With everyone focused on a stimulus package in the short term, he counsels that we pay more attention to the soil over the long haul.

“We live off of what comes out of the soil, not what’s in the bank,” said Jackson, president of The Land Institute. “If we squander the ecological capital of the soil, the capital on paper won’t much matter.”

Jackson doesn’t minimize the threat of the current financial problems but argues that the new administration should consider a “50-year farm bill,” which he and the writer/farmer Wendell Berry proposed in a New York Times op/ed earlier this month.

Central to such a bill would be soil. A plan for sustainable agriculture capable of producing healthful food has to come to solve the twin problems of soil erosion and contamination, said Jackson, who co-founded the research center in 1976 after leaving his job as an environmental studies professor at California State University-Sacramento.

Jackson believes that a key part of the solution is in approaches to growing food that mimic nature instead of trying to subdue it. While Jackson and his fellow researchers at The Land Institute continue their work on Natural Systems Agriculture, he also ponders how to turn the possibilities into policy. He spoke with me from his office in Salina, Kansas…
(29 January 2009)

A 50-Year Farm Bill

Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry, The New York Times
THE extraordinary rainstorms last June caused catastrophic soil erosion in the grain lands of Iowa, where there were gullies 200 feet wide. But even worse damage is done over the long term under normal rainfall — by the little rills and sheets of erosion on incompletely covered or denuded cropland, and by various degradations resulting from industrial procedures and technologies alien to both agriculture and nature.

Soil that is used and abused in this way is as nonrenewable as (and far more valuable than) oil. Unlike oil, it has no technological substitute — and no powerful friends in the halls of government.

Agriculture has too often involved an insupportable abuse and waste of soil, ever since the first farmers took away the soil-saving cover and roots of perennial plants. Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland. This irremediable loss, never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice.

To the problem of soil loss, the industrialization of agriculture has added pollution by toxic chemicals, now universally present in our farmlands and streams. Some of this toxicity is associated with the widely acclaimed method of minimum tillage. We should not poison our soils to save them.

Industrial agricultural has made our food supply entirely dependent on fossil fuels and, by substituting technological “solutions” for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods…
(4 January 2009)

Q&A: Wes Jackson

Jesse Finfrock, Mother Jones
Mother Jones: You’ve spent decades researching plant genetics. Can you explain for people who may not be familiar with the topic why we should transition our agriculture away from annual crops toward perennial crops?

Wes Jackson: If you look at nature’s ecosystems, almost anywhere across the planet, nature features perennials in mixtures. This is pretty easily understood if one reflects on the fact that of the almost 30 elements that you see on the periodic chart that go into organisms—they’re in the upper third of the chart that you see in the classroom—only four of those are in the atmospheric commons: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen. The rest of them are at the earth’s surface and below. And they all happen to be hydrophilic, i.e. at home in water. So therefore, one can imagine nature’s ecosystems evolving an elegant diversity of root architectures to manage, in millimeters and minutes, very efficiently, the stuff that life forms are made of. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re a redwood or a human or a Holstein or a corn plant: It’s what we’re all made of, these elements. We land animals, we deep-air animals, if you wish, we have been dependent primarily on nature’s efficient perennial land plants. Agriculture reversed that, though, starting 10 to 12 thousand years ago, by featuring annuals instead of perennials and monocultures instead of polycultures. So that’s where we took the wrong turn. Yes, it allowed us to exploit the soil resource, but it also then meant that we have to tear the ground up every year, leaving it subject to the forces of wind and rain. We do this for all of our high-yielding crops, those that really sustain us. The No. 1 crop of the world is rice. No. 2 is wheat. No. 3 is corn, and then potato, but then soybeans. And you take those four crops, corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, that’s close to two-thirds of the agricultural land and calories of humanity. We’re primarily grass-feed eaters, and secondarily legume-seed eaters. If we’re to solve the 10,000-year-old problem of agriculture, we’re going to have to perennialize the major crops and put them in mixtures so that we can bring the processes of the wild to the farm….
(29 October 2008)

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.


Van Jones’s Ousting: A Wake-Up Call for Green Economy Advocates

Van Jones’s Ousting: A Wake-Up Call for Green Economy Advocates

Published 09/07/2009 on Energy Bulletin (

by Aaron G. Lehmer

A dear friend of the earth, a staunch defender of justice, and a bold champion for a solar-powered America has just been forced out of the Obama Administration through a clever campaign of deceit, malice, and fear. FOX News’ right-wing attack dog, Glenn Beck, and his supporters cherry picked statements from Van Jones’ past, mercilessly branded him a “communist”, and wrapped up their bogey-man caricature in a bow with dire warnings of plans to destroy the “America we all grew up in.”

Having worked closely with Jones at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, I can attest to his steadfast commitment to working within the system – harnessing the promise of our much-heralded free market and democratic institutions – to build a “green economy that lifts all boats.” Far from some lefty ideological plot, our Green-Collar Jobs Campaign brought together a broad range of established players in the local economy – businesses, educators, environmentalists, job trainers, unions, and yes, even some of those pesky community organizers – to launch the Oakland Green Jobs Corps.

Thanks to the incredible work of Green For All, the Apollo Alliance, and others, this model has spread like wildfire across the nation, inspiring dozens of states and cities to launch their own efforts putting the unemployed and underemployed back to work retrofitting our buildings, installing solar and wind systems, and greenscaping our urban centers. It’s no exaggeration to say that Van’s vision of fighting poverty and pollution simultaneously through green-collar jobs has catalyzed a movement – and earned him the admiration of people across the political spectrum. Indeed, his hard-won federal Green Jobs Act, committing $500 million toward green job training, was initially signed in to law by none other than the leftist radical President George W. Bush.

But all of these political smear tactics are really just a cover for the real reason Jones was targeted: his vision of a truly inclusive green economy is catching on, and it actually is a threat to business as usual. One of FOX’s commentators, Phil Kerpen, misplaced the threat at the doorstep of creeping Soviet-style socialism, asserting that Van’s “‘green jobs’ concept was merely a new face on the old ideology of central economic planning and control, an alternative and a threat to free market capitalism.” Fear-mongering knows no bounds.

Given the scores of decidedly pro-market corporations, trade groups, and financial services firms partnering with the Jones-affiliated Apollo Alliance (see full list here), Kerpen’s claim is laughable on its face. On a deeper level, however, Jones’ vision of an inclusive green economy is profound in that it forces Americans to acknowledge their segregationist past and to take a stand for an ecologically sound future in which all of us can thrive. Now that’s radical. It’s also vital if we’re to make it as one nation through the increasingly troubled waters of climate instability, the twilight years of cheap oil, and what’s likely to be a protracted period of economic decline.

As a middle-class white activist, I have a choice: I can ignore the fact that every day, I’m held up by centuries of hard work by formerly enslaved Africans, along with better schooling and job opportunities thanks to decades of racial discrimination against their descendants by schools, banks, and corporations. Or I can acknowledge these advantages, and work to neutralize them as a way to fulfill America’s promise of equality for all under the law.

Building a truly inclusive green economy will demand a level playing field in education, job training, and hiring for those from low-income communities and among the historically underserved. We have the resources to do this, but will privileged Americans extend a hand of partnership across race and class to build the pathways out of poverty into green prosperity that Van has called for? Or will they succumb to bitter hatred, Glenn Beck-style?

Van’s effective and passionate calls for a clean energy economy must have worried America’s old energy CEOs, whose deep pockets typically leave no politician behind. Earlier this year, International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih Birol warned that the world is headed for a catastrophic energy crunch by 2020, thanks to the plummeting output of the world’s oil fields. Given that oil is the lifeblood of industrial civilization, learning to make do with less and less of it while transitioning to renewable energy is now all the more urgent. If the green economy message gets too widely accepted, that could mean a shift in billions of investments and subsidies away from fossil fuels toward energy efficiency, clean power, and alternative transportation systems. Heaven forbid!

So a green economy that lifts all boats may not be as easily accepted as we advocates have come to believe, at least not while vested interests are controlling the debate and scaring people from seeing its true promise. Van’s ousting is truly a wake-up call for deeper thinking about how to build a broad-based, resilient movement that can counter these challenges head-on, and to connect more deeply with Americans from all walks of life about how an inclusive green economy cannot only heal our troubled planet, but also heal our troubled past.

Despite this setback, Van will undoubtedly continue on as a powerful advocate for green-collar jobs. And our movement, against the odds, will surely grow by leaps and bounds. Fear cannot stop a potent vision such as this.


.            Green For All, a national organization Jones founded, has issued the following statement: “[Now] is the time to come together around the values our movement stands for: clean air, healthy communities, good jobs, and opportunity for all.” Please sign the Petition in support of the Green Jobs Movement.

.            An independent “I Stand With Van Jones” Facebook campaign has already attracted thousands of supporters within the first day of its launch. Take a moment to Stand With Van through Facebook.

Aaron G. Lehmer is the Co-founder and Network Development Director of Bay Localize, an Oakland-based nonprofit working to build a stronger, more self-reliant Bay Area. He was formerly the Policy Director for the Ella Baker Center’s Green-Collar Jobs Campaign

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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Sponsored by The Drachman Institute, Friends of Tucson‚s Birthplace, and the Office of Ethnohistorical Research at the Arizona State Museum

Honorary Chair: Cele Peterson


This forum will explain the cultural and historical significance of the Mission Garden site with its 4,000ˆyear history of agriculture.  In addition, it will focus on developing creative ideas for funding and for an efficient and sustainable operation and management plan for the garden.

Welcome and Introductions (9:05-9:15 a.m.)

·        Bill DuPont, Friends of Tucson‚s Birthplace

·        Vice-Mayor Regina Romero

·        Linda Mayro, Cultural Resources Manager, Pima County

Session I.  Why Green Up the Garden? (9:15-10:15)

Moderator:  Gayle Hartmann, Friends of Tucson‚s Birthplace, formerly with the Arizona State Museum

·        Prehistoric and Historic Use of the Area: Jonathan Mabry, City of Tucson

·        What Kino Found and What Kino Brought: Diana Hadley, Arizona State Museum

·        Kino Heritage Fruit Trees Project: Jesus Garcia, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

·        Garden Plans: David Wald-Hopkins, BWS Architects

Session II.  Addressing Operation Needs (10:30-11:30)

Moderator: Peg Weber, City of Tucson Parks and Recreation Dept.

This panel will address:  Five Major Problems that Need to be Resolved When Planning a Garden

·        Michelle Conklin, Tucson Botanical Garden

·        Suzanne Nelson, Native Seed/SEARCH

·        Beth DeWitt, Arizona State Museum

·        Bill Worthey, San Xavier Cooperative Association

Session III. Addressing Funding and Management (11:30-12:30)

Moderator: John Jones, planning consultant

·        Brooks Jeffries, Drachman Institute

·        Michelle Conklin, Tucson Botanical Garden

·        Paul Green, Tucson Audubon Society

·        Gene Zonge, Community Gardens of Tucson

Concluding Remarks (12:30-12:50)

·        Jessie Sanders, City of Tucson

·        Councilmember Steve Leal, City of Tucson


We gratefully acknowledge Fry‚s Food Stores for providing refreshments.

Lords of Nature film screening

What: Lords of Nature film screening
When: September 2, 2009
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Where: The Loft Cinema
3233 E Speedway Blvd
Tucson, AZ 85716-3933
Free for the whole family!

Lords of Nature reveals the critical role top predators play in healthy ecosystems and how their return after a long absence can restore ailing ecosystems. Six Arizona environmental organizations are sponsors of the film’s free Tucson premier screening.

For more info contact Keely Sinclair at ksinclair(at)defenders(dot)org or 623-9653 ext. 106

Press Contact: Keith Bagwell: kbagwell744(at)gmail(dot)com  or 740-8723

Thank you and see you soon!

HocoFest 2009 Solar, Music & Audio @ Hotel Congress

Hocofest Music & Audio Con 2009 is a celebration of all things music, solar & sustainable during Labor Day Weekend in sunny Tucson, AZ- home to one of the best indie music scenes in the States.

Hocofest will take over the East quarter of downtown Tucson September 4-6, 2009, enjoy over 40 bands playing live inside Club Congress and outside on solar stages, TAMMIES Awards show, tasty regional food with a global flair, buy vinyl (records!) and vintage memorabilia at the record fair, Family Fest, early Xmas shopping for unique, fairly traded goods and services at the eco-fair, watch an eco-fashion show and enjoy the organic wine tasting!

Hocofest is now hosting the Potluck Audio Con, the best independent audio conference bringing musicians, producers, engineers and do it yourself recording enthusiasts together. Craig Schumacher, lead mover and shaker of  TapeOpCon and PotLuckCon and owner of Wavelab Studio,  is offering incredibly special pricing for previous conference goers – Free! We call it,  The Potluck Con Family Reunion. And for new attendees, great discounting from previous fees.

View schedule here.

Money Reform in Tucson: A discussion and brainstorming session

Monday, August 24th,

6:oo pm  to 8:00 pm,

Quincie Douglas Library,

Kino Blvd and 36th St. (Campbell Ave becomes Kino just south of Broadway Blvd.)

A discussion and brainstorming session will be held on Thomas H. Greco’s new book and money reform.  We will explore how his ideas for “direct credit clearing” can be used to promote monetary resilience and a sustainable local economy here in Tucson.

To prepare for this discussion, read his articles and new book (available at the August 12th presentation) and see the “Money as Debt” films.

Sustainable Santa Cruz Meeting

Sustainable Santa Cruz Meeting
5:30 PM 09/17/09
Develop a comprehensive plan for transitioning to a re-localized economy. Help establish the partnerships that will be the basis for this critical effort. Identify and implement sustainable living practices.
Participation in citizen based advocacy for regional planning by our local government.
Tubac Community Center
50 Bridge Road, Tubac

Sustainable Santa Cruz Meeting

Sustainable Santa Cruz Meeting
5:30 PM 09/03/09
Attend and help establish the partnerships that will be the basis for this critical effort, to bring a unified and comprehensive transition to our communities.  Be part of the planning of educational events to support sustainable living practices, and to hear from environmental groups that study the I-19 corridor and Santa Cruz watershed.
Tubac Community Center
50 Bridge Road, Tubac

Sustainable Santa Cruz Meeting

Sustainable Santa Cruz Meeting
5:30 PM 08/06/09
Attend and help establish the partnerships that will be the basis for this critical effort, to bring a unified and comprehensive transition to our communities.  Be part of the planning of educational events to support sustainable living practices, and to hear from environmental groups that study the I-19 corridor and Santa Cruz watershed.
Tubac Community Center
50 Bridge Road, Tubac

“Money as Debt” and “Money as Debt II” film showing

What: Sustainable Tucson Special Film Showing
When: Sunday, August 16th, 2009,    2-4:30pm   (Doors open at 1:45pm)
Where: Joel D. Valdez Main Library Downtown, 101 N. Stone Ave (free lower level parking off Alameda St.)

Sustainable Tucson is pleased to present two special films as part of our focus in August on examing some of the fundamental tools needed to implement a sustainable local economy in the Tucson region. The Money as Debt series is becoming regarded as the best video primer on where money comes from and how we can create a more sustainable credit system. This is another “must be there” event as we in Tucson look to more effectively shape and manage our own local economy.


On the Brink of a New Era in Energy: SIEMENS CEO Interview On Desertec Project

The CEO of Siemens AG, Peter Löscher, believes Europe is on the brink of anew era in energy production. The aim of the €400 billion ($560 billion) project is to provide carbon-free energy that could supply up to 20 percent of European energy needs by 2050.

The biggest solar energy project in the world is about to get off the drawing board. And leading German firm, Siemens, is just one of around a dozen organizations getting behind Desertec. SPIEGEL asked Siemens CEO Peter Löscher about his company’s role in the project.

Top companies lined up on Monday to get behind the world’s most ambitious solar energy project. They signed a memorandum of understanding in Munich to set up the Desertec Industrial Initiative which involves what is being called a “solar technology belt” across the Middle East and North Africa, with a huge undersea “super grid” then delivering the power back to Europe.

At first the Desertec project, which arose out of a feasibility study commissioned by the German Ministry of the Environment, looked as though it might not get much further than the drawing board because of its hefty price tag. But a consortium of some of Europe’s heaviest financial hitters has come together to raise the required funds. Among others both governmental and non-governmental, this includes Deutsche Bank, energy giants RWE and E.ON, major insurer Munich Re and electro-engineering leader Siemens.

The meeting formally established the Desertec group, which should be followed by firm plans for the project within two to three years time and then actual energy production for Europe within a decade. SPIEGEL spoke to Siemens Chief Executive Peter Löscher about his firm’s involvement with what would be the biggest green energy project in the world.

SPIEGEL: This Monday, the representatives of around a dozen businesses will meet in Munich to facilitate what is possibly the most ambitious industrial project they have ever undertaken. What sort of role will Siemens be playing?

Löscher: We will be covering the whole chain of energy conversion, from efficient and environmentally friendly power generation via transport and distribution right up to end uses of electric power. Desertec is not just about solar and wind energy, it is also about energy superhighways for the low-loss transmission of power over thousands of kilometers and the management of such complex systems.

SPIEGEL: Some experts have said they think it’s not economical to transport solar power to Europe through huge distribution grids under the Mediterranean Sea.

Löscher: Energy superhighways can be both technologically efficient and economical. A few years ago we connected Tasmania with the Australian continent. And from 2011 there will be a 250-kilometer undersea cable supplying Majorca with electricity from the Spanish mainland. For us, this kind of thing is now part of our core business.

SPIEGEL: Critics have complained that the governments of the many African nations where the project is being developed have not been consulted.

Löscher: Such oases of energy are a huge opportunity for Africa — and for every other region with enough sunshine hours. When capital, competence and resources from several different countries come together, it is advantageous for all those taking part. Besides, representatives from Arab states and from Africa are substantially involved.

SPIEGEL: Your own company made solar cells until 2002, after which you sold that part of the business. A big mistake?

Löscher: At that time Siemens was pulling out of the cyclic semi-conductor business — that is, mainly silicon chips and microchips for computers as well as solar cells. We stayed in the field of photovoltaics (the field of converting solar energy into electricity). In the future we will be bigger players in the area of solar power again.

SPIEGEL: Yet in the field of alternative energy, 90 percent of what Siemens produces is actually wind power…

Löscher: This business has developed incredibly over the last few years. We now want to become a leader in solar power too.

SPIEGEL: Your arch-rival in the US, General Electric, has also discovered solar energy as an area of future growth. Will you be competing or co-operating?

Löscher: Competition and strong players in the market are always good for progress and innovation. Siemens connected America and Europe via telephone cables under the Atlantic as early as 1874, before other companies existed. That mammoth project was considered as ambitious as Desertec is today.

SPIEGEL: In addition to solar power, you want to push nuclear power as well — even though the recent problems at the Krümmel nuclear plant have fuelled doubts about the safety of this technology.

Löscher: The fact is that the world needs a broad mix of energy sources. We are standing on the brink of a new era in energy production. Electricity that is clean and produced in an environmentally friendly is a major way of tackling climate change. And that involves the whole spectrum of energy sources and innovative technologies.

Spiegel Online 7/13/2009


The World from Berlin: Desertec Solar Project ‘an Encouraging Economic Sign’ (06/17/2009),1518,630948,00.html
Energy from North Africa: Massive European Solar Project Set for Launch (06/16/2009),1518,630699,00.html
Harnessing the Saharan Sun: Is Desert Solar Power the Solution to Europe’s Energy Crisis? (04/30/2008),1518,550544,00.html

How Bad Will the Economy Get?


The following article just published on AlterNet is already drawing wide interest and appearing in many new places on the Internet. Having recently released what will probably be considered his most important book to date, our Sustainable Tucson colleague Tom Greco is now speaking directly to communities about both present economic challenges and emerging opportunities for effective local solutions. A more recent AlterNet article is listed at the end.

For the original article go to AlterNet.

How Bad Will the Economy Get?

By Thomas Greco, Jr., AlterNet
Posted on July 14, 2009, Printed on July 18, 2009

Historically, every financial and economic crisis has been used to further centralize power and concentrate wealth. This one is no different, and in fact the moves being promoted by the Obama administration and the central banks of the Western powers will take the whole world to the pinnacle of financial despotism — unless enough people wake up and claim their own “money power.”

In recent months, the Fed has expanded its “assets” from about $800 billion to more than $2,000 billion. Those so-called assets are securities it bought from financial institutions and loans made to central banks in other countries. But the Fed refuses to name the specific recipients of those funds, while admitting that by doing so they are manipulating the value of the US dollar on foreign exchange markets. (Congressman Alan Grayson Grills Fed Vice Chair Donald Kohn.)

Where does the Fed get the money to buy those “assets” or to make those loans? Quite simply, it creates the money. Unlike you or me or any other economic entity, the Fed has the power to create Federal Reserve dollars by effectively writing a check against no funds. This is the function known as “Open Market Operations.”

What is the economy experiencing now, and what is in prospect for the future? Despite unprecedented inflation of the money supply, we are now (mid-July, 2009) in a period of depression. How can we have simultaneous inflation of the currency and still have economic depression?

It is a matter of where the money is going. While the public sector (federal government) is being lavishly funded to maintain a global empire, and the banks are being bailed out to try to keep a dysfunctional and destructive financial system from collapsing, the private productive sector is being starved for credit. As a result, businesses are bankrupting, people are losing their jobs and their incomes, and lower levels of government are being squeezed because their tax revenues are shrinking.

There is also the matter of the real estate bubble that was created by the financial institutions as they loaded up the private sector with a debt burden that was way beyond its ability to bear. Now that burden is being shifted to the public sector as the government assumes those “toxic” loans. Unfortunately, it is not the poor suckers who were lured into the debt trap that are being relieved, but the predatory lenders who laid the traps. So mortgages are being foreclosed at an unprecedented scale, people are losing their equity as housing values plunge, and more Americans are being made homeless.

These are the factors that have so far kept the effects of monetary inflation from becoming extreme. Ultimately, however, such abusive issuance of political money shows up as rising prices.

When will the price effects of hyper-inflation begin to kick in? How will the government respond to it? What will be the social and political fallout? What can ordinary people do to protect themselves from monetary and legislative abuses? These are the questions that beg for answers.

Already there are rumblings and signs that the U.S. dollar is about to lose its status as the global reserve currency. When that happens, imports of energy and other necessities will become more expensive. The U.S.’s massive trade deficits will not be sustained into the future. China, the OPEC countries, and others that have been buying massive amounts of U.S. government bonds with their dollar earnings, are indicating that their appetite has been sated. Bilateral and multilateral trade agreements are being made that bypass the use of the dollar for international trade.

One thing is clear — we cannot rely upon the government to act in the best interests of the people. Already, President Obama has moved to give the Federal Reserve even more power to control the people’s credit and financial resources. According to a June 18 article in the Wall Street Journal, “The central bank would win power to monitor risks across the financial system, and sweeping authority to examine any firm that could threaten financial stability, even if the Fed wouldn’t normally supervise the institution.” This is not a new plan; it was floated as a trial balloon during the Bush administration. As early as March 2008, then Treasury Secretary Paulson was proposing to “give the Federal Reserve broad new authority to oversee financial market stability, in effect allowing it to send SWAT teams into any corner of the industry or any institution that might pose a risk to the overall system.”

Ostensibly that would be done to prevent the errant financial institutions from repeating their sins of the recent past, but more likely it will have the effect of suppressing any private initiative that might compete with the financial cartel. The Fed is, after all, a private company run by the bankers for the bankers. A recent Reuters article is critical of Obama’s move because of the Fed’s lack of accountability. It is a plan that seeks to preserve at all costs the credit monopoly that exists under the central banking regime and to perpetuate the looting of the economy by monetization of federal government debts and other ultimately worthless “assets.”

During the Great Depression, President Franking Roosevelt, upon taking office in 1933, declared a “bank holiday.” He ordered all banks to close. Many of those banks never reopened and many people lost their savings. He also demanded that all Americans turn in their gold holdings in return for paper currency, which was one of the biggest robberies in history up to that time. Some pundits are predicting that another such bank holiday is being planned to put the brakes on price increases, once they begin in earnest, by depriving people of access to their savings, as was done in Argentina in 2002.

Governments that mismanage money invariably use the force of law to prevent the sheep from escaping from the shearing pen (or the slaughter house). So long as people are completely dependent upon political money and banks, they will docilely (or grudgingly) accept whatever “solutions” the political leadership puts forth, and do whatever the government demands of them.

Fortunately there is a way out. The primary purpose of money is to facilitate the exchange of goods and services in the markets. But it is possible to mediate the exchange process without using political money as the payment medium, and without borrowing from banks.

There is plenty of precedent for this sort of cashless trading. It involves a process of direct credit clearing among associated buyers and sellers. During the Great Depression the entrepreneurial middle class in Switzerland organized themselves into the WIR Economic Circle Cooperative. After 75 years, the WIR clearing circle continues to thrive with more than 60,000 member businesses trading the equivalent of about US$1.3 billion per year.

The past four decades have seen the emergence of a new industry comprised of commercial trade exchanges, sometimes called “barter” exchanges, that act as “third part record keepers” enabling the same sort of direct credit clearing for thousands of businesses in cities around the world. Efforts at the grassroots by social entrepreneurs to localize exchange and finance have been similarly widespread in many communities over the past twenty-five years.

Measures to properly reform the money and banking system by political means have about as much chance as the proverbial snowball in hell. However, what is possible, and what seems to be gaining traction to transcend the dominant system, is the materialization of voluntary, private initiatives that enable the cashless exchange of goods and services. As these systems continue to improve, proliferate, and scale up, they will provide a pathway toward a sustainable economy, greater local control, and a better quality of life for all.

Thomas H. Greco, Jr. is the director of the Community Information Resource Center, which he founded in 1992. CIRC is a nonprofit consulting organization and networking hub dedicated to economic equity, social justice, and community improvement, specializing in community currency and mutual credit design, development, and implementation. His newest book is The End of Money and the Future of Civilization.

To read his most recent AlterNet article, go here:


ST August Gen. Mtg: “The Global Financial Meltdown: Its Causes, and Opportunities for Localized Restructuring”

What: Sustainable Tucson August General Meeting
When: Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 5:45pm- 8:00pm
Where: Joel D. Valdez Main Library Downtown, 101 N. Stone Ave (free lower level parking off Alameda St.)

Sustainable Tucson is pleased to present a Special General Meeting featuring one of ST’s original founders. Thomas H. Greco, Jr. will give an illustrated presentation”The Global Financial Meltdown: Its Causes, and Opportunities for Localized Restructuring.” Note that this special meeting is on the second Wednesday of August.

This is a “must be there” event as we in Tucson look to more effectively shape and manage our own local economy.

The global financial crisis is no accident. It is the natural outcome of a flawed system that has long been building to a climax. Thomas Greco explains how and why conventional money and banking malfunction, describes the comprehensive metamorphic change that civilization is presently experiencing, and outlines voluntary alternative approaches to exchange and finance that empower communities and reward people fairly.

Thomas is a community and monetary economist, writer, networker, and consultant, who for three decades has been working at the leading edge of transformational restructuring. He is regarded as a leading expert in monetary theory and history, credit clearing systems, community economic development, and complementary currencies. A former college professor, he is currently Director of the Community Information Resource Center, a U.S. non-profit networking hub, which provides information access and administrative support for efforts in community improvement, social justice, and sustainability.

His latest book, “The End of Money and the Future of Civilization”, considers the money problem within the broad historical and political context that has made the control of money and banking the primary mechanism for concentrating power and wealth and the nullification of democratic governance. It provides the necessary understanding for entrepreneurs, activists, and civic leaders to implement approaches toward monetary liberation, approaches that empower communities to restore their environments and democratic institutions, and begin to build economies that are sustainable, equitable, and insulated from the financial crises that plague the dominant systems of money, banking and finance.

Since this release of what will likely be considered his most important book to date, our Sustainable Tucson colleague is now speaking directly to communities about both the present economic challenges and emerging opportunities for effective local solutions.

What colleagues say about Thomas Greco’s new book:

“This book cuts to the core of the [global financial] trouble–and points toward several pathways that might allow us to slowly climb out of the pit into which we’ve stumbled.”

— Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy

“If anything could save this civilization from the calamity to which its economic madness has led it–the unrelenting pursuit of materialism, the starkly inequitable division of wealth, the despoliation of the earth for profit–it would be widespread adoption of the wisdom embodied in Tom Greco’s clear and forthright new book.”

–Kirkpatrick Sale, author of Human Scale

“For the growing ranks of monetary reformers worldwide, long-time expert Tom Greco’s deeply researched new book is essential reading. This gripping blend of theory and practicality lays out all the options for creating saner money and credit systems.”

–Hazel Henderson, Author of Ethical Markets and

President of Ethical Markets Media (USA/Brazil)

To read his latest articles on AlterNet go here: