"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Water Shortages’

“At some point those aquifers might run dry.”: NASA Study Indicates World Is Running Out Of Groundwater. Fast.

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2015 at 7:15 pm
Photos of India's Deadly, Street-Melting Heat Wave

A young boy, son of a laborer, walks to a water pump to fill his bottle with drinking water in Ghasera, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Photo: Saurabh Das/AP

Oldspeak: “As temperatures rise and conditions worsen, this existential crisis that is being largely ignored on corporate infotainment streams, will continue to become more severe. Climate refugees are streaming into Europe from a thoroughly parched Africa, though they’re being referred to as “migrants”. Expect the flow of “migrants” to increase as time passes and the heat goes up. The U.N. Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, recently said: “In 10 years, 2 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity. 2/3rds of the world will live under water stress conditions.” That syncs up with a 2013 survey of U.S. State water managers, where 40 of 50 managers said they expect to see current regional water shortages continue into at least the next decade. This is an intractable global problem. It affects all life on Earth. Yet water intensive agricultural, mining, energy and technological production industries plunder on, wholly committed to unsustainable systems of extraction, with little to no regard for regeneration, as though water resources are infinite. We waste and posion soooo much water in service to vulture capitalist profiteers. This ecocidal madness will only stop when there is no clean water left. Then what?.” -OSJ

Written By Gabriel Fisher @ Quartz:

The world is losing groundwater, fast.

That is the conclusion of a new study published by researchers at NASA, which drew on satellite data to quantify the stresses on aquifers. The researchers found that over the decade-long study of the 37 major aquifers worldwide, 21 experienced a depletion of their water supply. Especially alarming was the study’s finding that the Indus Basin aquifer, which supplies much of India’s water supply, has depleted rapidly.

“The potential consequences are pretty scary,” NASA scientist Matthew Roddell, a lead author of the study, tells Quartz. “At some point those aquifers might run dry.”

To measure the water level changes, the researchers studied the gravitational orbit of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite caused by the shifting of earth’s mass. Because water is one of the larger and constantly shifting masses on earth, this allowed them to measure changes to groundwater supplies.

The researchers found that California’s Central Valley aquifer was the most depleted of all aquifers in the US, because Californians have relied more heavily on drawing groundwater as rain water has dissipated during California’s long drought.

While the study detected the change in groundwater levels, it could not quantify the amount of water remaining in the aquifers. Rodell said this would require drilling into the aquifers themselves, which he supports doing. “We should be monitoring and quantifying how much water is in these aquifers like we do with oil,” he says.

Preserving water in aquifers is especially problematic in agricultural areas like India, which relies heavily on water-intensive rice farming. According to Rodell, over 68% of our water supply is used for agriculture. But unlike, say, water used to cool a power plant, water used in agriculture is not recyclable, Rodell explains. “The people who are using the water don’t necessarily recognize that it will ever run out. It is used as a resource that will last forever,” Rodell says. If we continue with our current consumption practices, hesays,”these people and those farmers that rely on that water won’t have it anymore.”

How Federal Dollars For Arizona Cotton Are Financing The Water Crisis In The American West

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2015 at 7:51 pm

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Oldspeak:”Oh the demented irony. While farmers in India are literally killing themselves and selling their children in to slavery to cope with crop-losses because their government’s corruption limits the amount relief aid they receive, when their crops fail, the corruption in U.S. government is making it so farmers in the U.S. are being paid handsomely to plant cotton, a highly water-intensive crop, that there is no real market for. In a fucking desert, in the midst of a 1,000 year drought, no less. What’s crazy is without the government handouts, there’d be lots of U.S. farmers offing themselves too. Massive fossil-fueled infrastructure is required to pump millions of gallons of  precious water in to the deserts of Arizona, in spite of the fact that many farmers have been forced to fallow fields due to the drought, yet this madness continues at the behest of cotton lobbyists, insurance corporations and politicians. Ecology be damned. I’ll say one thing for Bizzaro World, it’s never boring, and never makes any fucking sense. One more reason to ignore the ongoing and upcoming climate talks. Major emitters plan to blabber about reaching agreements for emissions reductions targets, green energy and all that Jazz, at the same time they’re opening new and more sensitive areas to extract fossil fuels to burn in the death machine and heat engine that is Industrial Civilization. In the climate of insanity that exists today, (pun intended) prospects for survival grow dimmer every day. “Ignorance Is Strength” -OSJ

By :

State Route 87, the thin band of pavement that approaches the mostly shuttered town of Coolidge, Ariz., cuts through some of the least hospitable land in the country. The valley of red and brown sand is interrupted occasionally by rock and saguaro cactus. It’s not unusual for summer temperatures to top 116 degrees. And there is almost no water; this part of Arizona receives less than nine inches of rainfall each year.

Then Route 87 tacks left and the dead landscape springs to life. Barren roadside is replaced by thousands of acres of cotton fields, their bright, leafy green stalks and white, puffy bolls in neat rows that unravel for miles. It’s a vision of bounty where it would be least expected. Step into the hip-high cotton shrubs, with the soft, water-soaked dirt giving way beneath your boot soles, the bees buzzing in your ears, the pungent odor of the plants in your nostrils, and you might as well be in Georgia.

Getting plants to grow in the Sonoran Desert is made possible by importing billions of gallons of water each year. Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in existence, and each acre cultivated here demands six times as much water as lettuce, 60 percent more than wheat. That precious liquid is pulled from a nearby federal reservoir, siphoned from beleaguered underground aquifers and pumped in from the Colorado River hundreds of miles away. Greg Wuertz has been farming cotton on these fields since 1981, and before him, his father and grandfather did the same. His family is part of Arizona’s agricultural royalty. His father was a board member of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District for nearly two decades. Wuertz has served as president of several of the most important cotton organizations in the state.

But what was once a breathtaking accomplishment — raising cotton in a desert — has become something that Wuertz pursues with a twinge of doubt chipping at his conscience. Demand and prices for cotton have plummeted, and he knows no one really needs what he supplies. More importantly, he understands that cotton comes at enormous environmental expense, a price the American West may no longer be able to afford.

Wuertz could plant any number of crops that use far less water than cotton and fill grocery store shelves from Maine to Minnesota. But along with hundreds of farmers across Arizona, he has kept planting his fields with cotton instead. He says he has done it out of habit, pride, practicality, and even a self-deprecating sense that he wouldn’t be good at anything else. But in truth, one reason outweighs all the others: The federal government has long offered him so many financial incentives to do it that he can’t afford not to.

“Some years all of what you made came from the government,” Wuertz said. “Your bank would finance your farming operation … because they knew the support was guaranteed. They wouldn’t finance wheat, or alfalfa. Cotton was always dependable, it would always work.”

The water shortages that have brought California, Arizona and other Western states to the edge of an environmental cliff have been attributed to a historic climate event — a dry spell that experts worry could be the worst in 1,000 years. But an examination by ProPublica shows that the scarcity of water is as much a man-made crisis as a natural one, the result of decades of missteps and misapprehensions by governments and businesses as they have faced surging demand driven by a booming population.

The federal subsidies that prop up cotton farming in Arizona are just one of myriad ways that policymakers have refused, or been slow to reshape laws to reflect the West’s changing circumstances. Provisions in early–20th-century water-use laws that not only permit but also compel farmers and others to use more water than they need are another. “Use It or Lose It” is the cynical catch phrase for one of those policies.

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Growing cotton in the desert has always been a challenge. But for many farmers, it is a proud tradition and a cherished way of life. Below: Downtown Coolidge, where drought and sinking cotton prices have had their effect. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Western leaders also have flinched repeatedly when staring down the insatiable, unstoppable force of urban sprawl. Las Vegas authorities have spent billions of dollars inventing new ways to bring water to their ever-expanding city, yet could not cite a single development permit they had ever denied because of concerns about water.

Instead, when faced with a dwindling water supply, state and federal officials have again and again relied on human ingenuity to engineer a way out of making hard choices about using less water. But the engineering that made settling the West possible may have reached the bounds of its potential. Dams and their reservoirs leak or lose billions of gallons of water to evaporation. The colossal Navajo Generating Station, which burns 22,000 tons of coal a day in large part to push water hundreds of miles across Arizona, is among the nation’s biggest greenhouse gas polluters, contributing to the very climate change that is exacerbating the drought.

Few crises have been more emphatically and presciently predicted. Almost 150 years ago, John Wesley Powell, the geologist and explorer, traveled the Colorado River in an effort to gauge America’s chances for developing its arid western half. His report to Congress reached a chastening conclusion: There wasn’t enough water to support significant settlement.

For more than a century, Americans have defied Powell’s words, constructing 20 of the nation’s largest cities and a vibrant economy that, among other bounties, provides an astonishing proportion of the country’s fruit and vegetables.

For almost as long, the policies that shaped the West have struggled to match the region’s ambitions — endless growth, new industry, fertile farming and plentiful power — to its water supply.

Today, as the Colorado River enters its 15th year of drought, the nation’s largest reservoirs have been diminished to relative puddles. Power plants that depend on dams along the river face shortages and shutdowns that could send water and electricity prices skyrocketing. Many of the region’s farmers have been forced to fallow fields.

The still-blooming cotton farms of Arizona are emblematic of the reluctance to make choices that seem obvious. The Wuertz family has received government checks just for putting cottonseeds in the ground and more checks when the price of cotton fell. They have benefited from cheap loans for cotton production that don’t have to be fully repaid if the market slumps. Most recently, the government has covered almost the entire premium on their cotton crop insurance, guaranteeing they’ll be financially protected even when natural conditions — like drought — keep them from producing a good harvest.

Cotton in Arizona Though Land use statistics show that acres of irrigated farmland in Arizona have decreased over the past few decades, farmers planted more than 161,000 acres of cotton in Arizona in 2013, the second-highest total for any crop in the state, most of it clustered around Phoenix. (Sources: NASA/USGS Landsat, National Hydrography Dataset, USDA CropScape)

The payments, part of the U.S. Farm Bill, are a legacy of Dust Bowl-era programs that live on today at the urging of the national cotton lobby and the insurance industry. Similar subsidies support corn, rice, wheat and, indirectly, alfalfa — all of which also use lots of water. But in Arizona one of the driest states in the nation, it’s cotton that has received the most federal aid, tipping the balance on farmers’ decisions about what to plant.

Over the last 20 years, Arizona’s farmers have collected more than $1.1 billion in cotton subsidies, nine times more than the amount paid out for the next highest subsidized crop. In California, where cotton also gets more support than most other crops, farmers received more than $3 billion in cotton aid.

Cotton growers say the subsidies don’t make them rich but help bridge the worst years of losses and keep their businesses going. And because the money is such a sure thing, they have little choice but to keep planting.

“If you’re sitting on land and thinking of shifting, cotton is safer,” said Daniel Pearson, a senior fellow of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute.

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Greg Wuertz’s family has grown cotton for generations, always with the backing of federal subsidies. “Some years, all of what you made came from the government,” he said. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Growing cotton in the desert, long term, may be doomed. In Arizona, the price for cotton has been in decline, and with it the overall planting of the crop. But when the price spikes, as it did dramatically in 2010, the growers get busy. One thing has yet to change: the government’s willingness to back and protect those still wanting to be cotton farmers.

For years, the federal support came through subsidies and price protection cash put directly in the farmer’s pocket. In Arizona, those payments could total tens of millions of dollars a year. Today, the government’s aid comes chiefly in the form of insurance subsidies — reliable and robust protections against losses that many farmers and their lobbyists hoped would be every bit as effective as cold cash. And so every year more than 100,000 acres of cotton still get planted, making the crop the second-most popular in the state.

Thus, at a time when farmers in Arizona, California and other Western states might otherwise adapt to a water-short world, federal farm subsidies are helping preserve a system in which the thirstiest crops are grown in some of the driest places.

“The subsidies are distorting water usage throughout the West and providing an incentive to use more water than would be used in an open market,” said Bruce Babbitt, Arizona’s former governor and a former U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

One night last October, in the weary twilight of the cotton harvest, Greg Wuertz nestled his white Chevy pickup by the mailboxes at the head of his street. Opening a small aluminum door, he removed an envelope containing a $30,000 insurance payment on a policy paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Easy money, to be sure, but it left Wuertz uncertain.

“This kind of way of life in the West, it’s got to be different,” he said. “Water is going to be the oil of the 21st century and it should go to the best use. Right now, I don’t know if we’re doing that.”


Cotton might never have been grown in Arizona without some form of government enticement. During the Civil War, a Union blockade impounded the Southern states’ global exports. As Europe turned to new strains of cotton grown in Egypt, Arizona’s settlers, knowing the Pima Indians had long planted cotton there, thought they could replicate hot and dry North African conditions and compete. Townships reportedly offered cash to farmers willing to pioneer commercial-scale crops, according to a local historical account. Arizona’s first cotton mogul was said to be a blacksmith who abandoned his trade to take the subsidies and try farming.

Arizona, at the time, was short on people and long on land. It was also rich in freshwater aquifers, groundwater that then seemed ample enough to irrigate vast fields and turn the desert into an oasis.

When the United States first went to war in Europe, the demand for cotton surged. The fibers were used to reinforce truck tires and canvas airplane wings. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company bought thousands of farm acres and built a factory west of Phoenix, where a city by the name of Goodyear still stands. Farmers flocked to the state in search of opportunity.

In 1929, Wuertz’s grandfather packed the family’s belongings into their old Buick and drove down from South Dakota. He strung up tents on 160 acres, six miles outside Coolidge, and planted his first rows of cotton in the months before the Great Depression. By the 1950s, cotton farming had been woven into the state’s identity; Arizona schoolchildren learned about the “Five C’s”: cattle, copper, citrus, climate and cotton.

Draw a sagging line today from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and every state below it grows cotton. The United States is the world’s largest exporter, with 17 states producing some eight billion pounds of cotton each year, most of which gets shipped off to Asia and Europe.

California and Arizona are able to produce more than twice as much cotton on each acre they plant as can cotton powerhouses like Texas and Georgia because they irrigate their fields more often. But that also means that they use two to four times as much water per acre.

From almost the beginning, Arizona’s cotton farmers understood they were withdrawing from a finite account. “There was a sense the water would run out,” said Wuertz’s father, Howard, now 89. “You could tell there was going to be an end to it, even in the 1950s.”

They’ve made it last, in large part, because as the aquifers beneath their feet were depleted, the state brought in new supplies, mainly from the Colorado River.

Today, Wuertz’s irrigated cotton plants grow to about 4 feet tall, and are planted in even rows, about 3 feet center to center, extending for miles across furrowed fields. Every August, the bolls — pregnant pods just smaller than a golf ball — burst open, allowing their white cellulosic fiber to spring outward from hearty, splayed leaves and a small seed. Modern tractors, called cotton pickers, drive a comb through the fields, plucking the drying bolls from their stems and shooting them through a mechanical snorkel into a large basket being towed behind. Another basket, or “boll buggy,” dumps the load into a compressor, which packs the cotton into a brick 8 feet tall and 32 feet long.

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On Greg Wuertz’s farm, cotton gets harvested as it has for generations: with field hands, cotton gins and flat beds. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

The brick is hauled through Coolidge to a local gin, where computerized modern machines roll it through a whirring conveyor, separating the seeds and fibers from their leaves and chaff. The seeds are collected for animal feed or crushed for cooking oil. The lint, cleaned and dried, is strapped into 500-pound bales and shipped off through distributors who either sell the cotton or store it in vast warehouses, waiting for prices to rise and the commodity markets to buoy the crop.

Between land costs, labor, equipment, shipping and other expenses, Wuertz said he spends about $1,200 for every acre of cotton he harvests. His cotton has garnered about 62 cents per pound lately, so even if Wuertz gets four bales from each acre — a blockbuster harvest — he brings in about $1,240 and barely breaks even.

Cotton farmers can cut corners to try to eke out a profit, stretching their water, cutting back on fertilizer and making fewer laps with their tractors to save on diesel. But in years when the price is lower, water is short or demand plummets, they’ll lose money. This is when they count on federal subsidies and the crop insurance programs. If Wuertz needs an advance until his cotton is bought, the government lends it to him. If he can’t sell his cotton at a profit, the government never asks for its money back. If the price falls below a base of around 52 cents, Wuertz is insured for much of the decrease in value. If his fields produce a light yield — perhaps because he couldn’t give them enough water — he’s covered for the difference in weight, too. Other crops get subsidized insurance and loans, but none, Wuertz said, are covered as thoroughly as cotton. Add it all up, and the message from the Farm Bill is clear: Grow cotton and you will not be harmed.

“If they didn’t have insurance, it would be ugly around here,” Wuertz said. “It’d be the rope and chair. There’d be people killing themselves. It’s that bad.”


Standing in his field last fall, Wuertz cupped a tuft of cotton about the size of a softball and mused over its miraculous origins.

He gets about one-quarter of his water from the Central Arizona Project, or CAP, the system of canals that brings water from the Colorado River, some 230 miles away. The rest comes from a federally built reservoir nearby called San Carlos Lake, which, with the drought, has been diminished to little more than a bed of mud.

“There comes a time when you have to leave some to keep the fish alive,” Wuertz said wryly.

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Arizona schoolchildren have for years learned about the “Five C’s”: cattle, copper, citrus, climate and cotton. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Wuertz loves to farm cotton. Fingering the plant’s thorny, rose-like leaves, he explains the difference between hirsutum, what Arizonans call Upland, or short staple cotton used for everyday clothes, and barbadense, the long-fiber Pima cotton used in high-end sheets and expensive textiles. He is stocky, wearing jeans, cowhide boots, a blue-striped button-down shirt and a broad-rimmed white cowboy hat that shields his face from view as he talks. Every 10 days, he explains, he releases his ditch gates and floods the furrows, using an irrigation technique hundreds of years old, until the roots of his plants are submerged ankle deep. If he were to do it all at once, the water Wuertz spends to produce one acre of cotton would stand 4 feet deep. The ditches flow with hundreds of millions of gallons of water every year.

For the last third of a century, Wuertz was supplied prodigious amounts of water, largely because Arizona was pushing its farmers to use as much as they could. The state’s run on water began in the 1970s, when Arizona planned its mega canal in order to lay claim to its full share of water from the Colorado River. The canal would bring more water than the state needed at the time, ultimately supplying future urban expansion as its cities and economy grew. But in the short term, Arizona had to justify the canal’s $4.4 billion federally subsidized construction cost by demonstrating to Congress that it had a plan to put all that water to use right away.

The state’s aquifers had been drawn down so much that, in places, the land had begun to settle above them. The canal project looked like a way to wean Arizona’s farmers off ground water, using river water to replace it. It looked good on paper until 1993, when the Central Arizona Project canal was completed. The cost of construction plus the cost of the power needed to pump the water made CAP water more expensive than what farmers could pump cheaply from underground. In a bind, state and federal officials slashed the price — subsidizing nearly half the true cost of the water and charging farmers just a fraction of its value to get them to use more of it.

For a while, the plan worked. Farmers made the switch, using government-subsidized canals and inexpensive power to nourish their farms for another generation. But the farms were little more than a place holder in the state’s grand plans. It was understood that as cities grew, farming in Arizona would have to change. Much of the cotton, alfalfa, wheat and citrus would eventually need to be grown somewhere else as the water from CAP was switched to supply urban areas.

“That was the deal that was struck to induce agriculture to go out of business,” said Jon Kyl, the former three-term senator and four-term congressman from Arizona.

But the transition hasn’t been completed, in part owing to the farm subsidies that have delayed change. And now the state’s intricate water supply plan is beginning to crumble.

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Farmers around Coolidge get some of their water from the Central Arizona Project, a system of canals that brings water from the Colorado River, 230 miles away. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Drought has diminished the Colorado’s flow so much that federal officials — who control water deliveries on the southern half of the Colorado — now predict they will have to cut the state’s water deliveries through the CAP canal as soon as next year, potentially eliminating much of the farmers’ share. Meanwhile, loopholes in laws designed to conserve aquifers for exactly this situation have allowed housing developers and others to draw down resources that were supposed to be protected.

The water needs of Arizona’s cities are surging. The state’s population — less than two million in 1970 — has ballooned to more than three times that and is expected to reach 11 million within the next 30 years, turning the state into what the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University has described as a “megalopolis.”

Last year Arizona officials forecast the state could run out of water within a few decades.

“The shortages projected hitting municipal customers are really in the 2026 time frame,” said Thomas Buschatzke, the director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, as if a 10-year cushion was supposed to be reassuring.

Land use statistics show that acres of irrigated farmland in Arizona have decreased over the past few decades, and since 1985 they’ve dropped by more than half in the area around Phoenix. The Wuertz family sold a chunk of its fields to home developers in 2009.

But the patterns of agricultural water use make clear that it’s not just how many acres of land are planted there, but what is grown on them.

Cotton’s domestic benefits are questionable. After a price spike in 2010, production of cotton surged while global demand — and prices along with it — plummeted. Today, China, the world’s largest cotton producer, has enough cotton in warehouses to stop farming for a year. And Texas, the U.S.’s largest producer, harvests enough to cover more than one third of U.S. exports alone, relying largely on natural rainfall, not irrigation, to do it. Wuertz’s cotton — produced with Arizona’s precious water — is likely to get stacked in cavernous warehouses until the marketing cooperative he uses finds new customers. If Arizona stopped farming cotton tomorrow, Wuertz said, he’s not sure anyone would notice.

This underscores questions about whether continuing to grow these water-hogging crops at their current levels is in the public interest, and whether such an important pillar of U.S. economic policy as the Farm Bill should continue to champion them.

“The basic question is how are you going to manage your water supply? And we have managed it in a way that has subsidized agriculture,” said John Bredehoeft the former manager of the western water program for the U.S. Geological Survey, referring not just to subsidies for crops like cotton, but also the support for crops like alfalfa that are grown as feed. “If you look at the fact that half of the water use in the West is to raise cows — can you say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a water shortage in the West?’”


First established as a New Deal program to rescue farmers during the Great Depression, today’s unwieldy version of the U.S. Farm Bill wraps everything from food stamps to sugar imports into one 357-page, nearly $1 trillion law.

The measure allots about $130 billion over 10 years to protect farmers against price drops, bad weather and bad luck and to insure them against virtually any scenario that gets in the way of turning a profit.

No American law has more influence on what, where and when farmers decide to plant. And by extension, no federal policy has a greater ability to directly influence how water resources are consumed in the American West.

Until this year, the bill doled out direct subsidies for a full menu of crops. Every farmer planting commodities, including those planting cotton, got $40,000 just for signing up.

Then there are the steeply discounted business loans, which have a measurable impact on what farmers decide to plant. In many cases, to be eligible for these subsidies one year, a farmer has to have previously planted the crop — a basic component of the bill’s architecture that gives farmers an incentive to maintain “base” levels of acreage. In an analysis, the Congressional Budget Office found that the subsidies don’t just maintain the status quo, they also foster more planting, and more water use. The USDA’s marketing loans alone, for example, led to a 10 percent increase in the amount of cotton farmers planted — compared to 2.5 percent increase in the amount of wheat, and a 1.5 percent increase in the amount of soybeans produced — in part because the subsidies not only make cotton a safer bet, they also make it more competitive against alternative crops. Banks lend cotton growers money they wouldn’t lend for other crops, largely because they know the government will stand behind them.

All told, Wuertz estimates that nearly one-fifth of his income is derived from Farm Bill aid, and cotton has almost always been his largest and most important crop. According to USDA statistics compiled by the Environmental Working Group, the Wuertz family — including his brother’s and father’s farms — has received more than $5.3 million in farm bill subsidies since 1995, a portion of which may have been targeted for efficient irrigation equipment, Wuertz said.

The Farm Bill has been used in the past to steer environmental policy. It provides for withholding money, for example, from farms that would contribute to soil erosion or the destruction of wetlands. In North Dakota, where farmers were tearing out grasslands to plant corn for ethanol production, the law contains “sodbuster” provisions withholding insurance benefits from those who rip up lands the government wants to conserve.

The Farm Bill contains $56 billion for conservation, funding an effort to encourage farmers to reduce their water consumption by using more-modern equipment as well as measures meant to conserve land. Another section of the bill is aimed at saving energy. But the law’s farming incentives run counter to its far more modest water conservation initiatives.

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Cotton farming in Arizona may, in the long term, be doomed. But farmers, still backed by federal support, plant more than 100,000 acres a year. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

“There is a real disconnect between that and what the commodity and crop insurance program are promoting, and that’s a basic conflict,” said Ferd Hoefner, the policy director at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, based in Washington, D.C.

The Farm Bill’s authors have sometimes factored in environmental concerns in specific places and tailored incentives to affect them, Hoefner said. But when it comes to cotton, the bill does not consider the related water use, and it does not distinguish between the places where it is grown. Instead, the money corresponds roughly to the amount of cotton harvested; Arizona, which ranks in the middle in terms of its cotton production, also ranks 10th among the 17 states that receive cotton aid. California, which ranked third for overall cotton production in 2013, also ranks third in subsidies over the last 20 years according to data collected by the Environmental Working Group. It’s in those places that the incentives created by the subsidies are most in conflict with the government’s aid to conserve water.

“Trying to get USDA to break down the silos is difficult,” Hoefner noted.

The Congressional Budget Office attacked this disconnect in 2006, urging the USDA to stop supporting agricultural products that act to “impede the transfer of water resources to higher value uses,” and “encourage the use of water.” Analysts advised the USDA to enhance its conservation programs, align its subsidies with those conservation efforts, and stop paying for infrastructure that makes water artificially cheap.

Every six years or so Congress has the opportunity to revisit its Farm Bill policies and update the bill. When Congress reauthorized it in 2014, however, lawmakers changed, but did not retreat in their support for cotton farming in the Southwest, despite growing awareness of the persistent water crisis in the Colorado River basin.

Instead, legislators allowed the cotton industry to write its own future. Faced with international trade pressures and allegations that subsidies — like payments triggered by price drops — were distorting the market, U.S. cotton trade associations lobbied to ramp up the USDA’s insurance program.

Rather than paying direct subsidies to cotton farmers, starting this year the USDA will use taxpayer dollars to buy farmers additional crop insurance. Policies that once covered up to around 70 percent of farmers’ losses can now be supplemented with new coverage covering up to 90 percent, cushioning the shallowest of losses. The lucrative marketing loan program that serves as a sort of price guarantee also remains in place.

Right now, though, the stubbornly low price of cotton is making Wuertz nervous that the new, enhanced insurance program won’t deliver the same revenues as the old direct subsidies. He’s temporarily cut back, then, planting less cotton this year and only the most valuable strains.

Still, the more than 161,000 acres of cotton that were planted in Arizona in 2013 accounted for almost one out of every five acres of the state’s irrigated farmland. Many believe the insurance program is likely to keep the practice going because it limits most — if not all — downsides, encouraging farmers to take big chances with limited resources.

“If I knew my 401k was guaranteed to not fall below 85 percent of its current level and there was no limit on the upside,” said Craig Cox a senior vice president at the Environmental Working Group, who was a former staff member for the Senate committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, “my portfolio would be a lot riskier than it is.”


If the Farm Bill reshuffled its incentives, water policy experts say, farmers in states that draw on the Colorado River could reduce their water usage substantially, adding large amounts back into the region’s budget.

According to research by the Pacific Institute, simply irrigating alfalfa fields less frequently, stressing the plant and slightly reducing its yield, could decrease the amount of water needed across the seven Colorado River basin states by roughly 10 percent. If Arizona’s cotton farmers switched to wheat but didn’t fallow a single field, it would save some 207,000 acre-feet of water — enough to supply as many as 1.4 million people for a year.

There’s little financial reason not to do this. The government is willing to consider spending huge amounts to get new water supplies, including building billion-dollar desalinization plants to purify ocean water. It would cost a tiny fraction of that to pay farmers in Arizona and California more to grow wheat rather than cotton, and for the cost of converting their fields. The billions of dollars of existing subsidies already allocated by Congress could be redirected to support those goals, or spent, as the Congressional Budget Office suggested, on equipment and infrastructure that helps farmers use less water.

“There is enough water in the West. There isn’t any pressing need for more water, period,” Babbitt said. “There are all kinds of agriculture efficiencies that have not been put into place.”

Today Wuertz lives with the deep uncertainty that comes with a transition he can no longer control. He told his son, Thomas, 24, that there is no future in cotton farming. He says that if Arizona farmers keep planting cotton, farming itself may be in jeopardy. But knowing that and acting on it have so far been different beasts, and Wuertz finds himself resistant to change. He tried growing more cantaloupe but had difficulty finding buyers who would take the time-sensitive crop before it rotted. He’s planting some acres he used to plant with cotton with alfalfa instead, but that uses even more water, though it commands a premium price.

In the end, Wuertz said he doesn’t know how to grow other plants as well as he knows cotton. He’s been a gin director, president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, head of the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council. His identity is wrapped up in those prickly bolls out in his fields.

“When I quit cotton all of that goes away. Ninety percent of my life is gone. It doesn’t mean a damn thing,” he said. “I’m just not ready to do that yet. And it’s not to say I won’t get there.”

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A worker sweeps cotton scraps at the gin where Wuertz brings his harvest. Wuertz says that if he stopped growing cotton, “ninety percent of my life is gone.” (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

This story was co-published with Matter, a new digital magazine on Medium. Follow ProPublica on Medium for more conversation on the West’s water crisis.

Nestlé Chairman Calls World’s Water Scarcity ‘more urgent’ Than Climate Change– As It Sells Bottled Water From Drought-Ridden California

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2014 at 9:23 pm

A discarded tire is seen stuck in the exposed lake bed of the Almaden Reservoir which is experiencing extremely low water levels due to the ongoing drought, in San Jose. Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle

Oldspeak: “Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten-Cree Proverb

Peter Brabeck-Letmanthe, the chairman and former chief executive of Nestlé, told the Financial Times that the world is “running out of water” and that it needs to become a bigger priority to world leaders.

“Today, you cannot have a political discussion anywhere without talking about climate change,” he said. “Nobody talks about the water situation in this sense. And this water problem is much more urgent.”

Climate change is still an important issue, he argued, but even without it “we are running out of water and I think this has to become the first priority,” he said.

Nestlé’s 383,000 square-foot water bottling plant is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation in California.

The state declared a drought state of emergency in January this year, in preparation for coming water shortages – especially during the summer months, but Nestlé is reportedly not required to comply with the emergency measures as its plant sits on a Native American reservation.” –Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith

“Woah. Breathtaking Orwellian irony and hypocrisy here. These gems are coming from the same man, who said less than a year ago that basic human rights to water is “an extreme solution”, and “The biggest social responsibility of any CEO, is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise. ” How else could one explain how in his mind, the water scarcity that his corporation is helping to create is more important than the ecology upon which his business depends? Once again the land of Native Americans is being raped and pillaged for its most precious lifeblood so this man can maintain the profitable future of his enterprise. He cares nothing about water scarcity. if he did his company would get out of the water selling business, because bottling and selling water requires staggering amounts of water to be wasted and poisoned to be profitable. This is why industrial civilization will inevitably collapse. People like this are running things.  Sociopath, Pathological anthropocentrists. Profit trumps extinction.” -OSJ

By Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith @ The Independent:

But his comments come as his company is slammed for drawing water from drought-ridden areas in California to sell under its Arrowhead and Pure Life bottled water brands.

Peter Brabeck-Letmanthe, the chairman and former chief executive of Nestlé, told the Financial Times that the world is “running out of water” and that it needs to become a bigger priority to world leaders.

“Today, you cannot have a political discussion anywhere without talking about climate change,” he said. “Nobody talks about the water situation in this sense. And this water problem is much more urgent.”

Climate change is still an important issue, he argued, but even without it “we are running out of water and I think this has to become the first priority,” he said.

Mr Brabeck-Lemanthe’s comments may appear confusing to his company’s critics, as Nestlé, one of the world’s largest food companies, faces harsh criticism for its water bottling activities in California as the area suffers one of its toughest droughts on record.

Nestlé’s 383,000 square-foot water bottling plant is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation in California.

The state declared a drought state of emergency in January this year, in preparation for coming water shortages – especially during the summer months, but Nestlé is reportedly not required to comply with the emergency measures as its plant sits on a Native American reservation.

But local residents are concerned about the amount of water Nestlé is drawing from the area to bottle and export for profit, and how ethical this action is during a drought.

“Why is it possible to take water from a drought area, bottle it and sell it? Linda Ivey, a Palm Desert real estate appraiser, asked The Desert Sun. “It’s hard to know how much water is being taken – we’ve got to protect what little water supply we have.”

The Desert Sun reported that up until 2009 Nestlé’s Water business, Nestlé Waters, submitted annual reports to a group of local water districts showing how much ground water was being extracted from a spring in Millard Canyon, which is where the plant’s wells have been located for more than a decade.

There have been no reports since then, making it difficult to record how much water is being extracted from the area, but reports estimate it could be 244 million gallons a year. The Desert Sun has repeatedly asked for a tour of Nestlé Waters’ plant over the past year, which has not been granted.

Nestlé Waters said in a statement: “We proudly conduct our business in an environmentally responsible manner that focuses on water and energy conservation. Our sustainable operations are specifically designed and managed to prevent adverse impacts to local area groundwater resources, particularly in light of California’s drought conditions over the past three years.”

Massive, Abrupt Acrtic Ice Shelf Collapses Happening Faster Than Ever Seen; West Antarctic Ice Sheet Irreversibly Unstable

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2014 at 3:41 pm

https://i2.wp.com/pigiceshelf.nasa.gov/img/poster-lg.jpg

Oldspeak:” Pine Island Glacier (two-thirds the size of the UK), 1.2 miles thick, represents 10% of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet… Scientists have an especially keen eye on Pine Island Glacier because it has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea of any other ice drainage basin in the world. Alone, the loss of Pine Island might raise sea levels by less than half an inch, but if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreated, this would raise sea levels by more than 10 feet… Here’s the problem: Scientists fear a cascading Pine Island Glacier could lead to eventual destabilization of the entire West Antarctic Sheet… On the other hand, the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet, which covers an area bigger than the continental U.S. contains 85%-90% of the world’s ice and could raise sea levels by over 200 feet, which (fortunately) would likely take centuries to collapse….According to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Pine Island has “…reached a point of no return….all models suggest Pine Island Glacier has become unstable and even irreversible. The unstable condition is driven, not by higher air temperatures, but rather by a warming ocean at the bottom-waters, eroding the ice shelf.” –Robert Hunziker

Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime… From the Arctic to Peru, from Switzerland to the equatorial glaciers of Man Jaya in Indonesia, massive ice fields, monstrous glaciers, and sea ice are disappearing, fast.” -Daniel Fagre, U.S. Geological Survey Global Change Research Program

“Short version = WE’RE SOOO  FUCKED.  The thing i don’t get about this piece, is how the author could write something saying an enormous glacier in Antarctica is melting, has reached the point of no return, is irreversibly unstable, that it is feared it will lead to the disintegration of the ENTiRE west antarctic ice sheet which will raise sea level by 1o feet globally; and then spend the last part of the piece talking about “realistic and practical solutions to stopping climate change.”  “Hopeful signs on the horizon worldwide, principally because of human ingenuity combined with science and technology…” There are NO realistic nor practical solutions! They needed to be implemented 30 to 40 years ago.  Irreversible means IRREVERSIBLE! Human ingenuity, science and technology (and I would add sociopathy) are what brought us to Earths 6th mass extinction!!! This shit is happening whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. 10 feet of sea level rise, in addition to the already predicted 3 feet of sea level rise from already emitted human fossil fuel expenditure and another 23 FEET of sea level rise expected from our EVER INCREASING global carbon emmissions means all present day coastlines will be under will be underwater.  Human activity has caused  Multiple, IRREVERSIBLE non-linear positive feedback loops to begin and human activity will no longer mitigate them. Geoengineering is only making things worse. Earth will become uninhabitable by humans and most other forms of life. This is a certainty. There is no fixing this. Our mother is melting, and there is nothing we can do about it.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Imagine a 1,160 square mile ice sheet (equivalent in size to Los Angeles, Dallas plus Chicago), which had been stable for thousands of years, suddenly collapsing and crumbling into thousands of icebergs within weeks.

It happened in Antarctica, and the message therein challenges humankind to beware of its own devices, i.e., burning fossil fuels for energy.

A team of researchers from the University of Chicago and Princeton lead by Alison Banwell,1 may have cracked the code to what happened over a decade ago.

It was “like the smashing of glasses at the throw of a stone,” said University of Chicago geophysicist Douglas MacAyeal, co-researcher of the project, at an International Glaciological Society meeting in Beijing.2

What happened at Larsen B Ice Shelf is the warming atmosphere formed thousands of lakes on the surface, and as a result, here’s what the Banwell/MacAyeal’s study found: The disappearance (drainage) of one lake (only one lake) resulted in fractures under all the others: “An effect that can spread rapidly throughout the ice shelf.” Boom! Collapse! All of a Sudden! Abrupt climate change.

Their study begs numerous serious, daunting questions about abrupt climate change as a threat to major coastal cities of the world, if only because 85%+ of the world’s ice resides at the South Pole in Antarctica. And, as for starters: Is the Larsen B Ice Shelf collapse a renegade circumstance, or is it a nasty, threatening harbinger of more to come?

According to NASA, Earth Observatory, World of Change/larsenb: “The collapse of the Larsen appears to have been due to a series of warm summers on the Antarctic Peninsula… nor was the Larsen B the last Antarctic ice shelf to disappear. Farther down the peninsula to the southwest, the Wilkins Ice Shelf disintegrated in a series of break up events that began in February 2008 (late summer) and continued throughout Southern Hemisphere winter… It was the tenth major ice shelf to collapse in recent tines.”

So, it does not appear Larsen B was a renegade at all. It was just stupendously large, as “scientists monitoring daily satellite images… watched in amazement as almost the entire Larsen B Ice Shelf splintered and collapsed in just over one month. They had never witnessed such a large area… disintegrate so rapidly,” Ibid.

Pine Island Glacier

There’s a new kid on the block.

Pine Island Glacier (two-thirds the size of the UK), 1.2 miles thick, represents 10% of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet. It is the most closely watched glacier in the world and also the most treacherous with crevasses underfoot throughout.

Scientists have an especially keen eye on Pine Island Glacier because it has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea of any other ice drainage basin in the world. Alone, the loss of Pine Island might raise sea levels by less than half an inch, but if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreated, this would raise sea levels by more than 10 feet.

Here’s the problem: Scientists fear a cascading Pine Island Glacier could lead to eventual destabilization of the entire West Antarctic Sheet.

On the other hand, the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet, which covers an area bigger than the continental U.S. contains 85%-90% of the world’s ice and could raise sea levels by over 200 feet, which (fortunately) would likely take centuries to collapse.

According to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Pine Island has “…reached a point of no return. The Pine Island Glacier, if it is unstable may have implications for the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet.”3

Dr. Gael Durand (glaciologist at Grenoble Alps University, Fr.) warns that all models suggest Pine Island Glacier has become unstable and even irreversible. The unstable condition is driven, not by higher air temperatures, but rather by a warming ocean at the bottom-waters, eroding the ice shelf.

As such, the ocean has been absorbing 90% of the planet’s heat.

By its very nature, it is important to digest the horrid consideration behind the unannounced crumbling of the Larsen B glacier within a few weeks, an abrupt climate change in real time. Nobody saw it coming!

Worldwide Glacier Melt

The glaciers of the world are under severe attack.

According to Daniel Fagre, U.S. Geological Survey Global Change Research Program, “Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime.”4

“From the Arctic to Peru, from Switzerland to the equatorial glaciers of Man Jaya in Indonesia, massive ice fields, monstrous glaciers, and sea ice are disappearing, fast.”4

Peru’s Quelccaya is the largest ice cap in the tropics, and if its current rate of melt continues, 600 feet per year, it will be gone by 2100. In turn, the Quelccaya provides large regions of South America with drinking water, irrigation for crops, and hydropower.

Speaking of large population centers with a dependence upon glaciers, the famed Garhwal Himalaya in India is retreating so fast that researchers are concerned about the disappearance of most of the central and eastern Himalayan glaciers.

Stopping Global Warming/Climate Change

The only realistic solutions to stopping climate change are practical solutions, meaning courses of action that can be initiated within the framework of society. Along these lines, Greenpeace has an initiative:

Greenpeace suggests people join local community organizations to shut down dirty coal plants all across the U.S., applying local pressure from coast-to-coast to switch to renewables. This is a practicable, yet challenging, solution, assuming enough community organizers can push enough hot buttons, and the Greenpeace initiative would include advocating strong laws to curb global warming as well as exposing climate deniers by holding them publicly accountable, and resulting in an Energy Revolution, advocating solar, wind power, and the full panoply of renewables.

But, hold on for one minute, the probability of gathering enough dedicated souls required for the Greenpeace initiative is about as probable as the U.S. Congress passing a bill requiring all coal-burning plants convert to solar power. No additional commentary necessary.

Hopeful Signs Abound Worldwide

Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs on the horizon, principally because of human ingenuity combined with science and technology. Here are a few examples from around the world:

In Seville, Spain, as of a few months ago, 27,000 homes started receiving electricity 24/7 from a remarkable new Concentrated Solar Power facility, Gemasolar, which utilizes molten salt to store heat to run the plant when the sun does not shine, whilst omitting 30,000 tons/year of CO2.

And, in green California, as of September 2013, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert flipped the ‘on switch’, providing electricity from Concentrated Solar Power to 140,000 homes (mostly in San Francisco), omitting 400,000 tons/year of CO2 emissions.

New York announced (January 2014) a $1 billion plan to install enough solar-electric panels to power 465,000 homes. And, in Maine, a bill is under consideration to promote solar energy.

Regarding solar costs in general, since 2008, the price of photovoltaic modules fell 60%, which for the first time puts solar power on a Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) competitive basis with conventional energy.5 This remarkable achievement over such a short period of time brings solar to the forefront of an expanding list of locations around the world.

Solar Energizing the World

Solar produces electricity in latitudes as far north as British Columbia, Canada.  For example, ultra overcast, cloudy Germany (in the same latitude as British Columbia) currently produces more solar-powered electricity than 20 nuclear power plants, thanks to enlightened political leadership.

Also, in Germany the price of solar panels has fallen 66% in recent years, and its cost of solar-generated power is projected to be less than coal within the next few years. Already, twenty-two percent (22%) of Germany’s power is from renewables of which twenty-five percent (25%) comes from solar. By way of comparison, solar power accounts for less than one percent (1%) of total U.S. electricity.

As an aside, and as for one more sorry example of America’s embarrassing problem of naiveté of all-things-science, Fox News, in a February 2013 broadcast, discussed Germany’s solar success, when it occurred to host Gretchen Carlson to ask her expert guest, Fox business reporter Shibani Joshi, why Germany’s solar-power sector is doing so well.

Carlson asked, “What was Germany doing correct? Are they just a smaller country, and that made it more feasible?”

Expert Joshi replied, “They’re a smaller country, and they’ve got lots of sun. Right? They’ve got a lot more sun than we do… sure, California might get sun now and then…but here on the East Coast, it’s just not going to work.”

Fact: Germany’s direct solar energy is equal to Canada’s, which is far and away lower direct solar energy than the U.S. Furthermore, the New York/Boston/Washington, D.C. corridor is a sunny tropical isle compared to Germany, which is north of Newfoundland.

Henceforth, over time, solar will likely slam the door shut on the 150-year ordeal with fossil fuel, which has drained hundreds of millions of years of decomposed plant and animal ooze as feedstock for a revolution, the industrial revolution, which unleashed a massive capitalistic heist of every resource imaginable, as well as politically undermining socio/economic progression/development of rugged individualism by a throwback to the day of serfs, peasants, villeins, servants, and yeomen… with a smattering of nobles. Sound complicated? It is, but on second thought, it really isn’t.

  1. Alison Banwell, et al., Breakup of the Larsen B Ice Shelf Triggered by Chain Reaction Drainage of Supraglacial Lakes, Geophysics Research Letters, 40, 5872-5876, DOI: 10.1002/2013GLO57694. []
  2. “Chain Reaction Shattered Huge Antarctica Ice Shelf,” Nature, August 9, 2013. []
  3. G. Durand, et al., “Retreat of Pine Island Glacier Controlled by Marine Ice-Sheet Instability,” Nature Climate Change, doi: 10.1038/nclimagte2094, Jan. 12, 2014. []
  4. Daniel Glick, “Signs From Earth: The Big Thaw,” National Geographic, June 2007. [] []
  5. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

Is Our System of Government Incapable Of Meeting The Challenges We Face?

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Oldspeak:We have entered a “long emergency” in which a myriad of worsening eco-logical, social, and economic problems and dilemmas at different geographic and temporal scales are converging as a crisis of crises. It is a collision of two non-linear systems—the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles on one side and human institutions, organizations, and governments on the other. But the response at the national and international levels has so far been indifferent to inconsistent, and nowhere more flagrantly so than in the United States, which is responsible for about 28 percent of the fossil-fuel carbon that humanity added to the atmosphere between 1850 and 2002.

The “perfect storm” that lies ahead is caused by the collision of changing climate; spreading ecological disorder (including deforestation, soil loss, water shortages, species loss, ocean acidification); population growth; unfair distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of economic growth; national, ethnic, and religious tensions; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons—all compounded by systemic failures of foresight and policy…

Part of the reason for paralysis is the sheer difficulty of the issue. Climate change is scientifically complex, politically divisive, economically costly, morally contentious, and ever so easy to deny or defer to others at some later time. But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history. Indeed, it is a crime across generations for which we have, as yet, no name.

Barring a technological miracle, we have condemned ourselves and posterity to live with growing climate instability for hundreds or even thousands of years. No government has yet shown the foresight, will, creativity, or capacity to deal with problems at this scale, complexity, or duration. No government is prepared to make the “tragic choices” ahead humanely and rationally. And no government has yet demonstrated the willingness to rethink its own mission at the intersection of climate instability and conventional economic wisdom. The same is true in the realm of international governance. In the words of historian Mark Mazower: “The real world challenges mount around us in the shape of climate change, financial instability . . . [but there is] no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming….

These issues require us to ask what kind of societies and what kind of global community do we intend to build? It is certainly possible to imagine a corporate-dominated, hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable world that is also grossly unfair, violent, and fascist. To organize society mostly by market transactions would be to create a kind of Ayn Randian hell that would demolish society, as economist Karl Polanyi once said. Some things should never be sold—because the selling undermines human rights; because it would violate the law and procedural requirements for openness and fairness; because it would have a coarsening effect on society; because the sale would steal from the poor and vulnerable, including future generations; because the thing to be sold is part of the common heritage of humankind and so can have no rightful owner; and because the thing to be sold—including government itself—should simply not be for sale.

So what is to be done?…. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein proposes that we strengthen and deepen the practice of democracy even as we enlarge the power of the state. “Responding to climate change, requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless sit is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law.” –David W. Orr

“So we know what needs to be done, the know the problem requires a globally coordinated response, we know it needs to start happening LAST WEEK. “But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history.” Why? Greed and insatiable thirst for more have so thoroughly infected the totalitarian psyches of our most powerful and influential “citizens”. They have co-opted the political systems of the world, buying major influence over its workings. Drastically restricting and obstructing any meaningful environment based reforms. The information dissemination systems say very little about the perilous future that is all but guaranteed by the unrelenting, increasingly dangerous and toxic extraction and burning of fossil fuels  There is no indication these systems will change anytime soon. The people will have to drive the change if there is to be any.” -OSJ

By David W. Orr @ Alter Net:

The following is excerpted from The State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Possible [2] by the Worldwatch Institute. Copyright 2013 by the Worldwatch Institute. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington DC.

The first evidence linking climate change and human emissions of carbon dioxide was painstakingly assembled in 1897 by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. What began as an interesting but seemingly unimportant conjecture about the effect of rising carbon dioxide on temperature has turned into a flood of increasingly urgent and rigorous warnings about the rapid warming of Earth and the dire consequences of inaction. Nonetheless, the global dialogue on climate is floundering while the scientific and anecdotal evidence of rapid climate destabilization grows by the day.

We have entered a “long emergency” in which a myriad of worsening eco-logical, social, and economic problems and dilemmas at different geographic and temporal scales are converging as a crisis of crises. It is a collision of two non-linear systems—the biosphere and biogeochemical cycles on one side and human institutions, organizations, and governments on the other. But the response at the national and international levels has so far been indifferent to inconsistent, and nowhere more flagrantly so than in the United States, which is responsible for about 28 percent of the fossil-fuel carbon that humanity added to the atmosphere between 1850 and 2002.

The “perfect storm” that lies ahead is caused by the collision of changing climate; spreading ecological disorder (including deforestation, soil loss, water shortages, species loss, ocean acidification); population growth; unfair distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of economic growth; national, ethnic, and religious tensions; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons—all compounded by systemic failures of foresight and policy. As a consequence, in political theorist Brian Barry’s words, “it is quite possible that by the year 2100 human life will have become extinct or will be confined to a few residential areas that have escaped the devastating effects of nuclear holocaust or global warming.”

Part of the reason for paralysis is the sheer difficulty of the issue. Climate change is scientifically complex, politically divisive, economically costly, morally contentious, and ever so easy to deny or defer to others at some later time. But the continuing failure to anticipate and forestall the worst effects of climate destabilization in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is the largest political and moral failure in history. Indeed, it is a crime across generations for which we have, as yet, no name.

Barring a technological miracle, we have condemned ourselves and posterity to live with growing climate instability for hundreds or even thousands of years. No government has yet shown the foresight, will, creativity, or capacity to deal with problems at this scale, complexity, or duration. No government is prepared to make the “tragic choices” ahead humanely and rationally. And no government has yet demonstrated the willingness to rethink its own mission at the intersection of climate instability and conventional economic wisdom. The same is true in the realm of international governance. In the words of historian Mark Mazower: “The real world challenges mount around us in the shape of climate change, financial instability . . . [but there is] no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming.”

The Problem of Governance

In An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, in 1974, economist Robert Heilbroner wrote: “I not only predict but I prescribe a centralization of power as the only means by which our threatened and dangerous civilization will make way for its successor.” Heilbroner’s description of the human prospect included global warming but also other threats to industrial civilization, including the possibility that finally we would not care enough to do the things necessary to protect posterity. The extent to which power must be centralized, he said, depends on the capacity of populations, accustomed to affluence, for self-discipline. But he did not find “much evidence in history—especially in the history of nations organized under the materialistic and individualistic promptings of an industrial civilization— to encourage expectations of an easy subordination of the private interest to the public weal.”

Heilbroner’s conclusions are broadly similar to those of others, including British sociologist Anthony Giddens, who somewhat less apocalyptically proposes “a return to greater state interventionism”—but as a catalyst, facilitator, and enforcer of guarantees. Giddens believes the climate crisis will motivate governments to create new partnerships with corporations and civil society, which is to say more of the same, only bigger and better. David Rothkopf of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace likewise argues that the role of the state must evolve toward larger, more innovative governments and “stronger international institutions [as] the only possible way to preserve national interests.”

The performance of highly centralized governments, however, is not encouraging—especially relative to the conditions of the long emergency. Governments have been effective at waging war and sometimes in solving— or appearing to solve—economic problems. But even then they are cumbersome, slow, and excessively bureaucratic. They tend to fragment agencies by problem, rather like mailbox pigeonholes, but the long emergency will require managing complex systems over long time periods. Might there be more agile, dependable, and less awkward ways to conduct the public business in the long emergency that do not require authoritarian governments, the compromises and irrational messiness of politics, or even reliance on personal sacrifice? Can these be made to work over the long time spans necessary to stabilize the climate? If not, how else might we conduct the public business? Broadly, there are three other possibilities.

First, champions of markets and advanced technology propose to solve the climate crisis by harnessing the power of markets and technological innovation to avoid what they regard as the quagmire of government. Rational corporate behavior responding to markets and prices, they believe, can stabilize climate faster at lower costs and without hair-shirt sacrifice, moral posturing, and slow, clumsy, overbearing bureaucracies. The reason is said to be the power of informed self-interest plus the ongoing revolution in energy technology that has made efficiency and renewable energy cheaper, faster, less risky, and more profitable than fossil fuels. In their 2011 book, Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins and his coauthors, for example, ask whether “the United States could realistically stop using oil and coal by 2050? And could such a vast transition toward efficient use and renewable energy be led by business for durable advantage?” The answer, they say, is yes, and the reasoning and data they marshal are formidable.

But why would corporations, particularly those in highly subsidized extractive industries, agree to change as long as they can pass on the costs of climate change to someone else? Who would pay for the “stranded” oil and coal reserves (with an estimated value in excess of $20 trillion) that cannot be burned if we are to stay below a 2 degree Celsius warming—often thought to be the threshold of catastrophe? Would corporations continue to use their financial power to manipulate public opinion, undermine regulations, and oppose an equitable sharing of costs, risks, and benefits? How does corporate responsibility fit with the capitalist drive to expand market share? Economist Robert Reich concludes that given the existing rules of the market, corporations “cannotbe socially responsible, at least not to any significant extent. . . . Supercapitalism does not permit acts of corporate virtue that erode the bottom line. No corporation can ‘voluntarily’ take on an extra cost that its competitors don’t also take on.” He further argues that the alleged convergence of social responsibility and profitability is unsupported by any factual evidence.

There are still larger questions about how large corporations fit in democratic societies. One of the most insightful students of politics and economics, Yale political scientist Charles Lindblom, concluded his magisterial Politics and Marketsin 1977 with the observation that “the large private corporation fits oddly into democratic theory and vision. Indeed, it does not fit” (emphasis added). Until democratized internally, stripped of legal “personhood,” and rendered publicly accountable, large corporations will remain autocratic fiefdoms, for the most part beyond public control.

These issues require us to ask what kind of societies and what kind of global community do we intend to build? It is certainly possible to imagine a corporate-dominated, hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable world that is also grossly unfair, violent, and fascist. To organize society mostly by market transactions would be to create a kind of Ayn Randian hell that would demolish society, as economist Karl Polanyi once said. Some things should never be sold—because the selling undermines human rights; because it would violate the law and procedural requirements for openness and fairness; because it would have a coarsening effect on society; because the sale would steal from the poor and vulnerable, including future generations; because the thing to be sold is part of the common heritage of humankind and so can have no rightful owner; and because the thing to be sold—including government itself—should simply not be for sale.

A second alternative to authoritarian governments may lie in the emergence of national and global networks abetted by the Internet and advancing communications technology. They are decentralized, self-replicating, and sometimes self-correcting. In time, they might grow into a global system doing what traditional governments and international agencies once did—but better, faster, and cheaper. Some analysts believe that the old model of the nation-state is inadequate to meet many of the challenges of the long emergency and is losing power to a variety of novel organizations. Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University, for one, envisions networks of “disaggregated states in which national government officials interact intensively with one another and adopt codes of best practices and agree on coordinated solutions to common problems,” thereby sidestepping conventional inter-governmental practices and international politics.

Below the level of governments there is, in fact, an explosion of nongovernmental organizations, citizens’ groups, and professional networks that are already assuming many of the functions and responsibilities once left to governments. Writer and entrepreneur Paul Hawken believes that the world is already being reshaped by a global upwelling of grassroots organizations promoting sustainable economies, renewable energy, justice, transparency, and community mobilization. Many of the thousands of groups Hawken describes are linked in “global action networks,” organized around specific issues to provide “communication platforms for sub-groups to organize in ever-more-specialized geographic and sub-issue networks.” Early examples include the International Red Cross and the International Labour Organization.

Recently clusters of nongovernmental groups have organized around issues such as common property resources, global financing for local projects, water, climate, political campaigns, and access to information. They are fast, agile, and participatory. Relative to other citizens’ efforts, they require little funding. But like other grassroots organizations, they have no power to legislate, tax, or enforce rules. In Mark Mazower’s words, “Many are too opaque and unrepresentative to any collective body.” Much of the same, he believes, can be said of foundations and philanthropists. By applying business methods to social problems, Mazower writes, “Philanthrocapitalists exaggerate what technology can do, ignore the complexities of social and institutional constraints, often waste sums that would have been better spent more carefully and wreak havoc with the existing fabric of society in places they know very little about.” Moreover, they are not immune to fashion, delusion, corruption, and arrogance. Nor are they often held account-able to the public.

So what is to be done? Robert Heilbroner proposed enlarging the powers of the state. Green economy advocates believe that corporations can lead the transition through the long emergency. Others argue that an effective planetary immune system is already emerging in the form of networks. Each offers a piece in a larger puzzle. But there is a fourth possibility. Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein proposes that we strengthen and deepen the practice of democracy even as we enlarge the power of the state. “Responding to climate change,” she writes:

“requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless sit is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law.

Democracy, Winston Churchill once famously said, is the worst form of government except for all the others ever tried. But has it ever been tried? In columnist Harold Myerson’s words, “the problem isn’t that we’re too democratic. It’s that we’re not democratic enough.” The authors of the U.S. Constitution, for example, grounded ultimate power in “we the people” while denying them any such power or even much access to it.

Political theorist Benjamin Barber proposes that we take some of the power back by revitalizing society as a “strong democracy,” by which he means a “self-governing community of citizens who are united less by homogeneous interests than by civic education and who are made capable of common purpose and mutual action by virtue of their civic attitudes and participatory institutions rather than their altruism or their good nature.” Strong democracy requires engaged, thoughtful citizens, as once proposed by Thomas Jefferson and John Dewey. The primary obstacle, Barber con-cedes, is the lack of a “nationwide system of local civic participation.” To fill that void he proposes, among other things, a national system of neighborhood assemblies rebuilding democracy from the bottom up.

Political theorists Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson similarly propose the creation of deliberative institutions in which “free and equal citizens (and their representatives), justify decisions in a process in which they give one another reasons that are mutually acceptable and generally accessible, with the aim of reaching conclusions that are binding in the present to all citizens but open to challenge in the future.” Reminiscent of classical Greek democracy, they intend to get people talking about large issues in public settings in order to raise the legitimacy of policy choices, improve public knowledge, and increase civil discourse. (See Box 26–1.) A great deal depends, they concede, on the durability and vitality of practices and institutions that enable deliberation to work well.

Political scientists Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin propose a new national holiday, Deliberation Day, on which citizens would meet in structured dialogues about issues and candidates. They believe that “ordinary citizens are willing and able to take on the challenge of civic deliberation during ordinary times” in a properly structured setting that “facilitates genuine learning about the choices confronting the political community.”

Legal scholar Sanford Levinson believes, however, that reforms will be ineffective without first repairing the structural flaws in the U.S. Constitution, which is less democratic than any of the 50 state constitutions in the United States. He proposes a Constitutional Convention of citizens selected by lottery proportional to state populations to remodel the basic structure of governance. Whether this is feasible or not, the U.S. Constitution has other flaws that will limit effective responses to problems of governance in the long emergency.

Philosophers have argued through the ages that democracy is the best form of government, and some have claimed that the deeper it is, the better. By “deeper” they mean a structure that spreads power widely, engages more people, and invites them to take a more direct role in the shaping of policy.

Most liberal (current) democracies do not meet that definition, being republican in form and thus giving most power and decision making responsibility to elected representatives. In some of these republics, democracy is even further degraded. In the United States, for instance, Supreme Court decisions over the years have established that there is essentially no difference in civic standing between individual citizens and corporations or other private interests that can and do spend billions of dollars on political advertising, lobbying, and propaganda (over $8 billion in the 2010 election cycle).

But it is not simply such distortions of democracy that compel a closer look at the benefits of deepening it. The democracies that most of the industrial world lives in have been derided by political theorist Benjamin Barber as “politics as zookeeping”—systems designed “to keep men safely apart rather than bring them fruitfully together.” In fact there are major potential advantages in bringing people fruitfully together in the political arena, not least with respect to the environmental crises that beset humanity now. Paradoxically, one of the weaknesses of liberal democracy may be not that it asks too much of its citizens but that it asks too little. Having mostly handed off all responsibility for assessing issues and setting policy to elected politicians, voters are free to indulge themselves in narrow and virulently asserted positions rather than having to come together, work to perceive the common good, and plot a course toward it.

One antidote to this is deliberation. Deliberative democracy can take many forms, but its essence, according to social scientist Adolf Gundersen, is “the process by which individuals actively confront challenges to their beliefs.” It can happen when someone reads a book and thinks about what it says, but in the public sphere more generally it means engaging in pairs or larger groups to discuss issues, com-pare notes, probe (not attack) one another’s assertions, and take the opportunity to evolve a personal position in the interests of forging a collective one. Deliberative democracy, in Gundersen’s words, “challenges citizens to move beyond their present beliefs, develop their ideas, and examine their values. It calls upon them to make connections, to connect more firmly and fully with the people and the world around them.” When arranged to address environmental aims, deliberative democracy “connects the people, first with each other and then with the environment they wish not simply to visit, but also to inhabit.”

Given the uneven record of democracies in educating their people into citizenship, true deliberation might be difficult to learn, especially in countries where the politics are strongly adversarial. Deliberative democracy is a “conversation,” Gundersen says, “not a series of speeches.” Conversations involve respectful listening—not just waiting to talk—as well as speaking. Yet there is an untapped hunger for it that can be released when the circumstances are conducive. And Gundersen has established through 240 hours of interviews with 46 Americans that deliberation about environmental matters “leads citizens to think of our collective pursuit of environmental ends in a more collective, long-term, holistic, and self-reflectiveway.” Such thinking might be the indispensable foundation for achieving anything like sustainability.

In this regard the U.S. Constitution is typical of others in giving no “clear, unambiguous textual foundation for federal environmental protection law,” notes legal scholar Richard Lazarus. It privileges “decentralized, fragmented, and incremental lawmaking . . . which makes it difficult to address issues in a comprehensive, holistic fashion.” Congressional committee jurisdiction based on the Constitution further fragments responsibility and legislative results. The Constitution gives too much power to private rights as opposed to public goods. It does not mention the environment or the need to protect soils, air, water, wildlife, and climate and so it offers no unambiguous basis for environmental protection. The commerce clause, the source for major environmental statutes, is a cumbersome and awkward legal basis for environmental protection. The result, Lazarus notes, is that “our lawmaking institutions are particularly inapt for the task of considering problems and crafting legal solutions of the spatial and temporal dimensions necessary for environmental law.”

The U.S. Constitution is deficient in other ways as well. Posterity is mentioned only in the Preamble, but not thereafter. The omission, understandable when the Constitution was written, now poses an egregious wrong. In 1787, the framers could have had no premonition that far into the future one generation could deprive all others of life, liberty, and property without due process of law or even good cause. And so, in theologian Thomas Berry’s words: “It is already determined that our children and grandchildren will live amid the ruined infrastructures of the industrial world and amid the ruins of the natural world itself.” The U.S. Constitution gives them no protection whatsoever.

Further, with a few notable exceptions—such as in Ecuador—most constitutions pertain only to humans and their affairs and property. We privilege humans, while excluding other members of the biotic community. A more expansive system of governance would extend rights of sorts and in some fashion to species, rivers, landscapes, ecologies, and trees, as legal scholar Christopher Stone once proposed. In Thomas Berry’s words: “We have established our human governance with little regard for the need to integrate it with the functional order of the planet itself.” In fact, from our bodies to our global civilization we are part of a worldwide parliament of beings, systems, and forces far beyond our understanding. We are kin to all that ever was and all that ever will be and must learn what that fact means for governance.

Building the Foundations of Robust Democracies

The history of democracy is complex and often troubled. In classical Athens it lasted only 200 years. Political philosopher John Plamenatz once wrote that “democracy is the best form of government only when certain conditions hold.” But those conditions may not hold in established democracies in the long emergency ahead and may be impossible in less stable societies and failed states with no history of it. The reasons are many.

For one, citizens in most democratic societies have become accustomed to comfort and affluence, but democracy “requires citizens who are willing to sacrifice for the common good and [restrain] their passions,” notes political theorist Wilson Carey McWilliams. How people shaped by consumption will respond politically in what will certainly be more straitened times is un-known. Political analyst Peter Burnell cautions that “democratization does not necessarily make it easier and can make it more difficult for countries to engage with climate mitigation.”

Even in the best of times, however, representative democracies are vulnerable to neglect, changing circumstances, corruption, the frailties of human judgment, and the political uses of fear—whether of terrorism or sub-version. They tend to become ineffective, sclerotic, and easily co-opted by the powerful and wealthy. They are vulnerable to militarization, as James Madison noted long ago. They are susceptible to ideologically driven factions that refuse to play by the rules of compromise, tolerance, and fair play. They work differently at different scales. And they cannot long endure the many economic and social forces that corrode political intelligence and democratic competence.

Democracies are also vulnerable to what conservative philosopher Richard Weaver once described as the spoiled-child psychology, “a kind of irresponsibility of the mental process . . . because [people] do not have to think to survive . . . typical thinking of such people [exhibits] a sort of contempt for realities.” Psychologists Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell believe that the behavior Weaver noted in the 1940s has now exploded into a full-blown “epidemic of narcissism.” Such failures of personality, judgment, and character could multiply under the stresses likely in the long emergency.27

We are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. There is no good case to be made for smaller governments in the long emergency unless we wish to sharply reduce our security and lower our standards for the public downward to a libertarian, gun-toting, free-for-all—Thomas Hobbes’s nightmare on steroids. On the contrary, it will be necessary to enlarge governments domestically and internationally to deal with the nastier aspects of the long emergency, including relocating people from rising oceans and spreading deserts, restoring order in the wake of large storms, managing conflicts over diminishing water, food, and resources, dealing with the spread of diseases, and managing the difficult transition to a post-growth economy. On the other hand, we have good reason to fear an enlargement of government powers as both ineffective and potentially oppressive.

Given those choices, there is no good outcome that does not require something like a second democratic revolution in which we must master the art and science of governance for a new era—creating and maintaining governments that are ecologically competent, effective at managing complex systems, agile, capable of foresight, and sturdy over an extraordinary time span. If we intend for such governments to also be democratic, we will have to summon an extraordinary level of political creativity and courage. To meet the challenges of the late eighteenth century, James Madison argued that democracy required a free press that served a well-informed and engaged citizenry, fair and open elections, and reliable ways to counterbalance competing interests. But he feared that even the best government with indifferent and incompetent citizens and leaders would sooner or later come to ruin.

In our time, strong democracy may be our best hope for governance in the long emergency, but it will not develop, persist, and flourish without significant changes. The most difficult of these will require that we confront the age-old nemesis of democracy: economic oligarchy. Today the majority of concentrated wealth is tied, directly or indirectly, to the extraction, processing, and sale of fossil fuels, which is also the major driver of the long emergency. Decades of rising global inequality have entrenched control in a small group of super-wealthy individuals, financiers, corporations, media tycoons, drug lords, and celebrities in positions of unaccountable authority.

In the United States, for example, the wealthiest 400 individuals have more net wealth than the bottom 185,000,000 people. Six Walmart heirs alone control as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the U.S. population. Rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere reflects neither efficiency nor merit. And beyond some threshold it divides society by class, erodes empathy, hardens hearts, undermines public trust, incites violence, saps our collective imagination, and destroys the public spirit that upholds democracy and community alike. Nonetheless, the rich do not give up easily. According to political economist Jeffrey Winters, the redistribution of wealth has always occurred as a result of war, conquest, or revolution, not as a democratic decision or from the benevolence of plutocrats.

Toward the end of his life, historian Lewis Mumford concluded that the only way out of this conundrum is “a steady withdrawal” from the “megamachine” of technocratic and corporate control. He did not mean community-scale isolation and autarky, but rather more equitable, decentralized, and self-reliant communities that met a significant portion of their needs for food, energy, shelter, waste cycling, and economic support. He did not propose secession from the national and global community but rather withdrawal from dependence on the forces of oligarchy, technological domination, and zombie-like consumption. Half a century later, that remains the most likely strategy for building the foundations of democracies robust enough to see us through the tribulations ahead.

In other words, the alternative to a futile and probably bloody attempt to forcibly redistribute wealth is to spread the ownership of economic assets throughout society. From the pioneering work of progressive economists, scholars, and activists such as Scott Bernstein, Michael Shuman, Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, and Jeff Gates we know that revitalization of local economies through worker-owned businesses, local investment, and greater local self-reliance is smart economics, wise social policy, smart environmental management, and a solid foundation for both democracy and national resilience.

Simultaneously, and without much public notice, there have been dramatic advances in ecological design, biomimicry, distributed renewable energy, efficiency, ecological engineering, transportation infrastructure, permaculture, and natural systems agriculture. Applied systematically at community, city, and regional scales, ecological design opens genuine possibilities for greater local control over energy, food, shelter, money, water, transportation, and waste cycling. It is the most likely basis for revitalizing local economies powered by home-grown efficiency and locally accessible renewable energy while eliminating pollution, improving resilience, and spreading wealth. The upshot at a national level is to reduce the need for government regulation, which pleases conservatives, while improving quality of life, which appeals to liberals. Fifty years ago, Mumford’s suggestion seemed unlikely. But in the years since, local self-reliance, Transition Towns, and regional policy initiatives are leading progressive changes throughout Europe and the United States while central governments have been rendered ineffective.

A second change is in order. Democracies from classical Athens to the present are only as vibrant as the quality and moral power of the ideas they can muster, mull over, and act upon. Debate, argument, and civil conversation are the lifeblood of the democratic process. In our time, said to be an age of information, one of the most striking characteristics is the triviality, narrowness, and often factual inaccuracy of our political conversations. Much of what passes for public dialogue has to do with jobs and economic growth, but it is based on economic theories that fit neither biophysical reality nor the highest aspirations of humankind. The rules of market economies are said to date from Adam Smith 237 years ago, but those of natural systems are 3.8 billion years old. Allowed to run on much longer, the mismatch will destroy us.

At the dawn of the modern environmental era, in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act required all federal agencies to “utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decision-making.” Nonetheless, the government and corporations, foundations, and nonprofit organizations still work mostly by breaking issues and problems into their parts and dealing with each in isolation. Separate agencies, departments, and organizations specialize in energy, land, food, air, water, wildlife, economy, finance, building regulations, urban policy, technology, health, and transportation as if each were unrelated to the others.

Reducing wholes to parts is the core of the modern worldview we inherited from Galileo, Bacon, and Descartes. And for a time it worked economic, scientific, and technological miracles. But the price we pay is considerable and growing fast. For one, we seldom anticipate or account for collateral costs of fragmentation or count the benefits of systems integration. We mostly focus on short-term benefits while ignoring long-term risks and vulnerabilities. Imponderables and non-priced benefits are excluded altogether. The results corrupt our politics, economics, and values, and they undermine our prospects.

Nonetheless, we administer, organize, and analyze in parts, not wholes. But in the real world there are tipping points, surprises, step-level changes, time delays, and unpredictable, high-impact events. To fathom such things requires a mind-set capable of seeing connections, systems, and patterns as well as a perspective far longer than next year’s election or an annual balance sheet. Awareness that we live in systems we can never fully comprehend and control and humility in the face of the unknown gives rise to precaution and resilient design.

One example of this approach comes from Oberlin, a small city of about 10,000 people with a poverty level of 25 percent in the center of the U.S. “Rust Belt.” It is situated in a once-prosperous industrial region sacrificed to political expediency and bad economic policy, not too far from Cleveland and Detroit. But things here are beginning to change. In 2009, Oberlin College and the city launched the Oberlin Project. It has five goals: build a sustainable economy, become climate-positive, restore a robust local farm economy supplying up to 70 percent of the city’s food, educate at all levels for sustainability, and help catalyze similar efforts across the United States at larger scales. The community is organized into seven teams, focused on economic development, education, law and policy, energy, community engagement, food and agriculture, and data analysis. The project aims for “full-spectrum sustainability,” in which each of the parts supports the resilience and prosperity of the whole community in a way that is catalytic—shifting the default setting of the city, the community, and the college to a collaborative post-cheap-fossil-fuel model of resilient sustainability.

The Oberlin Project is one of a growing number of examples of integrated or full-spectrum sustain-ability worldwide, including the Mondragón Cooperative in Spain, the Transition Towns movement, and the Evergreen Project in Cleveland. In different ways, each is aiming to transform complex systems called cities and city-regions into sustainable, locally generated centers of prosperity, powered by efficiency and renewable energy. Each is aiming to create opportunities for good work and higher levels of worker ownership of renewably powered enterprises organized around necessities. The upshot is a global movement toward communities with the capacity to withstand outside disturbances while preserving core values and functions. In practical terms, resilience means redundancy of major functions, appropriate scale, firebreaks between critical systems, fairness, and societies that are “robust to error,” technological accidents, malice, and climate destabilization. In short, it is human systems designed in much the way that nature designs ecologies: from the bottom up.

It is time to talk about important things. Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually? Why do we still have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert? How can humankind reclaim the commons of atmosphere, seas, biological diversity, mineral re-sources, and lands as the heritage of all, not the private possessions of a few? How much can we fairly and sustainably take from Earth, and for what purposes? Why is wealth so concentrated and poverty so pervasive? Are there better ways to earn our livelihoods than by maximizing consumption, a word that once signified a fatal disease? Can we organize governance at all levels around the doctrine of public trust rather than through fear and com-petition? And, finally, how might Homo sapiens, with a violent and bloody past, be redeemed in the long arc of time?

Outside of Hollywood movies, stories do not always have happy endings. Human history, to the contrary, is “one damn thing after another” as an undergraduate history major once famously noted. And one of those damn things is the collapse of entire civilizations when leaders do not summon the wit and commitment to solve problems while they can. Whatever the particulars, the downward spiral has a large dose of elite incompetence and irresponsibility, often with the strong aroma of wishful thinking, denial, and groupthink abetted by rules that reward selfishness, not group success.

In the long emergency ahead, the challenges to be overcome are first and foremost political, not technological or economic. They are in the domain of governance where the operative words are “we” and “us,” not those of markets where the pronouns are “I,” “me,” and “mine.” At issue is whether we have the wherewithal, wisdom, and foresight to preserve and improve the human enterprise in the midst of a profound human crisis. Any chance for us to come through the trials of climate destabilization in a nuclear-armed world with 10 billion people by 2100 will require that we soon reckon with the thorny issues of politics, political theory, and governance with wisdom, boldness, and creativity.

Some Credible Scientists Believe Humanity Is Irreparably Close To Destruction

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Oldspeak: “Scientists are putting out the warning call that rapid, life-threatening climate change lies ahead in our near future—but most are drowned out by the political arguments and denialist rhetoric of climate change skeptics. …. The general public seems to be getting ready for some sort of societal collapse… there are some clarion calls coming from…well-respected scientists and journalists who have come to some scarily-sane sounding conclusions about the threat of human-induced climate change on the survival of the human species… Recent data seems to suggest that we may have already tripped several irrevocable, non-linear, positive feedback loops (melting of permafrost, methane hydrates, and arctic sea ice) that make an average global temperature increase of only 2°C by 2100 seem like a fairy tale. Instead, we’re talking 4°C, 6°C, 10°C, 16°C (????????) here….The link between rapid climate change and human extinction is basically this: the planet becomes uninhabitable by humans if the average temperature goes up by 4-6°C. It doesn’t sound like a lot because we’re used to the temperature changing 15°C overnight, but the thing that is not mentioned enough is that even a 2-3°C average increase would give us temperatures that regularly surpass 40°C (104°F) in North America and Europe, and soar even higher near the equator. Human bodies start to break down after six hours at a wet-bulb (100% humidity) temperature of 35°C (95°F). This makes the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed over 70,000 people seem like not a very big deal…Factoring in the increase we’re already seeing in heat waves, droughts, wildfires, massive storms, food and water shortages, deforestation, ocean acidification, and sea level rise some are seeing the writing on the wall: We’re all gonna die! -Nathan Curry

“Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick….. Meanwhile, news outlets are focusing on the civil war in Syria, Chelsea Manning’s sexual transition, the 50th Anniversary of the March On Washington.  Don’t get that shit ATAL. You have life long scientists quitting their jobs to become environmental activists. Something ain’t right. “OSJ

By Nathan Curry @ Vice Magazine:

If you were to zoom out and take a comparative look back at our planet during the 1950s from some sort of cosmic time-travelling orbiter cube, you would probably first notice that millions of pieces of space trash had disappeared from orbit.

The moon would appear six and a half feet closer to Earth, and the continents of Europe and North America would be four feet closer together. Zooming in, you would be able to spot some of the industrial clambering of the Golden Age of Capitalism in the West and some of the stilted attempts at the Great Leap Forward in the East. Lasers, bar codes, contraceptives, hydrogen bombs, microchips, credit cards, synthesizers, superglue, Barbie dolls, pharmaceuticals, factory farming, and distortion pedals would just be coming into existence.

There would be two thirds fewer humans on the planet than there are now. Over a million different species of plants and animals would exist that have since gone extinct.  There would be 90 percent more fish, a billion less tons of plastic, and 40 percent more phytoplankton (producers of half the planet’s oxygen) in the oceans. There would be twice as many trees covering the land and about three times more drinking water available from ancient aquifers. There would be about 80 percent more ice covering the northern pole during the summer season and 30 percent less carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. The list goes on…

Most educated and semi-concerned people know that these sorts of sordid details make up the backdrop of our retina-screened, ethylene-ripened story of progress, but what happens when you start stringing them all together?

If Doomsday Preppers, the highest rated show on the National Geographic Channel is any indication, the general public seems to be getting ready for some sort of societal collapse. There have always been doomsday prophets and cults around and everyone has their own personal view of how the apocalypse will probably go down (ascension of pure souls, zombie crows), but in the midst of all of the Mayan Calendar/Timewave Zero/Rapture babble, there are some clarion calls coming from a crowd that’s less into bugout bags and eschatology: well-respected scientists and journalists who have come to some scarily-sane sounding conclusions about the threat of human-induced climate change on the survival of the human species.

Recent data seems to suggest that we may have already tripped several irrevocable, non-linear, positive feedback loops (melting of permafrost, methane hydrates, and arctic sea ice) that make an average global temperature increase of only 2°C by 2100 seem like a fairy tale. Instead, we’re talking 4°C, 6°C, 10°C, 16°C (????????) here.

The link between rapid climate change and human extinction is basically this: the planet becomes uninhabitable by humans if the average temperature goes up by 4-6°C. It doesn’t sound like a lot because we’re used to the temperature changing 15°C overnight, but the thing that is not mentioned enough is that even a 2-3°C average increase would give us temperatures that regularly surpass 40°C (104°F) in North America and Europe, and soar even higher near the equator. Human bodies start to break down after six hours at a wet-bulb (100% humidity) temperature of 35°C (95°F). This makes the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed over 70,000 people seem like not a very big deal.

Factoring in the increase we’re already seeing in heat waves, droughts, wildfires, massive storms, food and water shortages, deforestation, ocean acidification, and sea level rise some are seeing the writing on the wall:

We’re all gonna die!

If you want to freak yourself the fuck out, spend a few hours trying to refute the mounting evidence of our impending doom heralded by the man who gave the Near Term Extinction movement its name, Guy McPherson, on his blog Nature Bats Last. McPherson is a former Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, who left his cushy tenured academic career and now lives in a straw-bale house on a sustainable commune in rural New Mexico in an attempt to “walk away from Empire.” There are a lot of interviews and videos available of Dr. McPherson talking about NTE if you want to boost your pessimism about the future to suicidal/ruin-any-dinner-party levels.


If you are in need of an ultimate mind-fuck, there is a long essay on McPherson’s site entitled “The Irreconcilable Acceptance of Near Term Extinction” written by a lifelong environmental activist named Daniel Drumright. He writes about trying to come to terms with what it means to be on a clear path toward extinction now that it’s probably too late to do anything about it (hint: suicide or shrooms). As Drumright points out, the entirety of human philosophy, religion, and politics doesn’t really provide a framework for processing the psychological terror of all of humanity not existing in the near future.

Outside of the official NTE enclave, there are a lot of scientists and journalists who would probably try to avoid being labeled as NTE proponents, but are still making the same sort of dire predictions about our collective fate. They may not believe that humans will ALL be gone by mid-century, but massive, catastrophic “population decline” due to human-induced rapid climate change is not out of the picture.

James Hansen, the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s leading climatologists has recently retired from his position after 43 years in order to concentrate on climate-change activism. He predicts that without full de-carbonization by 2030, global CO2 emissions will be 16 times higher than in 1950, guaranteeing catastrophic climate change. In an essay published in April of this year, Hansen states:

“If we should ‘succeed’ in digging up and burning all fossil fuels, some parts of the planet would become literally uninhabitable, with some times during the year having wet bulb temperatures exceeding 35°C. At such temperatures, for reasons of physiology and physics, humans cannot survive… it is physically impossible for the environment to carry away the 100W of metabolic heat that a human body generates when it is at rest. Thus even a person lying quietly naked in hurricane force winds would be unable to survive.”

Bill McKibben, prominent green journalist, author, distinguished scholar, and one of the founders of 350.org—the movement that aims to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels to 350ppm in the hopes of avoiding runaway climate change—wrote a book in 2011 called Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. In it he highlights current environmental changes that have put us past the predictions that had previously been reserved for the end of the 21st century. He emphasizes that the popular political rhetoric that we need to do something about climate change for our “grandchildren” is sorely out of touch with reality. This is happening now. We’re already living on a sci-fi planet from a parallel universe:

“The Arctic ice cap is melting, the great glacier above Greenland is thinning, both with disconcerting and unexpected speed. The oceans are distinctly more acid and their level is rising…The greatest storms on our planet, hurricanes and cyclones, have become more powerful…The great rain forest of the Amazon is drying on its margins…The great boreal forest of North America is dying in a matter of years… [This] new planet looks more or less like our own but clearly isn’t… This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened.”


Climate Change protesters in Melbourne. via Flickr.

Peter Ward is a paleontologist and author whose 2007 book Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What they Can Tell Us About the Future, provides evidence that all but one of the major global extinction events (dinosaurs) occurred due to rapid climate change caused by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. This time around, the carbon dioxide increase happens to be coming from humans figuring out how to dig billions of tons of carbon out of the ground—and releasing it into the air. Ward states that during the last 10,000 years in which human civilization has emerged, our carbon dioxide levels and climate have remained anomalously stable, but the future doesn’t look so good:

“The average global temperature has changed as much as 18°F [8°C] in a few decades. The average global temperature is 59°F [15°C]. Imagine that it shot to 75°F [24°C] or dropped to 40°F [4°C], in a century or less. We have no experience of such a world… at minimum, such sudden changes would create catastrophic storms of unbelievable magnitude and fury…lashing the continents not once a decade or century but several times each year…For most of the last 100,000 years, an abruptly changing climate was the rule, not the exception.”

Far from being a Mother Earth lover, Ward has also developed an anti-Gaia hypothesis that he calls the “Medea Hypothesis” in which complex life, instead of being in symbiotic harmony with the environment, is actually a horrible nuisance. In this hypothesis, the planet and microbial life have worked together multiple times to trigger mass extinction events that have almost succeeded in returning the earth to its microbe-dominant state. In other words, Mother Earth might be Microbe Earth and she might be trying to kill her kids.

Scientists are putting out the warning call that rapid, life-threatening climate change lies ahead in our near future—but most are drowned out by the political arguments and denialist rhetoric of climate change skeptics. The well-funded effort by free market think tanks, energy lobbyists, and industry advocates to blur the public perception of climate science should come as no surprise. The thermodynamic forcing effects of an ice-free artic by 2015 don’t seem so threatening if you stand to gain billions of dollars by sending drill bits into the potentially huge oil reservoirs there.

It may not be the case that the southwest US will be uninhabitable by 2035, or that all of human life will be extinguished in a generation, but we should probably start to acknowledge and internalize what some of the people who have given their lives to better understand this planet are saying about it. It’s depressing to think that humans, in our current state, could be the Omega Point of consciousness. Maybe sentience and the knowledge of our inevitable death have given us a sort of survival vertigo that we can’t overcome. As the separate paths of environmental exploitation quickly and quietly converge around us, we might just tumble off the precipice, drunk on fossil fuels, making duck faces into black mirrors.

Propaganda, Self-Censorship & Climate Change

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2013 at 12:16 pm

https://i0.wp.com/i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01508/Climate-ChangeNEW_1508747a.jpgOldspeak: “The voices of the propaganda, for various reasons, cast doubt about climate science in much the same way that similar voices (and sometimes the same voices) cast doubt about smoking and cancer, acid rain and ozone-depleting chemicals. The vested interests’ work was authoritative and their money and vision allowed them to distribute their message widely.In their quest for fairness, the media gave equal time to this authoritative message about climate change not being real. Why? Because it was authoritative. It was designed to be that way using carefully chosen words and carefully chosen academic findings. People began to listen because their authority figures repeated the message. Climate change “believers” dropped from the rolls in droves. Awareness plummeted.” –Bruce Melton.

97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is caused by human activity. 50% of Americans believe it to be true. This is the profound, convincing  and deadly power of propaganda. Lies repeated often enough become truth. Straight out of Joseph Goebbels playbook. It leads people to believe that the economy, dissatisfaction with government and jobs are the most important problems today. It leads people to believe that artificial constructs, like federal debt and the economy will be the most important problems facing our nation in 25 years. We must counter this disinformation with the truth. Educate yourselves with the truth.  Tell the truth, every chance you get, spread awareness, call your elected officials, let them know that climate change is the preeminent problem of our times. There’s no economy, or jobs or debt on a dead planet. “Propaganda Always Wins, If You Allow It.” –Leni Riefenstahl

By Bruce Melton @ Truthout:

Climate change messaging is changing these days. One only needs to look as far as the Sierra Club’s unprecedented encouragement of civil disobedience with the Keystone Pipeline to see this happening. The polls are telling us that some 70 percent or more of Americans believe the Earth is now warming. This falls to a little over 50 percent when the words “because of man” are added to the question, but it is a majority.

Contrast this with about 97 percent of climate scientists believing Earth is warming and caused by man. Why is there such a difference? Part of the reason is because a pox has been put on these four little words: climate change and global warming.

A self-imposed moratorium in the environmental and broadcast communities has been in effect on those four words since the early part of George W. Bush’s administration. Environmental organizations across the nation recognized that negative climate science propaganda was changing public awareness. So those words found themselves being repeated less and less. They were poisoning environmental outreach efforts and their use created distrust.

Why did this happen? Likely, it was almost completely because of propaganda from vested interests. The voices of the propaganda, for various reasons, cast doubt about climate science in much the same way that similar voices (and sometimes the same voices) cast doubt about smoking and cancer, acid rain and ozone-depleting chemicals. The vested interests’ work was authoritative and their money and vision allowed them to distribute their message widely.

In their quest for fairness, the media gave equal time to this authoritative message about climate change not being real. Why? Because it was authoritative. It was designed to be that way using carefully chosen words and carefully chosen academic findings. People began to listen because their authority figures repeated the message. Climate change “believers” dropped from the rolls in droves. Awareness plummeted.

Environmentalists knew that using the poison words was harming their counsel, so they began to advocate for conservation issues to mitigate the effects of climate change that were not directly associated with the poison words. The rallying cry began to focus on the great benefits of energy security from alternative sources, clean air from clean energy and mountaintops unremoved. King coal and the Keystone Pipeline were still targeted, but those four “poison” little words were nowhere to be seen or heard.

The story has changed today, but only a little. In the environmental community, however, the discussion rages as to whether or not to use the poison words. The passive-aggressive ways of the last decade appeared to be working a bit, or was the increase in awareness actually caused by the rapid increase in weather extremes or maybe the change from Bush to Obama – and does it matter any longer?

Academic work has long shown that increased knowledge changes behavior. This fact is as common as how our behavior changes from learning how to read and write in grade school. But the same behavioral academic work also tells us that repetition of misinformation also changes behavior. So how do we increase climate change awareness in spite of all the propaganda?

We could wait for the increasing extremes to do the job. Unprecedented weather events enhanced by or caused by climate change are beginning to make an impact on awareness in local areas and, as long predicted, the extremes are increasing and will likely to continue to increase. Climate change awareness is increasing even though the same old tired voices continue to tell us that no one individual weather event can be blamed on climate change.

These impacts are happening more often and they are happening to you and me. More academic work tells us that when you and I are personally impacted by something, our behavior changes. So we could just wait.

The discoveries in climate science, however, continue to show the situation is getting worse faster than anticipated. And because of nearly 20 years of delay, as the climate scientists have told us all along, future impacts will be even greater than we have previously anticipated.

Climate change is interjecting itself into the public discussion more often lately with the increasing extreme weather events, but there is still a moratorium on the four poison words in the most important place – the environmental advocacy community. It is this community that we rely on to spread the word on why and how pollutants harm our lives. We know we cannot rely on the media because of their “fairness bias.” Most journalists are not scientists; mainstream journalists believe that to be fair they must report both sides of “issues” with words from authoritative figures on both sides.

The predominant passive-aggressive environmentalism messaging in climate science outreach today is holding back awareness. We have enough votes (believers) to kick the climate deniers off the island and get on with things. We simply need to capitalize on those votes.

So how in the world do we get action to finally happen on climate pollution? The answer is simple. We need to take a page from the opposition’s playbook: Propaganda, repeated often enough, and loudly enough, becomes accepted as valid. This same concept works with the truth, oddly enough. The solution to climate pollution starts with a very cheap and simple technique.

Tell the truth and tell it more often than the propagandists are telling their story. Tell the whole truth. Don’t hold back the poison words. This is a very plain and simple strategy that has proved itself time and again (not the telling of the truth – using propaganda). Repeat the message over and over again: repeat, repeat, repeat. If repeated enough, the message becomes a valid living thing.

We have bonus points available to us in this challenge as well. We have the truth. We need to stand on the authority of our scientists and stop dancing around the issue. The passive-aggressive messages of the last decade educates just as well with the “poison words” included – if this message is repeated more often than the propaganda.

This challenge is about defeating negative propaganda. The two things that can do this are more positive propaganda and personal impacts. We can’t wait for enough of us to be “born again” to climate science through personal impacts, so we must create truth messages in quantities greater than those that would have us disbelieve are creating theirs. We must tell the whole story, not just the climate consensus part.

We need to base our decision-making on the latest science, not the consensus. The consensus position is middle ground and relates literally thousands of climate scientists’ opinions and is therefore the least common denominator of agreement. It is a negotiated viewpoint of multiple theories and hypotheses. Because of this, it is watered down.

The reason there is a consensus is validity. When all of the experts agree to something, you can pretty much take that to the bank. There is much less chance of it being wrong. A consensus takes a long time to build. Time has not tested the latest findings. Over time, almost all of climate science becomes validated and a part of the consensus. But time is not on our side.

The discussion rages in the environmental community about how to educate, but this discussion is not echoed in the academic community. It rages in the environmental community because of the negative impacts of the vested-interest propaganda. There is no propaganda in science. Climate science is not a political or economic, or even a social issue, and it is not difficult to understand either.

Properly translated into plain English, we can all understand climate science. A lot of this translation is happening now and has been for literally decades. But the “authoritative” voices have been busy. We simply need to be busier than those “authoritative” voices. We need to speak louder than them and repeat, repeat, repeat. We have enough votes to kick the disbelievers off the island. We need to understand that the need to move forward on treating climate pollution is greater than the need to keep from upsetting the minority.

Bruce Melton

Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, and author in Austin, Texas. Information on Melton’s new book, Climate Discovery Chronicles can be found along with more climate change writing, climate science outreach and critical environmental issue documentary films on his web sites and www.climatediscovery.com