9 steps to rescue communities from the trench warfare of “economic development”

By Steve Austin

I’ve been thinking about economic development in American communities. I always come back to the positive effects (!) that both peak oil and climate change could have on our local economies.

My key points are: that soon, distance will cost a great deal of money, and that a global price on carbon will penalize polluters and reward efficiency.  Both of these will return jobs to the U.S.

Both spell the end of economic globalization as we’ve known it and a return to the importance of local communities as economic drivers.

I think the much of the economic development discussions in American communities still focuses, wrongly, on thier place in the global economy.

All that does is place communities the mercy of global corporations and the economic forces that do not have our best interests in mind. Most community economic development experts see thier citizens only as fodder for the global corporate workforce, rather than humans. Kinda like the generals of World War 1.

Often the “leaders” of the economic development process in most communities are nothing more than agents for the economic-colonial powers that have taken root in thier communities:  banks, corporations, law firms, carbon fuel corporations, consumer companies, etc. They only think of what they can do to please the corporations, with the hope of gaining some return that benefits our citizens, I guess.

I think they do this, most of them, with the best intentions of helping local people.

But it doesn’t help.

Such a strategy does nothing to ensure that any community is truly sustainable over the long-term. And these discussions never mention the elephants in the room: peak energy and an imperative to reduce carbon use dramatically and quickly.

The answer to both challenges is the same thing: a locally scaled economy. Our commerce must be at the scale of neighborhoods rather than that of the globe. Our food system must be designed to provide for us first. Our educational system needs to respond to what type of learning is really needed in the coming years. Our transportation system must be re-imagined to place transit and human power at the forefront of planning.

This is the rational response to the new realities. Please feel free to share your thoughts.
1. Put local first in every decision made in our communities by supporting locally produced food, energy, products and services, businesses, investments, arts and local media.

2. Build a place based economy. Work to only create jobs that cant be outsourced and that use local materials and talents to create an economy that will last.

3. Reskill our workforce . We need technology training suitable for 21st century manufacturing certainly, but in our lower energy future, other skills will be vital as well. All things food related will be vital – food, growing, storing, preparing. We need to support energy engineers and entrepreneurs – from biofuel makers to battery testers to efficiency experts. We must value round timber builders and potters and chimney sweeps. Education will to change; the notion of everyone going off to college to get a liberal arts degree will disappear.

4. Foster local markets. Create places and networks for local people to sell the things to whcih they’ve added value.

5. Increase local self-reliance and resilience. Safeguard local food and water supply, protect floodways, create local energy, increase energy efficiency, husband local resources of soil, timber, minerals.

6. Improve our places. Plant trees and flowers, create parks, put art on display, fix neglected infrastructure, clean up – give people proof that we are planning to stay.

7. Encourage alternative transportation – make it easy and safe for people to get around our cities on foot and bike. Encourage local shared transportation.

8. Let land use happen. Houses are more than that these days. They are factories, home offices, mail rooms, warehouses, communications centers. Small businesses should not be segregated by zoning from where people live to encourage walking and biking; we shouldn’t have to use a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk.

9. Strengthen our communities. Host more fun communal events. This doesn’t have to be expensive – people love gathering together! And cherish one another – EVERYONE in your community has a stake in making it the best it can be – everyone.

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A Food Manifesto for the Future

By MARK BITTMAN, New York Times

For decades, Americans believed that we had the world’s healthiest and safest diet. We worried little about this diet’s effect on the environment or on the lives of the animals (or even the workers) it relies upon. Nor did we worry about its ability to endure — that is, its sustainability.

That didn’t mean all was well. And we’ve come to recognize that our diet is unhealthful and unsafe. Many food production workers labor in difficult, even deplorable, conditions, and animals are produced as if they were widgets. It would be hard to devise a more wasteful, damaging, unsustainable system.

Here are some ideas — frequently discussed, but sadly not yet implemented — that would make the growing, preparation and consumption of food healthier, saner, more productive, less damaging and more enduring. In no particular order:

  • End government subsidies to processed food. We grow more corn for livestock and cars than for humans, and it’s subsidized by more than $3 billion annually; most of it is processed beyond recognition. The story is similar for other crops, including soy: 98 percent of soybean meal becomes livestock feed, while most soybean oil is used in processed foods. Meanwhile, the marketers of the junk food made from these crops receive tax write-offs for the costs of promoting their wares. Total agricultural subsidies in 2009 were around $16 billion, which would pay for a great many of the ideas that follow.
  • Begin subsidies to those who produce and sell actual food for direct consumption. Small farmers and their employees need to make living wages. Markets — from super- to farmers’ — should be supported when they open in so-called food deserts and when they focus on real food rather than junk food. And, of course, we should immediately increase subsidies for school lunches so we can feed our youth more real food.
  • Break up the U.S. Department of Agriculture and empower the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, the U.S.D.A. counts among its missions both expanding markets for agricultural products (like corn and soy!) and providing nutrition education. These goals are at odds with each other; you can’t sell garbage while telling people not to eat it, and we need an agency devoted to encouraging sane eating. Meanwhile, the F.D.A. must be given expanded powers to ensure the safety of our food supply. (Food-related deaths are far more common than those resulting from terrorism, yet the F.D.A.’s budget is about one-fifteenth that of Homeland Security.)
  • Outlaw concentrated animal feeding operations and encourage the development of sustainable animal husbandry. The concentrated system degrades the environment, directly and indirectly, while torturing animals and producing tainted meat, poultry, eggs, and, more recently, fish. Sustainable methods of producing meat for consumption exist. At the same time, we must educate and encourage Americans to eat differently. It’s difficult to find a principled nutrition and health expert who doesn’t believe that a largely plant-based diet is the way to promote health and attack chronic diseases, which are now bigger killers, worldwide, than communicable ones. Furthermore, plant-based diets ease environmental stress, including global warming.
  • Encourage and subsidize home cooking. (Someday soon, I’ll write about my idea for a new Civilian Cooking Corps.) When people cook their own food, they make better choices. When families eat together, they’re more stable. We should provide food education for children (a new form of home ec, anyone?), cooking classes for anyone who wants them and even cooking assistance for those unable to cook for themselves.
  • Tax the marketing and sale of unhealthful foods. Another budget booster. This isn’t nanny-state paternalism but an accepted role of government: public health. If you support seat-belt, tobacco and alcohol laws, sewer systems and traffic lights, you should support legislation curbing the relentless marketing of soda and other foods that are hazardous to our health — including the sacred cheeseburger and fries.
  • Reduce waste and encourage recycling. The environmental stress incurred by unabsorbed fertilizer cannot be overestimated, and has caused, for example, a 6,000-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is probably more damaging than the BP oil spill. And some estimates indicate that we waste half the food that’s grown. A careful look at ways to reduce waste and promote recycling is in order.
  • Mandate truth in labeling. Nearly everything labeled “healthy” or “natural” is not. It’s probably too much to ask that “vitamin water” be called “sugar water with vitamins,” but that’s precisely what real truth in labeling would mean.
  • Reinvest in research geared toward leading a global movement in sustainable agriculture, combining technology and tradition to create a new and meaningful Green Revolution.

I’ll expand on these issues (and more) in the future, but the essential message is this: food and everything surrounding it is a crucial matter of personal and public health, of national and global security. At stake is not only the health of humans but that of the earth.

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11 traits of smart cities

by Steve Austin

Recently there has been a lot of buzz around the term “intelligent cities.”  Smart growth is now so passé.  Instead we are treated to a glimpse of the future where technology will make our cities more intelligent, and thus our lives in them better.  See, we can use our smart phones to find parking spaces! We can have some super computer somewhere monitor our energy use!  We can use facebook to start revolutions!

Seriously, there are a lot of good things happening around the ideas of intelligent or smart cities.

Here are some of my thoughts on what makes a city truly smart:
1.       Smart cities are food and water secure
2.      Smart cities limit their exposure to the global economy
3.      Smart cities invest in and practice inclusive community building
4.      Smart cities put local first:  local economies, local culture, local bio-region
5.      Smart cities are adapting to a changed climate
6.      Smart cities have true mobility choices
7.      Smart cities engage youth early and deeply
8.      Smart cities weave health living into everything
9.      Smart cities develop renewable power sources and produce zero waste
10.   Smart cities value holistic, lifelong learning
11.   Smart cities adapt, reuse, densify, and diversify
I know there are others. Thoughts?

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Local Government in a Time of Peak Oil and Climate Change

By John Kaufmann

In Post Carbon Cities, Daniel Lerch lists five principles to help guide local government planning efforts in the face of peak oil and climate change:

 Deal with transportation and land use (or you may as well stop now). Incorporate peak-oil and climate change considerations into all transportation and land-use aspects of policy-making and infrastructure investment decisions.

 Tackle private energy consumption. Improving government operations is insufficient to address the magnitude of the problem. Create strong incentives and support for innovation, and aggressively engage the business community.

 Attack the problems piece by piece and from many angles. Meet goals with multiple, proven solutions, and enlist the entire community in the effort.

 Plan for fundamental changes—and make fundamental changes happen. Change internalized assumptions about the future availability and affordability of energy.

 Build a sense of community. Strengthen community resilience by encouraging relationship building among citizens, businesses, and government agencies.

To these can be added five principles to guide local government management efforts:

 Don’t expect to find one grand solution. There are no solutions, just intelligent responses—and there will be many little responses that will help communities adapt and muddle through.

 Don’t try to do everything all at once. Focus on a few big issues requiring several years of lead time and issues that are immediate problems. Other issues can be dealt with as they become ripe.

 Consider how energy affects everything and everybody. Government needs to consider how businesses, institutions, and households are affected by high energy prices and energy-supply shortfalls, not just how its own operations are affected. These impacts are significant to the community and the local economy, and will shape what the government needs to do and what it can do.

 Connect the issues. Climate change, peak oil, diminishing water supplies, topsoil loss, biodiversity loss, and most all major challenges of the twenty-first century are ultimately intertwined. Worsening conditions in one area could affect the ability of society to respond in another area. Conversely, there are synergies to be gained by dealing with these challenges in an integrated fashion.

 Expect the unexpected. We must avoid making irreversible commitments based on past experience or current projections, expecting the future to be more of the same. We are entering a period of what is likely to be rapid and nonlinear change. We must reconcile ourselves to the idea that there will be no business as usual anymore. We must be able to adapt and reverse direction as conditions change.

Planning for Crisis
In developing strategies and actions to address these challenges, governments should ask four basic questions:
1. How will peak oil and climate change affect the community? What are the expected impacts, and when will they set in?
2. What can government do to cushion the community against the long-term negative consequences of those impacts?
3. What should government be prepared to do in the case of emergencies (e.g., fuel shortage, fuel price spike, prolonged heat wave, drought, wildfires, flooding, etc.), some of which are inevitable?
4. How will future government activities be funded as economic volatility and prolonged recession keep tax revenues from rising as quickly as in the past?

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7 billion people want something that 7 billion people cannot have

by Sharon Astyk
So what is Adapting In Place anyway? It is partly about preparedness, both individual and community, partly about changing expectations, partly about achieving a kind of balance. It seems pedestrian in a way – lots of questions about how to do the laundry and keep food cool and work with your neighbors – ordinary things. Trivial seeming things.

Or perhaps not. In a way this may be the biggest question of all – how do we go on where we are with what we have in this new world? Moreover, how do we create a model of a life worth aspiring to that isn’t destructive, that honestly takes a look at where we’re going?

This is not trivial, and it isn’t purely personal – in fact, you could argue that this is the world’s single most central question, because for the last 70 years, the US and other Global North nations have exported a vision of a life that has penetrated across the globe. With policy and with military might and with money and with Hollywood and with everything we have, we have modelled consumption, we have modelled cheap energy, and we have set up almost 7 billion people to want something that 7 billion people cannot have.

We can’t have it because the earth can’t sustain it – it lacks the resources. It lacks the capacity to absorb the pollution and outputs. And the longer we keep up the lie that some people don’t mind that you have 5, 10, 20, 1000 times more than they do, the harder the adaptive process will be, and the more fighting and the more dying it will cause. Most of us will die or kill for a dream we hold strongly enough. Re-creating the dream, creating a vision of a life worth having that takes limits into account is a project that is quite literally life or death.

It starts with staying. The world cannot handle more people who pick up and leave for new territory after they’ve raped the place they live in. And while we know that there will be many relocations and radical changes, most people are going to make the best of the infrastructure we’ve created over the last years, simply because we have no choice.
I personally think that there is insufficient time to remake our world dramatically. Now there are people who would argue with me about this – and they may even have a case. But I think there are compelling reasons to believe that we may not have enough time to take a world created for cheap energy and transform it into one that can handle expensive energy and replace much of that with renewable power. The idea that we will be able to make a massive societal retrofit occur rapidly depends in large part on, I think, the idea that the current economic crisis is just an unpleasant coincidence that happens to be occurring just as peak oil and climate change are really hitting us. This, I think is a radical error in reasoning – in fact, as nearly every serious analyst who really grasps peak oil gets, the economic limitations are part and parcel of our present crisis. That is, our ability to do new things is going to be more and more constrained over time.

Which means that most of us aren’t going to be living in new urbanist walkable communities or in perfect ecovillages driving electric cars – we’re going to be living where we are. Some projects will be done – but the idea that we’re going to do a full-scale overhaul of our society seems deeply wrong – we did a radical build out to get ourselves here, and we used up the easy, cheap segment of our resources. Which means that most of us are going to be limited to what we can accomplish ourselves, using our personal resources, what resources are available through family, friends, community and governments of various levels. Much of our way of life may have been, as Kunstler refers to suburbia, the greatest-misallocation of resources in history, but is how we allocated the resources – we’ve done this build out, and we’re going to be living with the results.

While the current situation has created mobility for some people – those who have already lost jobs and homes, those who know they are in a situation that can’t possibly improve -on the other hand, for many people, the current situation works to keep them in place. Nothing is selling in their area – so they can’t sell their house and move to another. Or they are afraid to change jobs, because the loss of seniority would lead to making them easy targets for layoffs in this economy. It may not be possible any longer to get back what they owe on their house – but it may still make sense to keep paying the mortgage, because they expect extended family to move in, or because they can grow food on the land. They may be tied down by elderly or disabled family members who can’t be easily moved, by a shared custody agreement, or by need to access to certain kinds of medical care. Family – biological or chosen – may tie them to an area, as may familiarity with the climate and region. We may decide that strong community ties make an imperfect area (and all areas are imperfect) enough to keep us there. Or we may lack the resources to move.

Staying in place isn’t always the best of a bad lot of options – sometimes it is simply the best option. There’s been a tendency to rhetorically abandon areas we don’t know what to do with – inner cities, exurbs, suburbia – all of these are dismissed sometimes, as though this will magically vacate them. The fact is that 300 million people in the US or 60 million in Britain cannot simply all go out to the countryside to their own bunkers, unless we wish to create a new suburbia, with barbed-wire, each ticky-tacky bunker lined up in the countryside next to its neighbors . Nor can we move everyone into cities – there aren’t jobs enough, nor room enough to grow food. Food alone will mean that the countryside and suburbs (near the city markets, often built on good farmland) will have to be populated – and the cities were usually cities for reasons long before oil – those reasons won’t go away.
More and more, I am advising people to stay put, or at most move to a place fairly near and like the one they live in now. I don’t think there’s enough time to adapt to new climates and environmental conditions, to retrofit new homes and build communities – now that doesn’t mean some people won’t have to move. But if you can stay put, I think there are some real advantages for most people – it takes *time* to build community, to build soil, to learn the bus lines, to get into the carpools, to find the cheap produce, to learn about pests and diseases and how to keep cool or warm. We need a model of a new life now – not ten years from now when we’ve found the perfect place.

The nuts and bolts of adapting in place are ordinary, so ordinary they seem small. Should I insulate? How do I collect rainwater? How little electricity can I do with? What do I do if the power goes out entirely? What is the right thing to eat for dinner? How shall I preserve it for later? What do we teach the kids? What do well tell Grandma about what we’re doing?

I don’t live in the perfect place, and these ordinary trivial seeming things are the bread and butter of my life too. They become almost invisible, and we learn to miss their enormous impact – the aggregate of 300 million Americans or 1 billion developed world dwellers eating and pooping and keeping warm and cool and getting around.

I don’t live the perfect life in the perfect place, but I remake it in the image of my dream a little more each year. I once read that people who build their dream houses spend 2 years building them – and then live in them for an average of 7 years. Because dreams change. Because sometimes what we dream about is the thing we can’t have, not the thing we do. And yet most of us in the developed world have more possessions, more comforts than the kings of old, than the richest people of our great-great grandparent’s time. We have more ease than the slave owners of the past, with fossil-fueled slaves to do our bidding. If we can’t come to embrace what we do have, and a fair share, who can? If we can’t do with less, will you ask someone who lives a harder life with less to do it? If we who made the dream and sold it to the rest of the world can’t change our dream when it doesn’t fit us anymore, what hope is there?

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The Third Industrial Revolution: Toward A New Economic Paradigm

From Jeremy Rifkin.  This is  positive way of thinking about how we move forward into the era of resource depletion, climate change, and economic instability.

Here are the main points – but read the whole piece to get a sense of that optimism.
“The five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution are:
(1) shifting to renewable energy;
(2) transforming the building stock of every continent into micro-power plants to collect renewable energies on-site;
(3) deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies;
(4) using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy-sharing intergrid that acts just like the Internet (when millions of buildings are generating a small amount of energy locally, on-site, they can sell surplus back to the grid and share electricity with their continental neighbors); and
(5) transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.”
What is Lexington doing to join in with these points?  If we really want “growth”, sustainable over the next century, then this is where it will be found.   Are we positioning ourselves?  Or do we really have no plan at all other than a wish to “just get some growth?”
Excerpted from Jeremy Rifkin’s The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World, Palgrave Macmillan 2011.

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The future of suburbia

by Steve Austin

Suburbia is nothing but a way of life built on consumption, underpinned by cheap energy.  Is it any wonder that suburbia as we know it began in this country, during the time when the US was the world’s oil super producer?

Now however, as energy gets ever more expensive and with the unfolding climate disaster, can we afford to live a life of thoughtless consumption?

Here’s a sketch of a typical USA suburban area.   Low density, big houses, lots of well manicured landscaping.  This is all about consumption. The luxury of consumption.  It has become an American birthright – “the American way of life is non-negotiable” as one elected fool once said.
Nothing here is productive.   That was the whole point:  the suburban ideal was to be the respite from all things productive.  It was a great vision.

But what if?  What if the cheap energy that let us create a lifestyle of consumption is coming to an end? What will become of suburbia then?

Well it is happening, brought about by the end of cheap energy due to peak oil and the overwhelming need to do what we can to mitigate climate destruction by using far less fossil fuels.  How we adapt to these two facts will be the central points for the rest of our lives.

The great transition of our time is moving away from a consumption economy to one based on production.  Because of this, everything will change.

The growth economy has ended.  Cheap energy powered that.  With the end of economic growth, we’ll see the end of debt as well.   Without economic growth and debt, our governments will be compelled to scale back enormously.  As Crosby Still Nash and Young once sang:  “we’re finally on our own.”

But the burbs will still be there – what will become of them?  Can they make the transition from consumption to production?

Here’s a sketch – showing the same view as above –  of the possibility for Lexington by mid-century.  This is the OPTIMISTIC view.


Instead of an English country landscape, we have an agricultural-industrial landscape.  Nearly every square inch is put to some productive use – producing energy, food, value added products.  All the ornamental trees are gone, replaced by Hybrid Poplars which can produce fire wood in a little as four years.  Gone are lawns, replaced by gardens, barn yards, fish ponds, orchards.   People take raw materials and make them into needed items.  Some properties become reclamation yards, recycling the waste of suburbia.   Houses have become super insulated, and heated by new fire places.  Many families are likely to share each house, and tenants are housed in new small dwellings.

The government’s ability to maintain such gold-plated infrastructure as wide, little used streets has disappeared.  Instead, the paved surfaces are dwindling, with the remainder being put to some productive use.  A small market stands on the corner where once grass reigned, where folks can meet, trade, sell, buy.  In much later years, as the cityscape evolves, this is likely to become a plaza.  Life here will become intensely more local – hyper local – over time.

Essentially, this version of the future means that we have come full circle back to the times when life was about production, not consumption.  This vision will be scarey to most people, myself included.  Very few of us actually produce anything and it sure seems like I’m too old to start learning.  But that doesn’t change the new reality.

The fact is, we only get this future if we have enough virtue and courage to admit that reality.  If we don’t, then a future much less optimistic awaits us.

Look around you with a new set of eyes:  what is productive in our city?  What is wasteful consumption?  What productive replacement could there be? How will you fit in?

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What must we do?

deep and plain words of wisdom from one of the wisest people in the world.

by Wendell Berry
The hummingbird successfully crossing the Gulf of Mexico is adapted mile by mile to the distance. It does not exceed its own physical and mental capacities and it makes the trip exactly like pre-industrial human migrants, on contemporary energy.

For humans, local adaptation is not work for a few financiers and a few intellectual and political hotshots. This is work for everybody, requiring everybody’s intelligence. It is work inherently democratic.

What must we do?

First: we must not work or think on a heroic scale. In our age of global industrialism, heroes too likely risk the lives of places and things they do not see. We must work on a scale proper to our limited abilities. We must not break things we cannot fix. There is no justification ever for permanent ecological damage. If this imposes the verdict of guilt upon us all, so be it.

Second: We must abandon the homeopathic delusion that the damages done by industrialization can be corrected by more industrialization.

Third: We must quit solving our problems by moving on. We must try to stay put and to learn where we are – geographically, historically and ecologically.

Fourth: We must learn, if we can, the sources and costs of our own economic lives.

Fifth: We must give up the notion that we are too good to do our own work and clean up our own messes. It is not acceptable for this work to be done for us by wage slavery or by enslaving nature.

Sixth: By way of correction, we must make local, locally adapted economies based on local nature, local sunlight, local intelligence and local work.

Seventh: We must understand that these measures are radical. They go to the root of our problem. They cannot be performed for us by any expert, political leader or corporation.

This is an agenda that may be undertaken by ordinary citizens at any time on their own initiative. In fact it describes an effort already undertaken all over the world by many people.

It defines also the expectation that citizens who by their gifts are exceptional will not shirk the most humble service.

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American “values” and the reality of limits

The quote below comes from last year’s presidential election campaign.  It encapsulates as well as possible at least what the 47% of people who voted for Romney think, if not an outright majority of Americans.

“This is a president who believes that the American pie has now grown as large as it will ever get. It’s not going to get any bigger, so what he’s telling people across America is, ‘If you aren’t satisfied with your piece of the pie, and you think the man next to you has a bigger piece,’ he says, ‘I’ve got solution for you: I’ll take part of his piece – I’ll keep most of it – and I’ll give a little bit to you, and you should be happy because that’s what America is going to be under four more years of Barack Obama’.

Now we can’t have that because what Mitt Romney believes is that the size of the American pie is infinite, that the only thing – the only thing – that limits the size of the American pie is our work ethic, our integrity, our ingenuity, and that means America’s pie is limitless.”

This was spoken by New Jersey Chris Christie.  Forget the class warfare these rich guys are waging.  Focus instead on the typical American belief that there are no limits for Americans. This is really what we want to hear:  Yes, the ONLY thing that limits us whether or not we fully employ our American values! Certainly not something so dumb as the laws of nature.  That’s sissy stuff for wimps.  We Americans can – and should – do anything and everything we want!

Here’s another example of how Americans really think, though many would not in any way identify with  the speaker.  Rush Limbaugh, in a typically racist rant where he calls the  First Lady “uppity, recently said “We don’t like being told what to eat; we don’t like being told how much to exercise; we don’t like being told what we’ve got to drive….”

While that is disgusting, the deeper truth to me lies in what he says American’s don’t like.  We don’t like being told that there are limits, because we are Americans, and Americans can never be wrong about anything we choose to do.  Unfortunately, there is something  much larger than a wing nut minority that believes this.

It’s this attitude which will spell our doom.   We will fight the world to get “our” oil.  We will pollute the world to keep ourselves comfortable. We will destroy our own communities in the name of greed.  We will even poison our own bodies with filth disguised as food.  Because we are Americans, and that’s what we must do to be Americans.  And don’t tell us anything different.

I see this in our future:  when the limits that we are forced to live with close in ever more around us, our country will do whatever it takes to keep the illusion alive.  We have built the largest war machine ever imagined on this planet.  We’ll use it take our “fair share” of whatever it is that we want, wherever it is.  Future history books, if there are any, will not be kind toward our dearly held “American values.”

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The lights of inequality



By Steve Austin (Images NASA)

seurope africa

These satellite photos clearly show where the wealth is in the world. And if you were poor, you’d follow the lights.   That’s where the wealth is because of, and due to, the fact that that’s where the energy is being used most prodigiously.  Thus it is easy to predict that with a growing population that the world’s cities will continue to get exponentially larger.  These photos show us how great the water and food challenges alone will be in the 21st century.


Notice energy use in India and China.  This shows the results on nearly 3 billion people wanting to use energy to gain wealth and comfort.

west hem

As these photographs show, not all places are equal.   The photo above shows the USA and Canada have an entire continent lit up.  For 350 million people.  Mexico, Central and South America – with 550 million people  – have very few places of high light concentration – meaning energy use, and therefore wealth, is highly concentrated.

What will we do to keep the lights on and growing?  Will we heat the atmosphere to a point beyond human tolerance?  If we decide that that isn’t a good idea, how can we keep the lights on in such a vast way in North America alone?  Renewables will never provide that much energy.  So, do darker nights await us?  And by extension, less economic wealth?   What will be the result of such a realization?  Wisdom or fear?

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