Thursday, September 23, 2010

If the natural world is to be given its due and the human world is not to go utterly mad, then we have a great deal of work ahead of us. What troubles me is the way ‘the brightest and best’; the smartest guys in the room; the ones who report they have not flown commercial since the 70s; the casino operatives who have added nothing to the human economy and marked themselves as thieves of the highest order; the relentless plunderers of Earth’s resources and reckless degraders of its environs; the greediest among us who have hoarded most of the world’s wealth but done nothing productive to obtain it; those who live long and large without regard to human limits and Earth’s limitations, engage so righteously in conscious deception as well as in willful denial of any effort to communicate about matters of concern that do not buttress their selfish interests. These self-proclaimed masters of the universe have much larger, more fashionable and ever important agendas than educating the human family, telling the truth and doing the right thing, I suppose.

Perhaps the time has come to sort out what is sacred from what is profane about the predominant culture. We need to do this one thing soon, I suppose, because what is profane about the culture is threatening to overwhelm the whatsoever else is sacred in the planetary home we inhabit. At least to me there is something perverse harbored within a culture that makes it ok for the most arrogant, clever and greedy among us to “obey the laws” and still destroy everything which is known to be sacred in the planetary home God blesses us to inhabit…and not desecrate as is plainly occurring in our time. Sad to say, the children will be justified to look back in anger and utter disbelief at the way their avaricious leading elders dishonestly and duplicitously destructed the natural world, even as they claimed so seductively, arrogantly and self-righteously not only to be protecting and preserving God’s Creation but also to be doing "God's work".

What a shame it is that a tiny minority of morally bankrupt, craven greedmongers are allowed to perpetrate a sham in the name of the human community and God which will likely turn our planetary home into a shambles!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book review: Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

It's fitting to be posting this review on the eve of Thanksgiving
because the book portrays many things I am thankful for.
The review is dedicated to my friend Carol Thomas
whose life is truly one of blessed unrest.*

Blessed Unrest - How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World. Paul Hawken. Penguin Books (paperback) 2008.

Blessed Unrest website (The website, hardcover book and linked video of a speech by Paul Hawken at the 2006 Bioneers conference have a different subtitle than the paperback edition reviewed here.)

WiserEarth website – interactive database of 110,000+ NGOs

Blessed Unrest originated in a motley assortment of business cards collected by Paul Hawken during hundreds of speaking engagements over the course of 15 years. As a businessman, environmentalist, author, and founder and executive director of the Natural Capital Institute, Hawken is a widely respected spokesperson for socially and environmentally responsible business. After his speeches, small groups would gather to ask questions, share their own insights and experiences – and exchange business cards. In the course of many years and many miles and many, many business cards, Hawken realized that truly there was a movement of unrecognized proportions functioning under the radar screen of general consciousness, unacknowledged by the mainstream media except in isolated reporting on this or that group, this or that issue; a movement just beginning to become conscious of itself, to link up kindred efforts through networking and ever-shifting alliances.

At the Natural Capital Institute Hawken brought together a team of researchers to create a digital database of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and CBOs (community-based organizations) in an attempt to scope out the nature and extent of this civil society movement. Now online with search capabilities on a wide array of categories and keywords, built-in networking and user-enabled interaction similar to Wikipedia, the database WiserEarth contains at this time over 110,000 organizations and thousands of participating individuals. Hawken considers WiserEarth to be the tip of a much greater iceberg.

Blessed Unrest the book is also a result of that research, an attempt not to catalog, but to characterize and place this movement in context. Hawken first defines three broad sectors of activity: social justice, environmentalism, and indigenous culture. (A very large Appendix defines dozens of subcategories.) Throughout the book Hawken draws on images and metaphors of organic life. The movement is an amalgam of cell-like entities, each with a unique function, each seeking to link its efforts to a larger purpose. The movement evolves, adapts, filling in niches of need and opportunity. The movement is an immune system for the planet, complex, responsive, vigilant and protective of earth and its inhabitants in the face of the corporate global juggernaut marauding across the world without accountability, without any ethic except maximizing profit.

Hawken is a businessman. He is not anti-business, but he staunchly opposes corporate recklessness and exploitation, whether of people or the environment, and applauds those who demand - and practice - corporate responsibility and respect for human and ecological diversity and well-being. If organic life is a metaphor for the NGO movement, it also provides a model for how to do business. Drawing on several threads in ecosystem research, in the final chapter “Restoration” Hawken identifies three core principles that mimic natural ecosystems and which, practiced together, can generate clean, green eco-industrial systems: 1) “cradle to cradle” – recycling end products into new production rather than using up virgin resources; 2) “waste is food” – using the waste and byproducts from one process as source material for another process; 3) operating on current solar income.

Blessed Unrest nourishes hope, encourages connection and shines a well-deserved light on the intertwined movements for social justice, environmental sustainability, and cultural diversity. It challenges ideological rigidity with its picture of grassroots self-organizing activity. Paraphrasing an email he received from Wolfgang Sachs, Hawken says: “Some people think the movement is defined primarily by what it is against, but the language of the movement is first and foremost about keeping the conversation going, because ideas that inform it never end: growth without inequality, wealth without plunder, work without exploitation, a future without fear.”

I’ve been an activist off and on since the late 1960s. I’ve been involved in my share of struggling non-profits, small collectives and committees from PTA bake sales to Car-Free Day and events. I’ve seen – and sometimes been a part of - more factional discord and broken alliances than is comfortable to recollect. Sometimes I get tired of a tendency toward dogmatism on one hand or lack of coherent purpose on the other; sometimes I get depressed by the scale of the problems we face or terrified by what the future may portend; sometimes I get lazy or overwhelmed by life’s circumstances and just don’t do much. As Hawken puts it, “..I am not questioning whether the human condition permeates the movement. It does so, most surely. Clay feet march in all protests.”

But sometimes – at a meeting or a conference or a march or a rally – I look around and see what else Paul Hawken sees: all kinds of people, young and old, men and women, kids and babies, from a myriad of racial and ethnic groups and walks of life. Turtles and Teamsters united at the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle (at which thousands of people participated peacefully). Banners for all kinds of causes and two little girls with a handmade sign “George you are soooooooo embarrassing us” at a peace march in DC. Scientists, writers, politicians and other citizens gathered on Boston Common to express concern about climate change. I hear people speaking out, in a multitude of accents, with polished eloquence and with heartfelt sincerity. I meet urban farmers who teach women from a homeless shelter and inner city kids to grow healthy food on remediated vacant lots; advocates for sustainable transportation who tirelessly attend hearings and planning meetings; members of community land trusts that provide affordable housing; and conservation land trusts that preserve ecosystems and habitats acre by acre, stream by stream.

These moments are magic, not in any supernatural sense, but for the connection with the deep and vibrant harmony this movement embodies. There is a fundamental truth in the currently popular slogan: “This is what democracy looks like.” In his introduction to the book’s Appendix Hawken says: “It is axiomatic that we are at a threshold in human existence, a fundamental change in our relationship to nature and each other. We are moving from a world created by privilege to a world created by community…. The world is a system, and it will soon be a very different world, driven by millions of communities who believe that democracy and restoration are grassroots movements that connect us to values that we hold in common.”

I read this book during the final days of the 2008 presidential campaign. I couldn’t help but think that there is something very fitting and resonant in the fact that Barack Obama cut his political teeth as a community organizer in the blessed unrest of the movement for social justice. The administration’s progress has not been smooth. President Obama inherited many intractable problems. His organizer’s instinct to reach across partisan divides has been rebuffed and counter-movements have erupted. This too is what democracy looks like – a clash and clamor of ideas and interests. In this climate of crisis and shifting political winds it is all the more important to keep faith with those who share our values and our visions and who strive and struggle to build that different world created by community rather than privilege.

*In this spirit I lovingly dedicate this review to Carol Thomas whose life is truly one of blessed unrest. I just learned that Carol will receive the Quiet Courage Award on Sunday 11/29/2009 from the Gainesville, FL, Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Committee. This award is richly deserved although I don’t really think of Carol as quiet. Her life has been a whirlwind of meetings and rallies and picket lines, a houseful of family and friends, mixed with some jail time for non-violent resistance to injustice. This award comes 40 years after Carol left Gainesville because of threats against her life for her civil rights activities. Now retired she is back in Florida, living near Gainesville and still going strong at 75 years old. In between Carol lived in Louisville, KY, and Boston, MA. I knew her in both cities. I could never begin to keep up with her energy or match her unflagging commitment, but she is one of those people with whom I must keep faith to keep my soul intact.

© Laurie Dougherty 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

symphony of science

I hope this embed effort works.

If not, check this out:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rough estimates of various scenarios by George Mobus

I was asked yesterday what I thought the odds were that the scenario of breakdown followed by rebuilding a better society (a subject often brought up on the Oil Drum and other venues these days). I hadn't really given it much thought in that framework (putting odds on it), but as many of you know I am rather convinced that that is going to be the most likely scenario. It is either that or complete loss of civilization and a regression of human evolution or extinction.

So I spent a little time trying to estimate the probabilities of various scenarios just based on the evidence I look at (by definition this can't be ALL evidence!) So here is my best guess at this time (FWIW):

Business as usual - BAU (0%). We will simply switch out alternative energy sources for fossil fuels and increase efficiencies and conservation within the next 20 years without the process disrupting either the continuance of consumption in the OECD and continuing development of the rest of the world. Population going to 9+ billion. This is the techno-cornucopian scenario that many old-school politically "astute" environmentalists and political leaders promote.

Greatly reduced business (15%). We will be able to switch over to alternatives, etc., but with great changes in lifestyles and probably many years of sacrifice as we adjust to less consumptive ways to live. Population getting marginally larger and then stabilizing at 8+ billion. This is the scenario that most writers project as what will and SHOULD happen. It depends entirely on the techno efficacy argument (if everyone starts now and cooperates completely).

Disruption of all business and agriculture (75%). The decline of fossil fuel energy will come much sooner than most are ready for. There will be a completer breakdown of institutions and states. Likely to be resource wars, but mostly local, at best regional, as there will not enough fuel and other resources to conduct large-scale wars of old (Darfur example). We will not be able to construct an adequate energy infrastructure and will even have trouble coming up with local solutions. Changing climate will devastate various regions but those less affected may succeed in creating local communities based on local agriculture and low-tech manufacture (see "World Made By Hand" by James Kunstler). Population down to 2 billion within 100 years.

Human extinction within 100 years (10%).

These are WAGs of course. But if I honestly try to add up the likelihoods this is what I come up with. The reason is that our reliance on high potential energy is so great and most people take it for granted, thus will have a hard time believing scenario #3 is so likely, while at the same time harboring firm beliefs that technology will somehow come through as they believe it always has in the past. Of course it hasn't really, at least not always (war on cancer). Technology has allowed us to do more with material resources, certainly, getting more functionality from those resources over time. But matter is different from energy. The technology of energy is fundamentally different from that of matter. The only reason we could work such wonders with matter was that we tapped into this incredible bank of high potential energy called fossil fuels. And we've gotten a lot of bang for our buck. But the fuels are running low and are much more difficult to extract, meaning there is far less net energy to work magic on matter these days. And at a time when there are so many more of us wanting some of that magic.

I realize this is a bleak outlook. Although I cannot help but see a positive side to it from the standpoint that a greatly reduced population, each consuming far less resources, is going to be good for the planet (unfortunate to have to have that view). And I think that humanity will have learned a valuable lesson and not make the same mistakes if given another chance to create something that we might call civilization. That would take a completely new energy source since we will have used up all accessible fossil fuels, but at very low populations with modest material needs some form of solar energy conversion to electricity would be sufficient. So, while hard to contemplate such a gloomy scenario, harder still to live through it, there is a possible bright side for the world as a whole.

I recommend "The Up-Side of Down" by Thomas Homer-Dixon.

--- G.M.

Comment by e-mail from Mike Roddy on Nov. 17, 2009:

I don't think you're being pessimistic, George. Those numbers look like good educated guesses to me, and are even on the optimistic side.

Two recommendations: "A Really Inconvenient Truth," by Dan Miller. He's a retired engineer and tech magnate (though still a young man), helped on Gore's movie, and works closely with Berkeley climate scientists. As a Cal grad, I also know a few of them, and one (Dr. Harte) told me long ago that IPCC was way too optimistic. Miller's video shows that mainstream climate science predicts a significant probability of human extinction, and that data from the last couple of years show methane feedbacks and all kinds of frightening events as being well under way. Apparently we've been unable to measure the extent of the Siberian Arctic methane releases, but the 50 mmt estimate is just the very beginning. The game has changed even in the last year, increasing Game Over (human extinction) probabilities. The basic science indicates a very grim future unless transformative actions begin immediately.

Miller asked a Berkeley climatologist and IPCC delegate where she saw global temperature in 2100. Her answer? A 6 to 12 degree Celsius increase. I'm a homer here in believing that Berkeley holds the highest concentration of really smart people on earth, and that this kind of talk is hardly alarmist or fringe. The science department faculty was never really politically woolly per the outdated campus stereotype that a few people still cling to.

Second recommendation: The November Scientific American cover story, which is a plan for full conversion to renewable energy by 2030 in this country. The details are accounted for, including cost, materials availability, land, and so on. It's an important and extremely well done contribution. If Miller is right, this is basically our only alternative, and it has to begin now.

You can google the Miller video, and the November Scientific American issue is still on the newsstands, but not for much longer.

I'm tired of bugging you, Andy [Revkin], because I'm fond of you, like the rest of us. But you really need to move the bar where it belongs, and feature both of these stories [in The New York Times science section].

Monday, November 16, 2009

Paul Horan responds to the Dot Earth blog post "Promising New Communication Experiments"

Paul Horan responds to the Dot Earth blog post "Promising New Communication Experiments"


Bioneers is a well-managed, non-profit, educational phenomenon (i.e., a public intelligence gathering and distributing activity) that recently celebrated its 20th annual conference. Bioneers' gatherings have for the past two decades been successfully pushing humanity's envelope in terms of "environmental communication" and continue to succeed at sharpening our species' cutting edge in this regard. Here's my evidence for making such a claim from this year alone:

•Nineteen live video feeds via satellite across the USA to local, "open to the public" community gatherings, plus one similar live feed to an "official" gathering via partnership with the North American Association of Environmental Education.

•And in terms of enduring follow through, for anyone interested who was otherwise busy while the live conference unfolded, select Bioneers' presentations (comparable to TED talks) are freely available online:

•Also, here's an example of a Bioneers' affiliate, "Treehugger" engaging in effective environmental communication via an online audio clip re: the subject "greenwikias":

These folks are pushing the envelope of what actually needs to be learned if we have any hope of preventing and managing the messes we've been making. Their expansive efforts to relay both video and audio signals of conference presentations via live satellite feeds, delayed YouTube links, DVD and CD recordings, as well as word of mouth, etc., are a big part of Bioneers' in process and ever evolving endeavor to convey valuable insights derived from both bold confrontation with our species' current crises as well as from clear, hopeful (as in "hope with its sleeves rolled up," as per David Orr) determination to enrich our global and local public good.

Simply acknowledging current crises conditions makes a difference that makes a difference. If one of the next rules of thumb for effective crisis management is to remain calm, we've got some serious work cut out for ourselves.

Nonetheless, remaining truly calm as we confront crises (that include many players, both denying current crises conditions and beginning to freak out as more evidence mounts) may be one of the best ways to attract other players' attention.

As human life forms, which game are we choosing to play: "Destroy Life on Earth" or "Enjoy Life Earth"? Forty sumpthin' years ago, Pogo suggested we consider that "we've met the enemy and the enemy is us." Just think how much time and creative energy we could free up and make available to Enjoy Life on Earth if we calmly chose to dial back this self-enmity inertia. That strikes me as an attractive organizing principle for human beings eager to thrive on our planet. Rather than fall prey to such man-made and fear-driven fantasies as our military-industrial-complex, let's calm down, cheer up and keep it simple, Smartypants. If we're bold and clear and compassionate enough to converse about this challenge of actually recognizing "we've met the enemy and the enemy is us" then something like "open source espionage" begins to make some sense.

Just for the heck of it and to enjoy a little change of pace, let's consider we're all on the same team. Let's assume that each and every human being is a crew member on this Spaceship Earth, as the late great Bucky Fuller used to put it. If we're all players at the leading edge of evolution, with the arrow of time pointing in one direction, what kind of information are we actively engaged in communicating to our fellow team mates? What needs to be learned so we most enjoy this game? If we're courageous and free enough to remove our "official" hats and simply bask in our own humanity ... our own human dignity ... our own individual human agency well integrated with the recognition that we might just wanna give genuine, open collaboration a more earnest attempt ... , what kind of human resourcefulness are we ready, willing and able to bring to this most challenging of games we're playing? In what kinds of "communication experiments" are we engaging to ensure that future folks feel grateful for the quality of our play? How much freedom, in terms of both free thought and free speech, are we willing to exercise? How much care are we willing to invest in communicating with one another?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thanksgiving Thought

Worth reading if you think about the meaning of Thanksgiving:
In part the article says:

"Invest in nature now, save trillions later: studyAFP –by Marlowe Hood PARIS (AFP) – Investing billions today to protect threatened ecosystems and dwindling biodiversity would reap trillions in savings over the long haul, according to a UN-backed report issued Friday.More than a billion of Earth's poorest denizens depend directly on coral reefs, forests, mangroves, aquifers and other forms of "natural capital" to eke out a living.Unless world leaders take swift action to halt the accelerating depletion of these resources, the result could be hunger, conflict and environment refugees, the study warned."Recognising and rewarding the value delivered to society by the natural environment must become a policy priority," said Pavan Sukhdev, who headed The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) paper released in Brussels."

My conclusion is that, contrary to one popular belief in the US today, we need more, not less, federal and state government oversight of health of natural ecosystems; encluding rigorous enforcement!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Follow the Law

Thought you all might like to hear that our own George is well along with writing a paper, during his sabbatical back east, on 'peak oil' from the perspective of the Second Law of Thermodynamics; with new detail on the 'run-up'.
He let me read it, and it was so good that it quickly attracted a co-author back there who will probably give it an additional boost. I expect we'll hear more about this from George in the near future.

Quantized Climate?

Hello all:
The current issue of Physics Today has an article by Graham Farmelo about the physicist Paul Dirac that contained an interesting quantum idea. He quotes Dirac:"The quantum jumps now form the uncalculable part of natural phenomena, to replace the initial conditions of the old mechanistic view". Farmelo then quotes another physicist Arkani-Hamed: "This is an amazing insight. Although Dirac didn't know the details of how the universe develops . .. he got the overarching concept dead right. So he was a bit like Darwin, coming up with evolution by natural selection without knowing anything about the underlying genetics".
To that I would add that 'the old mechanistic view' of weather and climate is probably adjusting to this quantum concept as we learn more from glacial ice cores about sudden changes in state of climate over the few hundreds of thousands of years. I'm thinking about those rapid warm spikes in the Northern Hemisphere near Lower Dryas time (ca. 14,000 years ago), and how our precarious civilization would (or wouldn't) adapt to such a readjustments. Even more challenging, perhaps, is the thought of how we'll adapt to climate forcing imposed by deforestation and CO2 release.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Meeting Hansen & Gore (briefly, but still a thrill)

Now that you mention it - after having brunch with my son and doing a few errands (by bike on a beautiful but too warm for November autumn day), I met Jim Hansen. Briefly, but still. That email Tenney sent yesterday mentioned that he would be at two events in Boston, and I went to one of them Sunday afternoon and hope to go to the other one Monday morning before going to work.

Hansen was invited to Boston by a group of students who are camping out on their campuses during the week to demand that Massachusetts take steps to be 100% on renewable energy by 2020. On Sunday nights many of these students are camping out on Boston Common in front of the Massachusetts State House and taking their message to the state legislature on Monday mornings. They invited Jim Hansen to join them this weekend, and on Monday the Global Warming Committee of the MA Senate will have a hearing that Hansen will speak at. He said he is going to sleep out with the students, but I hope not. He is still recovering from surgery (read Tenney's email about this). He looked pale but very happy to be among these dedicated young people. The kids tossed an earth ball through the crowd and every time it came his way Hansen would give it a good swat with a big smile.

Hansen spoke to the group about how we are approaching climate tipping points, about the accelerating loss of ice mass in Greenland and Antarctica, about the increasing accuracy of paleontological climate research, about species being pushed to extinction as habitats change, about the potential loss of color in the autumn leaves - which have been just stunning this year in New England.

He also talked about putting a price on carbon - his tax and rebate proposal. I still don't agree with his hostility to cap and trade, and I think any attempt to impose a carbon tax would face the same onslaught in Congress from the fossil fuel industry, provide innumerable opportunities for loopholes, and as for simplicity and transparency - have you spent any quality time with the US tax code lately? He said he was attracted to the idea that Massachusetts could lead the country in energy conversion because it's a progressive state and the place where the American Revolution started. (The logo of the student group is a Minuteman with a wind turbine.) Ironically, Massachusetts and several other states in the Northeast have taken leadership in forming the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first US-based cap and trade system.

Whatever disagreements I have about cap and trade vs. tax, Jim Hansen is a hero. I was thrilled to be able to thank him for his work.

On Saturday, as I mentioned before somewhere in this barrage of messages, I heard Al Gore speak and got a signed copy of his new book. Next weekend, Bill McKibben will be speaking at a conference I plan to attend and also spending time with the students on Boston Common.

Gore and Hansen are two very different men, but both are so committed and so willing to express a clear and compelling message about climate change, so dedicated to teaching and to learning. These were not Hollywood-style events. Gore spoke in a middling size church across the street from Harvard Yard that hosts many lectures and meetings and a soup kitchen in the basement; the event was sponsored by a venerable - and still independent - Harvard Square bookstore that Gore, speaking as a Harvard grad, said is one of his favorites - and is one of my favorites too since high school days. On Boston Common where Hansen spoke, a softball game was going on at the far side of the park, homeless people were staking out their benches for the night, a clatch of dog walkers hung out while their dogs played off leash in a patch of grass. A group of tourists gathered around their guide for a mini history lesson, people passed by going about their business. Countless rallies and festivals have been held on these grounds.

I'm getting off on a tangent, but what I'm trying to express is that there is something about the very ordinariness of these settings and the way these men are caught up, not in themselves, but in the realities they are seeking to understand and seeking to communicate that is very compelling and so not the way they are portrayed by the denier cabal.

I feel a deep need to keep faith with people like Al Gore, Jim Hansen, Bill McKibben and so many people I know who just don't quit.


Comments are now embedded below the posts

I have tweaked a setting and now, if you click on the post's title, you will go to that post and you will be able to see all of the comments at the same time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reading Hansen

Dear Tenney and all:

Think I've learned how to create a new 'post', like a thread I suppose.

Here I'd like to emphasize the importance, IMO, of reading James Hansen's posts on his site:

I've skimmed:


For me Hansen's approach works far better than, say, books without figures. I know Tenney likes Hansen.

Does anyone else think his style is clear enough for the general public? Isn't?

Monday, November 9, 2009


Hello Tenney and Steven: I'm not clear on operations here, but this is a first try. Wayne

Good idea

Good idea.