Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Real Shock and Awe


With Gustav pounding Cuba and apparently headed into the Gulf as a Cat 5 hurricane, and Hanna headed west, and three more waves behind them, this story from the first year of EFA seems timely.

This story is fiction. The storm that is coming is real. Head inland today if you are in its path.

The Gulf Scream
Janelle walked out to the edge of the water and put her toes into the lapping, rushing, wavelets.
"It is so warm", she says in that almost complaining voice that can almost be confused with the "you don't have it in my size" voice.

The water was its customary warm. These days, even in winter, the water rarely cools to where it is actually refreshing. It still makes you wet though.

That wonderful yellow tangled up cord was all over the beach. I used to think that some huge army of drunk fishermen were somehow losing their fishnets every night. I would see this orange string stuff laying all around on the beach and would actually get a little unhappy with the colossal amount of beach litter. Then, one day I realized it was seaweed, Sargasso Sea Seaweed to be exact. A scientist at the University marine lab told me all about it when we bumped into each other many years ago as we were aimlessly walking. I guess now, it is decades.

"Just be glad we are here."

"I am, I am," said Janelle.

Actually, she hates the beach. I'm the one who loves it. I can sit out on the edge of the water for days and days with my cooler, my bright umbrella, my kite, my super comfortable red chairs with the leg rests built in, my binoculars, several books, and an ocean of sun block.

I can just sit and walk and run and watch the babies, the birds, and the other featherless bipeds for days, if not weeks. I lose myself in the sounds of the blustery wind, in the constantcy of the waves lapping as they come and go, at the radio blaring from the occassional black low rider pickup, and at the seagulls laughing and carrying on with each other, looking for the next sucker to throw them some crackers. I don't care if they are flying rats.

"Just be glad we made it".

"I know, I know. Next you are going to tell me how much you love that haunted hotel that we stay in right"?

"FDR used to stay there."


"And what?"

"And he was old a really long time ago."

She was right, the hotel was old, and a little run down, but that made it even more perfect. It was a bit of a ghost town too, but real fisherman were beginning to come back.

None of us really expected it to happen like this. We all thought that the big event that would bring climate change onto the radar screen of all the politicians would probably be the abrupt slow down of the gulf stream. Then, no matter how right wing, no matter how suspicious they were of anything with the word environment in it, no matter how much they just hated the idea that burning incredibly huge amounts of oil and coal could ever actually do something really bad, such as make a formerly somewhat dependable stable climate, very unstable and very undependable, they would go "Oh my Lord, I have been wrong, oh so very stupidly wrong; we do have a very big problem here indeed."

But who would have thought that the Gulf of Mexico, that pitifully wonderful, generally very tranquil body of water would have turned so ugly... that it would start to scream.

First, there was the year when Florida got hit three times. Some people in the Florida panhandle built there houses back, just to have them destroyed just as they were moving in. Then of course, we had the destruction of New Orleans.

We all were horrified, but many of us took some dark pleasure in saying "I told your so".

But then there was another one. And this time there was no pleasure in any of it. It was horrible. And then another, and another.

The president kept saying we are going to build it back. First it was 200 billion, then another 200 billion, and the storms kept coming. One by one, every major city on the Gulf was hit. We kept talking about rebuilding and so on, but after a few years, it began to feel a little hollow.

And then one day the insurance companies said it. They said "no more".

The government stepped in of course. We love to socialize losses in this country. It's the profits that we must privatize. But even that was impossible with the mounting debt and the foreign loss of confidence in our bungling leaders.

And then it hit us like a ton of bricks falling down from so many wind blown walls.

The Gulf is no longer a place for large concentrations of human settlement. The first casualty of Global Climate Change was not England, not Sweden, and not France. It was Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida.

Oh, you can live here alright, but it is more like the north shore of Oahu on the opposite side of the island from Honolulu. Everything is wind blown and beat down. There is just too much weather there for anything except temporary things. Because, most likely, they will be made temporary, whether you like it or not.

The good news is that except for some of their ugly ruins, all of the refineries that cluttered the coast are gone. The majors tried to bebuild them, but it seems that Mother Nature had other plans. Besides, we all knew that we had to stop burning that crap anyway. With time, our poetic sides could see that Mother Nature had come in and wiped out these earth offending industrial petrocarbon complexes with a precision that would have made a former, now infamous Secretary of Defense jealous.

The pinpoint nature of these strikes by Mother Nature was the real shock and awe.

Appropriately, now the people who do live here really love the sea, and they respect it. Now that the pollution has stopped, the fishing has returned, and the beaches are actually more lovely than ever. There are people here, but not like before the change.

But the big cities and the luxury homes are pretty much gone. They have moved inland or to other more friendly shores.

The casinos are still here, but they operate out of recycled cruise ships. That way, they can run from the giant storms before they get there.

But mostly, the birds live here now, and they fish these waters just like they did a thousand years ago.

And we come to visit more than ever.

It may be hot.

But it's still very cool.

Still, the gulf has become a very strange and different place.


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*Magritte, "the Human Condition", "Collective Invention"

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Friday, August 29, 2008

It's About Us

A bunch of us gathered together last night to watch the acceptance speech for Obama. Most of us were a little nervous that the big stadium, the high expectations, and the set itself would set the stage for a let down.

Didn't happen.

It was a great speech.

Here's the text.

I particularly liked the part where Obama took on the right's main wedge issues:

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.

The -- the reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.

I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.

You know, passions may fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers.

But this, too, is part of America's promise, the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer, and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values.

And that's to be expected, because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters.

If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what?

It's worked before, because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping and settle for what you already know.

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don't fit the typical pedigree, and I haven't spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me; it's about you.

It's about you." (more)

Indeed, it is.

It is about us.

And let's hope we are indeed better,

than the last eight years.

Because eight is enough.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Age of Ignorance

Well, following up on yesterday's post about the Arctic, the ice melt continues. Here's the story from the Post:

Scientists Report Further Shrinking of Arctic Ice
Area Is Close To All-Time Low

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 27, 2008; A03

Arctic sea ice has shrunk to the second-lowest level since record-keeping began three decades ago, a group of international researchers determined yesterday, a revelation underscoring how rapidly climate change is transforming ecosystems in northern latitudes.

The extent of Arctic sea ice is now 2 million square miles below the long-term average for Aug. 26, according to the International Arctic Research Center and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, a figure that is within 400,000 square miles of the all-time record low set in September 2007.

This figure is already below the long-term average for September ice cover and because the ice traditionally reaches its minimum level in mid-September, researchers warned that a new low might be recorded within weeks.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which independently analyzes Arctic ice cover, will announce today that it has reached the same conclusion, based on a five-day mean of satellite measurements.

"If we continue to lose ice at this rate, we will best the 2007 record", said Julienne Stroeve, an research scientist. "We're going to lose that ice, so we've got to understand what this means for the rest of us." clip

"Two weeks ago, the federal Climate Change Science Program released a "synthesis and assessment" report examining global warming in the Arctic and northern latitudes that suggests the region has already suffered ice loss of an "immense magnitude and unprecedented nature."

The report, which is open for public comment until Sept. 25, adds that the "current sea ice reduction . . . is progressing at a very fast rate that appears to have no analogs in the past" and that "sustained changes in sea-ice coverage may cause perhaps the largest temperature changes observed on the planet." (more)

Meanwhile, down here in the lower latitudes, we've had record heat, and now, another hurricane may be headed for New Orleans. I know its impossible to fathom, but so is another four years of "Rs" wrecking everything in sight.

The words "climate change" were heard last night. And they were spoken by the Governor of Montana. (watch) And, by most accounts, he did a pretty good job of outlining a smart energy policy as well as getting the folks out of their seats.

But as I shared with a guy from a big time law firm at lunch today, "In the next few years, putting carbon into our atmosphere is going to be as civilized as puking on your grandmother's china".

Soon, much sooner than anyone thinks, we are going to have to start mining the CO2 from the air. We're going to have to quit running away from the problems that lay ahead, and not just slow down our emissions, we're going to have to reverse them.

We will have to begin mining the atmosphere like we have never contemplated before.

We will have to plant trees everywhere, water them, cut them down, and use the lumber to build houses and offices that last 500 years. Perhaps we will even build roads with atmsopheric carbon instead of fossil carbon. Every fiber in every sport jacket that is presently made out of oil will need to be made from the CO2 in the air. ( cotton , wool, wood fibers)

In a decade or so, as the science of nanotechnology matures, we will build atom by atom with the carbon we have released during this age of fossil fuels.

Concrete and steel will be replaced with advanced forms of reconfigured atmospheric carbon.

We will turn the earth green, and our cities will flower.

Our inside walls will glow, and our outside walls will be generators.

And our power companies will be more like banks.

And the Age of Ignorance will end.

And it won't be that bad.


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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Grasshopper Nite

Of all the scenarios for runaway climate change, the one that raises the hair on my back the most is the one where as the perma frost continues to move north, it begins to thaw and put carbon into the atmosphere, rather than take it out.

Scientific American has a new story that shows that the arctic soil has a lot more carbon in it than anyone imagined. Here's part of the story:

Big Thaw of Arctic Soil May Unleash Runaway Warming
Scientific American
By David Biello
August 26, 2008

New estimates show that frozen Arctic soil contains far more potential greenhouse gas than previously recognized--and could speed climate change as it melts

"Drunken" trees listing wildly, cracked highways and sinkholes—all are visible signs of thawing Arctic permafrost. When this frozen soil warms, it releases carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases as microbes start to thrive on the organic material it contains—a potentially potent source of uncontrollable climate change.

Now new research published in Nature Geoscience shows that such frozen Arctic soil holds nearly twice as much of the organic material that gives rise to planet-warming greenhouse gases as previously estimated."When the air temperature rises two to three degrees, the Arctic tundra would switch from a carbon sink to a carbon source," says soil scientist Chien-Lu Ping of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"The greater the carbon stores, the greater the impact it causes," including even faster warming in the already changing Arctic.

Previous estimates of the amount of carbon stored in Arctic soil had relied on samples taken outside of the region or those from only the topmost layer—accessible by shovel. As a result, these surveys failed to account for organic material deeper down.

So Ping and his colleagues used portable jackhammers to chisel their way three feet (a meter) or more into a variety of landscapes in the Alaskan Arctic, 117 sites in all. Excavating these soil pits, the scientists found that permafrost areas were quickly storing plants and other organic material deep beneath the surface, as much as 10 feet (three meters) in some cases.

The key is the thawing and freezing of the surface layer as well as some of the unique soil formations of the Arctic region, according to Ping. "Frost boils"—deep soil that roils to the surface like bubbles in a boiling pot—and ground cracks allow topsoil to slip below the surface and come into contact with the deep permafrost.

This keeps the soil from decomposing—and thereby traps more than 98 petagrams (98 million billion grams) of carbon, or one sixth the total in the atmosphere, according to biogeochemist Christian Beer of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany.

Warming could release most of that carbon. "Warming will increase the decomposition rate of the soil organic matter and more carbon dioxide will be generated," Ping notes. And "warming will thaw the permafrost and release the sequestered carbon," which will also decompose faster in the warmer temperatures." more

The air temperatures in parts of the Arctic are increasing at rates well beyond the increases we are seeing at the mid latitudes, sometimes by as much as 12 degrees (F) warmer than the overall average. And the "Permafrost temperatures in Alaska have gone up about 1 degree Centigrade over the last 50 years. In Russia, where they've been monitoring permafrost for over a century, it has warmed up by 2 degrees Centigrade.

And as the Arctic ice continues to recede, one study suggests that Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate."

Meanwhile, last years ice melt has caused some scientists to say that, "At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012. "

Yet, count the times you hear climate change mentioned tonight at the DNC.

Count the times you hear about the tundra time bomb in the MSM.

Count the years we have to make a difference,

Before it's a Run Run Runaway.

And the starship itself

Sails out into the grasshopper nite.


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Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Transformer Society

Perhaps one of the greatest barriers to developing a sustainable society and world is rooted in the way we presently allow ourselves to be named.

We are Consumers.

Think about it. We're not citizens, or buyers, or residents. No we have allowed ourselves to be defined simply as things that consume.

According to Wikepedia,

Consumerism is the equating of personal happiness with the purchasing of material possessions and consumption.The term is often associated with criticisms of consumption starting with Karl Marx and Thorstein Veblen.

Veblen's subject of examination, the newly emergent middle class arising at the turn of the twentieth century, comes to full fruition by the end of the twentieth century through the process of globalization.[1]

Consumerism has strong links with the Western world, but actually is multi-cultural and non-geographical. People purchasing goods and consuming materials in excess of their basic needs is as old as the first civilizations (see Ancient Egypt, Babylon and Ancient Rome, for example). "

In order to truly move to a sustainable society, we are going to have to reshape this kind of language into something else. We need to reject the consumer label.

In the early days of Marx and Veblen, consumerism was rejected for its obvious philosophical and moral shortcomings; but today, it is no longer just an abstraction for the philosphers, it is a question of physical limits. We are reaching the limits of our ability to put carbon into the air, as well as mine it from the earth.

One of the reasons we are reaching these limits, is because we are, in fact, not consumers at all. We are transformers. We transform food into crap, trees into boxes, and boxes into rubbish. We transform fields into suburbs, and forests into feed lots.

We have the ability to transform things into beautiful creations, but instead we "let the market work", which is just a handy way to steal from the generations that follow us, while we go about willy nilly making our built environment coyote ugly.

We are indeed the Transformer Society.

And in order to get to a sustainable world, we must reject this current world view that promotes the raping and pillaging of our lands, our air, our aesthetic sensibilities, and our human soul. We must recognize it for what it is, uncivilized and suicidal.

Let us reject this label of "consumer".

And become what we truly are,


Alive, awake, aware,

More like bees.

Less like sheep.


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Friday, August 22, 2008



Remy and Max are traveling like we did, but
two decades later and in the opposite direction,
by air to Austin from San Francisco to visit their
grandparents, our journey in reverse, gathering
as my sons did a community of friendly people,
children and adults, as if the world were actually
a family, kind — like the brilliant blue sky outside
our windows above the clouds, above cities and
towns, deserts, mountains, rivers and the news.

At baggage check-in they show me two roller
backpacks, identical style, different colors — one
with large pok-a-dots, one green, a row of small
stuffed animals in the front pocket of the girl pack,
both new. At the gate Remy asks me if I’d like
to color with her, and opens her book—new
crayons, a rainbow one with square edges. Max
wants to color too but she isn’t sure. I give
him a crayon and asked for help coloring the
front edge of the earth, or maybe it was a tree.

The picture is (maybe) a frog with dinosaur
scales that she colors with the rainbow crayon,
a flying thing, some golden brown grass (California
is dry in August), and a rainbow we add as
an afterthought. When they call us to board
the flight to Austin, Remy tares out the page
and gives it to me. I ask them to sign it which
they do while their mother, as gracious and
friendly as her children, quickly gathers
toys they scattered around, snacks,
extra sweaters, a magnet with lots of pieces,
and stuffs them into available compartments
in their bags. Earlier, in the airport, the mom
and I discovered we both had twins —
“I used to be freaked out all the time,” she
said. “I’m calmer now.”

“I think I’m still freaked out,” I said wishing
I’d known her two decades ago, remembering
how solitary I often felt in the face of their
vast energy and complex reality.

She tells them I have twin boys and that
those two boys have children, a boy and two
girls. They briefly glance into the future —
wide eyed, not ready to believe it, then turn
back to the moment where we happily color
a picture of (maybe) a frog, a flying thing, dry grass
and a rainbow that turns, just now, into a poem.

© Susan Bright, 2008

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

And now for a little geography, fast.


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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thinking Beings Who Feel

At the end of a radio inteview last week, the host for the next show came into the studio and began to complain to the hosts of our show that once again, they were late. Our show was on green energy and her show was about "elevating consciousness".

Since I felt that I was primarily responsible for the 60 second overrun, I listened as she (the incoming host) made her point. She had a call- in that was to start on the hour and she was concerned that her listeners would tune in and tune out if the show wasn't on. She was unhappy but not angry.

As I walked out, I thought to myself that if she had just been listening to our show, she could have used what I was saying as a nice transition into her show about higher consciousness. I mean really, what is higher consciousness if it is not being one in the moment.

Towards the end of our show, I was talking about transductional boundaries, and how division itself is an illusion. I was speaking from the context of energy and the boundaries and walls that we erect of course, and how in the future, we will begin to understand that all of boundaries should become more and more transductional. That means that energy from the outside in the form of photons will be converted to electons where they might be returned to their photon state on the inside of the boundary wall as light.

Likewise, the infrared light from our bodies might be collected by our walls and used to power our computers and other tools.

In my mind, I see a unified energy matrix where photons and electrons are constantly being transformed back and forth to provide us light and energy, remove heat, and power our tools and transportation appliances, as well as provide the medium to communicate and transfer consciousness.

Well, our consciousness host was too busy getting her show to start on time to worry about such matters.

When I got into the car, I decided to tune her show in, and I'm glad I did. Her call-in guest was talking about feeling and thinking and she said something that has been running around in my mind ever since.

She said that, "we are not thinking beings that feel, we are feeling beings that think".

And that is oh so true.

Most of the weirdo "Rs" that I know who, in my view think really poorly, think just fine. It's how they feel that drives their thinking. They are mad at so called big government, they feel like their tax money goes to welfare moms who don't work, they hate gays, because they are afraid of becoming one, they love their country, their truck, and their myth of America that issues from their favorite country western radio station.

"God Bless the USA".

Most "D"s are no different.

They feel the injustice in our capitalist/corporate world. They resent the hippocracy of protecting the unborn even as we bomb those who are alive now. "D" types feel the corporate take over of the world and they fear the fascism it breeds. They feel in their bones that its wrong for a CEO to make 100 times more money that the folks who are actually doing the work.

And because we are indeed Feeling Beings that think, instead of Thinking Beings that feel, we erect a belief system around our feelings that validates those feelings.

I learned long ago that I could not win an argument with my right wing brother. We rarely change each others minds with worn out things like facts and rational thinking. And in the political world, its rare that someone changes their beliefs, at least not until something happens to them that makes them feel differently.

If their sister's husband gets sick, and goes broke, even with a job and a health plan, they suddenly see things differently. If their son dies in the war for oil, their feelings shift.

Progressives need to learn this, because the R's have it down.

Obama would make us feel good again, even as McCain would continue the fear.

Will the fear of death trump the love of life in this national plebicite of feelings?

Will gathering more oil win over harvesting our renewable energies?

Will "war and division" win over "peace and harmony?

Thinking Beings who Feel will likely tip the scale.

What do you think?

How do you feel?


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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Propaganda Surge

The amount of propaganda coming from our Western Media regarding Georgia has been enough to make the usually careful former president Gorbachev to characterize it simply as lies. Here's part of the story from a different perspective.

Crisis in the Caucasus.
What Were They Smoking in the White House?
by Eric Margolis

The Bush administration appears to have pulled off its latest military fiasco in the Caucasus. What was supposed to have been a swift and painless takeover of rebellious South Ossetia by America’s favorite new ally, Georgia, has turned into a disaster that left Georgia battered, Russia enraged, and NATO badly demoralized. Not bad for two days work.

Equally important, Russia’s Vladimir Putin swiftly and decisively checkmated the Bush administration’s clumsy attempt last week to expand US influence into the Caucasus, and made the Americans and their Georgian satraps look like fools.

We are not facing a return to the Cold War – yet. But the current US-Russian crisis over Georgia, a tiny nation of only 4.6 million, and its linkage to a US anti-ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe, is deeply worrying and increasingly dangerous.

On 7 August, Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, ordered his US and Israeli-advised and equipped army to invade the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which has been struggling for independence from Georgia since 1992. Most of its people were Russian citizens who wanted union with Russian North Ossetia.

If not directly behind Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia, Washington had to have been at least fully aware of Saakashvili’s plans. The Georgian Army was trained and equipped by US and Israeli military advisors stationed with its troops down to battalion level. CIA and Israel’s Mossad operated important intelligence stations in Tbilisi and coordinated plans with the Saakashvili, whose political opponents have long accused him of being very close to CIA and the Pentagon.

Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia was launched while the world was absorbed by the Beijing Olympics, and Prime Minister Putin was in the Chinese capital. The attack was clearly planned to be a lightening strike that would occupy all of South Ossetia and then Abkhazia before Moscow could react, presenting the Kremlin with a fait accompli. " clip

After the young, US-educated Saakashvili became Georgia’s president in 2003 (after an uprising, believed organized by CIA and financed by US money), overthrowing the former leader, Eduard Shevardnadze,

"US money, military trainers, advisers, and intelligence agents poured into the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Israeli arms dealers, businessmen and intelligence agents quickly followed, reportedly selling some $200 million or more of military equipment to the Georgian government.

By expanding its influence into Georgia, the Bush administration brazenly flouted agreements with Moscow made by president George H.W. Bush not to expand NATO into the former USSR. President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both violated this pact. Under the feeble Yeltsin regime, bankrupt Russia could do nothing. But under Putin, newly wealthy Russia finally pushed back after a long series of provocations fromWashington.

Russia’s tough deputy prime minister, Sergei Ivanov, sneeringly observed that Georgia had become a "US satellite." He was absolutely right. And Ivanov, a former KGB colleague of Vlad Putin, knows a satellite when he sees one. Georgia provided the US oil and gas pipeline routes from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan that bypassed Russian territory. Russia was furious its Caspian Basin energy export monopoly had been broken, vowing revenge. (clip)

Bush and McCain demand Russia be punished and isolated. The humiliated Bush is sending some US troops to Georgia to deliver "humanitarian" aid.

Equally worrisome, the US rushed to sign a pact with Warsaw to station anti-missile missiles and anti-aircraft batteries, manned by US troops, in Poland.

This response is dangerous, highly provocative, and immature.

The next president will have to deal with the Bush administrations reckless and foolish acts in the Mideast, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan and now, the Caucasus.

The west must accept Russia has vital national interests in the Caucasus and the former USSR. Russia is a great power and must be afforded respect. The days of treating Russia like a banana republic are over."

Let's hope that the" next president" is not the man that the

"worst president in the history" of this country

has endorsed.

Meanwhile the propaganda "surge" continues.

Like white on Rice.


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Monday, August 18, 2008

Plug in Hybrid Implementation Plan

There is a plug in hybrid electric vehicle car conference in town today. It was put together by some academic types from the University of Texas and Texas A&M. They had participants from the Electric Power Research Institute, from the various National Labs, from Amory Lovin's Rocky Mountain Institute, and from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. In fact, the meeting was held in the totally tony offices at ERCOT. If you are an electric geek, check out their site.

It's truly amazing how this technology has gone from virtual nonexistence just 5 years ago, to an highly exciting new transportation concept that is now the subject of study and planning by all kinds of folks from the University and Research communities. Sure, they smell grant money, but based on what I saw today, a whole lot of them genuinely believe that plug-in hybrids are an important addition to the energy tool box. They see the potential to store wind power, reduce foreign imports of oil, reduce pollution in the cities, even use these vehicles to help support the grid itself when the utility needs extra power on these hot summer afternoons.

And being professors, they see enormous opportunities to understand and model how it's all going to work. How will we control the cars so that they don't charge at peak, and how do we incent owners to charge only at night? How much water will they consume vs the standard gasoline vehicle? How will the batteries be recycled?

They are already worrying about all kinds of things that might happen once millions of them have been deployed into the transportation infrastructure. And they don't even exist yet.

Not quite three years ago, when we held our first press conference in Washington announcing the Plug In Partners campaign, after initiating a local plug in campaign a year or so before that, only the most positive of us would have imagined where we would be today.

Today, almost every major car manufacturer is planning some kind of plug in vehicle. And most of them are going to be available in the next few years, perhaps by 2010. In the industrial world of manufacturing, this is light speed. It's been reported that GM already has 33,000 letters of intent for its new Volt.

Tomorrow will be the day that I address the group.

I'm supposed to speak about implementation plans.

Somehow, it feels like we just did that.

My plug in hybrid implementation plan is to buy one and drive it.

That may not be academic enough for this bunch.

But at least I'll finish on time.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Alive or Dead?

The last several days have been pretty full. On Tuesday, I started the beginning of moving to another computer. To make that move much more time consuming than it usually is, I'm moving to Mac world. On Wednesday, I drove to the coast to look at a potential wind site, and yesterday, I did a radio station interview at our local Koop radio station.

At the interview, the hosts, (there were three of them) asked me about my books and so on, but they also gave me the opportunity to just open up and speak from my center.

First, we talked about Climate Change and how important it is to understand that the framing of the "R's, roughly expressed as "Environment vs Prosperity" is totally bogus.
The frame should be "alive vs. dead".
We need to treat the climate issue as if it is a roving pawnee tribe on the verge of coming over the hill with a bunch of braves who will rape our women and enslave or murder our children. We need to treat it as if it is World War III, because if we don't, it will be anyway. And don't be confused by the skeptics who will and do say anything to make their self serving points.. They are the Swiftboaters of the climate issue.

I talked about how Al Gore's proposal to transition our electric sector to renewables in 10 years is totally preposterous. And preposterous thinking is exactly what we need right now.

We chatted about how we need to see a profound change in the world, yet it will be no more profound than the change that occured 100 years ago. Look at the pictures. In 1905, our manure plagued cities were full of horses and carriages. By 1920, they were packed with cars. At the beginning of World War I, cannons were pulled into place by horses, and by the end of the conflict, we were shooting each other out of airplanes.

They asked me about being a futurist, and what it takes to be one. I replied that it is closer to being a musician or an artist than being an engineer or a planner, yet every good musician must have the technical skills to play his instrument.

They asked how my views have changed over the years, especially since the writing of Silver in the Mine, which was a long term comprehensive energy plan written more than five years ago. My response was that I was pretty happy with the way the vision in the book was holding up. However, in the book, I called for the creation of a solar /hydrogen economy, and today I speak and write about a Unified Photonic Energy Web. Sure, we will need fuel to run our planes and for gourmet cooking and perhaps heating, but more and more I see a unified energy system.

I talked about our recent presentations at the Utility which show a triangle with a car, a home, and a power plant, and how at present, the lines of energy flow from the power plant to the home, (or office) while the energy supply for the transportation sector comes almost exclusively from the oil sector.

We need to change that.

Energy needs to flow in a new unified system from the increasingly green utility to the house and to the car. And energy needs to flow from the house to the car and from the utility to the car. And the energy must flow in both directions, from the car to the house, (if the house is off the grid), from the car to the utility (V to G), as well as from the house to the utility.

With an integrated, unified energy system, we would no longer have the waste that exists at a typical football stadium parking lot where more generation capacity sits idle on the pavement outside the stadium than exists in the whole community's electrical generation portfolio.

With Plug in Hybrids, that capacity would no longer be stranded.

I closed the hour by reminding the listening audience that Einstein didn't receive the Nobel Prize for E=MC squared. No, his Nobel came from describing the photovoltaic effect.

Running the clock down to the last few seconds, I explained how just a few decades ago, we made PVs by growing crystal pickles in dark foggy rooms, where they were sliced, and doped, and wired, and then put in a frame like a work of art. In many ways, they were.

But today, we have companies that have turned that crystal pickle into a semiconducting ink which can be printed.

If such a Photovoltaic ink can be placed in a ink cartridge which goes into a printer, every computer and printer in the world could become a micro manufacturing plant of inexpensive solar material.

And that would be a Revolution.



What will we be,

Alive or Dead?


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Prayer for Georgia

A Prayer for Sakartvelo

by Roger Colombik, August 11, 08
photographs by Roger Colombik


The plane headed due north, well above the clouds, politics and the news. Smooth sailing – the lighthearted humor of the pilot diverted our attention towards volcanoes and frontiers in the languages of the Americas. There was mention of the Olympics, of world and ceremony and peace.


An absurdist dilemma of sorting through stacks of bills, memos from insurance agents (…your policy will be cancelled…) bank statements and notes from anxious students looking for work and letters of recommendation. Meanwhile, the television has inverted our world – night becomes day, day becomes night as the swimmers take their mark, the gun is fired and bodies glide to world record speeds and bodies lie scattered in Tskhinvali and Gori. The capacity to become chwen vart (we are) has once again succumbed to me var (I am).


Three days of listening to posturing, mispronunciations and political machinations.

Three days of watching news footage and home videos from Gori, scouring the images for Zura’s family, the home that the grandfather built, their quiet neighborhood nestled into the hillside, the hermit who lived nearby in a shanty, who professed to having never met an American before and surely I am a liar for Americans are suppose to be big and brave like Superman and who am I to stand before him in this deceitful posture.

Imagination runs rampant through hospital wards and makeshift morgues. In a cruel twist of fate, or of precision guidance, the Stalin Museum appears to have survived unscathed. The bear roars overhead in cross border incursions and nighttime raids. Zugdidi has been targeted. Where are the children hiding, the refugees from Abkhazia who already lost everything, living in decrepit barracks, who stood before the blackboard in therapy sessions drawing symbols of hope and reconciliation. Where are the young women who dreamed of becoming journalists, to tell the world their story, to share all of their stories. The planes are closing in on Telavi. The planes are closing in on Tbilisi. Keti, where are you? Natia, where are you? Nino, where are you? Karo, Rez, Lena. Sopo, Mari, Lana, Gura, Gia, Dato… The phone rings and rings, their voices carried across the waters only in memory.


Keti’s restrained accent fills the receiver as the government’s official broadcast echo’s through the house, momentarily drowned out by the shrill screams of a grandchild at play, as babua Devi chases little Dmitri out into the garden, as Giorgi’s new composition is deftly being practiced upon the ivory. News of David in Beijing with the Georgian delegation is discussed, his designs for the Georgian Olympic Pavilion now serving as a siren song to the world, a beautiful plea for awakening and assistance. The conversation veers from anguish to bombs to hopelessness to…Modernism. Of new insights on Kandinsky, to publications in progress, to projects and research waiting in the wings. For this is a Georgian home: children, books, music, art, dance and song. A house of culture – a country of perseverance, as families huddle together awaiting the night, as families whisper prayers, in anticipation of morning.

Oh Natia, I know that you’ll continue to dream and work towards a civil society. Oh Karo, I know that you’ll continue to brush your pain upon canvas after canvas. Oh Nino, hold that little child tight and sing her a lullaby of peace. Oh Lana, Gia, Zura, Keti, Rezo, Sopo, Lika, Mari, Lena… We wait to hear your voices, day after day.

Journal Notes: War & Humanity
Tbilisi, April 2, 2003 (revised August 12, 2008, Wimberley, TX)
by Roger Colombik
photographs by Roger Colombik

In 2003, my wife Jerolyn and I lived in Georgia on a Fulbright grant, developing a series of creative projects that explored the unique character of Georgian culture. At the time, the society was struggling through the post-Soviet hangover of an economic collapse, political malfeasance and a crumbling civil infrastructure. The residual effects of Russian influence (military and political) in the regions of Ossetia and Abkhazia continued to destabilize the country and established a nervous tension where armed conflict appeared to be capable of reigniting at any moment. (The civil wars with Ossetia and Abkhazia in the 1990’s resulted in the deaths of several thousand and the displacement of well over 250,000 people.)

With much of the country often plunged into darkness, water stoppages and gas depletions, life stayed quiet, life went on. We continued to teach and work with people who shrugged their shoulders and would light a candle. We continued to live with people who found peace in the family hearth. In the classroom, faculty and students gathered around wood-burning stoves. Outside, merchants warmed their hands over trashcan fires. As Americans, we become a focal point for political inquiries. I found myself shrugging my shoulders, always preferring to share stories that celebrated our humanity at a time when it seems to be slipping away:

Walking along Agmanashebeli street, I could hear the faint strains of a piano in a repetitive beat. The sound is hypnotic, luring me into an alley, and on towards a building where old women are huddled against the windows, vying for a glimpse through cracked and filthy glass. The beat accelerates to a thunderous march, and inside is the thunder. Little children, absorbed in the traditional dance of their ancestors create a deafening chorus on ancient floorboards. The teacher screams out the count, erti, ori, sami, otkhi, erti, ori, sami, otkhi, and the children march past. There are captive expressions of exhilaration, concentration and fear. The girls pirouette with toes not yet accustomed to the rigors of a ballerina. The boys replicate warriors with acrobatic gestures of power and grace. The room rocks with tradition and the expectant desires of earnest young kids. Outside, grandmothers continue to gossip, pointing out offspring with a self assured pride. In this troubled yet resilient society, love of tradition still holds sway. We don’t need electricity to cherish the future, only a bit of daylight to see a young child passionately learning the rhythms of ancestors. Here in Georgia, home made wines are still cherished, in toasts to the family, and those now departed, and to those in the Iraq, for whom prayers cannot reach. And the children keep dancing.

Roger Colombik is a professor of Art, a sculptor, poet, and photographer. He is working on a book of photographs and essays based on his experience in the Republic of Georgia — where the beautiful traditions of an ancient culture confront the harsh realities of the post-Soviet hangover. His online portfolio can be viewed at His book, A Quiet Divide, was published by Plain View Press in 2006.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Seeds of Corruption

There are a lot of reasons to believe that the most effective way to move renewables and efficiency into the head of the energy preference line is with a carbon fee. But perhaps the most compelling reason we should favor a global climate premium on all fuels that emit carbon over a carbon trading system is its relative simplicity.

With a carbon fee, if you emit carbon into our atmosphere, you must pay for it. It's like a tipping fee at the local dump. And if you think about, (and they will in a hundred years) why in the world do we think we have this god given right to place CO2 into the global commons with impunity anyway? ( it probably has something to do with 100,000 years gene patterning)

In just a few generations though, the notion of filling the air with greenhouse gas will be seen as downright uncivilized and as advanced as throwing your sewage into the street.

In the meantime, the big money is on carbon trading. And here's an example of why:

Cooking up carbon credits
By distributing energy-efficient stoves in Africa, JPMorgan Chase aims to reduce greenhouse gases - and increase profits.
Fortune Magazine
August 12, 2008

By any measure, it is a long way from the Park Avenue headquarters of JPMorgan Chase, the global investment bank that generated revenues of $100 billion last year, to the dusty streets of Kampala, Uganda, where a poor woman can buy a new cook stove for about $6.

What connects the big bank to that small transaction is the business of carbon trading.

JPMorgan is quietly pushing the boundaries of the carbon market - a sprawling international experiment to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming - by subsidizing the distribution of efficient cooking stoves in poor countries.

Because the new, improved stoves save fuel and produce less carbon dioxide than traditional stoves, they generate so-called carbon credits that can be sold to companies or individuals who want to offset their own emissions.

The business is complicated, controversial and potentially very profitable.

How profitable?

If all goes according to plan, JPMorgan will expand its support for cook stoves from Uganda into Kenya, Ghana, Cambodia and beyond. Each stove is estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by two to three tons a year; each ton generates a credit worth $10 or $15 a year, and potentially more, for the bank.

"If you can distribute 10 million stoves, you are talking about a substantial tonnage of carbon," says Odin Knudsen, who oversees JPMorgan's carbon finance business. Do the math - you could be looking at a business with modest costs and between $200 million and $450 million a year in revenues.

JPMorgan isn't alone.

All the big global investment banks - including Barclay's Citigroup , Goldman Sachs , and Merrill Lynch - are hurrying into carbon finance. Point Carbon, a consulting firm, says the global carbon markets generated $59 billion in revenues in the first half of 2008 - almost as much as the markets did in all of 2007. (clip)

If projects like the Uganda cook stoves are approved under the Kyoto protocol, which governs the regulated carbon markets, the business will become even more lucrative. Credits on the

European Union's regulated market are currently trading for more than $32 a ton."

Several times in the last year, when folks have asked me about how to get in the clean energy business, I have responded with something like this, "Well, if you are in this to make money, get into carbon trading."

The problem with this little scheme is that its effectiveness exists only in the minds and in the studies of its creators. There are no performance standards. What if its users decide to throw the stove out because it doesn't work. What if they move to propane? Or, for that matter, what if they were given solar ovens?

What if it doesn't reduce carbon emissions or even decrease wood use?

In the meantime, some polluting utility will be able to continue burning coal because the emissions are supposedly offset.

By this standard then, every solar panel should receive a carbon offset. Every efficiency program should receive an offset. Using your computer or your phone instead of flying to see your client should receive an offset. Not going to grandmothers this Christmas should get an offset.

Sure, we could pay goat herders to reduce their herds so the shrubs will grow and thus flow some money to the poor.

But more likely than not, carbon trading will be a golden recipe for flowing money to the wealthy (or soon to be) in the name of doing something good. And that may or may not be the case.

It is pregnant with the seeds of corruption.

If all carbon fuels had an emissions fee tacked on, all the other good things we should be doing will rise up in value. And we won't need a bunch of investment banks raking in the profits to do it.

But if you want your wealth to flower,

Get thee into carbon trading.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Territorial Integrity

Rather than listen to any American talk about the current events in Georgia and the notion of Georgia's territorial integrity, whether the bellicose Rs, the always careful "D"s, or any talking head from any media outlet, it seems wise to actually listen to someone who actually might know something about the situation.

In this case, here is a small piece from Dmitri Orlov from his Club Orlov blog:

"And this brings us to the current conflict, which he started. It is unclear why he (Mikhail Saakashvili) decided to start it, but then his American education might offer a clue: the US doesn't seem to need good reasons to start wars either.

It may be difficult for some people to grasp why it is that the Abkhaz or the Ossetians do not much fancy suddenly becoming Georgian, so let me offer you a precise analogy. Suppose Los Angeles, California, were to collapse as the USSR once did, and East L.A. quickly moved to declare its independence.

Suppose, further, that the 88% of its population that is Hispanic/Latino voted that the other 12% were free to stay on as "guests," provided they only spoke Spanish. The teaching of English were to be forbidden.

After some bloody skirmishes, East L.A. split up into ethnic enclaves. Then some foreign government (say, Russian, or Chinese) stepped in and started shipping in weapons and providing training to the Latino faction, in support of their efforts to restore East L.A.'s "territorial integrity."

As a non-Hispanic resident of East L.A., would you then (1) run and hide, (2) stay and fight, or (3) pick up a copy of "Spanish for Dummies" and start cramming?

The Abkhaz and the South Ossetians have made their preference very clear by applying for and being issued with a Russian passport. That's right, the majority of the present native population of these two "separatist enclaves" are bona fide citizens of the Russian Federation with all the privileges appertaining thereto.

Lacking any other options, they are happy to accept protection from Russia, use Russian as their lingua franca, and fight for their right to be rid of Georgians once and for all. One of the privileges of being a Russian citizen at this stage, when Russia has recovered from its political and economic woes following the Soviet collapse, is that if some foreign entity comes and shells a settlement full of Russian citizens, you can be sure that Russia will open one amazingly huge can of whoop-ass on whoever it feels is responsible.

Add to that the atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the Georgian forces, such as finishing off wounded Russian peacekeepers, and you can see why the normally shy and reticent Russian army might get behind the idea of making sure Georgia no longer poses a military threat to anyone.

The Georgians have really done it to themselves this time, and we should all feel very sorry for them. They are not evil people, just incredibly misguided by their horrible national politicians. The West, and the US in particular, bear responsibility for enabling this bloodbath by providing them with arms, training, and encouraging them to fight for their "territorial integrity."

Oh yes, and there is that big pipeline that moves oil to the West.

Did we forget to mention that?

It seems it's always about the oil.

Whether it's Iraq, Darfur, or climate change,
It's certainly not about Territorial Integrity.

Besides, to paraphrase the poet,

Territorial and Integrity never agreed to sit together.

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