Advantages of decay in food system

SOURCE:  Andy Kass (
SUBHEAD: Vietnam's low-tech food delivery takes advantage of decay and fermentation.

By Aaron Vansintjan on 20 February 2017 for Low Tech Magazine -

Image above: A stall selling homemade dưa chua in a Hanoi market. Photo by Aaron Vansintjan From original article.

The food system in the industrialized world is based on mass-production, global distribution, and constant refrigeration. It requires many resources and produces a lot of food waste.

In a tropical climate, everything decays faster. Bread gets soft and mushy, milk spoils, the walls get moldy just months after a layer of fresh paint. Food poisoning is a constant concern. The heat and moisture make for an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and fungi.

In this environment, you’d think people would be wary of any food product that smells funny. But in tropical Vietnam, food can get pretty pungent.

Take mắm tôm, a purplish paste made of fermented pureed shrimp. Cracking open a jar will result in a distinct smell of ‘there’s something wrong here’ with hints of marmite to whelm through the whole room. You have chao, a stinky fermented tofu, which was so rank that the smallest bite shot up my nose and incinerated my taste buds for an hour (‘Clears the palate!’ said the waiter encouragingly).

Consider rượu nếp, which is sticky rice mixed with yeast and left to ferment for several days ‘in a warm place’ — i.e. the counter.

The result is a funky-smelling desert—literally rice left to rot until it turns in to a sweet wine pudding. On the 5th of May of the lunar calendar, Vietnamese people will eat rượu nếp in the morning to celebrate ‘inner parasite killing day’. Bonus: day-drunk by the time you arrive at work.

We shouldn’t forget Vietnam’s world-famous fish sauce — nước mắm — made from diluted fermented fish, a flavour that many people around the world continue to find totally intolerable.

In Vietnam, putrefaction is accepted as a part of life, even encouraged. But fermentation in Vietnam isn’t just an odd quirk in a tropical diet.

To understand why fermentation is so integral to Vietnamese culture, you have to consider how it is embedded within people’s livelihoods, local agricultural systems, food safety practices, and a culture obsessed with gastronomy; where food is seen as a social glue.

And when you bring together all these different puzzle pieces, an enchanting picture emerges: one in which fermentation can be a fundamental component of a sustainable food system.

Unlike many high-tech proposals like ‘smart’ food recycling apps, highly efficient logistics systems, and food packaging innovations, fermentation is both low-tech and democratic—anyone can do it. What’s more, it has low energy inputs, brings people together, is hygienic and healthy, and can reduce food waste.

Rotting Food can be Safe and Healthy

At the entrance of a market in Hanoi, a woman with a dưa chua stand tells us that making ‘sour vegetables’ is easy: you just add salt to some cabbage and let it sit for a couple of days. As we talk, several customers come by, eager to scoop some brine and cabbage into a plastic bag. Worried that we’re discouraging her customers, she shoos us away. She isn’t lacking business.

Is fermentation really so effortless? The short answer is yes. Many recipes will call for two things: water and salt. At just a 1:50 ratio (2%) of salt to food, you can create an environment undesireable for all the bad bacteria and encourage all the good ones. Sauerkraut, kimchi, fish sauce, sriracha, and kosher dill pickles—are all made according to this principle.

Yet other types of fermentation are a bit more complicated. They call for sugar (e.g. wild fermented alcohol like ethiopian honey wine), yeast starters (rượu nếp, most wines and beers), special fungi (tempeh, miso), or some kind of combination of fungi, bacteria, salt, or sugar (kombucha).

Yet others are simpler: to make cooking vinegar, just let that bottle of bad wine sit for a couple of days, and to make sourdough, just mix water and flour and leave it on your counter.

All in all, fermentation is just controlled decay: your most important ingredient is time. This can sound like a bit too much, too fast. Take the woman I met at the entrance of the market. Her dưa chua, while in great demand, looks like wilted cabbage, soppy, floating in murky brine.

Some bubbles are forming on the edges of the plastic container—for the trained eye a sign of an active fermentation process, but for the uninitiated, an alarm bell.

There’s no use beating about the bush. That dưa chua is in fact rotting in a very similar way that a peat swamp is constantly rotting, belching large doses of methane into the world. What’s happening is an anaerobic fermentation—that is, without significant amounts of oxygen.

This absence of oxygen and the high levels of salt creates an environment supportive to several bacteria that also find their home in our own digestive systems.

Those bubbles forming in the container are by-products of these bacteria: CO2 and methane. The bacteria also lower the pH and start breaking down raw food—essentially pre-digesting it for you.

And, once the pH goes down even lower, you’ve created a monster so voracious that no other fungus, bacteria, or parasite with bad intentions will dare to enter its domain. So yes, it’s rotting just like a stinky swamp, and that’s a good thing.

Image above: A woman sells nem chua — raw fermented pork—outside her house. Photo by Aaron Vansintjan From original article.

It’s a good thing especially in a climate like that of Vietnam. Every fermentation is a small victory against the constant war against heat and humidity, which destroys all edibles in its path.

Instead of eating raw cabbage and risking death by a thousand E. Coli, you can eat fermented cabbage and know, for a fact, that it won’t have you hunkering by the toilet bowl any time soon.

Not only that, but eating fermented food has significant health benefits. You might’ve noticed the new fad of ‘pro-biotic’—well all that really means is that the product contains some kind of active bacterial culture that looks like the flora in your own stomach.

That would include, not just Go-gurt, Yoplait, Chobani, and Danone, but also several kinds of cheese, pickles, beer, and just about any other fermented product.

Eat about a tablespoon of any of these at the end of every meal, and you inoculate your stomach with a fresh batch of microbes that help you digest—all the more necessary when we eat antibiotics in our meat and bland diets of white bread and peanut butter, and drink chlorine in most municipal water systems.

Further, products like fish sauce and shrimp paste provide many impoverished Vietnamese with micro-nutrients, B-12 vitamin, proteins, and omega 3 fatty acids—comprising a significant part of people’s nutritional requirements. For a country that still remembers hunger and starvation, this is no small fry.

After several months of studying Hanoi’s food system and the people who make their living off of it, Vân (my Vietnamese collaborator) and I are starting to see some patterns.

A Diverse Food System

In the same market we talk to a vegetable vendor. Real estate in the neighborhood is getting more expensive, rents are going up. She’s having a hard time making ends meet.

On her street many elderly have sold their farmland—which they used to grow vegetables and decorative flowers—and now, unemployed, they spend their time selling home-made fermented vegetables out of their front door.

In the same neighborhood, we meet Tuan, an elderly woman growing vegetables in the banks of a drained pond. She rarely goes to the market—she can grow much of her own food in this little patch. We ask her if she ever ferments her vegetables.

Of course, but she doesn’t sell them—they’re just for herself and her family.

After several months of studying Hanoi’s food system and the people who make their living off of it, Vân (my Vietnamese collaborator) and I are starting to see some patterns.

In Western countries, the food system is shaped a bit like an hourglass: industrial farmers send their food to a supplier, who then engages with a handful of supermarket companies, who then sell to consumers.

In Vietnam, on the other hand, it looks more like an intricate web: wholesale night markets, mobile street vendors, covered markets, food baskets organized by office workers with family connections to farmers, guerilla gardening on vacant land.

Food is grown, sold, and bought all over the place, and supermarkets are just a small (albeit growing) node in the complex latticework. Most people still get food at the market, but many also source their food from family connections.

Image above: From jugs a restaurant offers home brewed rượu men, Vietnamese rice wine. Photo by Aaron Vansintjan From original article.

In Vietnam, many people might have one ‘profession’, but when you ask a bit more questions it’ll turn out that they have half a dozen other jobs for ‘extra income’. There’s a generalized ‘hustle’: everyone is a bit of an entrepreneur.

After talking with Tuan for several hours, we learned that she has, throughout her long life, fished, grown vegetables, corn, and fruit trees, sold rice noodles, bread, ice cream, roses, and silk worms. Now, aged 68, she grows decorative peach trees and grows vegetables when she can.

With an economy just decades shy of a highly regulated communist regime where the only food you could get was through rations, and the memory of famine still fresh in people’s mind, this is entirely understandable: with a finger in every pot, you can just about manage to survive. These two factors, a highly distributed food system and diversified livelihoods, make for a fertile environment for fermentation practices. 

With easy access to wholesale produce, many can turn to small-scale fermentation to compliment their income—or, in the case of Tuan, to spend less on food at the market.

Preserving the Harvest, Bringing People Together

Vietnam hosts both the Red River delta and the Mekong delta—two of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. The heat and the vast water supply allow some areas of Vietnam to have three full growing seasons.

That means three harvests, and that means lots of food at peak times, and sometimes so much that you can’t eat it all. That’s another bonus of fermentation: if your food system is local, you’re bound to stick to seasonal consumption.

But by fermenting your harvest you can eat it slowly, over a long time period. It’s this principle that underlies much of fermentation culture in East Asia.

Take kim chi, a spicy fermented cabbage from Korea. Traditionally, the whole village would come together to chop, soak, salt, and spice the cabbage harvest every year. Then, these mass quantities of salted spicy cabbage were stored in large earthenware pots underground—where cooler temperatures lead to a more stable fermentation process.

As a result, you can have your cabbage all year. If you want a localized food system, you need to be able to store your food for long periods. Fermentation makes that possible.

Fermentation is also social. Fermenting large batches of summer’s bounty typically requires hours of chopping—the more the merrier. And chopping is the perfect time for sharing cooking tips, family news, and the latest gossip. In South Korea, now that kim chi production has been largely industrialized, people try to relive the social aspect of making it through massive kim chi parties in public spaces.

In a country like Vietnam, where a traditional food system still exists for a large part, fermentation remains embedded in social relations. Relatives and neighbors constantly gift each other fermented vegetables, and many dinners end with a batch of someone’s home brewed rice wine—rượu men. Fermentation lends itself well to a gift economy: there is pride in your own creation, but there is also no shame in re-gifting. And because of its low costs, anyone can take part in it.

Gastronomy, Tested with Time

It is a bit disingenuous to caricature Vietnam’s food culture as obsessed with rotting, and suggest that this is largely the result of a tropical climate. Rather, what we’re dealing here is difference in taste: what may seem strange and pungent to one culture is highly appreciated in another.

In fact, one of the greatest impressions I have of Vietnamese culture is its deep appreciation for gastronomy: subtle, complex flavors, considered textures, modest spicing and well-balanced contrasts define Vietnamese cuisine.

Fermentation is a crucial part of this culture: the art of fermentation requires paying attention to how flavours change as food transforms, understanding these chemical shifts and using them to achieve a desired affect.

It’s also clear that Vietnamese gastronomy is popular: it takes place in street food stalls, run by enterprising matriarchs, constantly experimenting with modern products and traditional flavors. It is cheap and, to ensure customer loyalty, it is surprisingly hygienic.

Street vendors rarely have fridges, nor do they have large cooking surfaces, dishwashing machines, or ovens. By and large, they make do with some knives, two bowls to wash fresh vegetables in, a large pot, a frying pan, coals or gas burners and — for products that may go bad during the day — fermentation. Having limited access to capital and consumer electronics, these vendors — most often women — ply their trade in a way that has stood the test of time.

They know the rules of hygiene and food safety, and, because they have to be careful with their money, they know exactly what kinds of food will go bad, and what kinds of food can be preserved.

In doing so, they practice a food culture that has been passed down through generations—to a time before fridges, a global food system powered by container shipping, factory trawlers, and produce delivered to far-off markets by airplane.

While modern technology has provided many benefits for our diets, there are many innovations from the past that have been abandoned as the global food system was transformed by the availability of cheap fuel. One such innovation was the fish sauce industry that flourished during Ancient Roman times.

For Romans, fermenting fish was a crucial aspect of a low-tech and seasonally-bound food system. In fact, it so happens that research now suggests Vietnamese fish sauce may actually have its origins in the Roman variant produced over 2,000 years ago.

Today, however, fermentation doesn’t fit so easily within the global food system. Harold McGee at Lucky Peach tells the story of how canned products were notoriously difficult to transport in the newly industrialized food system of the 19th century.

Apparently, until the 20th century, metal cans would regularly explode, sending shrapnel and preserved tuna flying through the decks of transport ships. This was due to heat-resistant bacteria, which continued fermenting the product long after it was heat-treated.

The solution was to subject the canned product to high temperatures over a long period of time, killing all remaining cultures, in turn changing their flavor. But in the case of fermented food, the problem has not gone away: if you want it to be actively fermenting, transporting it will risk explosions on the high seas. But heating stops the fermentation process, and kills its unique flavor.

It’s for this reason that products like kim chi, kombucha, and sauerkraut often have to be produced locally, despite increasing global demand. In some way, fermentation belies the industrial food system: the fact that it is alive means that it doesn’t quite fit in. You either have to kill it, thereby change it, or it will keep bubbling through the cracks.

A Low-tech Food System is Possible

Fermentation cultures in Vietnam give us a glimpse of what an alternative food system might look like, one that is both decentralized and doesn’t depend on high inputs of fossil fuel energy to preserve food, high waste, and high-tech. Why does this matter? Well, in a world facing climate change, we need a low-impact food system, and fast.

But there are other reasons: with increasing concern over the health side effects of common chemicals such as BPA, found in almost all cans and pasta sauce jars, people are looking to safer kinds of preservation, which aren’t killing them and their families slowly.

And with the rise of the local food and food sovereignty movements, many are realising that we need food systems that support everyone: from small farmers to low-income families.

Because of its low investment costs, fermentation lends itself well to supporting small businesses, allowing them to take advantage of seasonality while practicing a time-tested low-tech method of food preparation. Today, in response to increasing food insecurity, we are hearing increasing calls for a smarter, more efficient food system.

Proposals such as intensive hydroponic and vertical farming, big data-powered logistics systems, smart agriculture technologies, and food waste recycling apps clog the news.

But we already have a low-tech innovation that works very well. Fermentation, because it is accessible to everyone, because of its low energy requirements, and because it fits right in to a more sustainable food system, should not be abandoned in the search for global food security.

Image above: A fish sauce factory in Vietnam. Photo by Mui Ne info & events. From original article.

It’s easy to get the impression that we live in a world of scarcity, where there just isn’t enough food to go around, and food production all around the world is limited by technological backwardness. On the other hand, many of us are more and more concerned with the increasing problem of food waste in Western food systems.

We seem to live in a world of both scarcity and abundance at the same time.

Food fermentation is a strange thing: it inverts what many regard as waste and turns it into a social, living, edible object. As a friend of mine once said, if you have too many grapes, you make wine. If you have too much wine, you throw a party. If you still have too much wine, you make vinegar.

Fermentation turns scarcity and abundance on its head, belying easy categories of what is waste and what is too much.

Sustainability advocates worry a lot about making the ‘supply chain’ more ‘efficient’ — that is, increasing profits margins while making sure all food reaching consumers in a perfectly fresh state.

Instead, we could consider taking advantage of decay. This isn’t hard: you just have to add some salt and water. We’ve done it for thousands of years, and, if we follow the example of food cultures like those in Vietnam, we can do it again.

The future will be battery powered

SUBHEAD: A battery will do for the electricity supply chain what refrigeration did to our food supply chain.

By Amelia Urry on 21 February 2017 for Grist Magazine -

Image above: Colorized photo of Thomas Edison as passenger in his 1902 battery powered horseless Studebaker automobile. Image From (

The battery might be the least sexy piece of technology ever invented. The lack of glamour is especially conspicuous on the lower floors of MIT’s materials science department, where one lab devoted to building and testing the next world-changing energy storage device could easily be mistaken for a storage closet.

At the back of the cramped room, Donald Sadoway, a silver-haired electrochemist in a trim black-striped suit and expensive-looking shoes, rummages through a plastic tub of parts like a kid in search of a particular Lego. He sets a pair of objects on the table, each about the size and shape of a can of soup with all the inherent drama of a paperweight.

No wonder it’s so hard to get anyone excited about batteries. But these paperweights — er, battery cells — could be the technology that revolutionizes our energy system.

Because batteries aren’t just boring. Frankly, they kinda suck. At best, the batteries that power our daily lives are merely invisible — easily drained reservoirs of power packed into smartphones and computers and cars.

At worst, they are expensive, heavy, combustible, complicated to dispose of properly, and prone to dying in the cold or oozing corrosive fluid. Even as the devices they power become slimmer and smarter, batteries are still waiting for their next upgrade.

Computer processors famously double their capacity every two years; batteries may scrounge only a few percentage points of improvement in the same amount of time.

The battery might be the least sexy piece of technology ever invented. The lack of glamour is especially conspicuous on the lower floors of MIT’s materials science department, where one lab devoted to building and testing the next world-changing energy storage device could easily be mistaken for a storage closet.

At the back of the cramped room, Donald Sadoway, a silver-haired electrochemist in a trim black-striped suit and expensive-looking shoes, rummages through a plastic tub of parts like a kid in search of a particular Lego. He sets a pair of objects on the table, each about the size and shape of a can of soup with all the inherent drama of a paperweight.

No wonder it’s so hard to get anyone excited about batteries. But these paperweights — er, battery cells — could be the technology that revolutionizes our energy system.

Because batteries aren’t just boring. Frankly, they kinda suck. At best, the batteries that power our daily lives are merely invisible — easily drained reservoirs of power packed into smartphones and computers and cars. ]
At worst, they are expensive, heavy, combustible, complicated to dispose of properly, and prone to dying in the cold or oozing corrosive fluid.

Even as the devices they power become slimmer and smarter, batteries are still waiting for their next upgrade. Computer processors famously double their capacity every two years; batteries may scrounge only a few percentage points of improvement in the same amount of time.

Perhaps the biggest problem with lithium-ion batteries is that they wear out. Think of your phone battery after it’s spent a few years draining to 1 percent then charging back up to 100. That kind of deep discharge and recharge takes a physical toll and damages a battery’s performance over time.

So we’re overdue for a brand new battery, and researchers around the world are racing to give us one, with competing approaches and technologies vying for top spot.

Some of their ideas are like nothing we’ve ever plugged into the grid — still not sexy, exactly, but definitely surprising. Liquid batteries. Batteries of molten metal that run as hot as a car engine.

Batteries whose secret ingredient is saltwater.

It’s all part of a brand new space race — if less flashy than, you know, outer space.

There are a few things you want in a good battery, but two are essential: It needs to be reliable, and it needs to be cheap.

“The biggest problem is still cost,” says Eric Rohlfing, deputy director of technology for ARPA-E, a division of the Department of Energy that identifies and funds cutting-edge research and development.

A 2012 study in Nature found that the average American would only be willing to pay about $13 more each month to ensure that the entire U.S. electrical supply ran on renewables. So batteries can’t add much to electrical bills.

For utilities, that means providing grid-level energy storage that would cost them less than $100 per kilowatt hour. Since it was established by President Obama in 2009, ARPA-E has put $85 million toward developing new batteries that can meet that goal.

“People called us crazy,” says Rohlfing. That number was absurdly low for an industry that hadn’t yet seen the near side of $700 per kilowatt hours when they started, according to one study of electric vehicle batteries published in Nature.

Now, though still unattained, $100 per kWh is the standard target across the industry, Rohlfing says. Get below that, it seems, and you can not only compete — you can win.

And here’s what a better battery stands to win: a cleaner, more reliable power system, which doesn’t rely on fossil fuels and is more robust to boot.

Every time you flip a light switch, you tap into a gigantic invisible web, the electrical grid.

Somewhere, at the other end of the high-voltage transmission lines carrying power to your house, there’s a power plant (likely burning coal or, increasingly, natural gas) churning out electricity to replace the electrons that you and everyone else are draining at that moment.

The amount of power in our grid at any one time is carefully maintained — too much or too little and things start to break.

Grid operators make careful observations and predictions to determine how much electricity power plants should produce, minute by minute, hour by hour. But sometimes they’re wrong, and a plant has to power up in a hurry to make up the difference.

Lucky for us, it’s a big, interconnected system, so we rarely notice changes in the quality or quantity of electricity. Imagine the difference between stepping into a bucket of water versus stepping into the ocean. In a small system, any change in the balance between supply and demand is obvious — the bucket overflows.

But because the grid is so big — ocean-like — fluctuations are usually imperceptible.

Only when something goes very wrong do we notice, because the lights go out.

Renewable energy is less obedient than a coal- or gas-fired power plant — you can’t just fire up a solar farm if demand spikes suddenly.

Solar power peaks during the day, varies as clouds move across the sun, and disappears at night, while wind power is even less predictable. Too much of that kind of intermittency on the grid could make it more difficult to balance supply and demand, which could lead to more blackouts.

Storing energy is a safety valve. If you could dump extra energy somewhere, then draw from it when supply gets low again, you can power a whole lot more stuff with renewable energy, even when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

What’s more, the grid itself becomes more stable and efficient, as batteries would allow communities and regions to manage their own power supply.

Our aging and overtaxed power infrastructure would go a lot further. Instead of installing new transmission lines in places where existing lines are near capacity, you could draw power during off-peak times and stash it in batteries until you need it.

Just like that, the bucket can behave a lot more like the ocean. That would mean — at least in theory — more distributed power generation and storage, more renewables, and less reliance on giant fossil-fueled power plants.

So that’s why this battery thing is kind of A Big Deal.

“A battery will do for the electricity supply chain what refrigeration did to our food supply chain,” Sadoway says from his office in MIT, a good deal more spacious than the battery lab.

Those canisters he showed me were early prototypes of cells for a “liquid metal battery” he started researching a decade ago.

“I started working on batteries just because I was crazy about cars,” Sadoway tells me. (His desktop background is a 1961 Studebaker Avanti he sold a few years ago. He keeps the picture around the way one would memorialize a family pet.)

In 1995, he took a test drive in an early Ford electric vehicle and fell in love. “I realized the only reason we don’t have electric cars is because we don’t have batteries.”

So Sadoway started thinking. He had some experience with the process of refining aluminum, and he wondered if that could be a model for a new, unorthodox kind of battery. Aluminum smelting is a dirt-cheap, energy-intensive process by which purified metal is boiled out of ore.

But if that one-way process could be doubled up and looped back on itself, maybe the huge amount of energy fed into the molten metal could be stored there.

In some ways, that’s insane — the molten battery would have to run around of 880 degrees F, only slightly cooler than the combustion chamber of a car engine.

But it’s also a bizarrely simple concept, at least to an electrochemist. It turns out assembling a cell of a liquid metal battery cell is as easy as dropping a plug of metal, made up of two alloys of different densities, into a vessel and pouring some salt on top.

When the cell is powered up, the two metals melt and divide into two layers automatically, like salad oil floating on vinegar. The molten salt forms a layer between them, conducting electrons back and forth.

But even with a promising start, developing a new battery is a glacially slow process, Sadoway says. Early funding from ARPA-E and the French oil giant Total helped him get the idea off the ground, but sustaining research for the years needed to build any brand new technology is expensive.

Venture capitalists are shy about drawn-out engineering projects when there are so many software startups promising fast profits.

“In any capital-intensive industry, industry will stand in the way of innovation,” Sadoway says. Existing battery companies have too much invested in the status quo to be much help, he says. Lithium-ion came from outside the established battery industry of its time, he points out; the next battery will have to do the same.

The molten metal battery has long since moved out of the basement lab. In 2010, Sadoway started the battery company Ambri with several of his former students, then moved HQ into a manufacturing facility 30 miles west of Cambridge to the town of Marlborough.

Now, Ambri employs about 40 people and is busy building prototype battery packs out of hundreds of the molten metal cells.
Sadoway says Ambri is less than a year away from deploying its first commercial models.

All signs have been hopeful so far, he says. At the manufacturing facility, some test cells have been up and running for almost four years without showing any signs of wear and tear. Getting the assembled battery packs, each consisting of 432 individual cells, to work was trickier.

But after ironing out some pesky issues with the heat seals, the battery packs can reach a self-sustaining operating temperature, hot enough to charge and discharge without any extra energy input.

Now Ambri is in the middle of raising another round of funding, enough to reach market-ready production mode.

On my way out the door, I say that, for all the difficulty and delay, it seems like this battery could really be close. “I hope so,” Sadoway says, looking almost wistful. “Maybe this is it. I’d like to see that.”

The molten metal battery isn’t the only moonshot battery. It’s not even the obvious front-runner. Other technologies are pushing ahead, quietly and without fanfare, from “iron flow batteries” to zinc- and lithium-air varieties.

Like Sadoway’s project, many of these untested technologies are funded initially by grants from ARPA-E. “These are very early stage, high-risk technologies,” says Rohlfing, the agency’s deputy director. “We take a lot of shots on goal.”

One especially promising contender in the better battery battle is the Pittsburgh-based company Aquion, whose founder, Carnegie Mellon professor Jay Whitacre, set out in 2008 to design the cheapest, most reliable battery you could make.

The result is something colloquially called a “saltwater battery.” It looks, more or less, like a Rubbermaid bin full of seawater. All of the materials in the Aquion batteries are abundant and easily obtained elements, from salt to stainless steel to cotton. What’s more, none of those materials carry the risks of a lithium-ion battery.

“Our chemistry is very simple,” says Matt Maroon, Aquion’s vice president of product management. “There’s nothing in our battery that is flammable, toxic, or caustic.”

It’s also stupidly easy to assemble. “Our main piece of manufacturing assembly equipment comes out of the food packaging industry,” Maroon says. “It’s a simple pick-and-place robot that you’d find at Nabisco, putting crackers inside of blister packs.”

Aquion batteries have been on the market for nearly three years, installed in both homes and utility-scale facilities.

Overall, Aquion has 35 megawatt hours of storage deployed around the world in 250 different installations. One in Hawaii has been up and running for two years; last year, the battery-plus-solar system powered several buildings for six months without ever falling back on a diesel generator.

“We need to get more of these things out into the field,” says Rohlfing. “Right now, if I’m a utility or a grid operator and I want to buy storage, I want to buy something that comes with a 20-year warranty. The technologies we’re talking about aren’t at that stage yet.”

But they’re getting close. Another ARPA-E-funded project, Energy Storage Systems, or ESS, announced last November that it would install one of its iron-flow batteries as part of an Army Corps of Engineers microgrid experiment on a military base in Missouri.

ESS has also installed batteries to help power an off-grid organic winery in Napa Valley — for that matter, so has Aquion. As more and more of these one-off experiments prove successful — and more of these new kinds of batteries prove their worth — the possibility of a battery-powered energy system comes a little closer.

But will batteries ever be, well, cool? That’s a harder question. Aquion’s Matt Maroon has been working in the field since 2002, soon after he left college. At conferences, Maroon was often the youngest person in the room by 30 years. He was sure he wouldn’t be “a battery guy” for his whole career.

Fifteen years later, he’s still a battery guy — but he’s no longer the youngest person in the room. More students are starting to get involved with batteries, and people are starting to take notice. “It’s still not as a cool as working at Apple,” he says. “But I think people recognize its importance and that kind of makes it cool.”

“Or I hope so,” he laughs. “I’ve got a 9-year-old daughter. So I’d like to work on something that she thinks is cool someday. That’s my ultimate goal.”


Growthism as the solution - Part 4

SUBHEAD: Growth has been the solution to America's problems at a cost to nature and its inhabitants.

By Erik Lindberg on 7 February 2017 for Resilience -

Image above: Painting of Oklahoma Landrush in 1889 when settlers furiously dashed across the Oklahoma plains to stake their claims to nearly two million acres put up for grabs by the U.S. government. From (

Note: You can read Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series on at their respective links.
"I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know to how to stay quietly in his room."  – Pascal
In April 1889, fifty-thousand people stood shoulder to shoulder, impatiently shuffling, waiting on the border of Oklahoma territory.  Many were on horseback; others were poised to charge on foot, laden with tents, pans, and tools.

Wagons too stood at the ready, while trains full of passengers let off steam, waiting to start the journey to the sites that would, within hours, be the brand new towns of Guthrie and Oklahoma City.

There to view it was William Willard Howard, who described what he saw in a May 18, 1889 article in Harper’s Weekly,
As the expectant home-seekers waited with restless patience, the clear, sweet notes of a cavalry bugle rose and hung a moment upon the startled air. It was noon. The last barrier of savagery in the United States was broken down. 

Moved by the same impulse, each driver lashed his horses furiously; each rider dug his spurs into his willing steed, and each man on foot caught his breath hard and darted forward. A cloud of dust rose where the home-seekers had stood in line, and when it had drifted away before the gentle breeze, the horses and wagons and men were tearing across the open country like fiends.

The horsemen had the best of it from the start. It was a fine race for a few minutes, but soon the riders began to spread out like a fan, and by the time they had reached the horizon they were scattered about as far as eye could see. [i]
By the end of the day Oklahoma lay staked and claimed.  The new city of Guthrie had been laid out and was by sundown the home to an estimated seven or eight thousand prospectors and speculators.  By week’s end, crude restaurants, shops, and homes had been thrown together, and furious digging had produced the wells necessaryto  quench the thirst of the new inhabitants.

As Howard reflects in his Harper’s article, “The landless and home-hungry people on the train might be pardoned their mental exhilaration, when the effect of this wonderfully beautiful country upon the most prosaic mind is considered.”

While the Oklahoma land rush is certainly among our most dramatic, rushes have been an vital part of America’s history, whether the pursuit of happiness fixed its sights on land, gold, or oil; such exuberance, hope, and instant triumph, and with it the dashed dreams, have shaped our landscapes, both inner and outer, leaving in their wake ribbons of highway crisscrossing the land and the scars of an unsettled life lived always on the move.

The Homestead Act of 1862 was fundamental to the development of these American landscapes.

Between 1862 and 1976, when it was finally repealed, 1.6 million homesteaders lay claim to 270 million acres of land.   For its part, the California Gold Rush brought around 300,000 seekers from around the globe to California.  Between 1848 and 1850 San Francisco grew from a settlement of 1000 to a city of 25,000.

But it all began earlier than that.  Between 1607 and 1623, Charles Mann reports, seven thousand settlers landed in Jamestown Virginia.

Even though four out of five died, they kept coming, wave after wave, and not just there, but throughout the Americas, lured by gold, silver, sugar, and tobacco, then guano, cotton, and rubber, each in its own glimmering way a medallion of unsustainability.

These rushes are most often presented as episodes in our national myths of free people seeking a better life, packing their whole life, and their future, on their backs and heading towards a beckoning frontier.

That’s the story we tell ourselves.  And even critical intellectuals, soberly aware of our nation’s many originary sins, can’t resist the draw of the limitless when it emerges once again, as in the Silicon Valley rush of recent decades.

We might consider these national stories footnotes to one of our great documents of Growthism, The Frontier Thesis of American History, announced by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893.

“Up to our own day,” he explained, “American history has been in large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West.  The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.”

Turner’s project is to explain “the peculiarity of American institutions,” or to be more direct about his motives, our particular national excellence.

The way our institutions “have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people” who at “every stage must carve progress out of primitive frontier circumstances” is, in Turner’s mind, central to the existential condition of America, and to the unique American Character:
“this perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating the American character.”[ii] 
This ideal is still with us.  It has turned to new frontiers like space or the inner self.  Now, ours are the frontiers of technology and data, and today’s conquistadors the “innovator” or “entrepreneur” battling against the ageless forces of marginal inconvenience.

By today’s standards, nevertheless, Jackson was not doing serious history, but was engaged in national myth-making, though many of today’s historians may one day be similarly judged.  He directly downplays the role of slavery in America and the land is only “free” by ignoring its native inhabitants, who were characteristically ushered onto reservations to make way for the white settlers who would, in matter of decades, turn Oklahoma (for its part) into a dusty desert.

Is the American character, should one actually exist, fluid, or perhaps just soluble; simple, or base; reborn, or perennially distracted and always on to something new and bigger?

Does it reach for a sublime and Earthly infinite, or does it have as its highest point of navigation a point lying half way between East and West Egg?

However we answer these questions, it is difficult to maintain that these rushes and this constant westward expansion were simply the proving ground for a stalwart American character, a place where hero would become victor.

An examination of the political record and the way the Federal government strategically engaged in expansion as a response to political pressures should dispel any idealism.

America, like Australia, was initially prized as a place not only from which riches might be drawn, but somewhere upon which Europe’s excess population and unwanteds might be released.  This same pattern was soon adopted by the sovereign American states.

The mere existence of a space to the West, as I have argued in the past, enlivened Jefferson’s imagination which was, in the face of its vastness, given to repeated and habitual references to infinite and limitless possibility.

But in a far more pragmatic way, Jefferson’s Empire of Liberty was to spring forth from the “nest” of the “new confederacy,” as Americans would, according to his plan laid out in a 1786 letter, simply outbreed European rivals and expand across the continent.

After the Civil War, the transcontinental railroad knitted the north and south back together.

And when the West had been fully seized as prophesized by Fredrick Jackson Turner, it is no coincidence, the United States soon surpassed its territorial boundaries with the great expansions of the late 1890s and the taking of Cuba and the Philippines from Spain.

Land was used to compensate unpaid soldiers from the Revolutionary war, was offered to civil war veterans, and eventually affordable homesteads in America’s suddenly expanding suburbs were made available to soldiers returning home from WWII.

With room to roam, countless political challenges disappear.  Our politics talk of little else than the promise of space, opportunity, and a distant goal to keep us moving forward.

In his irreplaceable study, The Great Depression, historian Robert McElvaine argues that during the depression, especially in its early years, Americans entertained an anti-Growthist approach: “under those conditions, many Americans temporarily rejected the new ideology and returned to more traditional values of based on community.”

But this was to be short lived, as the solutions the New Deal “finally settled for accepted the very modern forces that the Depression experience had led so many people to spurn.”

A return to Growth, in other words, ended the Depression, and the Democratic party has never looked back in its attempt to maintain Rooseveltian social progress and egalitarian economic values by way of a constantly expanding economic pie.

As McElvaine points out, “President Kennedy even revived an old term for this cherished American belief when he spoke of a New Frontier.  A majority in the sixties was willing to help others because they thought this could be done without harming themselves.”[iii]

This is all to say that growth is a solution.  But a solution to what?  The normal view is that growth is the solution to stagnation, but this begs all useful and interesting questions—and especially the ones pressing for answers as we confront the limits to growth. 

For much of human history, and in societies that were able to sustain themselves over the long run, what we mistakenly call “stagnation” is better described as the cycle of life, with a steady and repeating exchange of inputs and outputs operating within a stable local ecology.

Stagnation, understood ecologically, is a problem only when the wheel of life has stopped turning, when staying put amounts to wallowing in your own waste, when movement and expansion is required in order to find undenuded and unsullied place.

This obligatory restlessness is as old as the European project in the Americas.  As George Washington put it, describing the wasteful and destructive farming practices of the American South, “’a piece of land is cut down,’ meaning stripped of its timber, and then ‘kept under constant cultivation, first in tobacco and then in Indian corn (two very exhausting plants), until it will yield scarcely anything’ at all.”[iv]

Jefferson similarly described the economics of agricultural destruction in Notes on Virginia: “the indifferent state of that [careful agricultural practices] among us does not proceed from want of knowledge merely; it is from our having such quantities of land to waste as we please.”[v]

It is far less expensive, he elsewhere remarks, to cut a new acre than manure an old one.[vi]

The idea of the pursuit of happiness has been literalized across the landscape of the Americas and has been implanted in our hearts.  It is no wonder that we dream of a supply of infinite energy and view the economy as perpetual motion machine.

Growth, we might then conclude, is a solution to growth, or at least to the conditions that growth creates.  Growth becomes necessary when, in Wendell Berry’s words, we depend on energy economies of mere production and consumption, rather than ones appropriate to our biological nature.

These, Berry explains, require “the addition of a third term: production, consumption, and return.  It is the principle of return,” Berry continues, “that complicates matters, for it requires responsibility, care, of a different higher order.”[vii]

 An economy of production and consumption alone is extractive and always on the move, looking for new and growing throughputs, inured to the care of stocks.

Care is not fostered by a nation built upon land-rushes, nor upon a plantation system and slave labor; and return has connotations of the closed and binding moral and psychological orders that make the carefree, utility-maximizing, profit-seeking Individual shudder.

At this point it may be helpful to refer back to my previous installment about the Growthist Self, and drill a little deeper into the devil’s bargain that the Growthist Self is forced to make.

Contrary to the modern image of the past as merely a dark age of misery and drudgery, to which a modern one of unburdened possibility is contrasted and from which we lucky moderns bravely escaped, premodern societies offered people an order of goods that have disappeared from modern society.

 These premodern social orders, when operating properly, included principles of responsibility and care absent from a competitive society, the job of which is to provide only an open backdrop for individual achievement.  While we celebrate the belief that “there are no limits,” limits, as any parent knows, help provide stability and order, and also a sense of security.

While we rejoice in our mobility, it comes with costs which our ledger books may not record.  Traditional social roles are often despised in modern society because of the limits they impose; but we forget that the difficult passage from adolescence into adulthood was once far less perilous than it is today.

We eschew inherited community—it is not freely chosen and has ties that painfully bind–but wonder at our loneliness and alienation.  We often treat choice as a synonym for good, but then must ignore the resulting anxiety and regret as the inevitable price of progress.

What we like to think of as advanced industrial nations do, of course, offer freedoms and opportunities previously undreamt of–and if I am taken to be suggesting that this gift should be thoughtlessly abandoned, then my ambivalence has been buried too deeply amidst my consideration of the generally unthinkable.  I would not be writing this were I not myself desiring the exhilaration of change. 

But advanced societies suffer from a kind of sickness of the self not seen in traditional societies.  America exhibits this sickness more than any other—the mass incarceration and destitution amidst plenty; the gutted working class trudging the aisles of Walmart looking for glimmering cellophane hope; the throngs of uneducated, the American idle filling purposeless days with unhealthy food and cheap distractions; the rage, frustration and violence among neighbors, here, the multi-billion dollar defense and marketing budgets, there; the addiction and lost children in a nation that not only consumes a quarter of the world’s natural resources, but a quarter of its recreational drugs, as well.

We, more than any others, know not how to sit quietly in our rooms.

Are the pay-offs worth it?  Or is life lived in denial of limits a failed experiment, its victims piling up like careening cars on a foggy highway?

For amidst the excited impatience and exuberance of our Oklahoma land seekers, and the myths of American rejuvenation and exceptionalism, we miss something equally basic and profound: that these land seekers must race just to find a home.

The thrill of contest hides the indignity of it, not to mention the terrible possibility of homelessness.  If the pursuit of happiness is a race, losers there must be—and are.

There is a standard Liberal, and at least tacitly Growthist, response to my suggestion that life without limits is not a good unto itself.  If cars are piling up in the fog, “lift the fog,” they will say.  There is nothing wrong with the absolute freedom of self-creation and the elimination of limits, both inner and outer, nothing wrong with structuring life like a race.

Rather, the only problem is that there are hidden obstacles, half of which social progress has already removed, the other half of which the so-called arc of history has in its sights.

With the correct (liberal/progressive) politics, the argument continues, we can finally eliminate all such barriers and usher in an age of purposeful equality, fraternity, and healthy contentment, all equals in the pursuit of happiness.  We can lift the fog—and then race on, never having to return.

But what if we can’t lift the fog?

What if we lift it only to reveal ecological limits bearing down on us?

I’m tempted, here, to play out this metaphor of the fog, but on consideration realize it would lead us down a byway where we will only find another inconclusive dialectic of the Enlightenment.  Suffice it to say, then, at least for people (like me) who cut their teeth as liberals it is indeed difficult to access a perspective which looks positively on limits and boundaries or traditions and roles.

Resurrected limits usually march under the banner of last year’s hierarchies (under the banner also known of as “conservative politics”), and as such limits are employed in the pursuit of power rather than as an alternative form of the good life.

But in failing to appreciate a deeper, I don’t know the right word—perhaps conservativism, perhaps something else—we fail to see the way the conditions of Growthism are deeply unsettling, and that the boundless and unguided opportunity that sits at the heart of Liberalism and America and its culture of eternal change forms not a kind of sociality, but an anti-sociality.

For a society such as ours, then, an entirely new sort of social glue had to materialize so that we might coexist and interact–though glue is the wrong sort of metaphor to describe the primary means of political coexistence in Liberal democracies.

For it is Growth and expansion that underlie our political system.  Growth is not what keeps us together; it is what allows us to separate–and freedom and individuality require separation.[viii]

Lack of growth, in contrast, holds people together in ways we do not know how to manage.

Politicians and economists are not mistaken about the perils of a no-Growth society, for without growth we become angry and resentful, turn on each other in bitter, tribal rivalries. 

Where they are mistaken, however, is their misapprehension of Growth as normal, not to mention sustainable.  Lack of Growth is not the crime against humanity, per se, as today’s Growthists imagine.

Rather, there is at present a historical mismatch between the Individual and the sort of static and steady state that sustainability requires. 

The Individual is at home only on the range.

As I have been arguing here and in my previous installment, then, the shipwrecked modern Individual has ceded a number of comforts and safeties of community and place, and must be given something else in return, something to lure them into a perilous beyond.

Early liberals, the framers of our constitution, for instance, were not fully aware of the Growthist nature of the systems they were constructing and hoped that the promise of freedom and a degree of possibility and opportunity might be all that was required (they also depended on considerable hold-over conventions and traditions that have subsequently melted into air).

But it turned out that the Individual always needed more, a principle now enshrined in the American Dream with little question—that each generation should be “better off” than previous ones.  There is no set amount that constitutes enough or ever could.

Rather and in a purely relational sense, there must be the promise of continued and permanent expansion.  This is the devil’s bargain that the Individual makes, though to call it a bargain is misleading: the uprooted Individual never had a choice but to be thrust into a world of choice.

But the trade-off, if we are to conduct a trans-cultural comparison, is this: for relinquishing a certain kind of order, stability, and sense of place we are in turn given the promise not just of “a lot,” but the promise of more.  And it is the promise of more, and enough delivery of it, that has held Liberal society together.  I, for one, have no faith that it can survive any degree of contraction.

Those few among us who actually understand how our monetary system works may at this point suggest that the Individual’s requirement for Growth has mainly to do with a financial system which must grow simply to stand still and maintain itself.

I will turn to these issues in my next installment, but for now let me suggest that the historically determined present need to Grow exists more broadly than is explained by the way our  money is loaned into existence, as important as that is to our current reality.   There is a structural element that cuts deeper, one that is remarkably simple.

Since the Individual is responsible for plotting his own course and attaining her own fortune by way of competition, the more chances of winning there are, the more orderly and cooperative a society will be. 

If a static or shrinking economy is a zero-sum (or negative-sum) game, the system will be swamped with losers.  That is why our society is enamored with the notion of the win-win situation, and with metaphors like the rising tide that lifts all boats or the economy that trickles down.

It explains why Americans were quick to grasp and embrace Reagan’s rather complex and counterintuitive supply-side economics.

Growthism stretched or incredulity to the point where we can accept nearly any sort of win-win scenario, no matter how magical the thinking behind it.

We might similarly note that the outlook for the competitive individual has as much to do with the consequences of losing as its relative chance.  If “losing” merely means not gaining as much, as opposed to relinquishing current possessions and identities, it is easier to honorably stomach defeat.

This, and not our alleged adherence to gleaming democratic principles, explains the peaceful transfer of power in the United States and other stable democracies:  when the Republicans have won, or vice versa, the day-to-day lives of Democrats undergo very little change.

There is no transition of property or social hierarchy, here, thus making defeat acceptable enough.  Put the same people with the same beliefs and expectations into a zero-sum situation, and the results will be entirely different, as they perhaps are slowly becoming today.  The moment an electoral defeat, like an economic one, has substantial impact on enough people–the moment it takes from them what they already have–the result will be revolts and the breakdown of democratic institutions.

Even the vague and unconscious threat of the end of growth brings the masses into the streets.  This explains why civil rights flourish in times of economic expansion, while fault lines reemerge in times of retrenchment.  Under conditions of Growth, winners abound and generosity flows like wine.

These dynamics  also explain why a severe economic recession is rightly, in our present context, called a depression. 

For against the backdrop expectations of an expansive hope, economic depressions act on the body politic not unlike depression on the individual.   For a depression involves the piling up of losses that begin to appear more than episodic, but part of self-reinforcing descent whose bottom is hidden from view.  Hope is overshadowed by doubt and despair crushes faith.  There appears to be no escape, only walls closing in and doors slamming shut, leaving the Individual alone, full of shame and defeat.

Communities, in contrast to individuals, are far better adapted to contraction and might manage it without depression, though any simple suggestion that we replace the Individual with Community does no justice to the high stakes and difficult fences of such as transition.

Finally, this explains my own preoccupation with the rise of the Individual, the geography of freedom, and our table of beliefs and expectations.  Over the past several centuries, all matters of relieving social disorder, of increasing freedom, and curing depression other than Growth and expansion have lost their legitimacy.

Now, regardless of how well they worked in the past and no matter how central they are to everything we hold dear, they are no longer viable options.  Growth, now, is not a solution to our problems; Growth is our problem.

[iii] McElvaine, Robert.  The Great Depression (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009), pp xlii, 348.
[iv] Quoted in Kennedy, Robert G.  Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slaver, and the Louisiana Purchase (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 17
[vi] I discuss this at greater length in:
[vii] Berry, Wendell.  The Unsettling of America (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1977), p. 85.


Break up the USA?

SUBHEAD: All it took was the election of Trump for the alleged toxicity of secession to vanish entirely.

By  Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. on 20 February 2017 for Mises Institute -
Image above: A regional division of the United States by cultural, economic and geographic differentiation. Click to enlarge. From (

Some of our assumptions are so deeply embedded that we cannot perceive them ourselves.
Case in point: everyone takes for granted that it’s normal for a country of 320 million to be dictated to by a single central authority. The only debate we’re permitted to have is who should be selected to carry out this grotesque and inhumane function.

Here’s the debate we should be having instead: what if we simply abandoned this quixotic mission, and went our separate ways? It’s an idea that’s gaining traction — much too late, to be sure, but better late than never.

For a long time it seemed as if the idea of secession was unlikely to take hold in modern America. Schoolchildren, after all, are told to associate secession with slavery and treason. American journalists treat the idea as if it were self-evidently ridiculous and contemptible (an attitude they curiously do not adopt when faced with US war propaganda, I might add).

And yet all it took was the election of Donald Trump for the alleged toxicity of secession to vanish entirely. The left’s principled opposition to secession and devotion to the holy Union went promptly out the window on November 8, 2016. Today, about one in three Californians polled favors the Golden State’s secession from the Union.

In other words, some people seem to be coming to the conclusion that the whole system is rotten and should be abandoned.

It’s true that most leftists have not come around to this way of thinking. Many have adopted the creepy slogan “not my president” – in other words, I may not want this particular person having the power to intervene in all aspects of life and holding in his hands the ability to destroy the entire earth, but I most certainly do want someone else to have those powers.

Not exactly a head-on challenge to the system, in other words. (That’s what we libertarians are for.) The problem in their view is only that the wrong people are in charge.

Indeed, leftists who once said “small is beautiful” and “question authority” had little trouble embracing large federal bureaucracies in charge of education, health, housing, and pretty much every important thing.

And these authorities, of course, you are not to question (unless they are headed by a Trump nominee, in which case they may be temporarily ignored).

Meanwhile, the right wing has been calling for the abolition of the Department of Education practically since its creation in 1979. That hasn’t happened, as you may have noticed. Having the agency in Republican hands became the more urgent task.

Each side pours tremendous resources into trying to take control of the federal apparatus and lord it over the whole country.

How about we call it quits?

No more federal fiefdoms, no more forcing 320 million people into a single mold, no more dictating to everyone from the central state.

Radical, yes, and surely not a perspective we were exposed to as schoolchildren. But is it so unreasonable? Is it not in fact the very height of reason and good sense? And some people, we may reasonably hope, may be prepared to consider these simple and humane questions for the very first time.

Now can we imagine the left actually growing so unhappy as to favor secession as a genuine solution?

Here’s what I know. On the one hand, the left made its long march through the institutions: universities, the media, popular culture.

Their intention was to remake American society. The task involved an enormous amount of time and wealth. Secession would amount to abandoning this string of successes, and it’s hard to imagine them giving up in this way after sinking all those resources into the long march.

At the same time, it’s possible that the cultural elite have come to despise the American bourgeoisie so much that they’re willing to treat all of that as a sunk cost, and simply get out.

Whatever the case may be, what we can and should do is encourage all decentralization and secession talk, such that these heretofore forbidden options become live once again.

I can already hear the objections from Beltway libertarians, who are not known for supporting political decentralization. To the contrary, they long for the day when libertarian judges and lawmakers will impose liberty on the entire country. And on a more basic level, they find talk of states’ rights, nullification, and secession – about which they hold the most exquisitely conventional and p.c. views – to be sources of embarrassment.

How are they going to rub elbows with the Fed chairman if they’re associated with ideas like these?
Of course we would like to see liberty flourish everywhere. But it’s foolish not to accept more limited victories and finite goals when these are the only realistic options.

The great libertarians – from Felix Morley and Frank Chodorov to Murray Rothbard and Hans Hoppe — have always favored political decentralization; F.A. Hayek once said that in the future liberty was more likely to flourish in small states. This is surely the way forward for us today, if we want to see tangible changes in our lifetimes.

Thomas Sowell referred to two competing visions that lay at the heart of so much political debate: the constrained and the unconstrained. In the constrained vision, man’s nature is not really malleable, his existence contains an element of tragedy, and there is little that politics can do by way of grandiose schemes to perfect society. In the unconstrained vision, the only limitation to how much society can be remade in the image of its political rulers is how much the rubes are willing to stomach at a given moment.

These competing visions are reaching an endgame vis-a-vis one another. As Angelo Codevilla observes, the left has overplayed its hand. The regular folks have reached the limits of their toleration of leftist intimidation and thought control, and are hitting back.
We can fight it out, or we can go our separate ways.

When I say go our separate ways, I don’t mean “the left” goes one way and “the right” goes another. I mean the left goes one way and everyone else — rather a diverse group indeed — goes another. People who live for moral posturing, to broadcast their superiority over everyone else, and to steamroll differences in the name of “diversity,” should go one way, and everyone who rolls his eyes at all this should go another.

“No people and no part of a people,” said Ludwig von Mises nearly one hundred years ago, “shall be held against its will in a political association that it does not want.”

So much wisdom in that simple sentiment. And so much conflict and anguish could be avoided if only we’d heed it.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: California threatens $ cutoff to DC 1/31/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Oregon & California think to secede 11/12/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Guide to Hawaiian secession 11/6/15
Ea O Ka Aina: The New Secessionists 4/28/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Will Vermont Secede? 1/13/10


Kauai military buildup at PMRF

SUBHEAD: Sen. Schatz and Rep Gabbard pushing for Aegis Missile Base on Kauai's westside.

By Kristin Downey on 22 February 2017 for Civic Beat -

Image above: Aegis command facility at PMRF for test firing Aegis missiles. From (

[IB Publisher's Note: This will do several bad things to Kauai. One - it will paint a bullseye on Kauai as a strategic target that would be hit in the first wave of any attack on America from the western Pacific. We should be going in the opposite direction. That is restoring national sovereignty to Hawaii and have a withdrawal of American strategic weapons systems from the islands. The Hawaiian nation could then return to its friendly relations to all in the Pacific Rim. 

Moreover, this buildup on Kauai will require additional housing for military personnel and their families. It means three shifts all day everyday and additional traffic on our limited highway.

And worse, another ill effect this Aegis base is likely to have is the eventual closing of Polihale State Park in the name of National Security. Some will argue that the park is a source of many "illegal" activities like homelessness, unsanctioned camping, driving on the beach, and illicit drug consumption. 

Advocates of closing access will argue there is no proper road to get to the parka and many rental cars are damaged trying to get there. They will say it is also a high risk to inexperienced swimmers and surfers. Just remember in 2009 when rains ruined access to the park the DNLR stalled on fixing access saying it would take years. Because of the "danger" the DLNR chained the gate and denied access to Polihale - to the delight of Syngenta and the US Navy.  Local surfers, contractors and engineers repaied the damaged bridges and fixed the road and forced a reopening of access to the park.

In truth, this park is a vital resource for many residents of the south and west side of Kauai. Regardless of  other "liberal" and even "progessive" positions of Senator Schatz and Representative Gabbard, this issue is a deal killer in terms of our support for them.]

At the request of Congress, the federal Missile Defense Agency is evaluating the threat to Hawaii from ballistic missiles and possible defenses against them.

The little-noticed provision raising questions about Hawaii’s vulnerability was tucked into the massive $607 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 23. The report will be presented to the Senate and House armed services committees when it is completed.

The provision, Section 1685 of Senate Bill 2943, asks about the costs and benefits of turning the Aegis Ashore Test Complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai into an “operational” weapons intercept site, or a project that may include fielding a medium range ballistic missile sensor “for the defense of Hawaii.”

The provision in the defense bill also calls for creating an updated environmental impact statement, if seen as necessary, that would permit work to proceed quickly.

The report has not yet been completed, according to Chris Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency.

“The Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai was designed and built as a test asset and was not intended to be an operational facility,” Johnson wrote in an email to Civil Beat.

“While the Department of Defense has no plans to make the AAMDTC an operational facility, we are continually reviewing the feasibility of using current and future ballistic missile defense capabilities to address a range of ballistic missile threats, including North Korean ICBMs.”

The idea of changing the purpose of the Kauai facility has been controversial. Many people are opposed to increasing the military’s footprint in the state. Others fear Hawaii becoming a military target to enemies because of military expansionism on the mainland.

And some believe that the United States has no right to control Hawaii because the overthrow of the kingdom was, in their opinion, illegal.

‘Hiroshima Times 10’

Image above: Photo of Aegis missile test on Kauai in 2015. From (

Some danger to the islands could be unavoidable.

“People think of Hawaii as an isolated paradise but it could be targeted by an adversary wanting to neutralize the U.S. military in the Pacific,” said Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu and author of a recent journal article, “Preparing for a North Korean Nuclear Missile.”
North Korea’s technical capabilities are growing, and if it fired an missile armed with a nuclear warhead and managed to hit the islands, the results could be dire, Roy said.

“Nuclear would wipe out all life on Oahu,” said Roy. “It would be Hiroshima times 10.”

Roy cautioned, however, that the United States needs to be careful not to overreact to North Korean provocation, which may represent little more than bravado. After all, he said, the resulting U.S. retaliation would destroy North Korea.

There is no immediate cause for alarm, other military experts told Civil Beat.

The Missile Defense Agency’s Johnson said Hawaii is adequately protected from North Korean ICBMs by the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System. He said the system includes 36 ground-based interceptors — and will expand to 44 by the end of 2017 — located in California and Alaska. It also includes sensors on land, sea and in space.

“North Korea has not yet tested any operational missile with the range to hit Hawaii,” said Kingston Rief, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, a national organization promoting arms control policies.

“With each test it is making progress toward fielding a long-range ballistic missile but they are still five to 10 years away from making it operational, according to my understanding,” Rief said

He said members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation would need to decide whether they would encourage turning the Kauai test facility into an operational site that plays a part in the nation’s missile defense strategy.

“It’s a good question for Hawaii’s lawmakers,” Rief said.

Congressional delegation members did not respond to requests for comment from Civil Beat, but are well positioned to influence such a decision. Sen. Mazie Hirono serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, while U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa serve on the House Armed Services Committee.

Making Kauai Facility Operational

On the floor of the Senate a year ago, Sen. Brian Schatz urged the military to “explore new opportunities to strengthen our ballistic missile defense, including increasing the protection of our forces in Hawaii and the Western Pacific by turning the Aegis Ashore Test Complex on Kauai into an operational site,” according to the Congressional Record.

At that time, Schatz said that Reps Gabbard and Mark Takai were “working on” the proposal with the Department of Defense. (Takai died in July of cancer, and was replaced by Hanabusa.)

Schatz discussed making the Kauai facility into an operational site in the context of trying to curtail North Korean belligerence. He said North Korea’s technological capabilities were increasing and it was becoming more provocative.

In the face of requests from China that North Korea stop its missile launch program, the East Asian country instead launched a missile on the eve of the important Lunar New Year celebrations in China, according to Schatz.

On Feb. 11, the North Koreans launched another missile, this one 310 miles into the Sea of Japan, where it landed in international waters. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe learned of the launch as they ate dinner after a golf outing in Palm Beach at Trump’s resort estate.

The two men quickly issued a joint press statement, which was delivered as a news broadcast and also as a video message from Trump’s twitter account. Abe called the missile launch “intolerable” and Trump said that the United States stood “100 percent” behind “Japan, its great ally.”

Two days later, the Pentagon issued a formal condemnation of the missile launch.

The next day, there was another odd development, when the half-brother of North Korea’s brutal and secretive dictator suddenly died, allegedly poisoned at an airport in Malaysia. Kim Jong Nam, was once seen as heir to the family dynasty, according to some reports. But it was instead his half-brother, Kim Jong Un, who took control of the country about five years ago.

Kim Jong Un is the driving force between North Korea’s efforts to build an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting targets in Japan, South Korea or the United States.

The population of North Korea is starving, but the missile launch in 2016 cost about $1 billion, enough money to feed the people of the country for a year, Schatz said in his congressional testimony last year.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai and Niihau endangered 9/24/16
Ea O Ka Aina: DLNR responsibility on RIMPAC 7/5/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Oceans4Peace Pacific Pivot Panel 6/18/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Ocean 4 Peace Events 6/11/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Prepare for RIMPAC 2016 War in Hawaii 5/22/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Navy to "take" millions of mammals 5/17/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Fuck the PMRF's Aegis plan! 1/23/16
Ea O Ka Aina: US court RIMPAC Impact decision 4/3/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai's PMRF is bang out of sight 6/28/14
Ea O Ka Aina: The Pacific Pivot 6/28/14
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC IMPACT 6/8/14
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC Then and Now 5/16/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Earthday TPP Fukushima RIMPAC 4/22/14
Ea O Ka Aina: The Asian Pivot - An ugly dance 12/5/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Help save Mariana Islands 11/13/13
Ea O Ka Aina: End RimPac destruction of Pacific 11/1/13 
Ea O Ka Aina: Moana Nui Confereence 11/1/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Navy to conquer Marianas again  9/3/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Pagan Island beauty threatened 10/26/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Sleepwalking through destruction 7/16/12
Ea O Ka Aina: PMRF Aegis missile test 5/11/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Okinawa breathes easier 4/27/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Navy Next-War-Itis 4/13/12
Ea O Ka Aina: America bullies Koreans 4/13/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Despoiling Jeju island coast begins 3/7/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Jeju Islanders protests Navy Base 2/29/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaii - Start of American Empire 2/26/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Korean Island of Peace 2/26/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Land based Aegis on Kauai 9/2/11  
Ea O Ka Aina: Military schmoozes Guam & Hawaii 3/17/11
Ea O Ka Aina: In Search of Real Security - One 8/31/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Peace for the Blue Continent 8/10/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Shift in Pacific Power Balance 8/5/10
Ea O Ka Aina: RimPac to expand activities 6/29/10
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC War Games here in July 6/20/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Pacific Resistance to U.S. Military 5/24/10

Ea O Ka Aina: Guam Land Grab 11/30/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Guam as a modern Bikini Atoll 12/25/09
Ea O Ka Aina: GUAM - Another Strategic Island 11/8/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Diego Garcia - Another stolen island 11/6/09

Ea O Ka Aina: Polihale Clean Up 4/6/09
Ea O Ka Aina: DARPA & Super-Cavitation on Kauai 3/24/09 
Ea O Ka Aina: Polihale access to be restored 3/11/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Polihale access denied! 2/25/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Residents want beach access 1/5/09
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2008 - Navy fired up in Hawaii 7/2/08
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2008 uses destructive sonar 4/22/08
Island Breath: Navy Plans for the Pacific 9/3/07
Island Breath: Judge restricts sonar off California 08/07/07
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2006 sonar compromise 7/9/06
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2006 - Impact on Ocean 5/23/06
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2004 - Whale strandings on Kauai 9/2/04
Island Breath: PMRF Land Grab 3/15/0