Renewables - the New Fracking?

SUBHEAD: We each can let go of the absurd extravagances of the industrial age deliberately, while we can do it with some measure of grace.

By John Michael Greer on 10 February 2016 for the Archdruid Report-

Image above: Windmill farm near Troy in Bradford County, PA, showing a gas drillng fracking fluids reservoir. From (

I'd meant this week’s Archdruid Report post to return to Retrotopia, my quirky narrative exploration of ways in which going backward might actually be a step forward, and next week’s post to turn a critical eye on a common but dysfunctional habit of thinking that explains an astonishing number of the avoidable disasters of contemporary life, from anthropogenic climate change all the way to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Still, those entertaining topics will have to wait, because something else requires a bit of immediate attention.

In my new year’s predictions a little over a month ago, as my regular readers will recall, I suggested that photovoltaic solar energy would be the focus of the next big energy bubble. The first signs of that process have now begun to surface in a big way, and the sign I have in mind—the same marker that provided the first warning of previous energy bubbles—is a shift in the rhetoric surrounding renewable energy sources.

Broadly speaking, there are two groups of people who talk about renewable energy these days.

The first group consists of those people who believe that of course sun and wind can replace fossil fuels and enable modern industrial society to keep on going into the far future.

The second group consists of people who actually live with renewable energy on a daily basis. It’s been my repeated experience for years now that people belong to one of these groups or the other, but not to both.

As a general rule, in fact, the less direct experience a given person has living with solar and wind power, the more likely that person is to buy into the sort of green cornucopianism that insists that sun, wind, and other renewable resources can provide everyone on the planet with a middle class American lifestyle.

Conversely, those people who have the most direct knowledge of the strengths and limitations of renewable energy—those, for example, who live in homes powered by sunlight and wind, without a fossil fuel-powered grid to cover up the intermittency problems—generally have no time for the claims of green cornucopianism, and are the first to point out that relying on renewable energy means giving up a great many extravagant habits that most people in today’s industrial societies consider normal.

 Debates between members of these two groups have enlivened quite a few comment pages here on The Archdruid Report.

Of late, though—more specifically, since the COP-21 summit last December came out with yet another round of toothless posturing masquerading as a climate agreement—the language used by the first of the two groups has taken on a new and unsettling tone.

Climate activist Naomi Oreskes helped launch that new tone with a diatribe in the mass media insisting that questioning whether renewable energy sources can power industrial society amounts to “a new form of climate denialism.” The same sort of rhetoric has begun to percolate all through the greenward end of things: an increasingly angry insistence that renewable energy sources are by definition the planet’s only hope, that of course the necessary buildout can be accomplished fast enough and on a large enough scale to matter, and that no one ought to be allowed to question these articles of faith.

There are plenty of points worth making about what this sort of rhetoric implies about the current state of the green movement, and I’ll get to some of those  shortly, but the issue that comes first to mind—typically enough for this blog—is a historical one: we’ve been here before.

When this blog first got going, back in 2006, the energy resource that was sure to save industrial civilization from the consequences of its own bad decisions was biofuels.

Those of my readers who were paying attention to the peak oil scene in those days will remember the grandiose and constantly reiterated pronouncements about the oceans of ethanol from American corn and the torrents of biodiesel from algae that were going to sweep away the petroleum age and replace fossil fuels with all the cheap, abundant, carbon-neutral liquid fuel anyone could want.

Those who raised annoying questions—and yes, I was one of them—got reactions that swung across a narrow spectrum from patronizing putdowns to furious denunciation.

As it turned out, of course, the critics were right and the people who insisted that biofuels were going to replace petroleum and other fossil fuels were dead wrong. There were at least two problems, and both of them could have been identified—and in fact were identified—well in advance, by that minority who were willing to take a close look at the underlying data.

The first problem was that the numbers simply didn’t work out. It so happens, for example, that if you grow corn using standard American agricultural methods, and convert that corn into ethanol using state of the art industrial fermenters and the like, the amount of energy you have to put into that whole process is more than you get by burning the resulting ethanol.

Equally, it so happens that if you were to put every square inch of arable farmland in the world into biofuel crops, leaving none for such trivial uses as feeding the seven billion human beings on this planet, you still wouldn’t get enough biofuel to replace the world’s annual consumption of transportation fuels.

Neither of these points were hard to figure out, and the second one was well known in the appropriate tech scene of the 1970s—you’ll find it, for example, in the pages of William Catton’s must-read book Overshoot—but somehow the proponents of ethanol and biodiesel missed it.

The second problem was a little more complex, but not enough so to make it impossible to figure out in advance. This was that the process of biofuel production and consumption had impacts of its own.

Divert a significant fraction of the world’s food supply into the fuel tanks of people in a handful of rich countries—and of course this is what all that rhetoric about fueling the world amounted to in practice—and the resulting spikes in food prices had disastrous impacts across the Third World, triggering riots and quite a number of countries and outright revolutions in more than one.

Meanwhile rain forests in southeast Asia got clearcut so that palm oil plantations could supply the upper middle classes of Europe and America with supposedly sustainable biodiesel.

 It could have gotten much worse, except that the underlying economics were so bad that not that many years into the biofuels boom, companies started going broke at such a rate that banks stopped lending money for biofuel projects; some of the most highly ballyhooed algal biodiesel projects turned out to be, in effect, pond scum ponzi schemes; and except for those enterprises that managed to get themselves a cozy spot as taxpayer-supported subsidy dumpsters, the biofuel boom went away.

It was promptly replaced by another energy resource that was sure to save industrial civilization. Yes, that would be hydrofracturing of oil- and gas-bearing shales, or to give it its popular moniker, fracking.

For quite a while there, you couldn’t click through to an energy-related website without being assailed with any number of grandiose diatribes glorifying fracking as a revolutionary new technology that, once it was applied to vast, newly discovered shale fields all over North America, was going to usher in a new era of US energy independence.

Remember the phrase “Saudi America”? I certainly do.

Here again, there were two little problems with these claims, and the first was that once again the numbers didn’t work out.

Fracking wasn’t a new technological breakthrough—it’s been used on oil fields since the 1940s—and the “newly discovered” oil fields in North Dakota and elsewhere were nothing of the kind; they were found decades ago and the amount of oil in them, which was well known to petroleum geologists, did not justify the wildly overinflated claims made for them.

There were plenty of other difficulties with the so-called “fracking revolution,” including the same net energy issue that ultimately doomed the “biodiesel revolution,” but we can leave those for now, and go on to the second little problem with fracking. 

This was the awkward fact that the fracking industry, like the biodiesel industry, had impacts of its own that weren’t limited to the torrents of new energy it was supposed to provide.

All across the more heavily fracked parts of the United States, homeowners discovered that their tap water was so full of methane that they could ignite it with a match, while some had to deal with the rather more troubling consequences of earthquake swarms and miles-long trains of fracked fuels rolling across America’s poorly maintained railroad network.

Then there was the methane leakage into the atmosphere—I don’t know that anybody’s been able to quantify that, but I suspect it’s had more than a little to do with the abrupt spike in global temperatures and extreme weather events over the last decade.

Things might have gotten much worse, except here again the underlying economics of fracking were so bad that not that many years into the fracking boom, companies have started going broke at such a rate that banks are cutting back sharply on lending for fracking projects.

As I write this, rumors are flying in the petroleum industry that Chesapeake Petroleum, the biggest of the early players in the US fracking scene, is on the brink of declaring bankruptcy, and quite a few very large banks that lent recklessly to prop up the fracking boom are loudly proclaiming that everything is just fine while their stock values plunge in panic selling and the rates other banks charge them for overnight loans spike upwards.

Unless some enterprising fracking promoter figures out how to elbow his way to the government feed trough, it’s pretty much a given that fracking will shortly turn back into what it was before the current boom: one of several humdrum technologies used to scrape a little extra oil out from mostly depleted oil fields.

That, in turn, leaves the field clear for the next overblown “energy revolution” to be rolled out—and my working ghess is that the focus of this upcoming round of energy hype will be renewable energy resources: specifically, attempts to power the electrical grid with sun and wind

  < In a way, that’s convenient, because we don’t have to wonder whether the two little problems with biofuels and fracking also apply to this application of solar and wind power. That’s already been settled; the research was done quite a while ago, and the answer is yes. To begin with, the numbers are just as problematic for solar and wind power as they were for biofuels and fracking.

Examples abound: real world experience with large-scale solar electrical generation systems, for example, show dismal net energy returns; the calculations of how much energy can be extracted from wind that have been used to prop up windpower are up to two orders of magnitude too high; more generally, those researchers who have taken the time to crunch the numbers—I’m thinking here especially, though not only, of Tom Murphy’s excellent site Do The Math—have shown over and over again that for reasons rooted in the hardest of hard physics, renewable energy as a source of grid power can’t live up to the sweeping promises made on its behalf.

Equally, renewables are by no means as environmentally benign as their more enthusiastic promoters claim.

It’s true that they don’t dump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as burning fossil fuels do—and my more perceptive readers may already have noted, by the way, the extent to which talk about the very broad range of environmental blowbacks from modern industrial technologies has been supplanted by a much narrower focus on greenhouse gas-induced anthropogenic global warming, as though this is the only issue that matters.

But the technologies needed to turn sun and wind into grid electricity involve very large volumes of rare metals, solvents, plastics, and other industrial products that have substantial carbon footprints of their own.

And of course there are other problems of the same kind, some of which are already painfully clear.

A number of those rare metals are sourced from open-pit mines in the Third World worked by slave labor; the manufacture of most solvents and plastics involves the generation of a great deal of toxic waste, most of which inevitably finds its way into the biosphere; wind turbines are already racking up an impressive death toll among birds and bats—well, I could go on.

Nearly all of modern industrial society’s complex technologies are ecocidal to one fairly significant degree or another, and the fact that a few of them extract energy from sunlight or wind doesn’t keep them from having a galaxy of nasty indirect environmental costs.

Thus the approaching boom in renewable energy will inevitably bring with it a rising tide of ghastly news stories, as corners get cut and protections overwhelmed by whatever degree of massive buildout gets funded before the dismal economics of renewable energy finally take their inevitable toll.

To judge by what’s happened in the past, I expect to see plenty of people who claim to be concerned about the environment angrily dismissing any suggestion that the renewable energy industry has anything to do with, say, soaring cancer rates around solar panel manufacturing plants, or whatever other form the inevitable ecological blowback takes.

The all-or-nothing logic of George Orwell’s invented language Newspeak is astonishingly common these days: that which is good (because it doesn’t burn fossil fuels) can’t possibly be ungood (because it isn’t economically viable and also has environmental problems of its own), and to doubt the universal goodness of what’s doubleplusgood—why, that’s thoughtcrime...

Things might get very ugly indeed, all things considered, except that the underlying economics of renewable energy as a source of grid electricity aren’t noticeably better than those of fracking or corn ethanol.

Six to ten years down the road, as a result, the bankruptcies and defaults will begin, banks will start backing away from the formerly booming renewables industry, and the whole thing will come crashing down, the way ethanol did and fracking is doing right now.

That will clear the way, in turn, for whatever the next energy boom will be—my guess is that it’ll be nuclear power, though that’s such a spectacular money-loser that any future attempt to slap shock paddles on the comatose body of the nuclear power industry may not get far.

It probably needs to be said at this point that one blog post by an archdruid isn’t going to do anything to derail the trajectory just sketched out. Ten thousand blog posts by Gaia herself, cosigned by the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and Captain Planet and the Planeteers probably wouldn’t do the trick either.

I confidently expect this post to be denounced furiously straight across the green blogosphere over the next couple of weeks, and at intervals thereafter; a few years from now, when dozens of hot new renewable-energy startups are sucking up million-dollar investments from venture capitalists and planning their initial IPOs, such few references as this and similar posts field will be dripping with patronizing contempt; then, when reality sets in, the defaults begin and the banks start backing away, nobody will want to talk about this essay at all.

It probably also needs to be pointed out that I’m actually very much in favor of renewable energy technologies, and have discussed their importance repeatedly on this blog.

The question I’ve been trying to raise, here and elsewhere, isn’t whether or not sun and wind are useful power sources; the question is whether it’s possible to power industrial civilization with them, and the answer is no.

That doesn’t mean, in turn, that we’ll just keep powering industrial civilization with fossil fuels, or nuclear power, or what have you.

Fossil fuels are running short—as oilmen like to say, depletion never sleeps—and nuclear power is a hopelessly uneconomical white-elephant technology that has never been viable anywhere in the world without massive ongoing government subsidies.

Other options? They’ve all been tried, and they don’t work either.

The point that nearly everyone in the debate is trying to evade is that the collection of extravagant energy-wasting habits that pass for a normal middle class lifestyle these days is, in James Howard Kunstler’s useful phrase, an arrangement without a future.

Those habits only became possible in the first place because our species broke into the planet’s supply of stored carbon and burnt through half a billion years of fossil sunlight in a wild three-century-long joyride.

Now the needle on the gas gauge is moving inexorably toward that threatening letter E, and the joyride is over. It really is as simple as that.

Thus the conversation that needs to happen now isn’t about how to keep power flowing to the grid; it’s about how to reduce our energy consumption so that we can get by without grid power, using local microgrids and home-generated power to meet sharply reduced needs.

We don’t need more energy; we need much, much less, and that implies in turn that we—meaning here especially the five per cent of our species who live within the borders of the United States, who use so disproportionately large a fraction of the planet’s energy and resources, and who produce a comparably huge fraction of the carbon dioxide that’s driving global warming—need to retool our lives and our lifestyles to get by with the sort of energy consumption that most other human beings consider normal.

Unfortunately that’s not a conversation that most people in America are willing to have these days. The point that’s being ignored here, though, is that if something’s unsustainable, sooner or later it will not be sustained.

We can—each of us, individually—let go of the absurd extravagances of the industrial age deliberately, while there’s still time to do it with some measure of grace, or we can wait until they’re pried from our cold and stiffening fingers, but one way or another, we’re going to let go of them.

The question is simply how many excuses for delay will be trotted out, and how many of the remaining opportunities for constructive change will go whistling down the wind, before that happens.

Empire of Lies

SUBHEAD: We can say that nothing new can be born without the death of something... and that all births are painful but necessary.

By Ugo Bardi on 8 February 2016 for Cassandra's Legacy-

Image above: The period of the  so-called “late” Roman Empire of 220 A.D. to the 600’offers significant lessons in how not to manage the army of a great power. From (

At the beginning of the 5th century AD, Augustine, bishop of Hippo, wrote his "De Mendacio" ("On Lying"). Reading it today, we may be surprised at how rigid and strict Augustine was in his conclusions. A Christian, according to him, could not lie in any circumstances whatsoever; not even to save lives or to avoid suffering for someone.

The suffering of the material body, said Augustine, is nothing; what's important is one's immortal soul. Later theologians substantially softened these requirements, but there was a logic in Augustine's stance if we consider his times: the last century of the Western Roman Empire.

By the time of Augustine, the Roman Empire had become an Empire of lies. It still pretended to uphold the rule of law, to protect the people from the Barbarian invaders, to maintain the social order.

But all that had become a bad joke for the citizens of an empire by then reduced to nothing more than a giant military machine dedicated to oppressing the poor in order to maintain the privilege of the few.

The Empire itself had become a lie: that it existed because of the favor of the Gods who rewarded the Romans because of their moral virtues. Nobody could believe in that anymore: it was the breakdown of the very fabric of society; the loss of what the ancient called the auctoritas, the trust that citizens had toward their leaders and the institutions of their state.

Auguistine was reacting to all this. He was trying to rebuild the "auctoritas", not in the form of mere authoritarianism of an oppressive government, but in the form of trust. So, he was appealing to the highest authority of all, God himself.

He was also building his argument on the prestige that the Christians had gained at a very high price with their martyrs. And not just that. In his texts, and in particular in his "Confessions" Augustine was opening himself completely to his readers; telling them all of his thoughts and his sins in minute details. It was, again, a way to rebuild trust by showing that one had no hidden motives. And he had to be strict in his conclusions. He couldn't leave any openings that would permit the Empire of Lies to return.

Augustine and other early Christian fathers were engaged, first of all, in an epistemological revolution. Paulus of Tarsus had already understood this point when he had written: "now we see as in a mirror, darkly, then we'll see face to face."

It was the problem of truth; how to see it? How to determine it?

In the traditional view, truth was reported by a witness who could be trusted. The Christian epistemology started from that, to build up the concept of truth as the result divine revelation. The Christians were calling God himself as witness. It was a spiritual and philosophical vision, but also a very down-to-earth one.

Today, we would say that the Christians of late Roman times were engaged in "relocalization", abandoning the expensive and undefendable structures of the old Empire to rebuild a society based on local resources and local governance.

The age that followed, the Middle Ages, can be seen as a time of decline but it was, rather, a necessary adaptation to the changed economic conditions of the late Empire. Eventually, all societies must come to terms with Truth.

The Western Roman Empires as a political and military structure could not do that, It had to disappear, as it was unavoidable.

Now, let's move forward to our times and we have reached our empire of lies. On the current situation, I don't think I have to tell you anything that you don't already know.

During the past few decades, the mountain of lies tossed at us by governments has been perfectly matched by the disastrous loss of trust in our leaders on the part of citizens.

When the Soviets launched their first orbiting satellite, the Sputnik, in 1957, nobody doubted that it was for real and the reaction in the West was to launch their own satellites.

Today, plenty of people even deny that the US sent men to the moon in the 1960s. They may be ridiculed, they may be branded as conspiracy theorists, sure, but they are there.

Perhaps the watershed of this collapse of trust was with the story of the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" that we were told were hidden in Iraq. It was not their first, nor it will be their last, lie. But how can you ever trust an institution that lied to you so brazenly? (and that continue to do so?)

Today, every statement from a government, or from an even remotely "official" source, seems to generate a parallel and opposite statement of denial. Unfortunately, the opposite of a lie is not necessarily the truth, and that has originated baroque castles of lies, counter-lies, and counter-counter lies. Think of the story of the 9/11 attacks in New York.

Somewhere, hidden below the mass of legends and myths that have piled up on this story, there has to be the truth; some kind of truth. But how to find it when you can't trust anything you read on the Web?

Or think of peak oil. At the simplest level of conspiratorial interpretation, peak oil can be seen as a reaction to the lies of oil companies that hide the depletion of their resources. But you may also see peak oil as a scam created by oil companies that try to hide the fact that their resources are actually abundant - even infinite in the diffuse legend of "abiotic oil".

But, for others, the idea that peak oil is a scam created in order to hide abundance may be a higher order scam created in order to hide scarcity. Eve higher order conspiracy theories are possible. It is a fractal universe of lies, where you have no reference point to tell you where you are.

Eventually, it is a problem of epistemology. The same that goes back to Pontius Pilate's statement "what is truth?" Where are we supposed to find truth in our world?

Perhaps in science?

But science is rapidly becoming a marginal sect of people who mumble of catastrophes to come. People whom nobody believes any longer after they failed to deliver their promises of energy too cheap to meter, space travel, and flying cars.

Then, we tend to seek it in such things as "democracy" and to believe that a voting majority somehow defines "truth". But democracy has become a ghost of itself: how can citizens make an informed choice after that we discovered the concept that we call "perception management" (earlier on called "propaganda")?

Going along a trajectory parallel to that of the ancient Romans, we haven't yet arrived at having a semi-divine emperor residing in Washington D.C., considered by law to be the repository of divine truth. And we aren't seeing yet a new religion taking over and expelling the old ones. At present, the reaction against the official lies takes mostly the form of what we call "conspiratorial attitude."

Although widely despised, conspirationism is not necessarily wrong; conspiracies do exist and much of the misinformation that spreads over the web must be created by someone who is conspiring against us.

The problem is that conspirationism is not a form of epistemology. Once you have decided that everything you read is part of the great conspiracy, then you have locked yourself in an epistemological box and thrown away the key. And, like Pilate, you can only ask "what is truth?", but you will never find it.

Is it possible to think of an "epistemology 2.0" that would allow us to regain trust on the institutions and on our fellow human beings?

Possibly, yes but, right now, we are seeing as in a mirror, darkly. Something is surely stirring, out there; but it has not yet taken a recognizable shape. Maybe it will be a new ideal, maybe a revisitation of an old religion, maybe a new religion, maybe a new way of seeing the world.

We cannot say which form the new truth will take, but we can say that nothing new can be born without the death of something.

And that all births are painful but necessary.


Crackdown on Kalalau Hikers

SUBHEAD: The reason for crack down in Kalalau is that the first strike weapon base on Kauai doesn’t want strangers nearby.

By Ray Songtree on 6 February 2016 for Kauai Transparency Initiative -

Image above: Paul and Laura finding the Kalalau Trail closed. From (

Some operators offered boat trips into Kalalau. They still will, but they won’t land on beach which was the illegal part, and people will need permits to be onshore. I have used their services. They haul out tons of trash.

The people who live there are trying to live a simple lifestyle and I support them. I am not into total control and needing a permit to go hiking. It is just a matter of time before there is permanent settlements and agriculture in Kalalau and the government is presently in the way. It should be allowed now.

Off grid living without zoning or intrusions should be normal.  But of course, that is anathema to this regime which allows nothing to be un-regulated and comes up with more and more and more safety excuses for more intrusion. We have to obey the insurance industry, after all.
The garbage everywhere is crazy. I’m looking forward to when most packaging is illegal, and most goods are sold in bulk, with people providing their own bags which are not disposable.  Wouldn’t that be cheaper than garbage pickup?

But before that common sense happens, tourism will crash and people will start living in Kalalau again.  This will happen in my lifetime. The bubble of tourism is going to decline as all the destabilization programs, such as cheap heroin, wrecks society. They need an excuse.

So geoengineering, heroine, Muslims… some perfect storm of stress to cause the system to fail to carefully control-demolish society, before it crashes randomly of its own top heavy imbalance, the way the medical industry will fail soon.

After the U.S. armed the Mexican Drug Cartels, they transferred opium production from Afghanistan to Mexico (banned by Taliban and back in production instantly after US came in).

Heroin is allowed in by Homeland Security. Think about that! Why not tons of plastic explosives? Homeland security could stop neither, so it is a farce
If you think a wilderness experience should include being checked at gunpoint by police, like Penny and I were checked, is that a quality experience?

The reason for crack down in Kalalau is that the first strike weapon base on Kauai doesn’t want strangers nearby. It is a criminal offense to not have a permit. To go hiking a few miles from your home with your daughter is a crime.

I am now a criminal and experienced being in a court house for first time in my life this winter. Crime – I was hiking with my 9 year old daughter.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Fuck the PMRF's Aegis plan! 1/22/16

As Rising Seas Force Exile

SUBHEAD: Pacific Islanders are among the first victims of climate change-induced sea level rise.

By Keith Barbalato on 29 January 2016 for Yes Magazine -

Image above: Avaha Village in 2009. Today it is completely washed away. Photo by Nigel Kelaepa. From original article.

Pacific Islanders are among the first victims of climate change-induced sea level rise. As natives quickly run out of land and struggle to maintain crops, leaders are searching for ways to protect their people and thousands of years of cultural heritage.

Ontong Java is a disappearing atoll. Its inhabitants will be among the first of the many people of the Solomon Islands to be displaced by climate change in the next decade. As oceans rise, this ring of South Pacific coral islands—some only feet above sea level—is facing crop devastation, coastal erosion, and a rapidly decreasing ability to support its inhabitants.

For Ontong Java and other atoll communities, the first challenges climate change presents are food and water scarcities, but with disappearing land and a growing population, the concern has turned to how to preserve its culture once its people are forced to relocate.

Nigel Kelaepa, a priest native to Ontong Java, has been working to adapt to these challenges. Calm, pragmatic, and deeply passionate about his home and its people, he fills a leadership role on the atoll. Kelaepa explains that there are few others who are educated enough to advocate and raise awareness internationally, negotiate with governments, plan for relocation, or form initiatives to deal with the crisis.

The Ontong Javanese are rural, he says. “Our percentage of literacy and people who are educated is minimal. There’s not many people doing things except one or two like me.” And as a priest, he naturally fills that role.

Ontong Java is one of the world’s largest atoll groups and sits about 10 feet above sea level at its highest point. It is nearly 300 miles from Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands nation, and is only accessible by boats, which depart from the capital about once a month, taking close to two days to reach the island community.

The atoll is inhabited by roughly 5,000 indigenous Polynesian people who migrated there about 2,000 years ago. Life is simple: People rise with the sun, send their children to school, tend to their gardens, fish, partake in religious ceremony, and socialize in the evening.

Most of this happens in three main villages that are lined with rows of huts and palm trees. One of the three was already devastated by rising sea levels, which are erasing feet of land every year.

Key to the Ontong Javanese people’s existence has been their resilience and ability to adapt to their environment. Their isolation has created a strong, independent lifestyle and a culture specific to this unique landscape.

But the changes happening today, including droughts, severe and unpredictable storms, and sea invasion, are becoming insurmountable.

In the mid-1990s, Kelaepa recalls, the people of Ontong Java noticed abnormal weather patterns. At the same time their water sources and gardens appeared to be inexplicably rotting.

“We thought it was just freakish weather or some other kind of effect that was happening,” he says, “but we didn’t know it was climate change.”

By the end of the century, the science behind climate change and global warming reached the island, and they knew they were experiencing what climate scientists were warning about.

For low-lying islands with gently sloping beaches, feet of land can disappear with just inches of sea rise. Oceanographer Eric Rehm explains that evidence of sea-level rise is almost nonexistent between the year 0 and 1900 AD, but since 1993 there has been an average rise of about 3 millimeters per year. This means that in 20 years, over 2 inches have been added to our global sea level.

Learning the reasons behind the changes in the atoll environment was upsetting for the people of Ontong Java, Kelaepa says, and at first it made them angry. Their homeland was being wrecked by the rest of the world. But anger eventually gave way to acceptance.

Keith Joseph, an environmental ally and priest from Darwin, Australia, has been working with Kelaepa and others living in the Solomon Islands for over 10 years. He thinks that this acceptance comes from the Ontong Javanese attitude toward nature.

“Having always been an island exposed to the elements, at the mercy of the winds and storms,” he says, “the idea of life is not to control every circumstance, but the idea of life is to live with every circumstance.”

The Ontong Javanese are not focused on how unfair this circumstance is; they are living with it and focusing on survival. Kelaepa and Joseph began to take official action in 2009. They started the first climate change project on the Solomon Islands in an effort to restore food and water security.

Image above: Once-fertile swamp gardens now overrun with saltwater, 2015. Photo by Nigel Kelaepa. From original article.

This meant adapting to saltwater intrusion—where subsurface saltwater seeps into fresh water aquifers—that infects soil and wells, killing crops and polluting drinking water.

“We thought we might bring in saltwater-resistant crops from other parts of the country,” Kelaepa says. “That helped to increase the number of staple crops that the people could depend on.”

They also set out to expand their global network and reach by partnering with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). These groups have connected Ontong Java with the larger community of small islands affected by climate change.

To raise awareness, Kelaepa and Joseph represented their community at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, making sure the voices of early victims of climate change were heard. They networked with activists and artists around the world, held their own presentations, and made connections that have continued well after the talks ended.

Kelaepa is also in the process of setting up his own organization to represent the atoll and help people worldwide support its development, preservation, and relocation. This would allow the direct flow of funds and other resources to the institutions most effectively aiding the Ontong Javanese, he says.

 Even with all these efforts, though, they know it is too late to keep Ontong Java habitable for its entire population; climate change is too far along. Changing how they grow food bought a few years, but permaculture alone can’t solve the problem.

“Climate change is here to stay now,” Kelaepa says. “The effects are here. It is very real for us. We cannot run away from it. So we are saying let’s deal with it.” This means coming to terms with displacement. In a hopeful yet realistic outcome, half of their people would remain on the atoll, and the other half would be relocated within the Solomon Islands.

By keeping visitation to Ontong Java feasible, they hope to keep their native culture alive. Kelaepa says older natives will likely stay on the island—even if it becomes completely submerged—and the majority of the youth will move to a new home.

All of this will need to happen in the next five to 10 years, at which time, Kelaepa estimates, the island will be unstable for a majority of the people there.

Finding a new home presents a major obstacle. Right now, Kelaepa and about 10 percent of the atoll’s native people live in an urban settlement in Honiara, a space quickly becoming overcrowded.
Allocating land safely in the Solomon Islands is difficult; the archipelago, which only won national independence 40 years ago, is still settling land rights issues from a decade-old civil war.

Kelaepa seems confident they will be able to negotiate new land for his people, but because land rights are customarily held by indigenous communities and regulated according to their customs, not state law, he is concerned that land they settle on today could be claimed by another group with ancestral ties to that place sometime in the future.

Kelaepa must deal with the bureaucracy while focusing on the fundamentals of survival. Although the Ontong Javanese have had time to strategize how they will handle displacement, thousands of years of cultural attachment to this place are at stake. As exile seems imminent, Kelaepa is trying to figure out how to save their collective identity.

He wants to start by recording his people’s dances, stories, chants, and songs so that they will never be lost. “Our old people are dying off. …

We want to record these things so that [new generations] can know something about their original culture,” Kelaepa says. “We’re a minority. A small people. We can easily lose ourselves and be absorbed into the greater culture of the people around us.”


Notes on Living Small

SUBHEAD: My husband and I have been lucky, in a peculiar way. Our ‘freedom’ is highly contingent on living small.

By Christy Rodgers on 3 February 2016 for Dark Mountain -

Image above: Painting of Baucis and Philemon entertaining Hermes and Zeus circa 1800 attributed to Andrea Appiani. From (

I live in the nation with the highest rates of personal consumption and energy use ever seen on earth, and I live small. But it isn’t an intentional experiment, like no-impact, no-plastic, all-local, Tiny House, zero-waste, or any of the others that periodically make waves now.

I didn’t decide to start living small one day and rearrange my life to fit a programme. It happened because, as the memoirist Vivian Gornick says of living alone, ‘I said yes to this and no to that’ and at some point found myself in this situation.

Even though I’ve adopted a number of now-familiar lifestyle habits to limit my consumption of goods and energy, that’s somewhat incidental. I’ve also made some ‘small’ choices less trumpeted by sustainability advocates: I have stayed in one place for a long time, which requires far fewer resources than the constant uprooting common here in the US (where we change our homes on average once every four years).

My place happens to be urban, so I’m lucky that, at least in this country, it’s easier to be resource-efficient in the city than the suburbs or the countryside. I should say that this is not to be confused with ‘self-sufficient’ (whatever that actually means – there’s a whole other essay there).

The vast infrastructure that sustains me is profoundly wasteful; I’ve just limited my demands upon it somewhat.

I also own no real estate, no home or land. (Individual property tenure is possibly the most anti-ecological type of tenure ever invented, notwithstanding the hash some societies have made of attempts at large-scale collective tenure.)

I live in a rented flat; the same flat I’ve lived in for over 20 years. I live with my husband, who had been there for 15 years before I met him, in the city where he was born.

We have two rooms, a kitchen, and bath. We have no yard, laundry machines, or dishwasher, no children, no pets, and no car.

In fact, outside of this country our lifestyle isn’t particularly exceptional. To this day, millions of people live as we do in urban areas around the world, although it’s somewhat rare to be our age and not to have children.

At the same time many others, urban or rural, have even fewer possessions than we and have had to work harder for those they have.

And to be honest, none of this really came about because of an ecological awareness on our part. It had more to do with a lack of personal ambition, and a feeling of alienation toward the drivers of what is called ambition. So what does living small really mean, in this context?

The Principle of Expansion

What it really means in my experience is that some aspects of your life may simply roll to a stop, long before you are old. And they are precisely those that most people centre their whole lives upon, notably here in the US, but actually now almost anywhere in the world, in whatever social class.

Human life today is based on a principle of constant expansion. For the great majority born poor, expansion is essential for sheer survival. For the rest, it’s merely the only way life is understood to have meaning or purpose.

In societies where a majority has already obtained basic physical comforts, additional resources are sought to position one’s children to obtain even more, and to maintain and improve one’s own acquisitions indefinitely.

People also dream of having jobs in which they can advance, ideally becoming experts or receiving plaudits in some field, but basically always earning more. Others dream of starting businesses that could grow sufficiently to be sold at a profit when they wish to retire. Those who are already rich dream of expanding their empires.

Such desires may be costly in every respect, or generate inordinate amounts of waste, but they are invariably said to have social benefit, regardless of waste or cost.

My husband and I have none of those aspirations to guide us. We both do jobs that require some skill but are not central to our idea of who we are and simply enable us to survive. (It’s safe to guess that this is also true for the vast majority of working people in the world, whether they dream of doing something different or not.)

We have the satisfaction of knowing that our jobs are socially useful; many don’t, or the value is dubious. But neither of us works full-time, or has a much greater income now than we did ten years ago. We don’t need to strive for more because our needs are already more than met.

We find pleasurable things to do with the extra time and money we have, like taking trips to visit new places or distant friends. My husband plays music and occasionally entertains our friends or performs at local events. He volunteers at a local school. I have time to study, write and garden (I grow fruits and vegetables in an elderly neighbour’s yard, and in turn, she gets her weeds pulled and hedges trimmed by me).

We go for long walks, in places where the unbuilt world still holds some sway, when we can. And in a city that is a magnet for artists there are always cultural activities – sometimes involving people we know, an added pleasure.

Even so, we spend a lot of time alone in our flat. That’s mostly pleasant too: there are books to read, films to watch, meals to cook and enjoy. Living small, it turns out, is also living slow.

I’m content with this life, overall. It fits us, like comfortable clothing. It feels oddly like what people actually mean when they talk about freedom.

But I have to admit to an underlying unease – a sense that the engine of aspiration and expansion pushing others constantly forward is stalled in our case. The future, at least until we are too old to work, which is still a long way off, looks much like the present.

And then? Well, even if you spend most of your fullness of life preparing for your old age, even if you have children and a great deal of money – nothing guarantees you an old age at all. Much less one as untroubled and full of pleasures as the possible life you sacrificed to obtain that elusive future.

But all around us the world crashes, shrieks, moans, bleeds. It is filled with striving.

Freedom is a Ghost Town

It can feel a bit lonely living as we do. We are both outriders in our birth families, with whom we are not close. They value children, accumulation, and achievement, so our choices are odd and even troubling to them. Our friends may be iconoclasts in some ways, but they are still largely occupied with the demands of complex family and professional lives, and property ownership.

We still meet other people who don’t fit in: artists, intellectuals without portfolio, or sometimes just interesting drifters. But more and more as we age, those few true bohemians we encounter are elderly and marginal, and seem a bit lost.

Many aren’t inclined to sociability, although they may have time for it. Their air of depression or bitterness comes perhaps from being almost invisible to society at large and having no acknowledged place in it. Their gifts ignored, their ideas not heard; their example of personal freedom not much followed.

In a society where the ideal of freedom is invoked unceasingly with longing and awe, you can discover that freedom, when you actually get there, is a ghost town.

My husband and I were radicals who dreamed of building a different society, and spent years engaged in efforts to do so. But the times went careering away from most of our hopes, and we drifted out of movement structures and politics as they became increasingly abstract, repressive, and irrelevant to our day-to-day lives.

Our experience of them in this highly isolate society was also, ironically, antithetical to relationships of practical mutual support or ‘community’ (a word that often seems as emptied out by idealisation as freedom).

We have not made a separate peace; we have not deserted our core beliefs. But we have taken a quieter way of living them out.

My lifetime has seen utterly unprecedented human population growth and decimation of the non-human world. Like much else in my life, childlessness was never a wholly rationalised or altruistic choice; it was primarily the result of pursuing a shifting and mutual notion of personal happiness.

But I now have the unexpected realisation that, at least within the context of this time and place, it may have a wider worth – as a tiny legacy to fellow humans and other living things. I am more convinced of this when I read about the concern capitalist economists have begun to express that many of the world’s countries are already under ‘replacement fertility’.

All the more satisfying to me since their model – the one my husband and I spent all of our adult lives opposing – is entirely founded upon the principle of expansion.

All around us, people seem desperate to simplify their lives, make them less stressful, hectic, expensive. They speak longingly of the beauty of living day to day.

But even those with the opportunity to choose such a life would be likely to find its realities daunting.

Many are no longer able to simplify much in any case; their choices were made, their paths laid out long ago. It’s much harder to divest yourself of family obligations, major possessions, or a high-powered career than never to have had them in the first place.

Given the pressures to conform, belong, or simply exist, it’s understandable why people today would end up living mainly for the future.

And there are even older forces at work on all of us than the principle of expansion. There is a kind of heroic ideal with which we are instilled, and in reality, living day to day is very anti-heroic.

Baucis and Philemon

That idea of heroism struck me, as I cast around looking for some representation of our living-small ethos in myth or folktale. I think we choose the models for our personal lives based not so much on rational self-interest, as the economists would have it, as on mythic archetypes we often don’t even recognise, since they arose long ago in societies that are no longer extant.

The hero and the quest (or conquest) is probably the essential myth underlying personal ambition and the expansionist paradigm.

But what about my husband and me?

Of the many mythic tales, heroic, tragic, triumphant, or catastrophic, there is only one I know of whose characters seem exemplary and worthy of emulation to me. They are Baucis and Philemon, an old childless couple who are the archetypes of friendship and hospitality in ancient Greek myth.

They live in a town whose other inhabitants are all too busy or suspicious to offer food and lodging to several of the gods who come to visit them in disguise. When they die they are rewarded for their uncompelled generosity by being transformed into an oak and a linden tree, eternally entwined.

I discovered through reading Marshall Berman’s critique of modernity, All That is Solid Melts Into Air, that Goethe makes use of this story in his poetic tragedy Faust.

But he uses it in a different way, which is also, as Berman describes, a metaphor of modern civilisation.

Faust, as part of his deal with Mephistopheles, gets enormous power to shape the world. He becomes, late in the story, a kind of developer. He wants to build a tremendous industrial operation that he feels will benefit mankind, on a stretch of coast where Baucis and Philemon happen to be among the few inhabitants. He needs to evict them to get the land.

He hires men to do it for him, and tells them to do whatever they must and not to inform him of the details. So the hired men kill the old couple and Faust gets the land.

It’s an extreme metaphor for the kind of frenzied dislocation that’s actually been taking place in our home city as money and people with big ideas about making more of it come sweeping through, uprooting anything that’s in their way.

Elderly and disabled people are the majority of those long-term tenants evicted in this most recent wave, which we have so far escaped, for no logical reason. The Faustian bargain is not destructive to Faust alone.

The Limits of Civilization, the Abundance in Limits

As much as human striving has debilitated our global habitat, that habitat is resilient and it’s evident that it could rebound if the engines of human expansion slowed or stopped. But we are caught in a destructive tangle of consequences that first began to ensnare us tens of thousands of years ago.

We are an ambitious and clever species, even though ever fewer of us now have the skills that were once needed for our survival, and ever more are dependent upon tools we don’t even know how to improve or repair.

Like Faust, archetype of the civilised man, we want to believe our actions are motivated not by mere expansion, ‘the ideology of the cancer cell,’ as the naturalist Edward Abbey called it, but by a desire to improve our surroundings.

Yet every attempt we have made to ‘improve’ living systems rather than respecting their constraints and — as an increasing number of scientists have come to acknowledge — their irreducible complexity, has produced larger and more dangerous unintended consequences, at a minimum. In his provocative overview of the history of our species, Sapiens, Yuval Harari makes the case that we may have worsened things in every sense, even for ourselves, except our sheer numbers.

And perhaps those of a few other species, most of whom we have enslaved for food.

And now, of course, for the first time in our history, our unintended consequences are global in scope.

Even with the Faustian powers of science and technology in its hands, today’s global civilisation has been unable to free itself of the bargain with Mephistopheles. It is still on the path that specialised, hierarchical civilisations have followed since they first appeared.

The only societies that have been ‘sustainable’ throughout the ten-thousand-year rise and fall of civilisations are non-hierarchical, place-based, limited-group societies. Where living small is not a catchphrase.

So I feel a bittersweet gladness in having, by a combination of chance and choice, found my way to a smaller life. What was once serendipitous has become my ideal.

Small is truly beautiful to me, for all I have said to qualify it. I’ve discovered (as have many before me) that when you impose or accept limits on certain aspects of life, you are gifted with unsought abundances. Above all I’ve been given time, which, when you think of it, is life itself.

I would say my husband and I have been lucky, in a peculiar way. Our ‘freedom’ is highly contingent, and our living small is too.

But it still seems better to be living this way now by some semblance of choice than because the way is compelled. Compelled as it was in the past that our civilisation is annihilating — compelled as it may one day be again, in a barely recognisable landscape of the future.


We face 10k years of climate doom

SUBHEAD: The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change.

By Lauren MccAuley on 8 February 2016 for Common Dreams -

Image above: A winter storm builds over Australia, as seen from the International Space Station. From original article.

The actions that policymakers take in the next couple of years will have "profound impacts on global climate, ecosystems and human societies" for the next 10,000 years and beyond, warns a new report that examines the long-term consequences of the so called "fossil fuel era."

The agreement hashed out at the COP21 Paris climate talks "leaves a lot of leeway" for countries to postpone making critical cuts to their emission outputs—"more than the climate system allows," said report co-author Patrik Pfister from the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change and last month in the open-access journal Environmental Research Letters, warns that delaying global carbon emission reductions by even ten years will have a profound impact on long-term "Earth system variables," such as peak atmospheric warming, sea level rise (SSLR), and ocean acidification.

"Most of the policy debate surrounding the actions needed to mitigate and adapt to anthropogenic climate change has been framed by observations of the past 150 years as well as climate and sea-level projections for the twenty-first century," the report states. "The focus on this 250-year window, however, obscures some of the most profound problems associated with climate change."

For example, if global carbon emissions continue to increase at their current rate, peak committed temperatures will rise 3–7.5 times as fast as the global average. Or as Pfister explains, "In 10 years without global reductions, a 2.5°C target will have become about as ambitious as the 2°C target is today."

The long-term impact on the world's oceans is equally grim.

Even if climate change is limited to 2°C, sea levels will still rise by 25 meters over the next 2,000 years—and stay at those levels for at least 10,000 years—significantly impacting the current global landscape, thus driving mass migrations of humans and animals. However, if the burning of fossil fuels continues unabated, the sea could rise as much as 50 meters, "changing the map of the world," as the Guardian notes.

"For islands and coastal cities, the timing and rate of global emission reductions is therefore of existential importance," says Pfister.

What's more, ongoing emissions will only worsen ocean acidification. The study's climate models found that a "near-complete loss" of healthy marine ecosystems such as coral reefs "becomes imminent if emission reductions are delayed by few years to decades...depending on the achievable reduction rate.
"The long-term view sends the chilling message of what the real risks and consequences are of the fossil fuel era," said climate physicist Thomas Stocker, also with the University of Bern, who helped conduct the study. "It will commit us to massive adaptation efforts so that for many, dislocation and migration becomes the only option."

The authors conclude: "The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far."


Maui GMO moratorium back in court

SUBHEAD: Federal judge struck down voter-approved initiative last year. Shaka movement resurrects it.

By Brian Perry on 6 February 2016 for Maui News -

Image above: Demonstrators supporting Maui GMO moratorium send message to justice system. From original article.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments about whether to overturn a federal judge's ruling last year that struck down a Maui County voter-approved moratorium on genetically modified organisms.

In a ruling Thursday, the appeals court denied a motion to dismiss the appeal by the SHAKA Movement, opening the door for arguments before the court headquartered in San Francisco.

SHAKA attorney Michael Carroll called the ruling "really good news."

"The court denied the motion to dismiss, allowing the court to hear full arguments on the appeal," he said Friday. "Now the court will have to consider all our substantive arguments."

Carroll said he also was pleased that the court ruled in favor of allowing consideration of the Center for Food Safety to file an "amicus curiae," or "friend of the court" brief, in the case, which he called "another plus for our joint efforts."

The 9th Circuit also will be considering requests for amicus briefs from Moms On a Mission Hui, Moloka'o Mahi'ai and Gerry Ross.

On Friday afternoon, Monsanto said its motion to dismiss the appellant's case challenged the appeal, unsuccessfully, for lack of standing, but that the denial of the motion was without prejudice, meaning the case had not been decided on its merits.

"The court of appeals for the 9th Circuit will now move to consider the merits of the case and instructed that the standing arguments could be raised in the merits phase of the case," the company's statement said. "Monsanto believes the federal district court in Hawaii reached the correct conclusion invalidating the ballot initiative, and we will vigorously defend this position."

There was no immediate comment from Maui County.

The appeals court scheduled deadlines for briefs in the case.

The SHAKA appeal stems from last year's ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway to declare the Maui County GMO moratorium invalid and unenforceable. She said that the moratorium exceeded the county's authority and was pre-empted by federal and state law.

SHAKA attorneys argued that Mollway erred in the ruling by citing a federal law that is not applicable to the Maui County moratorium ordinance.

The judge's ruling "overrode (the people's) rights guaranteed under the Hawaii State Constitution and invalidated the election results of county residents trying to protect themselves from unique harms affecting health, safety, the environment, natural resources, as well as Native Hawaiian rights," the appellants' brief says.

Mollway's ruling shelved a SHAKA attempt to implement the moratorium that voters narrowly approved in November 2014. The ordinance would have outlawed the cultivation, growth or testing of genetically engineered crops until scientific studies determined their safety and benefits.

The moratorium initiative drew more than 23,000 votes, or 50.2 percent, in favor. Those opposed were 47.9 percent. The vote came despite biotech companies and their allies spending nearly $8 million - the most ever in a Hawaii election by far - to oppose it.

Nine days following the general election, the moratorium ordinance was challenged in court by Monsanto, Dow Agrigenetics, other seed companies and their supporters. Mollway ruled in their favor June 30.

Leaders of the SHAKA Movement, a citizens group that gathered enough signatures for the first-ever ballot initiative in the county in 2014, filed an appeal Nov. 30 with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Maui County is "ground zero" for the testing and development of genetically engineered seed crops because of Hawaii's long growing seasons, SHAKA attorneys say. GMO agricultural operations use more than 80 different chemicals, creating "chemical cocktails" with unknown health and environmental impacts, they say.

* Brian Perry can be reached at

Hawaii hemp legislation pending

SUBHEAD: Senate Bill 2787 to further encourage the state Department of Agriculture to license farmers to grow industrial hemp.

By Staff on 1 February 2016 for NORML -

Image above: Immature hemp plant and field it's to be planted in. From article on tips to grow hemp. (

Legislation is pending, Senate Bill 2787, to further encourage the state Department of Agriculture to license farmers to grow industrial hemp for “research and development purposes.”
Additional legislation, Senate Bill 2757, is pending to authorize the department of agriculture to establish a three-year industrial hemp research program to investigate the viability of industrial hemp as a building material for housing in the State.

In 2014, lawmakers previously approved legislation, Senate Bill 2175, establishing a two-year pilot program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to study the potential use of industrial hemp as a phytomediator (a plant capable of removing toxins from the soil) and as a biofuel.

Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa L. that contains minimal amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Various parts of the plant can be utilized in the making of textiles, paper, paints, clothing, plastics, cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation, animal feed and other products. The crop is commercially cultivated throughout the world. 
Members of Congress recently approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal Farm Bill explicitly authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Presently, 24 states have enacted legislation permitting licensed hemp cultivation in a manner that is compliant with this statute.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health and the Senate Committee on Water, Land, and Agriculture have scheduled a public hearing for Senate Bill 2787 on February 5th at 2:45PM in conference room 224.  
Please go tp original article and fill out form to contact your lawmakers and urge them to support this pending legislation.


Retail Apocalypse

SUBHEAD: So far 2016 is offering empty shelves and retail store closings all across America.

By Michael Snyder on 31 January 2016 for End of American Dream -

Image above: Low level of inventory in supermarket cooler section. From (

Major retailers in the United States are shutting down hundreds of stores, and shoppers are reporting alarmingly bare shelves in many retail locations that are still open all over the country.  It appears that the retail apocalypse that made so many headlines in 2015 has gone to an entirely new level as we enter 2016.

As economic activity slows down and Internet retailers capture more of the market, brick and mortar retailers are cutting their losses.  This is especially true in areas that are on the lower portion of the income scale.

In impoverished urban centers all over the nation, it is not uncommon to find entire malls that have now been completely abandoned.  It has been estimated that there is about a billion square feet of retail space sitting empty in this country, and this crisis is only going to get worse as the retail apocalypse accelerates.

We always get a wave of store closings after the holiday shopping season, but this year has been particularly active.  The following are just a few of the big retailers that have already made major announcements…
But these store closings are only part of the story.

All over the country, shoppers are noticing bare shelves and alarmingly low inventory levels.  This is happening even at the largest and most prominent retailers.

I want to share with you an excerpt from a recent article by Jeremiah Johnson.  The anecdotes that he shares definitely set off alarm bells with me.  Read them for yourself and see what you think…

I came across two excellent comments upon Steve Quayle’s website that bear reading, as these are two people with experience in retail marketing, inventory, ordering, and purchases.  Take a look at these:

#1 (From DJ, January 24, 2016)

[Regarding the] alerts about the current state of the RR industry. This is in line with what I’ve been noticing as I visited our local/regional grocery store, Walmart, and Target this week in WI. I worked in big box retail for 20 years specializing in Inventory Management. These stores are all using computerized inventory management systems that monitor and automatically replenish inventory when levels/shelf stock get low. This prevents “out of stocks” and lost sales. These companies rely on the ability to replenish inventory quickly from regional warehouses.
As I shopped this week and looked at inventory levels I was shocked. There were numerous (above and beyond acceptable levels) out of stocks across category lines at all three retailers. And even where inventory was on the shelf, the overall levels were noticeably reduced.
Based on my experience, working for two of these three organizations in store management, they have drastically/intentionally reduced their inventory levels. This is either due to financial stresses/poor sales effecting their ability to acquire new inventory, or it could be the result of what was mentioned earlier regarding the transporting of goods to these regional warehouses. Either way this doesn’t bode well for the what’s to come.  Stock up now while you can!”
#2 (From a Commenter following up #1 who didn’t provide a name, January 26, 2016)
“I’d like to tailgate on the SQ Alert “based on my experience…” regarding stock levels in big box stores. This weekend we were in two such stores, each in fairly isolated communities which are easily the communities’ best source for acquiring grocery items in quantity.
I myself worked in retail (meat) for thirty years so I know exactly what a well-stocked store looks like, understand the key categories and category drivers, and how shelves are stocked and displays are built to drive sales and profits. I also understand supply chain and distribution methodologies quite well.
Each of the stores we were in were woefully under-stocked. This time of year-the few weeks following the holidays-is usually big business in groceries and low stock levels suggest either poor ordering at the store level, poor purchasing at the distribution level or a purposeful desire to be under-stocked.
Anyone familiar with the retail grocery industry is also familiar with how highly touted “the big box store’s” infrastructure is. They know exactly when demand is high and for what items and in what quantities. It is very unlikely that both stores somehow got “surprised” by unusually high demand. It is reasonable then to imagine that low stock levels in rural areas with few options is a purposed endeavor to assure that both the budget conscious and the folks in more remote areas are not fully able to load up their pantries.
Simply put I believe the major retailer in question is doing their part to limit the ability of rural America to be sufficiently prepared. Nevertheless, we are wise to do our best to keep ahead of the curve. God bless your efforts, Steve.”
Yes, this is just anecdotal evidence, but it lines up perfectly with hard numbers that I have been discussing on The Economic Collapse Blog.

Exports are plummeting all over the globe, and the Baltic Dry Index just plunged to another new all-time record low.  The amount of stuff being shipped around by air, truck and rail inside this country has been dropping significantly, and this tells us that real economic activity is really slowing down.

If you currently work in the retail industry, your job is not secure, and you may want to start evaluating your options.

We have entered the initial phases of a major economic downturn, and it is going to be especially cruel to those on the low end of the income spectrum.  Do what you can to get prepared now, because the economy is not going to be getting better any time soon.


Chinese to take over Syngenta?

SUBHEAD: The China Chemical Company is seeking a takeover of the Swiss Syngenta Corporation for $43 billion.

By Tyler Durden on 2 February 2016 for Zero Hedge -

Image above: Image above: Open gate to Syngenta GMO field just past the State Park access road. In the distance is "Mordor" - The secret Navy mountain retreat labeled as an "ordinance storage facility" on most maps. Photo by Juan Wilson in 2009. From (

[IB Publisher's note: With the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) a stone's throw from the Syngenta's GMO fields on the Mana Plain of Kauai, And given the desire of secrecy of US Navy and its myriad weapons contractors (Lockheed, Raytheon etc), And the nature of their R&D it is unlikely that a Chinese owned Syngenta will have access to the "Public" land in Mana controlled by the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) that controls the leases on those lands. Unfortunately, it may bring on more Dow-DuPont activity there, or even, God forfend, Monsanto may come back to Kauai again.]

The ink was not yet dry on the seemingly endless Monsanto-Syngenta on again/off again takeover drama, when moments ago in a shocking development the newswires were lit up with news that a new, and very much unexpected, bidder has emerged for the Swiss pesticides giant Syngenta: China National Chemical Corp, or ChemChina as it is known, which according to WSJ and BBG is set to pay $43.7 billion to acquire a piece of Swiss corporate history.

According to Bloomberg, China National Chemical Corp. is nearing an agreement to buy Syngenta for CHF 43.7 billion as the state-backed company extends its buying spree with what would be the biggest-ever acquisition by a Chinese firm, said people familiar with the matter.
ChemChina, as the closely-held company is known, offered about 470 francs a share in cash to acquire Syngenta and a deal could be announced as early as Wednesday when the Swiss company reports earnings, the people said, asking not to be named as the details aren’t public. That’s 24 percent higher than Syngenta’s last close of 378.40 francs on Feb. 1. Its shares rose 7.1 percent to 405.1 francs as of 1:26 p.m. in Zurich.

The deal would help Chairman Ren Jianxin transform ChemChina into the world’s biggest supplier of pesticides and agrochemicals, while snatching an asset coveted by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. 
It also underscores the importance China attaches to owning seed and cropcare technology that can boost agricultural output and help feed the world’s biggest population.

Bloomberg notes that if successful, the $43 billion purchase would be the largest acquisition by a Chinese firm, surpassing China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd.’s $29 billion purchase of China Netcom Group Corp. in 2008.

It remains to be seen whether Europe's anti-trust authorities, let alone the Swiss, will greenlight such a massive incursion into the heart of corporate Europe.

As a reminder, in recent year major Chinese purchases of both U.S. and Canada-based companies have been frowned upon.

Perhaps Europe will decide that it is in its best interest to open its markets to the one country that suddenly is finding it needs to park "hot money" abroad and M&A is just the way to do it.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: DowPont Genetically Modified Offices 12/11/1
Ea O Ka Aina: DuPont guilty in Waimea, Kauai 5/9/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Standing up to Syngenta  5/2/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Into the Belly of the Beast 4/20/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Ecoterrorist Coprorations 4/25/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Farming vs poisoning the land 2/14/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Dow - DuPont - Syngenta sue Kauai 1/11/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Corporate Colonialism on Kauai 9/26/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Regulation of GMOs & Pesticides 6/27/13

Stupor Bowl 2016

SUBHEAD: The economic game of watching the Bear's Recession Offense crush the Unicorn believing Bulls.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 31 January 2016 for Of Two Minds -

Image above: Illustration of Chicago Bears mascot in uniform. From (

When I use the phrase Stupor Bowl, I refer not to the upcoming Super Bowl or the crazy mid-winter bicycle free-for-all in Minneapolis, but to the economic game of watching the Bear's Recession Offense crush the Unicorn-believing Bulls.

Let's follow the score here in the opening minutes of the Recession 2016 contest:
1. Sales have only one way to go: down. Touchdown Bears.

2. Profits have only one way to go: down. Touchdown Bears.

3. Stock buybacks have only one way to go: down. Touchdown Bears.

4. Global "growth" has only one way to go: down. Touchdown Bears.

5. Risk premiums have only one way to go: up. Touchdown Bears.

6. The efficacy of central bank "easing" only one way to go: down. Touchdown Bears. 
This is getting stupefyingly repetitive, and the game has barely started: the Bears have racked up 42 points while the Unicorn-believing Bulls are scoreless.

The Unicorn-believing Bulls are going to need not just one Immaculate Reception, but a half-dozen miracle scores just to stay in the game. But the Bears have barely dented their playbook. Another eight touchdowns are within reach.
7. Government deficits have only one way to go: up.

8. The growth rate of private-sector debt has only one way to go: down.

9. The number of nations with crashing currencies has only one way to go: up.

10. The number of nations defaulting on sovereign debt has only one way to go: up.

11. The number of IPOs that quickly fall below their initial price has only one way to go: up--way up.

12. The number of margin calls to be issued to overleveraged "investors" has only one way to go: up--way up.

13. The number of junk bonds that will default has only one way to go: up--way up.

14. The number of Greater Fools willing to pay outlandishly absurd prices for homes in hot markets is plummeting; as a result, the market value of real estate globally has only one way to go: down--way down. 
The Bears can fumble a few plays and still score another 42 points with ease.

The Unicorn-believing Bulls will need the financial equivalent of The Catch just to avoid being skunked.

But even that won't change the outcome--a recession that will leave all the Unicorn believers, Keynesian Cargo Cultists and the rest of the delusional mob of Bulls stupefied by their crushing defeat.


Ground Control to Captain Zhou

SUBHEAD: The dynamic duo, Nature and Reality, the actual owners of the planet, have showed up to read us the riot act.

By James Kunstler on 1 February 2016 for -

Image above: A Chinese political poster from 1958 "Brave the wind and the waves, everything has remarkable abilities". From (

Why would anybody suppose that the Peoples Bank of China might want to tell the truth about anything that was within their power to lie about? Especially the soundness of any loan portfolio vested unto the grasp of its tentacles?

Of course, most of what China has done in speeding toward the wall of financial crack-up, it learned from watching US bankers slime their way into Too Big To Fail nirvana — most particularly the array of swindles, dodges, and frauds constructed in the half-light of shadow banking to hedge the sudden, catastrophic appearance of reality-based price discovery.

When so many loans end up networked as collateral in some kind of bet against previous bets against other previous bets, you can be sure that cascading contagion will follow. And so that is exactly what’s happening as China’s rocket ride into Modernity falls back to earth.

Like most historical fiascos, it seemed like a good idea at the time: take a nation of about a billion people living in the equivalent of the Twelfth Century, introduce the magic of money printing, spend a gazillion of it on CAT and Kubota earth-moving machines, build the biggest cement industry the world has ever seen, purchase whole factory set-ups, and flood the rest of the world with stuff.

Then the trouble starts when you try to defeat the business cycles associated with over-production and saturated markets.

Poor China and poor us. Escape velocity has failed. Which raises the question: escape from what, exactly? Answer: the implacable limits of life on earth. The metaphor for all this, of course, is the old journey-into-space idea, which still persists in the salesmanship of Elon Musk, the ragged remnants of NASA, and even the nightmares of Stephen Hawking.

Get off this messed-up home planet and light out of the territories, say Mars. Of course, this is a vain and stupid idea, since we already have a planet engineered to perfection for all the life systems associated with the human project. We just can’t respect its limits.

So now, that dynamic duo, Nature and Reality, the actual owners of the planet, have showed up to read the riot act to the renters throwing a wild party.

The fourth and perhaps ultimate financial crisis of the last twenty years begins to express itself in terms that only the raptors and vultures can see from on high. George Soros, Kyle Bass, and the other flocking shadow banking scavengers prepare to short the living shit out of the old Middle Kingdom.

The immortal words of G.W. Bush ring in their ears: “This sucker is going down,” and they are sure to win big by betting on the obvious.

Trouble is, this sucker could go down so much further than they imagined, that whatever fortunes they gain from its descent will be foiled by the destruction of the very economic system needed for them to enjoy their gains.

For instance, when banking systems go down, governments usually follow, and when governments go down, societies often unravel. It doesn’t take a great effort of imagination to see China’s one party politburo leadership machine lose the respect of its governed masses, and then its control of events, followed by a Great Struggle among the regions and factions to restore some kind of order.

And when the smoke clears there will a whole lot of nearly worthless concrete and steel, and a vast loss of notional wealth, and China will be lucky to land back in some approximation of the Twelfth Century.

It must be interesting for China to watch the horrifying disintegration of America’s political party structure currently on view, with the mad bull called Trump rampaging across the land and the designated inevitable Mz It’s-My-Turn hijacking her collective for the greater glory of Goldman Sachs.

The last time China got the vapors politically — the so-called Cultural Revolution of the 1960s — the country went batshit crazy. Surely some of the ruling party remembers that with requisite terror.

Or maybe this is China and the USA’s Thelma and Louise moment. Pedal to the metal, they drive into the abyss of history holding hands. Remember, audiences loved that!