The Externality Trap

SUBHEAD: How "progress"  inevitably commits suicide with technology, profits and growth.

By John Michael Greer on 25 February 2015 for Archdruid Report -

Image above: Early environmental impact of industrialization in 19th century England. From (

I've commented more than once in these essays about the cooperative dimension of writing:  the way that even the most solitary of writers inevitably takes part in what Mortimer Adler used to call the Great Conversation, the flow of ideas and insights across the centuries that’s responsible for most of what we call culture.

Sometimes that conversation takes place second- or third-hand—for example, when ideas from two old books collide in an author’s mind and give rise to a third book, which will eventually carry the fusion to someone else further down the stream of time—but sometimes it’s far more direct.

Last week’s post here brought an example of the latter kind. My attempt to cut through the ambiguities surrounding that slippery word “progress” sparked a lively discussion on the comments page of my blog about just exactly what counted as progress, what factors made one change “progressive” while another was denied that label.

In the midst of it all, one of my readers—tip of the archdruidical hat to Jonathan—proposed an unexpected definition:  what makes a change qualify as progress, he suggested, is that it increases the externalization of costs. 

I’ve been thinking about that definition since Jonathan proposed it, and it seems to me that it points up a crucial and mostly unrecognized dimension of the crisis of our time. To make sense of it, though, it’s going to be necessary to delve briefly into economic jargon.

Economists use the term “externalities” to refer to the costs of an economic activity that aren’t paid by either party in an exchange, but are pushed off onto somebody else. You won’t hear a lot of talk about externalities these days; it many circles, it’s considered impolite to mention them, but they’re a pervasive presence in contemporary life, and play a very large role in some of the most intractable problems of our age.

Some of those problems were discussed by Garret Hardin in his famous essay on the tragedy of the commons, and more recently by Elinor Ostrom in her studies of how that tragedy can be avoided; still, I’m not sure how often it’s recognized that the phenomena they discussed applies not just to commons systems, but to societies as a whole—especially to societies like ours.

An example may be useful here. Let’s imagine a blivet factory, which turns out three-prong, two-slot blivets in pallet loads for customers. The blivet-making process, like manufacturing of every other kind, produces waste as well as blivets, and we’ll assume for the sake of the example that blivet waste is moderately toxic and causes health problems in people who ingest it.

The blivet factory produces one barrel of blivet waste for every pallet load of blivets it ships. The cheapest option for dealing with the waste, and thus the option that economists favor, is to dump it into the river that flows past the factory.

Notice what happens as a result of this choice. The blivet manufacturer has maximized his own benefit from the manufacturing process, by avoiding the expense of finding some other way to deal with all those barrels of blivet waste. His customers also benefit, because blivets cost less than they would if the cost of waste disposal was factored into the price.
On the other hand, the costs of dealing with the blivet waste don’t vanish like so much twinkle dust; they are imposed on the people downstream who get their drinking water from the river, or from aquifers that receive water from the river, and who suffer from health problems because there’s blivet waste in their water.
The blivet manufacturer is externalizing the cost of waste disposal; his increased profits are being paid for at a remove by the increased health care costs of everyone downstream.
That’s how externalities work. Back in the days when people actually talked about the downsides of economic growth, there was a lot of discussion of how to handle externalities, and not just on the leftward end of the spectrum.  
 I recall a thoughtful book titled TANSTAAFL—that’s an acronym, for those who don’t know their Heinlein, for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”—which argued, on solid libertarian-conservative grounds, that the environment could best be preserved by making sure that everyone paid full sticker price for the externalities they generated.
Today’s crop of pseudoconservatives, of course, turned their back on all this a long time ago, and insist at the top of their lungs on their allegedly God-given right to externalize as many costs as they possibly can.  This is all the more ironic in that most pseudoconservatives claim to worship a God who said some very specific things about “what ye do to the least of these,” but that’s a subject for a different post.
Economic life in the industrial world these days can be described, without too much inaccuracy, as an arrangement set up to allow a privileged minority to externalize nearly all their costs onto the rest of society while pocketing as much as possible the benefits themselves.
That’s come in for a certain amount of discussion in recent years, but I’m not sure how many of the people who’ve participated in those discussions have given any thought to the role that technological progress plays in facilitating the internalization of benefits and the externalization of costs that drive today’s increasingly inegalitarian societies. Here again, an example will be helpful.
Before the invention of blivet-making machinery, let’s say, blivets were made by old-fashioned blivet makers, who hammered them out on iron blivet anvils in shops that were to be found in every town and village. Like other handicrafts, blivet-making was a living rather than a ticket to wealth; blivet makers invested their own time and muscular effort in their craft, and turned out enough in the way of blivets to meet the demand. Notice also the effect on the production of blivet waste.
Since blivets were being made one at a time rather than in pallet loads, the total amount of waste was smaller; the conditions of handicraft production also meant that blivet makers and their families were more likely to be exposed to the blivet waste than anyone else, and so had an incentive to invest the extra effort and expense to dispose of it properly.
Since blivet makers were ordinary craftspeople rather than millionaires, furthermore, they weren’t as likely to be able to buy exemption from local health laws.
The invention of the mechanical blivet press changed that picture completely.  Since one blivet press could do as much work as fifty blivet makers, the income that would have gone to those fifty blivet makers and their families went instead to one factory owner and his stockholders, with as small a share as possible set aside for the wage laborers who operate the blivet press.
The factory owner and stockholders had no incentive to pay for the proper disposal of the blivet waste, either—quite the contrary, since having to meet the disposal costs cut into their profit, buying off local governments was much cheaper, and if the harmful effects of blivet waste were known, you can bet that the owner and shareholders all lived well upstream from the factory.  
Notice also that a blivet manufacturer who paid a living wage to his workers and covered the costs of proper waste disposal would have to charge a higher price for blivets than one who did neither, and thus would be driven out of business by his more ruthless competitor.
Externalities aren’t simply made possible by technological progress, in other words; they’re the inevitable result of technological progress in a market economy, because externalizing the costs of production is in most cases the most effective way to outcompete rival firms, and the firm that succeeds in externalizing the largest share of its costs is the most likely to prosper and survive.
Each further step in the progress of blivet manufacturing, in turn, tightened the same screw another turn.
Today, to finish up the metaphor, the entire global supply of blivets is made in a dozen factories in  distant Slobbovia, where sweatshop labor under ghastly working conditions and the utter absence of environmental regulations make the business of blivet fabrication more profitable than anywhere else. 

re as shoddily made as possible; the entire blivet supply chain from the open-pit mines worked by slave labor that provide the raw materials to the big box stores with part-time, poorly paid staff selling blivetronic technology to the masses is a human and environmental disaster.  Every possible cost has been externalized, so that the two multinational corporations that dominate the global blivet industry can maintain their profit margins and pay absurdly high salaries to their CEOs.
That in itself is bad enough, but let’s broaden the focus to include the whole systems in which blivet fabrication takes place: the economy as a whole, society as a whole, and the biosphere as a whole.
The impact of technology on blivet fabrication in a market economy has predictable and well understood consequences for each of these whole systems, which can be summed up precisely in the language we’ve already used.
In order to maximize its own profitability and return on shareholder investment, the blivet industry externalizes costs in every available direction.
Since nobody else wants to bear those costs, either, most of them end up being passed onto the whole systems just named, because the economy, society, and the biosphere have no voice in today’s economic decisions.
Like the costs of dealing with blivet waste, though, the other externalized costs of blivet manufacture don’t go away just because they’re externalized. As externalities increase, they tend to degrade the whole systems onto which they’re dumped—the economy, society, and the biosphere.
This is where the trap closes tight, because blivet manufacturing exists within those whole systems, and can’t be carried out unless all three systems are sufficiently intact to function in their usual way.
As those systems degrade, their ability to function degrades also, and eventually one or more of them breaks down—the economy plunges into a depression, the society disintegrates into anarchy or totalitarianism, the biosphere shifts abruptly into a new mode that lacks adequate rainfall for crops—and the manufacture of blivets stops because the whole system that once supported it has stopped doing so.
Notice how this works out from the perspective of someone who’s benefiting from the externalization of costs by the blivet industry—the executives and stockholders in a blivet corporation, let’s say.
As far as they’re concerned, until very late in the process, everything is fine and dandy: each new round of technological improvements in blivet fabrication increases their profits, and if each such step in the onward march of progress also means that working class jobs are eliminated or offshored, democratic institutions implode, toxic waste builds up in the food chain, or what have you, hey, that’s not their problem—and after all, that’s just the normal creative destruction of capitalism, right?

That sort of insouciance is easy for at least three reasons. 
First, the impacts of externalities on whole systems can pop up a very long way from the blivet factories.

Second, in a market economy, everyone else is externalizing their costs as enthusiastically as the blivet industry, and so it’s easy for blivet manufacturers (and everyone else) to insist that whatever’s going wrong is not their fault.

Third, and most crucially, whole systems as stable and enduring as economies, societies, and biospheres can absorb a lot of damage before they tip over into instability.
 The process of externalization of costs can thus run for a very long time, and become entrenched as a basic economic habit, long before it becomes clear to anyone that continuing along the same route is a recipe for disaster.

Even when externalized costs have begun to take a visible toll on the economy, society, and the biosphere, furthermore, any attempt to reverse course faces nearly insurmountable obstacles.

Those who profit from the existing order of things can be counted on to fight tooth and nail for the right to keep externalizing their costs: after all, they have to pay the full price for any reduction in their ability to externalize costs, while the benefits created by not imposing those costs on whole systems are shared among all participants in the economy, society, and the biosphere respectively.
Nor is it necessarily easy to trace back the causes of any given whole-system disruption to specific externalities benefiting specific people or industries.
It’s rather like loading hanging weights onto a chain; sooner or later, as the amount of weight hung on the chain goes up, the chain is going to break, but the link that breaks may be far from the last weight that pushed things over the edge, and every other weight on  the chain made its own contribution to the end result.
A society that’s approaching collapse because too many externalized costs have been loaded onto on the whole systems that support it thus shows certain highly distinctive symptoms.
Things are going wrong with the economy, society, and the biosphere, but nobody seems to be able to figure out why; the measurements economists use to determine prosperity show contradictory results, with those that measure the profitability of individual corporations and industries giving much better readings those that measure the performance of whole systems; the rich are convinced that everything is fine, while outside the narrowing circles of wealth and privilege, people talk in low voices about the rising spiral of problems that beset them from every side.
If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, dear reader, you probably need to get out more.
At this point it may be helpful to sum up the argument I’ve developed here:
a) Every increase in technological complexity tends also to increase the opportunities for externalizing the costs of economic activity;
b) Market forces make the externalization of costs mandatory rather than optional, since economic actors that fail to externalize costs will tend to be outcompeted by those that do;
c) In a market economy, as all economic actors attempt to externalize as many costs as possible, externalized costs will tend to be passed on preferentially and progressively to whole systems such as the economy, society, and the biosphere, which provide necessary support for economic activity but have no voice in economic decisions;
d) Given unlimited increases in technological complexity, there is no necessary limit to the loading of externalized costs onto whole systems short of systemic collapse;
e) Unlimited increases in technological complexity in a market economy thus necessarily lead to the progressive degradation of the whole systems that support economic activity;
f) Technological progress in a market economy  is therefore self-terminating, and ends in collapse.
Now of course there are plenty of arguments that could be deployed against this modest proposal. For example, it could be argued that progress doesn’t have to generate a rising tide of externalities. 
The difficulty with this argument is that externalization of costs isn’t an accidental side effect of technology but an essential aspect—it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Every technology is a means of externalizing some cost that would otherwise be borne by a human body.
Even something as simple as a hammer takes the wear and tear that would otherwise affect the heel of your hand, let’s say, and transfers it to something else: directly, to the hammer; indirectly, to the biosphere, by way of the trees that had to be cut down to make the charcoal to smelt the iron, the plants that were shoveled aside to get the ore, and so on.
For reasons that are ultimately thermodynamic in nature, the more complex a technology becomes, the more costs it generates.
In order to outcompete a simpler technology, each more complex technology has to externalize a significant proportion of its additional costs, in order to compete against the simpler technology.
In the case of such contemporary hypercomplex technosystems as the internet, the process of externalizing costs has gone so far, through so many tangled interrelationships, that it’s remarkably difficult to figure out exactly who’s paying for how much of the gargantuan inputs needed to keep the thing running. This lack of transparency feeds the illusion that large systems are cheaper than small ones, by making externalities of scale look like economies of scale.
It might be argued instead that a sufficiently stringent regulatory environment, forcing economic actors to absorb all the costs of their activities instead of externalizing them onto others, would be able to stop the degradation of whole systems while still allowing technological progress to continue. The difficulty here is that increased externalization of costs is what makes progress profitable.
As just noted, all other things being equal, a complex technology will on average be more expensive in real terms than a simpler technology, for the simple fact that each additional increment of complexity has to be paid for by an investment of energy and other forms of real capital.
Strip complex technologies of the subsidies that transfer some of their costs to the government, the perverse regulations that transfer some of their costs to the rest of the economy, the bad habits of environmental abuse and neglect that transfer some of their costs to the biosphere, and so on, and pretty soon you’re looking at hard economic limits to technological complexity, as people forced to pay the full sticker price for complex technologies maximize their benefits by choosing simpler, more affordable options instead.
A regulatory environment sufficiently strict to keep technology from accelerating to collapse would thus bring technological progress to a halt by making it unprofitable.
Notice, however, the flipside of the same argument: a society that chose to stop progressing technologically could maintain itself indefinitely, so long as its technologies weren’t dependent on nonrenewable resources or the like.
The costs imposed by a stable technology on the economy, society, and the biosphere would be more or less stable, rather than increasing over time, and it would therefore be much easier to figure out how to balance out the negative effects of those externalities and maintain the whole system in a steady state. 
Societies that treated technological progress as an option rather than a requirement, and recognized the downsides to increasing complexity, could also choose to reduce complexity in one area in order to increase it in another, and so on—or they could just raise a monument to the age of progress, and go do something else instead.
The logic suggested here requires a comprehensive rethinking of most of the contemporary world’s notions about technology, progress, and the good society. We’ll begin that discussion in future posts—after, that is, we discuss a second dimension of progress that came out of last week’s discussion.

There will be a reckoning

SUBHEAD: Lester Brown delivers stark warning over dust bowl conditions spreading over Africa and Asia.

By John Queally on 25 February 2015 for Common Dreams -

Image above: A satellite captured a 2001 dust storm swirling over China. The storm eventually crossed the Pacific and reached the United States. Photo by NASA. From original article.

On the verge of retirement, noted environmentalist and celebrated systems analyst Lester Brown has a dire warning for the world he has spent more than half a century advising on issues of food and energy policy: there is no end in sight for the interrelated scourge of climate change, global poverty and hunger.

In fact, according to Brown, in several vulnerable areas around the world, the situation may be about to go from very bad to much worse.

"We are pushing against the limits of land that can be plowed and the land available for grazing and there are two areas of the world in which we are in serious trouble now," said Brown, who founded both the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, in an interview with the Guardian's environment correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg.

“One is the Sahel region of Africa, from Senegal to Somalia," explained Brown. "There is a huge dust bowl forming now that is actually stretching right across the continent and that dust bowl is removing a lot of top soil, so eventually they will be in serious trouble."

At some point soon, he added, "there will be a reckoning" in those regions.

According to this NPR report from November, based on the work of the Earth Policy Institute, the dust bowl conditions forming in northern Africa and across central Asia are already having dire consequences:
In China, dust storms have become almost an annual occurrence since 1990, compared to every 31 years on average historically. In northern China and Mongolia, two large deserts — the Badain Jaran and the Tengger — are expanding and merging, often swirling together in massive sand storms when strong winds blow through each spring. The Gobi desert is also growing, inching ever-closer to Beijing as the grasslands at its edges deteriorate.
Meanwhile, in the Sahel region of Africa, millions of acres are turning to desert each year in countries including Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Dust from Chad's Bodele Depression been traveling the globe for many centuries — in fact, scientists think it helped make the Amazon fertile. But the amount of dust blowing out of West Africa has increased in the last 40 years. Dust clouds from the Sahara can affect air quality as far away as Houston, and may even harm Caribbean coral reefs.
According to Brown, as the situation worsens in these areas, the impacts will likely be much worse than they were in the United States during the 1930s. "Our dust bowl was serious," Brown explained to Goldenberg, "but it was confined and within a matter of years we had it under control ... these two areas don’t have that capacity."

The warning over soil erosion and the unsustainable farming practices that currently dominate large swaths of the planet have been on the mind of ecologists and agricultural experts for decades. As the threat of global warming has entered the public debate, the stakes have only intensified.

Brown was among the first and most thorough minds to set attention on the threat of planetary climate change, devoting an entire series of books—collectively titled Plan B—which assess and put forth solutions to the approaching crisis. The most recent edition is Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

However, in a statement last month, Brown announced that he would officially retire later this year and wind down the Earth Policy Institute following the publication of his next book, The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy.

"After careful consideration of my life at 80 years," announced  Brown in the statment, "and with profound appreciation to my staff, collaborators and supporters, I have decided to step down as president of the Earth Policy Institute and end its work as of July 1, 2015."

Brown continued, "I believe the Earth Policy Institute has accomplished what we set out to do when we began in 2001, and now it is time for me to make a shift and no longer carry the responsibility of managing an organization. I plan to continue to research and write on issues that I believe I can add to in some meaningful way."

Speaking with Goldenberg, Danielle Nierenberg, who joined Worldwatch in 2001 and went on to co-found her own institute, Food Tank, said the world owes much to Brown for his decades of work and unique vision.

"He’s the godfather of merging environmental and food issues," said Nierenberg. "If you are talking about food and the environment, everybody looks to Lester Brown."

As the world continues to grapple with the catastrophes spurred by our own human development, Brown wrote this in the introduction to Plan B 4.0: "The question we face is not what we need to do, because that seems rather clear to those who are analyzing the global situation.

The challenge is how to do it in the time available. Unfortunately, we don't know how much times remains. Nature is the timekeeper but we cannot see the clock."

He continued, "The thinking that got us into this mess it not likely to get us out. We need a new mindset."

The last question society should ask, he concluded, is whether or not what needs to be done is considered possible.


Another Omidyar Screwup

SUBHEAD: Ken Silverstein resigns from First Look Media, slams company's 'Incompetence'.

By Jackson Conner on 24 February 2015 for Huffington Post -

Image above: Pierre Omidyar lands with heavy boots on all he touches. From ($50-million.html).

First Look Media is going through yet another messy break up with one of its journalists.

Investigative reporter Ken Silverstein announced over this weekend that he was leaving the company after only 14 months on the job. In a series of private Facebook posts published by Jim Romenesko, Silverstein blasted First Look's managerial "incompetence," calling the company a “pathetic joke” for squandering millions of dollars on long-time Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi's never-launched satirical site, Racket.

"I am one of a many employees who was hired under what were essentially false pretenses," Silverstein wrote.

"We were told we would be given all the financial and other support we needed to do independent, important journalism, but instead found ourselves blocked at every step of the way by management’s incompetence and bad faith ..."

Funded by billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omiydar, First Look was supposed to be home to a number of high-profile, stand-alone publications helmed by some of journalism's biggest names. But the only publication First Look has succeeded in launching is The Intercept, which focuses on national security and features the work of Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill.

Silverstein originally worked for Racket when he joined First Look, but when the project was shuttered, he transferred to The Intercept, where he lasted two months.

"You know what’s cool about being a former employee of First Look/The Intercept?" Silverstein wrote on Facebook. "That Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Betsy Reed and Pierre Omidyar all believe in Free Speech and the First Amendment so they won’t mind my writing about my time working for and with them."

"Tentative title: “Welcome to the Slaughterhouse,” he continued.

Silverstein aimed much of his ire directly at Omiydar, whom he claimed cares little for the personal well-being of the Racket staff despite promising to treat his employees with "dignity."

"[W]hen the company pulled the plug some months back, it fired the remaining staff and told them to clear out of the office immediately, that very day, to take their things and get out and FL would generously give them one month severance," wrote Silverstein. "I am pretty sure the Koch Brothers treat fired workers with greater respect." (Silverstein later clarified that the company had given employees three months of severance pay.)

In a statement to The Huffington Post, The Intercept said Silverstein clashed with various members of the staff before his departure.

"Ken Silverstein joined the staff of The Intercept this past December, roughly two months ago," the statement read. "Last week, in the wake of repeated conflicts with Intercept editors, researchers and fact checkers, he resigned. We wish him the best of luck in the future."

Silverstein and Taibbi are among several several First Look employees who have critiqued their former employer on their way out the door.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper -- who along with Silverstein conducted a two-part interview with "Serial" prosecutor Kevin Urick -- resigned from First Look in January and began working at Jezebel.

Vargas-Cooper criticized the company on her blog for failing to print an email correspondence between Urick and "Serial" host Sarah Koenig.

Though Silverstein appears to have deleted his Twitter account, Taibbi tweeted his former colleague words of encouragement early Monday morning:

 ·  Feb 22
Good luck to Ken Silverstein, a terrific reporter who (to an absurd degree) had the worst experience of all of us at FLM and deserves better.

Silverstein declined to comment further on his departure.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaii Dairy Farm Factsheet 10/11/14
HDF's sole owner is Pierre Omidyar, through his venture capital company Ulu'pono Initiative.

Ea O Ka Aina: The Hail Mary Pass 8/27/14
Last two "moneymakers" are the work of Omidyar, who has his telescopic sights set on Kauai.

Ea O Ka Aina: Omidyar - NSA - Snowden 12/17/13
Pierre Omidyar's PayPal corporation said to be implicated in withheld NSA documents.

Ea O Ka Aina: Preserving what's left 11/15/12
A plan by Ohana Real Estate Investors whose principal investor is billioniare Pierre Omidyar.

Ea O Ka Aina: Beach Blockage Push Back 6/8/12
Montage Resorts, an ultra luxury hotel developer whose properties are owned by Omidyar.

Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaii's Farm Future 9/27/10
Speakers such as Kyle Datta, a founding partner with Pierre Omidyar's Ulu'pono Initiative.


US pushing GMOs on Africa

SUBHEAD: U.S. is "assisting" African nations to produce biosafety laws that promote its GMO Big Ag interests.

By Andrea Germanos on 23 February 2015 for Common Dreams -

Image above: A woman processing millet in Senegal.  Photo: Kevin Sharp/flickr/cc). From original article.

The U.S. government and multinational corporations have capitalized on African nations' voids in regulatory frameworks to push genetically modified (GM) crops, standing to gain lucrative corporate profits while decimating food sovereignty, a new report states.

Released Monday from the African Centre for Biosafety and commissioned by environmental network Friends of the Earth International, Who benefits from GM crops? The expansion of agribusiness interests in Africa through biosafety policy (pdf) looks at how U.S. interests have used the mantra of addressing food security to push these crops despite local opposition.

"The U.S., the world's top producer of GM crops, is seeking new markets for American GM crops in Africa," stated report author Haidee Swanby. "The U.S. administration's strategy consists of assisting African nations to produce biosafety laws that promote agribusiness interests instead of protecting Africans from the potential threats of GM crops."

That opening exists, Friends of the Earth explains, because most African nations don't have biosafety laws on the safe handling of GM crops (or GMOs), and such laws can be crafted to either promote the crops or to promote a rigorous safety assessment of them.

But "the U.S.A. stance is that GM crops offer important technological advances in agriculture that can significantly increase crop production and that they pose no risks." So when representatives of U.S. interests offer assistance, it is to "craft [regulatory systems that] are most likely to have an absolute minimum of regulation, creating attractive environments for agribusiness investors."

Another part of the "strategy has been to pursue the development of strong intellectual property rights regimes, in order to give investors confidence with respect to returns on their investments," the report states.

One example noted in the report is an initiative called the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project (WEMA), which is implemented in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.
Monsanto has partnered with the initiative, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation have pledged $47 million for it.

It is is ostensibly aimed at boosting food security with drought- and insect-resistant maize, but the report says Monsanto is using the project to do field trials and ultimately gain approval of a new maize, rather than taking the standard commercial route for approval, thereby paving the way for new markets for the crops. The report also points to questions about the efficacy of the drought-resistance trait.

Among the problems civil society groups see with the WEMA plan are that it ignores existing (non-GMO) drought tolerant crops, gives control of food systems to the private sector, and diverts funding and support away from in-place, farmer-led resilient agricultural systems.

The report concludes that those African nations who might be tempted by GMO promises should look at what happened in South Africa, where, after 16 years of such crops being cultivated, GMOs have failed to meet the promises of improved food security.

"The South African experience confirms that GM crops can only bring financial benefits for a small number of well-resourced farmers. The vast majority of African farmers are small farmers who cannot afford to adopt expensive crops which need polluting inputs such as synthetic fertilizers and chemicals to perform effectively," Swanby stated.

Real assistance from foreign donors, the report states, would come by "craft[ing] policies for the wellbeing of Africans rather than the wellbeing of foreign corporations and their shareholders."

As Swanby and Mariann Bassey Orovwuje from Friends of the Earth Nigeria write in an op-ed published Monday, "African farmers have a lot to lose from the introduction of GMOs; the rich diversity of African agriculture, its robust resilience and the social cohesion engendered through cultures of sharing and collective effort could be replaced by a handful of monotonous commodity crops owned by foreign masters."

Despite the corporate mantra of GMOs being able to feed a growing population, Swanby and Bassey Orovwuje stress: "African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations are the bedrock of hunger in Africa."

The solution lies instead, Friends of the Earth says, with agroecology—which food justice organization Food First describes as "both a science and movement" that "works to decentralize power and promote equity and ecological resilience in our food systems." GM crops, in contrast, are part of the problem.

Friends of the Earth is among those heading to the first International Forum on Agroecology beginning Tuesday in Mali.

It is a forum that Ibrahim Coulibaly, a leader of the National Coordination of Peasants Organizations (CNOP) in Mali, said "will bring practical responses, that will lead to concrete solutions on how agroecology can save the planet from hunger and climate change."


Leaf Cutters

SUBHEAD: The problem is the solution. Damaged soils is a problem. Natures solution is to send leaf cutter ants.

By Christopher Nesbitt on 22 February 2015 for the Great Transition -

Image above: Leaf cutter ants marching to nest carrying sections of leaves. From (

We are up river in Belize at the Maya Mountain Research Farm these next two weeks, teaching our tenth annual Permaculture Design Course here. This year we have 16 local Mayan farmers, healers, businessmen and women, trainers in development work, and students from the US, UK, Russia and Greece. Our own essay this week, about a different topic, is being guest-published at Club Orlov on Monday, so we thought we would publish here a short piece by our host, Christopher Nesbitt.

This is a small nest of a leaf cutter ant queen, establishing a colony. We tend to see them in tired land, rebuilding soils, assaulting the biological obscenity of monoculture, especially citrus, and aerating soils, hauling carbon down to the subsoil, allowing oxygen and water to infiltrate soils.

They will do some damage to native species, like cacao, but mostly concentrate on introduced species. Chemicals are not a constant necessity. I have been farming in a tropical setting since 1988, and I have NEVER used any biocides.

I am farming about 15 acres of a 70 acre piece of land. Most of the land I am working right now is old cattle pasture or abandoned citrus. You would not be able to tell looking at it. I live in a pretty lush forest of trees, with hundreds of species. Most of what I am doing is creating a stacked polyculture with a large diversity of species, ranging from banana, papaya and pineapple, to timber, to fuel wood, to tree legumes, to food, to medicinals and market crops that fit into the matrix of the farm, things like cacao, coffee and vanilla.

We do have some gardens, and we are expanding on the periphery of the land to create coconut dominated polycultures and feed banks for pigs, but the majority of the farm resembles the primary rainforest in structure, with less diversity, and with all the species being selected by us. We get both termites and leaf cutter ants. While they can both be a nuisance, if we step back a bit, we can see some of the services and products they provide.

Think of the presence of leaf cutter ants as being an indicator of an ecosystem out of balance, of being a cure for damaged soils. The lack of leaf cutter ants may mean a healthy ecosystem, or massive use of chemicals, including aldrin. I think of leaf cutter ants as being nature's way of rehabilitating damaged soils.

You really only see leaf cutters in the wake of a biological catastrophe, hurricanes, fire damaged land, or places like played-out milpa, after the window of 3-6 years of annuals productivity has dwindled out, and the return on energy invested is not worth the effort, and the land in question is being fallowed, or in the wake of the life of a citrus grove, abandoned banana plantations or damaged cattle pasture.

Most biological "catastrophes" are man made, with monocultures being the biggest biological catastrophe, sustained through work and inputs. These systems are only sustainable in simplistic economic models of capital invested in input and labor versus kilograms per hectar x dollar per kilogram.

Often, in terms of calorie based accounting, they are net losses of energy. Without cheap petroleum to subsidize their profitless existence, they would not exist.

I have lots of leaf cutter ants here in Belize, and while they can be a nuisance, they seldom damage a tree beyond the capacity of recovery. The biggest problem is that, if one is looking to produce marketable quantities of a single species, you have painted a sign on your ass that tells nature "bite me." Nature obliges.

While working industriously to undo the biological abomination of a monoculture the ants are the rescue squad, aerating the soil, allowing water to percolate in, and hauling carbon, all things that help damaged soil to recover.

Monocultures lead to leaf cutter ants. Leaf cutters have adapted to citrus in particular, with a preference for Washington navels and Valencia oranges. They are less excited by grapefruit or limes. What we call Jamaica lime here in Belize is practically immune to leaf cutter ants (and tolerates poor soil).

One way to avoid leaf cutters is to have a diversified farm in the first place, but any young polyculture in the lowland humid tropics is going to be prone to leaf cutter ants. When the land is more mature, it will be less susceptible, but not immune.

We see a lot of leaf cutter nests. I periodically dig up the mounds, looking for their fungus gardens, the subterranean chambers where they use the leaves for a substrate for their fermentations. When the young flightless queens are in the embryonic stage, they are like milk shakes for chickens. Even whacking on the surface of the nest will excite the colony.

Ants, being social insects, react to any perceived threat to the queen by swarming. Any disturbance on ground level will result in massive retaliation by the soldier ants, which are like micro pit bulls.

My chickens have visually imprinted on soldier ants and queen ants as being food. Soldier ants come out, looking to attack the source of the disturbance, and chickens happily eat them, racing about to snatch them up, converting a problem into eggs, meat and manure. I invest a bit of energy in harassing the colony, and the result is a smorgasborg of insect protein for my chickens. I have eliminated a few nests with this technique.

You can also make barriers of lemon grass, or vetiver, which leaf cutter ants do not like, lay cannavalia ensoformis leafs in their trails, which has antifungal properties and eventually, accidentally, will be taken into their nest, working better than a Stuxnet virus. If I put the soil from one nest across the trail of another nest they will not cross the trail (for a while). All of these are more about management than destruction.

The important thing is to see the inherent limitations of sustainably managing your farm. Certain crops are leaf cutter ants' favorite foods. If you want to grow citrus, you need to walk your land regularly, looking for new nests. How much land can a farmer adequately monitor? When you find a new nest, you must dig it up and find the queen, and kill her. I find a certain spiteful glee of throwing the helpless queen out into a flock of chickens, and watching them fight over her.

If the colony is young enough that it has no capacity to requeen itself, you have killed the colony. If not, you will need to dig it several times to kill the colony. Sometimes, its just going to be there. In Costa Rica and Panama, I hear they use pig manure to discourage the leaf cutter ants, pouring in a foul slurry into their home.

The key is to have a diversified system whereby you can use that energy in a useful way. Without poultry, we would have little use for either leaf cutter ants or for termites. With them, they both become assets.

Industrial mentality: the solution is the problem. Have leaf cutter ants. Apply biocide. Poison soil, water, self. Support nasty earth destroying chemical company.

Permaculture mentality: The problem is the solution. Damaged soils is a problem. Natures solution is to send leaf cutter ants. Leaf cutter ants are a problem. My solution is to use them to solve another problem, what to feed our chickens. 


How goes the War?

SUBHEAD: Oh, you didn’t notice that World War Three is underway, actually has been for more than year?

By James Kunstler on 23 February 2015 at -

Image above: Detail of cartoon from 5/9/14 showing weapons used in World Wars. From (

Oh, you didn’t notice that World War Three is underway, actually has been for more than year? Well, that’s because most of it has been taking place in the banking sector, which for most people is just an alternative universe of math. The catch, which many people either miss or don’t care about, is that the math doesn’t add up.

For instance, the runaway choo-choo train of linked European sovereign bond obligations with its overloaded caboose of interest rate swaps and other janky derivatives of mass destruction. That train left the station in Athens a few weeks ago bound for Frankfurt. 

Ever since, the German government and its cohorts in the EU, the ECB, and the IMF have been issuing reassurances that the choo-choo train will not blow up when it reaches its destination.

Few people grok that Greece is an entity with an economy not much bigger than North Carolina’s, yet it is burdened with roughly $350 billion of old debt that will never be paid back. 

The only thing at issue is how it will not be paid back, that is, what mode of pretense will be employed to disguise the inability to pay back this debt. The mode du jour has been the crude one of lending Greece more money to pay back the interest on the old debt. A seven-year-old ought to be able to understand where that leads.

It’s kind of up to the Greeks this week to possibly opt out of that farcical deal. They have at least two other present options: return to being a sunwashed semi-medieval backwater of olive farmers, shepherds, and inn-keepers, or perhaps lease out some cozy corner of their vast Mediterranean coastline to the Russian navy for enough annual walking-around money to keep the lights on for the aforementioned farmers, shepherds, and inn-keepers. 

Of course, that would drive the US and its NATO quislings batshit crazy.

We’ve already got our knickers in a twist over Ukraine, a so-called nation whose highest and best purpose over the millennia has been as a sort of lethal doormat in front of Russia, leaving adventurers like Napoleon and Hitler bleeding in the snow as they crawled back to their nations of origin. 

In short, Ukraine has worked so well for Russia that we must be insane to imagine that it would give up that traditional relationship. 

Yet the US and NATO persist in their foolishness and attempt to back up their Kievan intrigues with financial “sanctions” against Russia.

Russia is doing what it has always done in the face of adversity, which is to suck it up. And, anyway, these western financial monkeyshines don’t hold a candle to ordeals like the siege of Stalingrad. What’s more, the Russians, despite their peculiar alphabet and thuggish demeanor, are at least as clever with computers as our code jockeys. 

We (in the USA) think just because we’ve made it possible for everyman to drool over Kim Kardashian’s booty on an iPhone screen that we have some kind of immunity against cyber counter-attack from way out east.

It seems to me that Russia (with China and others) is very busy constructing an alternate financial network that will allow for international money transfers and other necessities for conducting normal trade operations, outside of systems like the SWIFT code, which the US has been using as a knout against our imagined enemies. The upshot will leave America high and dry in a lot of what remains of international trade, especially in oil.

Meanwhile we continue to tell ourselves the false and idiotic story of “energy independence,” based on the shale oil Ponzi scheme that blew up last fall — the consequences of which won’t really be felt for about another eight months, when all those wells drilled and fracked in 2013-14, start to fall off their production cliff, and the replacement wells will not have been drilled. 

We’re still importing almost 8 million barrels of oil a day, contrary to all the fairy tales we tell ourselves. What happens when the sellers decide they won’t take US dollars for it? Hmmmm….

See also:
Ea  O Ka Aina: Welcome to World War III By James Kunstler 2/16/15

The Master Comes Home

SUBHEAD: What we expect of the System makes an interruption of the grid a form of powerlessness.

By Brian Miller on 22 February 2015 for Winged Elm Farm -

Image above: "Night Cabin" by Andrey Golubev. From (

The initial thrill that comes with an ice storm and a loss of power faded a bit the morning the temperature bottomed out at 3 degrees.

Delores the sow had dragged the heater out of her water trough for the fifth time, the pond ice for the cattle and horse had to be broken every few hours, and a young ewe and her newborn had to be rescued after lambing in a far corner of the wind-blown sheep pasture and relocated to the shelter of a barn stall.

Still, the domestic pleasure of coming into a cozy house heated by a woodstove to sip a hot cup of tea is not to be dismissed.

Traditionally we built our houses to meet the demands of our climates, a grass hut if you lived on a tropical isle or a house with connected barn if you lived in New England. Older houses in Louisiana, when I was growing up, were typically built a couple of feet off the ground. It was a good model for a warm climate.

The open space underneath kept the house cooler in the warmer months (most of the year), and the elevation protected against the occasional flooding.

Freezes, like the big one in 1940 my dad recalled, were rare. And given that most plumbing was limited to the kitchen, freeze damage to the house was minimal.

Infrastructure was on my mind this past week here in East Tennessee. After a week of temperatures barely budging above freezing, we had an ice storm.

The storm caused our farm to lose power. Then the temperatures plummeted to low single digits. Thankfully, we had a generator to run the refrigerator, well pump and a few essential electrical circuits. A Jotul woodstove helped keep the house a comfortable 60 degrees.

Another generator at the barn kept a variety of water tanks heated for the sheep, chickens, goose, cattle and horse.

Today, our houses are designed to accommodate the additional “essentials” that just a generation ago were not needed nor even available. The electricity to keep the modern house functioning is a relatively new concept in human culture. The boundary line of what is essential has shifted. Shelter, heat, food and water now share demand with internet, smartphone, cable TV and microwave.

Older forms of infrastructure had built-in resilience: barns carefully constructed to hold heat, with hay mows above to ease the feeding of livestock in poor weather; deep in-ground cisterns to provide fresh water for the farm; houses designed to facilitate warmth in the winter or coolness in the summer—smart, low-tech designs that we have pushed aside with the assumption that the power grid will now take care of us.

Over the years Cindy and I have discussed converting our farm to an off-the-grid power system. Each time, though, we found the costs to be prohibitive. But this week, after a few days without power, as we scrambled to keep up with our needs, it occurred to me: off-the-grid is easy; it is our modern needs that are complicated, the prohibitive factor, the stumbling block, the real expense.

Those old houses in south Louisiana worked year in, year out because they had very little modern infrastructure to protect. Working under the house insulating each individual pipe before the ice storm, I was overwhelmed by how much plumbing is needed in our small house just to furnish us water on demand.

Hot and cold pipes to the kitchen and the two bathrooms, the hot water heater and the washer/dryer—a complexity of plumbing requiring protection from the elements, so that it might protect us from the elements.

Driving into town late in the week, I saw dozens of downed trees, limbs still balancing on utility lines, brush pushed to the edges of the road. As I looked at the miles of power lines and telephone lines, our true vulnerability was evident. It was not the loss of electrical power that we feared but the loss of a certain status that comes with our modern life, a status of predictability.

Off-the-grid literature is typically geared towards finding ways around the commercial power source, yet retaining the modern conveniences. As we watered and fed our sheep, as lambs were born this week without regard to the temperature or the state of our utilities, I thought about the Amish.

While many of us were without power, were they concerned with an inability to update their Facebook pages, charge their cell phones, keep their freezers going, stay warm with their electric furnaces? Did they feel powerless? Somehow I doubt it.

The complexity of this modern life, the infrastructure that maintains it, is hardwired for disruption.

Our system and our expectations for what it must provide are such that losing power is a form of powerlessness. That in itself seems a form of slavery.

Which is why there is, for me, always that bit of anarchic joy in an emergency, an unshackling from the system. Though that uncertain joy is accompanied by relief when the master comes home and power is restored.


Moment to Moment Unfolding

SUBHEAD: The direction emerges gradually from the felt vision, the doing, the becoming, step by step by step.

By Vera Bradova on 17 February 2015 for Leaving Babylon  -

Image above: "Beautiful Forest Night" by TacoApple99. From (

You are lost in a the middle of a dark primeval forest. A moonless night breathes all around you; soft rain is falling. You long to be somewhere safe, warm, and dry. A tiny keychain flashlight illuminates the immediate space — the rest is near-impenetrable blackness. Bogs, logs and wild hogs wait to trip you up. How do you find your way?

Your senses on edge, you look, listen, sniff the breezes. A faint gurgling of a nearby brook gives you initial direction. You take a step, then examine what’s around and ahead. You take another step. It occurs to you to follow the creek downstream. The next few steps reveal an impassable steep bank. A detour leads into a huge rocky scree. “How do I get back to the water?” You peer into the darkness for the flicker of a fire or a lit window…

We too are lost in the universe. And more ominously, we are lost in a human world collectively bent on omnicide. Apart from death, we have no sure destinations. Some of us cling to the illusion of control — they think they know where we must go, and how to get there. But more and more of us have taken a good look at the disastrous centuries of ending up in the wrong places, and we finally call the quest for control a big fat lie.

We gather ourselves up and resolve to abandon the control-freak led stampede to the edge of the cliff. Now we need a way to move ahead that is anchored both in the honest admission that we are not in control, and in the pattern all other creatures use as they walk the paths of their lives.

Control insists on linearity, but life is complex. Do we dare to surrender to a visionary co-adaptive journey where each step is an evolutionary state that takes its shape from steps taken before? The process I see in my mind’s eye is a dynamic dance continually responding to itself. Each step illuminates the next step.

At each moment in time, new circumstances emerge. Every step brings new insights, surprises, and unforeseen consequences. Each step is part of the ongoing cycles of mutual responsiveness; it accepts feedback from the current whole and passes on feedback in its turn. One state flows into another.

Unplanning is a spiral, dynamic, unpredictable process that begins with a hunch, and evolves from there. Dreaming, doing and becoming form one seamless flow. The initial inkling of a vision does not remain static, but glows a bit stronger with each step taken.

The tentative first steps merely begin the process; they do not determine it. Modifications and adjustments are made at any point, as the need becomes apparent. And each new experience undergone changes us as we come to embody the life of the path.

The unplanning process requires of us that we gradually become the kind of people who know how to inhabit this unfolding future, who are able to reach a desired place, where-ever it turns out to be. Visioning, walking, and self-changing go hand in hand; behold, a pilgrimage. Wisdom is in flux, mutually situated and actively embodied.

We come to be more and more the people whose path harmonizes with that which we hope for, and that which we hope for evolves right along with our continuous becoming.

The process itself changes people — as all experiential, experimental journeys do — and people come to gradually embody that which draws them on. We don’t know where we’ll end up, trusting the process to emerge each particular end-state as a surprise.

No imaginary picture of the future controls our conception of what must be done. What must be done arises from the needs, problems and possibilities of the living present. The direction emerges gradually from the felt vision, the doing, the becoming, step by step by step.
In our profession of architecture there is no conception, yet, of process itself as a budding, as a flowering, as an unpredictable, unquenchable unfolding through which the future grows from the present in a way that is dominated by the goodness of the moment.
— C. Alexander, The Nature of Order: the process of creating life
See also by Vera Bravoda :
Ea O Ka Aina: Whodunit? The Foragers 2/11/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Turn off the lights on the way out 1/28/15
Ea O Ka Aina: No Gaurantees v2/25/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Can humans save humans? 7/3/12


Where is the Fukushima Data?

SUBHEAD: Nuclear power plants must be shutdown while we have the resources. Soon we won't be able to afford to.

By Juan Wilson on 21 February 2015 for Island Breath -

Image above: This picture shows the damaged No. 3, left, and No. 4 reactors of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant on 3/16/11. From (

Let's look into a bit of background about the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) disaster. I have included several reports from 4/19/15 stretching back to 4/9/11.

Since late 2011 I have visited ENE News to see the latest in information concerning the aftermath of Fukushima. One thing that has been clear since 3/11/11 is that there has been a widespread coverup of information showing the planetary impact of the event.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Japanese government are dedicated to continuing nuclear power in Japan and have thwarted every effort to reveal the breadth and impact of the complete meltdown of three large nuclear reactors in a valley on the shore of the Pacific Ocean.

Even today many mass media sources throughout the world characterize FDNPP disaster as merely the worst nuclear accident since 1989, when a reactor in the Ukraine at the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded.

The fact is that FDNPP is an order of magnitude worse that Chernobyl. At Fukushima there are six reactors and each has a fuel pool. There is also a common fuel pool with nearly as many fuel rods as all of the reactors. Four of the reactor buildings have been destroyed with three reactors completely melted through their containments.

At Chernobyl the USSR quickly responded, sacrificing many of its people to contain the damaging radioactive materials. A sarcophagus containing the entire damaged reactor building was immediately planned and soon completed. A massive concrete barrier was also constructed under the molten core to isolate it from the environment. A large area of the Ukraine was put "off-limits".

The loss of confidence and pride in Soviet technological excellence is thought to have led to the collapse of the USSR shortly afterward.

Japan was not going to let that happen to them. Without any of their own energy sources to run the number two economy (now number three) in the world the Japanese are dependent on their use of nuclear power to run the Toyota, Mitsubishi, Toshiba plants throughout the country.

Where did that nuclear technology come from? The United States... specifically at FDNPP it was the General Electric Boiling Water Nuclear Reactor technology. If that technology was discredited Japan would fail. It could not afford to run its 21st century industrial technology on imported fossil fuels.

And so the coverup began at the very beginning of the disaster and continues.

One important aspect of keeping the coverup intact is not measuring (or at least not reporting to measure) the spread of radioactivity from the shattered FDNPP throughout Japan, the Pacific Ocean, the United States and the world.

You would think that the Japanese and American nuclear regulatory agencies, their respective environmental protection agencies, their military organizations and university systems would all have dove in and provided the personnel, funding, technology and equipment needed for extensive gathering of data on this planetary disaster. Not so.

If you believe the spokespersons in Tokyo and Washington, no ongoing extensive information has been gathered over the last four years. But I don't believe that. I believe the information is not being shared with the public.

Back to the ENE News from 2/19/15 and this headline:
Australian Broadcasting Company Tours Fukushima Plant: This could go on for centuries, and some say problems can never be fixed; “Tepco admits it doesn’t know extent of meltdowns” — Official: We don’t know ‘real situation’ of the molten fuel, “nobody has seen it”; We need help from the world. 
ABC News (Australia), Feb 18, 2015 (emphasis added): Inside Fukushima: ABC tours crippled power plant… TEPCO [says] major steps have been taken to decommission the molten reactors. Others say the plant cannot be fixed… With vacuum-sealed protection gear and special breathing apparatus, TEPCO gave the ABC an exclusive tour of the crippled plant… Reactors 1, 2 and 3 were strictly off limits, and looking from about 500 metres away the area was clearly deserted, with cars and equipment abandoned. Removing the molten fuel from these reactors will be an enormous challenge… [TEPCO guide Kenichiro Matsui] admitted they did not know the extent of the problemsLocals distrust TEPCO, say future is ‘hopeless’… Fourth-generation fisherman Hisashi Yoshida said any trust with TEPCO was broken a long time ago… Shinichi Kumadah, a Fukushima evacuee [told ABC] “When I think of the future I can’t think of anything. It’s hopeless.”

Some transcript from broadcast:
  • Matthew Carney, ABC North Asia correspondent: “Sorting out Reactor No. 4 will be the easy part. Fixing Reactors No. 1, 2, and 3 will be much more difficult. They’re full of molten nuclear fuel. Humans can’t enter, it would result in instant death. And robots have yet to be invented that can withstand the massive radiation levels near the melted cores. TEPCO admits it doesn’t know the exact location and extent of the meltdowns. They claim it will take 40 years to fix, but others say centuries.”
  • Kenichiro Matsui, TEPCO public affairs department (voiceover translation): “We don’t know the exact situation in detail. Fuel has been melted down, but nobody has seen it. We need to develop technology with help from around the world to know the real situation.”
Watch the broadcast here
  And I also saw this headline on ENE News from 2/19/15:
Japan Experts: Fukushima’s melted reactor cores “still active and releasing neutrons” many months after 3/11 — Radioactive sulfur was “the highest ever measured in any atmospheric sample” — “Very high” concentrations detected in Tokyo. (
 And this followed:

Detection of radioactive 35S at Fukushima and other Japanese sites, authors include scientists from the University of California San Diego and the University of Tokyo, 2013 (emphasis added):
  • An effect of [the Fukushima] disaster was secondary formation of radioactive 35S… when neutrons… activated the coolant sea water. Here we report the first measurements of 35S [which oxidized to 35SO2, then 35SO42-] collected at six Japanese sampling sites… during March-September 2011.
  • Even after 6 months, 35SO42- activity remains very high… in the Fukushima region, which implies that the reactor core was producing radioactive sulfur.
  • 35S is a unique tracer in that it provides information on the number of neutrons emitted from the reactor core and can be used to probe the condition of the reactor core as well as the containment vessel.
  • 35SO42- concentrations [of 61,000 atoms/m3 in Kashiwa (200 km from FDNPP) and 120,000 atoms/m3 in Kawamata (50 km from FDNPP)] are the highest 35S activities ever measured in any atmospheric sample and are nearly 100 times higher than the natural background.
  • Figure 3 [right]: 35SO42- measured… at Fukushima prefecture… shows that, even after 6 months… the reactor core was active and producing 35S.
  • The natural background 35SO42- concentration [is] 300 to 900 atoms/m3.
  • Even after 6 months, 35S activity was very high… which implies that the reactor core was still active and releasing neutrons. However, the presence of a viable chlorine source is not known. The neutrons might be reactingwith sea water coming in and out across a crack developed in the containment vessel.
  • 35SO42- was detected several thousand miles away from the source
  • A very high 35SO42- activity was observed at [Kawamata, Kashiwa], Tsukuba [175 km from FDNPP], and Tokyo Tech Yokohama [250 km from FDNPP].
See also: Fukushima released 13 billion times more neutrons than first estimated — “Obvious implication for human health” — Neutron radiation “the most dangerous radiation” known to man 

Japan is not done damaging itself, the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the planet. The government has given the green light to letting the radioactive water produced on the site flowing into the ocean that will continue raising the threat to life of the Pacific basin on into the future.

Then there is this ENE News report 1/21/15:
TV: Japanese government approves plan to ‘drain’ Fukushima nuclear waste into ocean — Professor: Monitoring necessary to detect ‘worrisome signals’ — Expert: “It’s completely unsafe… impossible to remove 100s of radioactive materials” — 1,200 radionuclides, only 62 reduced — Fisherman: “We can’t trust Tepco” (VIDEO).(

NHK, Jan 21, 2015 (emphasis added): Regulators approve Fukushima wastewater drainage — Japan’s nuclear regulator has approved a plan by [TEPCO] to drain filtered wastewater from the firm’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant into the sea… The firm also plans to reduce the level of radioactive material in the water before releasing it into the nearby Pacific. On Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulation Authority approved TEPCO’s plan to install drainpipes and a pumping system and to reduce the level of radioactive cesium-137 to less than one becquerel per liter.
NHK Transcript, Jan 21, 2015: Japanese regulators have approved a controversial plan by [TEPCO]. They say TEPCO officials can flush filtered waste water into the ocean… Fisherman: “We can’t trust Tepco… If they proceed with their plan the situation will surely go back to how it was before. I’m worried the government and Tepco will act to suit themselves.”
Wall St Journal, Jan 21, 2015: Japan’s nuclear regulator has officially called on [Tepco] to work toward discharging low-level contaminated water… just two days after a worker fell into [a tank] used to store contaminated water… Tepco is using a processing system [that] is unable to take out the tritium [and] is reluctant to release it into the ocean to avoid… criticism from neighboring countries and some nations with a Pacific Ocean coastline… there is no detailed study about tritium’s long-time effect on animal genes. Mamoru Takata, a Kyoto University professor and expert on radiation’s long-term effects, said monitoring would be necessary to detect any worrisome signals.
TEPCO: [ALPS] is designed to remove most remaining radioactive contaminants
TEPCO (pdf): (ALPS) — Removal capacity: Reduce 62 nuclides below the density limit
Asahi Shimbun in Jan. 2012: “To prevent a further contamination of the sea [Tepco] plans to remove about 1,000 kinds of radioactive materials from water
Japan Atomic Energy Agency (pdf), Feb 2014: TOPICS Fukushima — [W]e carried out detailed calculations… for 1,200 radionuclides, and the results were incorporated into a database.
Dr. Gordon Edwards, court-certified nuclear expert, Aug 8, 2014 (50:00 in): It can’t be dumped into the ocean, because it’s completely unsafe because of these fission products. They have built over 1,000 large tanks, huge tanks… that contain this very, very radioactively contaminated water. At the moment they’re trying to filter out these fission products… It’s impossible for them to remove all those hundreds of radioactive materials. They know how to remove about 62 of them, but there’s other ones that they cannot.
  Going back furhter this ENE News headline from 4/10/14:
Experts: Nuclear chain reactions may have lasted over 7 months at Fukushima — Neutron leakage from ‘active’ molten fuel — “Core producing radioactive sulfur” — Top Gov’t Official: MOX fuel could be neutron source. (
RADIOACTIVE 35-SULFUR (pdf), Antra Priyadarshi and Mark H Thiemens, June 2012: [...] we were the first to recognize the nuclear core meltdown at Fukushima and estimate the neutron leakage from the core element rubble. Our ongoing measurement in samples collected from Japan shows that Fukushima was active even after 7 months of the disaster [...]
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2013: An effect of [the Fukushima] disaster was secondary formation of radioactive 35S [...] when neutrons from the partially melted reactor cores activated the coolant sea water. Here we report the first measurements of 35S in sulfate aerosols and rain water collected at [...] Hokkaido, Tsukuba, Kashiwa, Fuchu, Yokohama, and Fukushima, during March-September 2011. [...] Kashiwa site [near Tokyo] shows the highest 35SO42- concentration (6.1 × 10^4 ± 200 atoms/m3) on 1 April 2011 [at] Fukushima would have been 2.8 × 10^5 atoms/m3 during the week after the earthquake [...] Even after 6 months, 35SO42- activity remains very high (9.9 × 10^4 ± 770 atoms/m3) in the marine boundary layer in the Fukushima region, which implies that the reactor core was producing radioactive sulfur.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission FOIA ML12068A097:
  • Kevin D. Crowley, Ph.D. Director Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board The National Academies, April 14, 2011: Mark Thiemens (UC San Diego) has detected excess sulfur-35 (in S02 and S04) that he believes was produced by the CI-35 (n,p) reaction at Fukushima after seawater cooling was initiated. This suggests that there was a source of neutrons (perhaps from a criticality event) at Fukushima after the reactors were shut down. [...]
  • Crowley, April 14, 2011: [...] there was a media report that a high neutron flux had been detected at the site, presumably from a criticality event [...] That report was later dismissed for lack of corroborating evidence. Your [Mark H Thiemens] data might be useful for proving that such an event did in fact occur [...]
  • John E. Kelly, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Reactor Technologies in the Office of Nuclear Energy, April 17, 2011: [...] My guess is that the MOX fuel will have significant Pu-238 and this could create a very active source for neutron production (alpha-n). This would give a constant source (as opposed to a brief burst from criticality event). [...]
See two Fairewinds videos from 2011 about periodic nuclear chain reactions, also referred to as inadvertent criticalities, at Fukushima Daiichi: Newly released TEPCO data provides evidence of periodic chain reaction at Fukushima Unit 1 and New Data Supports Previous Fairewinds Analysis
And this ENE News headline from 4/9/11:
Uranium-234 detected in Hawaii, Southern California, and Seattle. (
EPA RadNet Air Concentration Measurement Data – Uranium, Plutonium, Strontium, Released April 6, 2011:
Note that  one pico-curie (pCi/m3) is a trillionth of a curie/cubic meter. A very small number. A curie (Ci) is the original term used to describe the amount of radioactive material present or strength of the source. It is based upon the radioactive decay rate of the radionuclide. One curie is equal to 3.7 x 10 10disintegrations (37 trillion decays) per second (dps). So one pico-curie is 37 decays per second.

The data on the chart indicates that on March 21st 2011 that Uranium 234 was detected on Kauai with .00019 pico-curies per cubic meter (pCi/m/3); or about one radioactive decay every 2 minutes.

Image above: Detail of chart of locations with values of measured U-234 from late March of 2011from EPA PDF file of report. From original ENE News article).

Although the link to the RadNet chart above no longer exists at the link to the EPA website (was it removed?), I did find this result for Kauai that matches the number (.00019 (pCi/m/3) in that chart ( For doing your own searches go to ( You can enter a location and date-range for radiation sampling results (if they have beenperformed).

The bottom line is that Uranium 234 was detected on Kauai and reported to the EPA on 3/21/11 that was likely the result of continuing nuclear fission of fuel at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and being lofted into the atmosphere at a time when sea water was being poured onto uranium and plutonium fuel cores.

It is time to admit that nuclear power is a failure that threatens us all. All nuclear power plants must be decommissioned while we have the resources to shut them down. Soon we won't be able to afford to safely shut them off - and then we will have to abandoned forever many more regions than Chernobyl and Fukushima.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima MOX fuel crossed the Pacific 2/3/15


The Great Debate – SLF 2015

SUBHEAD: Sustainable Living Conference Great Debate: To Collapse or Not to Collapse.

By Raul Ilargi Meijer on 19 February 2015 for the Automatic Earth - 

Image above: Nicole Fosse at the start of her presentation about 33min into video below. From (

A few days before I arrived in Melbourne, The Automatic Earth’s Nicole Foss was one of the key speakers in The Great Debate, which this year took place on February 13. It’s sort of the main event in Melbourne’s annual Sustainable Living Festival, which in 2015 runs from February 7 to March 1. Apart from Nicole, other speakers included  David Holmgren and George Monbiot.

In an impressive ‘take no prisoners’ speech, Nicole makes short shrift of the vast majority of idea(l)s about ‘softly transitioning’ into the world that lies beyond the dual credit ponzi and cheap energy bubbles. Everybody who harbors such idea(l)s should take note, lest they end up finding themselves in any one of a large variety of dead end alleyways.

Something along the vein of what my buddy Scott used to say: ‘it’s a good idea but it’s wrong’. People need to think about how much energy use and how much complexity is involved in what they would like to see as their way forward. If there’s too much of either, let alone of both, that way is simply not viable, and it’s back to the drawing board.

I’m not going to transcribe too much of her talk, it’s well worth watching the few minutes she talks. Still, here’s one quote from Nicole:
Our society will be forced to simplify. The paradox with low-energy-profit-ratio energy sources is they cannot sustain the level of complexity necessary to produce them. [..] If your solution rests on complexity, it’s not going to work. We’re going to contract and simplify, like it or not.
Start at about the 33-minute mark for Nicole’s talk. She speaks for just over 10 minutes. Enjoy!  And don't miss the part about "Sucking the beer out of the carpet!"

Video above:  "The Great Debate" Runs about 1hour:50min. David Holmgren is up first. From (