Friday, October 31, 2008

A Safety Net Of Alternative Systems - Non-Automotive Transportation

I have to admit that sometimes I am intimidated at the thought of writing this blog. There are others whose background on key topics related to adaptations to Peak Oil is much stronger than mine. I think of Sharon Astyk, who can (and has) written volumes on small scale agriculture, food preservation and home economics; or Jeff Vail, who writes extensively on the effects of resource constraints on the global geopolitical scene and relations between nations. There are also geologists and other scientists and mathematicians who explore the actual geology of oil discoveries and extraction in great technical detail, as well as discussing the social and technological impacts of resource constraints on modern society. Most of these people have been writing about these issues for years. My awakening has been rather recent, by comparison. Yet there is one thing I know about intimately, and that is non-automotive transportation, especially bicycle commuting. Therefore I am happy to throw in my two cents' worth on this subject.

But before I begin, I think it's appropriate to give a few reminders of why alternatives to our present economic and social arrangements are necessary. So I will give a few highlights of news I have read in the last few weeks. First, the International Energy Agency (IEA) September Oil Market Report states that world petroleum production fell by around 1 million barrels per day in August 2008 – before any hurricane-related production problems. The October IEA Oil Market Report states that global petroleum supply decreased again in September, by over 1 million barrels per day. The current IEA estimate of global daily oil production is 85.6 million barrels per day. I think that the IEA estimate is overly optimistic, and that actual global petroleum production is lower. Still, the most recent IEA figures show a drop of over 2 million barrels per day within the very recent past.

Secondly, the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) weekly petroleum inventory statistics show that gasoline stockpiles in the U.S. have started dropping again, and that the growth in crude stocks is slowing dramatically. It would not be surprising if next week's report showed a decrease in American inventories of all categories of petroleum products. If the U.S. starts rapidly and deeply drawing down its crude and refined petroleum stocks again, this may lead to a choice between another spike in prices or the re-appearance of shortages such as those we saw in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Prices are low now because of the perception of greatly reduced demand, not because of new supplies of oil. The trouble is that these low prices may be starting to increase demand for petroleum products, putting pressure on American petroleum stocks.

Next is the discovery by scientists at the University of East Anglia that manmade climate change is affecting every continent on earth, including Antarctica. The changes seen in the Antarctic are impossible to explain by any other means. And according to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the atmospheric concentration of the potent greenhouse gas methane rose sharply in 2007. Here are two more pieces of evidence that our modern lifestyle of high-energy overconsumption is destroying the earth.

Lastly, there is the financial crisis and the efforts by rich elites to pass the cost of this crisis onto the poor. The present financial crisis was caused by a number of factors, the biggest being that the rich seized the lion's share of the fruits of productive economic activity while paying their laborers the lowest possible wage. In order to keep a “consumer” economy going in the industrialized West, the rich offered the poor the opportunity to buy things on credit, since very few working-class people could afford to pay cash for many of the things they needed or that they were taught by advertising to want. Then the loans made to these poor and working-class people were bundled into certificates of “worth” and used as investments to borrow ever-larger sums of money.

The only trouble is that the spike in energy and food prices caused by energy and resource constraints wiped out many poor and working-class people and made the investments of the rich – their certificates of “worth” based on loans – worthless, as poor and working-class people started to default en masse on those loans. Now the rich in several countries, including the U.S., have persuaded the governments of those countries to turn most of their citizens into “collateral” for the worthless paper certificates of the rich, by means of government-backed “bailouts” that will never be paid back. The rich created a system by which they could get something for nothing, forcing the rest of us to bear the cost of operating that system. Now that the system is breaking, they seek to use the poor and the working class to grease the wheels of that system for one last run before its almost certain breakdown.

Yet there are signs that some of the lifestyle choices of the poor and working class are causing that system to fail a bit faster than the rich had expected. It seems that increasing numbers of Americans are becoming frugal, learning to delay gratification, and learning to live more simply. This is a threat to the consumer economy and to the fortunes of a significant number of large corporations, lenders and rich executives, as noted here. And there are bloggers who are making the connection between poor or working class people learning to be self-sufficient and the weakening of the “official” economy. Do you want to be a street-legal revolutionary? Disentangle yourself from relying on the “official” system and build alternatives for yourself. Learn to live more simply; learn to live on less. Let those in particular who call themselves Christians learn to live for something other than acquiring lots of material possessions. And everyone, regardlses of religion, start by killing your TV. Don't let your appetite be swollen by advertising to a size larger than the biceps of some major league baseball slugger.

And now on to alternative transportation. My discussion of this topic will fall into a few broad categories, namely, bicycle transportation, walking and public transit (both bus and rail). In my next post I will discuss how I became a bicycle commuter, as well as tips and tricks I learned (and how much fun it is!). I'll also talk about my bike (of course!) and the kinds of equipment I like to use, as well as traffic laws and survival strategies for cyclists. I will then analyze the cycling culture in the United States and discuss whether that culture is a help or a hindrance to the adoption of cycling as basic transportation in this country. I will finish with a discussion of the hindrances and dangers which our present system presents to cycling as alternative transportation.

Other non-automotive transportation options will also be discussed, as well as the car-free culture and the present worldwide car-free movement. For those who are looking at dollars and cents, I will be sure to tell you how much you can save by going car-free or “car-lite.” And I will provide plenty of references for those who want to read about these things in more depth. This will be a fun subject to talk about. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Portraits Of Alternative Transport

Now is the time for some of the pictures I promised I'd post on this blog. All of these pictures portray people who are finding and using alternatives to automobile-based transportation. But I also have a few comments to make, comments provoked by a New York Times piece I read today.

That article, titled, “Completely Unplugged, Fully Green,” contained descriptions of the lives of several people who are trying to radically reduce their carbon footprint by living simply and self-reliantly. The article revealed a few interesting details about each of the people interviewed; yet the tone of the article implied not-so-subtly that these people were (at least mildly) freaks. One of those interviewed was Sharon Astyk, author of the blog, Casaubon's Book, who with her husband Eric Woods is raising a family of four boys. The Times writer, Joanne Kaufman, described how Astyk's boys were prevented by their mother from joining a Saturday Little League baseball team because joining the team would involve making an unnecessary trip by car, as well as how her boys slept together to conserve body heat in the winter. The article also described a man by the name of Jay Matsueda, who lives in Culver City, California, and who does not use heat or air conditioning for his condominium.

The tone in which the actions of Astyk and Matsueda are portrayed suggests that these are highly unusual lifestyle choices which fall far, far outside the mainstream. In fact, a Google search for the article reveals that it is also titled, “Extreme Approaches Toward Living A Green Life.” But the Times article goes further, coining a new word, “carborexia,” to describe those people who are radically and deeply limiting their consumption and dependence on the present economic system in order to reduce their carbon footprint. And with the introduction of this new term, which sounds suspiciously like the psychological disorder known as “anorexia,” the Times writer also includes interviews with psychologists who discuss the “unhealthy” side of those who devote themselves “excessively” to a sustainable lifestyle.

I think the Times article is childish, immature and inaccurate. For one thing, Sharon Astyk is Jewish and that's why her family does not participate in league sports on Saturdays. Is that so unusual? But when I think of the near shock expressed by the Times concerning some of the other lifestyle choices described in their article, I have to laugh out loud. Consider how the Times writer wrote about Jay Matsueda's decision to forego air conditioning and heating for his Culver City condo.

Culver City is in Southern California, about five miles from the Pacific Ocean and around, oh, 30 miles away from where I used to live in North Orange County. Don't tell anyone this, but I only used my heater twice during the year and a half before I moved out of California. And my home did not have air conditioning. Were there days I would have liked A/C? Sure! But my point is that I didn't die or suffer irreparable harm. Is Matsueda a freak? Not in my book. Of course, I also became a bicycle commuter in 2005, when California gasoline prices first rose above $3.00 a gallon. Maybe that makes me a freak; I don't know.

The biggest flaw of the Times article is that it both trivializes a serious issue and seeks to marginalize those who are trying to address this issue by a more simple lifestyle. This is entirely understandable, since the Times gets most of its revenue from advertising and because the Times is part of a global economic system whose aim is to foster ever-increasing growth of that system and ever-increasing dependence on that system among the general public. It is only natural for the masters of such a system to feel threatened by those who are trying for the sake of principle or conscience to disentangle themselves from the system. It is only natural for the masters of the present system to try to demonize those who are seeking to break free from the system.

Such demonizing is not only inaccurate, it also neglects the fact that increasing numbers of people are cutting back on their consumption and moving toward simpler lifestyles by force and not by choice, as the system known as the “official” economy continues its breakdown. Already there are hundreds of thousands of families in the United States whose children have been forced to forgo not only Saturday league sports, but iPods, GameBoys, big screen TV's, sleepovers, extravagant birthday parties, hanging out at the mall, the latest clothes, new cars, and much more – all because of the evaporation of their parents' livelihoods during the last several months. Whether we like it or not, the growth economy is in serious – perhaps terminal – trouble. The well has run dry. We will all be forced to live more simply.

Since that is the case, the intelligent people are the ones who are taking steps now by choice to adapt to a simpler life rather than waiting until the choice is forced on them. I therefore present pictures of some intelligent people I have met over the last several months. There are many such people here where I now live. Notice that they all seem to be having fun; at the very least they don't seem to be deprived souls, nor are they freaks. Also check out some of their cool rides!

Here's a picture of my odometer today after returning home from work, just so you know that I practice what I preach.

This vehicle is known as a "Bakfiets," and is a Dutch invention. I saw a lady riding one to a grocery store a few weeks ago. Her son was riding inside the wooden carriage. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera at the time, or you all could have seen a Bakfiets in action...

And here's a picture for those of us who ride public transit on occasion. See how serene and stress-free your commute can be! Take a hint from these kids...

Future posts on this blog will continue the theme of alternative systems, focusing on bicycle transportation. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Of Thieves and Elections

Over the last few weeks, there have been alarming reports of voter registration “irregularities” taking place in swing states in the days leading up to November 4th. Most of these irregularities involve the questionable purging of hundreds of thousands of registered voters from official records in several states, including many voters whose home mortgages were foreclosed. It appears that the Republican party has been behind the push for these voter purges. Here's a short list of purges and of secretaries of state responsible for maintaining voter rolls:

Colorado: Secretary of State – Mike Coffman, Republican. Number of voters purged from Colorado registration rolls within the last six months: 37,000 according to the New York Times. There is also word that state election officials told some college students that they could not vote if their parents claimed them as dependents (Source:

Michigan: Secretary of State – Terri Lynn Land, Republican. Number of voters purged from Michigan state rolls in August: 33,000. (In all, over 200,000 names have been removed since January 1. Source: Michigan also purged voters who lost their homes to foreclosure, and voters who had drivers' licenses from other states. By contrast, only 7,100 people died in Michigan in August, and only 4,400 moved out of state. For additional information, see

Louisiana: Secretary of State - John Leigh Dardenne, Jr., Republican. During the five weeks after July 23, at least 18,000 people were dropped from voting rolls. On June 15, 53,000 voters who had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina were threatened with removal from voting rolls unless they could prove that they were not registered in another state. The voters were mostly from poor black parishes. For more information, see and

Indiana: Secretary of State – Todd Rokita, Republican. According to a recent Guardian article, up to 100,000 people are potentially at risk of losing their opportunity to vote (See

It would be instructive to do a bit of digging to see what states have conducted massive voter purges within the last several months, and especially since August 4. Those states which conducted purges after August 4 are guilty of violating Federal election law. It would also be interesting to see how many of these states have Republican secretaries of state. I'd do the research myself, but I have to get to bed early because I have an early meeting tomorrow at work. One thing I'll say: watch the exit polls – especially from foreign media sources – on Election Day, and see how much of a discrepancy there is between them and the “official” tally.

And for a bit of very ironic news on a completely different subject, Bloomberg ran a story this week with a headline that reads, “Turmoil May Make Americans Savers, Worsening `Nasty' Recession.” It appears that the rich masters of our present economy are worried that Americans might start living within their means, thus gravely endangering the profits of the rich.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The $700 Billion Wall Street Bailout and the Oregon Elections

I just got my mail-in ballot this weekend. Now what to do with it?

First, although I have criticized Barack Obama in the past, I intend to vote for him. My criticism of Obama has centered on my suspicion that he may not fully understand the radical nature of the fixes required for the mess our country is in. But I believe that I know McCain and Palin all too well. Four years of McCain/Palin would just create a bigger mess, one which we might not survive.

Second, in the days just before the Congressional authorization of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, I called and e-mailed both my senators and the congressman for my district to express my opposition to the bailout. I was by no means the only one who did so.

Representative Earl Blumenauer wisely voted twice to oppose the bailout. Therefore he gets my vote.

On the other hand, Senator Gordon Smith voted in favor of the bailout. I hope he doesn't need my vote to keep his job. Otherwise, he'd better start looking.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Global Warming for Evangelicals

On one of my final posts on my blog, TH in SoC, I promised to write a post on global warming. This subject is one which I am somewhat reluctant and ashamed to tackle. You see, when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior many years ago, He never forced me to have a prefrontal lobotomy or give up the use of my critical thinking skills as part of the bargain. This meant that I was free as a Christian to notice the events, trends and phenomena in the world around me, and to draw reasonable conclusions from them.

However, I noticed many years later the hijacking of the Faith to serve the ends of earthly economic and political power elites. One major way they accomplished this hijacking was by distorting Biblical Christianity so that it was turned into a justification for the actions of the elites. Thus there were such things as “Christian patriotism” as manifested in both England and the United States; the idea that certain nations were “Christian nations” because of their laws or constitutions; the notion that it was the right or duty of these so-called “Christian nations” to conquer and exploit all other nations and peoples on earth; the idea that God's only chosen economic system is laissez-faire capitalism and that all other economic arrangements are from the Devil; and the idea that it was the duty of Christians everywhere to support the elites (governments and corporations) in their actions and their wars, since it was by this that the world was becoming “safe for democracy and prosperity,” and the elites were ridding the world of people who “hate our freedoms and our faith!”

Those who teach such things say that it is the duty of Christians to unquestioningly believe all of these things, and to unquestioningly reject all other points of view, regardless of the evidence. Any notion or idea or teaching or observation which indicts the practices of Western elites is also to be dutifully rejected as well. Thus there are many parts of the Bible which are de-emphasized or glossed over or explained away by teachers of this point of view, people who are well-known as leaders in the American Religious Right. But the Bible has many things to say about the actions of the members of the Western elite class, and much of what it says is not good news for them. (In fact, they may want to take out fire insurance against the day of judgment.)

There is also strong evidence of the harm caused by the practices of these elites – evidence which proves the rightness of the Biblical condemnation of these elites. And just as the spokesmen for these elites have sought to gloss over the Biblical condemnation of their practices, they have sought to gloss over the evidence of the harm caused by their practices. Some of them, such as James Dobson and Tony Perkins, have gone to the extreme of saying that it is our Christian duty not to believe that harm is being done by these elites. The events of my personal life over the last several years have caused my eyes to be opened to the games being played in our society by economic, political and religious elites, and therefore I can see quite clearly the fallacies of those who have hijacked my faith. But I have noticed over the last several months that there are people who call themselves evangelicals and Christians who are still unquestioningly accepting the teaching which I have described above.

One example is a high school kid on my street who asked me if I believe in global warming (it was during an unusually hot day in the Pacific Northwest). When I asked him what he thought about it, he said, “Well, I'm religious – and that's why I don't believe in global warming. My pastor told us that man can't destroy the earth – only God can...” While I was outwardly polite and patient in listening to this kid, inwardly I was very angry. Why? Because it is the unquestioning promotion and acceptance of teachings such as this in the face of overwhelmingly contradictory evidence that makes Christianity look like the faith of village idiots. This is not the Christianity of the Bible, nor is it the Faith of such intelligent men as Dr. Paul Brand, C.S. Lewis, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Therefore I write now to set the record straight on at least one subject – global warming, also known as climate change – even though it is a shame to have to do so. (By the way, I like the kid I was talking to. I think he's a good kid, and bright. He's just a bit misinformed.)

Theological Arguments against Global Warming (and a Biblical rebuttal)

First, let's tackle the theological arguments against global warming. This section will be relatively short, because the job will be easy. (For those of you readers who are not Christians, I say welcome to my blog. I appreciate your readership. You may find this part to be informative, but if not, feel free to skip ahead to the scientific case for global warming.)

Spokespersons for the Religious Right use theological arguments to try to debunk global warming. Their arguments usually run thus: “People who believe in global warming say that it will cause polar ice caps to melt and flood the earth. But that can't happen, because God promised in Genesis 8:22 that He will never destroy the world by a flood again.” Or, as my teen-aged acquaintance said and as agencies like the Institute for Creation Research say, “Man can't destroy the earth; only God can.” Or if one wants to go to extremes, there is the late Jerry Falwell's statement that global warming is “Satan's attempt to redirect the church's primary focus from evangelism to environmentalism,” and that “the Bible teaches that God will maintain the earth until Christ's second coming.” (Source: “Falwell to Arms: Christians Being Duped By Global Warming,” Treehugger, 27 February 2007,

But the issue with anthropogenic global warming is that it is not about what God is doing to the earth. It's about what man is doing to the earth. Thus the first argument against global warming is a logical fallacy. It makes as much sense as saying that “God has promised in Psalm 121 to keep me from all evil. Therefore I can't be hurt if I play on the freeway!” The fact is that there is nowhere in the Bible that says that humankind cannot make a mess – even a mess of Biblical proportions. The Bible repeatedly states how the moral defilement of a people can pollute a land, and it also prohibits physical practices that can ruin a land. For instance, see what the Bible had to say about letting land lie fallow during sabbath years, and how Israelites were not to destroy all the trees of a land in which was a city being besieged by Israel. (It's in Deuteronomy.) Actually, the Old Testament has a fair amount to say about environmental stewardship.

The fact that humans can certainly make big messes is stated in Revelation 11:16-18, speaking of the Lord's final judgments at the end of this age. The passage reads, “The twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God's throne, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: 'We give You thanks, Lord God, the Almighty, the One who is and who was, because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath came, as did the time for the dead to be judged, and to give Your bondservants the prophets their reward, as well as to the saints, and those who fear your name, to the small and the great; and to destroy those who destroy the earth.'” (Emphasis added.) Here we see the clear Biblical acknowledgment of the harm mankind can do to the earth, as well as the promise of God's judgment on those who deliberately do that harm.

When faced with such a rebuttal, the only thing the Religious Right can do is to somehow argue that modern industrial society – especially modern Western industrial society – is not destroying the earth. Their spokesmen claim that the anthropogenic nature of global warming is just a theory, and that no one can prove that industrially-produced CO2 emissions have anything to do with recent weather and climate shifts. I shall therefore talk about the scientific case for global warming. (By the way, regarding Jerry Falwell's statement, I can only say that he has made many such statements over the years. It's a funny coincidence how any position of conscience which threatens the richest members of our society must be “from Satan.” I wonder what Falwell thought of James 5:1-6, or what he thinks of it now.)

Global Warming – The Scientific Evidence (A very simple explanation)

The warming of objects – whether food, houses or planetary atmospheres – involves the transfer of energy. Heat energy is transmitted from one object to another by one of three processes: radiation, convection or conduction. When those objects are separated from one another by a large distance and both objects are in a vacuum, the only means of heat transfer is by radiation. Consider two such objects: the Sun and the earth.

The Sun is a yellow dwarf star (spectral class G2 V). The earth's surface receives most of its energy from the Sun in the form of visible light. Most of that energy is not absorbed by the atmosphere, since it is transparent to visible light, although clouds do reflect light back into space. (Other spectral components such as ultraviolet light are absorbed by ozone high in the stratosphere.) Once visible light strikes the earth's surface, it is absorbed to varying degrees by the earth's surface, causing the surface to heat and emit infrared radiation.

The major components of the earth's atmosphere are transparent to infrared radiation. But certain gases absorb infrared light. These are gases such as methane, water vapor and carbon dioxide. As these gases absorb infrared light, they become hot (increased molecular energy) and re-radiate that infrared light in all directions, in addition to transferring heat to the rest of the atmosphere by conduction and convection. This raises the temperature of the earth's surface and of the surrounding atmosphere. If there were no greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the average surface temperature of the earth would be -0.4 degrees F (or -18 degrees C).

The earth's temperature is maintained by a balance between the energy absorbed by the earth-atmosphere system and the infrared energy re-radiated by the atmosphere into outer space. As the atmosphere is heated by greenhouse gases, its upper layers are heated by convection, and it is these layers which radiate infrared light back into space. As the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases, the zone of re-radiation moves higher in the atmosphere, because more heat is trapped and absorbed by the lower layers of the atmosphere. In addition, the earth's surface temperature increases, until an equilibrium state is once again reached where the heat gain from incoming solar radiation is balanced by the heat loss through re-radiation.

For the last 800,000 years, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have varied from 180 parts per million (ppm) to 270 ppm just prior to the Industrial Revolution. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, activities such as the burning of wood, coal and oil, the deforestation of land and the making of cement resulted in the liberation of large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Much of this CO2 was absorbed by the oceans, and much of it was turned into plant matter by photosynthesis, liberating oxygen in the process. However, as the Industrial Revolution quickened its pace and the burning of fossil fuels increased exponentially, the increase in atmospheric CO2 began to outpace the rate at which natural ecosystems could dispose of it. Thus atmospheric CO2 levels increased from about 313 ppm in 1960 to over 385 ppm today.

The effect of varying the amount of greenhouse gases in a planetary atmosphere can be modeled crudely by multivariable calculations involving multiple integrations and spherical coordinates. The math is relatively simple for those who know calculus, though it is somewhat involved. The effect of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions was first postulated by Svante August Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist, in 1896. Though his calculations were shown later to require refinement in order to match observed phenomena, his original conclusions were remarkably close to what is now being observed by climate scientists. The observed average temperature of the earth rose by 0.75 degrees C between 1860 and 1900, and temperatures in the lower atmosphere have increased by between 0.12 and 0.22 degrees C per decade since 1979, according to satellite temperature measurements. 1998 and 2005 were two of the warmest years on record, worldwide, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. According to the NASA GISS, the 14 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1990.

Effects of Global Warming

This is a complex subject; however, the effects of global warming are real and are already being felt, from the increasing size and severity of wildfires in the forested regions of the United States and other countries, to the increasing length and severity of heat waves experienced in populated areas. Other effects include increases in severity and number of storms, shifts in migratory patterns of birds and other animals, loss of plant and animal habitats, shifts in crop growing seasons and growing conditions leading to loss of harvests (such as in Australia), and melting of glaciers.

One particularly dangerous effect is the beginning of the thawing of Arctic permafrost. This permafrost contains billions of tons of trapped methane, and methane is a greenhouse gas several times more powerful than carbon dioxide. If thawing were to release large amounts of methane into the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect would be greatly amplified, leading to very destructive and chaotic changes in global climate. Evidence exists that in 2008, large releases of methane from the Siberian tundra had begun to occur.

Is global warming then a sign of the coming end of the world? I don't know. Nobody knows. After all, the Good Book says of that question, “But no one knows of that day and hour, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” – Matthew 24:36. It may be the end, or it may simply be the beginning of a really big mess that we will all have to live with for a very long time. (How many of you have ever read A Canticle for Leibowitz?) One thing I do know, however. Global warming is a sign that mankind is making a mess of this world. The perpetrators and perpetuators of this mess are the rich elites of the First World. Living responsibly and lightly upon the earth is required of those who would be good stewards of God's creation, yet this sort of life is an affront to the rich masters of our present system, because it endangers their bottom line.

These rich masters have done all they can to persuade most of us to continue our present lifestyle of dependence on the breaking system known as the “official” economy, and have even attempted to use religion to legitimize that dependence, by telling us that it is our God-given right and duty to live this way, and that “Christians must not believe in global warming!” Such propaganda may well serve to help people justify lifestyles of excessive and increasing consumption by persuading them that there are no earthly consequences to such a lifestyle. Yet believers in such propaganda may well find themselves one day being held accountable for helping to destroy the earth.


For further information, read the publications of Dr. James E. Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Dr. Pushker A. Kharecha, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Their contact information is on the NASA GISS website. Also, feel free to visit the website of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And for more simple, understandable explanations, there is always Dr. Jason Bradford of Global Public Media at

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Libertarian Lifeboat

I'd like to take a break from considering alternatives to our present breaking corporatist economic and societal systems, in order to tell a couple of stories that need to be told. Also, I have taken a number of pictures of people over the last several weeks, promising those whom I photographed that I would post their pictures on future installments of The Well Run Dry. So, God willing, the next two posts will tell needful stories, and the following post will have pictures relating to bicycle transportation.

The story I am about to tell you is one I heard a few years ago. It is a very strange illustration of the potential for bizarre human behavior. It took place several years back, aboard a double-bottomed, Handy-sized sea-going bulk cargo ship whose name escapes me at the moment. The ship was old, and had seen many voyages, some through very severe weather, both in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Its crew was a volatile mix of quirky, memorable types and experienced, wise, level-headed men. One of the strangest and most quirky characters was the boatswain (or bos'un for the nautical initiates), a big-boned, burly, sandy-haired, square-jawed man of indeterminate age.

The bo'sun was a fearsome sight to the deck crew whom he supervised as he directed sharp glances all around, swiveling his large head on his bull neck while barking commands, muscular biceps flexed as he rested his large hands on his hips. Those who crossed him usually did it only once, as the punishment he dealt was swift and severe. Aside from giving orders, he almost never talked to any other shipmates. This was unusual, since the three licensed officers on board were quite friendly with all the crew, figuring that pleasant voyages contributed to crew effectiveness.

The bo'sun tended to keep to himself when not on duty or at meals, preferring to remain in his quarters rather than mix with the crew. Almost no one ever saw the inside of his quarters, but the one or two crewmen who were able to get a glimpse said that on one wall was a Confederate Rebel flag, and that there was a bookcase underneath containing books such as The Politician by Robert W. Welch; The Way Things Ought To Be and See, I Told You So, by Rush Limbaugh; and Robert Lewis Dabney: The Prophet Speaks by Doug Phillips, along with several copies of The New American, a magazine published by the John Birch Society. He also had a life-sized poster of Rush next to an old VCR with which he frequently played a battered copy of Birth of a Nation. (At times while on watch, other crew members could hear him muttering scenes of the movie from memory.) Somehow amid all the clutter, he had also managed to stash 250 pounds of cast iron free weights, a couple of dumbbell bars and a barbell bar, all of which he used religiously.

His physical training served him well on the particular voyage we are now considering – a voyage that took the ship from the tropics up into the North Pacific during the height of typhoon season. The ship was carrying a load of some grain – rice, I think – and its course carried it right into the path of a tropical depression that was also moving north. The loading of the rice had been supervised by a junior officer without much experience, and as a result, the cargo settled, then began to shift as the ship ran into increasingly rough weather. The depression strengthened into a storm that grew into a typhoon, and began to produce dangerous rogue waves. Most of the crew had experienced typhoons before, and they were therefore not terribly worried, until two rogue waves hit the ship within five minutes of each other and caused her to heel hard to port. This caused the cargo to shift dangerously, making the vessel list. Then a third rogue wave hit and downflooded the engine room, causing the ship to go dead in the water.

The vessel's situation was now serious. Yet even at this point she might have been saved if the engineer had been able to restore power quickly. But by this time the ship, which was old as has been mentioned before, began to suffer the effects of corrosion and metal fatigue as the pounding of the storm proved to be too much for her. Within thirty minutes of losing power the front hold began to flood, and the flooding quickly spread to hold number two. By the time the crew realized their peril it was too late for many to escape. Only one lifeboat could be launched in the minutes before the ship sank, and those who were lucky enough to be nearby piled into it in whatever condition they found themselves, with whatever possessions they happened to be carrying. It was night when she sank.

The dawn revealed that seven men had survived out of a crew of twenty-four. Amid somewhat calmer weather, they looked at each other with mostly frightened eyes. There were two able seamen, the second officer, an oiler, the steward's assistant, an ordinary seaman, and the bo'sun. The steward's assistant shivered in the wind and rain, as he hadn't had time even to put his clothes on before the sinking. One of the able seamen had been able to don a survival suit, as had the bo'sun. The second officer had a fractured leg. The ordinary seaman had suffered a concussion. All were badly shaken – except for the bo'sun.

He had managed to grab several items before getting into the lifeboat. His stash consisted of a number of blankets, some tins of meat, water and hardtack, several Army-style can openers, a solar still, an emergency fishing rod, a knife and a first aid kit. In all he must have carried over a hundred pounds of supplies with him into that boat. Of course, this was in addition to the supplies with which the lifeboat was normally stocked. The other survivors cheered up greatly when they saw the bo'sun's stash in addition to the lifeboat's regular supplies. But their cheer was short-lived.

The steward's assistant spoke first. “Hey there, bo'sun,” he said, “could you pass me one of those blankets? I was in bed when the ship started to sink.” One of the able seamen said, “Say, bo'sun, the second officer's in bad shape. Is there any Advil we could give him?” The oiler chimed in and said, “Oh, no! The launch of the lifeboat caused us to lose all of the can openers in the boat's survival kit. Hey, bo'sun, could you spare an extra?”

Their requests died away into silence as the bo'sun merely stared at them for several seconds. Then he spoke. “You're not expecting a handout, are you? That's socialism!” He spat derisively over the side of the boat. “I earned what I have by my own effort,” he continued. “I won't give handouts, but I will let you earn the privelege to use what I have. That's what our Founding Fathers believed in.”

Now the rest of the survivors were silent in their turn, staring with shocked faces at the bo'sun. Finally, the able seaman who had asked about the Advil spoke again. “But that's totally wacked out, bo'sun!” he shouted. “Look at the second officer! He's in no shape to earn anything! Why are you being a jerk?” An instant later, the bo'sun's fist crashed into his jaw and he crumpled to the bottom of the lifeboat.

Now hear this,” said the bo'sun in a low, dangerous voice. “I don't give free rides to anybody. If you don't pull your own weight, you get nothing from me. Why, next you'll want me to socialize medical care! Ain't gonna happen. If the second officer is motivated enough, he'll do what it takes to get medicine. You who want the extra blanket!” he shouted, pointing at the steward's assistant. “If you want a blanket, get over here and grab this fishing rod. You gotta catch thirty pounds of fish. That's my price.”

Thus began the miserable journey of the survivors as ocean currents pushed them slowly northward. Needless to say, the second officer died within three days, and the others dumped his body overboard on the bo'sun's orders. The only epitaph the bo'sun spoke was to mutter about “freeloaders on society getting what they deserved.” He also muttered frequently that it was his manifest destiny to be the boss of that lifeboat.

Afterward, all the survivors were kept busy from sunup to sundown catching fish, cleaning fish, sun-drying fish and operating the solar still. In return for their labors they were allowed to eat just enough to stay alive. But the bo'sun ate his fill every day, and his stocky build began to grow chubby. By this time almost everyone in the boat was shirtless, since the weather had entirely cleared and had grown quite warm as the boat drifted out of the tropic zone into Northern Hemisphere summer conditions. The other survivors took notice of two large tattoos across the bo'sun's chest, one of which was an artist's rendition of Ayn Rand's face, and another which was a picture of a gnarled hand with the name “ADAM SMITH” written below.

The bo'sun himself noticed his increasing chubbiness, and began a two-hour regimen of calisthenics and body-weight strength-building exercises every day (although he never used his strength to do any actual work). Meanwhile the other survivors grew weaker and weaker, and one more man died. By now it was late July or early August, and though the boat had drifted north of the 35th parallel of latitude, it was still quite hot. The bo'sun was bothered by the heat, especially because it made him sweat a lot and grow thirsty during his workouts. But the solar still was slow in producing fresh water and the canned water was by now used up.

One day the bo'sun had a brilliant idea. “We're gonna do things a little different,” he said to the others. “We're all each gonna get his own space on this boat. However much space you get depends on how much you can fight for, and since I'm the strongest guy on this boat, I get the biggest space. Stay outta my space,” he said. Later that morning, he took most of the remaining blankets and made a shade covering over his newly created “space.” But still, he felt hot. Frustrated, he racked his brain for a solution. Then he smiled broadly as a new idea occurred to him. He found a hand drill and some large wood drill bits from the stash he had brought on board, and began to drill a hole in the bottom of the boat under his “space.”

The other survivors looked at him aghast. “Hey man, what are you doing??!” they all shouted at once. “I'm making a little fountain for my space, to cool my feet,” the bo'sun replied. “What's wrong, are you jealous?” “Dude,” they all shouted back, “you'll sink this boat and kill us all!” “What I do isn't gonna kill us or ruin this boat,” he growled, “and besides, what I do in my space is my business, so lay off!”

At this, the man telling the story broke off, overcome by emotion. “That dirty, selfish...” he finally said, then began coughing uncontrollably. The cough turned into a gag as our chief steward turned the man's body to the side and held a bucket up to his mouth. He retched up a last bit of swallowed seawater, then lay back on the steward's bunk, sighing deeply. The steward noticed that the man was still shivering, ten hours after being pulled from the sea. Had we not spotted him at just the right moment, things would have turned out much worse. The ship's doctor gave the man an injection, told the cook to bring more hot water bottles, and told the rest of us to let the man have some rest.

P.S.: The story I have just told is entirely false. Anyone who has actually worked on a ship can probably tell that I haven't. But I told this story in order to prevent it from coming true, if you get my drift. As a very influential Man once said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

P.P.S.: The Bo'sun in this story is a caricature of a particular ideology. Yet there are many ideologies of selfishness in the world today, and they must all be guarded against if our society is to successfully navigate the downside of Hubbert's Peak.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Safety Net Of Alternative Systems - Citizen Media

(Warning: this will be a long post. I am writing this post in a very different frame of mind than the cautiously optimistic frame I held at the end of last week, when the U.S. House of Representatives rejected the first attempt to pass President Bush's $700 billion Wall Street bailout package. That House vote had led me to believe that I still had something of a voice – that the vast majority of Americans still had a voice – in deciding the direction of our country, that our system of participatory democracy still worked, even if only somewhat.

But now the bailout package has passed both houses of Congress and has been signed into law, though some polls and surveys indicate that a majority of Americans still oppose the bailout, and a larger majority believe that it will not solve America's economic crisis. It may be that participatory democracy is essentially dead in the U.S., and that the real rulers of this country are the rich and those connected to the rich. Still, I feel the need to consider this next aspect of safety nets for the small and the poor. Who knows, it may do some good.)

The times now upon us will be very disruptive, due to such things as infrastructure breakdowns and resource shortages, the effects of natural disasters, and efforts by certain interests to capitalize on the opportunities created within society by systemic disruptions. In such times it is vital for small, regular private citizens to have access to good information and high-quality journalism, in order that they may make intelligent decisions in response to the events taking place around them. Yet over the last few decades, standard American media outlets have increasingly become unreliable as sources for useful, informative news. This is seen in recent reports of media bias, inaccurate reporting and fabricated stories. (Sources:;; It is therefore critical for small, regular private citizens to develop their own networks for obtaining news relating to the present economic, ecological and resource-based difficulties – and not just personal stories, but big-picture analysis as well.

Why You Can't Get The Straight Story Anymore

When I was growing up I used to hear that there are always two sides to every story, but the newspapers, radio and television stations available at the time carried many more sides than just two. Nowadays there is what is known as the “mainstream media,” which carries just one side to any story. Most of the outlets of the media “industry” are now owned by a handful of very rich and powerful companies. This wasn't always the case; between 1941 and 1975, the Federal Communications Commission issued a number of rules designed to insure a large number of diverse media voices by preventing the consolidation of media ownership in the hands of a few large corporations. One such rule prevented a corporation from owning both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same market. This large number of diverse voices served to raise the quality of journalism and hindered any one news outlet from easily spreading false news.

But in the 1980's, President Reagan and the Congress initiated a program of business “deregulation” that reversed the protections of the previous FCC rules. Limits on media consolidation were lifted, as were requirements for a minimum amount of “non-entertainment programming,” One particular rule that was eliminated was the “Fairness Doctrine” which required that any television or radio station that broadcast one point of view had to allow time for spokespersons for an opposing point of view to make their case.

That deregulation really accelerated during the Clinton presidency, with the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Prior to this law, a radio network could own no more than 40 stations; afterward, gargantuan networks were created, such as Clear Channel which owns over 1200 stations in all 50 states. The current President Bush has accelerated media deregulation even further, leading to the following result:

  • Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, News Corporation, Bertelsmann AG, and General Electric together own more than 90 percent of the media holdings in the United States, according to one source. (Independent verification of this statement is not possible, because information on media ownership is not in the public domain.)

  • CBS Corporation owns CBS, CBS Radio, Simon & Schuster (a book publisher) and other media assets.

  • Time Warner owns CNN, Time Magazine, AOL and other assets.

  • Rupert Murdoch owns at least two dozen newspapers, as well as Fox Networks, MySpace, Sky Television and DirecTV, among other assets.

(Sources: “Concentration of Media Ownership,” Wikipedia,; “Media Regulation Timeline,” NOW With Bill Moyers,; “Media Conglomerates, Mergers, Concentration of Ownership,” Global Issues, 29 April 2007,

Some might say that media concentration in the hands of a few corporations is not a bad thing, and that reliable news is still reaching the American public. But history is full of countries whose citizens were deprived of all sorts of news and perspectives due to concentration of media power in the hands of a small elite. One case in point is Italy under former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a media tycoon who forced Italian media to broadcast news and propaganda supporting his government. (For a source on this, see the Global Issues article cited above.)

The Story You're Not Getting

The result of this consolidation of media ownership is that most Americans are not getting the whole story on a variety of serious issues, and that when events force major media outlets to cover issues of national importance, most Americans are getting a strongly biased version of the issues. This applies to “crises” manufactured by powerful people, such as the case made for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, later events proved that the foundations of that case were largely false.

But it also applies to crises that result from accidents or acts of God. For instance, American petroleum product stocks had begun to drop even before Hurricane Gustav. But the combined effects of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike was to remove over a million barrels per day from American crude oil extraction, and to take several refineries out of service for an extended period. Gasoline shortages resulted throughout the Southeast, extending even to areas in the Midwest. There were no reports from American media for several days after shortages began to develop, and when reports finally came, many initial reports contained statements from state government officials denying that there was any problem. To this day, no one in the media has presented a clear picture of the extent of the problem, and most information presented is merely anecdotal.

This sort of coverage is as bad as media coverage of an accident in Minot, North Dakota in 2002 in which a train filled with anhydrous ammonia derailed. When authorities tried to use local radio stations to issue an alert to nearby citizens, none of the radio stations carried news of the accident. All the stations were owned by Clear Channel. The accident injured 1600 people and killed one person.

This failure of coverage extends to misdeeds committed by corporations or government agencies. In 1997, a Fox Broadcasting Company office fired two reporters for drafting a story about Monsanto's Bovine Growth Hormone. During Super Bowl XXXVIII, CBS refused to air an ad criticizing the federal budget deficit, but aired another ad from a Federal drug control agency.

There is still a strong media bias in describing the struggles and achievements of members of ethnic minorities. This is seen in how blacks are portrayed in news stories, as well as media support for targeted enforcement zones in minority neighborhoods, and the continuing belief promoted by the media that drug abuse is rampant in minority communities and much less prevalent everywhere else. (Sources: “Media and Its Portrayal of Black Americans,” The Black Image in the White Mind,; “Sirens Vs. Sirens: The Battle for 82nd, The Oregonian newspaper, 14 September 2008; “The Media's Bias Against Black Men In America,” Newsmax,; “Drug Enforcement Racist?”, The Badger Herald, 8 May 2008, This bias, combined with the “targeted enforcement” tactics of the national “war on drugs” is creating a permanent class of disenfranchised, exploited slave labor and human capital to be exploited by the prison labor and private prison industry.

American media is doing a bad job covering the breakdowns of our present market-driven economic system and the risks posed to that system by climate change and peak oil. And since most local media outlets in America are owned by national or multinational corporations, the quality of coverage by local broadcasters and papers has deteriorated. But just as foreign news outlets often presented a clearer and more informative picture of the crises caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, foreign media is also doing a better job of covering the slower breakdowns in American society caused by the credit and finance crunch. The British newspaper The Guardian has done a particularly good job of describing the blight in Elk Grove, California caused by the mortgage crash, and the continuing blight of Detroit, and has openly discussed these as signs of the fading of American prominence.

These things and many others are a sign that American mainstream media are an unreliable source of news. People in the 1950's and 1960's could get the necessary information for informed decisions by reading the Los Angeles Times or Herald Examiner, or by watching Huntley and Brinkley or Walter Cronkite on television. But nowadays it is not enough to watch TV news or read most major American papers, and those who rely solely on these as sources of information haven't exercised “due diligence” in their decision-making process. Those who rely on mainstream media are being programmed to continue to rely on our breaking American system while fed a constant stream of reassurances that the system continues to work, and are being dissuaded from preparing alternatives for themselves. While this sort of programming benefits the rich masters of the system, it doesn't help people to adjust to sudden breakdowns such as those that occurred with gasoline after the recent hurricanes.

The Solution: Making Your Own Media

Thomas Jefferson once said, “The only security of all is in a free press.” Yet the agencies which we call “the press” in the U.S. are no longer free. This creates a crisis of legitimacy for the official mainstream media when people see things happening with their own eyes, yet find that their stories go distorted or unreported by the mainstream media. The rise of citizen media addresses this crisis of legitimacy.

Motivated citizen journalists can establish themselves as reliable sources of news, as long as they're willing to put some effort into their work and to produce an excellent product. In fact, by good work and excellence they may even establish themselves as a more reliable source of news than the mainstream media. Citizen journalists have a variety of new tools at their disposal. The blog is the easiest to implement, followed by the podcast, the video log, and the community newspaper. Blogs can be started for free. (Google's Blogger site has tools which can produce a very attractive blog that is easy to maintain and free of charge.) The other methods will of course cost more. The means used by any one citizen or group of citizens will depend on the amount of money, equipment and time at their disposal. But whatever the means used, it must be implemented with excellence.

For instance, someone may want to start a community blog. Such a person should establish the geographical boundaries which he or she can reasonably expect to cover during the time they can afford for gathering news. Next, when writing stories, the blogger must make sure that every detail is factually accurate. This cannot be stressed enough. No one will take you seriously if you don't get your facts straight. Grammar, punctuation and spelling are also very, very important. “If you cant spel rite, youl loose readerz!” (And just in case nobody caught it, “loose” should be spelled as “lose” in the previous sentence.) Your aim is to employ as many means as possible to get readers to take you seriously, to establish yourself as someone who knows what he or she is talking about.

If you have a digital camera, use it. When covering issues of concern in your community, be sure to take pictures and post them on your blog. Pictures and quotes humanize the subjects of your blog in the minds of your readers, and reinforce your message. And when you get permission to interview someone or take their picture, tell them the Web address of your blog and that they should expect to see themselves online shortly. It will boost your readership!

Podcasts and video logs (such as amateur YouTube clips) are also useful tools, but they require special equipment and time devoted to learning how to use that equipment. There are good books on these media forms, such as Digital Filmmaking 101 by Dale Newton and John Gaspard, Filmmaking for Teens by Troy Lanier and Clay Nichols, and Podcasting Now! by Andrew J. Dagys with John Hedtke. These are good references for those with the necessary time and equipment, although I realize that money for such equipment is probably tight for most people right now.

A group of citizen journalists can found a community newspaper. Publishing a hard-copy paper requires computers, software and an inexpensive printing house, as well as postage and staffers to mail papers, so this is not for the faint of heart. One good example of a community newspaper is the Fullerton Observer (, a paper founded by Ralph Kennedy in 1978. Sharon Kennedy is the current editor. Her newspaper has published stories relating not only to Fullerton, California, but also to global warming, peak oil, the Iraq war, and the development of advanced crowd control technologies by the Federal government. She relies on a loose cadre of volunteer writers and columnists for many of the articles published each month. (She doesn't know this yet, but I may ask her one day if I can interview her further about the details of running a community newspaper.)

Lastly, there is the combination of two or more forms of electronic media into a multimedia presentation designed to highlight an issue that needs attention. This was done in 2007 by a team of “alternate reality game writers” who created the World Without Oil “game” website ( with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. World Without Oil is described as an alternate reality game, but I tend to think of it as much more of a collaboratively written story than a game. It powerfully illustrates some of the societal breakdowns that could occur from a sudden shortfall in world crude oil availability (those living in the Southeast might want to check out the WWO website and compare its projections and stories to their own experiences in the aftermath of this year's hurricanes). WWO was a major influence on the decisions I made early in 2007 in my preparations for a post-Peak future. Collaborative multimedia presentations such as WWO can be an influential tool in raising public awareness of community and societal issues.

Concerned small private citizens can thus provide themselves with a voice and a means to tell the necessary stories that are swept under the rug by our mainstream media. But there is an urgency to this; citizen journalists must act quickly to start making their voices heard. You – be the teller of the story that must be told.