Obama's trade deals skewered

SOURCE: Ray Songtree (kauaitruth@gmail.com)
SUBHEAD: The TPP was already going pear shaped. Whatever momentum the US had been able to create is now kaput.

By Yves Smith on 30 January 2014 for Naked Capitalism -

Image above: Harry Reid advising Barack Obama in 2013. From (http://www.jrn.com/kfdi/news/Obama-leans-on-Reid-to-gain-Senate-votes-to-reopen-government-227577611.html).

Obama made yet another pitch in State of the Union Address for his gimmies to multinationals known as the TransPacific Partnership and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Today that idea went down in flames, at least as far as getting the deals done this year are concerned. From Huffington Post:
“I’m against fast track,” [Harry] Reid told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill, before suggesting a fast-track bill introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) may not get a vote.

“We’ll see. Everyone knows how I feel about this. Senator Baucus knows, [potential backer] Sen. [Ron] Wyden knows. The White House knows.”

Indeed, Reid cautioned the president and his allies to back off.

“I think everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now,” the majority leader said.
Although Reid was known to be opposed to fast track, it’s quite another matter for him as a Democratic Congressional leader to tell Obama to take a hike. I can’t recall such frontal and public opposition to an important Administration initiative before. This is really humiliating.

And it also checkmates Obama, at least for now. From the Wall Street Journal:
Fast-track authority is seen as crucial to cementing a trade deal known as the Trans Pacific Partnership because of the reassurance it would provide negotiating partners in a last, tough round of talks. Other nations are typically reluctant to make trading concessions unless the U.S. can offer assurances that trading pacts won’t be amended or rejected at the last minute….

“You can kiss any new trade deals goodbye,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas.) “I think the majority leader’s focus is on the November elections and he doesn’t want to expose his vulnerable members to controversial votes.”
And from a later Wall Street Journal story:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke publicly with the White House Wednesday on trade policy, instantly imperiling two major international trade deals and punching a hole in one piece of the economic agenda the president outlined in his State of the Union address a day earlier.
And although it received much less media coverage, matters for Obama got even worse because Ron Wyden signaled he’s not on board either. This matters because Wyden is taking over as the chairman of the Finance Services Committee when Max Bacus becomes Ambassador to China.

The Administration absurdly tried claiming it would continue to push for fast track, otherwise known as trade promotion authority. Really? Over Reid’s dead body?

Politico contends that the Administration still has alternatives:
A blocked Senate leaves the Obama administration with two options: wait until after November’s election and try its luck with a new Congress or push for passage of the Pacific Rim deal – which is likely to contain a host of contentious provisions – while insisting that lawmakers not change a word.
But my Congressional correspondents think another gambit is more likely: to make some cosmetic changes and try to get the bill passed during the lame duck session, on the assumption that some Democrats (particularly those who are leaving office) will use the cover and change positions.

However, that cheery view assumes that the situation is static, when opposition to these bills is becoming even more pronounced. Politico again:
Reid’s comments come amid mounting Democratic opposition to the bill. On Monday, 550 labor, environmental and consumer advocacy groups – including the United Autoworkers, which has lent Obama critical backing on previous free trade pacts such as the South Korea deal – sent a letter to Congress urging them to reject the fast-track bill.
And the repudiation by Reid and the stiffening resistance to these bills won’t go unnoticed overseas. The Wikileaks publication of drafts of two critical chapters showed a wide gap between the US positions and that of many of its supposed partners.

Our reader Clive has also described how the Japanese media (and Japan is essential to the TPP being consummated) is being uncharacteristically direct in saying the US was not negotiating, and it would need to make significant concessions to reach an agreement. The TPP was already going pear shaped, and whatever sense of momentum the US had been able to create is now kaput.

Admittedly, the European trade deal is in much better shape, but the specter of a blunt rejection by Congressional leaders of the Administration’s own party may strengthen the hands of opponents. Remember, much can change in a year in politics.

So NC readers should pat themselves on the back. Your calls and e-mails to your Representatives and Senators helped deal the Administration a visible, embarrassing, and thoroughly deserved defeat. If Obama can’t deliver a deal that corporations lobbied for heavily, he’s firmly in lame duck territory.

I also hope you’ll thank your Congressmen for their opposition to these deals, and encourage them to keep up the good work. And be sure to thank Reid and Wyden. Good work!

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: TPP - Poison for Resilience 1/15/14
Ea O Ka Aina: TPP - Corporate Domination 1/13/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Obama is a corporate toady‎ 12/9/13
Ea O Ka Aina: TPP is NAFTA on steroids 11/24/13
Ea O Ka Aina: With TPP Big Pharma & GMOs gain 11/14/13
Ea O Ka Aina: TPP & GMO labeling ban 10/25/13
Ea O Ka Aina: TPP revealed once more 8/29/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Green Shadow Cabinet 6/19/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Obama & Multi-Nationals in Pacific 11/25/12

A Bargain with the Archdruid

SUBHEAD: If you want to bargain with the archdruid, I’ll accept conservation, decentralization and rehumanization.

By John Michael Greer on 31 January 2014 for the Archdruid Report  -

Image above: Life magazine cover from 7/19/68. "The Youth Communes - New ways of living confront the U.S." From (http://sk.aphelis.net/post/860229583/life-hosted-by-google-the-youth-communes-new).

My anomalous position as a writer and speaker on the future of industrial society who holds down a day job as an archdruid has its share of drawbacks, no question, but it also has significant advantages.  One of the most important of those is that I don’t have to worry about maintaining a reputation as a serious public figure. That may not sound like an advantage, but believe me, it is one.

Most of the other leading figures in the peak oil scene have at least some claim to respectability, and that pins them down in subtle and no-so-subtle ways. Like it or not, they have to know that being right about peak oil means that they might just pick up the phone one of these days and field an invitation to testify before a Senate subcommittee or a worried panel of long-range planners from the Pentagon.

The possibility of being yanked out of their current role as social critics and being called on to tell a failing industrial society how it can save itself has got to hover in front of them in the night now and then. Such reflections tend to inspire a craving for consensus, or at least for neatly labeled positions within the accepted parameters of the peak oil scene.

I can only assume that’s what lies behind the tempest in an oil barrel that’s rocked the peak oil end of the blogosphere in recent weeks, following the publication of an essay by Permaculture guru David Holmgren titled Crash on Demand.

Holmgren’s piece was quite a sensible one, suggesting that we’re past the point that a smooth transition to green tech is possible and that some kind of Plan B is therefore needed. It included some passages, though, suggesting that the best way to deal with the future immediately ahead might be to trigger a global financial crash.  If just ten per cent of the world’s population stopped using fossil fuels, he noted, that might be enough to bring the whole system down all at once.

That proposal got a flurry of responses, but only a few—Dmitry Orlov’s, predictably, was one of those few—noted the chasm that yawns between Holmgren’s modest proposal and the world we actually inhabit. 

It’s all very well to talk about ten per cent of the population withdrawing from the global economy, but the fact of the matter is that it’ll be a cold day in Beelzebub’s back yard before even ten per cent of self-proclaimed green activists actively embrace such a project, to the extent of making more than the most modest changes in their own livestyles—and let’s not even talk about how likely it is that anybody at all outside the culturally isolated fringe scene that contains today’s green subcultures will even hear of Holmgren’s call to arms.

Mind you, David Holmgren is a very smart man, and I’m quite sure he’s well aware of all this. An essay by David MacLeod pointed out that the steps Holmgren’s proposed to bring down industrial society are what he’s been encouraging people to do all along. 

It occurs to me that he may simply have decided to try another way to get people to do what we all know we need to do anyway: give up the hopelessly unsustainable lifestyles currently provided us by the contemporary industrial system, downsize our desires as well as our carbon footprints, and somehow learn to get by on the kind of energy and resource basis that most other human beings throughout history have considered normal. 

Still, a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse; as far as I can tell, Holmgren’s essay hasn’t inspired any sudden rush on the part of permaculturists and peak oil activists to ditch their Priuses in the hopes of sticking it to the Man. Instead, it veered off into debates about whether and how “we” (meaning, apparently, the writers and readers of peak oil blogs) could in fact crash the global economy.  There was a flurry of talk about how violence shouldn’t be considered, and that in turn triggered

It’s probably necessary to say a few words about that here. Effective violence of any kind is a skill, a difficult and demanding one, and effective political violence against an established government is among the most difficult and demanding kinds. I’m sorry if this offends anybody’s sense of entitlement, but it’s not simply a matter of throwing a tantrum so loud that Daddy has to listen to you, you know. 

To force a government to do your bidding by means of violence, you have to be more competent at violence than the government is, and the notion that the middle-class intellectuals who do most of the talking in the peak oil scene can outdo the US government in the use of violence would be hilarious if the likely consequences of that delusion weren’t so ghastly.

This is not a game for dabblers; people get thrown into prison for decades, dumped into unmarked graves, or vaporized by missiles launched from drones for trying to do what the people in these discussions were chattering about so blandly.

For that matter, I have to wonder how many of the people who were so free with their online talk about violence against the system stopped to remember that every word of those conversations is now in an NSA data file, along with the names and identifying details of everybody involved. The radicals I knew in my younger days had a catchphrase that’s apposite here: “The only people that go around publicly advocating political violence are idiots and agents provocateurs. Which one are you?”

Meanwhile, in that distant realm we call the real world, the hastily patched walls of peak oil denial are once again cracking under the strain of hard reality. The Royal Society—yes, that Royal Society—has just published a volume of its Philosophical Transactions devoted to peak oil; they take it seriously.  Word has also slipped into the media that in December, a select group of American and British military, business, and political figures held a conference on peak oil; they also take it seriously.

Meanwhile, air is leaking out of the fracking bubble as firms lose money, the foreign investors whose wallets have been the main target of the operation are backing away, and the cheerleading of the media is sounding more and more like the attempts to boost housing prices around the beginning of 2008.

The latest data point? Longtime peak oil researcher Jean Laherrere, who (let us not forget) successfully predicted the 2005 peak in conventional oil production well in advance, used the same modeling techniques to predict future production from the Bakken Shale. His call? A production peak in the fall of this year, with steep declines after that. He’s the latest to join the chorus of warnings that the fracking bubble is merely one more overblown financial scam moving inexorably toward a massive bust.

Of course we’ve been here before. Every few years, the mass media starts to talk about peak oil, proponents of business as usual look nervous, and those in the peak oil scene who are inexperienced enough not to remember the last few cycles of the same process start talking about the prospects of imminent victory. (Yes, I made that mistake a while back; I think we all have.)

Then the walls of denial get patched up again, the mass media scurries back to some comforting fairy tale about ethanol, wind power, biodiesel, fracking or what have you; the proponents of business as usual go back to their normal blustering, and peak oil activists who got overenthusiastic about predictions of imminent triumph end up with egg on their faces.

That’s standard for any social movement trying to bring about an unwelcome but necessary change in society. Each time around the cycle, more people get the message, and a movement smart enough to capitalize on the waves of media interest can grow until it starts having a significant influence on society as a whole.

That final step can arrive on various time scales; a successful movement for change can see its viewpoint filter gradually into the collective conversation, or there can be a sudden break, after which the movement can still be denounced but can no longer be ignored.

Glance back through the last few centuries and it’s easy to find examples of either kind, not to mention every point between those two ends of the spectrum. I’m far from sure if there’s a way to tell how peak oil activism will play out, but my hunch is that it may be closer to the sudden-break end of the spectrum than otherwise. What lies behind that hunch isn’t anything so sturdy as a headline or a new study; rather, it’s something subtle—a shift in tone in the denunciations that The Archdruid Report fields each week.

I don’t know if other bloggers share this experience, but I’ve found that internet trolls are a remarkably subtle gauge of the mass imagination. There are some trolls who only show up when a post of mine is about to go viral, and others whose tirades reliably forecast the new themes of peak oil denial three or four months in advance.

When some bit of high-tech vaporware is about to be ballyhooed as the miracle that’s going to save us all, or some apocalyptic fantasy is about to become the new reason why it’s okay to keep your middle class lifestyle since we’re all going to die soon anyway, I usually hear about it first from trolls who can’t wait to let me know just how wrong I am. It’s an interesting fringe benefit of a blogger’s job, and it’s alerted me more than once to trends worth watching.

It so happens that in recent weeks, some of the criticisms I’ve fielded have struck a distinctly new note.

I still get the classic cornucopians who insist I’m babbling pessimistic nonsense and of course we’ll all be just fine, just as I still get the apocalypse fanboys who insist that I’m ignoring the fact that the doom du jour is sure to annihilate us all, but I’m now seeing a third position—that of course it’s a crisis and we can’t just go on the way we’ve been living, a lot of things will have to change, but if we do X and Y and Z, we can keep some of the benefits of industrial society going, and I’m being too pessimistic when I suggest that no, we can’t.

Maybe everyone else in the peak oil scene has been getting these all along, but they’re new to my comments page, and they have a tone that sets them apart from the others.

To be precise, it sounds like bargaining.

I don’t imagine that anyone in the peak oil scene has missed the discussions of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of coming to terms with impending death—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—and their application to the not dissimilar experience of facing up to the death of the industrial age.

Many of us can look back on our own transits through the five stages, and I’ve long since lost track of the times I’ve heard people at a peak oil event roll their eyes and mutter the name of one of the stages to whomever is sitting next to them. For the most part, though, it’s been a matter of individuals going through their own confrontations with the death of progress at their own pace.
Maybe this is still what’s happening, but I wonder. For a very long time, even among peak oil activists, the prevailing mood was still one of denial—we can solve this, whether the solution consists of solar panels, thorium reactors, revitalized communities, permacultured forest gardens, supposedly imminent great turnings of one sort or another, or what have you.

After the 2008-2009 crash, that shifted to a mood of anger, and furious denunciations of “the 1%” and an assortment of more familiar supervillains became much more common on peak oil forums than they had been.

The rise of apocalypse fandom has arguably been driven by this same stage of anger—suicidal fantasies very often get their force from unresolved rage turned inwards, after all, and it’s likely that the habit of projecting daydreams of mass extermination onto the future is rooted in the same murky emotional soil.

If that’s indeed what’s been happening, then bargaining is the next stage.  If so, this is good news, because unlike the two stages before it or the one that follows, the stage of bargaining can have practical benefits.

If a dying person hits that stage and decides to give up habits that make her condition worse, for example, the result may be an improved quality of life during her final months; if the bargain includes making big donations to charity, the patient may not benefit much from it but the charity and the people it helps certainly will.

People under the stress of impending death try to strike bargains that range all the way from the inspiring to the absurd, though, and whether something constructive comes out of it depends on whether the bargain involves choices that will actually do some good.

If this stage is like the ones the peak oil scene seems to have transited so far, we can expect to see a flurry of earnest blog posts and comments over the next few years seeking reassurance in a manner peculiar to the internet—that is, by proclaiming something as absolute fact, then looking around nervously to see if anyone else agrees.

This time, instead of proclaiming that this or that or the other is sure to save us, or out to get us, or certain to kill us all, they’ll be insisting that this or that or the other will be an acceptable sacrifice to the gods of petroleum depletion and climate change, sufficient to persuade those otherwise implacable powers to leave us untouched.

The writers will be looking for applause and approval, and if that I think their offering might do some good, I’m willing to meet them halfway. In fact, I’ll even suggest things that I’m sure to applaud, so they don’t even have to guess.

First is Conservation.
That’s the missing piece in most proposals for dealing with peak oil. The chasm into which so many well-intentioned projects have tumbled over the last decade is that nothing available to us can support the raw extravagance of energy and resource consumption we’re used to, once cheap abundant fossil fuels aren’t there any more, so—ahem—we have to use less. 

Too much talk about using less in recent years, though, has been limited to urging energy and resource abstinence as a badge of moral purity, and—well, let’s just say that abstinence education did about as much good there as it does in any other context.

The things that played the largest role in hammering down US energy consumption in the 1970s energy crisis were unromantic but effective techniques such as insulation, weatherstripping, and the like, all of which allow a smaller amount of energy to do the work previously done by more.  Similar initiatives were tried out in business and industry, with good results; expanding public transit and passenger rail did the same thing in a different context, and so on. 

All of these are essential parts of any serious response to the end of cheap energy.  If your proposed bargain makes conservation the core of your response to fossil fuel and resource depletion, in other words, you’ll face no criticism from me.

Second is Decentralization. 
One of the things that makes potential failures in today’s large-scale industrial infrastructures so threatening is that so many people are dependent on single systems. Too many recent green-energy projects have tried to head further down the same dangerous slope, making whole continents dependent on a handful of pipelines, power grids, or what have you.

In an age of declining energy and resource availability, coupled with a rising tide of crises, the way to ensure resilience and stability is to decentralize intead: to make each locality able to meet as many of its own needs as possible, so that troubles in one area don’t automatically propagate to others, and an area that suffers a systems failure can receive help from nearby places where everything still works.

Here again, this involves proven techniques, and extends across a very broad range of human needs. Policies that encourage local victory gardens, truck farms, and other food production became standard practice in the great wars of the 20th century precisely because they took some of the strain off  overburdened economies and food-distribution systems. Home production of goods and services for home use has long played a similar role.

For that matter, transferring electrical power and other utilities and the less urgent functions of government to regional and local bodies instead of doing them on the national level will have parallel benefits in an age of retrenchment and crisis. Put decentralization into your bargain, and I’ll applaud enthusiastically.

Third is Rehumanization.
That’s an unfamiliar word for a concept that will soon be central to meaningful economic policy throughout the developed world. Industrial societies are currently beset with two massive problems:  high energy costs, on the one hand, and high unemployment on the other. Both problems can be solved at a single stroke by replacing energy-hungry machines with human workers.

Rehumanizing the economy—hiring people to do jobs rather than installing machines to do them—requires removing and reversing a galaxy of perverse incentives favoring automation at the expense of employment, and this will need to be done while maintaining wages and benefits at levels that won’t push additional costs onto government or the community.

The benefits here aren’t limited to mere energy cost savings. Every economic activity that can be done by human beings rather than machinery is freed from the constant risk of being whipsawed by energy prices, held hostage by resource nationalism, and battered in dozens of other ways by the consequences of energy and resource depletion.

That applies to paid employment, but it also applies to the production of goods and services in the household economy, which has also been curtailed by perverse incentives, and needs to be revived and supported by sensible new policies.

A rehumanized economy is a resilient economy for another reason, too:  the most effective way to maximize economic stability is to provide ample employment at adequate wages for the workforce, whose paychecks fund the purchases that keep the economy going. Make rehumanization an important part of your plan to save the world and I won’t be the only one cheering.

Those are my proposals, then: conservation, decentralization, rehumanization.  Those readers who are looking for applause for their efforts at collective bargaining with the forces driving industrial society toward its destiny now know how to get it here.

I’d like to ask you to step out of the room for the next paragraph, though, as I have a few things to say to those who aren’t at the bargaining stage just now.

(Are they gone?  Good.  Now listen closely while I whisper:  none of the things I’ve just suggested will save industrial civilization.

You know that, of course, and so do I.  That said, any steps in the direction of conservation, decentralization, and rehumanization that get taken will make the descent less disruptive and increase the chances that communities, localities, and whole regions may be able to escape the worst impacts of the industrial system’s unraveling.

That’s worth doing, and if it takes their panicked efforts to bargain with an implacable fate to get those things under way, I’m good with that.  Got it? Okay, we can call them back into the room.)

Ahem. So there you have it; if you want to bargain with the archdruid, those are the terms I’ll accept. For whatever it’s worth, those are also the policies I’d propose to a Senate subcommittee or a worried panel of long-range planners from the Pentagon if I were asked to testify to some such body.

Of course that’s not going to happen; archdruids can draw up proposals on the basis of what might actually work, instead of worrying about the current consensus in or out of the peak oil scene, because nobody considers archdruids to be serious public figures. That may not sound like an advantage, but believe me, it is one.


No Well! - No Way!

SUBHEAD: “You. Ain’t. Drilling!” yelled Louise Sausen of Haena, an outspoken opponent of the project.

By Chris D'Angelo on 29 January 2014 for The Garden Island -

Image above: Dayne Aipolani of The Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi speaks with facilitator Diane Zachary during the public meeting on the Kahili Horizontal Directional Drilled Well Project. From original article. Photo by Deniis Fujimoto.

Officials with the Kauai Department of Water came out Monday in hopes of discussing the cost-savings analysis report for the Kahili Horizontal Directional Drilled Well Project.

They never got a chance.

Instead, the aggressive crowd of more than 100 that showed up ran the show, forcing facilitators to shut down the meeting before it even started and sending a loud-and-clear message back to the DOW and its Board of Water Supply.

“You. Ain’t. Drilling!” yelled Louise Sausen of Haena, an outspoken opponent of the project.

Monday’s meeting was the latest speed bump in the saga surrounding the estimated $60 million project, which proposes drilling a 12,000-foot-long, high-elevation well in one of four locations near Mount Kahili. DOW says the project would allow the department to access high-level water, and that the cost of doing so would be made up in savings over the next 25 years.

But community members — at least those in attendance Monday — aren’t interested.

Echoing previous meetings, some voiced concerns about disrupting Kauai’s sacred mountains. Others said the proposal is an attempt to take water rights from the people of Hawaii.

“If you drill this, we’re going to prosecute you,” said Kekaha resident Dayne Aipoalani, who said he’s the Alii Nui (high chief) of the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi.

Since he started working on the project, DOW Acting Manager and Chief Engineer Kirk Saiki said people often approach him with two questions.

First, why is the department doing the project? He said the DOW has a responsibility, and obligation, to look for new water sources.

“It could be as simple as, you know, knowing where we have productive wells and drilling other wells, or it could be complicated like this project,” he said. “But that’s part of what we do. We go and we identify potential sources.”

The second question usually asked of Saiki, he said, is whether the DOW is actually going to drill the well?

In September, the board unanimously voted that the DOW’s contractors get started on an economic feasibility study, one that would justify moving forward with a full-scale environmental impact statement.

Now that the study is complete, Saiki said it is up to the department and board to decide whether to proceed with the EIS.

If they don’t, the project would be suspended.

“Right now, all we’re doing is looking at the project on paper,” Saiki said. “Are we going to drill the well? I don’t know. We haven’t determined that.”

His comment sent the meeting into a downward spiral, with community members shouting over one another.

“We’re telling you you’re not,” Sausen said. “You’re not drilling the well.”

“No wells!” another woman shouted.

At the beginning of the meeting, facilitator Diane Zachary, president of the Kauai Planning and Action Alliance, attempted to set some ground rules, including keeping comments to the cost-savings analysis report — which the department never actually presented — and being respectful of each other.

“I know that you’ll do that,” Zachary said.

She was wrong. Voices raised. Threats were made.

At one point, Aipoalani jumped out of his seat and approached the front of the room, questioning who Zachary, Saiki and others really were.

“I don’t recognize you guys on this land,” he said. “We in charge of this land, not you guys. You know who I am? I’m Alii Nui … You guys don’t have our permission. OK? We going to protect this, whatever it takes. You guys can call you guys’ police, you guys’ DLNR. But they gonna have to come see me, and us. We are the federal marshals of Hawaii. We going to protect all this.”

Then Zachary asked whether anyone in the room actually came to hear about the cost-savings report.

“No!” echoed through the room.

Shortly after, a representative of the Kingdom of Atooi posed his own question: “How much of you guys want to shut this project down?”

Cheers of approval filled the Kappa Middle School cafeteria, while rain poured down outside.

“That’s what we came to tell you,” Sausen said. “No drilling. Period. Sorry, it ain’t gonna happen.”

Finally, with emotions running high and no police officers to keep the situation under control, a visibly shaken Zachary closed the meeting, drawing cheers from the crowd.

But not before Aipoalani got a final say.

“It’s not funny. It’s not funny being desecrated in these lands. It’s not funny being oppressed. It’s not funny when you don’t listen to us,” he said. “If you don’t hear us, you will never hear our children. That’s why today we stand for our children and our people.”

Kauai County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said she attended the meeting hoping to learn about the report and project.

“Although I wasn’t able to stay for the whole thing, what I saw made me very sad because it looked like a community that was not able to talk civilly and with aloha about a very important issue,” she said.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, Saiki said the DOW was “disappointed” that it did not receive public comments on the cost-savings report.

“However, we do take what was said at the meeting seriously and we are willing to meet with individuals who are open to sharing their cultural knowledge and concerns with us,” he said. “We want to remind the public that the project is still in the preliminary stage and input is very important.”

No other public outreach meetings on the report have been scheduled and it is unclear whether the cost-savings analysis will be on the agenda for the board’s Feb. 27 meeting.

The 28-page report, released last month and prepared by Plasch Econ Pacific LLC, “evaluates the costs of various water-source alternatives,” according to a DOW release. Those alternatives include continuing to supply water from the current water-supply system, with no significant changes or upgrades, modifying the Waiahi Water Treatment Plant by adding a solar farm and related improvements to reduce energy costs and moving forward with the horizontal well.

Of the three alternatives, the report found that the well project would be the least expensive.

The Mo'o and the Well

SUBHEAD: Between my religious beliefs, and what I have learned on the technical side, I think this project should be scrapped.

By Anne Punahu on 29 January 2014 in Island Breath -

Image above: Waterfalls in Waialeale crater - The tongues of Mo'o.


This is religious, cultural and technical information gathered from my personal experience on Kaua'i.

Regarding the hearing about the cost analysis report for the Department of Water proposed horizontal drilling project into the bellies of the Great Mo'os of the crator of Wai'ale'ale, I would like to share some knowledge on this matter.

First of all, I actually read the report. I have also read several other reports, and some preliminary US Geological Survey reports as well, particularly regarding horizontal well drilling in Polynesia. Yes, there is such a report.

I have also studied the technical aspects of the actual drilling itself. As former irrigator for more then 50,000 acres here on Kaua'i, I have a small bit of technical expertise in this area.

My personal experience
But before I get into that, I would like to also mention, that I have been a consultant on projects here, at the Federal, State and County levels.  People have come here from off island to speak with me about a few of them.

One project was a well restoration in Lawai. Two individuals with PhD’s from the University of Hawaii  came to speak with me, was because of my religious practices regarding water. I have very quietly been a practitioner of the "Old Ways" for many years, quietly following the "Mo'o" belief system, which predominates on Kaua'i particularly - along with several other deities, such as Kane, Hina, and the Great Kawelo.

Because I follow this particular "sect", I was able to explain how it intertwines with the water sources on Kaua'i. As an actual practitioner of such beliefs, my knowledge regarding the intricacies of how we respect water here was valuable to them. I also expressed those beliefs at other meetings, held by those versed in such things in regards to Wailua Nui a Hoano.

I rarely if ever speak about my belief system, since it is not mainstream, and is not part of what cultural practitioners normally do. In fact when going about the duties of honoring their specific deities it is basically forbidden to do so. It is believed you risk losing personal mana if you do. It is not something you go shouting off the rooftops about.

Also, since mostly everyone is Christian, and I often go to churches for services and funerals. I find it is better to be respectful and not talk about my beliefs too much - if ever or at all.

But in this matter, I will share with you some of the main points of this particular belief system.

The Mo'o
After Papa, the great mother, gave birth to Kaua'i the great Mo'o arrived. The nine great Mo'o here on Kaua'i  came with the great Pele. Mo'o were both male and female, and of those that came to Kaua'i,  five were female, and four were male. Hence the belief that Kaua'i gender was female.

This meant that the female bloodlines here were the strongest and purest, the Pio or pure bloodlines. It still is, to my eyes and my belief occurring ever day just in this manner.

Each Mo'o has name, and that name is the name of each of the major ridge-lines on Kaua'i. Their great noses meet at the summit of mount Wai'aleale, where the Alaka'i swamp form, and from which emerges the great Heiau of Kane.

The great heads of the Mo'o form the top of Koke'e, and the mists surrounding it. The Po'aiai, are the breath from the mouths of the Mo'o coming from the cool uplands.

The bellies of the Mo'o are the fattest parts of the mountain ridges, and the shadows of the clouds going over the surfaces of the bellies is believed to show the movement or the “walking” and “shifting” of their bodies.

Where the Mo'o feet would stand, lay the great fortresses, and largest homesteads of the Hawaiian ali'i. Underneath the tails, where Mo'o give birth, were the most sacred birthing areas, and the great Mo'o tails were the whipping of the sands, throughout the seasons as they shifted.

That is why Wailua area became such a sacred birthing area, as the Great Mo'o, the original one to first reach Kaua'i is that ridge line, hence it is called, Kua-Mo'o, or the spine or back of the Mo'o.

The tongues of all of the Mo'o meet at mount Wai'aleale, and hang down as waterfalls to form the wailele (plunge pool). The Mo'o children the many waterfalls of Wai'aleale cone.

Mo'o Culture
The Mo'os tongue is symbolized in the shape of the great "Palaoa". The palaoa was a pendant carved from the ivory of precious sperm whale tusk. The necklass for the pendant was of  whale, bone or made from  precious woods like koa. These palaoa were worn only by the highest Ali'i.

The characteristic of someone dedicated to the Mo'o was one of leadership. They were the ones with a watchful eye on things. The wearing of the tongue shaped palaoa gave the Ali'i the right to speak, since this is the symbol of the Mo'o. Without this symbolic "tongue" worn around the neck, you had no right to speak.

Further, to speak on things, dedicating yourself to the Mo'o was believed to give you mana, power and energy to do so. It was also the guardian of the "watchers', or the largest population of commoners, known as the "Maka'ainana", or the "eyes of the land", whom watched the doing of the Ali'i, served, them, and were the political arm of the population.

The Mahi'ai, or farmers often prayed to the Mo'os, to give them fresh, clean and pure water for their loi's, as it is believed when you angered a Mo'o the water would turn bad. The Mo'o permeated every part of society, and was particularly associated with the great God Kane, commonly referred to as the “God of Agriculture”.

Some islands, however, here, and across the Polynesia, have similar beliefs. It commonly believed that the original Mo'o came from Tahiti to Kaua'i.

Water is the element. Many Mo'o demigods, both male and female populate each and every waterfall and stream and waterway on Kaua'i. A Mo'o is at home in a single wai (fresh water element), although many live in the brackish areas of caves, and stream mouths, they need fresh water at least in part to live.

So, I have explained the two branches of the Mo'o clans, the mountain bodies, and the water dwelling demigods.

You may laugh at what I believe. You may think it is silly. You may think it is merely a silly fantasy and a fairytale. But this belief has been documented, expressed and believed for centuries, in actual practices, chants, mele, and mo'olelo, of which the word is directly derived from the Mo'o belief system, meaning “the Mo'o toungue”, or a “story”, as is the word for “mo'opuna”, or “many mo'o”, the poetic common term for a “grandchild”.

A person can become dedicated many ways to the mo'o beleif system. Genealogy, history, political connections, selection by a learned Kupuna, or because of a physical ailment or deformity which may give evidence that the 'Kino lau", or "body form" of a god lives within a person., or some combination of all of these. This was the way for dedication to most sects and beliefs here, and still is to this day.

Spiritual Journey
I was selected due to a physical deformity in my feet. Three almost completely sealed toes on both feet. It is hard to notice unless you look closely. Another trait that was watched for and observed, was a good speaking voice, and the drive to “speak” in public. This Kupuna (who will not be revealed here) observed me for a long time, and then approached me. They offered to teach me this belief system, because this particular kupuna had no one to pass it on too and was getting older and beginning to forget some things, and felt they didn't have much time left.

This Kupuna was ashamed to talk about it, because this person was afraid of being ridiculed, but believed that without someone to pass it on to, this person would not be able to protect their ohana, and become an aumakua after death.

I was forbidden to do some things until the Kupuna died many years go. I believe this person to be a strong aumakua who protects me to this day. I have kept to my beliefs private for many years, believing that the practice gives me the right to speak out, with good speaking voice, and to say things in a powerful manner. The knowledge of the Mo'o has been helpful to me spiritually and emotionally in my personal life. It is a true, religious practice, with its own rituals, deities and codes of behavior.

Hawaiian Pantheon
Many say that the “Hawaiian” religion is dead. It is not, nor has it ever been. The religions are varied, and legion, with many different practices and beliefs, it is unfair to lump them all together and call then the “Hawaiian religion”. There was never such a thing.

There have been a lot of religious beliefs to choose from in Hawaii, and there still is today  -  400,000 gods strong. Practitioners did not reveal whom their kumus were, and things were kept private and secretive. Kahiko practitioners, although showing in their ho'ike the prowess of their kumu, the kumu themselves never bragged. All knew who they were and whom their students were when they danced in public but allowed their students abilities to walk the walk instead.

Hula practitioners met at their own leles, and each had a small hale dedicated to their gods, and did not reveal what they did there to anyone. It was even more strict for religious practitioners. Chanters however, were fortunate in that their job was to do just that. Proclaim for the gods, and for the  Ali'i.

Hence, when Christianity came, many of the practices were something that Hawaiians could wrap their heads around. But they were not entirely absorbed so easily. Hawaiians were loose in their affiliations, and could switch allegiances to the gods on a whim. Such was the case as demonstrated by Kamehameha when he decided to dedicate himself to the cult of Ku, the war god.

Mana and speaking out
I am virtually a no one, a commoner and a person of no standing, I keep to the Mo'o belief system and stay there. It is been a great comfort to me over the years.

I would not be surprised if many think I  just appear as “talkative' or “mouthy”, or perhaps “opinionated” or “loud”.

It is what I use, to put myself out there, and speak out on the things that I believe in. This is the opposite not speaking about what gives you the ability to speak. But that is the way of the mana that I was taught.

I should state clearly that in Hawaii it is rude, and basically wrong, or “hewa” for anyone to claim that they even have personal mana. Mana is never to be discussed with anyone, as the belief is that it will be taken from you, for being arrogant.

So, in stating these things, I do not know if I will now lose this ability - lose my mana. I hope not. But it is worth it to lose the mana I have so carefully attempted to cultivate in myself to address this issue of the horizintal well proposed by the Kaua'i Department of Water.

Others could claim that you had mana, but you were never to claim it for yourself, or “self proclaim” it. That is why, the Ali'i had chanters, to do it for them. That was their purpose, to extoll the virtues and the abilities and “right to speak” of their lieges so that the Ali'i themselves would not lose their mana by proclaiming it themselves.

I do not know if this was done anywhere else but Kaua'i but this is what I was taught. But, since that is not my purpose I am hoping to be spared. so in my defense, all I can say is “e kala mai”or “excuse me” and cross my fingers for the best!

Over the last several years, I have found it necessary to express my beliefs, although many may scoff, in order to address the religious importance of our water sources, and to try and protect them. Many know that it is important to protect them for religious reasons, but some may have forgotten the details of why, or just how those religious practices may have worked, or to which dieties the sources belonged.

I know I may be ridiculed for writing this, but so be it. I won't stop trying to defend my adopted belief system. I respect all religions, and I feel that mine is harmless and benign, and since I don't talk about it much whom can it hurt?

It may even help to talk about it a little. So, if you ask what exactly people want to protect about the water sources of Wai'ale'ale, then I have explained, as best I can why it is important to me, and I can speak for no one else but myself on this matter.

Technical issues of well
On the technical side of the cost analysis report, the soils of Kaua'i are older, and perhaps a bit less porous going into the bellies of the Mo'os, however, it will still require an additional chemically injected sleeve to reinforce the filter first, before stabilizing the pipe, due to the mixed component of Kaua'is geology.

The process to actually lay the pipe, the "drilling" part is actually just like fracking. One of the problems I have with it, is that the proposal goes into the artery and neck of Kaua'i.

Fracking or any break in the line or a filter failure, may cause clogging to major aquifers here, and cause an even bigger problem.

Repairing any such problem, and the remoteness of the lines, and the very real possibility that access to fixing any major problems could easily be disrupted by severe weather conditions, such as has happened in other remote areas on Kaua'i where monitoring of systems has been hampered by severe weather.

I recommend repairing and caring for the current system first, and planning development far more carefully to release the pressure on the loads. Also, catchment systems should be utilized, and water conservation efforts increased. It is obvious where the largest source of water is on Kaua'i but that doesn’t mean we need to disturb its flow, or attempt to tap it.

Further, the cost concern really has nothing to do with efficiency and all to do with Federal Lawsuits. It is stated in the report, that the DOW is concerned over chemical groundwater contamination, so they feel a sense of urgency to dig deeper for the water to avoid lawsuits at the Federal level. That is the real impetus for the project.

Also, it should be noted, that although this process has been done on a smaller scale, it has never been done on a project of this magnitude and size. It is a new technology, and the combination of horizontal drilling and water extraction has only been around since 2011.

It important to note, that the Federal Study regarding this kind of drilling has just been written and open for peer review and may not be finalized until late 2014 or 2016, which may create more stricter Federal laws when dealing with these types of practices.

In my overview, between my religious beliefs, and what I have learned on the technical side, I would say, that for right now, this project should be scrapped.

All other alternatives should be exhausted first, and the peer review federal study be thoroughly reviewed before even considering such a project.

These are my own words, throughout this writing, and not taken from some book or Wikipedia account, or someone else writing on the subject, in regards to the cultural and religious information presented This is my explanation of my knowledge as I have come to know it. It is specific only to Kaua'i and no other island. It is my experience only and I speak for no one but my own self.


See also
Ea O Ka Aina: Kahili horizontal well drilling Feb 2, 2013
Ea O Ka Aina: No to the Horizontal Well Apr 11, 2013
Ea O Ka Aina: Scoping Meeting on Horizontal Well Apr 6, 2013
Ea O Ka Aina: Kahili Vampire Project Meeting Sep 13, 2013
Ea O Ka Aina: Kahihi Horizintal Well a bad idea Sep 14, 2013
Ea O Ka Aina: Horizontal Well Presentation Sep 19, 2013
Ea O Ka Aina: This is for your own good Oct 13, 2012


Climate Change wrong top priority

SUBHEAD: "No growth" is a better subject for environmentalists and conservation professionals.

By Brian Czeck on 27 January 2014 for SteadState.org -

Image above: Llooking at these containers of consumer goods waiting for shipment from Shanghai it is easier to see the dangers to the environment from "growth" than looking up in the sky to find the dangers of "CO2 emissions". From (http://www.seanews.com.tr/article/worldship/115702/CONTAINER-volume-Asia-ECNA/).

You read that headline right, so let’s start with a disclaimer: Climate change is one of the biggest threats of the 21st century. Only idiots, ignorami, and certain categories of the insane dismiss the abundant science pointing to climate change, its causes, and its ongoing and future effects.

To stave off a pack of strawman-hungry wolves, let’s double down on the disclaiming: Climate change is an issue that warrants substantial attention. The crux of the matter is how much to prioritize it. Priorities have to be balanced, and the current balance is way out of kilter.

Environmental organizations and conservation agencies took a big gamble by putting all their beans in the top-priority pot. Yes, the perils of climate change are profound. And it’s true that planning for climate change is politically feasible, finally. The level of acceptance is “good enough for gubment work,” in the case of state and federal agencies. The same can be said for coffee-table conservation outfits like the National Wildlife Federation. Public acceptance of climate change is high enough to “work it.”

Budgets can be built around climate change. Funding can be found and grants can be grabbed without a lot of political savvy or guts. Everybody can get credit for trying to save the world without having to deal with the harsh realities of what that really takes.

Some legitimate credit belongs to those who thought prioritizing climate change might unify an environmental conservation community that has long divided its efforts among such issues as clean air, clean water, fish and wildlife conservation, and wilderness preservation.

The “envirocons,” to loosely lump all the environmental and conservation activists and professionals, have seldom reached critical mass to make a substantial difference in domestic policy. Some think climate change will rewrite the calculus of environmental politics by providing a unified front issue.

So what exactly is wrong with making climate change the top priority? First, although the political correctness of climate change is good enough for gubment work — that is, muddling around in the bureaucracy — it’s nowhere near high enough for effective law-making, and may never be.

That’s because climate change is two degrees removed from the known reality of too many Americans. It’s not like the simple problem of overhunting during the early 20th century, when the passenger pigeon went extinct. Everybody saw it, either directly or in the papers. Laws were passed and the problem was solved, at least for the remaining species.

The next major conservation problem of the 20th century was habitat loss. Again it was easy to see: the bulldozers came and the wetlands were drained, forests were cleared, prairies were plowed, etc. The ducks and geese, most noticeably, disappeared from vast areas.

Hunters (a much more prominent segment of society at the time), birdwatchers, and nature lovers in general got mad and lots of others were concerned. Laws were passed to keep the bulldozers out of the wetlands. The problem was solved, at least for the remaining wetlands, and to the extent the laws were upheld.

Climate change is different, and how. You might see its effects and sense it happening, but you don’t see climate change itself. And no matter how much you think you know about climate change, it requires dealing with a lot of uncertainty. You may have seen a hurricane, but was it caused by climate change? Maybe? To what degree? Prove it.

Even for those who can drink uncertainty with a fire hose, climate change requires connecting some challenging dots. It’s at least a two-step dance with an unwelcome partner. Step one is acknowledging that the climate is changing, and changing more rapidly than it normally might, whatever “normally” should mean. Just enough folks have taken this first step to put climate change on the political map.

But then comes step two, the connection of this abnormal pace of climate change to human economic activity. Now you’re messin’ with some minds.

For starters, there are those who simply have a difficult time understanding the concepts, and don’t feel like making the effort to begin with. While the greenhouse gas effect is simple enough, and greenhouse gases readily identified, the combinations and permutations of causes and effects are complicated enough to lose readers by the score.

Not everyone finds this stuff interesting, either. Americans love NASCAR and the Super Bowl, and find their news-hour attention riveted to mass shootings at home, terrorist activities overseas, and the latest scandal wherever. Who’s got time to read about emissions scenarios and climate modeling?

Then you’ve got the “religious wrong” preaching from evangelical pulpits that puny little man — proverbial dust in the wind — could never have an effect on God’s own climate. (Why only those godless liberals could offend God with such hubris!) We’re not talking about a handful of kooks here; the collective anti-science, anti-sustainability, holier-than-thou congregation is big enough to keep mean-spirited know-it-alls like Rush Limbaugh in business.

Then you have the millions who’ve been brainwashed into thinking that there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment. They’re a slightly more “sophisticated” crowd and more left-leaning than right. They haven’t been snowed by some pass-the-plate preacher at the big-box church, but by secular Big Money itself.

Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and their parades of politicians have been selling the public a bill of goods for decades. Starting no later than with Ronald Reagan, economic growth was supposed to be unlimited, and if we really wanted to protect the environment, or the climate, all we needed to do was grow the economy. That way we’d have enough money to throw at the problem.

This cultural landscape of very odd bedfellows is like a minefield separating climate change talk from action. (And then, if we make it through the minefield, what action do we take?)

And what about all the regular old environmental issues we felt were so urgent before we prioritized climate change? Like clean air and water, wildlife conservation, wilderness preservation, soil conservation, invasive species, Superfund, the ozone layer, green space, threatened and endangered species, environmental quality and ecological integrity at large?

We were already scrambling for scraps of funding for these issues, and now the collective scraps have been taken away to feed all the climate change research, modeling, planning, and a heavy load of education and outreach.

So then what should we prioritize to unify the envirocons and save the world? It should be obvious. The natural progression from market hunting to habitat loss was also a progression from a microeconomic issue to a meta-economic issue. The next stage in this progression is to the macroeconomic issue of economic growth. As the bumper sticker says, “Growing the economy is shrinking the planet.”

This isn’t the article to go into detail on the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Numerous authors have described that conflict in impeccable detail. Probably one paragraph is in order, though…

Economic growth means a lot more than all the good things we hear about it in the news. It’s not a gravy train or a silver bullet. To put it in dispassionate terms, economic growth means increasing production and consumption of goods and services in the aggregate. Economic growth means a growing population and/or growing per capita consumption (aka “affluence”). It means growing GDP.

It means environmental impact. It’s the underlying, overarching, all-encompassing cause behind virtually every environmental problem you can think of, including climate change in a fossil-fueled economy. Meanwhile society falls asleep to the tune of “green-growth” lullabies.

The notion of replacing those powerful hydrocarbons with “clean” fuels to support ever-growing GDP is a dream, alright. It’s the kind of dream that turns into a nightmare as the realization hits that pulling out all the stops for economic growth is a handcart to hell.

It’s tough to spot the elevated levels of greenhouse gases on the left; it’s easier to spot the trouble with runaway growth on the right.

With one paragraph on the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, the common sense should be engaged. Common sense can probably give you an inkling of the corruption of economics, too, and why economists on Wall Street and in the Fed tell you only about the benefits of economic growth without mentioning the costs, despite the fact that the costs are now exceeding the benefits for most Americans — and for virtually all their grandkids.

With the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection left to your common sense or further reading elsewhere, what’s left of this article should focus our attention on the properties of economic growth as a viable issue for government agencies as well as for NGO priorities and eventually public policy. At least five key properties separate economic growth from climate change.

First, just like market hunting and habitat loss — and unlike climate change — economic growth is readily observable.

Look around you and wherever you see an environmental problem, note the cause. It’s not a mystery. It’s “human activity” as some like to say, but even that is an inadequate phrase, lacking policy implications. Humans and their activities should not be made to sound like a blight on the planet. It’s not spiritual activity, or family activity, or civic activity that threatens our water supplies, endangers other species, and changes our climate.

To be precise, it’s human economic activity: the energy sector, agriculture, natural resource extraction, manufacturing, services. All the sectors — every single one of them in an integrated economy — plus all the infrastructure (roads, power lines, dams, etc.), plus the byproducts (pollutants including greenhouse gases) and incidental effects including climate change.

Second, economic growth can serve as an even better unifying front issue than climate change. Climate change doesn’t cause all other environmental problems or the vast majority of conservation challenges. Economic growth does.

All those issues faced by envirocons prior to climate change were being caused by an increasing population and its economic activities. Now we can add climate change to that list of the effects of a constantly growing human economy.

Fix the growth problem, and you go a long way toward fixing the climate change problem. Mountain-top removal and Keystone pipelines wouldn’t be so tempting if we weren’t hell-bent on GDP growth.

Third, economic growth is already entrenched in the American lexicon. The phrase itself elicits no immediate backlash from the pulpit, Wall Street, or conservative radio shows and politicians. Economic growth is expected to be in the news every day. It’s a welcome topic.

Now when the dialog starts, with the rest of the story about the problems caused by economic growth, debate will begin of course. But that’s exactly what we need. At least economic growth is not a non-starter, as climate change is in many circles.

Fourth, when it comes to really doing something, economic growth can be dealt with immediately at a fully developed policy table. It’s not like climate change where plenty of well-intentioned effort has manufactured almost no policy machinery.

No new conventions or treaties are needed for real effects on the rate of economic growth. At the economic policy table, fiscal, monetary, and trade policy is already being crafted, but always in pursuit of growth. This policy table is set and waiting for chairs to be occupied by experts better-informed than the usual lineup of Chicago School economists.

The need for well-rounded expertise at the economic policy table points to an immediate role for environmental bureaucrats and political appointees at the highest levels. For every economist from the Council of Economic Advisors, there should be an EPA administrator or conservation agency director explaining the costs of further growth. We need a long-overdue and ongoing discussion about the conflict between economic growth and:
  1. environmental protection, 
  2. economic sustainability, 
  3. national security, and 
  4. international stability. 
 Then lawmakers and presidents can make informed decisions about balancing economic and other goals. Hopefully in the coming decades we’ll be pursuing the establishment of a sustainable, steady state economy rather than unsustainable and increasingly destructive economic growth.

Fifth, addressing the threat of economic growth is a far more practical alternative than the wishful thinking about climate change action. This is easy to understand, but only when we remember that practicality is not a concept reserved for politics.

Just because the acceptance of climate change is good enough for gubment work doesn’t make climate change a practical matter for spending taxpayer money or NGO dues on. Prioritizing climate change is like chopping at kudzu leaves instead of the roots. It’s not going to do a significant bit of good as long as the overriding policy goal is economic growth.

In short, climate change is the wrong issue for environmentalists and conservation professionals to collectively prioritize above all others. While climate change is a legitimate threat, prioritizing climate change was driven largely by (relative) political convenience and the constant jockeying for agency funding, NGO membership dues, and foundation grants.

Meanwhile the failure to prioritize economic growth, the mother of 21st century threats, is driven by shallow political thinking and the personal interests of “leaders” getting paid the big bucks at the heads of conservation agencies and environmental NGOs.


Why does life exist?

SUBHEAD: If you shine light on random clump of atoms for long enough, don't be surprised if you get a plant.

By Natalie Wolchover on 22 January 2014 for Simons Foundation -

Image above: Jeremy England at the blackboard. From original article.

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity.

The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.

Image above: Cells from the moss Plagiomnium affine with visible chloroplasts, organelles that conduct photosynthesis by capturing sunlight. From original article.

England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

His idea, detailed in a recent paper and further elaborated in a talk he is delivering at universities around the world, has sparked controversy among his colleagues, who see it as either tenuous or a potential breakthrough, or both.

England has taken “a very brave and very important step,” said Alexander Grosberg, a professor of physics at New York University who has followed England’s work since its early stages. The “big hope” is that he has identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and evolution of life, Grosberg said.

“Jeremy is just about the brightest young scientist I ever came across,” said Attila Szabo, a biophysicist in the Laboratory of Chemical Physics at the National Institutes of Health who corresponded with England about his theory after meeting him at a conference. “I was struck by the originality of the ideas.”

Others, such as Eugene Shakhnovich, a professor of chemistry, chemical biology and biophysics at Harvard University, are not convinced. “Jeremy’s ideas are interesting and potentially promising, but at this point are extremely speculative, especially as applied to life phenomena,” Shakhnovich said.

 England’s theoretical results are generally considered valid. It is his interpretation — that his formula represents the driving force behind a class of phenomena in nature that includes life — that remains unproven. But already, there are ideas about how to test that interpretation in the lab.

“He’s trying something radically different,” said Mara Prentiss, a professor of physics at Harvard who is contemplating such an experiment after learning about England’s work. “As an organizing lens, I think he has a fabulous idea. Right or wrong, it’s going to be very much worth the investigation.”

A computer simulation by Jeremy England and colleagues shows a system of particles confined inside a viscous fluid in which the turquoise particles are driven by an oscillating force. Over time (from top to bottom), the force triggers the formation of more bonds among the particles.

At the heart of England’s idea is the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropy or the “arrow of time.” Hot things cool down, gas diffuses through air, eggs scramble but never spontaneously unscramble; in short, energy tends to disperse or spread out as time progresses.

Entropy is a measure of this tendency, quantifying how dispersed the energy is among the particles in a system, and how diffuse those particles are throughout space. It increases as a simple matter of probability: There are more ways for energy to be spread out than for it to be concentrated.

Thus, as particles in a system move around and interact, they will, through sheer chance, tend to adopt configurations in which the energy is spread out. Eventually, the system arrives at a state of maximum entropy called “thermodynamic equilibrium,” in which energy is uniformly distributed.

A cup of coffee and the room it sits in become the same temperature, for example. As long as the cup and the room are left alone, this process is irreversible. The coffee never spontaneously heats up again because the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against so much of the room’s energy randomly concentrating in its atoms.

Although entropy must increase over time in an isolated or “closed” system, an “open” system can keep its entropy low — that is, divide energy unevenly among its atoms — by greatly increasing the entropy of its surroundings.

 In his influential 1944 monograph “What Is Life?” the eminent quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger argued that this is what living things must do.

A plant, for example, absorbs extremely energetic sunlight, uses it to build sugars, and ejects infrared light, a much less concentrated form of energy. The overall entropy of the universe increases during photosynthesis as the sunlight dissipates, even as the plant prevents itself from decaying by maintaining an orderly internal structure.

Life does not violate the second law of thermodynamics, but until recently, physicists were unable to use thermodynamics to explain why it should arise in the first place. In Schrödinger’s day, they could solve the equations of thermodynamics only for closed systems in equilibrium.

In the 1960s, the Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine made progress on predicting the behavior of open systems weakly driven by external energy sources (for which he won the 1977 Nobel Prize in chemistry). But the behavior of systems that are far from equilibrium, which are connected to the outside environment and strongly driven by external sources of energy, could not be predicted.

This situation changed in the late 1990s, due primarily to the work of Chris Jarzynski, now at the University of Maryland, and Gavin Crooks, now at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Jarzynski and Crooks showed that the entropy produced by a thermodynamic process, such as the cooling of a cup of coffee, corresponds to a simple ratio: the probability that the atoms will undergo that process divided by their probability of undergoing the reverse process (that is, spontaneously interacting in such a way that the coffee warms up).

As entropy production increases, so does this ratio: A system’s behavior becomes more and more “irreversible.” The simple yet rigorous formula could in principle be applied to any thermodynamic process, no matter how fast or far from equilibrium.

“Our understanding of far-from-equilibrium statistical mechanics greatly improved,” Grosberg said. England, who is trained in both biochemistry and physics, started his own lab at MIT two years ago and decided to apply the new knowledge of statistical physics to biology.

Using Jarzynski and Crooks’ formulation, he derived a generalization of the second law of thermodynamics that holds for systems of particles with certain characteristics: The systems are strongly driven by an external energy source such as an electromagnetic wave, and they can dump heat into a surrounding bath.

This class of systems includes all living things. England then determined how such systems tend to evolve over time as they increase their irreversibility. “We can show very simply from the formula that the more likely evolutionary outcomes are going to be the ones that absorbed and dissipated more energy from the environment’s external drives on the way to getting there,” he said.

The finding makes intuitive sense: Particles tend to dissipate more energy when they resonate with a driving force, or move in the direction it is pushing them, and they are more likely to move in that direction than any other at any given moment.

“This means clumps of atoms surrounded by a bath at some temperature, like the atmosphere or the ocean, should tend over time to arrange themselves to resonate better and better with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic or chemical work in their environments,” England explained.

Image above: Frames from a computer simulation by Jeremy England and colleagues shows a system of particles confined inside a viscous fluid in which the turquoise particles are driven by an oscillating force. Over time (from top to bottom), the force triggers the formation of more bonds among the particles.

According to new research at Harvard, coating the surfaces of microspheres can cause them to spontaneously assemble into a chosen structure, such as a polytetrahedron (red), which then triggers nearby spheres into forming an identical structure.

Self-replication (or reproduction, in biological terms), the process that drives the evolution of life on Earth, is one such mechanism by which a system might dissipate an increasing amount of energy over time. As England put it, “A great way of dissipating more is to make more copies of yourself.”

In a September paper in the Journal of Chemical Physics, he reported the theoretical minimum amount of dissipation that can occur during the self-replication of RNA molecules and bacterial cells, and showed that it is very close to the actual amounts these systems dissipate when replicating.

He also showed that RNA, the nucleic acid that many scientists believe served as the precursor to DNA-based life, is a particularly cheap building material. Once RNA arose, he argues, its “Darwinian takeover” was perhaps not surprising.

The chemistry of the primordial soup, random mutations, geography, catastrophic events and countless other factors have contributed to the fine details of Earth’s diverse flora and fauna. But according to England’s theory, the underlying principle driving the whole process is dissipation-driven adaptation of matter.

This principle would apply to inanimate matter as well. “It is very tempting to speculate about what phenomena in nature we can now fit under this big tent of dissipation-driven adaptive organization,” England said. “Many examples could just be right under our nose, but because we haven’t been looking for them we haven’t noticed them.”

Scientists have already observed self-replication in nonliving systems. According to new research led by Philip Marcus of the University of California, Berkeley, and reported in Physical Review Letters in August, vortices in turbulent fluids spontaneously replicate themselves by drawing energy from shear in the surrounding fluid.

And in a paper appearing online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Michael Brenner, a professor of applied mathematics and physics at Harvard, and his collaborators present theoretical models and simulations of microstructures that self-replicate.

These clusters of specially coated microspheres dissipate energy by roping nearby spheres into forming identical clusters. “This connects very much to what Jeremy is saying,” Brenner said.

Besides self-replication, greater structural organization is another means by which strongly driven systems ramp up their ability to dissipate energy. A plant, for example, is much better at capturing and routing solar energy through itself than an unstructured heap of carbon atoms. Thus, England argues that under certain conditions, matter will spontaneously self-organize.

This tendency could account for the internal order of living things and of many inanimate structures as well. “Snowflakes, sand dunes and turbulent vortices all have in common that they are strikingly patterned structures that emerge in many-particle systems driven by some dissipative process,” he said. Condensation, wind and viscous drag are the relevant processes in these particular cases.

“He is making me think that the distinction between living and nonliving matter is not sharp,” said Carl Franck, a biological physicist at Cornell University, in an email. “I’m particularly impressed by this notion when one considers systems as small as chemical circuits involving a few biomolecules.”

If a new theory is correct, the same physics it identifies as responsible for the origin of living things could explain the formation of many other patterned structures in nature. Snowflakes, sand dunes and self-replicating vortices in the protoplanetary disk may all be examples of dissipation-driven adaptation.

England’s bold idea will likely face close scrutiny in the coming years. He is currently running computer simulations to test his theory that systems of particles adapt their structures to become better at dissipating energy. The next step will be to run experiments on living systems.

Prentiss, who runs an experimental biophysics lab at Harvard, says England’s theory could be tested by comparing cells with different mutations and looking for a correlation between the amount of energy the cells dissipate and their replication rates.

“One has to be careful because any mutation might do many things,” she said. “But if one kept doing many of these experiments on different systems and if [dissipation and replication success] are indeed correlated, that would suggest this is the correct organizing principle.”

Brenner said he hopes to connect England’s theory to his own microsphere constructions and determine whether the theory correctly predicts which self-replication and self-assembly processes can occur — “a fundamental question in science,” he said.

Having an overarching principle of life and evolution would give researchers a broader perspective on the emergence of structure and function in living things, many of the researchers said. “Natural selection doesn’t explain certain characteristics,” said Ard Louis, a biophysicist at Oxford University, in an email.

These characteristics include a heritable change to gene expression called methylation, increases in complexity in the absence of natural selection, and certain molecular changes Louis has recently studied.

If England’s approach stands up to more testing, it could further liberate biologists from seeking a Darwinian explanation for every adaptation and allow them to think more generally in terms of dissipation-driven organization.

They might find, for example, that “the reason that an organism shows characteristic X rather than Y may not be because X is more fit than Y, but because physical constraints make it easier for X to evolve than for Y to evolve,” Louis said.

“People often get stuck in thinking about individual problems,” Prentiss said. Whether or not England’s ideas turn out to be exactly right, she said, “thinking more broadly is where many scientific breakthroughs are made.”

Black Hole Weather Report

SUBHEAD: Stephen Hawking shakes up physics theory (again) saying black holes are actually gray.

By Alan Boyle on 27 January 2014 for NBCNews -

Image above: Photo of Stephen Hawking by David Parry. From original article.

British physicist Stephen Hawking earned worldwide attention for his surprising claims about black holes, and he's doing it again with a new paper claiming that "there are no black holes."

Actually, Hawking isn't denying the existence of the massive gravitational singularities that lurk at the center of many galaxies, including our own Milky Way. He's just saying the classical view of a black hole as an eternal trap for everything that's inside, even light, is wrong. In his revised view, black holes are ever so slightly gray, with a chaotic and shifting edge rather than a sharply defined event horizon.

"The absence of event horizons mean that there are no black holes — in the sense of regimes from which light can't escape to infinity," Hawking writes in a brief paper submitted to the ArXiv.org preprint database. "There are, however, apparent horizons which persist for a period of time."

Hawking's paper, titled "Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes," has kicked off a new round in the long-running debate over black holes and what happens to the stuff that falls into them. Theoretical physicists, including Hawking, have gone back and forth on this issue, known as the information paradox.

Back and forth over black holes
For decades, Hawking contended that the information that disappeared inside a black hole was lost forever. Then, in 2004, he reversed course and said the information would slowly be released as a mangled form of energy. That switch led him to pay off a bet he had made with another physicist about the fate of information in a black hole.

More recently, other physicists have suggested that there was a cosmic firewall dividing the inner region of a black hole's event horizon from the outside, and that anything falling through the event horizon would be burnt to less than a crisp. But that runs counter to the relativistic view of black holes, which holds that there should be no big difference in the laws of physics at the event horizon.

To resolve the seeming paradox, Hawking says that black holes would have "apparent horizons" — chaotic, turbulent regions where matter and energy are turned into a confusing mess. "There would be no event horizons and no firewalls," he says. Everything in a black hole would still be there, but the information would be effectively lost because it gets so scrambled up.

"It will be like weather forecasting on Earth. ... One can't predict the weather more than a few days in advance," Hawking writes.

Protests and jests
Hawking's paper wasn't peer-reviewed, but his peers are already weighing in on the accuracy of the black hole weather report.

"It is not clear what he expects the infalling observer to see," Joseph Polchinski, a pro-firewall physicist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told New Scientist. "It almost sounds like he is replacing the firewall with a chaos-wall, which could be the same thing."

"The idea that there are no points from which you cannot escape a black hole is in some ways an even more radical and problematic suggestion than the existence of firewalls," Raphael Bousso, a theoretical physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, said in Nature's online report on Hawking's paper. "But the fact that we’re still discussing such questions 40 years after Hawking’s first papers on black holes and information is testament to their enormous significance."

If the "no black holes" quote is taken out of context, it makes Hawking's claim sound kind of ridiculous — and Andy Borowitz, a humorist at The New Yorker, has turned that take into an Onion-like jab at members of Congress. "If black holes don't exist, then other things you scientists have been trying to foist on us probably don't either, like climate change and evolution," Borowitz writes in one faux quote.

Fortunately, we're getting to the point where we won't have to take any theorist's word for the existence of black (or gray) holes. Astronomers are preparing to watch a huge cloud of gas fall into the black hole at the center of our galaxy — and over the next decade, they're planning to follow through on the Event Horizon Telescope, a campaign aimed at direct observation of the galactic black hole's edge.

As for Hawking, it just so happens that this is a big month: He turned 72 years old a couple of weeks ago, and he appears to be keeping active despite his decades-long struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

And this week marks the television premiere of "Hawking," a PBS documentary about the good doctor's life and work. For still more about the world's best-known physicist, check out his recently published memoir, "My Brief History."


Nuclear Armageddon

SUBHEAD:  The first two million years of the human experience indicate that electricity 24/7 is an unneeded luxury.

By Guy McPherson on 28 January 2014 for SustainabilityShowcase -

Image above: Maslow’s pyramid chart of human Hierarchy of Needs.  Abraham Maslow developed the Hierarchy of Needs model in 1940-50s USA, and the Hierarchy of Needs theory remains valid today for understanding human motivation, management training, and personal development. From original article.

Note the absence above of electricity 24/7 from this list of human needs. I would go further and suggest that grid-tied electricity results directly from the patriarchy associated with men packing guns, but that would be off-topic for this essay.
Nuclear Armageddon is here. We’ve bought a lie about the alleged safety of nuclear energy. The lie was promoted on the basis of another lie, one we should’ve recognized immediately under the auspices of, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” The latter lie is the promise of electricity too-cheap-to-meter.

The actual cost of nuclear power goes well beyond monetary. It includes billions of human lives.

We understate risks and plow ahead with dangerously complex and transient nuclear projects because in one century we have become addicted to electricity. Ironically, the first two million years of the human experience indicate that electricity is an unneeded luxury.

What do we need? Like all organisms on Earth, we need habitat for our species. Notably, such habitat includes clean air, clean water, healthy food, the ability to maintain body temperature at a safe level, and — for most of us — a decent, loving human community. These few elements allow us not simply to survive, but to thrive. Even the Hierarchy of Human Needs developed by celebrated 20th century psychologist Abraham Maslow reflects exactly the statement above.

The nuclear threat
Since I first learned about global peak oil and its economic consequences, nuclear catastrophe has been my constant nightmare. It’s easy to imagine the world’s nuclear power plants melting down catastrophically when the monetary system fails, and failure of the electrical grid follows. Assuming we can maintain economic growth forever on a finite planet has us headed straight for global-scale disaster.

Japan, as bad as it is suffering right now, is a harbinger of far worse events ahead. And ionizing radiation is only one of many adverse artifacts of industrial civilization.

Until recently, Japan had the second-largest industrial economy in the world. It’s a country so deeply terrified of nuclear disaster that it’s taken the strongest steps to insure against natural disasters of all kinds. Yet in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011 near Fukushima Daiichi, all 13 backup diesel generators failed in plant number one.

Why were there even 13 backup diesel generators? Because, contrary to myth, nuclear power plants require external power to keep them running. And they need to keep running because if they stop running, they begin to melt down. It’s a real-life hamster-wheel, except no one gets off without serious consequences.

Imagine the horrors when the diesel stops flowing to the world’s nuclear power plants, which number more than 400. Many of these plants are found in countries with infrastructure and safety records far worse than we find in Japan. This is truly the stuff of nightmares, and the only way out is to forgo sleep.

How bad is it?
I often hear we have nothing to worry about. Ionizing radiation isn’t that big a deal. After all, people are living in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and some have proclaimed the area a haven for wildlife. Sure enough, the exclusion zone has abundant wildlife. However, no significant sampling effort has been undertaken to determine animal numbers, and a quarter century after Chernobyl melted down many species exhibit high levels of abnormalities, including potentially lethal mutations.

And just when some people thought it was safe to commission more nuclear power plants, Fukushima splashed across the headlines. The mainstream media, Japanese and American governments, and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) tell us not to worry. It’s all firmly under control. On the other hand, people with more incentive to tell the truth than these entities indicate otherwise.

Four months after nuclear disaster struck Fukushima, MSNBC tried to protect “those in power” by stifling news anchor Cenk Uygur. Nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson pointed out in October 2013 that governments were withholding the truth about stillbirths, deformities, and health defects, and were suppressing studies on deformed animals.

The scientific evidence continues to grow, with abundant signs pointing in the wrong direction for survival of humans and other species. Dr. Timothy Mousseau, with his horrific overview of nuclear nightmares in March 2013, documents the destruction and demise of animals in the Chernobyl exclusion zone as severe as extirpation (i.e., local extinction). Mousseau had this to say on Fukushima in early September 2013:

“Given the vast amounts of material that was released I think there will be measurable amounts of radioactive cesium hitting the West Coast, blanketing the West Coast for some time to come.”
In an interview with RT from August 2013, nuclear fallout researcher Christina Consolo indicated that billions of people could die from release of ionizing radiation from Fukushima alone.

The following month, Yale professor Charles Perrow concluded that events at Fukushima could lead to fission of fuel rods and, “all of humanity will be threatened, for thousands of years.”

And in October 2013, Canadian scientist David Suzuki added his voice to the conversation, calling Fukushima, “the most terrifying situation I can imagine.”

The situation is already terrifying for the 71 sailors assigned to the USS Ronald Reagan who responded to the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan for four days. They’ve reported radiation sickness and will file a lawsuit against TEPCO. At least half the sailors have contracted some form of cancer.

In early January 2014 Gordon Edwards, nuclear expert and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, concludes that four of the six reactors at Fukushima exploded, and three of the four melted down:
“They found a pool of water beside the tank that was leaking, that pool of water — they measured the radiation levels — if a person stood beside that pool of water for 1 hour, they would die of radiation poisoning.” 
 Days later, an overview of the situation at Fukushima Daiichi concluded: “There is little reason to expect anything but worsening conditions, slowly or suddenly, for years and years to come. And there is even less reason to expect anyone in authority anywhere to be more than minimally and belatedly truthful about an industry they continue to protect, no matter how many people it damages or kills.”13

Fukushima Daiichi represents a single nuclear plant. More than 400 plants exist throughout the world. They require decades to decommission, and more are being commissioned each year.

Absence of leadership
In my dreams, world leaders would act to decommission nuclear power plants instead of commissioning more of them. I’ve lived long enough to expect otherwise.

If I were king of the world for a decade — or even a day — I would immediately order a rapid but methodical shutdown and then closure of all nuclear power plants. The alternative is emergency shutdowns in myriad ways, all of them hasty and unplanned, as the world’s industrial economy continues its ongoing demise while the effects of climate change wreak daily havoc hither and yon. The results of decline and disaster are completely predictable and unimaginably horrific, and they include numerous core meltdowns and huge releases of radiation.

Perhaps we will avoid causing our own extinction via ionizing radiation in the wake of worldwide nuclear catastrophe. But such a positive outcome will only result from careful planning and strong leadership. The nuclear industry is a microcosm of industrial civilization, favoring short-term monetary profit over life on Earth. At some point, the result is carved in stone. I suspect that point draws near.

Equal inheritance
The consequences of huge unplanned releases of radiation into Earth’s atmosphere include death to many land-dwelling species on the planet. Considering the interdependencies between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, the extinction of many aquatic species would follow on the heels of extinction of terrestrial species.

Radiation is impartial. Radiation doesn’t discriminate. In short, the near-term consequences of nuclear catastrophe likely to result from collapse of the world’s industrial economy are unthinkable.

So let’s put our hearts and minds together to think of something else. Something much better. Unless you’re really into peeling skin, deformed babies, and glowing in the dark.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai's Foolish electric company 1/19/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Micro power grids in India 1/16/14