An Empowering 3 Day Sustainability Event

What if I were to tell you that there was an empowering 3 Day sustainability event that would change your relationships with both the planet and the people around you?

That it would include a formidable number of presenters, with a wide diversity of workshops to choose from – everything from organic agriculture and wildcrafting to natural building and appropriate technologies; from environmental remediation and disaster preparedness to community dynamics and global justice.  And all with the over-arching theme of “Permeating the Mainstream”?

And what if I were to tell you the price for this 3 Day Sustainability Event was only $75, including meals?  Accommodations are extra: $15 for camping, or $30 for dorms.

What I’m trying to lead you toward, dear reader, is to consider attending the 12th Annual Northwest Permaculture Convergence.  It all happens very soon, Oct. 5 – 7, 2012.

This year’s event is being held at Fort Flagler State Park, a 784-acre marine camping park surrounded on three sides by 19,100 feet of saltwater shoreline on Marrowstone Island in Washington state, near Port Townsend. The park rests on a high bluff overlooking Puget Sound, with views of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains. Many historic buildings remain at this 19th-century-established military fort.

For those might not think of themselves as the “permaculture type,” please consider the wide range of presentations being offered here.  I often get the impression that many people think of permaculture (if they think of it at all) as a set of fringe organic gardening techniques.  It might instead be helpful to recognize permaculture as merely sharing the common goal of  “design[ing] sustainable habitats in accordance with nature for all humans, plants, and animals.” (Borrowed from the Convergence website.)

Some of the “social permaculture” offerings this year that I’m excited about:

Paul Cereghino
Together, Not Apart: Navigating Complex Human Systems Using Ecological Analogs

Social Permaculture: Ways to tap heart and spirit to deepen bonds
Bill Aal and Bob Spivey

Peak Choice: Cooperation or Collapse
Mark Robinowitz
(an Integral Permaculture commenter, and featured on our blogroll)

Film: “Back to Eden” Community Gardening (Pt I/II)
Paul Gautschi

Edible Neighborhood Workshop
Michael Seliga

Beyond Transition Town: Creating Resilient Communities
Sharon Ferguson

Building the Story of Cascadia: New Tools for the Transition
Willi Paul

PLAN B 2012: Are you Ready?
Mike Maki

Permaculture: Expanding the Scale (Part One)
From Home Into the Neighborhood
Jan Spencer
(Jan is a good friend, and tireless advocate of working on the neighborhood scale)

Transition Economics: Accelerating Succession to Climax Economies
Chuck Estin

Entering the Labyrinth: How to Engage and Influence Urban Planning and Development
Saturday Keynote Sharon Ferguson

And many more…I didn’t mention any of the more practical, hands-on workshops, or ANY of the events happening Sunday.

Check out the website, check out the Schedule and bios of the Presenters, and consider attending.  If nothing else, you’re guaranteed to have some fun and meet some great people.


A chapter from Dan Bednarz’s forthcoming book, several important threads are woven together in this excellent analysis.

Health After Oil

Dan Bednarz

Allana Beavis

There are unprecedented and widely unappreciated dangers posed to public health, nursing, medicine and allied health professions by the ongoing global economic contraction. This is a multilayered and, frankly, emotionally difficult topic to digest. Before discussing how health systems are affected we first lay out the larger social-ecological context of modern society’s predicament. This includes a brief overview of the idea of degrowth,[i],[ii],[iii] which is a response to ecological overshoot and reaching the physical resources and ecological limits to growth, and why it must supplant growth as the cardinal metaphor of modern culture. Then we outline how the inability to perceive that the world has reached the end of growth –by mistakenly seeing the present as a Great Recession- threatens health systems.

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Community Rights vs. States Rights vs. Federal Law

Don't Tread on Me In the last post I talked about Mitt Romney’s Energy Plan, where one point was his interest in increasing states rights over federal rights to regulate.

“States rights” is an issue that has been revived by the Tea Party. See States Rights and the Growing Rebellion to get an idea of where they’re coming from.  The Repeal Amendment was introduced to Congress in 2011, stating:

“Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed.”

The Daily Kos notes that this amendment would be bad news for our country:

The purpose of the amendment is to allow states to veto any federal “law or regulation.”  Federal law is not limited to statutes and regulations but also includes treaties and our Constitution.  The Supremacy Clause of Article 6 provides that our Constitution, federal statutes and treaties constitute the supreme law of the land.  Back in 1819, the U.S. Supreme Court held that this Supremacy Clause is the essence of the balance of powers between the federal government and the states, providing that federal laws supersede conflicting state laws.  This means that state action cannot impede the federal government’s valid constitutional exercise of power.

Thus, one purpose of the Repeal Amendment is to change the balance of powers existing between the federal government and our states.

The states rights /Tea Party activists invoke the doctrine of nullification – “the idea that states have the right to unilaterally render void an act of the federal government that they perceive to be contrary to the Constitution.”  They point to the writings of Thomas Jefferson, among others, for support. See Jefferson’s Argument for Nullification and Limited Government.

Now, it is interesting to me that this line of reasoning used by Mitt Romney and used by the Tea Party – that local government can supersede federal government – sounds surprisingly similar to the arguments made by the “community rights” pro-environmental organization, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). They do not talk about states rights, but rather about “Community Rights,” superseding both state and federal law.

Friends and colleagues of mine have been working on this angle in my neck of the woods, but I have not felt comfortable with this approach.  They make this argument (CELDF Mission):

We believe that to attain sustainability, a right to local self-government must be asserted that places decisions affecting communities in the hands of those closest to the impacts. That right to local self-government must enable communities to reject unsustainable economic and environmental policies set by state and federal governments, and must enable communities to construct legal frameworks for charting a future towards sustainable energy production, sustainable land development, and sustainable water use, among others.”

Let me be clear that I’m NOT saying CELDF shares the same interests and motivations as the Romney campaign (or the Tea Party).  Far from it, they couldn’t be further apart. One side wants to use local government to overrule environmental regulations they see as too strict and burdensome, and the other side wants to use local government to enact stricter regulations that have more teeth (in fact not so much to regulate, but to actually ban activities such as fracking or coal trains).  What troubles me is that if CELDF were to be successful in achieving their goals, the outcome might be different from the original intent. As Michael Lilliquist wrote (see below), “Hyper-local democracy is a dangerous and potentially corrupting tool; you don’t want to use a tool which you would not allow others to use.”

I just don’t see local communities making better choices than those made at the state and federal level.  This may happen in isolated pockets, but by the same token you could see vast swaths of places overturning the few gains the environmental movement has achieved on the level of federal and state policies and regulations, which is exactly what the Tea Party wants to do.  As Tip Johnson, a long time local activist in my community has stated in another blog comment:

Local governments have an abhorrent record of doing the right thing. They have a long history of abusing their own, especially the poor, but anyone not in favor.  If local governments had been willing to do the right thing, federal imposition of civil rights would not have been needed.

I am personally proud of one of my local city council persons, Michael Lilliquist, who has a strong record of supporting sustainability measures, and also spearheaded a local resolution to oppose the Supreme Court “Citizen United” ruling on the rights of corporations. Lilliquist attended the CELDF democracy school, and understands and supports their critique of corporate and property based rights.  However, when a local community rights ordinance was proposed, he composed a well-reasoned letter on why he felt compelled to oppose it. Find the full text of his letter here, and the response from Coal Free Bellingham here.  He wrote, in part (I’ll post a larger excerpt in the comments below):

“Every city is not and cannot be sovereign and independent. To believe otherwise would be to undermine the very idea of the rule of common law, common justice, and common purpose. It would undermine the “we” in We the People. It would become, each community for themselves; our way or the highway. Local rejection of federal authority has a long, sordid past, known sometimes as “nullification” and put into service by racist southerners attempting to oppress and discriminate under the cloak of local democracy. Hyper-local democracy is a dangerous and potentially corrupting tool; you don’t want to use a tool which you would not allow others to use. The enlightened arc of history has been to expand our boundaries of shared community and values, not narrow it down city by city. The rule of law should not be thrown out so quickly. The ends do not justify the means.

…The central problem with Prop 2 is that it pits one democratically elected government against another democratically-elected government…It creates a constitutional showdown not over the issue of corporate influence or property-based rights, but rather a show-down between federal and local government. This is the wrong constitutional showdown, because a victory will bolster the dangerous states-rights agenda while not directly affecting corporation’s legal status.”

A related concern is that of  NIMBYism, where people, for example, continue to use natural gas, but oppose fracking operations in their community, or environmentalists who support alternative technology, but oppose wind turbines being sited in their communities because it might ruin some people’s view, and affect property values.  Alternatively, people like Amory Lovins and David Holmgren argue that destruction of the environment should occur in the places where people are using the resource that destroy the environment.  If we are made to suffer the consequences locally for our over-dependence on fossil fuels, maybe that would encourage us to actually reduce our consumption.  I understand Lovins once suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that if tailpipes of cars were routed so that exhaust was delivered inside the vehicles for people to breathe, only cars with zero-emission pollutants would be sold.

I’m a big believer in relocalization, but I still believe we need to work within the realm of federal laws as well as our continued connection with the world as a whole.

“This will not be an isolationist process of turning our backs on the global community. Rather it will be one of communities and nations meeting each other not from a place of mutual dependency, but of increased resilience.”
– Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook

As Jason Bradford wrote, “Relocalization is based on an ethic of protecting the Earth System–or Natural Capital– knowing that despite our cleverness, human well-being is fundamentally derived from the ecological and geological richness of Earth.”

The main feature of Relocalization, however, is not home rule government overriding federal law.  It is about building a parallel public infrastructure whose goal is “rebuilding more balanced local economies that emphasize securing basic needs. Local food, energy and water systems are perhaps the most critical to build. In the absence of reliable trade partners, whether from peak oil, natural disaster or political instability, a local economy that at least produces its essential goods will have a true comparative advantage.”

Concluding Thoughts

The Romney plan says “Only government is standing in the way of energy independence.”  CELDF says government has been hijacked by corporate interests and are standing in the way of sustainability.

To me it seems clear that CELDF’s analysis is basically correct.  A huge barrier to achieving real sustainability is the corporatocracy, and indeed the structure of the entire neoliberal global political economy that exists today.

This must change (and it will change, as this system dependent upon unending economic growth will not survive long in the post carbon civilization it is inadvertently helping to hasten on).  How to get there is where I disagree with CELDF.

This post has highlighted one area of disagreement, which is the idea that home rule “community rights” government is an effective strategy for achieving protection of the environment. I have other areas of disagreement as well, which will hopefully be addressed in future posts. However, I also want it to be clear that I applaud CELDF and its sister organizations for the degree of passion with which they stand up for the environment, and for shining a light on the concentrated power held by today’s multinational corporations.

Mitt Romney’s Energy Plan

A lot of environmental organizations are pointing out that Mitt Romney laughed about climate change during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

I don’t think it’s so funny when I’m reading every day about the current reality of a warming world. See if you laugh when you read these stories about arctic sea ice reaching a record low.

In 2011, Romney himself said:

“I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that. It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.” Source: Reuters

Romney has also just released an Energy Policy Whitepaper, which sets a goal of “North America Energy Independence by 2020.”  Chris Nedler has a nice piece on it, “Romney’s Energy Plan Follows the Money.”

In brief, I’ll mention that one of Romney’s sources is an already discredited report by oil executive (disguised as an academic) Leonardo Maugeri. The basic idea is that we’ve got plenty of oil and natural gas in North America, and if we’ll only exploit it, we can become energy independent in a few short years.  Of course, every president since Nixon has talked about energy independence, but for some reason we never  accomplish it.

I could point to hundreds of sources demonstrating why it is impossible to continue economic growth and achieve  energy independence at the same time, but the shortest way to get the point across is to share this new short video by Richard Heinberg.

Like Romney’s position on climate change, his position on ‘peak oil’ seems to have changed as a presidential candidate.  In his 2010 book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, he made the following comment:

“Many analysts predict that the world’s production of oil will peak in the next ten to twenty years, but oil expert Matt Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, presents a compelling case that Middle Eastern oil production may have already reached its peak.  Simmons bases his contention on his investigation into the highly secretive matter of the level of reserves in the Saudi oil fields. But whether the peak is already past or will be reached within a few years, world oil supply will decline at some point, and no one predicts a corresponding decline in demand. If we want America to remain strong and wish to ensure that future generations have secure and prosperous lives, we must consider our current energy policies in the light of how these policies will affect our grandchildren.” (p. 233)

The Romney Energy Agenda is as follows:

  • Empower states to control onshore energy development;
  • Open offshore areas for energy development;
  • Pursue a North American Energy Partnership;
  • Ensure accurate assessment of energy resources;
  • Restore transparency and fairness to permitting and regulation; and
  • Facilitate private-sector-led development of new energy technologies.

Romney talks about states rights because, he points out, “it now takes a shocking 307 days to receive [a federal] permit to drill a new well.”  In contrast, a state permit in North Dakota can take 10 days, or 27 days in Colorado, or 14 days in Ohio.

Romney assures us that these processes do not impose greater environmental risks.  Instead, he argues, “states are far better able to develop, adopt, and enforce regulations based on their unique resources, geology, and local concerns.”

Am I the only one just a wee bit suspicious about that claim? Apparently not. Chris Nedler comments, “the Romney plan’s pretensions to defending states’ rights are naught but a transparent effort to break down all remaining barriers to oil and gas exploration on federal lands.”  I’ll delve into this issue of local rights vs. states rights vs. national rights a bit deeper in my next post.

To the other bullet points, opening more areas up to offshore drilling is not going to help much.  Offshore production has been expanding, and as long as we’re willing to pay more and more (including paying for the environmental and climate costs) this cannot continue for a too much longer.  High oil prices makes drilling in ever deeper waters possible, but even here there are limits. The limits may be set by the next economic downturn (likely), or by geological limits.  They work in tandem.

Pursuing a North American Energy Partnership means approving the Keystone XL pipeline, and encouraging the continued development of tar sands in Canada.  Mexico, a former oil producing powerhouse, is now past it’s own peak in oil production.  Just the fact that Romney places such an emphasis on offshore oil and Canadian tar sands speaks volumes. This is what peak oil looks like: when conventional oil sources become harder to get, we then go after the difficult, high priced oil.  As Richard Heinberg points out, “It’s high oil prices that make unconventional oil worth producing in the first place.”

“Ensure accurate assessment of energy resources” – in principle this is a great idea.  There is indeed much confusion and obfuscation about the data.  Reliable data was one of the first and primary requests of the peak oil community. However, Romney’s plan is primarily geared toward allowing more exploration anywhere and everywhere.  The plan says “There is no excuse for placing any area so far off limits that its potential cannot even be determined.” The suggestion again is that too many regulations and restrictions are to blame our lack of energy independence.  The truth is, the United States has been extensively explored, and there are unlikely to be significant new findings.  It also should be recognized that energy resources do have significant environmental and climate change consequences, and each of these consequences carries financial costs as well.

Restoring “transparency and fairness” means reforming statutes and regulations that “have been seized on by environmentalists as tools to stop development altogether.” Romney wants to reverse the meager regulatory gains accomplished in the 40 years since the first Earth Day.  See above.

“Facilitate private-sector-led development…” The detail under this bullet point comes back again to “Strengthening and streamlining regulations and permitting processes…”  It encourages permitting nuclear power, and discourages subsidizing renewables (“distorting the playing field”), yet without mentioning elimination of the huge subsidies the fossil fuel industries now receive.  It has been estimated that Congress provides the oil, coal, and gas industries between $10 and $52 billion per year.

This brings us back to Chris Nedler’s article: Romney’s Energy Plan Follows the Money.

This should surprise no one since, according to Lipton and Krauss in the Times yesterday, Romney received nearly $10 million from the oil and gas industry just this week. Romney’s chief energy adviser is shale oil baron Harold Hamm, one of his top super PAC donors, who stands to benefit handsomely if Romney takes the reins. Oil and gas employees and their families are the sixth-largest source of donations to the Republican National Committee, as Jim Snyder and Kasia Klimasinska reported for Bloomberg today, and the industry as a whole is the tenth-largest contributor to the Romney campaign. The fossil-fuel tycoon Koch brothers alone have personally contributed over $60 million to Romney’s campaign.

As I detailed in my data roundup on energy industry lobbying two weeks ago, if you want to understand U.S. energy policy, all you need to do is follow the money. That is precisely what Mitt Romney is doing.

I hope to do a post like this on Barack Obama’s Energy Plan as well.  I suspect it will look more favorable than Romney’s, but please don’t expect a glowing review for Mr. Obama.  Keep in mind that Obama had a radio ad in Ohio with “a decidedly pro-coal message.

Dirty Energy Money pervades both sides of the aisle in U.S. politics.