Bioneers By the Bay: Strategies for World Survival
For three days in October, 2005, over 500 Northeast-based visionaries and activists came together in Dartmouth, Massachusetts to map out not only the world’s environmental problems, but creative and achievable solutions and new ways to go forward. One of 17 regional Bioneers gatherings held concurrently around the United States, Bioneers By the Bay was transformative.
Spirit and Vision: Finding Our Power in a Challenging World
- Julia Butterfly Hill, Friday
- Callum Grieve
- Kita Sullivan
- Lynn Margulis
- Anna Lappé
- John Lash
- Peter ForbesMake Personal Choices/Redesign the Systems: Visionary Yet Practical Steps Toward the Future we Want
- Julia Butterfly Hill, Saturday
- Jonathan Todd
- Energy Design
- Dennis Whittle
- Susan Witt
- Rob Williams
- Gunter PauliConfront the Problems: Peak Oil, Polluters, Consumption, and Sprawl
- John Holdren
- Paul Cronin
- Juliet Schor
- Jim Kunstler
Confront the Problems: “Global Roasting,” Peak Oil, Polluters, Consumption, and Sprawl
John Holdren: The “Roasted World” of Unchecked Climate Change: What the Numbers Actually Mean
Issues that Energy Policy Must Address
People may not be interested in gigajoules [measurement of energy], but they’re interested in a comfortable room, a cold beer, and the security of our society.. Energy is intimately connected to all of that.
Energy policy must have multiple aims:
- Economics: reliably meet fuel and electricity needs, limit costs, limit vulnerability, help provide the basis for increasing prosperity to new areas.
- Environmental: improve air quality, avoid nuclear accidents and waste management mishaps, limit impact on fragile ecosystems, limit greenhouse gas emissions and their contribution to climate change.
- Security: minimize dangers of conflict over resources, avoid spread of nuclear weapons, reduce vulnerability to terrorist attack, avoid energy blunders that create or perpetuate deprivation.Problems With Every Known Energy Source
These aims are often in tension with one another. There’s no silver bullet. No known energy option is free of significant liabilities. Oil and gas? not enough fuel. Coal, tar sands, oil shale? not enough atmosphere. Biomass? not enough land. Wind & hydro? not enough sites. PV? not enough money. Fission? too unforgiving. Fusion? too difficult. Hydrogen? A carrier, not a source—like electricity, it has to be manufactured from something—either sunlight, nuclear, coal, or oil. End-use efficiency? Needs users who are paying attention.
The Two Hardest Pieces: Oil and Climate.
- How do we reduce the economic vulnerability that arises from our oil dependence, as well as balance-of-payments and foreign policy liabilities
- How can we create in the whole world the prosperity without the disruption of global climate?Stakes are higher, more challenges for developing countries.
Oil consumption will continue to exponentially outpace domestic supply. China’s oil imports are 1/4 that of the US. Most of the demand is driven by motor vehicles. That is the 800-pound gorilla. More and more US consumption will come from OPEC.
Why Climate Change is “The Most Dangerous Human Impact”—And Why an Average Change of a Few Degrees is Catastrophic
Climate change: the most dangerous of all human impacts on the environment, because climate is the envelope within which all other environmental processes and conditions are conducted. It can badly disrupt all other environmental dimensions.
80% of civilization’s energy use today is coming from oil, coal, and natural gas—all carbon creators. They are not easily modified or replaced. $12 trillion investment worldwide. Average lifetime of an energy infrastructure is 30 years plus.
If you want the energy system in 2050 to look different, start now because you can’t transition quickly.
Climate consists of both averages and extremes. Hot and cold, wet and dry, snowpack and snowmelt, winds and storm tracks, ocean currents and upswellings, and their patterns in space and time. Differences of just a few degrees in the global average correspond to large differences in the climatic state.
Climate governs farm/forest/fishery productivity, disease, livability of cities, storm and fire damage, property losses from sea-level rise, etc.
Evidence: average temp is rising .8 degrees Celsius in the last 145 years. The 11 warmest years are all since 1990, 19 of the warmest years from 1860 on have been since 1980. The last 50 years are the warmest in the last thousand years.
Today’s greenhouse gas concentration matches perfectly the increase in ocean temperature.
Permafrost is melting, damaging powerlines, buildings, pipelines. Shallow permafrost has been melting since 1985.
Warming increases both floods and droughts/fires.
Every major glacial system is shrinking, as is the Arctic polar ice cap.
Sea level is rising. Storm;/flood damage, pre-Katrina, in the last 10 years about equals previous the 30 years.
Are Humans Really the Cause?
From 1750 to 2000, human-caused increases in greenhouse gasses and particulates has been 10 times that from solar fluctuations. CO2 alone is 5 times the sun’s effects.
Over the last 1000 years, the correlation from first deforestation and then emissions matches almost exactly. If you give a computer model only the natural forces—solar variation, volcano, you get a bad match. Check only the human factors, and it’s a better match. Put them together and it’s a nearly exact match. The rapid warming of the last 30 years is almost entirely attributable to human activity.
- A middle-of-the-road scenario, for the next 100 years
- population: 6.1 billion to 11 billion
- Economy, $45 trillion to $450 trillion
- Energy up by 400% (we are getting more efficient, so energy use grows more slowly than the economy)
- CO2 emissions from 6.4 gigatons to 20.8 gigatons
- Temperatures vastly increased, especially over the continents—4-5 degrees C (7-8 degrees F) in the mid-continent regions by mid-centuryWe will double carbon emissions by 2050, tripling by 2100. Could quadruple. Mid-continent temperatures would be up 25 degrees F. This is a roasted world and it is not manageable.
- Reduced agricultural productivity
- Increasing devastation from floods, fires, storms
- Increased ranges for tropical diseases
- Loss of biodiversity
- Property loss from sea-rise
- Drastic changes in ocean circulation patterns
- Much more rapid sea level increases than just from warming alone, 120 feet in places
- Melting near Greenland alone could raise ocean levels by two meters per century
- Florida could simply disappearAction Steps
Reducing CO2 is crucial but difficult. We can… lower population through education, health care, and reproductive rights… reduce GDP growth per person…pay for carbon emissions…increase energy efficiency…decrease carbon intensity of energy supply.
The UN says a suitable target is to stabilize at a level that would prevent dangerous interference. But it is clear we are already interfering dangerously. We need to stop by doubling CO2 from preindustrial, and even that might not be enough
How much carbon-free energy do we need to stabilize at 550 ppm? It depends on how rapidly you improve energy efficiency. If you improve by 1% a year, you need a 6-fold increase by 2050, 11-fold by 2100. If you improve at 1.5% a year, 35/8-fold. If you double the rate of improvement, you can get by just providing as much carbon-free energy by 2100 as is produced with carbon today. This will require mandatory measures, e.g., carbon tax, even to keep the target to 3 degrees C.
[A number of other recommendations were included in his slides and can probably be found at www.energycommission.org.]
Paul Cronin: Protecting the Hudson River
[Cronin, a former fisherman, was the first person named to be Hudson Riverkeeper, in 1983—which has created a model for estuary protection that many other groups have borrowed. Company-author with Robert f. Kennedy, Jr. of The River Keepers.]
Astronomers tell us there are 70 sextillion stars. If one in a million has one planet, there are 70 quintillion planets, at least. Carl Sagan said, “if any one of us was inserted randomly in the universe, the chances of living on a planet is one in a billion trillion trillion.” The chances are even more remote that such a planet could support life, have civilization—just about impossible. Habitable earth is 12% of its land. We are dependent on millions of ancestors doing precise things. So we are defying the impossible.
I was inserted into the universe in Yonkers, New York. I was part of a generation that was very different, that was taught to stay away from the Hudson because it was dirty. What fascinated me was that I could stand on the shore and look at another state, and I imagined another boy looking from there.
I volunteered for Clearwater 33 years ago, with Pete on a project. Pete gets people involved. He corralled me into volunteering, 1973. You could tell what color they were painting the cars in Tarrytown by the color of the river. There were auto wrecks, oil slicks, [other polluting companies]. A small group of people imagined a different river. They had no laws, only their own determination. And they became outcasts, they were called communists, troublemakers, degenerates. But they persisted.
I got involved with this strange breed of activists, and we started investigating polluters. The first company [they investigated] had a permit for two discharges; we found 27—waste adhesive, dies, chemicals. We went into the US attorney’s office in 1974. We had bottles, a slide show. The room was filled with attorneys, they asked us all these questions, and said, “have you ever testified in front of a grand jury before? You’re going to now.” The company was indicted, the first under the Clean Water Act and Refuse Act of 1899. They got fined.
At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: get big guys in trouble. I spent most of my career doing this. This fall starts my 33rd year of work, investigating polluters: landfills, sewage plants, Bedford Correctional Facility, hundreds of polluters. My favorite case was Exxon, my first as Riverkeeper. A state trooper called and said oil tankers are going up the river to rinse themselves. I called a friend who was a producer at NBC news. I tell him, “I’ve got a great story,” but I don’t know that there actually are oil tankers. I go around a bend and there’s a 750-foot tanker with liquid pouring out of it.
[Cronin demanded that the captain explain what he was doing.] I hadn’t thought of the possibility of people listening. It’s my first time announcing myself as Riverkeeper. The captain said, “Under what authority are you asking that question?” I said, “Under the authority of the Hudson Riverkeeper.” The captain said he was discharging seawater but we could smell the petrochemicals. I asked him under what authority he was discharging, and he said under the authority of Exxon. Mark, the producer, is doing a war dance.
We took water samples. Exxon settled for millions of dollars. They were not only rinsing themselves out, but they were pirating the Hudson’s water to run refineries in Aruba.
We learned a hard lesson. I thought we wouldn’t win, I thought, ‘who’s going to stop an oil company from stealing water?’ But we won! I learned this lesson 100 times: you lose every battle you don’t fight. And the history of this country is that we as a people have deep-seated values, and we have to help people discover them.
We won not because of the law, but because the public was offended. The company was mocked as stupid and silly and unnecessary and reckless. They gave up because of people.
I’ve done a lot of hard-edge advocacy, sat across the table from every polluter you can think of.
I started to think 5 years ago about the 21st century. Is it going to be another century of fighting? But our problems are so large and complex that everybody has to participate.
Fighting General Electric on PCBs
From 1946-76, the fishermen were not allowed to fish. GE is in the business of hiring geniuses, and we have no access to them. Because they are a permanent enemy. We can’t afford permanent enemies anymore The human species has to get about the business of becoming a successful species. I don’t know how we save a global environment when we’ve got war and poverty in our own species. The 20th century was the era of environmental brawn. 21st has to be the era of environmental brains, imagination, ethics. We need so much intellect, so much brainpower. The environmental movement alone can’t do it.
First, higher education has to be brought into the picture. It’s the only institution that has a responsibility to community, to broader knowledge, to public service. That they have been absent is unacceptable.
Second, religion. People and institutions of faith have to begin weighing in. We have been lacking in ethics. Go to environmental websites and peel through those pages and find statements of ethics and values and deep-seated moral rationale, about what has to be done in this century. We don’t pass case law into future generations and change minds—we pass on ethics, values..
My friend Bob, a shad fisherman, doesn’t go out there because of law, but because of faith that the shad are returning.
As a Catholic boy, I loved all the miracle stories, especially the loaves and fishes. I came across this quote from The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy: “Rain becomes wine in our vineyards every day, and we take it as a matter of course.”
No matter what battle you’re fighting, you’re arguing with someone who’s genetically disposed to protecting the environment, understanding the miracle of nature, to do the right thing.
Humans are the only species that will go into a burning building and rescue strangers, to go to extremes to care about another species. We are all genetically disposed to do it. This is what we have to reach out to in the 21st century. It’s not about who’s right, but about how do we amass the skills, the values, the ethics. We’ll still have lawsuits, lobbying, disagreement, but we have to be about the business of making our own species work if we take on saving others.
Remember who the person across the table from you is, and communicate on that level. And the two institutions that can help us most with that are higher education and religion.
I was asked to write a letter in a time capsule for the children of 2100. I wrote the letter and it got buried in the capsule. I reread it recently:
There’s a popular saying, “if we can land a man on the moon, why can’t we…”
Our dreams for the future have changed history, and you stand on their shoulders. Watch the I have a dream speech [that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave in August, 1963], He gave words to a generation of activists that the destinies of each person are a shared destiny. That saying should begin, “If we can dream a man on the moon.” The most difficult part of a journey is to imagine the first step. If the bridge you build is built of dreams for a better world for your children’s children, [it will be a better world].
Juliet Schor: Keeping Kids from Consumerism
The next generation is essential to achieving the goals of Bioneers. How can we hope to restore the planet if what our society teaches children is the most important thing is what you own and the label on your shirt? But I’m encouraged; there’s so much more activism on this issue than there was even a year ago.
I have two children, 10 and 14, raised without TV, vegetarian, socially responsible. Many people think the culture is so dominant, there’s not much you can do as an individual.
McDonald’s and PBS teamed up with Teletubbies, which is TV for one-year-olds. And that it came through a “wholesome halo” institution, PBS, is significant; they’re at the cutting edge of commercialization.
I went to a huge NY advertising agency, as a visiting professor. I was able to visit three agencies. I still haven’t figured out how I managed to get in. I had 20 people present to me, then did 40 interviews. The aim was to find out what cutting edge strategies they’re using, how they’re approaching kids, the kinds of strategies you won’t necessarily figure out from the outside. I also did a school-based survey of 300 children ages 10-13. They are the focus of the most concerted efforts by the industry. The tween as a category is defined as 6 or 8 to 12 or 14. Marketers are thinking of 6 year-olds as between childhood and adulthood!
The survey asked, for the first time that I know of, how is their immersion in consumer culture affecting them psychologically, socially, relationships with parents.
This is the most brand-oriented generation in history, they are consuming. Even the 0-3 age is getting a barrage of marketing. There’s nowhere in the world where tweens are more brand-aware, 50% rise in shopping time. #1 aspiration is not to be a great athlete or movie star, but to be wealthy.
Commodities are increasingly influential in social standing at schools.
Kids’ direct purchasing: $5 billion in 1989, 30 billion, now. In the past, kids didn’t have money, their consumer culture was penny candy and plastic toys. As that has changed, it has become a key area for advertising. Kids have money and increasingly control what their parents are buying.
Average daily use of media is 6.21 hours, almost all electronic. TV = 3.04 hours. Add movies and videos, 4 hours. Computers, 1.02. Physical activity: 1.25.
Marketing: $15 billion in 2004, directed directly to children, up from 2B in 1999, 110 estimated commercials per day in the mid-90s, probably much higher today.
Commercials are infiltrating schools, cultural institutions, medical offices, scouts. Girl Scouts has fashion adventure badge, for going to the mall!
There are millions of kids studied by marketers every year, they live with families and video every minute of a kid’s day.
The #1 theme is cool, with the core of urban hip-hop. This is being marketed to little kids who don’t have the context. This is a shift from functional marketing (it tastes good, it’s fun) to symbolic, the social meaning of the product. It’s much more insidious because the message is you need it to be whole and complete, and you aren’t cool without it. The idea that cool and a social place in their status group is core to their identity is new and problematic.
Age compression. In the old days, kids were sold plastic makeup kits. Now they’re sold real makeup. It’s why you have sexy clothes in the 6-12 range. It’s the sale of sexuality and violence to very young children. This is why parents should be concerned.
Anti-Adultism. Nickelodeon is a huge kid brand. They have specialized in anti-adultism, the edgy attitude. The portrayals of parents, teachers and other adults: they’re the dorks, the uncool. This is a historic shift in a triangulation between the kids, parents, and marketers. In the olden days, the marketers marketed to mothers, and the mother protected the child against unhealthy/inappropriate products. Starting with Kraft in the mid-80s, Philip Morris, before they owned Kraft. A dominant strategy has been to get kids to influence parents, there’s a $700 billion market of parental/grandparental purchases influenced by children. Food, mostly, but also resort destinations, restaurants, cars. Chrysler advertises on Nick!
Increasingly, children decide what’s in the grocery cart: sugary junk. A mother said she’s fighting every battle, drugs, designer clothes, video games—food’s the one that lost. And this has meant diet deterioration. Now we have junk food-branded toys. Hershey’s, you name it.
There’s still widespread marketing of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs to kids. Health supplements will be the next big thing in children’s marketing; big pharma is already marketing to teens.
R and PG movies contain disproportionate increase in smoking. The most important factor in smoking initiation for middle school kids is exposure to smoking in movies.
Higher consumer involvement undermines well-being: higher depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem (body, academic, social), more frequent headaches, stomach aches, and boredom, more conflict with parents (more in suburban than urban areas).
It’s not that depressed kids are more consumer-involved, in fact the opposites true. But consumer involvement leads to depression.
The companies are a small number of key players, highly politically savvy. Two toy companies have virtually all the toys: Mattel and Hasbro. a few media companies, a few food companies (all of which have many brands).
But parents are waking up across the political spectrum
- Reduce or eliminate television/electronic media
- Cook healthy and tasty meals and eat together as a family
- Make outdoor space feasible for children
- Culture Jamming: Joe Chemo instead of Joe Camel (AdBusters), policy activismResources:
- newdream.org (Schor’s site)
Jim Kunstler: Geopolitical Consequences of Peak Oil
[Anti-sprawl expert, author, Geography of Nowhere, Home From Nowhere, The Long Emergency. His website features the Eyesore of the Month.]
Why would anyone want to fight to defend big-box sprawl?
My three previous books were concerned with the physical arrangement of life, the issue of suburban sprawl, the most destructive pattern the world has seen, and the worst misallocation of resources. But I’m going to talk today about global oil.
The peak and the arc of depletion that will follow—we’re unprepared and we’re sleepwalking into the future. Global production peak will change all our assumptions, compel us to do things differently whether we like it or not.
The main argument from the other side is that suburban life is a choice and therefore must be good. But that choice is coming off the menu. Aside from its logical incoherence, that choice is not going to be there anymore.
No one knows exactly when. You can only tell those things in the rear view mirror. When US production peaked in 1970, it was only obvious looking back from 1970. We are now producing 5 million barrels a day in the US, down from 10 million in 1970. These companies have to report their numbers.
The Yom Kippur War led to the oil embargo, which was effective because everyone in the world recognized that we had passed our peak, and were no longer the swing producer that could drive down the price by putting more on the market; OPEC was in that position. This was a tectonic shift in world economics. We had a very rough decade, 20% interest rates, high prices of oil and everything related to it, this strange condition of stagflation, high unemployment. We had a second oil crisis in 1979, Iran’s Islamic revolution; the 70s wee closed in desperation, and it led to the worst depression, in the 1980s, that we’d had since the 1930s. But we got over it. And a lot of Americans concluded that this was about profits, and drew the wrong conclusion about why we got over it. The 70s crises had sparked drilling and exploration in non-OPEC countries, and the North Sea (UK/Norway) and North Slope (Alaska) fields went on line, bringing prices down to $10 a barrel. This oil glut was an unfortunate illusion; it amplified the Great American Sleepwalk. These are past peak and well into depletion.
We hear a lot about technology saving us. Technology is not the same as energy, and they’re not interchangeable. And it has interesting diminishing returns. The better the technology got for extracting oil, the more efficiently we depleted the oil fields. In the meantime, England, after a 20-year oil fiesta, has become a net importer, and the implications are grim. Now we have compelling reasons to believe we have reached a global peak. Russia, 1986, Iran, US, Mexico, Venezuela, all past peak. But not Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been the great mystery. We have no access to their data, they’re not publicly held companies, and their numbers are not transparent. Over the last 12 months, Saudi Arabia seems to have lost the ability to function as the world’s swing producer. We’ve been begging them for an extra million barrels a day, and they’ve been promising, but they don’t do it. Maybe they can’t.
When the demand line crosses the supply line, that’s a pretty good sign. The hurricanes have accelerated our energy problems. We’ve seen the impacts of global warming with the peak oil problem.
The intensity and size of the hurricanes were the result of higher ocean temperatures, and that led direction to the destruction of oil platforms.
The world does not have to run out of oil or natural gas for severe instabilities to appear. All that has to happen is to reach the peak and fall steadily. This will set in motion all sots of problems in the complex systems we rely on. We already see this in the first oil-related military ventures, to pacify people in the Middle East who don’t like us.
Can we occupy? The Iraq war is only the overture to more desperate contests. China is rapidly industrializing, they are closer to the Caspian, and they can walk in. We have to imagine whether we can fight a land war in [multiple simultaneous] unfriendly countries, including China, indefinitely.
Industrialized societies will no longer enjoy the 2-7% annual growth of the last century. Investment instruments are all keyed to the expectation of growth. If deprived of the most crucial resource, that will have a tremendous impact on people’s faith in the financial instruments.
No combination of alternative fuels/systems will allow us to run the way we’re running it. We are not going to run Disney World, the Interstate highway system, and Wal-Mart on biodiesel, We’re very delusional a bout these things.
We’ve come to believe the false promise of Las Vegas, that it’s possible to get something for nothing.
We’ve been basing our growth on the building, accessorizing, and furnishing of suburban sprawl. We’ve put all of our resources of the postwar period into this enterprise, to produce a living arrangement with no future. If you subtract the sprawl economy, the housing bubble, there’s not much left in the economy besides hair cutting, fried chicken, and real estate.
We’ll discover that the American way of life will be negotiated, like it or not. History doesn’t care if we succeed or fail. The Jolly Green Giant is not going to move suburban houses closer together. But there are intelligent responses that can be described with precision.
We’re going to have downscale and resize everything we do. This is the master ecological project of our time, and we’re not prepared. It doesn’t mean we become a lesser people, but at the scale we conduct the work of everyday America, we’re going to have to fit the requirements of a post-cheap-oil age. We’re going to have to live intensely locally. The ADM (formerly called Archer Daniels Midland)/Cheese Doodle agriculture is not going to survive. The successful economies will have to be supported by local agriculture. The places that cannot do this—Phoenix, Las Vegas, our big cites—will fail. The industrial city of the 20th century may not be the appropriate scale. They will contract and redensify in their centers and waterfronts, if we’re lucky. Many cities are already contracting.
Places burdened with megaskyscrapers are in for an additional layer of trouble: NYC, Chicago. We have no idea if we can run these in a non-cheap oil/natural gas economy.
But something will be in most of these places. Our cities occupy important sites.
I have a measure of how well we’re doing: our railroad system would be an embarrassment in Bulgaria. That’s one concrete thing we can do; we have the infrastructure and knowledge, and it would give us confidence. The Democratic Party if it doesn’t get serious about this, will be marching off to the Museum of Extinct Political Parties. We rebuild the railroad system or we are in trouble.
We will make better choices or face social/economic/political disorders.
We were once brave, resourceful, honest, industrious, and earnest people, but in the last couple of decades, we’ve become fat, lazy, distracted, unserious people. We have to get over the idea that we’re entitled to a certain outcome in life,. If we can recover those elements of our collective character, be guided by the “better angels of our nature” (Lincoln). We didn’t used to seek refuge in make-believe all the livelong day. We knew the difference between wishing on a star and making things happen. I hope we can face our problems with a renewed serious open and intelligent American character.
Shel Horowitz, editor of Down to Business and Peace & Politics, has been writing about sustainability and social change for over 25 years. Click here to learn about his award-winning book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, and his campaign to change the world of business with an ethics pledge campaign.
To contact the Marion Institute, which organized the conference, Click here or call the Institute at 508.748.0816.