Bill Totten's Weblog

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Why Decline Matters

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (May 28 2008)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

One of the most curious blind spots in the contemporary imagination, as I have suggested more than once in these essays, can be traced in the way that the concept of decline has vanished from our collective discourse about the future. What makes this blindness even more curious is that it is a very recent thing.

A century ago the possibility that the modern western world might reach a peak, and then retrace history's familiar path down to the common fate of civilizations, was on many minds. The art of Aubrey Beardsley and the novels of Joséphin Péladan, to name only two leading figures of the Decadent movement, announced, and at times wallowed in, the approaching decline that Oswald Spengler detailed a few years later in his magisterial prose. The belief in decline was never universally held, or even a majority view - those who prophesied the imminence of Utopia through progress or violent revolution had at least as large an audience, and apocalyptic fantasies were never hard to find - but the idea was there, and commanded attention from serious thinkers.

Somewhere between the 1920s and the end of the Second World War, however, the entire concept of decline dropped out of the modern world's collective imagination. Except for a brief reprise in the wake of the converging crises of the 1970s, and a few manifestations on the far edges of today's fringe culture, it has yet to return. This odd shift in the shapes of our imagined futures demands attention from those of us who try to sense the shape of the future in advance, because if the future we get is one of decline, the results could be far more challenging than anything the more simplistic notion of sudden collapse can offer.

Decline, after all, is not a linear process. Trace the decline of the dead civilizations of the past along the dimension of time, and much more often than not it follows a complex, stairstep curve that alternates periods of crisis with respites and partial recoveries. Compare the process to the sort of sudden apocalyptic collapse that occupies so much space in the collective imagination today, and a striking result emerges: the amount of population decline and cultural loss in any given generation may be much less than would result from a single sudden catastrophe, but the overall impact of decline is much greater, and the capacity for swift recovery much less.

This seems counterintuitive, but it can easily be demonstrated by historical evidence and logic alike. Consider the Black Death in Europe. As an example of dieoff, it's hard to beat - the first terrible epidemic of 1346-1351 killed close to a third of the population of Europe, and recurring outbreaks that followed every decade or so took up to ten percent of the survivors each time - and, in the form of the peasant revolts of the late 14th century, it even managed to produce some semblance of the marauding hordes that play so large a part in contemporary survivalist fantasies. Despite the horrific death rate, the widespread social disorder, and the huge cultural impacts of the Black Death, European civilization did not collapse, or lose cultural continuity. The survivors simply picked themselves up and went on with things much as before.

Imagine a similar dieoff, or even a much more extreme one, in America today and it's not hard to see why. Let's say the most extreme versions of the peak oil survivalist thesis turnout to be correct; some crisis or other causes petroleum markets to freeze up completely, and gasoline and diesel fuel become completely unavailable; panic and looting set in, governments somehow fail to do anything about the crisis, and society unravels in a general war of all against all, with marauding hordes spilling out of the cities into nearby rural regions in a desperate quest for food. Five horrific years later, the US population has plummeted by 95%. What happens next?

The single largest resource base available to the survivors, in such a case, would be the material culture and knowledge base of pre-collapse society. All over rural America, in areas more than a few hundred miles from big urban centers, small towns and villages would remain, and those in agricultural areas with steady water supplies would likely flourish; lacking gas for their cars, after all, refugees from Chicago or Los Angeles will not make it to North Dakota, or even Iowa. Libraries, schools, and local governments would either still exist, or could be readily rebuilt; abandoned buildings and technology could be dusted off and put back to use; where renewable energy sources exist, those could be reactivated if they stopped running in the first place. Almost everyone alive after the collapse will have grown up in the pre-collapse world, and a great many of them will have learned some of the skills needed to operate a modern society. Before very long, something very like today's rural American culture would have reestablished itself, just as late medieval cultures across Europe reestablished themselves after the Black Death.

What makes so swift a recovery possible, though, is the short time span between collapse and aftermath. Consider the possibility of decline and a much less promising picture emerges. First, and most obviously, decline takes much longer. By the time the process is finished, the people who remember how an advanced civilization used to function are long in their graves, and anything perishable in the material culture they knew has long since perished. It's one thing to break into an abandoned library five years after a sudden collapse, when most of the books will be dusty but readable; it's another thing to do the same thing two hundred years after the beginning of decline, when those books not looted long ago have crumbled into sawdust because they were printed on high-acid paper, or rotted after the roof collapsed and the rains got in.

The stairstep process found in most historical examples of decline, though, is a far more potent force. Periods of crisis, in which urgent needs absorb all available resources, can go on for decades. During that time, anything not immediately relevant to the needs of the moment will likely go begging for maintenance and upkeep, if it isn't stripped for spare parts, burned as heating fuel, or destroyed in war, rioting, or any of the other common disasters that punctuate the downward arc of a civilization's lifespan. Periods of respite offer some recovery time, but then another period of crisis comes and another sorting process hits the surviving legacy of the civilization. Each period of crisis thus becomes a bottleneck through which only a fraction of a civilization's material culture and knowledge base will survive. Repeat the process often enough and very little remains. Thus, if we admit the possibility of decline, we face the possibility of a future more difficult and impoverished than a future of sudden collapse, not less so.

The cultural conserver concept I have proposed in recent weeks on this blog attempts to address that possibility. Alongside the dismal record of cultural loss during ages of decline, history also shows that a motivated minority concerned with the long view can have a disproportionate impact on the survival of cultural heritage in hard times.

Consider the survival of the Jewish people and their cultural heritage after the destruction of the Third Temple in 70 CE, and the obliteration of most of the Jewish presence in Israel over the following century. Faced with the very real risk of cultural extinction, surviving religious leaders drew on memories of the Babylonian captivity to launch one of history's most magnificently successful programs of cultural conservation. As rabbinic Judaism took shape, a very large percentage of its traditions focused explicitly on preserving Jewish religious and cultural continuity. "Why is this night different from all other nights?" asks the Passover ritual; the answer, freely interpreted, is that item bodies one of the distinctive historical experiences of the Jewish people, using potent tools of symbol and ceremony to counter the pressures toward assimilation and absorption.

Equally, the Catholic church after Rome's fall set in motion a massive salvage program that kept much of classical culture alive right through the Dark Ages. Its motives differed from those that drove the founders of rabbinic Judaism; an expanding church needed clergy literate enough to know their way around scripture, the church fathers, canon law, and the philosophical theology the Church had borrowed from Greek Neoplatonism, and this mandated the survival of the Latin literary culture that informed so much early Christian literature in the West. Thus generations of Christian schoolboys learned Latin prosody from Vergil, and acquired a taste for learning that blossomed in the great age of Christian monasticism and preserved countless cultural treasures for the future.

There are plenty of other examples, from the Sanskrit academies of India to the bardic schools of early modern Scotland, but they share a crucial feature in common with these. For a cultural tradition to survive in an age of decline, it needs to find a constituency that values it enough to put the survival of the tradition ahead of more immediate needs. In traditional Judaism, keeping the commandments isn't something to file away for future reference whenever times get hard; it comes first, even ahead of personal survival. Similarly, the Benedictine monks who spent their time copying manuscripts by hand in unheated scriptoria through the worst years of the Dark Ages could have led much easier lives outside the bare walls of their monasteries, if the glory of God had not, in their eyes, outshone all the treasures of the world.

Thus the survival of cultural heritage must draw on emotional drives potent enough to override the tyranny of immediate needs and drive the modest but unremitting daily efforts needed to keep cultural heritage intact. This is especially true of the traditions of elite culture, which typically lack any short term survival value and often require a sizeable investment of time and resources. It is above all true of modern elite culture, which has specialized in the mass production of information to such a degree that the ability to maintain adequate storage for all the knowledge our culture has amassed is already very much in doubt.

One of my readers thus responded to last week's post by asking me how her field, mathematics, might preserve some of its knowledge base for the future. That's a daunting question, for which I know no easy answers. Right now mathematicians in the more abstract and less practical branches of their field can draw a salary to pursue their researches only because a longstanding social habit encourages governments and donors to cover the costs. The same thing is true of many other branches of scholarship, and of those fine arts that haven't quite finished the process of devolving into the manufacture of high-end collectibles for the rich. Outside of university mathematics departments, it's hard to find anyone who has even heard of most of today's hot topics in math, much less anyone who would be willing to study and teach them in their off hours, for no pay, out of the sheer love of the subject.

That sort of constituency will be hard for any part of today's elite culture to find, and without it, there's a minimal chance that anything more than fragments of that culture will reach the future. Still, there is a wild card in the deck, and its name is religion. Nearly all the classic examples of cultural conservation have drawn their motivating force from religious beliefs. Is it possible that some of today's scientific and cultural heritage will find a welcome within the ambit of a present or future religious movement? Next week's post will explore these options.

John Michael Greer has been active in the alternative spirituality movement for more than 25 years, and is the author of a dozen books, including The Druidry Handbook (Weiser, 2006). He lives in Ashland, Oregon.

Bill Totten

The Anti-Empire Report (May 2008)

Read this or George W Bush will be president the rest of your life

by William Blum (May 01 2008)

Since I gave up hope, I feel better.

"More than any time in history, mankind now faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly." --Woody Allen

Food riots, in dozens of countries, in the 21st century. Is this what we envisioned during the post-World War Two, moon-landing 20th century as humankind's glorious future? It's not the end of the world, but you can almost see it from here.

American writer Henry Miller (1891-1980) once asserted that the role of the artist was to "inoculate the world with disillusionment". So just in case you - for whatever weird reason - cling to the belief/hope that the United States can be a positive force in ending or slowing down the new jump in world hunger, here are some disillusioning facts of life.

On December 14 1981 a resolution was proposed in the United Nations General Assembly which declared that "education, work, health care, proper nourishment, national development are human rights". Notice the "proper nourishment". The resolution was approved by a vote of 135-1. The United States cast the only "No" vote.

A year later, December 18 1982, an identical resolution was proposed in the General Assembly. It was approved by a vote of 131-1. The United States cast the only "No" vote.

The following year, December 16 1983, the resolution was again put forth, a common practice at the United Nations. This time it was approved by a vote of 132-1. There's no need to tell you who cast the sole "No" vote.

These votes took place under the Reagan administration.

Under the Clinton administration, in 1996, a United Nations-sponsored World Food Summit affirmed the "right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food". The United States took issue with this, insisting that it does not recognize a "right to food". Washington instead championed free trade as the key to ending the poverty at the root of hunger, and expressed fears that recognition of a "right to food" could lead to lawsuits from poor nations seeking aid and special trade provisions.{1}

The situation of course did not improve under the administration of George W Bush. In 2002, in Rome, world leaders at another UN-sponsored World Food Summit again approved a declaration that everyone had the right to "safe and nutritious food". The United States continued to oppose the clause, again fearing it would leave them open to future legal claims by famine-stricken countries. {2}

Along with petitioning American leaders to become decent human beings we should be trying to revive the population control movement. Birth rates must be radically curbed. All else being equal, a markedly reduced population count would have a markedly beneficial effect upon global warming and food and water availability (not to mention finding a parking spot and lots of other advantages). People, after all, are not eating more. There are simply more, too many people. Some favor limiting families to two children. Others argue in favor of one child per family. Still others, who spend a major part of each day digesting the awful news of the world, are calling for a limit of zero. (The Chinese government recently announced that the country would have about 400 million more people if it wasn't for its limit of one or two children per couple. {3} )

And as long as we're fighting for hopeless causes, let's throw in the demand that corporations involved in driving the cost of oil through the roof - and dragging food costs with it - must either immediately exhibit a conspicuous social conscience or risk being nationalized, their executives taken away in orange jumpsuits, handcuffs, and leg shackles. The same for other corporations and politicians involved in championing the replacement of food crops with biofuel crops or exploiting any of the other steps along the food-chain system which puts bloated income ahead of putting food in people's mouths. We're not speaking here of weather phenomena beyond the control of man, we're speaking of men making decisions, based not on people's needs but on pseudo-scientific, amoral mechanisms like supply and demand, commodity exchanges, grain futures, selling short, selling long, and other forms of speculation, all fed and multiplied by the proverbial herd mentality - a system governed by only two things: fear and greed; not a rational way to feed a world of human beings.

The Wall Street Journal reports that grain-processing giant Archer-Daniels-Midland Company said its quarterly profits "jumped 42%, including a sevenfold increase in net income in its unit that stores, transports and trades grains such as wheat, corn and soybeans ... Some observers think financial speculation has helped push up prices as wealthy investors in the past year have flooded the agriculture commodity markets in search of better returns". {4} At the same time, the French Agriculture Minister warned European Union officials against "too much trust in the free market. We must not leave the vital issue of feeding people to the mercy of market laws and international speculation." {5}

It should be noted that the price of gasoline in the United States increases on a regular basis, but there's no shortage of supply. There are no lines of cars waiting at gas stations. And demand has been falling as financially-strapped drivers cut back on car use.

Intelligence agents without borders

When Andreas Papandreou assumed his ministerial duties in 1964 in the Greek government led by his father George Papandreou, he was shocked to discover an intelligence service out of control, a shadow government with powers beyond the authority of the nation's nominal leaders, a service more loyal to the CIA than to the Papandreou government. This was a fact of life for many countries in the world during the Cold War, when the CIA could dazzle a foreign secret service with devices of technical wizardry, classes in spycraft, vital intelligence, unlimited money, and American mystique and propaganda. Many of the world's intelligence agencies have long provided the CIA with information about their own government and citizens. The nature of much of this information has been such that if a private citizen were to pass it to a foreign power he could be charged with treason. {6}

Leftist Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa declared in April that Ecuador's intelligence systems were "totally infiltrated and subjugated to the CIA", and accused senior Ecuadoran military officials of sharing intelligence with Colombia, the Bush administration's top (if not only) ally in Latin America. The previous month missiles had been fired into a camp of the Colombian FARC rebels situated in Ecuador near the Colombian border, killing about 25. One of those killed was Franklin Aisalla, an Ecuadorean operative for the group. It turned out that Ecuadorean intelligence officials had been tracking Aisalla, a fact that was not shared with the president, but apparently with Colombian forces and their American military advisers. "I, the president of the republic, found out about these operations by reading the newspaper", a visibly indignant Correa said. "This is not something we can tolerate". He added that he planned to restructure the intelligence agencies so he would have greater direct control over them. {7}

The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) is routinely referred to in the world media as "Marxist", but that designation has not been appropriate for many years. The FARC has long been basically a criminal organization - kidnapings for ransom, kidnapings for no apparent reason, selling protection services to businesses, trafficking in drugs, fighting the Colombian Army to be free to continue their criminal ways or to revenge their comrades' deaths. But Washington, proceeding from its declared ideology of "If you ain't with us, you're against us; in fact, if you ain't with us you're a terrorist", has designated FARC as a terrorist group. Every stated definition of "terrorist", from the FBI to the United Nations to the US criminal code makes it plain that terrorism is essentially a political act. This should, logically, exclude FARC from that category but, in actuality, has no effect on Washington's thinking. And now the Bush administration is threatening to add Venezuela to its list of "nations that support terrorism", following a claim by Colombia that it had captured a computer belonging to FARC after the attack on the group's campsite in Ecuador. A file allegedly found on the alleged computer, we are told, suggests that the Venezuelan government had channeled $300 million to FARC, and that FARC had appeared interested in acquiring 110 pounds of uranium. {8} What next? Chavez had met with Osama bin Laden at the campsite?

Amongst the FARC members killed in the Colombian attack on Ecuador were several involved in negotiations to free Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate who also holds French citizenship and is gravely ill. The French government and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez have been very active in trying to win Betancourt's freedom. Individuals collaborating with Chavez have twice this year escorted a total of six hostages freed by the FARC into freedom, including four former Colombian legislators. The prestige thus acquired by Chavez has of course not made Washington ideologues happy. If Chavez should have a role in the freeing of Betancourt - the FARC's most prominent prisoner - his prestige would jump yet higher. The raid on the FARC camp has put an end to the Betancourt negotiations, at least for the near future.

The raid bore the fingerprints of the US military/CIA - a Predator drone aircraft dropped "smart bombs" after pinpointing the spot by monitoring a satellite phone call between a FARC leader and Chavez. A Colombian Defense Ministry official admitted that the United States had provided his government with intelligence used in the attack, but denied that Washington had provided the weapons. {9} The New York Times observed that "The predawn operation bears remarkable similarities to one carried out in late January by the United States in Pakistan". {10}

So what do we have here? Washington has removed a couple of dozen terrorists (or "terrorists") from the ranks of the living without any kind of judicial process. Ingrid Betancourt continues her imprisonment, now in its sixth year, but another of Hugo Chavez's evil-commie plans has been thwarted. And the CIA - as with its torture renditions - has once again demonstrated its awesome power: anyone, anywhere, anytime, anything, all laws domestic and international be damned, no lie too big.

"After such knowledge, what forgiveness?" --T S Eliot

Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington on April 28, during which he was asked about his earlier statement that the US government had invented the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, "as a means of genocide against people of color".

Wright did not offer any kind of evidence to support his claim. Even more important, the claim makes little sense. Why would the US government want to wipe out people of color? Undoubtedly, many government officials, past and present, have been racists, but the capitalist system at home and its imperialist brother abroad have no overarching ideological or realpolitik need for such a genocide. During the seven decades of the Cold War, the American power elite was much more interested in a genocide of "communists", of whatever color, wherever they might be found. Many weapons which might further this purpose were researched, including, apparently, an HIV-like virus. Consider this: On June 09 1969, Dr Donald M MacArthur, Deputy Director, Research and Engineering, Department of Defense, testified before Congress:

Within the next five to ten, it would probably be possible to make a new infective microorganism which could differ in certain important aspects from any known disease-causing organisms. Most important of these is that it might be refractory [resistant] to the immunological and therapeutic processes upon which we depend to maintain our relative freedom from infectious disease. {11}

Whether the United States actually developed such a microorganism and what it did with it has not been reported. AIDS was first identified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1981. It's certainly possible that the disease arose as a result of Defense Department experiments, and then spread as an unintended consequence.

If you think that our leaders, as wicked as they are, would not stoop to any kind of biological or chemical warfare against people, consider that in 1984 an anti-Castro Cuban exile, on trial in a New York court, testified that in the latter part of 1980 a ship traveled from Florida to Cuba with "a mission to carry some germs to introduce them in Cuba to be used against the Soviets and against the Cuban economy, to begin what was called chemical war, which later on produced results that were not what we had expected, because we thought that it was going to be used against the Soviet forces, and it was used against our own people, and with that we did not agree". {12}

It's not clear from the testimony whether the Cuban man thought that the germs would somehow be able to confine their actions to only Russians. This was but one of many instances where the CIA or Defense Department used biological or chemical weapons against Cuba and other countries, including in the United States against Americans, at times with fatal consequences. {13}

Breaking the media barrier

"You take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut out, marginalized, disrespected, and you go from Iraq to Palestine to Israel, from Enron to Wall Street, from Katrina to the bungling of the Bush administration, to the complicity of the Democrats in not stopping him on the war, stopping him on the tax cuts ... If the Democrats can't landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form. You think the American people are going to vote for a pro-war John McCain who almost gives an indication he's the candidate of perpetual war, perpetual intervention overseas?"

Thus spaketh Ralph Nader as he announced his presidential candidacy to a national audience on NBC's Meet the Press in February. The next day his words appeared in the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, Associated Press, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, International Herald Tribune, and numerous other publications, news agencies, and websites around the world. And other parts of his interview were also repeated, like this in the Washington Post: "Let's get over it and try to have a diverse, multiple-choice, multiple-party democracy, the way they have in Western Europe and Canada".

This is why Ralph Nader runs for office. To get our views a hearing in the mainstream media (which we often, justifiably, look down upon but are forced to make use of), and offer Americans an alternative to the tweedledumb and tweedledumber political parties and their cookie-cutter candidates with their "status quo long live the empire" souls. Is Nader's campaign not eminently worthwhile? But as always, he faces formidable obstacles, amongst which is what H L Mencken once observed: "The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth".

Here are a couple of campaigns to contribute time and money to:

Ralph Nader -

Cindy Sheehan, running for Congress in San Francisco against Nancy "Impeachment is off the table" Pelosi -

"Building a new world" conference

May 22-25, Radford University, Radford, Virginia, five-hour drive from Washington, DC. Cindy Sheehan, Kathy Kelly, Michael Parenti, David Swanson, Gareth Porter, William Blum, Medea Benjamin, Gary Corseri, Mike Whitney, Kevin Zeese, Robert Jensen, and others. Room and board available at reasonable rates. Full details at:


{1} Washington Post, November 18 1996

{2} Reuters news agency, June 10 2002

{3} Washington Post, March 03 2008

{4} "Grain Companies' Profits Soar As Global Food Crisis Mounts", Wall Street Journal, April 30 2008, page 1

{5} Washington Post, April 27 2008, page 13

{6} William Blum, Killing Hope (1995), pages 217-8

{7} New York Times, April 21 2008

{8} New York Times, March 04 2008

{9} Agence France Presse, March 24 2008

{10} New York Times, April 21 2008

{11} Hearings before the House Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, "Department of Defense Appropriations for 1970"

{12} Testimony of Eduardo Victor Arocena Perez, on trial in Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, transcript of September 10 1984, pages 2187-89.

{13} William Blum, Rogue State (2002), chapters 14 and 15

William Blum is the author of:-

Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War Two (Common Courage Press, 1995)

Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (Zed Books, 2002)

West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (Soft Skull Press, 2002)

Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (Common Courage Press, 2004)

Portions of the books can be read, and copies purchased, at and previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.

To add yourself to this mailing list simply send an email to with "add" in the subject line. I'd like your name and city in the message, but that's optional. I ask for your city only in case I'll be speaking in your area.

Or put "remove" in the subject line to do the opposite.

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission. I'd appreciate it if the website were mentioned.

Bill Totten

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Anti-Empire Report

Read this or George W Bush will be president the rest of your life

by William Blum (March 29 2008)

Propaganda as an Olympic competition

The latest protests in Tibet and crackdown by Chinese authorities have brought up the usual sermonizing in the West about Chinese government oppression and illegitimate control of the Tibetans. Although I have little love for the Chinese leaders - I think they run a cruel system - some proper historical perspective is called for here.

Many Tibetans regard themselves as autonomous or independent, but the fact remains that the Beijing government has claimed Tibet as part of China for more than two centuries. The United States made its position clear in 1943:

"The Government of the United States has borne in mind the fact that the Chinese Government has long claimed suzerainty over Tibet and that the Chinese constitution lists Tibet among areas constituting the territory of the Republic of China. This Government has at no time raised a question regarding either of these claims." {1}

After the communist revolution in 1949 US officials tended to be more equivocal about the matter.

Even as the Chinese were attacking Tibetan protestors, New York City Police were beating up and literally threatening to kill "Free Tibet" protestors in front of the United Nations. It's all on video. {2}

The Washington Post recently ran a story about how the Chinese people largely support the government suppression of the Tibetan protesters. The heading was: "Beijing's Crackdown Gets Strong Domestic Support. Ethnic Pride Stoked by Government Propaganda." The article spoke of how Beijing officials have "educated" the public about Tibet "through propaganda". {3} That's a rather interesting concept. Imagine the Post or any other American mainstream media saying that those Americans who support the war in Iraq do so because they've been educated by government propaganda ... Ditto those who support the war in Afghanistan ... Ditto those who supported the bombing of Yugoslavia ... Ditto scores of other US invasions, bombings, overthrows, and miscellaneous war crimes spanning more than half a century.

Now Germany's foreign minister has warned China that its response to the crisis in Tibet may jeopardize the Summer Olympics in Beijing. "The German federal government is saying to the Chinese government: be transparent! We want to know exactly what is going on in Tibet." He also warned China to avoid any violent measures in its standoff with Tibetan protesters. {4} Human rights organizations have demanded that Coca-Cola, Visa, General Electric, and other international companies explain their dealings with the Chinese government as it prepares to host the Summer Games. The French Foreign Minister floated the prospect of boycotting the Games' opening ceremony because of China's response to the protests. And the president of the European Parliament said European countries should not rule out threatening China with a boycott if violence continued in Tibet. {5}

It's nice to see the West's conscience stirred up. They're real good about such things, when the target is not one of their own, particularly against a communist country. In 1980, 62 nations - including the United States, Canada, West Germany, Japan, and Israel - boycotted the Olympics in Moscow because the previous year the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Four years later, the Olympics were held in Los Angeles. Not a single member of "The Free World" boycotted it, even though the previous year the United States had invaded Grenada and overthrown the government, with a lot less political justification than the Russians had for invading Afghanistan. The Grenada invasion was as much lacking in legality and morality as the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Soviet Union and thirteen of its allies stayed away from the Los Angeles Olympics, but when the Russians announced the boycott they cited only security concerns. President Reagan had declared at the time of the invasion that Grenada was "a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a major military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy, but we got there just in time" {6}. One would think that Moscow would have mentioned Grenada at least for the satisfaction of throwing Afghanistan and the 1980 boycott in Washington's face. The fact that the Russians made no such mention was a measure of how unconcerned they were about the tiny island nation and its alleged future as a major Soviet military bastion. The magnitude and variety of Reagan administration lies that accompanied the invasion of Grenada may have stood as a record until the Bush administration topped it in Iraq twenty years later. {7}

"In politics, as on the sickbed, people toss from one side to the other, thinking they will be more comfortable". --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A recurring theme of Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency has been that she has more of the right kind of experience needed to deal with national security and foreign policy issues than Barack Obama. The latest play on this is her advertisement telling you: It's three am and your children are safe and asleep; but there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing; something really bad is happening somewhere; and voters are asked who they want answering the phone. Of course they should want Hillary and her marvelous experience. (If she's actually explained what that marvelous experience is, I missed it. Perhaps her near-death experience in Bosnia?)

Typical of Clinton's growing corps of conservative followers, the Washington Times recently lent support to this theme. The right-wing newspaper interviewed a group of "mostly conservative retired [military] officers, industry executives and current defense officials", who cite Mr Obama's lack of experience in national security. {8}

And so it goes. And so it has gone for many years. What is it with this experience thing for public office? It was not invented by Hillary Clinton. If I need to have my car repaired I look for a mechanic with experience with my particular car. If I needed an operation I'd seek out a surgeon with lots of experience performing that particular operation. But when it comes to choosing a person for political office, the sine qua non consideration is what their politics are. Who would you choose between two candidates - one who was strongly against everything you passionately supported but who had decades of holding high government positions, or one who shared your passion on every important issue but had never held any public office? Is there any doubt about which person almost everyone would go for? So why does this "experience" thing keep coming up in so many elections?

A recent national poll questioned registered voters about the candidates' "approach to foreign policy and national security". 43% thought that Obama would be "not tough enough" (probably a reflection of the "experience" factor), while only three percent thought he'd be "too tough". For Clinton the figures were 37% and nine percent. {9} The evidence is overwhelming that decades of very tough - nay, brutal - US policies toward the Middle East has provoked extensive anti-American terrorism; the same in Latin America in earlier decades {10}, yet this remains an alien concept to most American voters, who think that toughness works (even though they know it doesn't work on Americans - witness the reaction to 9/11).

John McCain, who is proud to have dropped countless bombs on the people of Vietnam, who had never done him or his country any harm until he and his country invaded them, who now (literally) sings in public about bombing the people of Iran, and who tells us he's prepared to remain in Iraq for 100 years, is still regarded as "not tough enough" by sixteen percent and "too tough" by only 25%. What does it take to convince Americans that one of their leaders is a bloody psychopath? Like the two psychos he may replace. How has 225 years of our grand experiment in democracy wound up like this? And why is McCain regularly referred to as a "war hero"? He was shot down and captured and held prisoner for more than five years. What's heroic about that? In most other kinds of work, such a record would be called a failure.

Winston Churchill said that "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter". And if that doesn't do it for you, try a five-minute conversation with almost any American politician. This thing called democracy continues to be used as a substitute for human liberation.

One parting thought about Obama: Is he prepared to distance himself from Reverend Martin Luther King as he has from his own minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright? King vehemently denounced the Vietnam War and called the United States "the most violent nation in the world". Like Wright, he was strongly condemned for his remarks. As T S Eliot famously observed: "Humankind can not bear very much reality".

Do Americans live in a democracy or in an economy?

The Dow Jones industrial average of blue-chip stocks:

On March 19 it increased 420 points.

On March 20 it went down 293 points.

On March 21 it increased 261 points.

Do the economic fundamentals change dramatically overnight?

Or is our economic system as psycho as John McCain?

The US economy is teetering on the edge of recession because for a long time banks and others were selling mortgages at subprime rates to people who were bad credit risks. They sold them the mortgages anyhow because they knew they could combine these questionable mortgages into bundles and sell them to financial speculators higher up on the food chain. The higher speculators in turn sold bundles of various debt instruments to other speculators. The supposedly objective credit rating agencies told everyone that these firms and their bundles were good investments, but the credit rating agencies in fact had played a role themselves in putting some of the bundles together. This convoluted system created such complex and deliberately opaque financial vehicles - all devised to make someone a buck every time they swapped some paper - that they long ago had lost track of the papers' true value. We had a financial system terminally choked with worthless paper "instruments". A genuine house of cards. It fell.

We go from the dot-com bubble to the stock market bubble to the Enron bubble to the housing bubble to the credit bubble ... capitalist growth increasingly being driven by speculative bubbles, which invariably burst, and with each burst many thousands lose jobs, and, currently, their homes.

Can anyone say with any kind of precision how the price of gasoline at the pump is arrived at each day? And exactly what the relationship is, if any, between that price and the price of oil on the mercantile exchanges which are regularly announced as the "official" price of a barrel of oil? And why the speculators who spend their days playing buy-and-sell games at these exchanges - while having no actual personal contact with barrels of oil - should have such a profound effect upon our daily lives? And why gasoline is priced at $3.40.9 per gallon? Or $3.24.9 per gallon? That's 9/10 of a penny.

And while we're at it ... Why is almost everything in American society priced at amounts like $9.99, $99.99, or $999.99? Or $3.29 or $17.98?

"If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion". --George Bernard Shaw

Marketing is about creating emotional, even irrational bonds between your product and your target audience. There was a time when capitalism strove, much more than now, to meet the real needs of people. Now its forte is creating artificial needs with advertising and filling them, like bottled water. And how do they get away with it? Because you'll believe anything. Even that bottled water is purer than tap water.

"It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper". --Rod Serling, famed TV writer

"Get off this estate".
"What for?"
"Because it's mine".
"Where did you get it?"
"From my father".
"Where did he get it?"
"From his father".
"And where did he get it?"
"He fought for it".
"Well, I'll fight you for it".
--Carl Sandburg

Can it be imagined that an American president would openly implore America's young people to fight a foreign war to defend "capitalism"? The word itself has largely gone out of fashion. The approved reference now is to the market economy, free market, free enterprise, or private enterprise. This change in terminology endeavors to obscure the role of wealth in the economic and social system. Simply naming the system, after all, might imply that there are others. And avoiding the word "capitalism" sheds the adverse connotation going back to Karl Marx.

At some unrecorded moment a few years ago, the egg companies of America changed their package labels from small, medium and large to medium, large and jumbo. The eggs remained the same size.

"The Federal Trade Commission concluded that there is very little connection between what drug companies charge for a drug and the costs directly associated with it". {11}

"The makers of aspirin wish you had a headache right now", says the graffiti.

Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property and corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person.

"The private-benefit corporation is an institution granted a legally protected right - some would claim obligation - to pursue a narrow private interest without regard to broader social and environmental consequences. If it were a real person, it would fit the clinical profile of a sociopath". -- David Korten

Ralph Nader once charged the Justice Department anti-trust division with going out of business without telling anyone.

Capitalism as practiced in the United States is like chemotherapy: it may kill the cancer cells of consumer shortages, but the side effects are devastating.

Many workers are paid a wage sufficient to allow them to keep on living, even if it's not a living wage. Here's a radical solution to poverty - pay people enough to live on.

"The paradox is that, three centuries after America's colonial beginnings, wealth and income are more unequally distributed in the 'New World' than in most of the nations of Europe". {12}

How many Americans realize that they have a much longer work week, much shorter vacations, much shorter unemployment coverage, much worse maternity leave and other employee benefits, and much worse medical coverage than their West European counterparts?

Expressing elementary truths about the oppression of the poor by the rich in the United States runs the risk of being accused of "advocating class warfare"; because the trick of class war is to not let the victims know the war is being waged.

What do the CEOs do all day that they should earn a thousand times more than schoolteachers, nurses, firefighters, street cleaners, and social workers? Re-read some medieval history, about feudal lords and serfs.

The campaigns of the anti-regulationists imply that pure food and drugs will be ours as soon as we abolish the pure food and drug laws.

"American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, US Airways and Continental Airlines raised round trip fares $10 on most domestic flights to take advantage of strong demand" {13} - a news item from late 2006; similar items can be found before and since. Is that not odd? Raising prices because of strong demand? Raising prices even though they're already making more money as a result of the increased demand? So the more someone wants something, or the more they need it, the more they have to pay. Yes, it's the good ol' law of supply and demand. Economics 101. You have a problem with that? You should. What takes place in the world of economics is sixty percent power/politics/ideology, thirty percent psychological, ten percent immutable laws. (These percentages are immutable.)

The more you care about others, the more you're at a disadvantage competing in the capitalist system.

To say that one percent of the population owns 35% of the resources and wealth, is deceptive. If you own 35% you can control much more than that.

How could the current distribution of property and wealth have emerged from any sort of democratic process?

The myth and mystique of "choice" persuades us to endorse the privatization of almost every sphere of activity.

A study of 17,595 federal government jobs by the Office of Management and Budget concluded that civil servants could do their work better and more cheaply than private contractors nearly ninety percent of the time in job competitions. {14}

Communist governments take over companies. Under capitalism, the companies take over the government.

The American oligarchy has less in common with the American people than it does with the oligarchies in Japan and France.

If you lose money gambling, you can't take a tax deduction. But you can if you lose on the glorified slot machine known as the stock market; your loss is thus subsidized by taxpayers.

If the system should cater to selfishness because it's "natural", why not cater to aggression which many people claim is also natural.

Do the members of a family relate to each other on the basis of self-interest and greed?

"The idea that egotism is the basis of the general welfare is the principle on which competitive society has been built". --Erich Fromm, German-American social psychologist,

Capitalism is the theory that the worst people, acting from their worst motives, will somehow produce the most good.

"The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy". --Alex Carey, Australian social scientist

And this, dear friends, is the system the American Empire is determined to impose upon the entire known world.

"The country needs to be born again, she is polluted with the lust of power, the lust of gain".
--Margaret Fuller, literary critic, New York Tribune (July 04 1845)

"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it". --Frederic Bastiat, "The Law" (1850)

An ode to five years of heartless destruction of a five thousand year civilization

"Letters My President Is Not Sending" by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Dear Rafik, Sorry about that soccer game you won't be attending since you now have no ...

Dear Fawziya, You know, I have a mom too so I can imagine what you ...

Dear Shadiya, Think about your father versus democracy, I'll bet you'd pick ...

No, no, Sami, that's not true what you said at the rally that our country hates you, we really support your move toward freedom, that's why you no longer have a house or a family or a village.

Dear Hassan, If only you could see the bigger picture ... {15}

"Building a new world" conference

May 22-25, Radford University, Radford, Virginia, five-hour drive from Washington, DC.
Cindy Sheehan, Kathy Kelly, Michael Parenti, David Swanson, Gareth Porter, William Blum, Medea Benjamin, Gary Corseri, and others. Inexpensive room and board available. Full details at:


{1} "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1943, China", Department of State, 1957, page 630


{3} Washington Post, March 17 2008, page 12

{4} Associated Press, March 21 2008

{5} Washington Post, March 22 and 23 2008

{6} New York Times, October 27 1983

{7} William Blum, Killing Hope (1995), chapter 45

{8} Washington Times, February 26 2008

{9} Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (Washington), February 28 2008

{10 William Blum, Rogue State (2002), chapter one re Middle East and Latin America

{11} Washington Post, August 03 2005, pages D1-2, column by Steven Pearlstein

{12} Wallace Peterson, Silent Depression: The fate of the American Dream (1994)

{13} Washington Post, November 04 2006, page D2

{14} Washington Post, May 26 2004, page A25

{15} Washington Post, March 22 2008, page 1; the poet lives in San Antonio, Texas

William Blum is the author of:-

Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War Two (Common Courage Press, 1995)

Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (Zed Books, 2002)

West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (Soft Skull Press, 2002)

Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (Common Courage Press, 2004)

Portions of the books can be read, and copies purchased, at and previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.

To add yourself to this mailing list simply send an email to with "add" in the subject line. I'd like your name and city in the message, but that's optional. I ask for your city only in case I'll be speaking in your area.

Or put "remove" in the subject line to do the opposite.

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission. I'd appreciate it if the website were mentioned.

Bill Totten

Carter urges 'supine' Europe to break with US over Gaza blockade

Ex-president says EU is colluding in a human rights crime

by Jonathan Steele and Jonathan Freedland

The Guardian (May 26 2008)

Britain and other European governments should break from the US over the international embargo on Gaza, former US president Jimmy Carter told the Guardian yesterday. Carter, visiting the Welsh border town of Hay for the Guardian literary festival, described the EU's position on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as "supine" and its failure to criticise the Israeli blockade of Gaza as "embarrassing".

Referring to the possibility of Europe breaking with the US in an interview with the Guardian, he said: "Why not? They're not our vassals. They occupy an equal position with the US."

The blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza, imposed by the US, EU, UN and Russia - the so-called Quartet - after the organisation's election victory in 2006, was "one of the greatest human rights crimes on Earth", since it meant the "imprisonment of 1.6 million people, one million of whom are refugees". "Most families in Gaza are eating only one meal per day. To see Europeans going along with this is embarrassing", Carter said.

He called on the EU to reassess its stance if Hamas agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza. "Let the Europeans lift the embargo and say we will protect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza, and even send observers to Rafah gate [Gaza's crossing into Egypt] to ensure the Palestinians don't violate it".

Although it is 27 years since he left the White House, Carter recently met Hamas leaders in Damascus. He declared a breakthrough in persuading the organisation to offer a Gaza ceasefire and a halt to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel if Israel stopped its air and ground strikes on the territory.

Carter described western governments' self-imposed ban on talking to Hamas as unrealistic and said everyone knew Israel was negotiating with the organisation through an Egyptian mediator, Omar Suleiman. Suleiman took the Hamas ceasefire offer to Jerusalem last week.

Israel was still hesitating over the ceasefire, Carter confirmed yesterday. "I talked to Mr Suleiman the day before yesterday. I hope the Israelis will accept", he said.

While being scrupulously polite to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, and prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who represent the Fatah movement, he was scathing about their exclusion of Hamas. He described the Fatah-only government as a "subterfuge" aimed at getting round Hamas's election victory two years ago. "The top opinion pollster in Ramallah told me the other day that opinion on the West Bank is shifting to Hamas, because people believe Fatah has sold out to Israel and the US", he said.

Carter said the Quartet's policy of not talking to Hamas unless it recognised Israel and fulfilled two other conditions had been drafted by Elliot Abrams, an official in the national security council at the White House. He called Abrams "a very militant supporter of Israel". The ex-president, whose election-monitoring Carter Centre had just certified Hamas's election victory as free and fair, addressed the Quartet for twelve minutes at its session in London in 2006. He urged it to talk to Hamas, which had offered to form a unity government with Fatah, the losers.

"The Quartet's final document had been drafted in Washington in advance, and not a line was changed", he said.

Earlier, Carter, told Sky News that Hillary Clinton should abandon her battle to become Democratic presidential candidate after the last round of primaries in early June. Like many superdelegates, he has yet to declare his support for either Clinton or Barack Obama, but he suggested the outcome of the race was a foregone conclusion. "I think that a lot of us superdelegates will make a decision ... quite rapidly, after the final primary on June 3", he said. "I think at that point it will be time for her to give it up".

Last night, before a packed crowd at Hay, Carter spoke of his "horror" at America's involvement in torturing prisoners, saying he wanted the next US president to promise never to do so again.

He left an intriguing hint that George Bush might even face prosecution on war crimes charges once he left office.

When pressed by Philippe Sands QC on Bush's recent admission that he had authorised interrogation procedures widely seen as amounting to torture, Carter replied that he was sure Bush would be able to live a peaceful, "productive life - in our country".

Sands, an international legal expert, said afterwards that he understood that to be "clear confirmation" that while Bush would face no challenge in his own country, "what happened outside the country was another matter entirely".
_____ (c) Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Bill Totten

Arresting John Bolton

The Charge Sheet (May 27 2008)

On Wednesday 28th May 2008, I will attempt a citizen's arrest of John Robert Bolton, former Under-Secretary of State, US State Department, for the crime of aggression, as established by customary international law and described by Nuremberg Principles VI and VII.

These state the following:

"Principle VI

The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

(a) Crimes against peace:

(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;

(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).


"Principle VII

Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law."

The evidence against him is as follows:

1. John Bolton orchestrated the sacking of the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Jose Bustani. Bustani had offered to resolve the dispute over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, and therefore to avert armed conflict. He had offered to seek to persuade Saddam Hussein to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, which would mean that Iraq was then subject to weapons inspections by the OPCW. As the OPCW was not tainted by the CIA's infiltration of UNSCOM, Bustani's initiative had the potential to defuse the crisis over Saddam Hussein's obstruction of UNMOVIC inspections.

Apparently in order to prevent the negotiated settlement that Bustani proposed, and as part of a common plan with other administration officials to prepare and initiate a war of aggression, in violation of international treaties, Mr Bolton acted as follows:

In March 2002 his office produced a 'White Paper' claiming that the OPCW was seeking an "inappropriate role" in Iraq.

On 20th March 2002 he met Bustani at the Hague to seek his resignation. Bustani refused to resign.

On 21st March 2002 he orchestrated a No-Confidence Motion calling for Bustani to resign as Director General which was introduced by the United States delegation. The motion failed.

On 22nd April 2002 the US called a special session of the conference of the States Parties and the Conference adopted the decision to terminate the appointment of the Director General effective immediately. Bolton had suggested that the US would withhold its dues from OPCW. The motion to sack Bustani was carried. Bustani asserts that this 'special session' was illegal, in breach of his contract and gave illegitimate grounds for his dismissal, stating a 'lack of confidence' in his leadership, without specific examples, and ignoring the failed No-Confidence vote.

In his book Surrender is Not an Option (2007) Mr Bolton describes his role in Bustani's sacking (pages 95-98) and states the following:

"I directed that we begin explaining to others that the US contribution to the OPCW might well be cut if Bustani remained".

"I met with Bustani to tell him he should resign ... If he left now, we would do our best to give him 'a gracious and dignified exit'. Otherwise we intended to have him fired".

"I stepped in to tank the protocol, and then to tank Bustani".

Bolton appears, in other words, to accept primary responsibility for Bustani's dismissal.

Bustani appealed against the decision through the International Labour Organisation Tribunal. He was vindicated in his appeal and awarded his full salary and moral damages.

2. Mr Bolton helped to promote the false claim, through a State Department Fact Sheet, that Saddam Hussein had been seeking to procure uranium from Niger, as part of a common plan to prepare and initiate a war of aggression, in violation of international treaties.

The State Department Fact Sheet was released on the 19th December 2002 and was entitled 'Illustrative Examples of Omissions From the Iraqi Declaration to the United States Security Council' . Under the heading 'Nuclear Weapons' the fact sheet stated –

"The Declaration ignores efforts to procure uranium from Niger.
Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their uranium procurement?"

In a US Department of State press briefing on July 14th 2003 the spokesman Richard Boucher said "The accusation that turned out to be based on fraudulent evidence is that Niger sold uranium to Iraq" .

Bolton's involvement in the use of fraudulent evidence is documented in Representative Henry Waxman's letter to Christopher Shays on the 1st March 2005. Waxman says "In April 2004, the State Department used the designation 'sensitive but unclassified' to conceal unclassified information about the role of John Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, in the creation of a fact sheet distributed to the United Nations that falsely claimed that Iraq sought uranium from Niger".

"Both State Department intelligence officials and CIA officials reported that they had rejected the claims as unreliable. As a result, it was unclear who within the State Department was involved in preparing the fact sheet."

Waxman requested a chronology of how the Fact Sheet was developed. His letter states -

"This chronology described a meeting on December 18 2002, between Secretary Powell, Mr Bolton, and Richard Boucher, the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs. According to this chronology, Mr Boucher specifically asked Mr Bolton 'for help developing a response to Iraq's December 7 Declaration to the United Nations Security Council that could be used with the press'. According to the chronology, which is phrased in the present tense, Mr Bolton 'agrees and tasks the Bureau of Nonproliferation', a subordinate office that reports directly to Mr Bolton, to conduct the work.

"This unclassified chronology also stated that on the next day, December 19 2003, the Bureau of Nonproliferation "sends email with the fact sheet, 'Fact Sheet Iraq Declaration.doc'", to Mr Bolton's office (emphasis in original). A second e-mail was sent a few minutes later, and a third e-mail was sent about an hour after that. According to the chronology, each version 'still includes Niger reference'. Although Mr Bolton may not have personally drafted the document, the chronology appears to indicate that he ordered its creation and received updates on its development."

Both these actions were designed to assist in the planning of a war of aggression. The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg ruled that "to initiate a war of aggression ... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime".

Copyright (c) 2006


Bolton dodges attempted 'war crimes' arrest

Guardian (May 29 2008)

The environmental campaigner George Monbiot last night tried and failed to make a citizen's arrest of the former Bush administration official John Bolton over alleged "war crimes" committed during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

As Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN, ended an hour-long discussion at the Hay festival, Monbiot, who had earlier challenged him for alleged breaches of the postwar Nuremberg Principles, defining war crimes, moved towards the stage waving a charge sheet. But security staff intervened and bundled Monbiot out of the tent as twenty supporters chanted "war criminal" and waved placards. The comedian Marcus Brigstocke, who tried to pursue Bolton as he left the other side of the tent, was also blocked by security staff.

When challenged by Monbiot during the debate to say why - in planning, preparing and waging war against Saddam Hussein - he was any different from Nazi war criminals condemned at Nuremberg, Bolton cited Iraq's defiance of the UN resolutions 687 and 678, which underpinned the 1991 Iraq war and ceasefire. That released other parties from the obligation to the ceasefire, he told Monbiot.

Earlier, Bolton had defended the US's right to launch pre-emptive nuclear attacks and to promote regime change or, if necessary, a military attack on Iran to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons. As a lawyer, he said, he was not prepared to offer a view either on rendition or torture of suspects, because he had not studied the issues - a claim that provoked dismay.

Afterwards, Monbiot, a contributor to the Guardian, said: "I'm disappointed I couldn't reach him, but I made what I believe to be the first attempt ever to arrest one of the perpetrators of the Iraq war, and I would like to see that followed up". (c) Guardian News and Media Limited 2008,,2282556,00.html

Bill Totten

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Anxious Hiatus

Clusterfuck Nation

by Jim Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005) (May 26 2008)

My new novel of the post-oil future, World Made By Hand, is available at all booksellers.

Loveliness was everywhere this holiday weekend in upstate New York, and it was probably hard for many to believe that the wayward nation would return to the dread uncertainty of life in the crash lane when the barbeques were over. There was even a wan overtone to the late-night sports news about the Indy 500 race - as though the spectacle of cars droning round and round a speed oval epitomized the futility of American life in this moment of our history.

I had a discussion with one guy at a Sunday night party about the prospects for hydrogen-powered cars. We rehearsed the usual reasons why such a system was unlikely to get up-and-running - and then he said, "... but what if we took all the money from the war and put it into something like the space program and ... they came up with some way to make it happen ...!"

This is certainly the golden heart of the great wish out there, as the empire of Happy Motoring begins to run down on $4 gasoline. It seems inconceivable that a society so bold as to put men on the moon (fer crissake) can't overcome such a prosaic problem as finding something other than oil byproducts to run our cars on.

From this holy font all cognitive dissonance flows.

It seems inconceivable, but it begins to look like that's the way it really is, and we just can't accept it.

Of course, one of the reasons that Americans are so anxious to get away on a holiday weekend from the places where they live is because we did such a perfect job the past fifty years turning our home-places into utterly unrewarding, graceless nowheres, where the private realm of the beige houses is saturated in monotony, and the public realm has been reduced to the berm between the WalMart and the strip mall. Now, we barely have the gasoline to run all this stuff, let alone escape from it for a weekend.

We're at a dead end with all this and a lot of Americans are paralyzed with fear about what's next. This may actually be a deeper fear than the anxiety about money and banking in 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt was sworn in and tried to reassure the nation. Back then, despite the grave problems of capital, we still had plenty of everything: plenty of good productive land, plenty of manpower earnestly eager for hard work, plenty of ore in the ground, shining cities equipped with excellent streetcar systems, a railroad network that was the envy of the world, sturdy small towns and small cities fully equipped with locally-owned business, and a vast number of small family farms that could re-absorb family members unable to get wages in the cities. Most of all, we had plenty of oil in the ground, and the world's biggest industry for getting it out and selling it. What we didn't have in 1933 was cash money.

The crisis at hand now goes way beyond a crisis of capital - though that is certainly part of it. Notice how many of the things we had in 1933 are gone now. Our cities, with a few exceptions, are imploded husks. Our small towns and small cities (Schenectady, home of GE!) are gutted, especially in terms of locally-owned business. Our passenger rail system is worse than anything a Soviet ministry might produce (while the airline industry that replaced it is dying of a kind of financial hemorrhagic fever). Our local transit hardly exists anymore. Family farms have all but disappeared. We have plenty of manpower earnestly eager to become American Idols (but certainly not for heavy labor). Our oil industry now supplies only a fraction of the world's daily supply (and not even enough for half of our own needs).

What happens now? We face not just change but convulsive change. The public senses the rapid unraveling of our car-centric arrangements. In the week before the holiday, gasoline prices went up several cents each day - in upstate New York, it crossed the $4 mark and kept going up. The trucking system faces collapse as diesel fuel price-rises exceed even the rise in gasoline, and the vast number of independent truckers who make up the system confront the individual calamity of a personal business failure. American Airlines last week announced severe measures to keep operating through the fall of 2008, but none of the airlines can feasibly carry on as usual with oil prices above $120-a-barrel - and the ominous message is of a business model that has no conceivable way to adapt to the new reality. Most likely, in a very few years air travel will no longer be a "consumer" enterprise.

In the background of these practical problems - "off screen" during the holiday of car races and ball games - is a crisis of capital orders of magnitude worse than the one faced by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. For behind the "liquidity" (that is, insolvency) issues faced by the big institutions lurks the Godzilla of the derivatives trade, which has evolved into a black hole capable of sucking all notional "money" into oblivion. That "money," which represents the aggregate value of our society, also amounts to the emperor's new clothes of an empire in serious trouble. As the black hole of derivatives sucks away these "new clothes", America will stand naked against the elements of fate.

Bill Totten

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bicycles Pedaling Into the Spotlight

by J Matthew Roney

Earth Policy Institute (May 12 2008)

The world produced an estimated 130 million bicycles in 2007 - more than twice the 52 million cars produced. Bicycle and car production tracked each other closely in the mid-to-late 1960s, but bike output separated sharply from that of cars in 1970, beginning its steep climb to 105 million in 1988. Following a slowdown between 1989 and 2001, bike production has regained steam, increasing in each of the last six years. Much of the recent growth has been driven by the rise in electric, or "e-bike" production, which has doubled since 2004 to 21 million units in 2007. Overall, since 1970, bicycle output has nearly quadrupled, while car production has roughly doubled.

Promoting the bike as a clean and efficient alternative to the personal automobile is a practical way for cities to reduce traffic congestion and smog. To simultaneously confront those problems as well as climate change and an emerging obesity epidemic, government leaders and advocacy groups are working to bring cycling back to prominence in the urban transport mix.

A number of European cities have set the standard for bicycle use and promotion, via pro-bike transportation and land use policies, as well as heavy funding for bicycle infrastructure and public education. In Copenhagen, for example, 36 percent of commuters bike to work. The city plans to invest more than $200 million in bike facilities between 2006 and 2024 and estimates that by 2015 half its residents will bike to work or school. In Amsterdam, cycling accounts for 55 percent of journeys to jobs that are less than 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) from home. The government has pledged to spend $160 million from 2006 to 2010 on bicycle paths, parking, and safety. And Freiburg, Germany, a city with 218,000 people, has allocated roughly $1.3 million annually for cycling since 1976; now some seventy percent of local trips there are made by bike, on foot, or by public transit.

Governments elsewhere are following Europe's lead. Bogotá, Colombia, boasts more than 300 kilometers of bikeways, the most for a city in the developing world. In Australia, the state of Victoria has amended planning laws to require all new large buildings to provide bike parking and other facilities such as showers and lockers. And in November 2007, South Korea's Home Affairs Ministry announced a new pro-bike campaign to alleviate increasing traffic and air pollution and to cope with soaring oil prices. As it expands bicycle infrastructure, the government aims to substantially increase bike ownership by 2015, from one bike for every seven citizens to one for every four.

Some notoriously polluted and congested cities are working to reap the benefits of cycling as well. Mexico City plans to have five percent of all trips be by bike in 2012, up from less than two percent today, using traffic calming methods, promotional campaigns, and bike-transit connectivity. In India, Delhi's newest Master Plan requires fully segregated bicycle tracks on all arterial roads and notes that promoting cycling will be an essential component of the city's plans to reduce growth in fossil fuel consumption. (See additional examples of bicycle promotion initiatives at URL below.)

Bicycle rental programs are also increasing bike use in some cities. The stand-out example of 2007 was Paris's low-cost Vélib rental scheme, launched in July. Now offering 20,600 bikes that can be obtained by credit card at 1,451 stations, the program logged six million rides in its first three months. Analysts expect the program to double or even triple bike trips in Paris. Similar programs exist in Oslo, Barcelona, and Brussels and are planned for Washington, DC, and central London, among other cities.

While biking remains popular for recreation in the United States, it is woefully underused for transportation. Total cycling participation has declined nationally since 1960, dropping 32 percent since the early 1990s, and now accounts for just 0.9 percent of all trips. Cycling to work is even less frequent, at 0.4 percent of trips.

Despite these unimpressive statistics, encouraging signs can be seen for the future of cycling in the United States. Aided by $900 million a year in federal funding for promotion of biking and walking for 2005 to 2009, the installation of bicycle facilities - including parking, bike-friendly roads, and designated lanes - is proceeding at a record pace. Indeed, plans in the fifty largest US cities would, on average, double their bicycle and pedestrian routes; New York City alone will quadruple its bike network to 2,900 kilometers by 2030.

Bicycle advocacy in the United States continues to grow as well. The League of American Bicyclists now honors 84 US towns and cities as Bicycle Friendly Communities, compared with 52 in 2005. Cycling advocacy groups operate in 49 states and Washington, DC Perhaps most exciting, a Complete Streets movement has blossomed in recent years, in which a broad coalition of citizen and environmental groups is calling for safer, pedestrian- and cyclist- friendly roads designed for everyone, not just cars. Six states and more than fifty cities, counties, and metro regions have now enacted some form of Complete Streets legislation. For example, the Illinois General Assembly voted last October to require all new state transportation construction projects in and around urban areas to include bicycle and pedestrian ways.

While the bicycle is still an essential form of transportation in China, the country has recently seen a rapid decrease in bike ownership as its population becomes wealthier and turns to cars. From 1995 to 2005, China's bike fleet declined by 35 percent, from 670 million to 435 million, while private car ownership more than doubled, from 4.2 million to 8.9 million. Blaming cyclists for increasing accidents and congestion, some city governments have closed bike lanes. Shanghai even banned bicycles from certain downtown roads in 2004. This deterioration in Chinese bike culture emerges even as the country's share of world bicycle production continues to rise: China now turns out more than four fifths of the 130 million bikes produced each year.

China's central government, increasingly concerned about traffic congestion, energy consumption, and people's health, has now begun calling on cities to reverse this discouragement of bikes. In June 2006, Deputy Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing ordered cities that had narrowed or removed bike lanes to restore them. Within Beijing, bike promotion is having some visible effects as the city prepares for the 2008 Olympics. For example, after successful pilot projects, a private bike rental scheme co-sponsored by Beijing's environmental protection and security bureaus aims to provide 50,000 bikes at some 200 locations by August. Thus far, however, the recent pro-bicycle rhetoric from Beijing has not translated into much positive action outside the capital.

Development projects addressing disease and poverty in Africa provide evidence that the bicycle's utility is not just limited to urban areas. In Zambia, World Bicycle Relief has partnered with a coalition of relief organizations to combat HIV/AIDS through more timely education and treatment, providing 23,000 bicycles to healthcare volunteers, disease prevention educators, and families affected by the virus. In Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Uganda, an alliance of Dutch non-governmental organizations has launched a micro-credit lending program called Cycling Out of Poverty. Through this effort, poor people can pay off leased bikes while using them to attend school or start a small business.

With more than half the world's population now living in cities, there is tremendous potential for municipal governments and urban planners to increase bicycle use by following classic European examples like Copenhagen and Amsterdam. These cities have shown that by integrating bicycles in transportation planning, educating the public about cycling's benefits, and discouraging driving with restrictions and taxes on car ownership and parking, governments can greatly enhance bicycle use. This promotes people's physical fitness while helping to create cleaner, more livable communities.

Additional Data

{1} World Bicycle and Automobile Production, 1950-2007 (figure and table)

{2} Selected Cycling-Promotion Initiatives from around the World, 2008 (table)

{3} Bicycle Production by Top Countries, 1990-2007 (table)

For more information related to Bicycles and Transportation from Earth Policy Institute, click here:

Copyright (c) 2008 Earth Policy Institute

Bill Totten

Let's fix the cities now?

This report contains the author's address at the Ecocity World Summit, April 25 2008 in San Francisco. Richard Register, the Summit's co-convener and Ecocity Builders founder, responds to this report at the end.

by Jan Lundberg

Culture Change Letter #185 (May 22 2008)

While cities have in the past few years become the main habitat for humans (and for pests attracted to filth), and there are sweeping improvements to be made to cities - at a fraction of the cost of wars - I no longer place as top priority "Let's all fix the cities now". It's questionable if not impossible: petrocollapse will be the final deprivation for an energy-poor society that has finally run into limits reflected today by rapidly rising costs.

Part of my change in heart over the years, since I first became aware of the work of Richard Register when he invited me to speak at the first Ecological Cities Conference in 1990, is my growing appreciation for natural living and wild nature. It was the following year that I moved from the Washington, DC area to Humboldt County, California, where I lived a car-free life and dabbled in vegetable farming among the redwood forests.

Becoming a musician around that time facilitated my flow of awareness from the subconscious, in part, to reject assumptions that help comprise the indoctrination of Western Civilization: that larger and faster are better, and that "growth" and "progress" are the most desirable and admirable attributes of (our dominant) culture. My appreciation for indigenous, traditional cultures and resistance movements, such as Earth First! and the Zapatista rebellion - with their cooperative social structures - only grows.

I knew well how petroleum-dependent are our cities, since before joining the environmental movement full time in 1988. I also knew that we were all going to be witnessing the terminal demise of plentiful petroleum. By the time my small organization had commenced publishing the Auto-Free Times for the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium, I had been thinking long and hard about sustainability and Earth's ecological prospects vis-a-vis climate change. Richard Register's and others' ideas were enriching my work which in turn influenced our readership and occasional mass-media audience.

Eventually, my complete support for Richard's brilliant ideas - as characterized by his art, books, slide-shows and depaving - was undermined by my ongoing interest in smaller communities and local-based food production. Richard, as a long-time Berkeley resident (and now Oakland), is the undisputed Depaving Guru - I never would have gotten Global Warming Melons out of my driveway in 1997 without his inspiration. He is the originator of Ecological Zoning, which would concentrate development around mass transit and allow for wildlife corridors in the outer concentric circles within cities. His Transfer of Development Rights is another good tool for improving density while freeing up urban and suburban space wasted by car culture.

About the time when peak oil started to become a hot topic in 2003, my attention focused greatly on collapse. I started using the term "petrocollapse" in 2005. My work had already mostly ceased its activism for transportation and land-use reform, instead concentrating on the "plastic plague". Our group's name and focus has been Culture Change since mid 2001. Since about 1991 I've anticipated the industrial world's energy use and the whole consumer culture coming to an end soon, for no combination of non-petroleum fuels can substitute and maintain the infrastructure and our vast overpopulation in the time necessary to prevent collapse.

So it was with deafer ears that I heard my friend Richard Register continue to stress that cities must always be addressed first and foremost for redesign and activism, "as they are humans' biggest product and biggest source of problems". My change in my receptivity for Richard's work was despite our still seeing eye to eye on the role of the car as completely without merit in city design and allocation of resources.

I've written three short stories that address my concerns and hopes: The Nature Revolution (2002); The Trojan Horse Sisters (2006), and The Global Coolers (2008), all on the website. These envision a future wherein humans have survived upon reaching a new equilibrium with nature. An inspiration to me was the book Ecotopia (1975), by Ernest Callenbach, who was a speaker at the recent Ecocity World Summit.

The Summit was an extravaganza of good information from visionaries and seekers who enriched the atmosphere of the Nob Hill venue. Last year, in planning for the 2008 Summit, Richard asked me to just provide music. Not a speaking gig to address petroleum dependence or car-free living, but my eco-tunes, and I was delighted. As to any message I want to get across, the ideas of collapse and hope for a post-petroleum culture of smaller population size are in my lyrics. I would rather reach some minds and hearts through the brain's right hemisphere than to harangue a larger audience with words alone about urgent life-style change.

But my assignment was modified a bit in the huge format of what was being offered at the Ecocity World Summit: with David Room of Bay Localize, I was to discuss peak oil and localized economics, and start it off with a song. This was an honor. When the day came, April 25, I was feeling strange from my return from the tropics, and I sounded quite hoarse as I performed "Have a Global Warming Day" and gave the following presentation before the discussion-portion was to begin: (Added to the panel was Paul Fenn, a Community Choice advocate for local control of electric utilities.)

* * * * *

I've just returned from Mexico and Belize. In my six weeks there I did not see any homeless people or deranged people, whom I started seeing again only after crossing the border into the US. So, in our deliberations on cities, we should consider the challenge posed by the mental health of the population, which in this country is relatively sick.

It's time to stop buying. Stop going to work. Bring down the system. This is because the crisis we find ourselves in is on all levels and out of control. Collapse, whether petrocollapse or from some other source such as financial meltdown or political upheaval, is better sooner rather than later because of the dislocation and pain guaranteed at some point. The longer it is put off the more wrenching will be our experience. And, there is something better to replace this system.

This viewpoint is not fundable. But there are many doable things that bring people together and provide basic needs, such as permaculture and our Pedal Power Produce project, that we can delve into during the panel discussion and questions. These activities both counter instability in our lives and happily destabilize the global corporate economy.

There has to be a rebellion if you believe our lives and the world are threatened. The revolution will not be televised or digitized. There is no solution to peak oil or climate change - just a resolution, along with options for survival.

I will summarize peak oil, prior to posing these questions: What is local? How big can a town be? If there will be petrocollapse, how can we escape massive hunger, as some of my colleagues on the San Francisco Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force assume the population can? Lastly, who really needs all this energy that people are trying so hard to provide when petroleum fails?

Oil discoveries peaked decades ago, and the extraction peak follows, as predicted by M King Hubbert in 1956. The world is at the point of using four barrels for every single barrel of oil found, and no one big find is going to change the downward trend of extraction. In fact the "production" data show the world peaked in 2005 for conventional (desirable) oil. We are on a short plateau of oil extraction.

I disagree with Dr Colin Campbell, peak oil geologist, that we are entering with peak the "Second Half of the Age of Oil". My view involves my donning my oil-industry analyst hat and discussing the oil market. I formerly ran Lundberg Survey which predicted the Second Oil Shock in 1979.

Peak oil is a geological concept that pictures the dwindling oil left in the ground after the maximum extraction is achieved. But the effects of peak oil mean a tightening shortage must impact the oil market. The curve of peak oil, with a mirror-image of the upswing of supply applying to post peak, no longer works if there is a cessation of global corporate economic activity due to a severe shortage of oil.

First, there will be the sudden effects of sky-rocketing prices, panic buying and hoarding, the abrupt termination of mass employment, and the unavailability of products and services we have foolishly been taking for granted. Just-in-time delivery for businesses and institutions has become the energy-gluttonous rule of the day. What will happen is like a run on a bank: there is not enough cash if everyone wants it now. So when your cars' tanks and commercial users' tanks are topped off and vast amounts of product are moved over to "tertiary storage", this makes unavailable most of the petroleum that had been in circulation.

Second, the ability of the oil industry to scale down gradually to provide less and less product is not there. A refinery needs to operate at an ideal utilization of capacity, and there is also a balance required for the basic types of product output (light, medium and heavy). As to extraction, wells that don't do well are permanently capped. The oil industry, like the whole economy, is built only on growth. So, orderly contraction is not contemplated, or even possible perhaps. When the effects of petrocollapse [for example, die-off, which I only implied in this talk] hit, a gradual lessening of petroleum's availability - to allow renewable energy to somehow rush in - is only a pipe dream.

So, for these reasons, a transition to a renewable-energy future for anything like today's consumer economy, is just an assumption that is an article of faith for "fundable environmentalism". The substitutes for petroleum are not here on a scale necessary to maintain this economy or the petroleum infrastructure. Nor are the energy-profit ratios attractive compared to cheap oil that's gone. Products from petroleum will no longer be abundant or even available. [This is consistent with "the final energy crisis" that a few peak oil analysts refer to.]

Cities require vast energy and food production, so will we be able to live here when we have not wisely utilized the last supplies of fossil fuel to depave for food gardens? How can roof-top gardens be maximized on high buildings, and water be pumped?

As we try to picture a sustainable future that acknowledges energy reality and overpopulation, Culture Change has offered localized programs that subvert the global corporate economy. Sail Transport Network is one of my favorites. And, for raising awareness of petroleum in everyone's daily life, we can look at plastics. We ban plastic bags but we must include plastic water bottles, as starters. As we do this locally - and I urge you to do it in your hometowns - we get the chance to bring up peak oil, war for oil, climate change, and consumerism enabled by technology that we can start to question.

The oceans suffer from having up to six times as much plastic debris in them as zooplankton, and the plastic does not degrade; it concentrates up the food chain. It's not just an ocean problem or coastal cities problem; in the middle of the continent where they don't eat ocean fish, plastics threaten our health when we consider the chemicals in manufactured products containing fire retardants, for example, in our homes. Wipe the windowsills and find toxics. And we all have plastics in us. Bisphenol-A is a ubiquitous hard plastic in your Nalgene water bottles, babies' bottles, the inner lining of food cans, jar lids, bottle caps, and teeth sealants. It's a powerful endocrine disrupter. The body reads it as estrogen, and 0.1 parts per billion can trigger a gene change to give the body cancer, diabetes, obesity, and cause birth defects.

I look forward to discussing localization programs that use little energy. We must slash energy use now because of the ecological crisis. And what do we need all this energy for when we should be depaving and replanting?

* * * * *

I yielded the floor warmly to David Room, who gave a graphic talk on how local (or not) are our products that we use every day without question. After that, Paul Fenn gave a presentation on Community Choice Aggregation. It was fun to hear PG&E [Pacific Gas & Electric Company]ridiculed and exposed, and to imagine local control of electric power. But it was not directly about economic relocalization, and the questions that followed were not much about our assigned topic or the points Dave and I raised.

After a couple of technical questions about Community Choice Aggregation, I felt compelled to point out that "we can be misled into thinking that 'if only' PG&E could be replaced, or 'if only' we can replace Bush, maximize solar panels, et cetera, then everything will be fine. Such a goal can become an excuse not to take action today on slashing energy use and bringing an end to the system. We also fail to question why we need all this energy."

My presentation and overall attitude were colored by the presentations I had seen earlier that day at the Summit, on high-tech city design. I did appreciate that fewer cars was the enlightened goal of some speakers, but the element of urgency was lacking. The underlying hope among Ecocity activists and the consultants presenting in the main hall was for transitional, public-sector-funded change without the total disruption that some of us foresee. Because discussion is so managed, most people do not discuss, let alone plan for collapse and an aftermath. So the goals of ecocities can become blurred or questionable when collapse or petrocollapse are not on the table. Sometimes I get an admission that some people in movements such as ecocities may actually believe collapse will preclude the building of ecocities.

If the proponents of ecocities and "transformation through policy" wish for good funding and corporate-media "respect", they have to sound "reasonable" and not "alarmist". This is the problem also, ironically, at a major peak-oil organization's national meetings and publications: Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas - USA. There the idea of collapse is dismissed in favor of faith in corporate continuity, even though ASPO-USA refers to the ramifications of peak oil in nearly apocalyptic terms. In the case of the Ecocity World Summit, fortunately, diversity of views for many a positive vision were on display.

I asked Richard Register after the Summit what he sees as the maximum population size of a city or ecocity. He says it's half a million. (People, not cars). While I enthusiastically endorse car-free cities and I know they can work beautifully, I am not able to picture large population reductions to reach more realistic levels in an orderly, compassionate fashion anytime soon [see the recent Culture Change article "Confronting the inevitable: Population reduction, voluntary and otherwise", by Ken Smail.]

My imagination toward ecological living tends not to be urban, as it calls up a contradiction: Would large urban populations require great amounts of energy that won't be available? Or will serfs outside the city walls provide most of the energy in the form of food and fuels for the ecocity inhabitants? Can a city be ecological if humans try to maintain a separation from nature? This is something Richard has thought about for many years.

All the above is largely why I believe ecovillages, as envisioned by author Albert Bates, are the future, and ecocities are not our future - as much as I acknowledge people's need for ecocities today. I'm afraid that it's a dream too late and destined to crumble along with today's overgrown cities, although an eventual rebuilding of population size along more ecological principles could be in the offing for successive generations. This would assume we are not going extinct or ending up with just a tiny population that's limited to some cool areas of the planet [James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia (2006)].

If a return to ecological principles happens, it would be a resumption of our track record of over 99% of humans' time so far. Bye-bye bright lights of the big city.

* * * * *

Richard Register responds:

I don't hold with the view of cities being the total wave of the future, partially because "cities" are so ill defined, and I'm talking about the built infrastructure of cities, towns and villages, all of which are disastrously distorted by cars where influenced by them and that's practically everywhere. Some mountain villages in the Himalayas no, but not many places like tha ... You may have noticed I always have "ecovillages" in our conferences even though most of them are scattered infrastructures of single family houses and not based on the "traditional village structure" which is a good model for larger population towns and even cities.

I think the viewpoint that collapse is inevitable and "better sooner than later" is not only not fundable (mine doesn't seem to be either) but also flawed in many ways. The population you recognize as over-scaled many times over won't let even an early collapse be anything less that the worst experience of death and destruction the planet has seen if it is completely unmitigated by sane changes in peacefully reducing population, shifting to much less meat, reshaping cities and getting on to solar and wind. Biofuels are delusional as they compete with food and biodiversity for uses massively more energy consuming than needed for human nutrition. We also need to get on to ways of building that radically reduce energy demand and demand for land too. The chance of convincing many people of this - with conferences, drawings, books and hands-on projects - is pretty small, but Peak Oil people's abandoning this message is a large part of the problem.

The principles of permaculture are pretty profound, as I say in my book Ecocities (2001). But they work even better applied at greater than the scale/density of the single house, which is unfortunately what ninety percent of the focus in permaculture circles is. Even permaculture villages are clusters of single houses. Will they rescue us? Fat chance!

I don't think you are doing your math and carrying capacity studies very well. Without massive subsidy of what cheap energy and oil based chemicals have provided, the number of people we have on the planet is way beyond sustainable in the all-rural mode of living you romanticize. We need to wean ourselves from that massive dependence with a whole systems approach of which population reduction, diet change and redesign of the built infrastructure are essential. This is the essence of a "powerdown" strategy that Heinberg seems to be calling for yet he always illustrates "life boats" instead, which like you assumes that rather than steering the Titanic away from the berg as best we can is to just anticipate an earlier collision being better than a later one and look around for the (insufficient) number of lifeboats and decide who can be on them - at gunpoint? I think my chances of success (getting my strategy off the dime) are slim but I won't just watch the collapse come on without my version of a fight. In the Titanic analogy I'm struggling for the wheel with a lot of people trying to keep me from having anything to do with the steering.

I don't think your study of cultural collapse is very exhaustive or honest - the kind we are looking at is as total as many of them have been in the past. Not something easily swept under the rug with the notion the we will just have some "options for survival". The only ones that make sense to me are the ones I've suggested above for a real powerdown strategy that makes some sense. Your approach of falling to the bottom then looking around for "options" among the rural disciplines of design and building (that need a context of peaceful society to execute) strike me as naïve to a bizarre degree.

I agree completely that hoarding fuels will usher in an exacerbated crisis of fuel supplies. One aspect of this that may spell quick catastrophe is that nations have been supporting cheap fuel prices by buying high and selling low, so their people could continue in their delusional excessive running about and mindless consumption with little equity and justice in mind. Now we are seeing angry words and maybe the first of the violent protests at simply not being able to afford gasoline any more in various parts of the world, while the national governments court bankruptcy - spending billions in tax money just to sell fuel at ridiculously discounted prices. That alone could take down governments and release chaos in weeks rather than decades or even years.

It could well be that ecocities may not be realized according to today's optimistic visions. Those who foresee collapse see ecocities of poverty, ecologically healthy as villages in the deep future, with few metals and no fossil fuels to help at all - probably like small medieval towns, not really cities at all, and not likely to be very Gandhian given the added lesson that "high" civilizations go bust in violence. We didn't learn those lessons after Hitler and so the notion that it is violence and dominance at the core of human relations at the core of the species will be stronger than ever and will imply nasty societies! That's another reason I'd rather try as hard as I can for a powerdown.

Regarding an optimum population size of 500,000: very provisionally and depending on variable factors. That's anything but a solid figure in my mind. Strictly "gut feeling" and based on my sense of how much density can make sense covering how much land at extremely low requirements for energy.

As for James Lovelock's prediction, we shall see!

* * * * *

Jan Lundberg says:

I'm sorry to say I don't see how ecocities can realistically be created now. If they could be, I don't see how they could have anything but a fraction of today's megacity population sizes. I do not want to see the horrors of collapse, nor rely on humanity climbing up from a total fall (to locate "options" such as depaving). What I see happening today that suggests an unpleasant and iffy future - until there may be a recovery through complete culture change - requires an honest and open inquiry that seems to take place in very few places beyond and our Petrocollapse Conferences of 2005-2006. Massive planning by Ecocity Builders, and by Mark Lakeman's City Repair to apply such concepts on a huge scale, to give humanity settlements beyond small ecovillages and narrow permaculture projects, would be fabulous. But if it's not happening now, can it happen when petrocollapse hits?

* * * * *

Richard's last word:

My mapping system breaks big metropolitan areas (megacities) into patterns of smaller cities. I don't think you've bothered to look at my maps and think through the strategy for a "roll back sprawl" or you probably wouldn't be saying that. (see Auto-Free Times article by Richard, "A Strategy to Roll Back Sprawl and Rebuild Civilization": (City Repair) has almost nothing to do with the shifting of density from sprawl to development concentrated in smaller areas and opening up of the landscape. (City Repair) helps people "repair"... (W)ithout change in ownership patterns and real change in the basic land uses, can (City Repair) make an ecologically healthy contribution? They can't! Not in that mode and style. You want to know the cultural change that can save our ass: recognizing that we need to evolve into more compassionate and creative people at the same time. I write about this also in my book. That's the big answer, my man, and ecocities are only part of it. Gandhian non-violence and population reduction at the same time is where it's at!

* * * * *

Further reading

"Summitgoers push for sustainable cities" by Philip Wenz, San Francisco Chronicle, May 10 2008:

Support the work of Ecocity Builders, nonprofit founded by Richard Register:

The Ecocity World Summit (needs its proceedings published; please support this!):

"Depaving the World" by Richard Register, Auto-Free Times:

Pedal Power Produce:

Sail Transport Network:

City Repair, of Portland, Oregon:

"Confronting the inevitable: Population reduction, voluntary and otherwise", by Ken Smail:

Jan Lundberg's post-petroleum short stories - The Nature Revolution (2002), The Trojan Horse Sisters (2006), The Global Coolers (2008):

David Room's Energy Preparedness consultancy:

Albert Bates, author of The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, runs eco-village projects that have websites here:


THE BIG ONE is coming! June 21-22 in San Francisco.
"The new me is We!"
"Are you ready for culture change?"
Endorsed by Matt Simmons, peak oil expert, THE BIG ONE is a convergence of activists and citizens interested in sustainable living and good health - and fun. This could be perhaps one of the biggest pot lucks in history! Teach-ins, music, food, depaving, pedal power, and more. The location is Golden Gate Park, home of the Summer of Love, just west of Haight Ashbury. Jan Lundberg is one of the speakers, on peak oil, fasting and whatever else seems right. Come experience the huge tents for connecting with your tribe! See the website for more information, where you can also use WiserEarth for networking around the world and for THE BIG ONE!

Bill Totten