Hudson Valley Seed Library

SUBHEAD: An interview with heritage seed bank founder Ken Green.

By Nasimeh Bahrayni-Easton on 20 December 2014 for Shareable -
(http://www.shareable.net/blog/interviewed-ken-greene-of-hudson-valley-seed-library)


Image above: Greene with Vandana Shiva, renowned environmental activist. Photo from Hudson Valley Seed Library and in original article.

In 2004, Ken Greene was working as a librarian in Gardiner, New York when he decided to go beyond the bounds of his own personal garden and take his passion for seed saving into a more public, community-based arena.

He began the Hudson Valley Seed Library (HVSL) out of the Gardiner Public Library, initially just adding the seed varietals to the library catalog as another item that patrons could "check out."

For four years, Greene ran the HVSL out of that location, but in 2008 he and his business partner Doug Muller moved the HVSL onto a farm in Accord, New York where it has remained ever since. Nowdays, the library catalog is online, the team has grown to include a dozen or so others in addition to Ken and Doug, and the library's membership boasts over 1,000 farmers and gardeners.

Shareable caught up with Greene to talk about his organization's roots, his passion for stories, and the future of seed libraries.

SHAREABLE: What inspired Hudson Valley Seed Library?
Ken Greene: I had become a seed saver in my own garden after learning about some of the global seed issues including loss of genetic diversity and consolidation of seed resources by the biotech industry. I wanted to make a small difference by taking responsibility for our local seeds and making sure they were preserved and protected.

But that didn't feel like I was doing enough, I wanted to find a way to share the seeds, and seed saving skills, with more people in my community. The more hands and gardens the seeds pass through, the more alive and protected they are for the future. I began to see seeds as having much in common with books- especially books in a library.

My deep appreciation for libraries and new-found passion for seeds were starting to become one. I began to see every seed was a story and felt the stories were meant to be shared. Growing a seed meant growing its story and keeping it alive. I saw that libraries keep stories alive by sharing them. So, adding seeds to the library catalog seemed logical, necessary, and important.

Just as our library was making out-of-print books available to the community, we could also make heirloom seeds, many under the threat of extinction, continually available. Just as we were keeping ideas, imagination, and stories alive by sharing them in print, we could keep the genetics and the cultural stories of seeds alive by sharing them.

 Just as we trusted our patrons to bring back the books they checked out so that they could continue to be shared, I wondered if we could count on gardeners to save some seeds from the plants they grew to return to the library, keeping the seeds alive and creating regionally adapted varieties.

What was the community response? 
Initially people were confused about seeing seeds available to check out in the library. Luckily, the library director, Peg Lotvin, and a local farm intern who was one of the founders of BASIL, a Bay Area seed exchange, were very enthusiastic about the idea.

Over time with meetings, workshops, and putting in a seed garden around the flag pole on the front lawn, the seed library became an appreciated part of the public library- and the first of its kind in the country.

The year before I quit my job to farm seed full time we had about 60 active members in the seed library. The next year, when my partner Doug and I put the library idea online, we had 500 members.

Today we have a full seed catalog that anyone can buy homegrown, independent, organic seed from and we have an active seed saving community of over 1200 gardeners and farmers who participate in our "One Seed, Many Gardens" online seed library program.


A three pound heirloom tomato.  Credit: HVSL Facebook

Other than seed preservation, what other roles does the HVSL play in the community?
I never would have imagined that our tiny seed library would grow into a full-fledged seed company and take over my life! I'm now on the Board of Directors for the Organic Seed Alliance, give lectures and teach workshops about seeds all over the country, and we are the largest producer of Northeast grown and adapted seeds in the country.

What draws you personally to seed preservation?
I love nurturing our plants through their full life-cycles and sharing the joy, magic, and abundance of seeds with others. More than preservation, I'm drawn to the idea that plants are always changing, just as we are. In order to keep these seeds alive and in the dirty hands of caring growers we need to allow them to change with us.

HVSL also does lovely art commissions for its seed packets. What's the story behind that?
I believe that artist are cultural seed savers and seed savers are agri-cultural artists. I came up with the idea of working with artists after collecting antique seed catalogs to research what varieties were being grown in our region 50-100 years ago. These old catalogs are full of art- no photographs.

Just as I want to keep the tradition of saving seeds by hand, I wanted to find a way to continue the beautiful and compelling tradition of illustrated catalogs- but in a more contemporary way. Our packs help remind us that seeds are not just a commodity to be bought and sold- they are living stories. The diversity of the artwork on our packs (each one is by a different artist) celebrates the diversity of the seeds themselves.


Seed packets from the seed library.  Credit: HVSL Facebook.

A New York Times article about HSVL says you collect “cultural stories” as well as seeds. Can you speak a little more about that?
Every seed is a story. Actually, every seed is many stories. Genetic stories, human stories of travel, tragedy, an spirit. Some seed stories are tall tales, myths, or very personal stories from recent generations. We share many of these stories on our website as well as the stories of how we grow and care for the seeds in our catalog.

That article states that many of your members live in New York City.  Why do you think it's important to offer your services to cities?
Many of the gardeners (and farmers!) who grow with our seeds do live in urban areas. There are more urban growers of all kinds- rooftops, containers, community gardens- than ever before. Finding the right varieties to grow in the many micro-climates that urban gardeners experience means searching out a diversity of seed sources.

Conventionally bred seeds are meant to be grown on large industrial and chemical based farms. The heirloom and open-pollinated seeds in our catalog have more flexibility, resiliency, and the most potential for adapting to urban growing environments.

What does the future look like for HVSL - and for seed libraries in general?
Over time the Hudson Valley Seed Library has become a mission-driven seed company. Our seed library model has changed to better focus on sharing high-quality seed.

We based the new model on the popular “Community Reads” or “One Book, One Town” reading programs organized by book libraries all over the country where the whole town reads one book. By encouraging every member in the Seed Library to grow the same variety in the same season, we’ll be able to teach everyone how to grow, eat, and save seeds from the varieties.

We connect all of our gardens into one big seed farm--growing enough seeds of each year's Community Seed variety to share with friends, family, and our communities. Enough to last. We've also begun training small-scale farmers on how to integrate seed saving into their food farm systems- the more local seeds the better!

On another note, your farm used to be a Ukrainian summer camp?!
The land we live on and grow on is shared by a community of friends. Originally a Catskill "poor-man's" resort with a hotel, boarding houses, kitchen building, ball room and more, the property was bought by a Ukrainian cultural camp in the late 60s.

Our group bought it from adults who had been campers here. We're fixing up what we can save, tearing down and salvaging the structures we can't save, building soil, growing seeds, and preserving the wildness of the surrounding woods.


The Seed Library farm.  Credit:  HVSL Facebook.

Do you have any advice for anyone who might want to start a seed library in their own community?

Yes! Mainly- there is no one thing that is a seed library. There are now over 300 seed libraries, seed swaps, seed exchanges, and community seed banks all over the country. Each one is different from the next.

I recommend starting with a simple seed swap to see who in your community is interested in gardening and seeds and then letting the group develop their own way of sharing seeds and their stories. I help communities develop community seed saving groups and there are many more resources out there than there were 10 years ago when I started the Hudson Valley Seed Library.

And lastly, what is your favorite or most interesting new plant?
Always the hardest question! I love all of the 400 varieties in our catalog for different reasons. We have cultivated and wild flowers, vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, and some oddities just for fun.

For food I'm most excited about our Panther Edamame- a black open-pollinated nutty-flavored edamame that we grow in partnership with the Stone Barns Center.

For cultivated flowers I'm in love with Polar Bear Zinnia- a creamy white flower, for wild flowers I'm proud to now offer Milkweed to help stem the near extinction of Monarch Butterflies, and for herbs I love Garlic Chives which make the most amazing Kimchi.

You can connect more with the Hudson Valley Seed Library via their website or facebook.

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Roundup Threatens Coral Reefs

SUBHEAD: Glyphosate, used primarily in GM agriculture, is particularly resistant to biodegradation in sea water.

Sayer Ji on 30 January 2014 for Green Med Info -
(http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/roundup-weed-killer-threatens-coral-reefs-persists-seawater)


Image above: The RoundUp Weedkiller logo floats over the Great Barrier Reef. From original article.

The coral reefs are dying and the seas are increasingly depleted of sea life. Could Roundup 'weed killer' be partially to blame?

A highly concerning new study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin indicates that the world's most popular herbicide glyphosate (aka Roundup), used primarily in GM agriculture, is particularly resistant to biodegradation in coral reef collected sea water, and could therefore be a major contributor to the decline of marine coral reef systems such as the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms, and is so massive it is visible from outer space.[i]

Sadly, according to a study published in 2012 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the reef has lost more than half its coral cover since 1985,[ii] which is believed to be caused by a combination of factors, including climate change induced acidification of the ocean, outbreaks of predator species and extensive pollution.

Despite the established role of agrichemicals in harming sea life, glyphosate has yet to be included in marine monitoring programs for its impacts on the reef -- this despite being used at a rate of 30,000,000 lbs annually in Australia.

In the new study titled, "Glyphosate persistence in seawater," Australian marine researchers describe "increasing concern over the global loss of corals and seagrass and this has been particularly well documented for the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef (GBR)".

The researchers point out that extensive agriculture activities impact water quality around reefs and seagrass beds, especially during the summer wet season from November to March, when rain-induced flooding delivers "runoff containing excess sediments, nutrients, and pesticides," and with satellite imagery reveals their associated plumes travel up to 50 km offshore as far as the midshelf coral reefs.

In order to ascertain the potential impact of glyphosate, they quantified its biodegradation using "simulation" flask tests with native bacterial populations and coastal seawater from the Great Barrier Reef. They discovered that, "the half-life for glyphosate at 25°C in low-light was 47 days, extending to 267 days in the dark at 25°C and 315 days in the dark at 31°C, which is the longest persistence reported for this herbicide."

When compared to previously reported half-life estimates for glyphosate biodegradation in soil and fresh waters, the sea water estimates are dramatically higher. Previous soil and water data described glyphosate's biodegration half-life to be as rapid as 5 days for field soil and 49 days for bog and natural water.*

If the new sea water flask experiments accurately reflect real world conditions, glyphosate's maximal 315 day half life in sea water would add up to 63 fold increased persistence to the chemical's toxicological profile.

The researchers also pointed out that flooding events which would bring glyphosate to sea would involve co-occurrence of massive quantities of sediment to which glyphosate readily binds, which would further prevent glyphosate's biodegradation, potentially greatly enhancing its persistence and toxic effects.

Despite previous assurances by both the manufacturer (Monsanto) and regulatory bodies that glyphosate is safe to the environment and highly biodegradable, an increasingly alarming body of experimental data on glyphosate's toxicity indicates that the chemical is extremely toxic, exhibiting potentially carcinogenic endocrine disrupting activity in the parts-per-trillion concentration range, as well as a laundry list of multiple modes of toxicity to animal life.

For direct access to the biomedical data on glyphoste's toxicological profile, view our section on the topic: Glyphosate Toxicity.

• Note: accumulating evidence reveals that these original estimates are inaccurate and that glyphosate's persistence in the soil, groundwater, and even air, is a far greater problem than officially acknowledged.

[i] Sarah Belfield (8 February 2002). "Great Barrier Reef: no buried treasure"

[ii] Eilperin, Juliet. "Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals since 1985, new study says". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 October 2012.

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US military moves in Philippines

SUBHEAD: As the US "Enhances" military cooperation in the Philippines, a complicated relationship is challenged.

By Jon Letman on 29 December 2014 for TruthOut.org -
(http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/28245-as-the-us-enhances-military-cooperation-in-the-philippines-a-complicated-relationship-is-challenged)


Image above: US forces conduct small boat fundamentals training with Philippine Marine Corps force reconnaissance Marines during Philippine Bilateral Exercise (PHIBLEX) at Philippine Marine Base Ternate, September, 2013. From original article. (Photo: Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr. / US Navy)

Six months into a new defense agreement designed to "enhance" military ties between the United States and the Philippines, the case of Jennifer Laude is putting strain on a long and complicated alliance. Laude, a transgender Filipina, was found dead on October 11 in a motel room in Olangapo City near the former US naval base at Subic Bay while US forces were on a "liberty" (recreational shore leave) visit.

Witnesses say Laude was seen entering the motel with US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton who was charged with Laude's murder. Pemberton, for whom Philippine authorities have issued an arrest warrant, remains in US custody inside a Philippine military base. Laude's death (she was strangled and drowned in a toilet) has stoked resentment and anger against the US military presence in its former colony.

Despite increased tensions stemming from Laude's death, the US and Philippine governments remain committed to close military ties.

Speaking in April, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III called the United States a "key ally, a strategic partner and a reliable friend of the Philippines" as he marked the signing of a new bilateral executive agreement called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Under the EDCA, the United States gains greater access to Philippine military bases and other "agreed locations" where it can station troops and pre-position aircraft, weapons and other supplies - all without rent or utility fees. According to US Pacific Command (PACOM), the EDCA will facilitate joint training and exercises and help both nations "resist armed attack."

PACOM spokesman Maj. David Eastburn said in an email that "enhanced cooperation" is intended to "improve the readiness and capabilities of the [Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)]" and address issues like maritime security awareness, counterterrorism, and humanitarian and disaster relief.
According to Eastburn, in 2014, the United States rotated more than 3,700 military personnel through the Philippines as the two nations conducted 425 "signed activities," the highest number ever for a single year. US forces are station

Speaking from Quezon City, Corazon Valdez-Fabros of the Stop the War Coalition Philippines asked how long "temporary" rotations would last. "It could be six months, a year or more," she said.
In fact, the EDCA includes a provision for its automatic extension at the end of its 10-year term.

Unlike the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the EDCA did not require ratification by the US or Philippine Senate.

More than two decades after the Philippine Senate refused to renew agreements that would have allowed the US naval base at Subic Bay and Clark Airbase to remain open, the EDCA grants the United States the most flexibility and access to the Philippines since 1992.

"This is very different from the bases we used to have . . . where you knew where foreign military troops were located. [Now] they can be located anywhere under the 'agreed location' provision," Valdez-Fabros said.
Critics of the US military presence call Laude's death the latest affront to Philippine sovereignty and human rights, citing past crimes, pollution and environmental impacts as reasons they want to reduce or end US-Philippine military cooperation.

Regional Instability
Proponents of the EDCA, however, insist on the need for greater military cooperation pointing to China's territorial claims in the disputed Spratly Islands and South China Sea, which is believed to hold significant oil and gas deposits.

In a report for the Center for a New American Security, Richard D. Fisher Jr., a senior fellow on Asian military affairs with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, wrote, "Washington has an interest in making it easier for Manila to acquire excess US fighters, frigates and other weapons systems."

Fisher added, "the US should continue to encourage deeper Philippine strategic engagement . . . to enhance Manila's role in securing this region that is so pivotal to East Asian security."

Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bayan, a Manila-based national social justice organization, disagrees, saying that until US forces leave the Philippines, his nation will remain dependent on the United States and "second-hand military hardware."

"The sooner the US is out of our country, the better for the Philippines," Reyes said.

In response to PACOM claims that enhanced military cooperation will allow the United States to respond more quickly and effectively in offering disaster relief, Reyes says that after the devastating Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013, many countries sent volunteers and assistance. "So why is it that the US is the only country pushing for a military agreement in exchange for so-called humanitarian assistance and disaster response?"

Carlos Conde, a Manila-based researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW), says a broad section of Philippine society is ambivalent or supportive of closer US-Philippine military ties. "The thing about the US military is that they are actually quite popular . . . This is probably one of the few places in the world where the US military is welcome with open arms," Conde said.

But US-Philippine military cooperation is at its murkiest in the restive southern Philippines where both indigenous Muslim groups and Communist insurgencies have battled with the central Philippine government for decades.

Since 2001, the island of Mindanao and surrounding islands have been part of a so-called second front in the war on terror where the US Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines operated a shadowy campaign against Islamist groups Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf for more than a decade.

In 2005, The New York Times reported on suspected US drone strikes in the region, and again in a 2012 article, shortly after a report published by the Brookings Institution alleged the use of weaponized drones in the southern Philippines.

In 2013, Philippine media outlets published reports about US efforts to establish a drone base on Mindanao.
According to PACOM, today the United States has "just under 200 personnel" at Camp Navarro on Mindanao, a number it says will decline further in 2015 as the United States shifts to rotational elements.

Shadow Wars
Over the last dozen years, the US military has focused much of its efforts in Mindanao on anti-terrorism training with the AFP. On this ethnically and religiously diverse island, rich in mineral resources like gold, silver, copper, nickel and zinc, foreign mining and plantation operations are known for using the AFP to protect their interests.

"It's no secret in the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao, that the Philippine military acts openly as the security forces of these big companies," HRW's Conde said. The highly militarized state of Mindanao where the US-trained AFP clashes with paramilitary forces causes further resentment of the US military presence.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, executive director of the Tebtebba Foundation, a global indigenous rights organization, points to more than 100 mining claims nationwide, many of which overlap with indigenous ancestral lands, setting the stage for conflict between native peoples and resource developers.

"It's so easy to justify the entry of military forces, especially when some indigenous communities are [located] where other armed groups are found," Tauli-Corpuz said.

Conde says the presence of US troops does not improve the human rights situation in Mindanao and may indirectly make it worse. "The US is behaving like an uncle that plays with his nephew, spoils him with toys, but holds no moral authority over him and looks the other way when there's bad behavior."

Zaynab Ampatuan is the executive director of the Moro People's Community Organization for Reform and Empowerment, a human rights and environmental NGO in central Mindanao that is opposed to any US military presence.

"The effects of the heightened military presence by both the US and Philippines leads to sporadic displacements, particularly of women and children," Ampatuan said by email.

She fears the EDCA will perpetuate injustice in Mindanao. "We don't need any military intervention to resolve our local problems here. [It] will mean more evacuations, damage, illiteracy, fear, insecurity and violence . . . not just for Mindanao, but for the entire nation."

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The Trigger

SUBHEAD: Whether Obama was a hostage, an empty suit, or a fool, he broadened and deepened the lying about just about everything.

By James Kunstler on 29 December 2014 for Kunstler.com -
(http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/5336/)


Image above: Obama and Mendacity. From (http://www.obama-me.com/).

The futility of politics in America these days has driven the public into exactly the dream-state of zombie blood-lust depicted in so many popular video fantasies, a nightmare of decay, powerlessness, and degeneracy matching the actual condition of a disintegrating polity that has lost collective consciousness and seeks only to infect the dwindling numbers of the still-sentient. Almost nobody in this country believes we can manage our affairs anymore.

Well, can we? One of the hallmarks of an imploding culture is that people lose a sense of consequence. Things just seem to happen and unhappen, and nobody really cares about chains of decision and event. Anything goes and nothing matters.

One reason this is happening to us is that we allowed reality to be divorced from truth. Karl Rove wasn’t kidding back in the Bush-2 days when he quipped that “we create our own reality.”

The part old Karl left out is that there’s a price for doing that. In the short run, it allows you to pretend that you have superpowers and can act in defiance of the way things really are. In the longer run, your view of the world comports so poorly with the facts of the world that things stop working.

The tragedy of Barack Obama is that he continued the basic Karl Rove doctrine only without bragging about it. I don’t know whether Mr. Obama was a hostage, an empty suit, or a fool, but he broadened and deepened the acquiescence to lying about just about everything.

Did criminal misconduct run rampant in banking for years? Oh, never mind.

Is the US economy actually contracting instead of recovering? We’ll just make up better numbers.

Did US officials act like Nazi war criminals in torturing prisoners? Well, yeah, but so what? 

Did the State Department and the CIA scuttle the elected Ukrainian government in order to start an unnecessary new conflict with Russia? Maybe so, but who cares?

Was the Affordable Care Act a swindle in the service of insurance and pharmaceutical racketeering? Oh, we’ll read the bill after we pass it.

Will shale oil will make us “energy independent.”? Not!

Has anyone noticed the way these incongruities percolate into the public attention and then get dismissed, like daydreams, with no resolution. I’ve harped on this one before because it was, to my mind, Obama’s greatest failure:

When the Supreme Court decided in the Citizens United case that corporations were entitled to express their political convictions by buying off politicians, why didn’t the President join with his then-Democratic majority congress to propose legislation, or a constitutional amendment, more clearly redefining the difference between corporate “personhood” and the condition of citizenship?

How could this constitutional lawyer miss the reality that corporations legally and explicitly do not have obligations, duties, and responsibilities to the public interest but only to their shareholders? How was this not obvious? And why was there not a rush to correct it?

Of course, this only begs the question: where are the opponents to the ethos that anything goes and nothing matters? Where are the political figures who can sustain a complaint long enough, and loudly enough, to keep it in the public consciousness clearly enough to make a difference?

The more conspiracy-minded might say that the security apparatus (the NSA and its servelings) or Wall Street actually run the country and somehow suppress opposition. I don’t believe that. I do believe that cultures go through tragic periods when they lose their bearings and the will to be truthful to themselves.


Image above: Clinton vs Bush in 2016. From (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10776038/Bush-versus-Clinton-2016-would-a-battle-of-the-dynasties-really-be-un-American.html). (http://www.obama-me.com/).

The latest news is that Mr. Jeb Bush is way ahead among his Republican rivals for the presidential nomination, leading to a beautiful setup for the battle of the dynasties: Bush versus Clinton in 2016. I believe that insulting prospect would be the wake-up call that will hit the American people upside the head and wake them out of their zombie rapture.

A third party will arise.

It may be a good one or a bad one, but it will blow the existing order of things apart, as it should.

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The End of Growh

SUBHEAD: The response to the new paradigm will define the future of our species, and of the planet.

By Nafeez Ahmed on 22 December 2014 for Degrowth.org -
(http://leipzig.degrowth.org/en/2014/12/revolution-part-1-the-end-of-growth/)


Image above: Illustration by Lisa Larson Walker for "Utopia Subhead #8". From (http://vulgaire.com/utopia-subhead/).

New research suggests that the ongoing global economic crisis is symptomatic of a deeper crisis of industrial civilization’s relationship with nature. The continuation of the crisis, though, does not imply the end of the world – but rather is part of major phase shift to a new form of civilization that could either adapt to post-carbon reality and prosper, or crumble in denial. It is the Great Transition.

We are on the verge of a major tipping point in the way civilization works.

Even as so many global crises are accelerating, a range of interconnected systemic revolutions are converging in a way that could facilitate a transformation of the global economy from one that maximizes material accumulation for the few, to one that caters for the needs and well being of all.

That’s the conclusion of a major new book published as part of the ‘Routledge Studies in Ecological Economics’ series, The Great Transition, by Prof Mauro Bonaiuti, an economist at the University of Turin in Italy.

Bonaiuti’s book applies the tools of complexity science to diagnose the real dynamic and implications of the global economic crisis that most visibly erupted in 2008.

That crisis, Bonaiuti argues, is not simply a part of the cyclical boom and bust process, but is a symptom of a longer “passage of civilization.”

Advanced capitalist societies are in a “phase of declining returns” measured across the period after the Second World War, including GDP growth, energy return on investment (how much energy is put in compared to what we get out), manufacturing productivity, among others.

But compared to these declines, in the same period and on a global scale we have faced near exponential increases in energy consumption, public debt, population growth, greenhouse gas emissions, and species extinctions.

For Bonaiuti, the declines we are seeing are a consequence of the “the interaction between limitations of a biophysical nature (the exhaustion of resources, global warming, etc.) and the increasing complexity of social structures (bureaucratisation, the reduction in the productivity of innovation and in the educational, health and productive systems, etc.).”

The economic crisis is therefore not just about debt, or deregulation, or market volatility or whatever. Fundamentally, the crisis is due to the global economy’s ongoing breaching of the limits of the biosphere.

Ironically, as Bonauiti points out, after a certain point as material accumulation measured by GDP continues, well-being and happiness have not only stopped growing, they are now also in decline as depression and other psychological ailments are proliferating – a phenomenon that mainstream economists are at a loss to explain.

But it begins to make sense when we re-frame the crisis as not simply an economic one, but as a “bio-economic” one, in which exponential material consumption is increasingly destabilizing the biosphere. This environmental ‘overshoot’ explains “the inability on the part of the capitalist system to continue to produce social well-being and to face the ecological question with any efficaciousness.”

Collapse? Or renewal! (or both…?)

Civilization is thus undergoing a huge, momentous ‘phase shift’ to a new era as the current form of global predatory capitalism crumbles beneath the weight of its own mounting unsustainability.

As this process unfolds, it simultaneously opens up a range of scenarios for new forms of society, within which there is an opportunity for “a great transition towards new institutional forms” that could include greater “democratic self-government of communities and their territories.”

Despite the very real disruptions this phase shift entails, many of which have been explored in-depth at Motherboard (the unprecedented spate of global unrest being a major example),the Italian economist is cautiously optimistic about the potential long-term outcomes.

“When the framework changes, as the sciences of complexity teach us, there will be other forms of economic and social organisation more suited to the new situation,” said Bonaiuti.

“In particular, in a context of global crisis, or even stagnant growth, cooperation among decentralized, smaller scale economic organizations, will offer greater chances of success. These organizations can lead the system towards conditions of ecological sustainability, more social equity and, by involving citizens and territories, even increase the level of democracy.”

Bonauiti uses the term ‘degrowth’ to describe this new framework – but degrowth does not simply mean no growth, or even negative growth. It actually entails a new science of ‘post-growth economics’ in which the obsession with measuring material accumulation as the prime signifier of economic health is jettisoned, in which it is recognized that endless growth on a finite planet is simply biophysically impossible, literally a violation of one of the most elementary laws of physics: conservation of energy, and relatedly entropy.

If Bonauiti is right, then we should expect to be seeing more and more signs of this changing framework, and with it, the emergence of potential new forms of economic and social organization that work far better than the old industrial paradigm we take for granted. And that’s exactly what’s happening.

In part 2, I will round up five major ‘revolutions’ that are developing now, which are already undermining the old paradigm, and paving the way for viable alternative approaches: the information revolution, the energy revolution, the food revolution, the finance revolution, and the ethical revolution.

The big shifts constituted by these revolutions are developing disparately, tentatively, and often incoherently – but despite that, they are evolving inexorably, and in coming years will be increasingly difficult to contain and co-opt.

All of them involve an increasing dispersion of power to people and communities, away from traditional centralized hierarchies of control. As they accelerate and begin to interact, the opportunities for transition will also open up.

That’s not to say any of this will happen in a simplistic, easy-peasy manner. Prof Bonauiti identifies four potential scenarios for the future, and one of them involves ‘collapse’, while another leads to ‘resilience’.

The old paradigm, and those who benefit from it the most, will also resist the most, and their resistance and disbelief in the reality of change – and the people’s response to it – will quite literally define the future of our species, and of the planet, in ways that will remain entirely unpredictable.

• Nafeez Ahmed is currently setting up the people-powered independent media platform “Insurge Intelligence: Watchdog Journalism for the Global Commons

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Waiting for the Sunrise

SUBHEAD: Bleak as the immediate prospects may be, there can still be a future worth having.

By John Michael Greer on 24 December 2014 for the Archdruid Report -
(http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/12/waiting-for-sunrise.html)


Image above: Dawn on 21 December 2000 from the rim of Mount Haleakala crater on Maui during a ceremony to drum up the sun. The first Winter Solstice on the third millennia. Photo by Juan Wilson.

By the time many of my readers get to this week’s essay here on The Archdruid Report, it will be Christmas Day.

Here in America, that means that we’re finally most of the way through one of the year’s gaudiest orgies of pure vulgar greed, the holiday shopping season, which strikes me as rather an odd way to celebrate the birth of someone whose teachings so resolutely critiqued the mindless pursuit of material goodies.

If, as that same person pointed out, it’s impossible to serve both God and Mammon, the demon of wealth, it’s pretty clear which of those two personages most Americans—including no small number who claim to be Christians—really consider the reason for the season.

A long time before that stable in Bethlehem received its most famous tenants, though, the same day was being celebrated across much of the northern temperate zone.

The reason has to do with one of those details everyone knew before the invention of electric lighting and few people remember now, the movement of the apparent point of sunrise along the eastern horizon during the year.

Before the printing press made calendars ubiquitous, that was a standard way of gauging the changing seasons: the point of sunrise swings from southeast to northeast as winter in the northern hemisphere gives way to summer and from northeast back to southeast as summer gives way again to winter, and if you have a way to track the apparent motion, you can follow the yearly cycle with a fair degree of precision.

This movement is like the swing of a pendulum: it’s very fast in the middle of the arc, and slows to a dead stop on either end.

That makes the spring and fall equinoxes easy to identify—if you have a couple of megaliths lined up just right, for example, the shadow of one will fall right on the foot of the other on the days of the equinoxes, and a little to one side or the other one day before or after—but the summer and winter solstices are a different matter.

At those times of year, the sun seems to grind to a halt around the 17th of June or December, you wait for about a week, and then finally the sun comes up a little further south on June 25th or a little further north on December 25th, and you know for a fact that the wheel of the seasons is still turning.

That’s why Christmas is when it is. I’ve read, though I don’t have the reference handy, that shepherds in the Levant back in the day kept watch over their flocks in the fields in late summer, not in December, and so—if the New Testament narrative is to be believed—Jesus was something like four months old when the first Christmas rolled around.

As far as I know, nobody knows exactly how the present date got put in place, but I suspect the old solar symbolism had a lot to do with it; in those days, the Christian church was less prone to the rigid literalism that’s become common in recent centuries, and also quite aware of seasonal and astronomical cycles—consider the complicated rules for setting the date of Easter, in which movements of the sun and moon both play a part.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about such things as the holiday shopping season stumbles toward its end and a troubled, weary, and distracted nation prepares to bid a hearty good riddance to 2014.

Of course Druids generally think about such things; the seasonal cycle has had an important role in our traditions since those were revived in the eighteenth century.

Even so, it’s been more on my mind than usual.

In particular, as I think about the shape of things in the world right now, what keeps coming to mind is the image of the old loremasters, waiting in the darkness at the end of a cold winter’s night to see the sunrise begin swinging back in the direction of spring.

Those of my readers who see such an image as hopelessly out of place just now have, I grant, quite a bit of evidence on their side. Most notably, the coming of 2015 marks a full decade since production of conventional petroleum worldwide hit its all-time peak and began to decline.

Those who were around in the early days of the peak oil scene, as I was, will doubtless recall how often and eagerly the more optimistic members of that scene insisted that once the peak arrived, political and business interests everywhere would be forced to come to terms with the end of the age of cheap abundant energy.

Once that harsh but necessary awakening took place, they argued, the transition to sustainable societies capable of living within the Earth’s annual budget of sunlight would finally get under way.

Of course that’s not what happened. Instead, political and business interests responded to the peak by redefining what counts as crude oil, pouring just about any flammable liquid they could find into the world’s fuel tank—ethanol, vegetable oil, natural gas liquids, “dilbit” (diluted bitumen) from tar sands, you name it—while scraping the bottom of the barrel for petroleum via hydro-fracturing, ultra-deep offshore wells, and other extreme extraction methods.

All of those require much higher inputs of fossil fuel energy per barrel produced than conventional crude does, so that a growing fraction of the world’s fossil fuel supply has had to be burned just to produce more fossil fuel.

Did any whisper of this far from minor difficulty find its way into the cheery charts of “all liquids” and the extravagantly rose-colored projections of future production?

Did, for example, any of the official agencies tasked with tracking fossil fuel production consider subtracting an estimate for barrels of oil equivalent used in extraction from the production figures, so that we would have at least a rough idea of the world’s net petroleum production? Surely you jest.

The need to redirect an appreciable fraction of the world’s fossil fuel supply into fossil fuel production, in turn, had significant economic costs.

Those were shown by the simultaneous presence of prolonged economic dysfunction and sky-high oil prices: a combination, please note, that last appeared during the energy crises of the 1970s, and should have served as a warning sign that something similar was afoot.

Instead of paying attention, political and business interests around the world treated the abrupt fraying of the economy as a puzzling anomaly to be drowned in a vat of cheap credit—when, that is, they didn’t treat it as a public relations problem that could be solved by proclaiming a recovery that didn’t happen to exist.

Economic imbalances accordingly spun out of control; paper wealth flowed away from those who actually produce goods and service into the hands of those who manipulate fiscal abstractions; the global economy was whipsawed by convulsive fiscal crisis in 2009 and 2009, and shows every sign of plunging into a comparable round of turmoil right now.

I wish I could say that the alternative energy side of the equation had responded to any of this in a way that might point toward a better future, but no such luck.

With embarrassingly few exceptions, the things that got funding, or even any significant amount of discussion, were the sorts of overpriced white-elephant systems that only make economic sense in the presence of lavish government subsidies, and are utterly dependent on a technostructure that’s only viable given exactly the sort of cheap abundant fossil fuels that those systems are theoretically going to replace.

Grid-tied photovoltaic systems, gargantuan wind turbines, and vast centralized solar-thermal facilities soaked up the attention and the funding, while simple, affordable, thoroughly proven technologies such as solar water heating got another decade of malign neglect. As for using less—the necessary foundation for anything approaching a sustainable future—that remained utterly taboo in polite company.

Back in 2005, a then-famous study done for the Department of Energy by a team headed by Robert Hirsch showed that to get through declining oil supplies without massive crisis, preparations for the descent would have to begin twenty years before the peak arrived.

Since the peak of conventional crude oil production had already arrived in 2005, this warning was perhaps a little tardy, but a crash program focusing on conservation and the conversion of energy-intensive infrastructure to less vulnerable technologies might still have done much.

Instead, we collectively wasted another decade on daydreams—and all the while, week after dreary week, the mainstream media has kept up a steady drumbeat of articles claiming to prove that this or that or the other thing has disproved peak oil.

Given all this, is there any reason to expect anything other than a continuation of the same dysfunctional behavior, with the blind leading the blind until they all tumble together down the long bitter slope ahead?

As it happens, I think there is.

Part of it, oddly enough, is the steady drumbeat of articles just referred to, each claiming to have disproved peak oil once and for all.

The last time the subject was shouted down, in the early 1980s, there wasn’t that kind of ongoing barrage; after a few blandly confident denunciations, the subject just got dropped from the media so hard it would have left a dent on a battleship’s armored deck, and was consigned thereafter to a memory hole straight out of George Orwell.

Presumably that was the intention this time, too, but something has shifted. In the early 1980s, when the media started spouting the same sort of cornucopian drivel they’re engaged in this time, the vast majority of the people who claimed to be concerned about energy and the environment trotted along after them with scarcely a dissenting bleat.

That hasn’t happened in the present case; if I may indulge in a bit of very edgy irony here, this is one of the very few ways in which it really is different this time.

It’s worth glancing back over how that difference unfolded. To be sure, the brief heyday during which media reports took the end of the age of cheap abundant energy seriously stopped abruptly when puffing up the fracking bubble became the order of the day; the aforementioned drumbeat of alleged disproofs got going; those of us who kept on talking about peak oil started getting pressure from mainstream (that is, corporate-funded) environmentalists to drop the subject, get on board with the climate change bandwagon, and join them in the self-defeating rut that’s kept the environmental movement from accomplishing anything worthwhile for the last thirty years.

In response, a certain number of bloggers and speakers who had been involved in peak oil discussions did in fact drop the subject, and those peak oil organizations that had committed themselves to a grant-funded organizational model fell on hard times.

A fair number of us stayed the course, though. Far more significantly, so did a very substantial portion of our audience.

That latter point is the thing that I find most encouraging.

Over the last decade, in the teeth of constant propaganda from the mass media and a giddy assortment of other sources, the number of people in the United States and elsewhere who are aware of the ongoing decline of industrial society, who recognize the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet, and who are willing to make changes in their own lives in response to these things, somehow failed to dwindle away to near-irrelevance, as it did the last time around.

If anything—though I don’t have hard statistics to back this perception, just a scattering of suggestive proxy measurements—that number seems to have increased.

When I speak to audiences about catabolic collapse and the twilight of the industrial age these days, for example, I don’t get anything like as many blank looks or causal dismissals as those concepts routinely fielded even a few years ago.

Books on peak oil and related topics, mine among them, remain steady sellers, and stats on this blog have zigzagged unevenly but relentlessly upwards over the years, regularly topping 300,000 page views a month this autumn.

Less quantifiable but more telling, at least to me, are the shifts I’ve watched in people I know.

Some who used to reject the whole idea of imminent and ongoing decline with scornful laughter have slowly come around to rueful admissions that, well, maybe we really are in trouble; others, starting from the same place, now denounce any such notion with the sort of brittle rage that you normally see in people who are losing the ability to make themselves keep believing the dogma they’ve committed themselves to defending.

Even more telling are the young people I meet who have sized up the future with cold eyes, and walked away from the officially approved options spread before them like so many snares by a society whose easy promises a great many of them no longer believe.

Each year that passes brings me more encounters with people in their late teens and twenties who have recognized that the rules that shaped their parents’ and grandparents’ lives don’t work any more, that most of the jobs they have been promised either don’t exist or won’t exist for much longer, that a college education these days is a one-way ticket to decades of debt peonage, and that most of the other institutions that claim to be there to help them don’t have their best interests in mind.

They’re picking up crafts and skilled trades, living with their parents or with groups of other young people, and learning to get by on less, because the price of doing otherwise is more than they’re willing to pay.

More broadly, more and more people seem to be turning their backs on the American dream, or more precisely on the bleak waking nightmare into which the American dream has metastasized over the last few decades. A growing number of people have walked away from the job market and found ways to support themselves outside a mainstream economy that’s increasingly stacked against them.

Even among those who are still in the belly of the beast, the sort of unthinking trust in business as usual that used to be tolerably common straight through American society is increasingly rare these days.

Outside the narrowing circle of those who benefit from the existing order of society, a crisis of legitimacy is in the making, and it’s not simply the current US political system that’s facing the brunt of that crisis—it’s the entire crumbling edifice of American collective life.

That crisis of legitimacy won’t necessarily lead to better things. It could all too easily head in directions no sane person would wish to go.

I’ve written here more than once about the possibility that the abject and ongoing failure of constructive leadership in contemporary America could lay the groundwork for the rise of something closely akin to the fascist regimes of Depression-era Europe, as people desperate for an alternative to the Republicratic consensus frozen into place inside the Washington DC beltway turn to a charismatic demagogue who promises to break the gridlock and bring change.

Things could also go in even more destructive directions; a nation that ships tens of thousands of its young people in uniform to an assortment of Middle Eastern countries, teaches them all the latest trends in counterinsurgency warfare, and then dumps them back home in a collapsing economy without the benefits they were promised, has only itself to blame if some of them end up applying their skills in the service of a domestic insurgency against the present US government.

Those possibilities are real, and so are a galaxy of other potential outcomes that are considerably worse than what exists in America today. That said, constructive change is also a possibility.

The absurd extravagances that most Americans still think of as an ordinary standard of living were always destined to be a short-term phenomenon, and we’re decades past the point at which a descent from those giddy heights could have been made without massive disruptions; no possible combination of political, social, economic, and environmental transformations at this point can change those unwelcome facts.

Even so, there’s much worth doing that can still be done.

We can at least stop making things worse than they have to be; we can begin shifting, individually and collectively, to technologies and social forms that will still make sense in a world of tightly constrained energy and resource supplies; we can preserve things of value to the near, middle, and far future that might otherwise be lost; we might, given luck and hard work, be able to revive enough of the moribund traditions of American democracy and voluntary association to provide an alternative down the road to the naked rule of force and fraud.

None of that will be easy, but then all the easy options went whistling down the wind a long time ago.

No doubt there will still be voices insisting that Americans can have the lifestyles to which they think they’re entitled if only this, or that, or the other thing were to happen; no doubt the collapse of the fracking bubble will be followed by some equally gaudy and dishonest set of cargo-cult rhetoric meant to convince the rubes that happy days will shortly be here again, just as soon as billions of dollars we don’t happen to have are poured down whatever the next rathole du jour happens to be.

If enough of us ignore those claims and do what must be done—and “enough” in this context does not need to equal a majority, or even a large minority, of Americans—there’s still much of value that can be accomplished in the time before us.

To return to the metaphor that opened this post, that first slight shift of sunrise north along the horizon from the solstice point, faint as it is, is a reminder that winter doesn’t last forever, even though the coldest nights and the worst of the winter storms come after that point is past.

In the same way, bleak as the immediate prospects may be, there can still be a future worth having on the far side of the crisis of our age, and our actions here and now can further the immense task of bringing such a future into being.

In the new year, as I continue the current series of posts on the American future, I plan on talking at quite some length about some of the things that can be done and some of the possibilities that those actions might bring within reach.

And with that, I would like to wish my Christian readers a very merry Christmas, my readers of other faiths, a blessed holiday season, and to all my readers, a happy New Year.


.

A Phase named Crystal

SUBHEAD: Reaching over the dark horizon to loosen crystals of ice, winter light warms our hearts.

By Juan Wilson on 24 December 2014 for Island Breath -
(http://www.islandbreath.org/TheGobbler/Articles%20Published/Seasonal%20SZ/07%20Crystal/sz_07crystal.html)


Image above: Aerial illustration by Richard Schlect for National Geographic magazine of traditional "long houses"of the Iroquois nation along a river in Western New York 500 years ago. From (http://www.islandbreath.org/TheGobbler/Articles%20Published/Seasonal%20SZ/07%20Crystal/sz_iroquois_winter.html).

Most of the material below was originally from in a almanac/newsletter called The Gobbler that my wife and I published in western New York state between 1993 and 2000 (when we moved to Hawaii). The Gobbler was focused on local issues and the Wheel of the Year as it turns through the seasons and our lives. That journalistic partnership became Island Breath in January of 2004. Merry Christmas at this time as we return to the light.    



Reaching over the dark horizon
to loosen crystals of ice, winter light warms our hearts.

by Linda Pascatore/Juan Wilson - Winter Crystal 2000

Boots crunching the trail
hands numb in woolen mittens
tongue catching snowflakes.

by Linda Pascatore - Winter Crystal 1999

The sun returning
bringing crystal morning light
to warm all creatures.

by Linda Pascatore, Winter Crystal, 1998



The Phase Named Crystal
 
By Linda Pascatore on 21 December 1995 for The Gobbler

We have divided the year into eight phases, based on the Solstices, the Equinoxes and the midpoints of the four seasons (see Solar Phases below). We are now in the phase of Crystal, which begins on the shortest day and longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice on December 21st. There will be one full moon this period, on January 9th.

We have named it Popping Trees Moon because you can hear the sap in the trees pop when it is extremely cold. This period of Crystal ends on February 5th, just after Ground Hog's day. That is the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. From the solstice on, the light will slowly return as the days grow longer and the nights shorter. Although this period will bring more light, the coldest part of the winter is still ahead of us.

Birds will be very active during this time. Many species not usually seen here in Western New York will be migrating from the north. Look for snow buntings, often found in large flocks over snowy fields, with brown and black patterns on their back and wings. Cedar waxwings might be found in trees with berries. These are brown birds with crested heads, yellow bands on the tail tip, and red stripes on wings.

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, The Winter Solstice occurs on December 21st at 2:21 PM EST. Jupiter will be closest to Earth on December 30th and brightest on New Year's Eve, rising in the northeast at nightfall.

IB Publisher's note: Below are some of the seasonal articles Linda and I published between 1994 and 2000.

Christmas Unplugged
Are you tired of a hyped, glitzy, materialistic, stressful Christmas that has lost it's true meaning? Are you spending beyond your budget and still finding that your children want more brand name toys every year?

Iroquois Midwinter
The New Year or Midwinter Festival began on the first new moon after the solstice. It was the longest of the eight major Iroquois festivals, lasting almost three weeks. It must have been a welcome break from the monotony of winter, when the weather often required spending a lot of time indoors.

Wildlife Christmas Tree
Last Christmas we visited a home with a beautiful tree decorated with nuts and dried fruit. The best thing about using this type of decoration is that you can share your Christmas tree with the birds and squirrels after the holiday.


Seasons Greetings This is a time when nature holds her breath: stillness reigns in this most quiet period of the year. The bugs fall silent, plant growth ceases, animals hibernate, and many birds leave. The lakes and streams are frozen, and the land is insulated with a blanket of snow.

Christmas Traditions
Nativity scenes, Santa Claus, reindeer, stars, wreaths and holly, stockings and presents are all associated with Christmas. Some traditions are directly related to the Christian holiday, while others had their origin earlier in various midwinter or solstice celebrations.

Earliest Christmas Memories
Not a story but a group of memories about a Christmas long past that linger to this day.

Mele Kalikimaka
It means "Merry Christmas" in Hawaii. That's not the only detail that make it strange to be in the tropics at this season of the year.

House of the Sun
This Solstice my husband and I shared a spiritual experience at the House of the Sun. We drove to the summit of Haleakela at dawn on Maui, Hawaii.

.

Fed intervention with oil

SUBHEAD: Fed policy has led to financializing everything. Now the latest sector, oil, has blown up.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 23 December 2014 for Of Two Minds -
(http://www.oftwominds.com/blogdec14/fed-oil12-14.html)


Image above: Roughnecks on North Dakota shale oil rig in the boom year 2013. From (http://www.minnpost.com/business/2013/05/new-nd-oil-projections-offer-opportunities-minnesota-businesses).

In a larger sense, the Fed is already intervening in the oil sector via its zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) and its unlimited liquidity for financial speculation.

The problem with financializing a critical sector of the economy is the financialization process transforms it into a systemic risk. The trajectory of every financialized sector is the same: debt and leverage are piled ever higher on a base of collateral that eventually collapses as heightened risk becomes the Monster Id of a crowded trade.

Once the Monster Id burns through the firewalls that were supposed to limit risk, the crowded "safe" trade blows up and the conflagration quickly spreads throughout the financial system.

Every financialized sector thus has the potential to take down the entire financial system.

The mortgage sector is a prime example of this dynamic. The financialization of the mortgage industry created the subprime mortgage firetrap, which inevitably caught fire and threatened to burn down the entire global financial system.

The central bank that encouraged the financialization then has no choice but to intervene to save the system from the toppling dominoes of leverage and risk. Once the mortgage sector was fully financialized--securitized, tranched, packaged into collateralized debt obligations and other derivatives--the implosion of the weakest link (subprime mortgages backed by bogus collateral and liar loans) was baked into the financialization process.

As the systemic dominoes started falling, the Too Big to Fail (TBTF) banks had to be bailed out to the tune of trillions of dollars in guarantees, backstops and loans. As correspondent Mark G. has noted, the debtors are left to suffer the consequences of their risky debt, but the big creditors are saved from the consequences of their bad bets.

This is the essence of moral hazard--risk is disconnected from consequence by central bank intervention. Gains are privatized, losses are socialized, i.e. borne by the taxpayers and savers whose interest has been siphoned to private banks by the central bank.

Now the latest sector to be financialized, oil, has blown up, falling in a parabolic freefall from over $100/barrel to a recent low around $53. And once again, the sector's losses are threatening to undermine sectors with no direct connection to oil.

When central banks feign disinterest in intervention, it can be taken as a sign that they're either planning intervention or are already actively intervening via proxies. Central banks play two hands at all times: their propaganda campaign of talking up their intervention ("whatever it takes," etc.) and their sustained opaque interventions via proxies.

When it behooves central banks to appear actively engaged in saving stock and bond markets from melting down, their interventions are publicly flogged on a weekly or even daily basis-- for example, the QE campaigns 1,2 and 3.

When their interventions exceed their mandate for outright manipulation of markets--for example, buying future contracts in the S&P 500 within the last 15 minutes of trading to push the markets into the green--it's all kept far from the public eye, hidden behind proxies.

Given the systemic risks arising from the meltdown of oil, why would the Federal Reserve let this latest implosion spread to the entire over-leveraged system? After six years of continual intervention in financial markets, why would the Fed suddenly cease its labors to keep imploding sectors from destabilizing the rest of the rickety structure?

It beggars belief that the Fed would stand by doing nothing, while the financial dominoes from oil's 50% decline start toppling.

The question isn't, why would the Fed intervene in the oil market? The question is, why wouldn't the Fed intervene in the oil market?

The Fed, via proxies, might buy oil futures contracts to prop up the collateral, and (again through proxies) it might even start buying up impaired high-risk bonds based on oil.

In a larger sense, the Fed is already intervening in the oil sector via its zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) and its unlimited liquidity for financial speculation. Should the Fed turn the dial of intervention up by buying futures and oil-based bonds, it is not a new policy--it is simply a matter of degree.

The intervention has been going on in every sector since 2008. The implosion of the oil sector is simply the latest outbreak of consequence following cause.


.

Regime change in Cuba

SUBHEAD: The Cuban Revolution intended to free Cubans from foreign domination and from exploitation.

By Craig Roberts on 19 December 2014 for WOrld News Trust-
(http://worldnewstrust.com/regime-change-in-cuba-paul-craig-roberts)


Image above: Front end of a Studebaker taxi in Havana as old as a US senior citizen. From Huffington Post article below.

Normalization of relations with Cuba is not the result of a diplomatic breakthrough or a change of heart on the part of Washington.

Normalization is a result of U.S. corporations seeking profit opportunities in Cuba, such as developing broadband Internet markets in Cuba.

Before the American left and the Cuban government find happiness in the normalization, they should consider that with normalization comes American money and a U.S. Embassy. The American money will take over the Cuban economy.

The embassy will be a home for CIA operatives to subvert the Cuban government. The embassy will provide a base from which the United States can establish NGOs whose gullible members can be called to street protest at the right time, as in Kiev, and the embassy will make it possible for Washington to groom a new set of political leaders.

In short, normalization of relations means regime change in Cuba. Soon Cuba will be another of Washington’s vassal states.

Conservatives and Republicans such as Peggy Noonan and Senator Marco Rubio, have made it clear that Castro is “a bad man who turned an almost-paradise into a floating prison” and that normalizing relations with Cuba will not “grant the Castro regime legitimacy.”

Noonan forgets about Guantanamo, Washington’s offshore torture prison in Cuba where hundreds of innocent people have been held and tortured for a large part of their lives by the exceptional Americans.

The Cuban Revolution intended to free Cubans from foreign domination and from exploitation by foreign capitalists. Whatever the likelihood of success, a half century of Washington’s hostility has as much to do with Cuba’s economic problems as communist ideology.

The self-righteousness of Americans is extreme. Noonan is happy. American money is now going to defeat Castro’s life work. And if the money doesn’t do it, the CIA will. The agency has long been waiting to avenge the Bay of Pigs, and normalization of relations brings the opportunity.

• Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts' latest books are The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West and How America Was Lost.



Cuban tourism expected to rise

By Ben Fox on 22 December 2014 for Huffington Post - 
(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/22/cuba-tourism_n_6365884.html)

As the U.S. and Cuba begin to normalize relations for the first time in half a century, some Americans are already roaming the streets of Old Havana, attending dance exhibitions and talks on architecture as they take part in scripted cultural tours that can cost more than a decent used car back home.

The U.S. visitors are participants in the highly regulated "people-to-people" travel that President Barack Obama permitted in 2011 in one of his first moves toward detente with Cuba. The program aims to increase interaction with ordinary Cubans without creating uncomfortable images of Americans lounging on beaches in a single-party state. The tours tend to attract people sympathetic to improving ties with President Raul Castro's government.

"It's pre-selected for people who already want there to be change," said Jonathan Anderson, a 33-year-old from Denver on an eight-day excursion that cost $6,000 per person. "People aren't coming here to see how evil Castro is. They are coming here to reinforce ties."

Travel experts said Sunday that the new opening to Cuba that Obama announced four days earlier goes far beyond the 2011 reform and could sharply increase U.S. tourism in the coming years.
Among the changes, Obama directed the Treasury Department to expand the categories of travelers who can go to Cuba without requesting a license from the department first.

Soon to be covered by a standing, blanket travel permit are participants in educational activities, the category that covers most people-to-people travel. Experts said that eliminating the licensing requirement could greatly reduce the costs of organized tours by cutting paperwork. It also could, perhaps more importantly, allow huge numbers of Americans to legally travel on their own to Cuba.

In the past, people-to-people travelers could only go to Cuba under a license obtained by a travel company in a time-consuming process followed by lengthy government verification that travelers weren't engaging in inappropriate leisure tourism.

"We can't go to the beach and drink mojitos all day," said Tony Pandola, who was leading Anderson's trip with Global Expeditions of San Francisco, California. "That doesn't have any sort of objective as an educational or cultural exchange."

Now, according to travel experts awaiting regulations expected within weeks, it appears tour companies will be able to head to Cuba and simply give the U.S. government their word that they're engaging in educational travel and not ordinary tourism. Some think the new "general license" travel permits would apply to individuals, allowing people to go on their own.

"As long as with integrity they can say they're going to engage with the Cuban people and learn about Cuba and talk about the United States then they don't have to do anything other than say that's what they're doing," said John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which has organized trips in the past.

The easing of tourism regulations is a gamble for both the U.S. and Cuba.

Obama said Wednesday that people-to-people travel was a way to "empower the Cuban people." At the same time, a U.S. tourism surge could funnel sorely needed cash to a tourism industry run mostly by what Obama described Friday as "a regime that represses its people."

Experts don't expect American tourists to flood Cuba immediately after the new regulations are published. The daunting complexity of the legal details and the possibility, even remote, of fines for violations will probably mean most new travel to Cuba will still go through tour organizers. Those organizers are currently required to do business with state-run travel companies, meaning tour agendas are now almost entirely under the purview of the Cuban government.

People-to-people travel can cost $2,000 to $6,000 per person and tour organizers are supposed to keep the formal itinerary full to meet U.S. regulations. "We can go out and see things but we have to conform to the rules," Anderson said.

General tourism to Cuba is still prohibited by the half-century old trade embargo, and it would take an act of Congress to lift it. But that hasn't stopped many Americans from traveling to Cuba through a third country and keeping quiet about it when they go through immigration and customs upon arrival back in the United States.

The number of U.S. travelers to Cuba has increased steadily each year, from about 245,000 in 2007 to nearly 600,000 last year, according to a report by the U.S.-based Havana Consulting Group. The most recent statistics from Cuba's government show that about 73,500 Americans visited in 2011, but that doesn't include dual citizens who it counts as Cuban.

Tom Popper, president of tour organizer Insight Cuba, said he thinks many new travelers to Cuba will take organized tours because it can be difficult for an individual to organize a trip that meets Treasury Department requirements.

Still, eliminating the license requirement will remove a significant bureaucratic hurdle, according to Popper, whose last application was more than 700 pages long.
"This is such welcome news to us," Popper said.

And the appeal of visiting Cuba goes beyond education to some Americans.

"I'm looking for a warm climate, it's historical obviously and it's also a place that most Americans don't go," said Katja Von Tiesenhausen, a 41-year-old emergency room doctor from Boston, taking part in another tour.


.

If Wishes were Loaves and Fishes

SUBHEAD: The Fed has provoked delirium in the markets, with record advances to new oxygen-thin heights.

By James Kunstler on 24 December 2014 for Kunstler.com -
(http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/if-wishes-were-loaves-and-fishes/)


Image above: Last week the Dow Jones soared more than 400 points for its best day in three years. From (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/dow-jones-s-p-500-continue-gains-fed-comment-article-1.2050502).

Janet Yellen and her Federal Reserve board of augurers might as well have spilled a bucket of goat entrails down the steps of the mysterious Eccles Building as they parsed, sliced, and diced the ramifications in altering their prior declaration of “a considerable period” (that is, before raising interest rates), vis-√†-vis the simpler new imperative, “patience,” with its moral overburden of public censure aimed at those too eager for clarity.

That is to say, the assurance that the Fed will not pull the plug on their life-support drip of funny money for the racketeering operation that banking has become.

The vapid pronouncement of “patience” provoked delirium in the markets, with record advances to new oxygen-thin heights.

Behind all this ceremonial hugger-mugger lurks the dark suspicion that the Federal Reserve has no idea what’s actually going on, and no idea what it’s doing. And in the absence of any such ideas, Ms. Yellen and her collegial eminences have engineered a very elaborate rationale for doing nothing.

The truth is, they have already done enough. They have succeeded via their dial-tweaking interventions in destroying the agency of markets so that nobody can tell the difference anymore between prices and wishes.

Coincidentally, it is that most wishful time of the year, especially among the professional money managers polishing their clients’ portfolios as the carols are sung and the champagne corks pop. Ms. Yellen should have put on a Santa Claus suit when she ventured out to meet the media last week.

Not even very far in the background, there is wreckage everywhere as events spin out of the pretense of control. Surely something is up in the Mordor of derivatives, that unregulated shadowland of counterparty subterfuge where promises are made with no possibility or intention of ever being kept.

You can’t have currencies crashing in more than a handful of significant countries, and interest rates ululating, without a lot of slippage among the swaps.

My guess is that a lot of things have busted wide open there, and we just don’t know about it yet, like fissures working deep below the surface around a caldera.

This Federal Reserve is running on the final fumes of its credibility. Counsel “patience” as it might, other institutions and the people running them may run out of patience with it and start running for cover. When currencies catch fire, even a run on the bank becomes an exercise in futility.

The rot is spreading from the margins to the center. In a world of oxidizing paper obligations, the paper dollar is hardly a fortress but more like a stack of empty foil-wrapped boxes displayed in the concourse of a shopping mall scheduled for closure as soon as the holiday is concluded. Maybe some wise-ass kid will just torch it. The security guard is still awaiting his previous paycheck and is out drinking by the dumpster.

It will be at least a couple of months before the Fed dares to start “printing” again and a lot can happen before it does. If and when it does resume QE — and it will be sorely tempted — all its credibility will finally be lost. What an opportunity for another country, say a country with an already foundering currency, to dare introduce money partially backed by gold. Could happen.

That hypothetical nation may be one with, say, substantial oil reserves, something that even an economically depressed global industrial economy desperately needs. That hypothetical nation may be one that is very weary of being jerked around by the USA, with our augerers and vizeers, and haircuts-in-search-of-brains.

Merry Christmas everyone and, this dwindling year, be especially careful what you wish for.

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Big Island to appeal GMO ruling

SUBHEAD: Dru Kanuha was the only man who voted for Hawaii County to support its GMO ban.

By Shannon Rudolph on 18 December 2014 in Island Breath -
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2014/12/big-island-ro-appeal-gmo-ruling.html)


Image above: Council members who voted for Hawaii County to appeal overturning of their GMO ban with supporters. From Shannon Rudolph.

Aloha! GREAT NEWS!
MAHALO to all who Showed up!!!  This may not have happened without you!

Today, the Hawaii Island Council voted 5/4 to APPROVE the APPEAL of Federal Judge  Barry Kurren's ruling that invalided the Hawaii County GMO ban! This ruling could also invalidate our 2008 ban on GMO taro and Kona Coffee as well.

Pray our GMO Ban WILL be upheld on appeal! Stay tuned!

Five YES Votes 
The Hawaii County Council members supporting the GMO Ban
Karen Eoff, Maile David, Val Poindexter, Margaret Wille, and Dru Kanuha.

Please send them a quick email "Mahalo Nui Loa!"
margaret.wille@hawaiicounty.gov, karen.eoff@hawaiicounty.gov, maile.david@hawaiicounty.gov, valerie.poindexter@hawaiicounty.gov, dru.kanuha@hawaiicounty.gov


Image above: Council member Dru Mamo Kanuha was the only man who voted for Hawaii County to appeal overturning of their GMO ban. From (http://kaunewsbriefs.blogspot.com/2011_10_13_archive.html).

[IB Editor's note: Is this about nurturing versus exploiting? Thank you Dru Kanuha for leaving the Man Cave!]

Four NO Votes
The Hawaii County Council members against the GMO Ban
Aaron Chung, Greggor Ilagan, Dennis Onishi, Daniel Paleka

Their emails:
greggor.ilagan@hawaiicounty.gov, dennis.onishi@hawaiicounty.gov, daniel.paleka@hawaiicounty.gov, aaron.chung@hawaiicounty.gov

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Deja Vu All Over Again

SUBHEAD: Many institutions tried to bail themselves out from the real estate bust by doubling down on fracking.

By John Michael Greer on 17 December 2014 for the Archdruid Report -
(http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/12/deja-vu-all-over-again.html)


Image above: Illustration for "Beware of the Shale Gas Bubble" 2/20/13. From (http://priceofoil.org/2013/02/20/beware-the-shale-gas-bubble/).

Over the last few weeks, a number of regular readers of The Archdruid Report have asked me what I think about the recent plunge in the price of oil and the apparent end of the fracking bubble.

That interest seems to be fairly widespread, and has attracted many of the usual narratives; the blogosphere is full of claims that the Saudis crashed the price of oil to break the US fracking industry, or that Obama got the Saudis to crash the price of oil to punish the Russians, or what have you.

I suspect, for my part, that what’s going on is considerably more important. To start with, oil isn’t the only thing that’s in steep decline. Many other major commodities—coal, iron ore, and copper among them—have registered comparable declines over the course of the last few months.

I have no doubt that the Saudi government has its own reasons for keeping their own oil production at full tilt even though the price is crashing, but they don’t control the price of those other commodities, or the pace of commercial shipping—another thing that has dropped steeply in recent months.

What’s going on, rather, is something that a number of us in the peak oil scene have been warning about for a while now. Since most of the world’s economies run on petroleum products, the steep oil prices of the last few years have taken a hefty bite out of all economic activities.

The consequences of that were papered over for a while by frantic central bank activities, but they’ve finally begun to come home to roost in what’s politely called “demand destruction”—in less opaque terms, the process by which those who can no longer afford goods or services stop buying them.

That, in turn, reminded me of the last time prolonged demand destruction collided with a boom in high-priced oil production, and sent me chasing after a book I read almost three decades ago. A few days ago, accordingly, the excellent interlibrary loan service we have here in Maryland brought me a hefty 1985 hardback by financial journalist Philip Zweig, with the engaging title Belly Up: The Collapse of the Penn Square Bank.

PENN SQUARE
Some of my readers may never have heard of the Penn Square Bank; others may be scratching their heads, trying to figure out why the name sounds vaguely familiar. Those of my readers who belong to either category may want to listen up, because the same story seems to be repeating itself right now on an even larger scale.

The tale begins in the middle years of the 1970s, when oil prices shot up to unprecedented levels, and reserves of oil and natural gas that hadn’t been profitable before suddenly looked like winning bets.

The deep strata of Oklahoma’s Anadarko basin were ground zero for what many people thought was a new era in natural gas production, especially when a handful of deep wells started bringing in impressive volumes of gas.

The only missing ingredient was cash, and plenty of it, to pay for the drilling and hardware. That’s where the Penn Square Bank came into the picture.

The Penn Square Bank was founded in 1960. At that time, as a consequence of hard-earned suspicions about big banks dating back to the Populist era, Oklahoma state banking laws prohibited banks from owning more than one branch, and so there were hundreds of little one-branch banks scattered across the state, making a modest return from home mortgages, auto loans, and the like.

That’s what Penn Square was; it had been organized by the developer of the Penn Square shopping mall, in the northern suburbs of Oklahoma City, to provide an additional draw to retailers and customers. There it sat, in between a tobacconist and Shelley’s Tall Girl’s Shop, doing ordinary retail banking, until 1975.

In that year it was bought by a group of investors headed by B.P. “Beep” Jennings, an Oklahoma City banker who had been passed over for promotion at one of the big banks in town. Jennings pretty clearly wanted to prove that he could run with the big dogs; he was an excellent salesman, but not particularly talented at the number-crunching details that make for long-term success in banking, and he proceeded to demonstrate his strengths and weaknesses in an unforgettable manner.

He took the little shopping mall bank and transformed it into a big player in the Oklahoma oil and gas market, which was poised—or so a chorus of industry voices insisted—on the brink of one of history’s great energy booms.

Now of course this involved certain difficulties, which had to be overcome. A small shopping center bank doesn’t necessarily have the financial resources to become a big player in a major oil and gas market, for example.

Fortunately for Beep Jennings, one of the grand innovations that has made modern banking what it is today had already occurred; by his time, loans were no longer seen as money that was collected from depositors and loaned out to qualified borrowers, in the expectation that it would be repaid with interest. Rather, loans were (and are) assets, which could (and can) be sold, for cash, to other banks.

This is what Penn Square did, and since their loans charged a competitive interest rate and thus promised competitive profits, they were eagerly snapped up by Chase Manhattan, Continental Illinois, Seattle First, and a great many other large and allegedly sophisticated banks.

So Penn Square Bank started issuing loans to Oklahoma oil and gas entrepreneurs, a flotilla of other banks around the country proceeded to fund those loans, and to all intents and purposes, the energy boom began.

OIL BUBBLE
At least that’s what it looked like. There was a great deal of drilling going on, certainly; the economists insisted that the price of oil and gas would just keep on rising; the local and national media promptly started featuring giddily enthusiastic stories about the stunning upside opportunities in the booming Oklahoma oil and gas business.

What’s more, Oklahoma oil and gas entrepreneurs were spending money like nobody’s business, and not just on drilling leases, steel pipe, and the other hardware of the trade.

Lear jets, vacation condos in fashionable resorts, and such lower-priced symbols of nouveau richesse as overpriced alligator-hide cowboy boots were much in evidence; so was the kind of high-rolling crassness that only the Sunbelt seems to inspire. Habitués of the Oklahoma oilie scene used to reminisce about one party where one of the attendees stood at the door with a stack of crisp $100 bills in his hand and asked every woman who entered how much she wanted for her clothes: every stitch, then and there, piled up in the entry.

Prices varied, but apparently none of them turned down the offer.

It’s only fair to admit that there were a few small clouds marring the otherwise sunny vistas of the late 1970s Oklahoma oil scene. One of them was the difficulty the banks buying loans from Penn Square—the so-called “upstream” banks—had in getting Penn Square to forward all the necessary documents on those loans.

Since their banks were making loads of money off the transactions, the people in charge at the upstream banks were unwilling to make a fuss about it, and so their processing staff just had to put up with such minor little paperwork problems as missing or contradictory statements concerning collateral, payments of interest and principal, and so on.

Mind you, some of the people in charge at those upstream banks seem to have had distinctly personal reasons for not wanting to make a fuss about those minor little paperwork problems. They were getting very large loans from Penn Square on very good terms, entering into partnerships with Penn Square’s favorite oilmen, and in at least some cases attending the clothing-optional parties just mentioned.

No one else in the upstream banks seems to have been rude enough to ask too many questions about these activities; those who wondered aloud about them were told, hey, that’s just the way Oklahoma oilmen do business, and after all, the banks were making loads of money off the boom.

All in all, the future looked golden just then. In 1979, the Iranian revolution drove the price of oil up even further; in 1980, Jimmy Carter’s troubled presidency—with its indecisive but significant support for alternative energy and, God help us all, conservation—was steamrollered by Reagan’s massively funded and media-backed candidacy.

REAGANOMICS
As the new president took office in January of 1981, promising “morning in America,” the Penn Square bankers, their upstream counterparts, their clients in the Oklahoma oil and gas industry, and everyone else associated with the boom felt confident that happy days were there to stay.

After all, the economists insisted that the price of oil and gas would just keep rising for decades to come, the most business-friendly and environment-hostile administration in living memory was comfortably ensconced in the White House; and investors were literally begging to be allowed to get a foot in the door in the Oklahoma boom. What could possibly go wrong?

Then, in 1981, without any fuss at all, the price of oil and natural gas peaked and began to decline.

In retrospect, it’s not difficult to see what happened, though a lot of people since then have put a lot of effort into leaving the lessons of those years unlearnt. Energy is so central to a modern economy that when the price of energy goes up, every other sector of the economy ends up taking a hit. The rising price of energy functions, in effect, as a hidden tax on all economic activity outside the energy sector, and sends imbalances cascading through every part of the economy.

As a result, other economic sectors cut their expenditures on energy as far as they can, either by conservation measures or by such tried and true processes as shedding jobs, cutting production, or going out of business. All this had predictable effects on the price of oil and gas, even though very few people predicted them.

As oil and gas prices slumped, investors started backing away from fossil fuel investments, including the Oklahoma boom. Upstream banks, in turn, started to have second thoughts about the spectacular sums of money they’d poured into Penn Square Bank loans.

BOOM & BUST
For the first time since the boom began, hard questions—the sort of questions that, in theory, investors and bankers are supposed to ask as a matter of course when people ask them for money—finally got asked. That’s when the problems began in earnest, because a great many of those questions didn’t have any good answers.

It took until July 5, 1982 for the boom to turn definitively into a bust. That’s the day that federal bank regulators, after several years of inconclusive fumbling and a month or so of increasing panic, finally shut down the Penn Square Bank.

What they discovered, as they dug through the mass of fragmentary, inaccurate, and nonexistent paperwork, was that Penn Square had basically been lending money to anybody in the oil and gas industry who wanted some, without taking the trouble to find out if the borrowers would ever be able to repay it.

When payments became a problem, Penn Square obligingly loaned out the money to make their payments, and dealt with loans that went bad by loaning deadbeat borrowers even more money, so they could clear their debts and maintain their lifestyles.

The oil and gas boom had in fact been nothing of the kind, as a good many of the firms that had been out there producing oil and gas had been losing money all along. Rather, it was a Ponzi scheme facilitated by delusional lending practices.

All those Lear jets, vacation condos, alligator-skin cowboy boots, heaps of slightly used women’s clothing, and the rest of it? They were paid for by money from investors and upstream banks, some of it via the Penn Square Bank, the rest from other banks and investors.

The vast majority of the money was long gone; the resulting crash brought half a dozen major banks to their knees, and plunged Oklahoma and the rest of the US oil belt into a savage recession that gripped the region for most of a decade.

That was the story chronicled in Zweig’s book, which I reread over a few quiet evenings last week. Do any of the details seem familiar to you? If not, dear reader, you need to get out more.

DEJA VU
As far as I know, the fracking bubble that’s now well into its denouement didn’t have a single ineptly run bank at its center, as the Oklahoma oil and gas bubble did. Most of the other details of that earlier fiasco, though, were present and accounted for.

Sky-high fuel prices, check; reserves unprofitable at earlier prices that suddenly looked like a winning deal, check; a media frenzy that oversold the upside and completely ignored the possibility of a downside, check; vast torrents of money and credit from banks and investors too dazzled by the thought of easy riches to ask the obvious questions, check; a flurry of drilling companies that lost money every single quarter but managed to stay in business by heaping up mountains of unpayable debt, check.

Pretty much every square on the bingo card marked “economic debacle” has been filled in with a pen dipped in fracking fluid.

Now of course a debacle of the Penn Square variety requires at least one other thing, which is a banking industry so fixated on this quarter’s profits that it can lose track of the minor little fact that lending money to people who can’t pay it back isn’t a business strategy with a long shelf life. I hope none of my readers are under the illusion that this is lacking just now.
 
With interest rates stuck around zero and people and institutions that live off their investments frantically hunting for what used to count as a normal rate of return, the same culture of short-term thinking and financial idiocy that ran the global economy into the ground in the 2008 real estate crash remains firmly in place, glued there by the refusal of the Obama administration and its equivalents elsewhere to prosecute even the most egregious cases of fraud and malfeasance.

Now that the downturn in oil prices is under way, and panic selling of energy-related junk bonds and lower grades of unconventional crude oil has begun in earnest, it seems likely that we’ll learn just how profitable the fracking fad of the last few years actually was.

My working guess, which is admittedly an outsider’s view based on limited data and historical parallels, is that it was a money-losing operation from the beginning, and looked prosperous—as the Oklahoma boom did—only because it attracted a flood of investment money from people and institutions who were swept up in the craze.

If I’m right, the spike in domestic US oil production due to fracking was never more than an artifact of fiscal irresponsibility in the first place, and could not have been sustained no matter what. Still, we’ll see.

DAMAGE ASSESSMENT
The more immediate question is just how much damage the turmoil now under way will do to a US and global economy that have never recovered from the body blow inflicted on them by the real estate bubble that burst in 2008.

Much depends on exactly who sunk how much money into fracking-related investments, and just how catastrophically those investments come unraveled. It’s possible that the result could be just a common or garden variety recession; it’s possible that it could be quite a bit more.

When the tide goes out, as Warren Buffet has commented, you find out who’s been swimming naked, and just how far the resulting lack of coverage will extend is a question of no small importance.

At least three economic sectors outside the fossil fuel industry, as I see it, stand to suffer even if all we get is an ordinary downturn.

FIRST
 The first, of course, is the financial sector. A vast amount of money was loaned to the fracking industry; another vast amount—I don’t propose to guess how it compares to the first one—was accounted for by issuing junk bonds, and there was also plenty of ingenious financial architecture of the sort common in the housing boom. Those are going to lose most or all of their value in the months and years ahead.

No doubt the US government will bail out its pals in the really big banks again, but there’s likely to be a great deal of turmoil anyway, and midsized and smaller players may crash and burn in a big way. One way or another, it promises to be entertaining.

SECOND
The second sector I expect to take a hit is the renewable energy sector. In the 1980s, as prices of oil and natural gas plunged, they took most of the then-burgeoning solar and wind industries with them. There were major cultural shifts at the same time that helped feed the abandonment of renewable energy, but the sheer impact of cheap oil and natural gas needs to be taken into account.

If, as seems likely, we can expect several years of lower energy prices, and several years of the kind of economic downdraft that makes access to credit for renewable-energy projects a real challenge, a great many firms in the green sector will struggle for survival, and some won’t make it.

Those renewable-energy firms that pull through will find a substantial demand for their services further down the road, once the recent talk about Saudi America finds its proper home in the museum of popular delusions next to perpetual motion machines and Piltdown Man, and the US has to face a future without the imaginary hundred-year reserve of fracked natural gas politicians were gabbling about not that long ago.

Still, it’s going to take some nimble footwork to get there; my guess is that those firms that get ready to do without government subsidies and tax credits, and look for ways to sell low-cost homescale systems in an era of disintegrating energy infrastructure, will do much better than those that cling to the hope of government subsidies and big corporate contracts.

THIRD
The third sector I expect to land hard this time around is the academic sector. Yes, I know, it’s not fashionable to talk of the nation’s colleges and universities as an economic sector, but let’s please be real; in today’s economy, the academic industry functions mostly as a sales office for predatory loans, which are pushed on unwary consumers using deceptive marketing practices.

The vast majority of people who are attending US universities these days, after all, will not prosper as a result; in fact, they will never recover financially from the burden of their student loans, since the modest average increase in income that will come to those graduates who actually manage to find jobs will be dwarfed by the monthly debt service they’ll have to pay for decades after graduation.

One of the core reasons why the academic industry has become so vulnerable to a crash is that most colleges and universities rely on income from their investments to pay their operating expenses, and income from investments has taken a double hit in the last decade. First, the collapse of interest rates to near-zero (and in some cases, below-zero) levels has hammered returns across the spectrum of investment vehicles.

As a result, colleges and universities have increasingly put their money into risky investments that promise what used to be ordinary returns, and this drove the second half of the equation; in the wake of the 2008 real estate crash, many colleges and universities suffered massive losses of endowment funds, and most of these losses have never been made good.

Did the nation’s colleges and universities stay clear of the fracking bubble? That would have required, I think, far more prudence and independent thinking than the academic industry has shown of late.

Those institutions that had the common sense to get out of fossil fuels for ecological reasons may end up reaping a surprising benefit; the rest, well, here again we’ll have to wait and see.

My working guess, which is once again an outsider’s guess based on limited data and historical parallels, is that a great many institutions tried to bail themselves out from the impact of the real estate bust by doubling down on fracking.

If that’s what happened, the looming crisis in American higher education—a crisis driven partly by the predatory loan practices mentioned earlier, partly by the jawdropping inflation in the price of a college education in recent decades, and partly by rampant overbuilding of academic programs—will be hitting shortly, and some very big names in the academic industry may not survive the impact.

As Yogi Berra liked to point out, it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future. Still, it looks as though we may be in the opening stages of a really ugly fiscal crisis, and I’d encourage my readers to take that possibility seriously and act accordingly.

See also:
Ea O KA Aina: The Oil Bubble Bursts 12/8/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Bubble About to Burst 10/22/12 

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