Farming for a Small Planet

SUBHEAD: Agroecology is aligned with nature and balances power relationships, from the village level upward.

By Frances Moore Lappé on 9 January 2018 for Local Futures -

Image above: Aerial view of a sustainable farming practice. From original article.

People yearn for alternatives to industrial agriculture, but they are worried. They see large-scale operations relying on corporate-supplied chemical inputs as the only high-productivity farming model.

Another approach might be kinder to the environment and less risky for consumers, but, they assume, it would not be up to the task of providing all the food needed by our still-growing global population.

Contrary to such assumptions, there is ample evidence that an alternative approach—organic agriculture, or more broadly “agroecology”—is actually the only way to ensure that all people have access to sufficient, healthful food. Inefficiency and ecological destruction are built into the industrial model.

But, beyond that, our ability to meet the world’s needs is only partially determined by what quantities are produced in fields, pastures, and waterways.

Wider societal rules and norms ultimately shape whether any given quantity of food produced is actually used to meet humanity’s needs. In many ways, how we grow food determines who can eat and who cannot—no matter how much we produce.

Solving our multiple food crises thus requires a systems approach in which citizens around the world remake our understanding and practice of democracy.

Today, the world produces—mostly from low-input, smallholder farms—more than enough food: 2,900 calories per person per day.

Per capita food availability has continued to expand despite ongoing population growth. This ample supply of food, moreover, comprises only what is left over after about half of all grain is either fed to livestock or used for industrial purposes, such as agrofuels.1

Despite this abundance, 800 million people worldwide suffer from long-term caloric deficiencies. One in four children under five is deemed stunted—a condition, often bringing lifelong health challenges, that results from poor nutrition and an inability to absorb nutrients.

Two billion people are deficient in at least one nutrient essential for health, with iron deficiency alone implicated in one in five maternal deaths.2

The total supply of food alone actually says little about whether the world’s people are able to meet their nutritional needs. We need to ask why the industrial model leaves so many behind, and then determine what questions we should be asking to lead us toward solutions to the global food crisis.

Vast, Hidden Inefficiencies
The industrial model of agriculture—defined here by its capital intensity and dependence on purchased inputs of seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides—creates multiple unappreciated sources of inefficiency.

Economic forces are a major contributor here: the industrial model operates within what are commonly called “free market economies,” in which enterprise is driven by one central goal, namely, securing the highest immediate return to existing wealth.

This leads inevitably to a greater concentration of wealth and, in turn, to greater concentration of the capacity to control market demand within the food system.

Moreover, economically and geographically concentrated production, requiring lengthy supply chains and involving the corporate culling of cosmetically blemished foods, leads to massive outright waste: more than 40 percent of food grown for human consumption in the United States never makes it into the mouths of its population.3

The underlying reason industrial agriculture cannot meet humanity’s food needs is that its system logic is one of disassociated parts, not interacting elements. It is thus unable to register its own self-destructive impacts on nature’s regenerative processes.

Industrial agriculture, therefore, is a dead end. Consider the current use of water in agriculture.

About 40 percent of the world’s food depends on irrigation, which draws largely from stores of underground water, called aquifers, which make up 30 percent of the world’s freshwater. Unfortunately, groundwater is being rapidly depleted worldwide.

In the United States, the Ogallala Aquifer—one of the world’s largest underground bodies of water—spans eight states in the High Plains and supplies almost one third of the groundwater used for irrigation in the entire country. Scientists warn that within the next thirty years, over one-third of the southern High Plains region will be unable to support irrigation.

If today’s trends continue, about 70 percent of the Ogallala groundwater in the state of Kansas could be depleted by the year 2060.4

Industrial agriculture also depends on massive phosphorus fertilizer application—another dead end on the horizon.

Almost 75 percent of the world’s reserve of phosphate rock, mined to supply industrial agriculture, is in an area of northern Africa centered in Morocco and Western Sahara.

Since the mid-twentieth century, humanity has extracted this “fossil” resource, processed it using climate-harming fossil fuels, spread four times more of it on the soil than occurs naturally, and then failed to recycle the excess.

Much of this phosphate escapes from farm fields, ending up in ocean sediment where it remains unavailable to humans.

Within this century, the industrial trajectory will lead to “peak phosphorus”—the point at which extraction costs are so high, and prices out of reach for so many farmers, that global phosphorus production begins to decline.5

Beyond depletion of specific nutrients, the loss of soil itself is another looming crisis for agriculture. Worldwide, soil is eroding at a rate ten to forty times faster than it is being formed.

To put this in visual terms, each year, enough soil is washed and blown from fields globally to fill roughly four pickup trucks for every human being on earth.6

The industrial model of farming is not a viable path to meeting humanity’s food needs for yet another reason: it contributes nearly 20 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, even more than the transportation sector. The most significant emissions from agriculture are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

Carbon dioxide is released in deforestation and subsequent burning, mostly in order to grow feed, as well as from decaying plants. Methane is released by ruminant livestock, mainly via their flatulence and belching, as well as by manure and in rice paddy cultivation.

Nitrous oxide is released largely by manure and manufactured fertilizers. Although carbon dioxide receives most of the attention, methane and nitrous oxide are also serious. Over a hundred-year period, methane is, molecule for molecule, 34 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas, and nitrous oxide about 300 times, than carbon dioxide.7

Our food system also increasingly involves transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration, storage, wholesale and retail operations, and waste management—all of which emit greenhouses gases.

Accounting for these impacts, the total food system’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, from land to landfill, could be as high as 29 percent. Most startlingly, emissions from food and agriculture are growing so fast that, if they continue to increase at the current rate, they alone could use up the safe budget for all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.8

These dire drawbacks are mere symptoms. They flow from the internal logic of the model itself. The reason that industrial agriculture cannot meet the world’s needs is that the structural forces driving it are misaligned with nature, including human nature.

Social history offers clear evidence that concentrated power tends to elicit the worst in human behavior. Whether for bullies in the playground or autocrats in government, concentrated power is associated with callousness and even brutality not in a few of us, but in most of us.9

The system logic of industrial agriculture, which concentrates social power, is thus itself a huge risk for human well-being. At every stage, the big become bigger, and farmers become ever-more dependent on ever-fewer suppliers, losing power and the ability to direct their own lives.

The seed market, for example, has moved from a competitive arena of small, family-owned firms to an oligopoly in which just three companies—Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta—control over half of the global proprietary seed market.

Worldwide, from 1996 to 2008, a handful of corporations absorbed more than two hundred smaller independent companies, driving the price of seeds and other inputs higher to the point where their costs for poor farmers in southern India now make up almost half of production costs.10

And the cost in real terms per acre for users of bio-engineered crops dominated by one corporation, Monsanto, tripled between 1996 and 2013.

Not only does the industrial model direct resources into inefficient and destructive uses, but it also feeds the very root of hunger itself: the concentration of social power.

This results in the sad irony that small-scale farmers—those with fewer than five acres—control 84 percent of the world’s farms and produce most of the food by value, yet control just 12 percent of the farmland and make up the majority of the world’s hungry.11

The industrial model also fails to address the relationship between food production and human nutrition. Driven to seek the highest possible immediate financial returns, farmers and agricultural companies are increasingly moving toward monocultures of low-nutrition crops such as corn—the dominant US crop—that are often processed into empty-calorie “food products.”

As a result, from 1990 to 2010, growth in unhealthy eating patterns outpaced dietary improvements in most parts of the world, including the poorer regions. Most of the key causes of non-communicable diseases are now diet-related, and by 2020, such diseases are predicted to account for nearly 75 percent of all deaths worldwide.12

A Better Alternative
What model of farming can end nutritional deprivation while restoring and conserving food-growing resources for our progeny? The answer lies in the emergent model of agroecology, often called “organic” or ecological agriculture.

Hearing these terms, many people imagine simply a set of farming practices that forgo purchased inputs, relying instead on beneficial biological interactions among plants, microbes, and other organisms.

However, agroecology is much more than that. The term as it is used here suggests a model of farming based on the assumption that within any dimension of life, the organization of relationships within the whole system determines the outcomes. The model reflects a shift from a disassociated to a relational way of thinking arising across many fields within both the physical and social sciences.

This approach to farming is coming to life in the ever-growing numbers of farmers and agricultural scientists worldwide who reject the narrow productivist view embodied in the industrial model.

Recent studies have dispelled the fear that an ecological alternative to the industrial model would fail to produce the volume of food for which the industrial model is prized. In 2006, a seminal study in the Global South compared yields in 198 projects in 55 countries and found that ecologically attuned farming increased crop yields by an average of almost 80 percent.

A 2007 University of Michigan global study concluded that organic farming could support the current human population, and expected increases without expanding farmed land.

Then, in 2009, came a striking endorsement of ecological farming by fifty-nine governments and agencies, including the World Bank, in a report painstakingly prepared over four years by four hundred scientists urging support for “biological substitutes for industrial chemicals or fossil fuels.”13

 Such findings should ease concerns that ecologically aligned farming cannot produce sufficient food, especially given its potential productivity in the Global South, where such farming practices are most common.

Ecological agriculture, unlike the industrial model, does not inherently concentrate power. Instead, as an evolving practice of growing food within communities, it disperses and creates power, and can enhance the dignity, knowledge, and the capacities of all involved. Agroecology can thereby address the powerlessness that lies at the root of hunger.

Applying such a systems approach to farming unites ecological science with time-tested traditional wisdom rooted in farmers’ ongoing experiences. Agroecology also includes a social and politically engaged movement of farmers, growing from and rooted in distinct cultures worldwide.

As such, it cannot be reduced to a specific formula, but rather represents a range of integrated practices, adapted and developed in response to each farm’s specific ecological niche. It weaves together traditional knowledge and ongoing scientific breakthroughs based on the integrative science of ecology.

By progressively eliminating all or most chemical fertilizers and pesticides, agroecological farmers free themselves—and, therefore, all of us—from reliance on climate-disrupting, finite fossil fuels, as well as from other purchased inputs that pose environmental and health hazards.

In another positive social ripple, agroecology is especially beneficial to women farmers. In many areas, particularly in Africa, nearly half or more of farmers are women, but too often they lack access to credit.14

Agroecology—which eliminates the need for credit to buy synthetic inputs—can make a significant difference for them.

Agroecological practices also enhance local economies, as profits on farmers’ purchases no longer seep away to corporate centers elsewhere.

After switching to practices that do not rely on purchased chemical inputs, farmers in the Global South commonly make natural pesticides using local ingredients—mixtures of neem tree extract, chili, and garlic in southern India, for example. Local farmers purchase women’s homemade alternatives and keep the money circulating within their community, benefiting all.15

Besides these quantifiable gains, farmers’ confidence and dignity are also enhanced through agroecology. Its practices rely on farmers’ judgments based on their expanding knowledge of their land and its potential. Success depends on farmers’ solving their own problems, not on following instructions from commercial fertilizer, pesticide, and seed companies.

Developing better farming methods via continual learning, farmers also discover the value of collaborative working relationships. Freed from dependency on purchased inputs, they are more apt to turn to neighbors—sharing seed varieties and experiences of what works and what does not for practices like composting or natural pest control.

These relationships encourage further experimentation for ongoing improvement. Sometimes, they foster collaboration beyond the fields as well—such as in launching marketing and processing cooperatives that keep more of the financial returns in the hands of farmers.

Going beyond such localized collaboration, agroecological farmers are also building a global movement. La Via Campesina, whose member organizations represent 200 million farmers, fights for “food sovereignty,” which its participants define as the “right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods.”

This approach puts those who produce, distribute, and consume food—rather than markets and corporations—at the heart of food systems and policies, and defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation.

Once citizens come to appreciate that the industrial agriculture model is a dead end, the challenge becomes strengthening democratic accountability in order to shift public resources away from it.

Today, those subsidies are huge: by one estimate, almost half a trillion tax dollars in OECD countries, plus Brazil, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Russia, South Africa, and Ukraine.16

Imagine the transformative impact if a significant share of those subsidies began helping farmers’ transition to agroecological farming.

Any accurate appraisal of the viability of a more ecologically attuned agriculture must let go of the idea that the food system is already so globalized and corporate-dominated that it is too late to scale up a relational, power-dispersing model of farming.

As noted earlier, more than three-quarters of all food grown does not cross borders. Instead, in the Global South, the number of small farms is growing, and small farmers produce 80 percent of what is consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.17

The Right Path
When we address the question of how to feed the world, we need to think relationally—linking current modes of production with our future capacities to produce, and linking farm output with the ability of all people to meet their need to have nutritious food and to live in dignity.

Agroecology, understood as a set of farming practices aligned with nature and embedded in more balanced power relationships, from the village level upward, is thus superior to the industrial model.

This emergent relational model offers the promise of an ample supply of nutritious food needed now and in the future, and more equitable access to it.

Reframing concerns about inadequate supply is only the first step toward necessary change. The essential questions about whether humanity can feed itself well are social—or, more precisely, political.

Can we remake our understanding and practice of democracy so that citizens realize and assume their capacity for self-governance, beginning with the removal of the influence of concentrated wealth on our political systems?

Democratic governance—accountable to citizens, not to private wealth—makes possible the necessary public debate and rule-making to re-embed market mechanisms within democratic values and sound science.

Only with this foundation can societies explore how best to protect food-producing resources—soil, nutrients, water—that the industrial model is now destroying.

Only then can societies decide how nutritious food, distributed largely as a market commodity, can also be protected as a basic human right.

This post is adapted from an essay originally written for the Great Transition Initiative.

1. Food and Agriculture Division of the United Nations, Statistics Division, “2013 Food Balance Sheets for 42 Selected Countries (and Updated Regional Aggregates),” accessed March 1, 2015,; Paul West et al., “Leverage Points for Improving Global Food Security and the Environment,” Science 345, no. 6194 (July 2014): 326; Food and Agriculture Organization, Food Outlook: Biannual Report on Global Food Markets (Rome: FAO, 2013),

FAO, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015: Meeting the 2015 International Hunger Targets: Taking Stock of Uneven Progress (Rome: FAO, 2015), 8, 44,; World Health Organization, Childhood Stunting: Context, Causes, Consequences (Geneva: WHO, 2013),
; FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture 2013: Food Systems for Better Nutrition (Rome: FAO, 2013), ix,

Vaclav Smil, “Nitrogen in Crop Production: An Account of Global Flows,” Global Geochemical Cycles 13, no. 2 (1999): 647; Dana Gunders, Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill (Washington, DC: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2012),

United Nations Environment Programme, Groundwater and Its Susceptibility to Degradation: A Global Assessment of the Problem and Options for Management (Nairobi: UNEP, 2003),; Bridget Scanlon et al., “Groundwater Depletion and Sustainability of Irrigation in the US High Plains and Central Valley,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. 24 (June 2012): 9320; David Steward et al., “Tapping Unsustainable Groundwater Stores for Agricultural Production in the High Plains Aquifer of Kansas, Projections to 2110,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, no. 37 (September 2013): E3477.

Dana Cordell and Stuart White, “Life’s Bottleneck: Sustaining the World’s Phosphorus for a Food Secure Future,” Annual Review Environment and Resources 39 (October 2014): 163, 168, 172.

David Pimentel, “Soil Erosion: A Food and Environmental Threat,” Journal of the Environment, Development and Sustainability 8 (February 2006): 119. This calculation assumes that a full-bed pickup truck can hold 2.5 cubic yards of soil, that one cubic yard of soil weighs approximately 2,200 pounds, and that world population is 7.2 billion people.

FAO, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use,” March 2014, infographics/infographics-details/en/c/218650/; Gunnar Myhre et al., “Chapter 8: Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing,” in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013), 714,

Sonja Vermeulen, Bruce Campbell, and John Ingram, “Climate Change and Food Systems,” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 37 (November 2012): 195; Bojana Bajželj et al., “Importance of Food-Demand Management for Climate Mitigation,” Nature Climate Change 4 (August 2014): 924–929.

Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House, 2007).

Philip Howard, “Visualizing Consolidation in the Global Seed Industry: 1996–2008,” Sustainability 1, no. 4 (December 2009): 1271; T. Vijay Kumar et al., Ecologically Sound, Economically Viable: Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh, India (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2009), 6-7,

Estimated from FAO, “Family Farming Knowledge Platform,” accessed December 16, 2015,

Fumiaki Imamura et al., “Dietary Quality among Men and Women in 187 Countries in 1990 and 2010: A Systemic Assessment,” The Lancet 3, no. 3 (March 2015): 132–142,

Jules Pretty et al., “Resource-Conserving Agriculture Increases Yields in Developing Countries,” Environmental Science & Technology 40, no. 4 (2006): 1115; Catherine Badgley et al., “Organic Agriculture and the Global Food Supply,” Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 22, no. 2 (June 2007): 86, 88; International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, Agriculture at a Crossroads: International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2009).

Cheryl Doss et al., “The Role of Women in Agriculture,” ESA Working Paper No. 11-02 (working paper, FAO, Rome, 2011), 4,

Gerry Marten and Donna Glee Williams, “Getting Clean: Recovering from Pesticide Addiction,” The Ecologist (December 2006/January 2007): 50–53,

Randy Hayes and Dan Imhoff, Biosphere Smart Agriculture in a True Cost Economy: Policy Recommendations to the World Bank (Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2015), 9,

Matt Walpole et al., Smallholders, Food Security, and the Environment (Nairobi: UNEP, 2013), 6, 28,

• Frances Moore Lappé is the founder of the Small Planet Institute, and the author or co-author of 19 books about world hunger, living democracy, and the environment, beginning with Diet for a Small Planet in 1971.

Organizing on a Sinking Ship

SUBHEAD: The Climate Justice movement will have to deal with the aftermath of capitalism's climate crisis.

By Kevin Buckland on 27 December 2018 for Roar -

Image above: Painting "People in the Sun" by Edward Hopper, 1960, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum. From ( IB Publisher's note - I've always thought these folks were looking at an atomic bomb test in Nevada.

Our response to the climate crisis has been to rearrange deckchairs on the Titanic — but whatever we do, it isn’t working. It’s time to try something new.

Climate change rarely comes up at the top of the list when people are asked about issues that concern them most. While this is not surprising, it is nonetheless disturbing considering the gravity of the climate crisis. Yet the key problem of our collective negligence of the climate crisis is reflected in the question itself, rather than the answer.

Let us be clear: climate change is not an “issue.” Rather, it is now the entirety of the biophysical world of which we are part. It is the physical battleground in which every “issue” is played out — and it is crumbling.

The global justice movement is one of the many actors trying to maneuver on this battlefield, and the direction it is headed in is reshaping the narratives, tactics and structures that comprise it, hinting at the future of social movement organizing on a radically transformed planet.

The rules of the game have changed: welcome to the Capitalocene (the era of capitalism's rule over nature) — and goodbye to “activism-as-usual.” As the climate changes, so must movements if they are to withstand, even thrive, inside the coming cataclysm of winds, waves and wars.

As our planet rockets into a new geological epoch, we find ourselves on unfamiliar terrain. The only thing that is certain is that no one knows what will happen, and no one is in control.

The rest of our lives will be defined by an exponential ecological entropy that will increasingly destabilize both the economic and political foundations upon which the modern world has been built. All bets are off. The collapse will be anything but boring.

The Capitalocene is defined partly by a disappearance of spaces of refuge: there is no escaping this problem, and nowhere to hide. We’re all in the same boat.

But the boat has crashed into a drifting iceberg, and is sinking fast. Our response to the climate crisis has been to rearrange deckchairs on the Titanic, but whatever we are doing, it isn’t working. It’s time to try something new.

On a sinking ship, one’s logic and frames of references must change, just as the traditional frames of the left must evolve in the emerging context of crisis. The struggle is no longer to organize the deck-chairs so that we can ensure equal access for all.

Rather, the most critical question now becomes: “How can we best organize ourselves to turn as many of these deck-chairs into life rafts?”

Perhaps as obvious as the climate crisis itself has been the inability of social movements to properly organize around it. For years, the climate movement has been trapped between two discordant discourses: between changing light-bulbs and global revolution.

On one hand, any action can seem minuscule and ineffective compared to a crisis as big as the entire world. On the other, deep systemic change can seem far too slow for the urgency of the crisis we face.

Yet one cannot “fight climate change” in the absence of such structural transformations, for the climate crisis is itself the result of an extractivist logic based upon an exploitative relationship with the world around us.

Long before the industrial revolution, the emerging capitalist world-system was fueled by the exploitation of women, people of color and entire ecosystems.

The climate crisis is the ultimate symptom of this extractivist dynamic, and is an entirely new species of crisis that requires our movements to enact an entirely different logic — including entirely different values, morals, assumptions and strategies — if we are to confront it.

Confronting climate change means confronting the system and the culture that has caused it, and providing a scalable alternative.

More than merely constructing a new politics to confront the “issue” of climate change, the task of the left in the Capitalocene is to cultivate new processes for engagement in politics. The culture of organizing itself becomes key.

If movements in the Capitalocene are to effectively confront this crisis, it means enacting an alternative set of values and organizational principles.

The legacy may have less to do with solar panels and community gardens than with incubating scalable organizing cultures that can be shared with allies, volunteers and partners in ways that improve access to justice as we move together into an exponentially tumultuous future.

It may just be these cultures, being incubated now inside globally connected movements, that will write the next chapter of human history.

Cultural revolution is not only desired; it is needed. If we fail to offer scalable discursive, tactical and structural alternatives to the extractivist logic that has created the climate crisis, capitalism may itself transform the coming wave of disruptions into its own benefit, exacerbating existent inequalities for every social and ecological “issue” as it strengthens its stranglehold of the future on a rapidly destabilizing battleground. History is speeding up. It’s time to play to win.

Shifting Narratives

The climate crisis has reached a critical stage at a strange time. Neoliberalism is devastating the social and ecological commons even as technological change has radically horizontalized media and communication platforms. People are both coming together and being pulled apart.

Importantly, new technologies are creating social spaces for communities to tell their own stories on a global scale. This is transforming global organizing, allowing once-marginal groups to influence the mainstream environmental discourse that had previously been controlled by a few privileged groups.

In recent years, frontline and indigenous groups in particular have managed to shift the narrative.

Rather than playing the role of victims in someone else’s savior story, they are increasingly reframing themselves as the heroes of their own.

One poignant example comes from some of the most remote places on the planet: the atolls of the low-lying pacific islands.

The slogan of the self-named “Pacific Warriors” — “we are not drowning; we are fighting” — attests to the broad narrative shift that is possible when communities are able to speak for themselves.

Their organizing has taken different forms, all of which are carefully constructed to be useful not only in building resistance to climate change but also in building resilience by strengthening traditional culture.

From using handmade traditional canoes to blockade the world’s largest coal port in Australia, to three-day ceremonies outside of the Vatican to a gift-giving ritual with German communities resisting lignite coal mining on the morning of a mass direct action, the Pacific Warriors — and thousands of other front-line and Global South communities — are decolonizing the stories the climate movement is telling itself.

Such narrative shifts have been pulling the global climate justice movement towards a more intersectional systemic analysis.

By telling stories of compounded struggles of racism, colonialism and sexism, front-line and indigenous groups are grounding the intangible climate crisis in lived experience. They are pulling climate change out of the atmosphere, into their bodies and out onto the streets.

In a small but notable shift, the once marginal slogan — “system change, not climate change” — has now been absorbed into the hegemonic discourse.
Shifting Power

At the same time as front-line and indigenous groups are claiming increasing agency in steering the climate movement, more and more NGOs and “Big Greens” are reassessing their traditional approach and working to take “leadership from the most impacted” and support grassroots movements.

This change is important, and it is amplifying stories that need to be told. Yet the same development points to an important structural paradox: how can a top-down organization support bottom-up organizing?

Despite the narrative shift, few mainstream NGOs are making serious efforts to actually embody the structural shift towards horizontality and bottom-up organizing.

A rift is opening between discourse and structure, between form and function, between process and product.

As movements prepare for the coming destabilization, the structure they use will dictate the scale, scope and depth of their capacity to respond. Any incoherence between discourse and structure that is now a small crack may eventually crack open into full-blown crisis.

If movements are to survive, even thrive, in the Capitalocene, they must be looking to build a structural integrity that aligns with their political mission. These organizing structures will set the limits to our collective capacity to respond to the climate crisis.

The structures through which groups organize give body to their politics. In the wake of natural disasters, people find themselves uprooted and in need. Decisions are made on the basis of urgency, not political preference, and people participate in structures that appear to function in a given social context.

An organizational structure’s ability to suddenly absorb new people into meaningful participation will determine its success in both disaster relief and in activism, and may function as a door opening up unto a new politics, as people are forced by the nature of events to step outside of their traditional organizing structures.

As the scale of the crisis becomes more apparent, traditional boundaries of tactical differences are falling away.

The unraveling world is reminding us just how tightly we are bound together. Children’s climate education campaigns, food forests, electoral campaigns and road blockades are at the heart of grassroots efforts that are increasingly embracing an “all hands on deck” approach, carrying collective disobedience into the mainstream.

This marks another important cultural shift, as more and more communities challenge not only unjust laws but also start questioning the legitimacy of the process by which laws are written and enforced.

People and organizations are turning towards participatory democratic processes, and demand inclusion in the making of decisions that affect their life.

Yet for hierarchical organizations like major environmental NGOs, this points to another friction between form and function. Can one truly advocate for external disobedience while internally replicating those same power structures that are to be disobeyed?

Can any type of organization coherently advocate for disobedience against decision-makers, yet expect unwavering obedience towards their own hierarchical and unaccountable internal decision-making structures?

The German movement Ende Gelände has for three years been using a participatory organizing structure to coordinate thousands of people to enter and shut down open-cast coal mines. Their scalable structures have allowed thousands of newcomers to direct action to create safe spaces for participants to engage in actions within their comfort zones.

This has only been possible by allowing groups the autonomy to make their own decisions and fostering a culture of co-creation through a participatory organizing process.

Taking this politics even further, the Queer Feminist finger has for the last two years been enacting an eco-feminist politics of care by further collectivizing organizing and decision-making processes.

Their radical inclusiveness is dependent upon opening participation to decision making, and has been growing exponentially.

Shifting Structures

Environmental struggles are never won. They require constant vigilance. Furthermore, one may defeat a coal-fired power plant in one place only to find it built in a neighboring town ― the project hasn’t been stopped, just moved.

The climate movement, faced with an endless uprising of imposed projects, has been realizing the limitations of the NIMBY (“Not in My Back Yard”) frame that could easily see Exxon Mobil construct mega-sized wind parks for shareholder profits rather than local energy.

The climate justice movement is at a crucial transition as it pivots from a focus on fixing the problem to addressing the cause; from a discourse focused on “solar panels and wind turbines” to “democratically-controlled renewable energy.”

As such, the material infrastructure of the coming world is beginning to align with the organizing structures themselves.

This same pivot also aligns the climate movement with the major popular uprisings of recent years, from the Egyptian Revolution to the indignados in Spain and Greece, Occupy Wall Street in the US, the Gezi movement in Turkey, the Umbrella Revolution in Taiwan, and far beyond — all part of an overarching participatory process bubbling out of the occupied plazas, squares, parks and airports.

These place-based occupations have come and gone, but they have left a deep mark on the political education of a new generation of organizers who, having glimpsed a crack in the façade, are continuing to experiment with radical democratic processes in a growing diversity of forms.

As the global climate movement shifts towards an increased focus on process and participation, it can play a crucial role in global movements by organizing the physical infrastructure of power generation that embodies these principles.

As movements reframe the process by which they are organizing, it is the battlefield itself that expands, opening up a space that suddenly includes the vast majority of the world’s population that has traditionally been excluded from decision-making processes.

This transformation, which is already underway, may mark a turning point in history as anti-imperial, anti-sexist, anti-colonial, and anti-racist movements understand themselves as not only part, but leaders of a global insurrection to democratize the physical infrastructure and management of the coming world. It is time to be building bridges, for the waters are rising and there aren’t enough boats.

“Transition Is Inevitable — Justice Is Not”

As movements come to terms with the fact that stopping climate change is impossible, they are tackling the hard task of imagining what a “just transition” would actually entail. The US-based broad coalition of environmental justice groups and labor unions, Movement Generation, spent three years tackling precisely this problem by envisioning such an eco-social process. Their strategic framework outlines that:
Just transition is a framework for a shift to an economy that is ecologically sustainable, equitable and just for all its members. After centuries of global plunder, the profit-driven, growth-dependent, industrial economy is severely undermining the life support systems of the planet.

An economy based on extracting from a finite system faster than the capacity of the system to regenerate will eventually come to an end — either through collapse or through our intentional re-organization. Transition is inevitable. Justice is not.
This understanding of the “inevitable transition” is key for movement organizing today. Any group pursuing radical change now has sufficient evidence that such change is not only necessary but urgent.

In her eloquently written book, A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit shows that while “power” has a history of turning natural disasters into the next process of accumulation, privatization and destruction of the commons, people themselves tend to react very well in disaster.

As the world gets turned upside down by a hurricane, earthquake, explosion or fire, values are also turned upside down and the individualism portended by capitalism is commonly replaced by an honest (and remarkably human) altruism.

People spend days digging strangers out of rubble, shared food is cooked collectively, harvested from unmanned supermarkets or fields. Collective self-organization becomes key to survival.

As with Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Sandy, structures can lie dormant for years only to spring back to life as they are needed.

Let us be clear: responding adequately to the coming catastrophe will not be easy. Millions are already suffering from the impacts of a crisis they had no role in causing, and the nations and individuals who have grown rich off generations of exploitation will not simply roll over and share their accumulated wealth.

From border walls to immigration policies to land grabs to LNG terminals to underground bunkers to private islands and private militaries: those with power and privilege are preparing to protect it.

Far from helping, the state often comes back in to put the genie back into the bottle. This use of force, when so openly directed at the victims, begs the question if those in power are not more afraid of our response to the disaster than of the disaster itself.

Solnit comments: “The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay.”

Do not be conned into thinking that your government is doing nothing about climate change, or that the ultra-rich all believe it to be a hoax. Great preparations are underway for what is coming ― they just aren’t for you. Instead, they are based upon and aim to reinforce a systemic logic of competition and scarcity.

All major crises leave a power vacuum in their wake. The ability of people to meet their immediate needs through functional participatory structures reveals windows of opportunity for radical change.

Often, these same shocks that are used as excuses for neoliberalism to privatize emergency services relocate entire communities or impose economic reforms. Yet each crisis is also an opportunity to enact a different form of politics based on cooperation instead of competition, an opportunity that can provide a glimpse of another possible world.

“It’s tempting to ask,” Solnit cleverly points out, “why if you fed your neighbors during the time of the earthquake and fire, you didn’t do so before or after.” The climate crisis will provide our movements with clear opportunities to enact their politics and grow by providing a more functional response to the Capitalocene than that of capitalism.

Building Life Rafts

The word “crisis” comes from the classical Greek krisis, meaning “decision.” Yet despite the powerful slogan to that effect, the main decision we are confronted with is not one of system change or climate change.

Climate change is now inevitable and so, therefore, is system change. The decision at hand is how that change will be organized: will it trickle down or will it rise up?

Will it be based upon competition or cooperation? While the climate crisis is rapidly becoming a fact of life, the coming “system change” is precisely what has yet to be defined — and it is this decision that will shape the coming generations of human culture and society.

Confronting a crisis as big as the world means reimagining and re-engaging an understanding of collectivity that neoliberalism has not been able to sell or steal.

If movements continue to be caught unprepared for the coming and current calamities, we risk letting those most vulnerable fall prey to those with the most privilege and power.

The pressures of the climate crisis have the capacity to bring people closer together. Solnit reminds us how, “just as many machines reset themselves to their original settings after a power outage, human beings reset themselves to something altruistic, communitarian, resourceful and imaginative after a disaster… [W]e revert to something we already know how to do.

The possibility of paradise is already within us as a default setting.” If movements do not adequately seize on this possibility, however, the future itself will belong to those who have created the problem and who would only push us further apart.

As we scramble to adapt to life on a sinking ship, we can see the development of discursive, structural and tactical innovations that hold the potential to allow movements to narrate, enact and defend an alternative future that matches the scale of the crisis.

Each crisis that ruptures our communities also ruptures cultural norms, creating an opportunity to organize.

Nothing we can do will stop the ship from going under, but we can slow the sinking. Instead of waiting in line for the captain to give us a place in the lifeboat, perhaps it is time we started deciding — together — how to turn all these deckchairs we’ve been moving around into life rafts.

Note: author Kevin Buckland is a Barcelona-based artivist, storyteller, and arts-organizer for the Global Climate Justice movement with He is a 2017 guest editor for the Transition Network, and publishes occasionally with the Transnational Institute, New Internationalist and others.


Going through a real collapse

SUBHEAD: When the "Shit Hits the Fan" can you be prepared for a period without civilization?

By Daisy Luther on 17 January 2018 for the Organic Prepper -

Image above: A Serbian paramilitary kicks the dead body of a woman in Bosnia in 1992. Photo by Ron Haviv. From (

[IB Publisher's note: This article by Daisy Luther is from an interview with "Selco", a survivor of a brutal military occupation during the Balkan War in the early 1990s. For months civilians died of thirst, starvation and sniper fire in European towns. Selco is not a native English speaker and we have corrected some language.]

Did you ever wonder about the differences in how people behave in a crisis? Why some people survive and some people die? Are there characteristics that we can nurture now in good times that could help see us through bad times?

I have talked with Selco previously about who lives and who doesn’t in a long-term emergency, and a great determiner is a flexible mindset. In this interview, we go deeper into who can withstand the stress of a SHTF (Shit Hits the Fan) event and who crumbles. Today he shares his insights from the Balkan War.

Luther: What were the worst mental stresses during the situation in Bosnia that are probably common in many long-term scenarios?

Selco: Obviously, it was a situation when violence was very widely used and in a random way, often without any logic. So people lived n very poor conditions under constant physical threat.

Of most importance were mental stresses. This part of survival is in my opinion very important and commonly overlooked in the prepper community.

It is a huge topic, but we can touch on some of this in the article. I researched it a lot. A few factors were important, and will be important in any future collapse event:

#1) Loss of control

If you are living a normal average life with your family, you have a job, the kids go to school and can eat their favorite foods, and when someone is sick you go to the physician.

There are police to help if there are problems, there is law and order, everybody knows their place more or less.

You feel that you are in control of your life and lives of your family.

And then one day all that is gone. You find yourself in the world where very often things of life and death are a matter of pure coincidence or chance. For example, is there going to rain that day for enough water?

People had a very hard time of dealing with it. You can be prepared very well to some extent, but also you need to be prepared that for a number of things that you are simply not in control anymore.

#2) Hopelessness
Hopelessness is the big word when it comes to survival, and from my experience, it is hard to beat it.

A survival event that lasts for few days, even a week or two, is like a camping trip, something like people go together, share food, help, there are nights spent next to lamps, violence is possible but not widespread because people see that event is going to last only for week or two.

Some people will take a chance and do violence or steal, but the majority are going to keep it together to the end of SHTF.

Events that last for month or two are harder, more violence and a harder time, but still, people see that everything is going to go back to normal.

When you are thrown into an event that looks like (or you think ) it is going to be a permanent or very prolonged condition, rules change.

From one side you have people that are not going to be so nice and helpful to each other simply because they see this is going last and they will be forced to fight for resources; and from the other side you are going to have hopelessness.

Most humans need to see cause in order to operate in the proper way, or in other words, in hard conditions people need to see ‘light“ no matter how far it is, otherwise, you might just mentally “surrender“ because it is hopeless to push on.

#3) Re-setting of the values
In normal life, you might be a lawyer or clerk, or teacher, or famous writer and then one day the world collapses (let say because of an EMP- Electro-Magnetic Pulse- weapon).

In a few weeks you find out that you are living in the world where you are valuable if you can quickly and efficiently chop wood, or pickle vegetables, repair weapons, devise a setup to charge a car battery, or simply shoot a rifle effectively.

I am not saying a teacher or writer is useless in SHTF, but values are “re-set“. If you do not have any immediate useful skills you’ll be forced to learn one. You may be forced to understand that the values (knowledge and skills) that you had prior collapse simply may not be valuable anymore.

People had problems with this new “value system“.

#4) Responsibility
People have responsibilities in normal times taking care of their families. Those responsibilities are still there when there is a serious collapse but because the "System" is out, all help is out too.

For example, you are responsible for your old mother who has high blood pressure problem but there is no doctor anymore and there is no medicine. There is no help for your kid who has special needs, for example.

You realize that everything is up to you.

Some people simply could not take that. People could not watch their sick child because they could not help them.

Some people would simply “surrender" or leave everything.

#5) Bending the rules
Most interesting is actually how people would (or would not) bend the rules that they had prior to the collapse.

A majority of us live by some mental and moral rules. They tell us what is right and what is wrong.

It is wrong to steal, it is wrong to harm people. It is right to take care of sick and elderly.

When the SHTF you’ll be in a position to “bend“ these rules, simply because you’ll be faced with lot of tough decisions and choices.

For example is it right to steal from others if that means my child will not be hungry or die from an infection?

Is it OK to harm other people because of that? How are you going mentally live with that?

I am not advocating anything here, and I cannot give you suggestions but be sure that you’ll have to bend the rules, and that you will be be faced with tough decisions.

It is up to you how much you are going to bend or break them.

All of the factors mentioned above are examples, and usually, you meet all of them more or less, and in combinations.

Luther: What kind of person tended to do better when everything went belly up?

Selco: First, we need to formulate a definition of “person who tended to do better when everything went belly up.”

I know people who were powerful in that time: maybe because they had manpower, or a role in the black market. For example, they’d sell baby formula to people (sometimes mixed with plaster), or they simply robbed people.

When war stopped they ended up very powerful and they are still (years after) very powerful.

But they are not my definition of normal people.

We are talking now about ordinary folks, and I use the term “small circle“ when describing how to live in those times.

You need to mentally adapt to the fact that you will have to overcome some serious problems, but what is more important you need to adapt to the fact that some of the problems cannot be solved, some people will not survive, and you still will have to move on.

That small circle is your family or your group, and while the world outside is falling apart that does not mean your family needs to fall apart. You will just have to adapt to the new world.

Many people survived hard times, some of them by doing bad things. Other survived but fell apart when they found themselves back in normal times.

One thing about who did mentally good in those times is that people who had support from other people (family, friends) in that time did good.

It is very hard to be alone during events like that, especially if it is prolonged, of course, because obvious reasons, for example security reasons (guarding home), or simply resources gathering.

But when it comes to the mental aspect you need to have support from trusted people (just like they are going need that support from you) otherwise resetting your values is much harder.

Hopelessness will kick down. Simply bending the rules too much may change you in a way that, in the end, turns yours into something that is more animal than human.

Luther: Do you remember any stories you can tell about specific people who thrived?

Selco: Ordinary folks usually did not thrive. We all dragged ourselves through that way-too-long period feeling lucky if we were alive, with all parts of our body intact, and with families alive.

Everything else was day by day.

I remember this guy, I’ll call him Ed here, he was the man with information.

You need to know that there was a complete information blackout, and even if you could somewhere find a radio most of the stuff that you heard on it was pure propaganda junk.

When you find yourself cut off from real information, all that you are going have is a whole bunch of rumors and misinformation, and only then you realize how much people are used to having information.

I cannot even remember what kind of ridiculous information I have heard in those times, and I believed much of it because I needed to believe in something.

I have heard (and believed) probably 100 times that peace is coming in 3 days, or a new big UN convoy with food for everybody coming to the city tomorrow, big enemy movements there.

People need to know. It is human nature.

And during very hard times people are simply ready to believe in a lot of things that look like clear nonsense in normal times.

Note: Have a means to communicate with other people, CB, radio, satellite phone, ham radio. To hear correct information, it is valuable for many reasons - including mental health.

Ed was the guy who spread rumors, information, and news; and people would give him food for that information.

I believe we all deep in ourselves knew that it is probably just rumor, but “Ed said yesterday“ was some kind of information, something to talk about, something to hope for.

Ed survived alone whole event (pretty rare) thanks to the fact that “he had information.”

Luther: What kind of person suffered the most?

Selco: Survival is about being able to adapt to new things, and those new things are bad mostly.

There are many factors here that are influencing how you gonna mentally cope with collapse. A few of those are:
  • how prepared you are (how much food, water, medicines in stock)
  • how many usable skills you have? (natural remedies knowledge, gardening, technical skills, fighting skills…)
  • how dependent you are on the system? (you are living in city apartment building or in a small rural community)
  • what kind of group (or family) you have around you, what kind of skills those people have, how close and trusted are those people?
    These are just a few examples. Even if you have all of the above you still need to have mental strength.

    Or in other words, you may be perfectly prepared survivalist when SHTF just to find that you are simply falling apart mentally.

    In my case (I am talking about people who were not preppers at all) people who suffered most were people who failed to recognize the new rules.

    We had (in that time, in my family), a college professor, a man that was pretty important in normal times. Students were kinda trembling when they used to see him.

    When SHTF he mentally fell apart and become useless because he felt that suddenly he become nobody, completely unimportant.

    Every scum with a rifle was more important than him.

    It is not about that we could not find a use for him, it is about fact that he was “plugged-in" so heavily in the system and when that system was gone he felt there was no sense to anything.

    He did not want to try to be useful in any other ways.

    One definition would be that people who are “plugged-in" or depended too much on the system had worst time when system disappeared (SHTF).

    Luther: What are some things that can help a person who is having a difficult time during a crisis?

    Selco: I mentioned that you need to have support from other people, but also you need to have peace of mind.

    It is easier said then it is done, but yes, faith and religion, or kind of spiritual-mental order helps a lot.

    I cannot say that religious people had less hard times, but I am sure that religious people went more peacefully through that hard time because it helps you to make sense of everything.

    Personally, I had a kind of “philosophy“ during that time. It went something like “I’ll do whatever I can, and the rest is not in my hands anyway.“

    Over the times it grew into “It will be whatever it has to be.“ It worked for me at that time.

    It sounds simple, but this philosophy helped me through some of the hardest periods because I understood that I can do only do so much. There were so many things that were way out of my control, and way random. If I worried too much about it I might lose my mind.

    It worked for me then, but remember that I was not prepared. Preppers today are more prepared, and by combining that prepping with peace of mind, it makes even more sense.

    Remember that you need to find sense in life when SHTF. You need to have reasons to push on and on.

    God, faith, kids, love… you need to have some reason and to stick to it.

    It can be things like teaching others about herbs, or food growing.

    If you do not have good reasons you either end up dead because you stop caring, or simply you turn to an animal just following the most primitive instincts.

    Luther: What are the things that made people feel better and helped recapture some normalcy?

    Selco: I have to say that drugs and heavy alcohol drinking were in use very much, but not as a mean to recapture normalcy, it was more to get lost – to forget reality.

    You need to have a “vent“ - it is different for different people. As I said, for a lot of people it was alcohol or drugs, for me it did not do the complete job and often it was dangerous to get “lost“ in times like that.

    It was very usual to see people smoking marijuana, people who never even heard of it prior the SHTF.

    For me, two things were like “charging my mental batteries“ – music and reading.

    Music was rare, and it was actually if you stumble on someone who plays guitar, reading was more available, and for me, it was like I was still there but I had escaped to a better place while reading or listening music.

    In some bad situations I did find myself singing songs, maybe I looked retarded in that moment because of that, but actually it helped.

    When you are dirty, hungry, insecure, frightened and worried for your family, and when all that goes for months, you need something that going to make you feel fine for some time, not to forget all troubles (like with heavy drinking or drugs maybe) but more like to push all worries aside for a bit.

    Note: do not mix alcohol abuse with fact that it is a great idea to store alcohol for SHTF. Have alcohol for a trade, or drink, but do not try to solve heavy times with alcohol abuse, it does not work.

    Small snacks, like candies, are precious things as a mental help.

    Check today what kind of small things comfort you when you are down or having problems, and count on that when the SHTF. Those small things will probably comfort you ten times more then.

    Luther: Are there specific personality traits that we can focus on now which would help us through a situation like this? 

    Selco A sense of humor! In that time, for me, a friend with a good sense of humor was worth some rifles or and a pile of MREs.

    A good sense of humor is an important survival skill and often overlooked. I am not joking.

    And storytelling.

    We had in our family old man who was guerilla fighter during WW2, and he combined both of these qualities.

    In hard times, when we were more or less desperate he would tell us stories of his fighting in WW2 – how they fled from the Nazis, how they starved, how they froze in the woods.

    And over the time it helped. 

    For example, one of us would comment “Oh, there is only one can of food today for 5 of us" and then he would say “Oh, you wimps, it is piece of cake, during the WW2 in the German encirclement I ate my shoe for a week.“

    And for whatever hard time in our SHTF, he would have a story of “Oh, you wimps, during the WW2 I…“
    Over time it became partly a joke, but also partly a serious thing.

    Even between each other, when we saw it is a hard situation, we would joke “Shit, this is bad, we are in serious trouble now, call grandpa with one of his “oh, you wimps, during the WW2“ stories.

    That old guy knew exactly what kind of mental relief we needed – joking and storytelling how someone else had hard times and how he managed to survive.

    He had a sense of humor, a gift for storytelling, and he had spirit.

    Thanks to him I grew the habit of using humor in hard situations.

    Free movie on Dr Martin Luther King

    SUBHEAD: "I Am Not Your Negro" at Lihue Neighborhood Center, Sunday January 21st.

    By Kip Goodwin on 18 January for Island Breath -

    Image above: Crowd gathering at the Lincoln Memorial for "The March on Washington. From movie "I am Not Your Negro.

     Free showing of "I Am Not Your Negro", a documentary film on Martin Luther King.

    Sunday, January 21, 1:00p m to 3:30 pm.

    Lihue Neighborhood Center, 3353 Eono St., Lihue

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's emerging legacy was cut short when he was gunned down on the Lorraine Motel balcony in Memphis. He was there to march with striking garbage collectors. His place of authority as a proponent of non violent civil rights advocacy was already assured. He was only 39 years old.

    Dr. King's world view was expanding. He saw young men from poor communities forced to go half way around the world to fight poor people in Viet Nam. But he saw not just black youth, but poor whites too. Knowing the risks, he spoke his mind about a society that was investing its moral and material currency in wars for the wealthy while doing little to alleviate poverty at home.

    I Am Not Your Negro is based on an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin, an African American writer and intellectual, that explores the history of racism in the U.S. through Baldwin's reminiscences of his close friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Academy Award nominee. Narrated by Samuel L Jackson.

    From the Wall Street Journal: "The film is unsparing as history and enthralling as biography. It's an evocation of a passionate soul in a tumultuous era, a film that uses Baldwin's spoken words, and his notes for an unfinished book, to illuminate the struggle for human rights."

    Opening with Kauai singer/songwriter Blu Dux, and Kauai's Peace Poet, Kimie Sadoyama.

    Free event. Light refreshments to be served.

    Presented by Kauai Alliance for Peace and Social Justice

    Image above: An anti-integration rally in Little Rock, Arkansas with signs reading 'Race Mixing is Communism". From movie "I am Not Your Negro".

    For information call 808 822 7646, or email www.may11nineteen71@

    The Golden Rule of Technology

    SUBHEAD: It's that "Technological Progress" is innovation doesn't solve problems, it creates them.

    By Ugo Bardi in 21 December 2017 for Cassandra's Legacy -

    Image above: a KnightsScope security robot patrols around San Francisco Society for the Prevention for Cruelty to Animals to deter homeless people. We guess they are not as valuable as stray dogs. From (
    As the homeless problem continues to surge in San Francisco, an animal advocacy and pet adoption clinic has taken the novel, if dystopian, approach of hiring an autonomous security robot unit to clear out vagrants.

    The SPCA (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) deployed a K5 robot manufactured by Knightscope, a Silicon Valley-based robotics company, to help discourage homeless people from erecting tents on the sidewalks and streets near the clinic. Though it has reduced the number of encampments, the robot has drawn overwhelmingly negative reactions from city residents.

    Resembling a Whovian Dalek, the K5 security robot moves at around three miles per hour and is equipped with four cameras and an array of lasers, thermal sensors, and GPS. It can be rented for $6 an hour as opposed to the $16/hr a security guard costs.
    See that thing up there? It is an autonomous security robot, something that's becoming fashionable nowadays.

    Obviously, for every problem, there has to be a technological solution. So, what could go wrong with the idea that the problem of homeless people can be solved by means of security robots? After all, they are not weaponized.... I mean, not yet.

    There is something badly wrong with the way we approach what we call "problems" and our naive faith in technology becomes more and more pathetic. And now we are deploying security robots all over the world. Surely a "solution" but it is not so clear what the problem is.

    The story of this silly robot made me think of a post that I published a few months ago where I stated what I called "the golden rule of technological innovation: "innovation doesn't solve problems, it creates them". And the more I think about that, the more I think it is true.

    Decades of work in research and development taught me this:

    Innovation does not solve problems, it creates them. 

    Which I could call "the Golden Rule of Technological Innovation." There are so many cases of this law at work that it is hard for me to decide where I should start from. Just think of nuclear energy; do you understand what I mean?

    So, I am always amazed at the naive faith of some people who think that more technology will solve the problems created by technology. It just doesn't work like that.

    That doesn't mean that technological research is useless; not at all. R&D can normally generate small but useful improvements to existing processes, which is what it is meant to do. But when you deal with breakthroughs, well, it is another kettle of dynamite sticks; so to say.

    Most claimed breakthroughs turn out to be scams (cold fusion is a good example) but not all of them. And that leads to the second rule of technological innovation:

    Successful innovations are always highly disruptive

    You probably know the story of the Polish cavalry charging against the German tanks during WWII. It never happened, but the phrase "fighting tanks with horses" is a good metaphor for what technological breakthroughs can do.

    Some innovations impose themselves, literally, by marching over the dead bodies of their opponents.

    Even without such extremes, when an innovation becomes a marker of social success, it can diffuse extremely fast. Do you remember the role of status symbol that cell phones played in the 1990s?

    Cars are an especially good example of how social factors can affect and amplify the effects of innovation.

    I discussed in a previous post on Cassandra's Legacy how cars became the prime marker of social status in the West with the 1950s, becoming the bloated and inefficient objects we know today. They had a remarkable effect on society, creating the gigantic suburbs of today's cities where life without a personal car is nearly impossible.

    But the great wheel of technological innovation keeps turning and it is soon going to make individual cars as obsolete as it would be wearing coats made of home-tanned bear skins.

    It is, again, the combination of technological innovation and socioeconomic factors creating a disruptive effect. For one thing, private car ownership is rapidly becoming too expensive for the poor.

    At the same time, the combination of global positioning systems (GPS), smartphones, and autonomous driving technologies makes it possible a kind of "transportation on demand" or "transportation as a service" (TAAS) that was unthinkable just a decade ago.

    Electric cars are especially suitable (although not critically necessary) for this kind of transportation.

    In this scheme, all you need to do to get a transportation service is to push a button on your smartphone and the vehicle you requested will silently glide in front of you to take you wherever you want. (*)

    The combination of these factors is likely to generate an unstoppable and disruptive social phenomenon. Owning a car will be increasing seen as passé, whereas using the latest TAAS gadgetry will be seen as cool.

    People will scramble to get rid of their obsolete, clumsy, and unfashionable cars and TAAS will also play the role of social filter: with the ongoing trends of increasing social inequality, the poor will be able to use it only occasionally or not at all.

    The rich, instead, will use it to show that they can and that they have access to credit. Some TAAS services will be exclusive, just as some hotels and resorts are. Some rich people may still own cars as a hobby, but that wouldn't change the trend.

    Of course, all that is a vision of the future and the future is always difficult to predict.

    But something that we can say about the future is that when changes occur, they occur fast. In this case, the end result of the development of individual TAAS will be the rapid collapse of the automotive industry as we know it: a much smaller number of vehicles will be needed and they won't need to be of the kind that the present autuomotive industry can produce. This phenomenon has been correctly described by "RethinkX," even though still within a paradigm of growth.

    In practice, the transition is likely to be even more rapid and brutal than what the RethinkX team propose. For the automotive industry, there applies the metaphor of "fighting tanks with horses."

    The demise of the automotive industry is an example of what I called the "Seneca Effect." When some technology or way of life becomes obsolete and unsustainable, it tends to collapse very fast.

    Look at the data for the world production of motor vehicles, below (image from Wikipedia). We are getting close to producing a hundred million of them per year.

    If the trend continues, during the next ten years we'll have produced a further billion of them. Can you really imagine that it would be possible? There is a Seneca Cliff waiting for the automotive industry.

    See also:
    Ea O Ka Aina: Robot guard "commits suicide 7/18/17
    Ea O Ka Aina: Robot runs over young boy 7/13/16

    An Ending

    SUBHEAD: Our farm, like many of our US farms and towns, is in the grip of an extended cold spell.

    By Brian Miller on 31 December 2017 for Winged Elm Farm -

    Image above: Canton Minnesota Amish farm in winter snow. From (

    The initial thrill that comes with an ice storm and a loss of power faded a bit the morning the temperature bottomed out at 3 degrees.

    Delores the sow had dragged the heater out of her water trough for the fifth time, the pond ice for the cattle and horse had to be broken every few hours, and a young ewe and her newborn had to be rescued after lambing in a far corner of the wind-blown sheep pasture and relocated to the shelter of a barn stall.

    Still, the domestic pleasure of coming into a cozy house heated by a woodstove to sip a hot cup of tea is not to be dismissed.

    Traditionally we built our houses to meet the demands of our climates, a grass hut if you lived on a tropical isle or a house with connected barn if you lived in New England. Older houses in Louisiana, when I was growing up, were typically built a couple of feet off the ground. It was a good model for a warm climate.

    The open space underneath kept the house cooler in the warmer months (most of the year), and the elevation protected against the occasional flooding. Freezes, like the big one in 1940 my dad recalled, were rare.

    And given that most plumbing was limited to the kitchen, freeze damage to the house was minimal.

    Infrastructure was on my mind this past week here in East Tennessee. After a week of temperatures barely budging above freezing, we had an ice storm.

    The storm caused our farm to lose power. Then the temperatures plummeted to low single digits. Thankfully, we had a generator to run the refrigerator, well pump and a few essential electrical circuits.

    A Jotul woodstove helped keep the house a comfortable 60 degrees. Another generator at the barn kept a variety of water tanks heated for the sheep, chickens, goose, cattle and horse.

    Today, our houses are designed to accommodate the additional “essentials” that just a generation ago were not needed nor even available.

    The electricity to keep the modern house functioning is a relatively new concept in human culture. The boundary line of what is essential has shifted. Shelter, heat, food and water now share demand with internet, smartphone, cable TV and microwave.

    Older forms of infrastructure had built-in resilience: barns carefully constructed to hold heat, with hay mows above to ease the feeding of livestock in poor weather; deep in-ground cisterns to provide fresh water for the farm; houses designed to facilitate warmth in the winter or coolness in the summer—smart, low-tech designs that we have pushed aside with the assumption that the power grid will now take care of us.

    Over the years Cindy and I have discussed converting our farm to an off-the-grid power system. Each time, though, we found the costs to be prohibitive.

    But this week, after a few days without power, as we scrambled to keep up with our needs, it occurred to me: off-the-grid is easy; it is our modern needs that are complicated, the prohibitive factor, the stumbling block, the real expense.

    Those old houses in south Louisiana worked year in, year out because they had very little modern infrastructure to protect. Working under the house insulating each individual pipe before the ice storm, I was overwhelmed by how much plumbing is needed in our small house just to furnish us water on demand.

    Hot and cold pipes to the kitchen and the two bathrooms, the hot water heater and the washer/dryer—a complexity of plumbing requiring protection from the elements, so that it might protect us from the elements.

    Driving into town late in the week, I saw dozens of downed trees, limbs still balancing on utility lines, brush pushed to the edges of the road.

    As I looked at the miles of power lines and telephone lines, our true vulnerability was evident. It was not the loss of electrical power that we feared but the loss of a certain status that comes with our modern life, a status of predictability.

    Off-the-grid literature is typically geared towards finding ways around the commercial power source, yet retaining the modern conveniences. As we watered and fed our sheep, as lambs were born this week without regard to the temperature or the state of our utilities, I thought about the Amish.

    While many of us were without power, were they concerned with an inability to update their Facebook pages, charge their cell phones, keep their freezers going, stay warm with their electric furnaces?

     Did they feel powerless? Somehow I doubt it.

    The complexity of this modern life, the infrastructure that maintains it, is hardwired for disruption.

    Our system and our expectations for what it must provide are such that losing power is a form of powerlessness. That in itself seems a form of slavery. Which is why there is, for me, always that bit of anarchic joy in an emergency, an unshackling from the system.

    Though that uncertain joy is accompanied by relief when the master comes home and power is restored.

    Trump and Russian Bombshell

    SUBHEAD: Bannon claims Don Jr. took Russians to his father after their meeting with Kushner and Manafort.

    By Hayley Miller on 3 JAnuary 2018 for Huffington Post -

    Image above: Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, conmen all. From (

    [IB Publisher's note: On one hand its obvious that Steve Bannon as a bone to pick with Donald Trump. But what he indicates about the real crime isn't talking to Russians but enabling and participating in systemic criminal money laundering is what the Mueller investigation is onto.]

    The former White House strategist called the infamous Trump Tower meeting “treasonous,” according to a new book.

    Steve Bannon suggested President Donald Trump was aware of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian operatives at Trump Tower in June 2016 ― because he met with them that day, too, according to an explosive new book by acclaimed journalist Michael Wolff.

    The former White House strategist was quoted by Wolff as saying there was “zero” chance Trump Jr. didn’t walk the Russian meeting attendees “up to his father’s office on the 26th floor.”

    Wolff met with Bannon during the nine months he was granted far-reaching access to the West Wing and senior administration officials to write a tell-all book about the White House, Fire and Fury, set for release on Jan. 9.

    The revelations appeared to contradict Trump’s repeated claims that he was unaware his eldest son, as well as his son-in-law Jared Kushner, had met with the Russians.

    Bannon also dubbed the infamous Trump Tower meeting as “treasonous” and “bad shit,” according to Wolff. The far-right icon mocked Trump Jr. and Kushner for taking the meeting in hopes of acquiring dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s political opponent in the 2016 presidential race, as first revealed by The New York Times in July.

    “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor — with no lawyers,” Bannon told Wolff, according to The Guardian, which obtained a copy of the book.

    “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” he added.

    Bannon predicted special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government will focus on money laundering.

    “This is all about money laundering,” Bannon told Wolff. “Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”

    Bannon suggested Kushner’s business dealings with German financial juggernaut Deutsche Bank, which has loaned hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner family real estate business, would be problematic for the administration.

    “The Kushner shit is greasy,” Bannon said. “They’re going to go right through that. They’re going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me.”

    Four Trump associates have been indicted in connection to the probe, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who also attended the Trump Tower meeting. Manafort was indicted by a grand jury in October on charges of conspiracy and money laundering.

    “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV,” he said, adding that the White House should reconsider its apparent lack of concern over the Mueller investigation. “They’re sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five.”

    Hold Dear the Lamp Light

    SUBHEAD: Our lives when we were young, before the tides rose up and the power went out.

    By Jay Ruben Dayrit on 13 December 2016 for Wired Magazine -

    Image above: Illustration for story by Kevin Tong. From original article.

    The year Jojo and I started eighth grade, the power plant officially cut electricity to two hours a day. We’d already been through years of brownouts, of flickering lights, blinking monitors, older ag drones without artificial neural networks rebooting in their stations and randomly launching to spray the fields again or overfeed the chickens.

    So when Public Works & Electric issued a message to all our devices telling us about its irregular hours of operation, no one was surprised. The message was full of obfuscating language, but anyone with a tide chart could spot the correlation.

    Anyone driving down the causeway to the airport, past the power plant, could see through its chain-link fence the turbines standing silent, tense as raised shoulders; the grounds swamped in seawater, the ebbing tide dragging out an iridescent Rorschach of petroleum.

    A year before, the garbage dump had had to be relocated, a comparatively easier undertaking, after disposable diapers and plastic bottles began washing ashore on what was left of Ant Atoll, which had already lost its status as the premier diving destination for the Chinese.

    The imminent blackouts stirred little protest from a population accustomed to making do. Aging water pipes had given rise to improvised cisterns situated at the eaves of every house.

    Unreliable supply chains necessitated that we all have competence in maintaining our equipment. Mother Necessity knows how to weld with a zip tie, patch with duct tape, and repurpose a soda can.

    Our father took Jojo and me, along with a box of winged beans, bitter melon, and a dozen eggs, over to Bauer’s Hardware. He and Friedrich Bauer had been tennis buddies before the tractor accident. Back then the hospital was even less equipped to handle emergencies, and Friedrich died before he could be medevaced to Guam.

    The produce was for Yessica, who had taken over the hardware store. In return, she discounted the Coleman lantern and three bags of charcoal, throwing in a 10-pack of Diamond Strike matches for free. She marveled at how tall Jojo and I had grown but confessed she still couldn’t tell us apart.

    Our father placed his hand on my brother’s shoulder. “Joseph here is interested in civil engineering. Alejandro, medicine,” he said, as if we’d come up with these ideas on our own. “They’ll be going to Central Pacific next year.”

    Yessica’s smile couldn’t mask the flutter of melancholy in her eyes. Friedrich had graduated from there. Anyone from Micronesia who went to Hawaii for school attended Central Pacific High School.

    Its boarding program had gained a reputation for welcoming students from other islands like the Marshalls and Pingelap, lower-lying atolls that had all but disappeared.

    When the Office of Insular Affairs renewed the Compact of Free Association for the second time, the penultimate wave of Micronesians arrived in Hawaii, seeking access to better education, jobs, and health care, especially for the blood-borne cancers and autoimmune disorders that were still persistent three generations after nuclear testing.

    With that influx into Hawaii came a resurgence of housing and job discrimination, racial tension, and violence.

    We’d heard that the faculty at Central Pacific encouraged empathy between Hawaiians and Micronesians, highlighting cultural commonalities like celestial navigation and traditional dances. But the fact that there wasn’t a lot of bullying, we knew, had more to do with safety in numbers.

    A few friends who were home for the summer had reassured Jojo and me we’d be OK, because we were Filipinos who sounded American. With our straight hair and lighter skin, we could pass. Still, we were told to learn how to block a punch.

    Better yet, learn how to throw one. Jojo and I practiced in our bedroom, aiming for the shoulder, where the sleeves of our T-shirts concealed the bruises that might betray to our parents how we were preparing for high school.

    After returning from the hardware store, Jojo and I helped our mother empty the refrigerator, defrost the freezer, and scrape the barbecue grill. She marinated all the meat in soy sauce, calamansi juice, and garlic.

    Our father threw pork chops and steaks on the grill, but we all felt decadent eating so much red meat. And our mother worried about gout, to which Filipinos were predisposed. She rattled off the names of five of our uncles back in Pampanga as evidence.

    So we gave the excess thawed meat to our neighbors. The house down the road was owned by the hospital and, over the years, was home to a string of American doctors offsetting their excessive student loans by practicing in underserved countries.

    Dr. Westlake and Dr. Phan, two female residents who enjoyed throwing cocktail parties, happily accepted the food. Up the road, the McGuires, who were from New Zealand, insisted our generosity was too much. They eventually relented, because our mother refused to take no for an answer.

    They had a son our age, Derek, whose company Jojo and I didn’t particularly enjoy. Whenever there was electricity, he’d run through the break in the gardenia hedge that separated our properties and challenge us to new games his parents let him download freely.

    He knew our cross-platform visors were a generation older and glitchier, that invariably we’d lose. “I win, again!” Derek would cheer behind his visor.

    Jojo and I would remove ours and exchange glances, consoled in knowing an only child needs to feel good about something.

    Surely our parents found the rationed power supply inconvenient: driving to the fish market every day, cooking rice over an open flame, taking the clothes off the line so they wouldn’t reek of lighter fluid. But Jojo and I recall the blackouts fondly.

    We remember our whole neighborhood, just a scattering of houses along a gravel road, smelling of barbecued chicken and fish. We remember eating grilled corn and eggplant with bagoong.

    We remember Auntie Betina arriving for dinner with a Folger’s coffee can of chocolate ­chip cookies she’d somehow managed to bake in the brief window of electricity that day.

    We remember pink sunsets stretching across the sky, families in their backyards, laughter carried by the breeze in the waning sunlight. We remember the Coleman lantern, how its mantle, little more than an ashen net the shape of an infant’s sock, cast a steady light against the back of the house. Our shadows, sharp as paper cutouts, slid across the wall as we helped ourselves to seconds.

    We took leisurely family walks after dinner. “An evening constitutional,” as our father called it, evoking an era when people said things like that. No porch lights to mark our path, not even the bluish glow of our devices, which we stowed to conserve battery power while the networks were down. The moon illuminated the road well enough.

    We stopped to talk to other people strolling after dinner, mostly Filipinos who lived in the neighborhood.

    The men crossed their arms atop full bellies, discussing local politics and the precarious economy. The women gossiped about recent expats from the Philippines—who was single, who wasn’t but acted as if they were.

    Back home, by the light of the Coleman, our father, who could not be bothered with fiction, read biographies. Our mother read pulpy detective novels. Since the blackouts, she and her friends had started a book exchange that quickly extended beyond the Filipinas to the Americans, the Australians, even the Japanese.

    Jojo picked up The Serrano Trilogy again, which he’d attempted to read several times in the past but had always abandoned for his visor and its less challenging entertainment.

    Never much of a reader myself, I opted to flip through National Geographic, unfolding maps of faraway places, studying borders that would have to be redrawn sooner than any of us expected.

    Before our predicament was overshadowed by the mass evacuations of Shanghai, Amsterdam, and America’s coastal cities to higher ground; before the famine conflicts spilled over from Africa to the Middle East; before Micronesia’s depleted population eventually triggered its economic collapse and the expats, our parents included, retreated to inner regions of their own countries; before all those major catastrophes, we had the blackout years.

    Now I hold dear the lamplight and the rustle of paper at our fingertips, our parents reading passages aloud, being together in the darkness.

    That first year, Jojo and I came to believe we could easily live without electricity.

    But we were children and our beliefs unrealistic, like the plan to relocate the power plant before it and everything else succumbed to the sea.