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The Creep of Things

Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, The Nation
Winter is harsh in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, but black fly season–a six-week stretch in May and June–is even more pitiless. “Blackflies hover in a cloud about your face and move with you for miles, so great is their need for your warmth and company and blood,” observes Bill McKibben, who lived in the region for a number of years. The insects swarm on any sliver of exposed flesh. They crawl into ears, noses and mouths, leaving trails of bites in their wake.

Under siege from the flies, some towns have enlisted exterminators to treat larvae-infested streams with an organic pesticide. One year a petition calling for this measure circulated in Johnsburg, where McKibben lived. But he and some of his neighbors balked at signing it, even if they had trouble accounting for their qualms. McKibben ultimately arrived at this explanation: the black flies “remind me day after day in their season that I’m really not the center of the world, that I’m partly food, implicated in the crawl and creep of things.” The petition failed, and the annual plague continued.

This vignette goes a long way toward illuminating McKibben’s ethos. He reveres what is natural, even if he doesn’t like it. Indeed, he welcomes visceral reminders that the world is not designed to serve his interests. These reminders jolt him out of the solipsism he dislikes in himself and that he sees as rampant among Americans. For this he largely blames consumer culture, where, he notes, every commercial ingratiatingly addresses “you” and your pettiest desires. Rejection of the consumer mentality–which can prevail in the woods as well as at Wal-Mart–is central to McKibbenism. And yet, as any ascetic knows, renunciation can breed its own manner of self-indulgence, just as humility can engender pride. McKibben recognizes these ironies. “I consume inconvenience,” he writes in “Consuming Nature,” “turning it into a pleasurable commodity; it becomes the fuel for my own sense of superiority.”

The author of a dozen books and countless magazine articles, McKibben is ubiquitous on the sustainability scene–the go-to environmentalist for keynote speeches, forewords, blurbs and anthologies.
(1 July 2008)
Long profile of Bill McKibben: some good insights, some irritating condescension. -BA

Using energy more efficiently: An interview with the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins

McKinsey Quarterly
The Quarterly: Given the economic benefits of saving energy, why haven’t companies already seized all the opportunities available to them?

Amory Lovins: Most chief executives assume that smart engineers are already doing everything they should to cut costs. CEOs don’t see all the market failures operating both in the C-suite and several levels down.

For example, most companies behave as if they’re capital constrained, so they defer or simply don’t approve these investments. Even without risk-adjusting your discount rates, saving energy is among the highest-return investments anywhere. But it tends not to get attention, because energy is only 1 or 2 percent of the cost of doing business, unless you’re doing something like smelting aluminum. It just doesn’t rise to the priority level most strategists care about.

… The Quarterly: So if your boss doesn’t know about it and you’re not getting paid more for it, what’s the incentive to suggest improvements?

Amory Lovins: It’s why you became an engineer in the first place: the joy of doing great engineering and coming up with really cool stuff that works better and costs less. When engineers experience whole-system design-optimizing not just parts but entire systems, giving rise to higher savings at lower cost-they’ll never do things the old way again. It irreversibly rearranges their mental furniture. They’re really being creative and not functioning as mere cogs. Unleashing human creativity is an irreversible process.
(July 2008)
Requires free registration. Big Gav has a large excerpt posted.

Where Do We Go From Here? Surviving Peak Oil, Thriving in Community

Megan Quinn Bachman, Community Solution
Prepared Closing Remarks, International Conference on Peak Oil and Climate Change, Grand Rapids, Michigan, May 30-June 1, 2008

Five years ago, when I first started giving Peak Oil presentations, my message could more easily be ignored. The disconnect between the picture I presented of dangerous and destructive fossil dependence and people’s daily lives could be maintained. Perhaps the crisis seemed too far off in distance and time to matter in the here and now.

Today, that illusion has disappeared. The Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times,” is an understatement. Oil and food prices are skyrocketing as the age of cheap, abundant fossil fuels comes to an end. A global financial system based upon infinite growth on a finite planet is teetering, and news of water and soil depletion, deforestation, species extinction and catastrophic climate changes gets worse every day. Our fossil fuel dependence is “coming home to roost.”

As the global situation deteriorates, it becomes clear that it is no longer just about being sustainable; it is about being survivable. The question is: Can we survive the severe and multifaceted threats facing us, from geological to geopolitical? But just surviving is not enough – it’s also about having a planet worth living on.

As we speak today, a myriad of solutions are being proposed, developed, and implemented to survive Peak Oil and climate change – from tar sands, coal-to-liquids, hydrogen, and electric vehicles to genetic engineering and climate modification. But what kind of world would we create with these so-called solutions?

Are we implementing solutions that maintain an extractive, industrial society which would continue to exploit the earth’s natural resources and plunder the developing world? Instead, we should ask what kinds of solutions not only address Peak Oil and climate change, but create a society that is more equitable and ecological regenerative, not destructive? Those are the solutions I’m interested in.

Community Solutions, my organization, talks about “curtailment” and “community” as the best solutions. Both require new practices, skills, and values as we move from our over-consumptive, high-energy, competitive way of life to a more frugal, low-energy and cooperative way of life. Let’s start with curtailment.
(1 June 2008)

Climate dialogues in Seattle
The Greater Seattle Climate Dialogues is a campaign of community learning and discussion that begins with small group dialogues (in neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, etc.) and will culminate in a Citizen’s Climate Summit, where our informed, collective voice will be heard by local and national political leaders.

There is now widespread agreement among scientists that climate change is occurring and that it is largely caused by human activities. Unchecked, climate change brings catastrophic risks. Solving it brings both challenges and great opportunities. If ever there was a time for us to come together as a community to learn, discuss, and choose our common future, that time is now.

The Climate Dialogues begins with small discussion groups organized by people like you in living rooms, churches, workplaces, etc.. We provide the Climate Choices briefing and discussion guide, and help with facilitation to ensure that the discussions are respectful and productive. Our aim is to have discussion groups throughout the city, and eventually beyond. Why a dialogue about the climate?

The goal of the discussion circles is not necessarily to reach consensus, but to build a network of citizens who understand the facts and are committed to finding solutions. We will come together in spring of 2008 for the Citizen’s Climate Summit, where we sit down with political leaders and chart a course towards making good, long-term decisions to ensure a safe and healthy future.

Many of us have the sense that it is time to take responsibility for tackling this issue. But no one can do it alone. Join us in the Climate Dialogues, and let’s solve this together.
(July 2008)
Contributor J Barton writes:
The About Us section of the site says:
“The Climate Dialogues is a coalition of local and national groups led by the citizen’s network. The Dialogues have been formally endorsed by the Seattle City Council. “

This looks like a model more cities could emulate, though I disagree with some of the study guide assertions (that doing nothing costs nothing, for instance).