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Edward Carpenter: a pioneering open democrat

Sheila Rowbotham, openDemocracy
A neglected radical of the 19th-20th centuries in Britain sought to enlarge liberty and enrich democracy in ways that make him a contemporary, says the renowned feminist scholar Sheila Rowbotham.

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), the socialist advocate of homosexual freedom and women’s rights, had an extraordinary impact on the cultural and political landscape of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His life and work may have receded from view, but his ideas have many resonances in contemporary public debate.

… As an undergraduate and fellow at Cambridge in the late 1860s and early 1870s, Carpenter came into contact with a reforming milieu in which the extension of the franchise along with more opportunities for working-class and women’s education were all being debated. However the great influence on him was Walt Whitman, whose poems Carpenter came across first in 1868.

… The great depression of the 1870s and 1880s led thoughtful Victorians like Edward Carpenter to question the complacent consumerist values of the previous two decades.

… Carpenter decided to live a self-sufficient lifestyle, and set up as a market-gardener in a new rural retreat: Millthorpe in the Cordwell valley. Around him, the seeds of a new political movement were sprouting: a radical group in the Liberal Party in Sheffield started to demand working-class representation, and the Democratic Federation (later the Social Democratic Federation) – a group inspired by Marxist ideas – was formed. Carpenter was swept into this early socialist movement, along with a few hundred other fervent campaigners who dreamed of the coming conflagration.

When the big bang proved slower in coming than expected, Carpenter decided – like many other radical campaigners before and since – that if a larger transformation was taking its time, it might be a good idea to focus energies in support of some smaller, local changes. In the late 1880s he busied himself in advocacy of progressive education and nude bathing, calling for an end to low- paid sweated work and agitating against environmental pollution in Sheffield.
(23 October 2008)
Does any of this sound familiar? -BA

A 21st-century battle we must win for all the world’s sake

Duncan Green, The Scotsman
IF THE 1930s are any guide, the seismic shock hitting the global economy has a long way to go. First came the plummeting stocks on Wall Street, then the social trauma of mass unemployment, soup kitchens and skid row. But they in turn triggered much deeper changes.

From the wreckage of the Depression emerged radical new approaches to running the world’s economies: Roosevelt’s New Deal, Keynesian beliefs in using government spending to manage slumps, and, in developing countries, a wholesale switch away from reliance on exporting raw materials such as coffee or copper to the pursuit of industrialisation.

A similar scale of tectonic shifts may be building below the surface of the current crisis. Some could resemble earlier transformations, others will have to break new ground – the world and its economy are now very different.

As in the previous crash, we are likely to see a retreat from the excesses and bubbles of laissez-faire capitalism as markets are re-regulated.

… Whether through the onset of “peak oil” or the response to climate change, the rationing of carbon will transform the nature and language of politics. Avoiding catastrophic climate change while still allowing poor countries to grow their way out of poverty will require the United States and Canada to reduce their per capita emissions from 20 tonnes to roughly two (some argue it should be nearer one tonne). The average starting point for Germany and France is ten tonnes per head. China stands at three tonnes.

Much of the technology required is already there or nearly there. But the only precedent for this kind of rapid technological transformation is the wholesale shift of industrial plants to producing arms during wartime. And the difference in this case is that we cannot wait for external “shocks” to trigger action.

Duncan Green is head of research at Oxfam and author of “From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States can Change the World.”
(25 October 2008)

Consuming anxiety

Jenni Russell, The Guardian
This herd reaction of a stampede to frugality is a political challenge that must not be ignored

Throughout the boom years of the New Labour decade, thinkers on the left deplored the nation’s obsession with the individualists’ cult of conspicuous consumption. It was bad for the soul, bad for the planet and, ultimately, bad for our own sense of happiness and fulfillment.

No one took any notice. Bankers gave dinner parties that cost £50,000. Columnists like this one developed an absent-minded addiction to leather boots. And behind it all stood the government and the chancellor, boasting of Britain’s sustained economic growth. Against the apparently unstoppable roar of millions of insatiable appetites, the voices calling for restraint were as impotent and irrelevant as bat squeaks.

How quickly things change. It isn’t the belt-tightening by the vulnerable or the newly unemployed that is surprising. It’s the sudden, widespread and zealous acceptance of a new norm of not spending that is so startling. We were not, it seems, born to shop. We were born to follow the herd.

… No one feels sympathy for those with so much discretionary spending to cut, but the point is a different one. It’s surplus income that has helped drive the economic expansion of the past few years, and when frightened people start saving instead, it’s not they who feel the pain. It’s all the people whose livelihood lies in providing the goods and services around them. It’s craftsmen, waiters, shop staff and the employees of small businesses who are already losing their incomes and fear losing their homes.

The trouble with the decision by so many people to stop consuming is its self-fulfilling quality. Everywhere people are making cautious decisions that are individually understandable but collectively disastrous. The instinct is for self-preservation, not solidarity.

… How are we to live now? How should our society be structured, and what should our level of consumption be? This is a political challenge that is being steadfastly ignored.
(24 October 2008)

Turning a Corner

Kriscan, YouTube
Kriscan pontificates having fewer “things” with peak oil and simultaneously, all the doors that will open for us.
(24 October 2008)
Kriscan has been posting YouTubes regularly on peak oil themes.

You Can Go Home Again: What I’d Like To Have Been Able to Say to New York Times Readers

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
Just for one moment, I’m going to pretend that instead of a silly article diagnosing a pretend disease in the New York Times, I was given a chance to speak on the Op Ed Pages of the Times, that this is my one shot at the huge audience that the Sunday Times has. Ignoring, for a moment, how unlikely that is, here’s what I would have said.

Last weekend my family and I appeared in the New York Times as victims (or perhaps purveyors) of a new mental illness, “carborexia.” Apparently this is the pathological inability to produce sufficicient carbon, an environmental mania so extreme that it transforms ordinary lives into obsessive madness.

The article began with the fact that my son Simon is deprived of the great American pasttime because it is a half-hour drive to a league that doesn’t have games on the Jewish Sabbath (poor kid, he has to play catch with his parents and pick up games with his friends and brothers – in fact, he and one of his friends actually broke one of our front windows yesterday with a particularly nice hit). The language of the article included the term “huddle together for warmth” to describe the fact that my young kids sleep together in both warm and cold weather. All of this operated to implicitly imply that I’m abusing my kids in my pursuit of a lower energy life. And since even implied accusations of child abuse and mental illness are a potent weapon in this society, I wouldn’t be shocked if you did think I was crazy and a bad Mom.

My first inclination was to fire back with the accusation that instead, most Americans may be suffering from a pathology called “carbulimia” in which they gorge themselves on energy – twice as much as Europeans, who often have a similar or higher standard of living and level of happiness – and then effectively vomit up the excess, deriving no benefit and often actual harm to their health and hope for the future. But this doesn’t quite get at the issue either – it just continues the Times’s trivializing of real eating disorders and their sufferers, and adds another dumb and uneuphonious faux-disease to the cultural lexicon. Definitely not what is most needed. Moreover, most of us don’t take in huge quantities of energy for its own sake, we use it because that’s how our society is structured, and how we’ve been taught to meet our needs. We use most of our energy because we’re not sure how to do anything else…
(23 October 2008)