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Plastic Bag = the movie

Ramin Bahrani, Future States

This short film by American director Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo) traces the epic, existential journey of a plastic bag (voiced by Werner Herzog) searching for its lost maker, the woman who took it home from the store and eventually discarded it. Along the way, it encounters strange creatures, experiences love in the sky, grieves the loss of its beloved maker, and tries to grasp its purpose in the world.

In the end, the wayward plastic bag wafts its way to the ocean, into the tides, and out into the Pacific Ocean trash vortex — a promised nirvana where it will settle among its own kind and gradually let the memories of its maker slip away.
(accessed 22 August 2010)
Strangely moving — not what you might expect. Comments about the film. -BA

Money vs Fossil Energy:
the battle for control of the world

David Holmgren Holmgren Design Systems
This essay provides a framework for understanding the ideological roots of the current global crisis that I believe is more useful than the now tired Left Right political spectrum. I use this framework to provide a commentary on current political machinations around Climate Chnage and Peak Oil. Building form the same energetic literacy that informs Permaculture and Future Scenarios, it challenges much of the strategic logic behind current mainstream climate change activism. Like the Future Scenarios work, this essay is intended to help environmental and social activists better avoid the obstacles to effective action in a chaotic age.

The unfolding climate/energy/economic crisis is heating up a very old rift in global
industrial politics. This rift derives from two core beliefs on what constitutes the
source of wealth. Does wealth come from human creativity and innovation or is it
found in the natural world? Is human capacity the source or a by-product of real

I believe two alternative (and mostly complementary) paradigms that are implied by
these questions, have shaped the history of the modern world perhaps more so than
the Left-Right political ideologies. I characterise these increasingly conflicted
paradigms by the following shorthand: faith in wealth and power from “human
brilliance” (meaning “faith in human brilliance to overcome physical limitations.”)
verses faith that wealth and power emerge from control of “holes in the ground”, ie.
physical resources.5

In a world of energy descent and climate change, both these beliefs are failing and
increasingly we see the believers of both paradigms at war in a futile battle for control
of the world.

Understanding the nature of this ideological battle is as critical for environmental and
social activists as is the understanding of the science behind Climate Change and Peak
Oil. Because this ideological divide and battle has been little recognised by historians
and social commentators, it is easy to come to the conclusion that one of these
paradigms is benign while the other is lethal, without really understanding the nature
and implications of these respective ideologies.

Climate activists in particular tend to focus on the fossil energy industries as the
“enemies” (both for generating greenhouse gases and funding climate change denial),
but naturally see any parties accepting the new climate change agenda as allies. I
believe that many of the global players promoting the climate agenda are as
dangerous as those denying that agenda. How can this be so?

(Winter Solstice [in Australia] 2010)

Go to the Download page to get the full PDF. -BA


Why the Irish will find it easier to endure the hard times ahead

Brian Kaller, Big Questions Online
O’Sterity: Old Virtues in the New Ireland

… Ireland seems to specialize in this smashing together of the ancient and the modern. Just a brief drive from my house in Sallins, a new Starbucks overlooks medieval ruins, and a thatch-roofed pub has a satellite dish. But many of the new features are destined for a short shelf life. The country has seen the same troubles as my native United States — layoffs, bailouts, bubbles, and cutbacks — and the vacant office buildings reinforce the picture of desperation. Talk to the people, though, and a more complex picture comes into view.

The Irish have a lot in common with Americans, and not just because our globalized culture has everybody listening to Beyoncé and talking about the series finale of Lost. To a Missouri boy like me, many things seem familiar: faces and last names, crops and churches, country music stations and county fairs. This is where much of rural America comes from, the original of the species. In other ways, of course, Ireland is a European nation, with nationalized health care, coalition governments, no death penalty, and no guns.

And when it comes to attitudes toward economic hard times, the Irish could not be less American, owing to the country’s unusual modern history. Ireland’s stark landscape of windswept plains and ancient monoliths draws legions of tourists, inspires New Age records, fantasy literature, and inspirational calendars. But we see those ruins out of context. When built, they were surrounded by towns, farms, and a cold rainforest like Oregon’s today. In medieval times, Ireland was a civilized and densely populated country compared to most of Europe. Even after the land was conquered and the forests felled, as many as 8 million people lived here — almost twice as many as today. Over the last 200 years, the populations of most countries increased dramatically­­ — Britain’s by seven-fold, America’s by a factor of 50. Ireland’s was cut by almost half.

The most important reason was the Famine, of course, and you can still hear the capital F in today’s Ireland. But that epochal crash was just the worst chapter of a history that emptied the land and made Ireland the world’s most famous exporter of sad songs and refugees. Perhaps no other people but the Jews have been so defined by tragedy and exodus.
(29 July 2010)
Brian Kaller is a regular contributor to Energy Bulletin. -BA


Pakistan: A Question of Water

Gwynne Dyer, CommonDreams
This may not be the most tactful time to bring it up, with much of Pakistan underwater and many millions homeless, but Pakistan’s real problem is not too much water. It is too little water – and one day it could cause a war.

The current disastrous floods (to which the response of both the Pakistan government and the international community has been far too slow) are due to this year’s monsoon being much stronger than usual. But that is just bad weather, in the end: every fifty or one hundred years you can expect the weather to do something really extreme. It comes in various forms – blizzards, floods, hurricanes – but it happens everywhere.

The long-term threat to Pakistan’s well-being is that the country is gradually drying out. The Indus river system is the main year-round source of water for both Pakistan and north-western India, but the glaciers up on the Tibetan plateau that feed the system’s various tributaries are melting.
(21 August 2010)


How to Make A Pile of Dough With the Traditional City

Nathan Lewis, New World Economics
Sometimes people ask me how we — Americans in particular, who have dug their Suburban Hell hole the deepest — can transition to a Traditional City/trains format.

The first step, as I noted earlier, is that you have to have some idea of what you want to create. Obviously, you can’t create it if you can’t imagine it. In fact, there are actually quite a few people, both "New Urbanist" types and even some more commercially-minded property developers, who want to create something like the Traditional City, but since they haven’t been able to imagine it properly, their results have basically been a failure.

So, the first step is to be physically, mentally, and creatively capable of making something that is worthwhile — nay, that is a shining example to future generations of the excellence of our civilization. But then, somewhere along the line, someone is going to have to make a profit with the Traditional City. Once this happens, consistently, then the transition will be well underway.

All sorts of amazing things can happen when people start to turn a profit. Look at wind turbine development, for example. While making electricity from the wind might be a good idea on a lot of levels (although with some problems like any real-world activity), the reason that there have been hundreds of billions of dollars invested in wind turbine development in recent years, worldwide, is because it provides an adequate return on capital. This was a tree-hugging fantasy a decade ago. It might take some government subsidies to make it profitable, but so what. (Many will argue that this simply mirrors the hidden subsidy of fossil fuels, thus "leveling the playing field" somewhat.) The fact that wind turbines are considered "cool" today helps, but you still need to make that hurdle IRR.

Just imagine if hundreds of billions of dollars a year were invested, today, in Traditional City development. We would just stop making so many suburbs and start making some Traditional City neighborhoods instead. It’s the same amount of work. There is no "extra" spending or effort. In 2000, for example, the GDP statistics show that $449 billion dollars were invested in residential strucutres, in the U.S. alone (not to mention the rest of the world!). Another $318 billion was invested in nonresidential (commercial) structures, such as office buildings, retail, hotels, warehouses, factories and the like. I pick 2000 as a year that was not really a bubble (in property), and not really a recession either. This was 4.5% of GDP for residential structures alone, and 7.7% when you include commercial structures. In 2009, 7.7% of GDP would translate into $1,087 billion.
(22 August 2010)
Long article, many photos and links. -BA

COMMENT (Aug 23) from EB contributor Steve:

Interesting articles, even quite amusing at first, but it’s definetly a case of the further you read into it, the less pleasant it becomes. Check out some of their "related articles" and youll see what I mean. (These are the observations of an "underemployed" architectural draftsman from New Zealand who has an interest in sustainable urbanism, not to mention time on his hands to do a bit of website weeding! Thanks.



Austin’s Energy Conservation Gem: Interview with Paul Robbins

Jon Lebkowsky, WorldChanging
Worldchanging: How do you feel about this latest (7th) edition of the Austin Environmental Directory having taken three and a half years to put together?

Paul Robbins: There was another story that I would have written, had I had the time to do it. There’s a group of three stories on energy. I would have liked to have written a fourth one, which would have been on living simply – which, in our culture, is quite complicated. So I would have liked to have spent several months researching and writing an article about how to live simply without freezing in the dark, or (in the south) sweating in the dark. But I had spent three and a half years on this project and I had to get it done. Other than that, I’m very happy with what I produced.

Worldchanging: In compiling this version, what did you run across that felt different? Was there a sense of a real change from the earlier version, from the reality of what was environmentally effective?

Paul Robbins: In the earlier versions, 1995 and 1996, what I was focusing on were environmental products and services. As the Directory evolved, I started getting into policy as well. How can a region change its governance and change its laws and customs to be more environmental?

Worldchanging: How can it?

Paul Robbins: Well, that would require a book. In fact, it would require several.

It just evolved. The first issue I got heavily into policy was the Environmental Report Card in the year 2000 issue, in which I looked at measurable indicators of environmental progress or regress, to see how well Austin and the United States were doing. In a majority of cases, we were going backwards. I looked at energy use, water use, solid waste and hazardous waste, environmental production in food production…etc. And then, toward the middle of that, I tried to say, "Now if we wanted to change this, what would we do?" I tried to find the winners, if you will, of environmental policy around the country, and say, "Okay, here’s Seattle, which is hazardous waste heaven because they have so many programs to deal with toxic waste. And here are the most advanced energy conservation programs around the country." I tried to actually name them, and say why they were the most effective, and tell people where to go for further information. From there, I tried to get into more policy-related things, as well as environmental products. And it got more complicated. This stuff is not simple to research.

I mean, it can be simple, if you’re trying to write a five o’clock story on deadline, because you just go with what you have. But if you really want to find out the context of another part of the country, or another country, it takes a lot of work.

Worldchanging: How about looking at your own back yard, here in Austin. Is that difficult? I know in Austin we famously like to say that we’re cutting edge green, and we have a very environmentally efficient energy system.

Paul Robbins: Most of that is hype. Austin does some things right, and we should be proud of that. Compared to other cities, like Houston – we’re probably greener. But if you’re looking for a map of sustainability, Austin is about at 2% of where it should be. If we’re resting on our laurels, we’re in sad shape.
(22 August 2010)
Suggested by EB contributor Paul D.