Carl Safina: The Oil Spill’s Unseen Culprits, Victims

Carl Safina’s voice breaks as he recounts the story of a bottlenose dolphin in the Gulf that tried to get rescued by a passing fishing boat. The dolphin was splattering oil out its blowhole. The fisherman at first moved his boat away from the dolphin, because they scare off fish. Within a minute the dolphin had returned to the side of his boat. The fisherman said he’d never seen anything like that in 30 years of fishing. He believed the dolphin was asking for help.

In the TED Talk below, Safina — “president and co-founder of the Blue Ocean Institute, and author of several writings on marine ecology and the ocean, including the award winnings Song for the Blue Ocean (1998) and Eye of the Albatross (2002)” (( — reports on the holocaust in the Gulf in words that become angrier and angrier. Referring to the efforts to cover-up the extent of the disaster, he says “it’s like putting the murderer in charge of the body.”

More Signs That Peak Oil Thinking Has Become Mainstream


A new report, produced jointly by Lloyd’s of London and the Royal Institute of International Affairs (aka Chatham House), concludes that “we are heading towards a global oil supply crunch and price spike … companies which are able to plan for and take advantage of this new energy reality will increase both their resilience and competitiveness. Failure to do so could lead to expensive and potentially catastrophic consequences.”

The report focuses on business risk perspectives, and doesn’t elaborate at length on the dire social and civilizational consequences of Peak Oil. It does note, however, the increasing difficulty of oil extraction, a fact much on everyone’s mind in the wake of BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil-spill disaster:

“Much of the world’s energy infrastructure lies in areas that will be increasingly subject to severe weather events caused by climate change. On top of this, extraction is increasingly taking place in more severe environments such as the Arctic and ultra-deep water. For energy investors this means long-term planning based on a changing – rather than a stable climate. For energy users, it means greater likelihood of loss of power for industry and fuel supply disruptions.”

Most writings on Peak Oil emphasize the looming catastrophe of massive price increases in ubiquitous oil-based products as well as untenable shipping cost increases in a global economy dependent on cheap transport.

The ultimate result of Peak Oil, then, would be an unwinding of globalism and a return to primary dependence on local economies.

When I first understood the significance of Peak Oil, I was frightened, and began to think about stocking up on food and other emergency supplies.

In time, though, I came to realize that the only real security is working in community. At the neighborhood level, it does make sense to stock up on food and other emergency supplies (for instance, see the Food Readiness Project). It also makes sense to share other tools.

Our focus must be on re-building our local communities to be more resilient, self-sufficient and sustainable.

Nevada County is fortunate to have among its citizens a group of people who have been thinking about the Peak Oil problem for years, and are working to prepare for and mitigate its most dire consequences. I speak, of course, about the Alliance for a Post-Petroleum Local Economy (A.P.P.L.E.) and its Sustainability Center.

Spend a few minutes perusing the websites for those two organizations and you will notice a wonderful thing: both are primarily focused on positive local solutions and much less on the looming disasters in the global economy.

In the years ahead, we will have more and more reason to be grateful for the work of this small but rapidly growing local cadre of concerned citizens.

The following is a 2-minute 49-second video summary of the Lloyd’s-Chatham House report by one of the authors,  Antony Froggatt, Senior Research Fellow, Energy, Environment and Development Programme for Chatham House.

More Peak Oil Resources

Peak Moment TV

Produced by Nevada County videographers and A.P.P.L.E founders Janaia Donaldson and Robyn Mallgren, Peak Moment shines a bright light on local sustainability projects in North America. After several years, this series now represents an amazing body of work and is increasingly recognized nationwide as an important contribution to the Peak Oil literature.

Energy Bulletin

A reader’s digest of the best writing on Peak Oil: Writers such as Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, Sharon Astyk, Bill McKibben and many others.

Post Carbon Institute

Peak Oil Think Tank and activist organization. Conferences. Papers. Books. Community organizing.

ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas).

Think Tank and research institute. Conferences. Papers. Charts.

The Oil Drum

Online journal. “Discussions about energy and our future.”

Life After the Oil Crash

Online journal and discussion group.

The Oil Age Poster

“A Brilliant Tool for Examining the Geologic Realities and Social Ramifications of the Modern World’s Most Prized Resource.”

“Which Infant Formulas Contain Secret Toxic Chemicals?”

” … even though artificial human milk is regulated by the FDA, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found last year that a thyroid-affecting chemical used in rocket fuel contaminates 15 brands of powdered infant formula, including two that accounted for 87 percent of market share in 2000. The CDC study omits the names of the top offenders, but a little sleuthing reveals (PDF) that they are referring to Similac and Enfamil, produced by Ross (now Abbott Nutrition) and Mead Johnson Nutrition respectively. (The Environmental Working Group handily includes phone numbers here for those and other infant formula companies if you’re interested in questioning the makers of your child’s brand.)”

Read complete Mother Jones article here:

Which Infant Formulas Contain Secret Toxic Chemicals?

Carpe Awesome Diem

Click Image to Make It More Awesome!

What’s happening to language?

It’s changing, of course.

We had breakfast a couple of days ago in one of our fine local restaurants.

The young waitress asked us what we’d like to drink, and when I said “water,” she said “awesome!”

It’s interesting how such reflexive overuse of words eventually empties them of meaning. Try saying “soul” a hundred times quickly and you can instantly experience that collapse of meaning.

Words are used for a complex of motives, including (1) to convey meaning, and (2) to announce our tribal membership in a Granfalloon.

The trouble is, even when the meaning runs its course, as it’s now done with “awesome,” the word continues to get used by the Granfalloon wannabes … and we’re all GF wannabes to some extent.

The word “awesome” is now the linguistic equivalent of a cold soufflé.

When everything is “awesome,” nothing is.

What word will we use next to convey our sense of awe and wonder and excitement?

Carpe Awesome Diem!

Every Degree of Warming Destroys 10% of Global Food Production

The consequences of global climate change are so varied and so dire that it’s almost impossible to find a suitable headline to convey the news.

The headline above was chosen at random from among many such comments in this Laura Flanders interview with Heather Rogers, author of Green Gone Wrong and Gwynne Dyer, author of Climate Wars.
More GRITtv

“Are Low Taxes Exacerbating the Recession?”

David Sirota, in his article, “Are Low Taxes Exacerbating the Recession?,” knocks down one of the foundations of the conservative canon since Reagan, that now-discredited notion that tax cuts stimulate economic growth:

As the planet’s economy keeps stumbling, the phrase “worst recession since the Great Depression” has become the new “global war on terror” – a term whose overuse has rendered it both meaningless and acronym-worthy. And just like that previously ubiquitous phrase, references to the WRSTGD are almost always followed by flimsy and contradictory explanations.

Republicans, who ran up enormous deficits, say the recession comes from overspending. Democrats, who gutted the job market with free trade policies, nonetheless insist it’s all George W. Bush’s fault. Meanwhile, pundits who cheered both sides now offer non-sequiturs, blaming excessive partisanship for our problems.

But as history (and Freakonomics) teaches, such oversimplified memes tend to obscure the counterintuitive notions that often hold the most profound truths. And in the case of the WRSTGD, the most important of these is the idea that we are in economic dire straits because tax rates are too low. This is the provocative argument first floated by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer in a Slate magazine article evaluating 80 years of economic data.

“During the period 1951-63, when marginal rates were at their peak – 91 percent or 92 percent – the American economy boomed, growing at an average annual rate of 3.71 percent,” he wrote in February. “The fact that the marginal rates were what would today be viewed as essentially confiscatory did not cause economic cataclysm – just the opposite. And during the past seven years, during which we reduced the top marginal rate to 35 percent, average growth was a more meager 1.71 percent.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Sirota goes on to explain that higher tax rates create an incentive for businesses to reinvest profits, and increase government revenues available for infrastructure investments.

Notice that the same argument was made by Larry Beinhart in his article, “Why the Economy Grows Like Crazy Amid High Taxes,” November 18, 2008:

High taxes create an incentive to reinvest profits into long-term growth.

With high taxes, the only way to retain the bulk of the wealth created by a business is by reinvesting it in the business — in plants, equipment, staff, research and development, new products and all the rest.

The higher taxes are (and from 1940 to 1964 the top rates were around 90 percent), the more this is true.

This creates a bias toward long-term planning.

If a business is planning for the long term, it wants a happy, stable work force. It becomes worthwhile to pay good wages and offer decent benefits.

Low taxes create an incentive for profit taking.

Tsk Tsk, The Rich Are the Biggest Mortgage Defaulters

Perhaps there is a “moral hazard” in merely being rich. The economic history of the United States for the last several decades seems to suggest that conclusion. During this period the U.S. has become the most unequal society among Western industrialized nations, largely due to disproportionate tax breaks for the wealthy, and the middle class has steadily been eroded by job loss to lower-wage nations.

The latest factoid suggesting the moral weakness of the rich is reported by David Streitfeld in his New York Times article of July 8th:

Biggest Defaulters on Mortgages Are the Rich

LOS ALTOS, Calif. — No need for tears, but the well-off are losing their master suites and saying goodbye to their wine cellars.

The housing bust that began among the working class in remote subdivisions and quickly progressed to the suburban middle class is striking the upper class in privileged enclaves like this one in Silicon Valley.

Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.

More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic.

By contrast, homeowners with less lavish housing are much more likely to keep writing checks to their lender. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent.

Though it is hard to prove, the CoreLogic data suggest that many of the well-to-do are purposely dumping their financially draining properties, just as they would any sour investment.

“The rich are different: they are more ruthless,” said Sam Khater, CoreLogic’s senior economist.

Read full article here.

I’m sure, though, that we can still count on plenty of pontifical lectures from the affluent class about “personal responsibility” and the sanctity of mortgage contracts.

NCTV’s Anti-AGW Content Surprised Me Today

I was surprised today to catch the tail-end of a short video on NCTV expressing the fringe view that global warming is not caused by humans. The video also promoted a book called “Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years,” by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery.

The video, featuring a talk by Avery, is not in NCTV’s schedule but was shown just before the beginning of today’s channel 17 broadcast about noon of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors’ Special Meeting of July 6th.

I called NCTV staff and learned that this video is one of a large collection of short videos on file at the studio that are used as “fillers.” Short fillers allow NCTV staff to fill gaps between regularly-scheduled programs as they occur from time-to-time.

Quite properly, NCTV is “blind” to the content of its programming, precisely so that it will reflect the diversity of views in the community at large. NCTV staff told me that they have also run other programs on global warming.

This suggests to me that anyone in our community who wants to promote the mainstream view, anthropogenic (or “man-made”) global warming (AGW), would do well to offer some short content — preferably under 20 minutes — to NCTV to include in their filler library for future use.

Here’s a short 3-minute excerpt from the piece I caught today on channel 17, the government channel:

GOP Trying to Make Economy Worse Before November?

Bread Line

GOP Ethics

Dean Baker, one of the few economists who correctly predicted the collapse of the housing bubble, makes a plausible case in this Guardian article for the idea that Republicans, by opposing the extension of unemployment benefits, are hoping to make the economy worse in time for the November midterm elections.

Republicans: A Party of Unemployment

It may seem bad taste to accuse Republicans of wanting a rise in unemployment but their actions leave no other explanation.

by Dean Baker, Tuesday 6 July 2010 13.00 BST

From now until 2 November, the Republican party will be the party of unemployment. The logic is straightforward: the more people who are unemployed on election day, the better the prospects for Republicans in the fall election. They expect, with good cause, that voters will hold the Democrats responsible for the state of the economy. Therefore, anything that the Republicans can do to make the economy worse between now and then will help their election prospects.

While it may be bad taste to accuse a major national political party of deliberately wanting to throw people out of jobs, there is no other plausible explanation for the Republicans’ behaviour. They have balked at supporting nearly every bill that had any serious hope of creating or keeping jobs, most recently filibustering on bills that provided aid to state and local governments and extending unemployment benefits. The result of the Republicans’ actions, unless they are reversed quickly, is that hundreds of thousands more workers will be thrown out of work by the mid-terms.

Read full article here.

What Nevada County Could Do With A Regional High-Speed Network

If you doubt the value of a local high-speed fiber-optic network, consider what the people of Ten Sleep, Wyoming (population 300) have done with theirs:

New global outsourcing hub — Wyoming?

When it comes to call centers filled with English-speaking employees, India likely comes to mind. Not a tiny town in Wyoming called Ten Sleep, population about 300.

What Ten Sleep has is not, exactly, a call center. Instead, the town is home to a teaching center that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There, American teachers provide real-time video English lessons to thousands of students in classrooms across Asia via high-speed fiber optic networks.

Ten Sleep isn’t the only small Wyoming town that has a center: So does Cody, Powell, Lovell and nearly a half dozen other communities across the state. They’re owned by Eleutian Technology, a company that is using the internet to bring jobs once outsourced to cheap labor in the East to back to unemployed Americans in the West.

Read full story here.

When the time is right, maybe we should invite Eleutian Technology to Nevada County.

This is just one example of the countless opportunities afforded by a high-speed fiber-optic regional backbone.

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