Tag Archive | climate change

Your grandchildren will hate you

Eugene is pleasant in the spring.  Flat enough to be excellent to bike almost everywhere, with little car traffic which is mostly well behaved.  The university brings new faces every year and clever talk. There is an impressive array of restaurants and natural food stores to serve locals and visitors alike.  Well maintained parks and nature preserves surround Eugene, with accessible hiking and biking.

bike trail eugene

The politics of the town are mostly liberal to progressive with some colorful radicals thrown in for spice.  It is also where some of my favorite people in the world live, including Tree and Abigail.  Abigail invited me to present at her work with SWAT (Sexual Wellness and Advocacy Team).  She wanted to do group trust building, so i did an introduction to transparency tools which was quite well received.

When i got there, some students expressed interest in the communes so i did a rapid introduction of them.  Which ended with the lines:

We keep track of our energy and materials use within the income sharing communities and what we find is that our per person carbon footprint is about 20% of that of our mainstream US counterparts.   This 80% reduction in carbon emissions corresponds with where the UN’s IPCC thinks all industrial countries should be by 2050.  The problem is that almost no one else knows how to get here.

The communes are not brilliant in our use of renewables.  Nor do we carefully conserve every kilowatt hour of electricity.  The thing we are really good at is sharing resources.  In my view, this is the only way to save the world while maintaining a lifestyle which is vaguely similar to what people in rich countries are already experiencing.  If your grandchildren don’t hate you, it will be because as a nation we figured out how to share resources well.

Switching to Renewables is just not enough

Switching to Renewables is just not enough

Frankly, i think i went over the head of some of these otherwise clever students.  It is not a message one hears very often and people are generally dismissive about the significance of sharing.  And for me there is no escaping the importance of it.  It is at the center of the Point A project and much of the outreach work we do.

If Willow has kids, i want them to like me.

commune kids

Willow and the commune kids – circa 2015

Some utilities get it (believe it or not)

If you need some good news in  the dreary world of energy utilities, this is the re-blog for you.


Graph from survey of utility execs by Utility Dive. Graph from survey of utility execs by Utility Dive.

Every year (well, this is the second year), the trade website Utility Dive conducts a survey of about 400 electric utility execs across the country to find out what they think about the future of their business.

The good news about the survey this year is that many of them seem to get a very key point: distributed generation is the future. 31% of them, more than for any other category, see distributed generation as a real opportunity. The bad news, or a portion of the bad news anyway, is that 56% of the execs don’t have the slightest clue as to how to build their business around distributed generation.

Only 16% of the utility execs think nuclear power use will increase over the next 20 years; 35% think it will stay the same; and 21% think it will decrease

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If you control the language, you frame the debate

My climate activist friends tell me to ditch the name “Climate Change” as the descriptor of that problem.

“That term sounds too benign to some, as if climate change could be portrayed as a beneficial thing with Eskimos able to sunbathe and so forth. But that’s not what’s really happening, so to make the true point I call it ‘climate kills.’ That’s what’s really happening. ”  Vandana Shiva 2009

I’ve been calling it “climate disruption” recently, though this might also be too mild a term. Regardless, i am guessing that there is going to be a need for a related new name.  A word which describes images like the one below which could be called “climate disaster pornography”.

climate disaster porn

Before you object to the use of “pornography” being used to describe this kind of image, let’s take a quick look at the OEDs origin of the term.

mid 19th century: from Greek pornographos ‘writing about prostitutes’, from pornē ‘prostitute’ +graphein ‘write’.

This seems strangely fitting to me.  And while it is a little indirect, these images are really about people who are being paid to do illegal and immoral things.  [For the record, i don’t think the labors of sex workers are immoral.]  In this case bought off politicians, an intellectually lazy US electorate and a host of climate damaging industries are being compensated to commit illegal and immoral acts.  There is a voyeurism and guilty pleasure i am looking for.

These images can be haunting and beautiful

These images can still be haunting and beautiful

But “climate disaster pornography” does not have the catchy ring i am looking for.  I am hoping we can coin a shorter descriptive term perhaps a portmanteau like emoticon, hacktivist, guestimate or staycation.  Where the meaning of the word can be drawn from the words which have been combined to make it.  Perhaps “atmosfear” from atmosphere and fear or “atmosfever”.

Some will be photoshopped

Some will be photoshopped

Normally, i am advocating for the creation of words which enable us to talk about positive phenomenon which are under reported.  Terms pronoia and quink need to be added to balance their common negative counterparts of paranoia and trauma.

Some will be ironic and funny

Some will be ironic and funny

Don’t under estimate the political power of well chosen names.

Many things contributed to the demise of Ronald Reagan’s nightmarish space weapons program called the Strategic Defense Initiative.  One critical coffin nail was Ted Kennedy putting the mocking name on it of “Star Wars”, likening it to the popular science fiction movie.

Former Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger concurs:

Their first move was to give SDI a new name: “Star Wars.” That was brilliant, of course, because it conveyed both fantasy, a lot of alien destruction stuff from the movie, and above all the idea that Reagan was taking our “war machine” up into space with a desire to destroy the other side-Russia– while protecting our own country.

Often peoples frustration with climate disruption is they can’t get a handle on what they personally can do about it.  [Though there are lots of suggestions for both behavior changes and political action.]  If you are a word smith i am encouraging you go get into the name coining game.  It might just be the feather that tilts the balance.

a better world for nothing


Transition Winter

It is balmy.  I am walking around in a t-shirt and i am sweating.  It is going to get warmer. Records are being broken, la de da.

Were it October it would look like this - Yellowstone Park

Were it October it would look like this – Yellowstone Park.

It is the kind of weather which makes people think climate change is perhaps a fine thing, at least in the short term.  It is also a state which is important enough to deserve a name.  When i thought about uncharacteristically war weather and what it was called i remembered “Indian summer”.  A term i assume is racist in origin.

I would call this transition winter.  Something is changing, likely it is the climate.  Though as Alexis is fond of pointing out, “the weather is not the climate.”  And just as we ditched the term “Global Warming” for “Climate Change” we can expect that not only will we have uncharacteristically warm winters, we are looking at more “super storms.”

You can get bummed out by climate change and this will almost certainly do no good.  Or you can look at it as an organizing opportunity. For days like today, the plan is simple – go out and enjoy the day [As i write there is a particularly iconic frisbee game going with lots of people in shorts and t-shirts.]

The weather is changing for a reason

The weather is changing for a reason.

For the harsh side of transition winter, we can prepare to outperform the Red Cross.  The idea is to use the opportunities of climate change to build new self-reliant (and hopefully ecological impact mitigating) local groups.  This is another thing the Occupy spirit could grow up to be.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Car Sharing Mechanics

If industrial capitalism and climate change do not destroy everything, it will be because people (especially people in rich countries) change their behaviors.  I have long believed that part of the mission of the intentional communities movement is to communicate our experience and tools for resource sharing to a mainstream audience.

I have written about car sharing and the mainstream problem of failing to design good sharing practices because of the tendency to create brittle agreements.  Today i will focus on the communication systems which make it work at Twin Oaks, unfortunately with slightly blurry pictures.

It starts here with the Vehicle Log.

vehicle log

If you want a car, you need to make a reservation.  You make your request in the vehicle log, depicted above.  You specify who you are, when you are going (what time of day, there is a unique sheet for every day), where you are going (LT is Louisa Town > 7 miles, LL is Louisa Local < 7 miles, C is Charlottesville, R is Richmond, A is Acorn, etc) and what type of vehicle you want (sedan, station wagon, mini-van, cargo van, pick up truck, 15 person passenger van) and what area is going to pay for the vehicle.

You sign up at least before 6 PM the night before you need the vehicle, then the vehicle assigner comes in and decodes this puzzle which has been created for them. When i have been well behaved and signed out a vehicle in advance, i have perhaps half a dozen times in the 15 years that i have been here not been able to get a vehicle.  Typically, this is because i want a car for a personal trip and everything is signed out for commune business of some  type.

Before you freak out about how it would be completely unacceptable for you to ever not have your car exactly when you wanted it on a moment’s notice, consider this:  In the last 15 years have you ever tried to start your car and it did not go?  This does not happen to me.  The mechanics in the community keep the cars running nearly flawlessly.  And while perhaps every other year i have to scramble around for a carpool or borrow someone’s car, i get at least half a day’s notice on this.

magnet board for cars

When the vehicle assigner gives you a car, they write what you have been assigned in the vehicle log and they place magnets on the above depicted board (which is usually more crowded than this picture).  Part of the reason for this board is so that people who are not well behaved (as i often am not) can show up at the last minute and figure out easily which vehicles are available for last minute personal assigning.  If there is a conflict between the vehicle log and the magnet board, the vehicle log supersedes.

magnet board detail

The magnet board also helps by telling people about the vehicles which they have been assigned.  There is a little picture of the profile of the vehicle (if you had 17 cars you might need to be reminded of which looked like what).  The number of seats is indicated.  Manual versus automatic transmission. The full name of the car and the letters which appear on the vanity license plates.

key box for cars

Our default in community is that we trust people.  For 35 years we kept the keys in the cars (this is not that unusual; most of our neighbors here in rural Virginia do the same thing).  Then someone stole one of our cars and we bumped up our security a notch.  We took the keys out of the cars and put them in the lock box depicted above, which is open most of the time and combination locked when there is no one in the office.

So once you have figured out which car you have, you grab the keys and go.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Keystone Continued

25 Arrested at Keystone XL Pipeline Protest in Massachusetts

In the latest protest against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, 25 people were arrested after handcuffing themselves together inside a TransCanada office in Westborough, Massachusetts. More than 100 students, mothers and clergy members staged a “funeral for our future,” saying TransCanada’s pipeline would spur devastating climate change, pollution and potential spills.


Protesters: [singing] “They are digging us a hole. They are digging us a hole, six feet underground, where the pipeline will go.”

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands crude from Canada to Texas. A decision from President Obama on the project is expected soon, after a State Department review found it does not pose a serious threat to the environment. (this is from democracy now)

Climate Change Strategies

i love Beatrice, especially when we disagree.  She recently went to Larry Kramer’s Facebook Page and read the speech he gave that sparked the AIDS group ACT UP.

“Kramer said:** “If my speech tonight doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If what you’re hearing doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men will have no future here on earth. How long does it take before you get angry and fight back?”**

And Beatrice asks “Where is our Larry Kramer? to fight to save our Biosphere, to take on big oil.”

She found Kramer’s anger and passion compelling and believes that climate change needs a similar enraged and dedicated hero.


ACT UP logo – and compelling political message

i am less convinced.  i certainly dont want to stop such a person from stepping forward, and i will get arrested and a non-violent climate change action faster than most people will (and already have).  But the issues are so different and the forces which need to shift are not at all the same.

In climate change we are fighting big oil, big coal and to a lesser extend nuclear.  These are rich, powerful entrenched interests which are willing to do lots of legal and illegal things to stop us.  With AIDS we were fighting a priorities battle.  Would medical resources be spent on dealing with this epidemic?  For the first many years the entrenched bureaucracy said “no”.  And Kramer gang was extremely effective in changing this, they were relentless, they got arrested repeatedly, they dogged political candidates and bureaucracies until they finally caved.

bush on climate change as junk science

Big oil wont cave.  They have extremely effectively used a similar type of disinformation campaign that the 1% have used to convince working class people that poor people are the problem.  Rush Limbaugh is pitching the idea that the heat index is a government conspiracy to convince us of the existence of climate change.  Climate change was not mentioned once in the presidential debates, this is the first time it was left out since it first showed up on the political scene in 1984.  But the very longevity of the issue works against the sense of immediacies that many of us activists feel about it.

This is part of the problem

This is part of the problem

In the long Facebook thread/debate on where is the Climate Change Kramer and do these tactics work there was the commonly heard call for the need for big actions.  People love to call for big actions. There issue is important, lets get a million people who agree in Washington to protest for it and that will change things.  Organizing big actions is extremely difficult and expensive.  I am not at all saying it should not be done, i am just saying it is not easy and we need to look at what it takes to make it work.  I wrote this about it:

Let’s talk about what it takes to create big actions, who has done it successfully in the last decade. We had big actions around the Bush II war in Iraq, which had an immediacy that i dont see a parallel to with climate change (which we have been talking about as a serious problem since before 1992 and the Rio Summit). We have had some big demonstrations for women’s reproductive rights – this again feels very immediate to many of the women and men involved. Perhaps the model is the pre-9/11 anti-globalization movement. Starting in Seattle in 1999 and the subsequent World Bank/IMF demonstrations and the Quebec City FTAA demo – we got tens to hundreds of thousands of people out for a very abstract issue, not very immediate at all. What made globalization protests work? Until they were destroyed by the “you are with the terrorists or you are with the US” rhetoric of the Bush administration post 9/11. For me this a more compelling organizing parallel than ACT UP which was incredibly immediate to a pretty small group of people.

Part of the argument in this thread was about does political change happen via “throwing the better party” or “harnessing peoples rage”.  And while the ACT UP folks definitely harnessed rage, it is clear from some of the reading i have done that the cohesion of the group was that the meetings has a better party aspect to them.

This is one of the most vexing issues of our time.  It is time to be brilliant about it.  What ar eyour thoughts?

And in this case, i am inclined to believe them

And in this case, i am inclined to believe them

An excellent link on how there is not science to support the denires.

What Hurricane Sandy really tells us

[Reactor status update at the bottom of this post.]

The good news is the reactor most likely to be hit hardest by hurricane Sandy, Oyster Creek in NJ is already powered down for refueling. The bad news is that even powered down reactors are potential hazards if they loose off site power. Reactor must cool their fresh and especially spent fuel pools cool, even when they are not producing power.

NYC climate activists use Sandy as a wake up call

Sandy is unlikely to cause a serious nuclear accident in the US.  First off, despite its tremendous size, Sandy is a weak hurricane (Category 1) in sharp contrast to Katrina which destroyed so much of the New Orleans area (Category 5).  This can be crudely likened to driving.  At Cat 1 you are less than 95 mph and it is tricky, but you can hold it together.  At Cat 5 you are over 157 mph and things are pretty terrifying and dangerous.

I suspect that especially given the warning they have had, every reactor will perform as designed.  These are hardened sites, they will have tested all the back up diesel generators and if off site power is lost, they will fire these up and they will cool the fuel rods and the spent fuel pools until power is restored.  The danger is that flooding could cause infrastructure failure and offsite power would not be replaced quickly enough to keep the diesel generators going.  And if needed fuel can be airlifted in, all the stuff for good adventure films.  Sandy is not the tsunami of Fukushima fame, despite the hype.

Reactors on Hurricane Sandy’s path – first is Oyster Creek

And what Sandy is telling us is that bigger storms are coming.  That we are seeing the effects of climate change in our lifetime and that they are going to be significant.  As regular readers of this blog know, i think the flooding accident at Fort Calhoun last summer is actually more important as a warning than Fukushima is, because 1) it happened here in the US (where we are actually still building new reactors) and 2) it was only not a meltdown because it stopped raining.  Hardly a comforting thought.

The other thing that Sandy is reminding us is that the recent revelations that the NRC is hiding embarrassing information about dam weaknesses  near reactors is especially worrisome because it again proves the regulator is more interested in protecting its own image and the nuclear industry than public safety.  And that these types of storms can have catastrophic consequences.

But will we ignore the signs?

It is not Sandy’s relatively mild winds which are the danger here, it is that we are likely to ignore that she is warning us that the climate has changed and bigger storms are coming.  The nuclear industry will certainly point to Sandy as proof that everything is alright and we have no need to worry about reactors in the age of climate chance.  This is another lie.  Sandy is a harbinger of storms that are beyond what these reactors are designed for and thus we should be phasing them out and not building more.

Both Obama and Romney have said nothing all campaign about climate change – how convenient[

[Update 30 Oct 2PM eastern US time:  This ABC News storyreports problems at 5 reactors:

Additionally, power was reduced at the 2 Limerick reactors in PA and one Milestone reactor in CT, because of Sandy.]

Sandy is short for the Greek name Cassandra, the cursed prophetess from myth whose warnings of coming disaster were ignored.

What a new future looks like

Part of my typical Twin Oaks tour rant goes like this:

If you believe in climate change, or peak oil, or the limits of finite resources on the planet then your really only have two choices.  You can try to convince people from rich countries to consume radically less (trust me this is a hard sell) or you can get folks to shift their ownership patterns to be more efficient in their use by sharing things.

I get that i am decades ahead of my time with this message.  But i like being right, so i will keep pitching it.

2 miles of the track between Brussels and Amsterdam

If i cant get my radical solutions, except here on the commune, i can be happy about liberal things which are happening elsewhere.  Here is a recent European effort.  These two miles of tunnels were built for noise abatement (not protection from trees as this article claims) and designed to support these 16,000 solar panels providing enough electricity to power 4,000 trains.

Nuclear Exceptionalism

With little fanfare it was just announced that the Watts Bar II reactor in Tennessee is going to be $2 billion over budget and at least 3 years late.  Actually Watts Bar 2 reactor is over 30 years late making it the most delayed reactor under construction in the world.  This follows the long and reliable pattern of delays and blown budgets for reactor construction projects, especially in the US.  Also now all the 3rd generation reactors being built in western Europe (Finland and France) are seriously late and cost overrun.

We have been assured by senior TVA senior management that when the project is completed the power will be cost effective.  Nuclear power is the most expensive form of power in widespread use today.  It wont be cost effective and they know it.

From Amory Lovins powerful critique “Forget Nuclear”

When the project was initiated TVA said that the plan was “aggressive but doable”.  This is how nuclear projects are always pitched, so that when you fail to make these projections the managers can come back with excuses and get more money.  After the first few billion are thrown in, it is very hard to stop these projects, because the utility does not want to loose the sunk costs.

TVA says there are two regulatory unknowns that could either slow things down further or increase costs. New precautions may be required following the disaster in Fukushima, Japan. And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it won’t license new reactors until there’s a long-term plan for the spent fuel.   Both of which could cause expensive delays, despite NRCs promises to the contrary.

If you were to ask someone who constructs natural gas facilities how long they would keep their job if they were 100% overrun and years late, you would not get a quick answer, because they would have to stop laughing first.  A huge deal was made out of Solyndra Inc bankruptcy and then defaulting on a $528 million.  Just the overruns for this reactor will be more than 4 times this amount and no one at TVA will even get fired.

In the US, it is looking increasingly like nuclear power cant be built unless there are favorable federal government loan guarantees, a regulated (aka not free) market and ratepayers who can be billed for the project  years before it produces any power (often called NCR for nuclear cost recovery).  The good news is that in Florida seems to be changing its mind about NCR, lawmakers from both major parties who originally supported nuclear projects are now attacking them.  One of the largest non-profit organizations in the US, AARP, just filed a friend of the court brief opposing NCR in Florida.

And the new reactor construction which is going on in Georgia is over budget, they are just hiding it for now.

So hold on to your hats here for a moment and lets review.

  • Nuclear power cant exist in the US without the Federal government insuring it against accidents.  No other industry has this type of protection.
  • Nuclear power cant exist in the US unless the responsibility for its highly toxic waste is handled by the government.  There is no solution in sight for this problem currently, since Yucca Mountain has been closed.
  • Nuclear power cant exist if market forces are at play.  No reactors are built with private money.
  • Nuclear power plants are natural targets for terrorist and other attacks.
  • Nuclear power plants are weapons proliferation risks.
  • Nuclear power is not an effective climate solution (see the videos below).
  • The rest of the world is turning away from nuclear power.
So why do we build reactors?  Because if you throw enough many at anything, some criminals will come out and play with you.