09 January 2010

Food-Backed Local Money

Excerpt from The Oil Drum, 4 March 2009

'Mendo Credits is a new food-backed local currency project...the overall goals of the project are to improve community health, economic vitality and environmental sustainability through local food system development...

Historically in the United States and elsewhere, local currencies are known to stabilize local economies when national currencies are troubled, such as bouts of hyper inflation or deflation and joblessness. This works because those accepting local money are also likely to seek out others who accept it too, creating a social dynamic that forms new, local economic associations.

As these strengthen, the flow of local money picks up and work can get done even in the face of economic disaster outside the community. Because they can only be spent locally, profits on economic transactions done with a local currency remain in the community and spur more local investment. Local governments, regional business associations, community banks, and worker cooperatives are examples of the kinds of institutions who tend to successfully issue local currency. They have the social capital to be broadly accepted, and the capacity to manage the task of issuing and redeeming money....

The asset value of Mendo Credits remains stable over a significant time period because we lock in an exchange rate for specific quantities of food for one year from the date of issue. Whereas gold and silver are inedible, Mendo Credits can be redeemed for the sustenance of life. When you hold a Mendo Credit note, you know it represents the quantity of food printed on its face and, if you want or need to, you can actually get that food...'

Economic Growth Version 1.0 Is Finished: The Great Disruption Has Begun

An Institute of Sustainable Solutions 2009 Future Focus Lecture, 29 April 2009

'Paul Gilding has been an activist and social entrepreneur for 35 years, his personal mission is to lead, inspire and motivate action globally on the transition of society and the economy to sustainability.

He has served as CEO of a range of innovative NGOs and companies including Greenpeace International, Ecos Corporation and Easy Being Green. He has also helped to establish and served on the board of a number of innovative new NGOs including Inspire Foundation, the Australian Business Community Network and Climate Coolers. He has received various awards and recognition for his work including from the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He is on the Global Core Faculty of the Prince of Wales’s Business and the Environment Program run by Cambridge University and Chairman of the Australian program.

His latest major thought piece “The Great Disruption” on the inevitable economic and ecological system crash was published in July 2008. This work has been widely referred to including by Tom Friedman in the New York Times.'

07 January 2010

Food Crisis 'Hidden' from UK Public Say Campaigners

Excerpt from The Ecologist, 6 January 2010

'Government is talking about issues like food security, climate change and oil dependency but failing to take the 'inconvenient' but necessary action says the Soil Association.

Key policy speeches by the UK food and farming minister and Government chief scientist this week fail to admit the changes needed in the food system, according to the leading organic farming body, the Soil Association.

Speaking at the annual Oxford Farming Conference this week, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Hilary Benn, said: 'Food security is as important to this country's future wellbeing - and the world's - as energy security. We need to produce more food. We need to do it sustainably.'...

Soil Association director Patrick Holden said neither GM technology, nor increasing food production would provide a long-term solution to tackling the food crisis...

'The constant availability of food draws us into a false sense of security,' Holden said. 'But really we are in a precarious position.

'The rhetoric of Government has changed; climate change, food security and oil and fossil fuel dependency are now all on the agenda but the inconvenient truth is that we if we are to tackle this issue then we will have to take action of the kind they do not want to discuss.

'We must give up nitrogen fertilisers and build soil fertility through crop rotation instead.

'I believe this one move will bring the most far-reaching change in agriculture since the agricultural revolution – and the most important,' he said...

Holden also said consumers would have to face up to paying more for food - something sucessive governments have avoided discussing.

'In the 1970s we spent around 20 per cent of our income on food,' he said. 'That figure has now fallen to around 8-11 per cent...we pay too little for our food.'

Mr Holden added that only an 'informed public debate' on the current food system would bring the necessary changes, something he admitted the Soil Association and society as a whole had 'failed' to achieve.'

What Global Warming Looks Like - Summer in Australia

Forecast temperatures for Adelaide are 39 deg C on Friday, and 41 deg C [105.8 F] on Saturday, Sunday and Monday...

Of course, Australia has always had hot summer days [a few 44s, 45s last summer], but there seem to be a lot more 40+ days that I remember, and a lot more strung together at once...

'A Message to the Public Sector Regarding the Extreme Heat Warning

The State Emergency Service has issued an Extreme Heat Warning for this Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The current hot weather is a risk to public safety. South Australians are urged to take appropriate action to ensure their wellbeing during this heat event.

During this period, I would ask that agencies activate their Extreme Heat plans. These should include provision for agency building security personnel and frontline service staff allowing members of the public, as necessary, to access foyers or other suitable spaces where air-conditioning can provide them temporary respite from the heat.

Wherever possible, consideration should be given to having drinking water on hand and to offering advice about nearby facilities which might provide further relief. If anyone is showing signs of heat stress requiring medical attention, please call 000.

I would also encourage all members of the public sector to monitor unnecessary energy use at all times.

All South Australians are being urged to exercise care during the hot weather and to take precautions such as:

* Drinking plenty of fluids, but avoiding alcoholic and caffeinated drinks.

* Making regular contact with elderly relatives, friends and neighbours, especially if they live alone, to ensure they are keeping cool and drinking plenty of fluids.

* Staying indoors if possible and keeping homes cool by closing blinds and curtains during the day and making good use of fans or air conditioners (ensuring they are switched to cool).

* If venturing outdoors, to do so in the mornings or evenings, taking advantage of air conditioned public facilities such as shopping centres, cinemas and libraries.

* Being prepared for the possibility of power outages and keeping in mind that some computers and telephones may not work during power outages.

* Considering the safety and comfort of your pets and other animals.

* Keeping in mind that as the temperature rises, large trees may drop their branches without warning.

If you or people you know are feeling unwell, contact your local GP or telephone Healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.

For immediate medical attention, telephone 000.

For more information on extreme heat, visit www.ses.sa.gov.au'

My Ecological Footprint #1: Transportation

Fascinating series of animated clips expressing various aspects of the ecological footprint by Dorit Shochat:

'My final project in Bezalel, Department of Visual Communication. My project presents an animated graphic visualization of my ecological footprint data. The data is visualized in 5 motion graphic mechanisms, 4 display daily actions and their consequences in specific fields: transportation, electricity, water and food. The fifth mechanism displays the conclusion of my ecological footprint data, and it's national and global ramifications.'

My Ecological Footprint #2: Electricity

Fascinating series of animated clips expressing various aspects of the ecological footprint by Dorit Shochat:

'My final project in Bezalel, Department of Visual Communication. My project presents an animated graphic visualization of my ecological footprint data. The data is visualized in 5 motion graphic mechanisms, 4 display daily actions and their consequences in specific fields: transportation, electricity, water and food. The fifth mechanism displays the conclusion of my ecological footprint data, and it's national and global ramifications.'

My Ecological Footprint #3: Water

Fascinating series of animated clips expressing various aspects of the ecological footprint by Dorit Shochat:

'My final project in Bezalel, Department of Visual Communication. My project presents an animated graphic visualization of my ecological footprint data. The data is visualized in 5 motion graphic mechanisms, 4 display daily actions and their consequences in specific fields: transportation, electricity, water and food. The fifth mechanism displays the conclusion of my ecological footprint data, and it's national and global ramifications.'

My Ecological Footprint #4: Food

Fascinating series of animated clips expressing various aspects of the ecological footprint by Dorit Shochat:

'My final project in Bezalel, Department of Visual Communication. My project presents an animated graphic visualization of my ecological footprint data. The data is visualized in 5 motion graphic mechanisms, 4 display daily actions and their consequences in specific fields: transportation, electricity, water and food. The fifth mechanism displays the conclusion of my ecological footprint data, and it's national and global ramifications.'

My Ecological Footprint #5: Data

Fascinating series of animated clips expressing various aspects of the ecological footprint by Dorit Shochat:

'My final project in Bezalel, Department of Visual Communication. My project presents an animated graphic visualization of my ecological footprint data. The data is visualized in 5 motion graphic mechanisms, 4 display daily actions and their consequences in specific fields: transportation, electricity, water and food. The fifth mechanism displays the conclusion of my ecological footprint data, and it's national and global ramifications.'

Food Rules

The most excellent Michael Pollan interviewed about his latest book, Food Rules

Sourced from The Daily Show 4 January 2010

'...the food industry is creating patients for the health care industry...'

Water Wars in Australia

Included below are some witty comments on a serious issue from readers...there are some mind-boggling views expressed on the Adelaide Now site, such as 'South Australia does not contribute anything to the river, why should it be entitled to water'!!!

Adelaide is in fact outside the Murray-Darling Basin, and so the Murray is an 'exotic' water resource for the city - but the city is here now, with a million people dependent on the water, and the river does still flow to the sea through this state [just]...

Conflict arises over resource scarcity.

More growth, anyone?

Excerpt from Adelaide Now, 6 January 2010

'...Flooding in the eastern states will inject about 300 billion litres of water into the Murray-Darling river system, but not one drop is reserved for South Australia.

Floodwaters are being dammed and diverted upstream, keeping them in New South Wales and dashing the hopes of drought-stricken Riverland growers trying to keep their fruit trees and grapevines alive.

But state Water Minister Karlene Maywald told morning radio today that the High Court had no jurisdiction over the water now on its way to the Menindee lakes storage SA shares with NSW, but over which the eastern state has control...'

Reader comments:

Send the bozo who pulled the plug on the Torrens up to NSW to do the same to them.

Can't we just put a plug in the river at the Vic border and let them drown in their own waste water. Yes we would then need to rely on other sources of water (ps: we are surrounded by water)

Write a letter to Mr Rudd??? He is too busy publishing his fairy tale book to be worried about South Australia's disaster....'

Big wheels keep on turning Rudd ,Wong and Ranndy keep on spinning. SA keeps on burning Rolling rolling rolling down the river...'

06 January 2010

Consumer Hell

Interesting observation in the last paragraph...

Excerpt from
George Monbiot's blog, 4 January 2010

'Who said this? “All the evidence shows that beyond the sort of standard of living which Britain has now achieved, extra growth does not automatically translate into human welfare and happiness.” Was it a. the boss of Greenpeace, b. the director of the New Economics Foundation, or c. an anarchist planning the next climate camp? None of the above: d. the former head of the Confederation of British Industry, who currently runs the Financial Services Authority. In an interview broadcast last Friday, Lord Turner brought the consumer society’s most subversive observation into the mainstream(1).

In our hearts most of us know it is true, but we live as if it isn’t. Progress is measured by the speed at which we destroy the conditions which sustain life. Governments are deemed to succeed or fail by how well they make money go round, regardless of whether it serves any useful purpose. They regard it as a sacred duty to encourage the country’s most revolting spectacle: the annual feeding frenzy in which shoppers queue all night, then stampede into the shops, elbow, trample and sometimes fight to be the first to carry off some designer junk which will go into landfill before the sales next year. The madder the orgy, the greater the triumph of economic management.

Though we know they aren’t the same, we can’t help conflating growth and well-being. Last week, for example, the Guardian carried the headline “UK standard of living drops below 2005 level”(3). But the story had nothing to do with our standard of living. Instead it reported that per capita gross domestic product is lower than it was in 2005. GDP is a measure of economic activity, not standard of living. But the terms are confused so often that journalists now treat them as synonyms. The low retail sales of previous months were recently described by this paper as “bleak”(4) and “gloomy”(5). High sales are always “good news”, low sales are always “bad news”, even if the product on offer is farmyard porn. I believe it’s time that the Guardian challenged this biased reporting.

Those who still wish to conflate welfare and GDP argue that high consumption by the wealthy improves the lot of the world’s poor. Perhaps, but it’s a very clumsy and inefficient instrument. After some 60 years of this feast, 800m people remain permanently hungry. Full employment is a less likely prospect than it was before the frenzy began.

In a new paper published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Sir Partha Dasgupta makes the point that the problem with gross domestic product is the gross bit(6). There are no deductions involved: all economic activity is accounted as if it were of positive value. Social harm is added to, not subtracted from, social good. A train crash which generates £1bn worth of track repairs, medical bills and funeral costs is deemed by this measure as beneficial as an uninterrupted service which generates £1bn in ticket sales.

Most importantly, no deduction is made to account for the depreciation of natural capital: the overuse or degradation of soil, water, forests, fisheries and the atmosphere. Dasgupta shows that the total wealth of a nation can decline even as its GDP is growing. In Pakistan, for example, his rough figures suggest that while GDP per capita grew by an average of 2.2% a year between 1970 and 2000, total wealth declined by 1.4%. Amazingly, there are still no official figures which seek to show trends in the actual wealth of nations.

You can say all this without fear of punishment or persecution. But in its practical effects, consumerism is a totalitarian system: it permeates every aspect of our lives. Even our dissent from the system is packaged up and sold to us in the form of anti-consumption consumption, like the “I’m not a plastic bag” which was supposed to replace disposable carriers but was mostly used once or twice before it fell out of fashion, or lucrative new books on how to live without money.

Orwell and Huxley proposed different totalitarianisms: one sustained by fear, the other partly by greed. Huxley’s nightmare has come closer to realisation. In the nurseries of the Brave New World, “the voices were adapting future demand to future industrial supply. ‘I do love flying,’ they whispered, ‘I do love flying, I do love having new clothes … old clothes are beastly …We always throw away old clothes. Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending’”(7). Underconsumption was considered “positively a crime against society”(8). But there was no need to punish it. At first the authorities machine-gunned the Simple Lifers who tried to opt out, but that didn’t work. Instead they used “the slower but infinitely surer methods” of conditioning(9): immersing people in advertising slogans from childhood. A totalitarianism driven by greed eventually becomes self-enforced...

So how do we break this system? How do we pursue happiness and well-being rather than growth? I came back from the climate talks Copenhagen depressed for several reasons, but above all because, listening to the discussions at the citizens’ summit, it struck me that we no longer have movements; we have thousands of people each clamouring to have their own visions adopted. We might come together for occasional rallies and marches, but as soon as we start discussing alternatives, solidarity is shattered by possessive individualism. Consumerism has changed all of us. Our challenge is now to fight a system we have internalised.'

04 January 2010

How Secure is Our Food Supply?

UK focus, but relevant to most of us at the end of long, tenuous supply chains that criss cross the planet...

Excerpt from The Telegraph, 10 August 2009

'Food security. It sounds like an unholy mixture of The Archers and MI6, but perhaps I shouldn't scoff...

The global population is exploding and climate variation is affecting traditional harvests around the world. What's at stake, then, is the fundamental issue of whether we can continue to feed ourselves. The United Nations says that we need to increase world food production by 70 per cent by 2050, when the global population will have risen from six to nine billion.

When the price of rice rocketed 18 months ago, bringing the Philippine government to its knees, plenty of us noticed but most, I'd wager, were little more than piqued that basmati was in short supply at the local supermarket. For, as a nation, we appear to have been wallowing in a disgusting food surplus for decades.

Food prices, though rising, are still lower than at any time in history as a proportion of our total incomes, and we chuck out about a third of all the food we buy. For two generations we European countries have happily sat astride our food mountains, preferring to dump viable food rather than send the surplus to distant parts of the world where harvest failures created famine for expanding populations.

Following the disasters of BSE and foot and mouth, and in the face of divergent opinion on nutrition and health, food is already the nexus of anxiety. Should we eschew GM (which promised to feed the world)? And what about pesticides (despite the increases in crop yield they facilitate)? Is organic the answer (even if, as has been recently suggested, it contains no extra nutritional benefit)?

What should we do about food miles and the carbon footprint of the food we consume? Which fish can we, sustainably, catch and consume? And are we prepared to eat only local, seasonal produce and pay vastly more for lemons, coffee or rice?

Until now, most of these questions had about them a ring of The Good Life – a range of lifestyle choices that the middle classes could dip into at will – though we have not been slow in the past decade to change plenty of our habits for the better: witness the success of farmers' markets, the demand for allotments, which is higher than ever, and the increase in sales of compost bins. There are even early indications that, now we are aware of the scale of the problem, we are beginning to make efforts to minimise our domestic food waste.

Defra's UK Food Security Assessment makes all of the questions about our relationship with food more urgent. In setting out candidly to assess the challenges and risks, it crams into a single basket every hazard possible, from animal disease to salmonella, the amount of water available to grow fruitful crops to the knotty issue of pesticides. Hard on the heels of widespread confusion about how to manage the threat of swine flu, here's a jargon-filled document that nevertheless highlights a troubling issue about which we are complacent at our peril.

No one is suggesting that we stock up the garage with tinned and dried goods just yet. The report's summary includes an assessment of our current and future positions on a number of issues with a hierarchical "traffic light" system. Global fish stocks are already flashing red ("very unfavourable") and water productivity (in essence, the need to get more "crop for your drop") is heading in the same direction...

In maintaining supplies, there are clearly times when being an island has its drawbacks, yet we have flourishing, diverse and stable trade relations. We are not about to dig up the flower beds in front of Buckingham Palace in favour of potatoes just yet.

There is time for a relatively radical transformation in our approach to how we produce and honour the food we so nonchalantly load into our trolleys. The issue is one of maintaining and enhancing global supply – and the reality is that we will have to join most of the rest of the world in spending more on what we eat.

This report highlights the gravity of a bundle of related issues. The Government can claim legitimately that it is covering all the bases, but a little leadership would be useful, too, in helping us to decide which of these risks demand action now. Prepare to debate, lobby and engage rather than stockpile and hope.'

The Doomsday Farmers & Food Insurance

Excerpt from the New Scientist, 13 June 2009

'If you like potatoes, chances are you will one day owe some measure of thanks to the Quechua Indians of Peru. That's because they will be making sure that potatoes continue to be available whatever the vagaries of future climate change. The Quechua are among the first recipients of a new global fund, established last week, to make poor farmers the custodians of all the world's threatened crops.

Importantly, the move could provide valuable options should the world find itself in another food crisis.

The Peruvian farmers will be paid to look after the most diverse collection of potatoes in the world. They will try growing varieties at different altitudes and in different climatic conditions so that if today's commercially available potato varieties start to fail anywhere in the world, replacement varieties will be ready and waiting.

The aim of the new fund is to achieve the same level of readiness for all the world's staple food crops. It is a key practical element of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which aims to provide an "insurance policy" for crops. The fund has two main goals - to prevent the loss of neglected or underutilised crop varieties, and to sustain the full diversity of common crops...

By keeping as many food varieties as possible ticking over as usual on small-scale farms throughout the world, the hope is that they will be available if needed in a climate crisis, or a food shortage like last year's...the treaty has already enabled the establishment of an international vault containing 1.1 million seed varieties, which opened last year in Svalbard, Norway. The new fund aims to secure the food varieties which cannot be banked in this way, and that can only be preserved if farmers carry on growing them...'

When Population Growth And Resource Availability Collide

Examples of how constraints of 'life-supporting' resources fuels conflict...

Excerpt from Lester Brown's piece in
Treehugger, 17 February 2009

'As land and water become scarce, competition for these vital resources intensifies within societies, particularly between the wealthy and those who are poor and dispossessed. The shrinkage of life-supporting resources per person that comes with population growth is threatening to drop the living standards of millions of people below the survival level, leading to potentially unmanageable social tensions.

As I note in Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, access to land is a prime source of social tension. Expanding world population has cut the grainland per person in half, from 0.23 hectares in 1950 to 0.10 hectares in 2007. One tenth of a hectare is half of a building lot in an affluent U.S. suburb. This ongoing shrinkage of grainland per person makes it difficult for the world’s farmers to feed the 70 million people added to world population each year. The shrinkage in cropland per person not only threatens livelihoods; in largely subsistence societies, it threatens survival itself. Tensions within communities begin to build as landholdings shrink below that needed for survival.

At Earth Policy Institute, we’ve noted a number of such tensions breaking out into conflict. For instance, the Sahelian zone of Africa, with one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, is an area of spreading conflict. In troubled Sudan, 2 million people have died and over 4 million have been displaced in the long-standing conflict of more than 20 years between the Muslim north and the Christian south. The more recent conflict in the Darfur region in western Sudan that began in 2003 illustrates the mounting tensions between two Muslim groups - camel herders and subsistence farmers. Government troops are backing Arab militias, who are engaging in the wholesale slaughter of black Sudanese in an effort to drive them off their land, sending them into refugee camps in neighboring Chad. At least some 200,000 people have been killed in the conflict and another 250,000 have died of hunger and disease in the refugee camps.

Conflict at the Intersection of Population Growth and Climate Change

The story of Darfur is that of the Sahel, the semiarid region of grassland and dryland farming that stretches across Africa from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east. In the northern Sahel, grassland is turning to desert, forcing herders southward into the farming areas. Declining rainfall and overgrazing are combining to destroy the grasslands.

Well before the rainfall decline the seeds for the conflict were being sown as Sudan’s population climbed from 9 million in 1950 to 39 million in 2007, more than a fourfold rise. Meanwhile, the cattle population increased from fewer than 7 million to 40 million, an increase of nearly sixfold. The number of sheep and goats together increased from fewer than 14 million to 113 million, an eightfold increase. No grasslands can survive such rapid continuous growth in livestock populations.

In Nigeria, where 148 million people are crammed into an area not much larger than Texas, overgrazing and overplowing are converting grassland and cropland into desert, putting farmers and herders in a war for survival. Unfortunately, the division between herders and farmers is also often the division between Muslims and Christians. The competition for land, amplified by religious differences and combined with a large number of frustrated young men with guns, has created a volatile and violent situation where finally, in mid-2004, the government imposed emergency rule.

Rwanda has become a classic case study in how mounting population pressure can translate into political tension, conflict, and social tragedy. James Gasana, who was Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Environment in 1990–92, warned in 1990 that without “profound transformations in its agriculture, [Rwanda] will not be capable of feeding adequately its population under the present growth rate.” Although the country’s demographers projected major future gains in population, Gasana said that he did not see how Rwanda would reach 10 million inhabitants without social disorder “unless important progress in agriculture, as well as other sectors of the economy, were achieved.”

In 1950, Rwanda’s population was 2.4 million. By 1993, it had tripled to 7.5 million, making it the most densely populated country in Africa. As population grew, so did the demand for firewood. By 1991, the demand was more than double the sustainable yield of local forests. As trees disappeared, straw and other crop residues were used for cooking fuel. With less organic matter in the soil, land fertility declined.

As the health of the land deteriorated, so did that of the people dependent on it. Eventually there was simply not enough food to go around. A quiet desperation developed. Like a drought-afflicted countryside, it could be ignited with a single match. That ignition came with the crash of a plane on April 6, 1994, shot down as it approached the capital Kigali, killing President Juvenal Habyarimana. The crash unleashed an organized attack by Hutus, leading to an estimated 800,000 deaths of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days.

Many other African countries, largely rural in nature, are on a demographic track similar to Rwanda’s. Tanzania’s population of 40 million in 2007 is projected to increase to 85 million by 2050. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the population is projected to triple from 63 million to 187 million.

Africa is not alone. In India, tension between Hindus and Muslims is never far below the surface. As each successive generation further subdivides already small plots, pressure on the land is intense. The pressure on water resources is even greater. With India’s population projected to grow from 1.2 billion in 2007 to 1.7 billion in 2050, a collision between rising human numbers and shrinking water supplies seems inevitable. The risk is that India could face social conflicts that would dwarf those in Rwanda. The relationship between population and natural systems is a national security issue, one that can spawn conflicts along geographic, tribal, ethnic, or religious lines.

Water at the Nexus

Disagreements over the allocation of water among countries that share river systems is a common source of international political conflict, especially where populations are outgrowing the flow of the river. Nowhere is this potential conflict more stark than among Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia in the Nile River valley. Agriculture in Egypt, where it rarely rains, is wholly dependent on water from the Nile. Egypt now gets the lion’s share of the Nile’s water, but its population of 75 million is projected to reach 121 million by 2050, thus greatly expanding the demand for grain and water. Sudan, whose 39 million people also depend heavily on food produced with Nile water, is expected to have 73 million by 2050. And the number of Ethiopians, in the country that controls 85 percent of the river’s headwaters, is projected to expand from 83 million to 183 million.

Since there is already little water left in the Nile when it reaches the Mediterranean, if either Sudan or Ethiopia takes more water, then Egypt will get less, making it increasingly difficult to feed an additional 46 million people. Although there is an existing water rights agreement among the three countries, Ethiopia receives only a minuscule share of water. Given its aspirations for a better life, and with the Nile being one of its few natural resources, Ethiopia will undoubtedly want to take more.

In the Aral Sea basin in Central Asia, there is an uneasy arrangement among five countries over the sharing of the two rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, that drain into the sea. The demand for water in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan already exceeds the flow of the two rivers by 25 percent. Turkmenistan, which is upstream on the Amu Darya, is planning to develop another half-million hectares of irrigated agriculture. Racked by insurgencies, the region lacks the cooperation needed to manage its scarce water resources. Geographer Sarah O’Hara of the University of Nottingham who studies the region’s water problems, says, “We talk about the developing world and the developed world, but this is the deteriorating world.”

For more on the population issue, see Chapter 6 in Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008), available for free downloading.'

A Force of Nature: Our Influential Anthropocene Period

Excerpt from The Guardian, 23 July 2009

'We live in epoch-making times. I mean this literally, rather than as a tool to dramatise the global economic crisis or latest political scandal. An epoch describes a geological time period. The end of the last glaciation, some 11,000 years ago, saw the transition from the cool Pleistocene to the warmer Holocene. This relatively stable epoch saw humans turn to agriculture and our population rise considerably. Now geologists, ecologists and climate scientists, myself included, are reporting we have entered a new and much less stable geological epoch: the Anthropocene.

Just as changes to the Earth's orbit, volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts in the distant past have set the world on radically new courses, humanity itself has now become a collective force of nature, with far-reaching consequences. But what does this startling discovery – that humanity has become a globally significant geophysical force – mean for society, solving environmental problems, and perhaps more profoundly, how we see ourselves?

People have always had an impact on the environment. The difference now is that rather than influencing only local environments in limited ways, humanity is having planet-wide impacts on the Earth's workings. The best known global change is the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide and resulting climatic changes. Some of the CO2 in the atmosphere dissolves into the oceans, making them more acid, which is degrading marine ecosystems. To put this in context, the oceans are more acidic today that they have been for at least 800 millenia. The atmospheric CO2 increase has also boosted plant growth in some places, changing the world's forests and grasslands. In short, the global cycling of carbon has been significantly altered.

The impacts of human activity on the other great global chemical cycles are similarly profound. To increase crop yields, more nitrogen is added to ecosystems through fertiliser use, than is added by all natural processes combined. But fertiliser run-off leads to 'dead-zones' of low-oxygen water that currently affect 245,000 sq km of the world's ocean.

Furthermore, scientists estimate that each year humans move more rock, sediment and soil than all natural processes , that at least three times as much fresh water is held in reservoirs than in rivers, and at least a third of all land has been appropriated for human use.

The heavy hand of humanity reaches into the living world too. Each year, we extract 7m tonnes of bushmeat from tropical forests, 95m tonnes of fish from the oceans, and raze 80,000 sq km of forest. The result: we are at the leading edge of the sixth mass extinction in Earth's history. Extinction rates today are at least 100 times higher than 'background' rates. Previous extinctions, such as that which wiped out the dinosaurs 65m years ago, are joined by a human-induced loss of life.

Many of these trends look set to continue or accelerate, with potentially dire consequences. Recent events may provide a taste of what's to come: in 2007 and 2008 food protests erupted across three continents, in part because of the switch of some land from food to biofuel production. In the same period, about 1% of humanity had their homes damaged or destroyed by extreme weather events. Interlinked feedback loops amongst political, economic and environmental spheres could lead to grave problems without foresight and planning.

The big question in the Anthropocene is: can we learn to manage our own global life-support system and avoid crossing dangerous thresholds? The answer so far, if progress in 14 years of UN climate change talks is a measure, is probably no.

But perhaps there are grounds for cautious optimism. The word "Anthropocene", coined by Nobel prize winner Paul Crutzen, has greatly assisted researchers in understanding how the Earth and human society function together. Perhaps pushing the concept into wider usage would enable politicians, business leaders, social movements and NGO's to similarly benefit from thinking along integrated, quantitative and evidence-based lines.

Of course, scientific knowledge itself cannot set goals for society. Choosing how to manage our life support system is within the realm of politics. Scientists can identify the likely (and unlikely) outcomes of choices we face. For instance, humanity's impact on the environment has been greatest over the last 50 years. In this time human numbers have doubled and the global economy increased more than fifteen-fold. Our socio-economic system and the fossil fuels that power it lie at the heart of understanding how humans have become a force of nature, and therefore how to alter our future impacts.

Big ideas from science are often discomfiting. The Anthropocene is no exception. There is a temptation to see humanity as "bad" for despoiling the environment, or to deny the evidence through fear of acknowledging the need for profound changes. I see it as an update on how we view our place in the universe. First, Copernicus discovered that the Earth revolves around the sun, and humanity is not at the centre of the universe. Then, Darwin established that we are not even at the heart of life on Earth. Now Crutzen has reversed this trend by naming a new human-dominated geological epoch...'

Rooftop Vegetable Plots

Excerpt from
Hunter-Gathering, 18 December 2009

'...The Urban garden is nothing new, although the emphasis may have changed slightly from attractive blooms and exotic plants to more practical items for the plate, high rise gardening has been going on for centuries and even formed one of the seven wonders of the world: the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar had the gardens commissioned as a present to his wife, The ancient ruins of this city are believed to be 50 miles South west of Baghdad. The gardens were planted with all manner of green things from the known world which, unlike Saddam Hussein, King Neb had managed to conquer.

Rooftop vegetable plots are becoming the latest fad for those imprisoned in the city. Most urbanites want to till their limited outdoor space and flex their green fingers, especially the termites of the foodie class, who couldn’t possibly uphold their status without growing something. But, far from being passing phase, this chapter of the urban dwelling manual isn’t just being bookmarked…it’s being rewritten.

With over 6000 acres of uncultivated window space in London alone and 80% of the capital’s food coming from abroad, its time for Londoner’s to step up their game. Boris is all over it, and has already begun poking the green finger at the biggest waste of money since Richard Branson decided to fly paying punters into space. Yes, the 2012 Olympics committee are getting a thorough fisting from the mayor in a bid to turn the capital’s rooftops green.

But why should it just be for the Olympics? Why the sudden 21st century ‘Dig for Victory” campaign? In 1943, allotments produced half of Britain’s fruit and vegetables, when did we become so lazy? Today, there is certainly a positive shift towards the ‘grow your own’ way of thinking, allotment waiting lists are about 10 years long and schemes such as ‘Landshare’ developed by Hugh and his merry band of River Cottagers have helped the nation grow back their lust for getting grubby in the garden.

Boris’s push for a greener, more sustainable London skyline is a move in the right direction. Harrods have even created a bespoke service offering teams of experts to come to a rooftop near you and set up a vegetable patch starting from £1000…if you're that serious about growing vegetables, you might as well do it yourself!

Roof top gardening in a city makes sense, especially with the volume of precipitation in this country, the water can be collected and fed directly to the plants and the amount of carbon dioxide given off down below coupled with the maximum amount of sunlight found at the top of tall buildings can only help feed photosynthesis: an equation for happy plant growth.

In New York they have gone as far as keeping chickens and bees on some rooftop plots, this really is small-holding in the sky. I wouldn’t have thought it safe myself, but then again if they have flamingos at Kensington Roof Gardens…

Rooftop farming is very popular in the US: New York, Chicago and San Francisco are all getting involved with the utilisation of empty high rise space. In Philadelphia the Four Seasons Hotel has opened up its own high rise plot to help supplement their kitchen with a series of raised beds, this not only provides the guests with fresh, local food, but saves money in the long run, regardless of how gimmicky the scheme seems...

I think it would be great if more office blocks in London could open up their roofs for vegetable plots, especially for their desk bound work force. How good would it be if you could go up to the roof at lunch with a bowl, a fork and bottle of light dressing and get stuck in to some freshly picked greens?

One of the Kitchens I used to work in was at Fidelity, the investment bankers. They had an enormous building and some handy chefs, if only they could have gone ahead and used a fraction of the millions they make a year to create a high rise plot, they would be on the road to self-sufficiency, be able to brag about it to their clients and at the very least: let the chefs escape the heat of the kitchen from time to time to get supplies.

Not only would a push towards rooftop plots be beneficial to our well being and create some good food and pleasant places to be, it would also reduce a hefty carbon footprint something which, according to statistics, London needs to recognize…

For further reading here is a couple of useful links: The Rooftop Vegetable source and probably the best resource of all: City farmer.'

An Equal Right to Pollute

...maybe Bono did read my 'Another Kind of Debt' info I handed him in 2006...either way, he's articulated ecological debt [see last sentence]!

Excerpt from Bono's guest Op-Ed in
New York Times, 2 January 2010

'In the recent climate talks in Copenhagen, it was no surprise that developing countries objected to taking their feet off the pedal of their own carbon-paced growth; after all, they played little part in building the congested eight-lane highway of a problem that the world faces now.

One smart suggestion I’ve heard, sort of a riff on cap-and-trade, is that each person has an equal right to pollute and that there might somehow be a way to monetize this. By this accounting, your average Ethiopian can sell her underpolluting ways (people in Ethiopia emit about 0.1 ton of carbon a year) to the average American (about 20 tons a year) and use the proceeds to deal with the effects of climate change (like drought), educate her kids and send them to university. (Trust in capitalism — we’ll find a way.) As a mild green, I like the idea, though it’s controversial in militant, khaki-green quarters. And yes, real economists would prefer to tax carbon at the source, but so far the political will is not there.

If it were me, I’d close the deal before the rising nations want it backdated.'

03 January 2010

Up on the Roof

Living Roofs are sustainability gold, and have the potential to address a myriad of concerns from urban heat island, energy efficiency, stormwater capture, biodiversity, cuts costs, extends the life of infrastructure, enables creation of place...

'A garland of nature crowns Chicago's City Hall, softening the hard edges of a town famous for steel and stone - and lowering summer temperatures on the roof. Inspired by a worldwide movement, Mayor Richard Daley has made Chicago North America's leading "green roofs" city.'

See a slideshow of green roofs from around the world!

Reposted in full from
National Geographic, May 2009

'A lofty idea is blossoming in cities around the world, where acres of potential green space lie overhead.

If buildings sprang up suddenly out of the ground like mushrooms, their rooftops would be covered with a layer of soil and plants.

That's not how humans build, of course. Instead we scrape away the earth, erect the structure itself, and cap it with a rainproof, presumably forgettable, roof. It's tempting to say that the roofscape of every city on this planet is a man-made desert, except that a desert is a living habitat. The truth is harsher. The urban roofscape is a little like hell - a lifeless place of bituminous surfaces, violent temperature contrasts, bitter winds, and an antipathy to water.

But step out through a hatch onto the roof of the Vancouver Public Library at Library Square - nine stories above downtown - and you'll find yourself in a prairie, not an asphalt wasteland.

Sinuous bands of fescues stream across the roof, planted not in flats or containers but into a special mix of soil on the roof. It's a grassland in the sky. At ground level, this 20,000-square-foot garden - created in 1995 by landscape architect Cornelia H. Oberlander - would be striking enough. High above Vancouver, the effect is almost disorienting. When we go to the rooftops in cities, it's usually to look out at the view. On top of the library, however, I can't help feeling that I'm standing on the view - this unexpected thicket of green, blue, and brown grasses in the midst of so much glass and steel and concrete.

Living roofs aren't new. They were common among sod houses on the American prairie, and roofs of turf can still be found on log houses and sheds in northern Europe. But in recent decades, architects, builders, and city planners all across the planet have begun turning to green roofs not for their beauty - almost an afterthought - but for their practicality, their ability to mitigate the environmental extremes common on conventional roofs.

Across town from the library, the Vancouver Convention Centre is getting a new living roof. Just across the street there is a chef's garden on the roof of the Fairmont Waterfront hotel. Across town in another direction, green roofs will go up on an Olympic village being built for the 2010 Winter Olympics. To stand on a green roof in Vancouver - or Chicago or Stuttgart or Singapore or Tokyo - is to glimpse how different the roof­scapes of our cities might look and to wonder, Why haven't we always built this way?

Technology is only partly the reason. Waterproof membranes now make it easier to design green-roof systems that capture water for irrigation, allow drainage, support the growing medium, and resist the invasion of roots. In some places, such as Portland, Oregon, builders are encouraged to use living roofs by fee reductions and other incentives. In others - such as Germany, Switzerland, and Austria - living roofs are required by law on roofs of suitable pitch.

And, increasingly, researchers such as Maureen Connelly - who runs a green-roof lab at the British Columbia Institute of Technology - are studying the practical benefits green roofs offer, helping quantify how they perform and providing an accurate measure of their ability to reduce storm-water runoff, increase energy efficiency, and enhance the urban soundscape. There is beginning to be a critical mass of green roofs around the world, each one an experiment in itself.

Another factor driving the spread of green roofs is our changing idea of the city. It's no longer wise or practical or, for that matter, ethical, to think of the city as the antithesis of nature. Finding ways to naturalize cities - even as nature itself becomes more urbanized - will make them more livable, and not only for humans.

Living roofs remind us what a moderating force natural biological systems are. During the summer, daytime temperatures on conventional asphalt rooftops can be almost unbelievably high, peaking above 150°F and contributing to the overall urban heat-island effect - the tendency of cities to be warmer than the surrounding region. On green roofs the soil mixture and vegetation act as insulation, and temperatures fluctuate only mildly - hardly more than they would in a park or garden - reducing heating and cooling costs in the buildings below them by as much as 20 percent.

When rain falls on a conventional roof, it sheets off the city's artificial cliffs and floods down its artificial canyons into storm drains - unabsorbed, unfiltered, and nearly undeterred. A living roof works the way a meadow does, absorbing water, filtering it, slowing it down, even storing some of it for later use. That ultimately helps reduce the threat of sewer overflows, extends the life of a city's drain system, and returns cleaner water to the surrounding watershed. London, for example, is already planning for a future that may well see more street flooding, and the city is considering how living roofs could moderate the threat.

Above all, living roofs are habitable. They recapture what is now essentially negative space within the city and turn it into a chain of rooftop islands that connect with the countryside at large. Species large and small - ants, spiders, beetles, lapwings, plovers, crows - have taken up occupancy on living roofs. The list includes Britain's black redstarts, a bird that colonizes the rubble of abandoned industrial sites, a habitat being lost to redevelopment. The solution fostered by Dusty Gedge, a British wildlife consultant and a driving force behind green roofs in the United Kingdom, is to create living rooftop habitat out of the same rubble.

And it's not just a matter of making new or replacing existing habitat. In Z├╝rich, Switzerland, the 95-year-old living roof of a water-filtration system serves as a refuge for nine species of native orchids eradicated from the surrounding countryside when their meadow habitat was converted to cropland.

Proponents of living roofs argue that they have met most, if not all, of the technical challenges involved in grafting a biological layer onto the top of buildings of almost any scale: everything from a vegetable stand or bus stop to the ten-acre roof of Ford's truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan. While the average cost of installing a green roof can run two or three times more than a conventional roof, it's likely to be cheaper in the long run, thanks largely to energy savings. Vegetation also shields the roof from ultraviolet radiation, extending its life. And it requires a different kind of care, akin to low-maintenance gardening.

There are still philosophical challenges to be met, many of them having to do with the very idea of what a roof should be and how it should perform. Clients tend to want roofs that are easy to maintain and are uniformly green year-round, perpetual lawns in the sky, not seasonal grasslands. Builders and architects tend to want interchangeable, standardized, universal solutions, the kind of green-roof systems now being offered by some of the big corporate players in the living-roofs industry.

A living roof, though, is not just a biological alternative to a dead roof. It requires a different way of thinking altogether. A standardized green roof such as a carpet of sedums is better than a conventional roof, but it's possible to build living roofs that are even more environmentally beneficial - locally grown, so to speak. The goal for some researchers now is to find ways to build living roofs that are ecologically and socially sound in every respect: low in environmental costs and available to as many people as possible.

Stephan Brenneisen, a Swiss scientist and a strong advocate for the biodiversity potential of living roofs, says simply, "I have to find easy, cheap solutions using materials that come from the region." That means less reliance on plastics and other energy-intensive materials between the roof structure and the plants themselves. What matters isn't only whether living roofs work. It's how to make them work in the most sustainable way, using the least energy while creating the greatest benefit for the human and nonhuman habitat.

Last fall, I climbed onto the roof of the 15-story Portland Building in downtown Portland, Oregon. My guide was Tom Liptan, the city's Ecoroof Program Manager and a self-confessed storm-water nerd, who began his experiments with green roofs by building one on his own garage in 1996. We walked to the parapet across plantings of sedums and fescues and looked down at the roof of Portland's city hall several stories below us. It has a conventional black tar roof, the kind of roof we have taken for granted for decades. But as part of Portland's Grey to Green project - a plan for sustainable storm-water management - that building will soon be retrofitted with a living roof. "The employees want it," Liptan said.

In the history of that municipal building, how often had the people who worked there ever thought about that black tar roof looming over their heads? Once the living roof is completed, they may visit it only rarely, but they won't forget that it's there, adding habitat to the city center, filtering the rain, moderating temperatures. It reminded me of something Stephan Brenneisen said: "People feel happier in a building where we've given something back to nature."

Think of the millions of acres of unnatural rooftops around the globe. And now imagine returning some of that enormous human footprint to nature - creating green spaces where there was once only asphalt and gravel. If a certain sum of human happiness is the by-product, who's to complain?'

The World Behind Your Light Switch

Sourced from
Inhabitat, 2 December 2009

'London-based agency Hu2 Design has created a slick set of “Sustainable Habitat Reminder” wall stickers that aim to raise energy awareness by revealing a fantastical set of inner workings behind standard plugs and switches. From hamster-powered generators to Franklin-esque lightning storms, these stickers offer clever explanations for the power running through our walls that make you think twice about where your energy does comes from. We do wish that they weren’t made from vinyl (which can contain harmful chemicals) but we appreciate how their added dose of enlightenment can inspire energy efficiency with the flick of a switch.'

The Three Brains of Homo Sapiens

...important for cultural influencers and change agents to know...and taking tips from marketers.

Excerpt from DoshDosh, 12 November 2009

'...The trium brain model is a theory developed by Paul MacLean in the 1960s to explain how the human brain has evolved. This simplified understanding of the brain became an influential paradigm amongst psychologists and some neuroscientists. As the name suggests, we don’t have one brain but three. These are all layered on top of each other and were developed during different stages of evolution. They are as follows:
  1. The old brain. Also known as ‘R-complex’ or reptilian brain. The old brain is primarily concerned with your survival. It scans the environments for threats and benefits. It controls instinctual survival behavior and is also in charge of autonomic functions such as heart beats, digestion, movement and breathing.

  2. The mid brain. Also known as the Limbic System or mammalian brain. The primary seat of emotions, memories and attention. This is where your emotions are produced and where positive or negative feelings arise. The mid brain includes the amygdala, which is involved in connecting events with emotion and the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory recall and converting information into memories.

  3. The new brain. Also known as the neocortex. This is the logical part of the brain that involves rational thoughts, thinking skills as well as language and speech processing.

According to this theory, we are only fully conscious of our new brain, the neocortex. But our mid brain (limbic system) and old brain (reptilian brain) are largely unconscious. Our unconscious is incredibly efficient, smart and useful. Neuro-scientists have estimated that our five senses receive 11 million pieces of information every second with our conscious brain only processing around 40 pieces. The rest is being assessed by the unconscious automatically.

The unconscious brain helps you to determine what you should pay attention to with your conscious brain. Your decision-making behavior is greatly influenced by the unconscious brain. According to Weinschenk, the best website is designed to talk to all three brains, both the conscious and unconscious...

When we read or listen to a story, our brains physically react as though we were having the same experience ourselves. When combined with pictures, it is a very powerful way to immediately grab attention, convey information and ensure that your reader retains your message.

Story-telling is a fantastic method of persuasion. It’s almost like a hypnotic process. I’ve noticed that I tend to suspend rational thought when I’m thoroughly engaged with reading or hearing a fascinating story. I’m fully conscious but my mind is taken over because I’m actively visualizing the situation by generating images to accompany the words I’m reading/hearing. And the images I’m creating are generating emotions at the same time. A skilled story teller can easily embed suggestions or increase one’s perceived value subtly by using stories.

This is a really powerful persuasion tactic and something I would encourage you to learn. All of us can tell stories but not all of our stories are as persuasive as they can be...'

The Long Now - Dance of the Continents

650 Million Years in 1 Min and 20 Sec

Sourced from YouTube, posted 22 January 2009

The Big Here - From Outer Space to Inner Space

Sourced from YouTube, posted 2 October 2007

...in case you were wondering how significant you [or any of us] are...warning, may make your brain hurt! Interesting how the extremities of outer space look quite like the extremities of inner space...as above, so below...

Solar-Powered Camel Clinics Carry Medicine Across the Desert

Sourced from
Inhabitat, 1 December 2009

'Kenya’s camels recently started sporting some unusual apparel: eco-friendly refrigerators! Some of the African country’s camels are carrying the solar-powered mini fridges on their backs as part of a test project that uses camels as mobile health clinics. Organizers hope the eco-friendly transport system will provide a cheap, reliable way of getting much-needed medicines and vaccines to rural communities in Kenya and Ethiopia.

For the past decade, Nomadic Communities Trust has been using camels as mobile health clinics in Kenya’s Laikipia and Samburu districts, isolated areas with few roadways. While the camel convoys provide a cost-effective method of traversing the harsh terrain, the group had no way of delivering medicines and vaccines that required refrigeration — until now. In 2005, Nomadic Communities Trust partnered with California’s Art Center College of Design’s Designmatters and Princeton’s Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM). Together, the groups created a lightweight and durable solar-powered refrigerator that can be strapped to camels’ backs in order to transport chilled medicines and vaccines.

The mini fridge is housed in a bamboo saddle that is lightweight and durable enough for camels to easily carry it across miles of rough terrain. The device itself is covered with crystalline solar panels that provide power for the compartmented fridge’s generator. The solar panels themselves can also be used by the mobile clinics for lighting and refrigeration in the field.

Mariana Amatullo, Designmatters‘ executive director, said the project was designed with a budget of only a few thousand dollars. To save money, designers tested the device on the Bronx Zoo’s camels so people wouldn’t have to fly back and forth to Kenya.

The solar-powered fridges are currently being tested on camels in Kenya and Ethiopia, but Amatullo says the system could be used by any rural communities with access to camels. If the project secures enough funding, it will be implemented in earnest in 2010. Let’s hope the eco-friendly venture receives the money it needs — in the Laikipia and Samburu districts alone, 300,000 people do not have access to the mobile health clinics.'

Tell Me A Story...

Post relates to science, but shows how important it is to convey societal messages through story [show] rather than lecture [tell]...

Reposted in full from The Scientist, December 2009

'"Heard any good talks?"

That’s what you hear in the lobby of science meetings. The standard reply is, “I heard a great talk this afternoon - the speaker told a really neat story about ...”

And there you have it. He or she told a good story. You want to know how to interest the public in your research? Tell a good story.

As a scientist, I never quite knew this, but since becoming a filmmaker, it’s obvious.

At age thirty-eight I resigned from my tenured professorship of marine biology and entered film school at the University of Southern California. From the first day, we were confronted with one basic principle - the most powerful means of mass communication is through the telling of stories. From Greek mythology to today’s blockbuster movies, it’s clear - tell a good story and the world will listen.

It begins with a single, simple question: “What is your source of tension?” This is the heart of a good story. This question seemed trivial to me when I began film school. It didn’t register until a decade later when I finally directed my own documentary feature film, “Flock of Dodos,” about the controversy over the teaching of evolution versus intelligent design.

As I hit a brick wall in the editing and found myself sitting for days staring at a mountain of wonderful interview footage, I began flashing back to that question. Like a life preserver thrown to me in a stormy ocean, the question became my salvation.

As I dug deeper, I realized the answer itself tends to be a question. Just look at one of the simplest and most popular of fiction genres, the murder mystery - the source of tension is a question and virtually its own genre - “Who dunnit?”

The more I immersed myself in this world of questions, the more I began to flash back to one of the highest compliments for a scientist - when someone says, “That scientist is asking great questions.”

And there you have it. The Rosetta Stone. The link between the science world and literature. Great stories and great scientific investigations are built around great questions.

But maybe you’ll say, “Storytelling is just for fiction.” Sorry, but that’s not true. This is a shortcoming of today’s science education - the failure to make scientists realize they are storytellers, every bit as much as novelists. They just don’t like to admit it, or really even think about it. They tend to think stories mean Star Wars and Harry Potter. The truth is, stories are as equally important in nonfiction as fiction. They are the way we understand our world.

You want the linchpin of proof of the similarity? Scientists write their papers in the same three-act structure that novelists and filmmakers use to tell their stories. The standard format of a scientific research paper consists of an Introduction (Act I, in which the question is presented); Methods and Results (Act II, in which the question is explored); and Discussion (Act III, in which the question is answered). Thesis, antithesis, synthesis - same, same.

All of which leaves me over the years answering this question to friends and journalists: “How in the world did you go all the way from scientist to filmmaker?” These days my answer is simple: “It wasn’t much of a change. The two careers involve the same basic process - storytelling.”'

The Great Squeeze - Surviving the Human Project

Sourced from The Great Squeeze - I fear peak oil will grind our society to a halt long before climate change will make itself truly felt...

Watch the trailer for this film:


'The Great Squeeze picks up where the documentary Energy Crossroads left off. Our dependence on cheap and abundant fossil fuels has been feeding the engine of our economic system for the past 200 years. Although it has lifted modern civilizations to new heights, prosperity has come at a tremendous price. We are now at a point where humanity's demands for natural resources far exceed the earth's capacity to sustain us. The extraction and the consumption of these resources in the past two centuries have changed our climate and ecosystems so significantly, that a new geological era had to be created. These man-made threats become even more ominous when you look at them together as part of a global trend.

The film then goes back in time and takes us on a journey through history when past civilizations made the same mistake of growing too fast, depleting their natural resources and ultimately collapsing.

Instead of the usual band-aid approaches, The Great Squeeze challenges us to learn from history and transition towards a more sustainable economy that values our environment.

Our current paradigm of unending economic growth has become a threat to our prosperity and the long-term viability of humans on this planet. The film is a call to action and gives us a framework for the changes that must take place. We are faced with great challenges, but unlike the rest of the living world, we have the unique ability to adapt and decide our fate and the fate of most of the biosphere, for better or worse, in order to survive the human project.

Released in March 2009, The Great Squeeze was selected at 14 film festivals around the world and won two awards for best documentary. It features the environmental heavy weights Richard Heinberg, Edward O. Wilson, Lester Brown, Alexandra Cousteau, Jim White, Howard Kunstler and many more. The film has optional English, Spanish and French subtitles and is available in two versions. A full lengh version of 68 min. and a broadcast length version of 54 min.

The DVD also offers a bonus documentary that traces the rebirth and transformation of Greensburg, Kansas. On May 4th, 2007, 95% of the town of Greensburg Kansas was destroyed by an EF5 tornado. In the aftermath, conservative farmers and ranchers joined with environmentalists to rebuild Greensburg as a model green community. In choosing to rebuild its community with sustainable design and a reliance on renewable energy, this conservative town made a 180-degree turn and overnight became an example of a transition town.'

Yankees’ Postgame Wrap-Up in the Name of Charity

For people who are struggling, getting something to eat [and not wasting that food] is important - hopefully some of the better quality food that must go to waste from New York's functions and restaurants could also be captured!

Reposted in full from the
New York Times, 15 August 2009

'The Blue Jays-Yankees game Wednesday was in the sixth inning when the hot dogs, hamburgers and sushi started arriving in Yankee Stadium’s underground food warehouse.

Into the 11th inning and after the game, the food came off freight elevators from luxury boxes, clubs and concession stands, in metal trays, on rolling racks and in boxes.

Carl Thomas, a warehouse worker recovering from his own hard times, packs the prepared, unserved food that is delivered after each game to hungry people.

“I just feel good doing this, you know?” Thomas said in a quiet, gravelly voice. “They call it a natural high.”

The food was headed to a local church, not to a distant landfill, because of Rock and Wrap It Up, an antipoverty think tank that arranges for churches, shelters and agencies to pick up postgame and postconcert leftovers for their pantries, food banks and soup kitchens.

“I envision ending poverty, and I know how to do it,” said Syd Mandelbaum, a self-described old hippie who started the organization in 1990 by persuading rock bands to send their prepared, but unserved, backstage and concessions food to local charities.

After Blink-182’s concert last Sunday at Jones Beach, for example, 250 pounds of food went to the Rosa Parks INN, a family shelter in Roosevelt, N.Y.

Charities that receive food — and have refrigerators — can stretch their strained budgets.

Over the years, Mandelbaum has arranged the recovery of food after the performances of 160 bands. (A tattoo on his left arm memorializes the Grateful Dead song “The Wheel.”) Since 2002, his group has added 31 sports teams — including the Yankees, the Mets, the Jets, the Giants, the Nets, the Knicks, the Rangers, and the Devils — and their concessionaires.

“The food from Yankee Stadium should have been going to the people in this area for 85 years,” said Mandelbaum, whose network includes school districts and a small group of hotels. In all, he said, the organization has helped rescue 150 million pounds of food.

The system requires stadium workers like Thomas, who understands hunger. He was once homeless and once hooked on crack. He has embraced the task of packing the food that will go to one of several charities.

“When I do this, it keeps rewarding me,” he said. “It comes back to me at different times, tenfold.” He is 54 and lives a two-hour commute away in Jamaica. “People ask me, ‘Why do you do this?’ and I say, ‘I was homeless, I feel like it’s me I’m helping feed.’ ”

He added, “God’s given me something good in life.”

So Thomas methodically arranged knishes in boxes and transferred hot dogs, just off the grill, into plastic bags. He made sure the paper wrappings stayed on the Carl’s cheese steaks. He filled boxes with packaged slices of Famiglia pizza, and plastic containers with sushi rolls and fresh-cut mangoes and pineapple.

Boxes of oranges and apples on the shelves of a six-foot rack did not need Thomas’s attention. But he packed dozens of sealed bags of lettuce, tomatoes and onions; and plastic containers of mustard and barbecue sauce. “Fruit is especially expensive for agencies,” said Diane Mandelbaum, Syd’s wife and Rock and Wrap It Up’s vice president for operations.

“And the condiments,” she added, “are a specialty they just wouldn’t buy.”

When Thomas’s packing was done, there were 40 boxes of food and three enormous bags of bread. He and several other warehouse workers loaded two freight elevators with the rolling bounty and took it to three vans waiting in the Stadium’s loading dock.

The convoy needed a few minutes to reach the Woodycrest United Methodist Church, only a few blocks away, in a poor area where people are not likely to eat in a luxury box.

Outside the tiny white church on West 166th Street, across from a playground, about a dozen people were lined up for the Yankee food.

They had been alerted by fliers and the soup kitchen at the church earlier in the day.

A sign calling the church “The Breadbasket” hung to the left of its front door.

Volunteers quickly unfolded several long tables and sorted the contents of the boxes into a makeshift pantry. Anyone could take one of everything, if they wanted.

“When we get it, we give it away,” said the Rev. Denise Pickett, the church’s pastor, who has also picked up food at Citi Field.

“We have a lot of people on social services, on Medicaid, a lot of immigrants, families with three, four five kids,” she said. “We have seniors in wheelchairs who don’t do a lot of cooking. They’re ready for this.”

The recession has doubled the size of the church’s Wednesday soup kitchen.

Mandelbaum linked hands with his wife; Abby Kaish, the retired electrician who coordinates the sports food pickups; and the church’s volunteers.

He urged the people in line, carrying yellow shopping bags, to pray with them.

He thanked God, Pickett, the volunteers and the Yankees.

“Let us have a better day today,” he said.

Sylvia Danastorg loaded her small blue rollaway bag with as much as it could hold: a slice of pizza, a cheese steak, some fruit. “We need this in this hard time,” said Danastorg, 76, who lives with her husband on Social Security. “Look at all the kids around us. You can offer the kids a snack, something to eat. Thank God someone thought to do this.”

Thomas has not heard the gratitude of people his work has helped.

He’s never met them.'

Vancouver's 6 Acre Living Roof

Sourced from Vimeo

'The roof of the Vancouver BC Convention Centre is covered with over 2.5 hectares (6 acres) of native grassland. Usually closed to the public, we were able to get a tour and interview with the landscape architect of the project, Bruce Hemstock.'

This is part 1 of the "Growing Cities" documentary series shot while traveling in the USA and Canada - June 2009.

Lessons from The Wizard of Oz

If you are a fan of The Wizard of Oz - and not a fan of the bankers who brought us the Global Financial Crisis- discover the hidden meaning of Oz!

Excerpt from 'The Web of Debt' by Ellen Brown

"The great Oz as spoken! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! I am the great and powerful Wizard of Oz!"

In refreshing contrast to the impenetrable writings of economists, the classic fairytale The Wizard of Oz has delighted young and old for over a century. It was first published by L. Frank Baum as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. In 1939, it was made into a hit Hollywood movie starring Judy Garland, and later it was made into the popular stage play The Wiz.

Few of the millions who have enjoyed this charming tale have suspected that its imagery was drawn from that most obscure and tedious of subjects, banking and finance. Fewer still have suspected that the real-life folk heroes who inspired its plot may have had the answer to the financial crisis facing the country today!

The economic allusions in Baum's tale were first observed in 1964 by a schoolteacher named Henry Littlefield, who called the story 'a parable on Populism', referring to the People's Party movement challenging the banking monopoly in the late nineteenth century.

Other analysts later picked up the theme. Economist Hugh Rockoff, writing in the Journal of Political Economy in 1990, called the story a 'monetary allegory'. Professor Tim Ziaukas, writing in 1998, stated:

"The Wizard of Oz"...was written at a time when American society was consumed by the debate over the "financial question," that is, the creation and circulation of money...The characters of "The Wizard of Oz" represented those deeply involved in the debate: the Scarecrow as the farmers, the Tin Woodman as the industrial workers, the Lion as silver advocate William Jennings Bryan and Dorothy as the archetypal American girl."

The Germans established the national fairytale tradition with Grimm's Fairy Tales, a collection of popular folklore gathered by the Brothers Grimm specifically to reflect German populist traditions and national values.

Baum's tale did the same thing for the American populist (or people's) tradition. The Wizard of Oz has been called "the first truly American fairytale."

It was all about people power, manifesting your dreams, finding what you wanted in your own backyard. According to Littlefield, the march of Dorothy and her friends to the Emerald City to petition the Wizard of Oz for help was patterned after the 1894 march from Ohio to Washington of an "Industrial Army" led by Jacob Coxey, urging Congress to return to the Greenback system initiated by Abraham Lincoln. The march of Coxey's Army on Washington began a long tradition of people taking to the streets in peaceful protest when there seemed no other way to voice their appeals. As Lawrence Goodwin, author of The Populist Moment, described the nineteenth century movement to change the money system:

"There was once a time in history when people acted...Farmers were trapped in debt. They were the most oppressed of Americans, they experimented with cooperative purchasing and marketing, they tried to find their own way out of the strangle hold of debt to merchants, but none of this could work if they couldn't get capital. So they had to turn to politics, and they had to organize themselves into a party...The populists didn't just organize a political party, they made a movement. They had picnics and parties and newsletters and classes and courses, and they taught themselves, and they taught each other, and they became a group of people with a sense of purpose, a group of people with courage, a group of people with dignity."

Like the Populists, Dorothy and her troop discovered that they had the power to solve their own problems and achieve their own dreams. The Scarecrow in search of a brain, the Tin Man in search of a heart, the Lion in search of courage actually had what they wanted all along. When the Wizard's false magic proved powerless, the Wicked Witch was vanquished by a defenseless young girl and her little dog. When the Wizard disappeared in his hot air balloon, the unlettered Scarecrow took over as leader of Oz.

The Wizard of Oz came to embody the American dream and the American national spirit. In the United States, the land of abundance, all you had to do was to realize your potential and manifest it. That was one of the tale's morals, but it also contained a darker one, a message for which its imagery has become a familiar metaphor: that there are invisible puppeteers pulling the strings of the puppets we see on the stage, in a show that is largely illusion.

Money in the Land of Oz

The 1890s were plagued by an economic depression that was nearly as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s. The farmers lived like serfs to the bankers, having mortgaged their farms, their equipment, and sometimes even the seeds they needed for planting. They were charged so much by a railroad cartel for shipping their products to market that they could have more costs and debts than profits. The farmers were as ignorant as the Scarecrow of banking policies; while in the cities, unemployed factory workers were as frozen as the Tin Woodman from the lack of a free-flowing supply of money to "oil" the wheels of industry. In the early 1890s, unemployment had reached 20 percent. The crime rate soared, families were torn apart, racial tensions boiled. The nation was in chaos. Radical party politics thrived.

In every presidential election between 1872 and 1896, there was a third national party running on a platform of financial reform. Typically organized under the auspices of labor or farmer organizations, these were parties of the people rather than the banks. They included the Populist Party, the Greenback and Greenback Labor Parties, the Labor Reform Party, the Antimonopolist Party, and the Union Labor Party. They advocated expanding the national currency to meet the needs of trade, reform of the banking system, and democratic control of the financial system.

Money reform advocates today tend to argue that the solution to the country's financial woes is to return to the "gold standard," which required that paper money be backed by a certain weight of gold bullion. But to the farmers and laborers who were suffering under its yoke in the 1890s, the gold standard was the problem. They had been there and done it and knew it didn't work. William Jennings Bryan called the bankers' private gold-based money a "cross of gold." There was simply not enough gold available to finance the needs of an expanding economy.

The bankers made loans in notes backed by gold and required repayment in notes backed by gold; but the bankers controlled the gold, and its price was subject to manipulation by speculators. Gold's price had increased over the course of the century, while the prices laborers got for their wares had dropped. People short of gold had to borrow from the bankers, who periodically contracted the money supply by calling in loans and raising interest rates. The result was "tight" money – insufficient money to go around. Like in a game of musical chairs, the people who came up short wound up losing their homes to the banks.

The solution of Jacob Coxey and his Industrial Army of destitute unemployed men was to augment the money supply with government-issued United States Notes. Popularly called 'Greenbacks', these federal dollars were first issued by President Lincoln when he was faced with usurious interest rates in the 1860s. Lincoln had foiled the bankers by funding the government with U.S. Notes that did not accrue interest and did not have to be paid back to the banks. The same sort of debt-free paper money had financed a long period of colonial abundance in the eighteenth century, until King George forbade the colonies from issuing their own currency. The money supply had then shrunk, precipitating a depression that led to the American Revolution.

To remedy the tight-money problem that resulted when the Greenbacks were halted after Lincoln's assassination, Coxey proposed that Congress should increase the money supply with a further $500 million in Greenbacks. This new money would be used to redeem the federal debt and to stimulate the economy by putting the unemployed to work on public projects.

The bankers countered that allowing the government to issue money would be dangerously inflationary. What they failed to reveal was that their own paper banknotes were themselves highly inflationary, since the same gold was "lent" many times over, effectively counterfeiting it; and when the bankers lent their paper money to the government, the government wound up heavily in debt for something it could have created itself. But those facts were buried in confusing rhetoric, and the bankers' "gold standard" won the day.

The Silver Slippers: The Populist Solution to the Money Question

The Greenback Party was later absorbed into the Populist Party, which took up the cause against tight money in the 1890s. Like the Greenbackers, the Populists argued that money should be issued by the government rather than by private banks. William Jennings Bryan, the Populists' loquacious leader, gave such a stirring speech at the Democratic convention that he won the Democratic nomination for President in 1896. Outgoing President Grover Cleveland was also a Democrat, but he was an agent of J. P. Morgan and the Wall Street banking interests. Cleveland favored money that was issued by the banks, and he backed the bankers' gold standard. Bryan was opposed to both. He argued in his winning nomination speech:

"We say in our platform that we believe that the right to coin money and issue money is a function of government...Those who are opposed to this proposition tell us that the issue of paper money is a function of the bank and that the government ought to go out of the banking business. I stand with Jefferson...and tell them, as he did, that the issue of money is a function of the government and that the banks should go out of the governing business...When we have restored the money of the Constitution, all other necessary reforms will be possible, and...until that is done there is no reform that can be accomplished."

He concluded with these famous lines:

"You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

Since the Greenbackers' push for government-issued paper money had failed, Bryan and the "Silverites" proposed solving the liquidity problem in another way. The money supply could be supplemented with coins made of silver, a precious metal that was cheaper and more readily available than gold. Silver was considered to be "the money of the Constitution" although the Constitution only referred to the "dollar," because the dollar was understood to be a reference to the Spanish milled silver dollar coin then in common use. The slogan of the Silverites was "16 to 1": 16 ounces of silver would be the monetary equivalent of 1 ounce of gold. Ounces is abbreviated oz, hence "Oz." The Wizard of the Gold Ounce (Oz) in Washington was identified by later commentators as Marcus Hanna, the power behind the Republican Party, who controlled the mechanisms of finance in the administration of President William McKinley. (Hanna was reportedly admired by Karl Rove, who followed the model as political adviser to President George Bush Jr.11)

Frank Baum, the journalist who turned the politics of his day into The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, marched with the Populist Party in support of Bryan in 1896. He is said to have had a deep distrust of big-city financiers. But when his dry goods business failed, he bought a Republican newspaper, which had to have a Republican message to retain its readership. That may have been why the Populist message was so deeply buried in symbolism in his famous fairytale. Like Lewis Carroll, who began his career writing uninspiring tracts about mathematics and politics and wound up satirizing Victorian society in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Baum was able to suggest in a children's story what he could not say in his editorials. His book contained many subtle allusions to the political and financial issues of the day. The story's inspirational message was evidently a product of the times as well. Commentators trace it to the theosophical movement, of which Baum was an active member. Newly-imported from India, it held that reality is a construct of the mind. What you want is already yours; you need only to believe it, to "realize" it or "make it real."

Looking at the plot of this familiar fairytale, then, through the lens of the contemporary movements that inspired it...

An Allegory of Money, Politics and Believing in Yourself

The story began on a barren Kansas farm, where Dorothy lived with a very sober aunt and uncle who "never laughed" (the 1890s depression that hit the farmers particularly hard). A cyclone came up, carrying Dorothy and the house into the magical world of Oz (the American dream that might have been). The house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East (the Wall Street bankers and their man Grover Cleveland), who had kept the Munchkins (the farmers and factory workers) in bondage for many years.

For killing the Wicked Witch, Dorothy was awarded magic silver slippers (the Populist silver solution to the money crisis) by the Good Witch of the North (the North was then a Populist stronghold). In the 1939 film, the silver slippers would be transformed into ruby slippers to show off the cinema's new technicolor abilities; but the monetary imagery Baum suggested was lost. The silver shoes had the magic power to solve Dorothy's dilemma, just as the Silverites thought that expanding the money supply with silver coins would solve the problems facing the farmers.

Dorothy wanted to get back to Kansas but was unaware of the power of the slippers on her feet, so she set out to the Emerald City to seek help from the Wizard of Oz (the apparently all-powerful President, whose strings were actually pulled by financiers concealed behind a curtain).

"The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick," she was told, "so you cannot miss it." Baum's contemporary audience, wrote Professor Ziaukas, could not miss it either, as an allusion to the gold standard that was then a hot topic of debate. Like the Emerald City and the Great and Powerful Oz himself, the yellow brick road would turn out to be an illusion. In the end, what would carry Dorothy home were silver slippers.

On her journey down the yellow brick road, Dorothy was first joined by the Scarecrow in search of a brain (the naive but intelligent farmer kept in the dark about the government's financial policies), then by the Tin Woodman in search of a heart (the factory worker frozen by unemployment and dehumanized by mechanization). Littlefield commented:

"The Tin Woodman...had been put under a spell by the Witch of the East. Once an independent and hard working human being, the Woodman found that each time he swung his axe it chopped off a different part of his body. Knowing no other trade he "worked harder than ever," for luckily in Oz tinsmiths can repair such things. Soon the Woodman was all tin. In this way Eastern witchcraft dehumanized a simple laborer so that the faster and better he worked the more quickly he became a kind of machine. Here is a Populist view of evil Eastern influences on honest labor which could hardly be more pointed."

The Eastern witchcraft that had caused the Woodman to chop off parts of his own body reflected the dark magic of the Wall Street bankers, whose "gold standard" allowed less money into the system than was collectively owed to the banks, causing the assets of the laboring classes to be systematically devoured by debt.

The fourth petitioner to join the march on Oz was the Lion in search of courage. According to Littlefield, he represented the orator Bryan himself, whose roar was mighty like the king of the forest but who lacked political power. Bryan was branded a coward by his opponents because he was a pacifist and anti-imperialist at a time of American expansion in Asia. The Lion became entranced and fell asleep in the Witch's poppy field, suggesting Bryan's tendency to get side-tracked with issues of American imperialism stemming from the Opium Wars. Since Bryan led the "Populist" or "People's" Party, the Lion also represented the people, collectively powerful but entranced and unaware of their strength.

In the Emerald City, the people were required to wear green-colored glasses attached by a gold buckle, suggesting green paper money shackled to the gold standard. To get to her room in the Emerald Palace, Dorothy had to go through 7 passages and up 3 flights of stairs, an allusion to the "Crime of '73," the congressional Act that changed the money system from bimetallism (paper notes backed by both gold and silver) to an exclusive gold standard. The Crime of '73 proved to all Populists that Congress and the bankers were in collusion.

Dorothy and her troop presented their requests to the Wizard, who demanded that they first vanquish the Wicked Witch of the West, representing the McKinley/Rockefeller faction in Ohio (then considered a Western state). The financial powers of the day were the Morgan/Wall Street/Cleveland faction in the East (the Wicked Witch of the East) and this Rockefeller-backed contingent from Ohio, the state of McKinley, Hanna, and Rockefeller's Standard Oil cartel. Hanna was an industrialist who was a high school friend of John D. Rockefeller and had the financial backing of the oil giant.

Dorothy and her friends learned that the Witch of the West had enslaved the Yellow Winkies and the Winged Monkeys (an allusion to the Chinese immigrants working on the Union-Pacific railroad, the native Americans banished from the northern woods, and the Filipinos denied independence by McKinley). Dorothy destroyed the Witch by melting her with a bucket of water, suggesting the rain that would reverse the drought, and the financial liquidity that the Populist solution would bring to the land. As one nineteenth century commentator put it, "Money and debt are as opposite in nature as fire and water; money extinguishes debt as water extinguishes fire."

When Dorothy and her troop got lost in the forest, she was told to call the Winged Monkeys by using a Golden Cap she had found in the Witch's cupboard. When the Winged Monkeys came, their leader explained that they were once a free and happy people; but they were now "three times the slaves of the owner of the Golden Cap, whosoever he may be" (the bankers and their gold standard). When the Golden Cap fell into the hands of the Wicked Witch of the West, the Witch had made them enslave the Winkies and drive Oz himself from the Land of the West.

Dorothy used the power of the Cap to have her band of pilgrims flown to the Emerald City, where they discovered that the "Wizard" was only a smoke and mirrors illusion operated by a little man behind a curtain. A dispossessed Nebraska man himself, he admitted to being a "humbug" without real power. "One of my greatest fears was the Witches," he said, "for while I had no magical powers at all I soon found out that the Witches were really able to do wonderful things."

If the Wizard and his puppet were Marcus Hanna and William McKinley, who were the Witches they feared? Behind the Wall Street bankers were powerful British financiers, who funded the Confederates in the Civil War and had been trying to divide and conquer America economically for over a century. Patriotic Americans had regarded the British as the enemy ever since the American Revolution. McKinley was a protectionist who favored high tariffs to keep these marauding British free-traders out. When he was assassinated in 1901, no conspiracy was proved; but some suspicious commentators saw the invisible hand of British high finance at work.

The Wizard lacked magical powers but was a very good psychologist, who showed the petitioners that they had the power to solve their own problems and manifest their own dreams. The Scarecrow just needed a paper diploma to realize he had a brain. For the Tin Woodman, it was a silk heart; for the Lion, an elixir for courage. The Wizard offered to take Dorothy back to Kansas in his hot air balloon, but the balloon took off before she could get on board. Dorothy and her friends then set out to find Glinda the Good Witch of the South, who they were told could help Dorothy find her way home.

On the way they faced various challenges, including a great spider that ate everything in its path and kept everyone unsafe as long as it was alive. The Lion (the Populist leader Bryan) welcomed this chance to test his new-found courage and prove he was indeed the King of Beasts. He decapitated the mighty spider with his paw, just as Bryan would have toppled the banking cartel if he had won the Presidency.

The group finally reached Glinda, who revealed that Dorothy too had the magic tokens she needed all along: the Silver Shoes on her feet would take her home. But first, said Glinda, Dorothy must give up the Golden Cap (the bankers' restrictive gold standard that had enslaved the people).

The moral also worked for the nation itself. The economy was deep in depression, but the country's farmlands were still fertile and its factories were ready to roll. Its entranced people merely lacked the paper tokens called "money" that would facilitate production and trade. The people had been deluded into a belief in scarcity by defining their wealth in terms of a scarce commodity, gold. The country's true wealth consisted of its goods and services, its resources and the creativity of its people. Like the Tin Woodman in need of oil, all it needed was a monetary medium that would allow this wealth to flow freely, circulating from the government to the people and back again, without being perpetually drained into the private coffers of the bankers.

Sequel to Oz

The Populists did not achieve their goals, but they did prove that a third party could influence national politics and generate legislation. Although Bryan the Lion failed to stop the bankers, Dorothy's prototype Jacob Coxey was still on the march. In a plot twist that would be considered contrived if it were fiction, he reappeared on the scene in the 1930s to run against Franklin D. Roosevelt for President, at a time when the "money question" had again become a burning issue. In one five-year period, over 2,000 schemes for monetary reform were advanced. Needless to say, Coxey lost the election; but he claimed that his Greenback proposal was the model for the "New Deal," Roosevelt's plan for putting the unemployed to work on government projects to pull the country out of the Depression. The difference was that Coxey's plan would have been funded with debt-free currency issued by the government, on Lincoln's Greenback model. Roosevelt funded the New Deal with borrowed money, indebting the country to a banking cartel that was surreptitiously creating the money out of thin air, just as the government itself would have been doing under Coxey's plan without accruing a crippling debt to the banks.

After World War II, the money question faded into obscurity. Today, writes British economist Michael Rowbotham, "The surest way to ruin a promising career in economics, whether professional or academic, is to venture into the 'cranks and crackpots' world of suggestions for reform of the financial system".

Yet the claims of these cranks and crackpots have consistently proven to be correct. The U.S. debt burden has mushroomed out of control, until just the interest on the federal debt now threatens to be a greater tax burden than the taxpayers can afford. The gold standard precipitated the problem, but unbuckling the dollar from gold did not solve it. Rather, it caused worse financial ills. Expanding the money supply with increasing amounts of "easy" bank credit just put increasing amounts of money in the bankers' pockets, while consumers sank further into debt. The problem proved to be something more fundamental: it was in who extended the nation's credit. As long as the money supply was created as a debt owed back to private banks with interest, the nation's wealth would continue to be drained off into private vaults, leaving scarcity in its wake.

Today's monetary allegory goes something like this: the dollar is a national resource that belongs to the people. It was an original invention of the early American colonists, a new form of paper currency backed by the "full faith and credit" of the people. But a private banking cartel has taken over its issuance, turning debt into money and demanding that it be paid back with interest. Taxes and a crushing federal debt have been imposed by a financial ruling class that keeps the people entranced and enslaved. In the happy storybook ending to the tale, the power to create money is returned to the people, and abundance returns to the land. But before we get there, the Yellow Brick Road takes us through the twists and turns of history and the writings and insights of a wealth of key players.

We're off to see the Wizard...'