Our Blog | January 2009

Fuel from Waste

by: Heather on 01/14/2009
Posted in: Renewable Energy

This morning's crop of e-mail newsletters contained a story in Renewable Energy World entitled New Uses for Old Staples: Butter and Coffee As Biodiesel Feedstocks. The main thrust of the story (and it is an interesting one) is that used coffee grounds could potentially add 340 million gallons of high quality biodiesel to the world's fuel supply …

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Petition on EMF Safety

by: Heather on 01/13/2009
Posted in: Activism

Are you concerned about the potential dangers of emerging electromagnetic radiation (EMF) pollution? Worried about the possible impact of our cellular and wireless signal saturated environment on our health and the health of our children? According to the website Electromagnetic Health:

We are constantly being bathed in an increasing sea of …

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Guest Post - Dmitry Orlov

by: Heather on 01/12/2009
Posted in: Guest Posts

This just in from Dmitry Orlov, author of Reinventing Collapse: Soviet Example and American Prospects. In his characteristic deadpan style, Dmitry offers up a meditation on the sinking cruise ship of the United States, arriving at the somewhat surprising conclusion that the bastion of US socialism (and possibly the best hope for a pool of organized labour to help build a vastly different economy on the ashes of the old) is none other than the American military. (This entry was originally posted on Club Orlov and is reprinted with permission.)


That Bastion of American Socialism

Over the past few months the American mainstream chatter has experienced a sudden spike in the gratuitous use of the term "Socialist." It was prompted by the attempts of the federal government to resuscitate insolvent financial institutions. These attempts included offers of guarantees to their clients, injections of large sums of borrowed public money, and granting them access to almost-free credit that was magically summoned ex nihilo by the Federal Reserve. To some observers, these attempts looked like an emergency nationalization of the finance sector was underway, prompting them to cry "Socialism!" Their cries were not as strident as one would expect, bereft of the usual disdain that normally accompanies the use of this term. Rather, it was proffered with a wan smile, because the commentators could find nothing better to say - nothing that would actually make sense of the situation.

Not a single comment on this matter could be heard from any of the numerous socialist parties, either opposition or government, from around the globe, who correctly surmised that this had nothing to do with their political discipline, because in the US "socialism" is commonly used as a pejorative term, with willful ignorance and breathtaking inaccuracy, to foolishly dismiss any number of alternative notions of how society might be organized. What this new, untraditional use of the term lacks in venom, it more than makes up for in malapropism, for there is nothing remotely socialist to Henry Paulson's "no banker left behind" bail-out strategy, or to Ben Bernanke's "buy one - get one free" deal on the US Dollar (offered only to well-connected friends) or to any of the other measures, either attempted or considered, to slow the collapse of the US economy.

A nationalization of the private sector can indeed be called socialist, but only when it is carried out by a socialist government. In absence of this key ingredient, a perfect melding of government and private business is, in fact, the gold standard of fascism. But nobody is crying "Fascism!" over what has been happening in the US. Not only would this seem ridiculously theatrical, but, the trouble is, we here in the US have traditionally liked fascists. We had liked Mussolini well enough, until he allied with Hitler, whom we only eventually grew to dislike once he started hindering transatlantic trade. We liked Spain's Franco well enough too. We liked Chile's Pinochet after having a hand in bumping off his Socialist predecessor Allende (on September 11, 1973; on the same date some years later, I was very briefly seized with the odd notion that the Chileans had finally exacted their revenge). In general, a business-friendly fascist generalissimo or president-for-life with no ties to Hitler is someone we could almost always work with. So much for political honesty.

As a practical matter, failing at capitalism does not automatically make you socialist, no more than failing at marriage automatically make you gay. Even if desperation makes you randy for anything that is warm-blooded and doesn't bite, the happily gay lifestyle is not automatically there for the taking. There are the matters of grooming, and manners, and interior decoration to consider, and these take work, just like anything else. Speaking of work, building socialism certainly takes a great deal of work, a lot of which tends to be unpaid, voluntary labor, and so desperation certainly helps to inspire the effort, but it cannot be the only ingredient. It also takes intelligence, because, as Douglas Adams once astutely observed, "people are a problem." In due course, they will learn to thwart any system, no matter how well-designed it might be, be it capitalist, socialist, anarchist, Ayn Randian, or one based on a strictly literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation. However, here a distinction can be drawn: systems that attempt to do good seem far more corruptible than ones that have no such pretensions. Thus, a socialist system, inspired by the noblest of impulses to help one's fellow man, quickly develops social inequalities that it was designed to eradicate, breeding cynicism, while a capitalist system, inspired by the impulse to help oneself through greed and fear, starts out from the position of perfect cynicism, and is therefore immune to such effects, making it more robust, as long as it does not become resource-constrained. It seems to be a superior system if your goal is to keep the planet burning brightly, but when the fuel starts to run low, it is quickly torn apart by the very impulses that motivated its previous successes: greed turns to profiteering, draining the life blood out of the economy, while fear causes capital to seek safe havens, causing the wheels of commerce to grind to a halt. It could be said that an intelligently designed, well-regulated capitalist system could be made to avoid such pitfalls and persevere in the face of resource constraints, but the US seems laughably far from achieving this goal.

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Book Club - Depletion and Abundance

by: Heather on 01/09/2009
Posted in: Peak Oil

We're in a book club! Or at least one of our books is. Sharon Astyk's Depletion and Abundance is the Fall Book Club choice over at Crunchy Chicken. I know that we're a little late to invite you all to the party, but you can still join the discussion - it's going strong! Here's Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

From the comments on Crunchy's blog:

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Plan C Review by John Ivanko

by: on 01/08/2009
Posted in: Peak Oil

This is a review of Plan C, recently blogged by John Ivanko, co-author of ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance (the original blog appears at Green Options and is used by permission).

Book Review: Pat Murphy's Plan C means Community and Curtailment

If The Long Emergency and An Inconvenient Truth sounded the alarm for us to wake up and change course, …

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