Rising Tide Disrupts Coal-to-Liquid Conference in DC

Rising Tide strikes again. Coal to liquids is a disgrace, and a last ditch effort by the coal industry to save its dying corpse. Let the fossil fools pass, their time is up.

Activists expose coal-to-liquids as a false solution
DC Rising Tide disrupt and denounce coal conference

coal-to-liquids-2

Washington, DC. – Local activists with DC Rising Tide and their allies interrupted a coal industry conference today to denounce coal-to-liquids as a corporate scam that would continue the destructive path of the fossil fuel industry.

“ We have had enough of corporations trying to keep us hooked on polluting fossil fuels. They seek to profit from climate change and the destruction of Appalachia.” said  Amanda Duzak of Rising Tide.

Activists stood in the audience and loudly presented speeches to refute the statements of coal and oil executives from Chevron, World Coal Institute, World Petroleum Council and Consol Energy.  The advocates of clean energy called for an end to the use of fossil fuels and for adoption of clean, renewable, community-based energy sources. Protesters deployed banners in the conference to highlight that “Coal kills” and “Coal takes lives” and we need “Renewable energy now.”

“Pound for pound coal produces more CO2 than almost any other form of energy production. If we’re serious about tackling climate change, we absolutely must stop mining and burning coal. Coal to liquids technology is a step in the wrong direction for our air, water and climate.” said Michael Weber of Rising Tide

The activists explained that even if the unproven, expensive, and dangerous carbon capture and storage techniques were in place, coal-to-liquids technology, which would convert coal to oil for transportation, would generate twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as oil.  It would also lead to an increase in coal mining that destroys rivers and mountains and threatens community health.

“Its time to stop investing in false solutions. We are facing a climate crisis. It is time to stand up and fight for a sustainable future.”  said Emma Cassidy of DC Rising Tide.

Rising Tide DC is a grassroots group of activists working towards climate justice by debunking false solutions and advocating a community-based, clean energy future.

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EPA NOT halting MountainTopRemoval permits

Cross Posted from Its Getting Hot In Here, posted by Dana. The fight aint anywhere close to over, unfortunately. I think this is still a victory, but it should also teach us to be a little more weary and thorough when we hear something that sounds real good.

It saddens me to post a correction here — the AP stories and hundreds of news stories were overstating the victory against mountaintop removal yesterday. And they still are this morning, actually. What really happened is the EPA took action to put on hold two valley fill permits and indicated that hundreds of other pending applications would come under much more strict review.

That’s right, “review” not “moratorium.”

The confusion is so big the EPA put out this grumpy little press release–here’s a depressing clip for you:

EPA will take a close look at other permits that have been held back because of the 4th Circuit litigation. We fully anticipate that the bulk of these pending permit applications will not raise environmental concerns.

You can still call the White House and leave a message thanking President Obama for taking this important first step and then ask for a real moratorium on these permits. 202-456-1111

EPA Stalls Mountaintop Removal

Cross Posted from the coal tatoo. This is big news! Stay tuned for more information. Maybe go celebrate a little.

Though its probably important to keep in mind that this is not an end to MTR. This war will have to continue until Abolition and not Regulation is the name of the game.

More: The EPA announcement on mountaintop removal

dragline1.jpgHere’s the press release just issued by EPA on its crack down on mountaintop removal:

EPA Acts to Reduce Harmful Impacts from Coal Mining

(Washington, D.C. – March 24, 2009) The United States Environmental Protection Agency has sent two letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality caused by certain types of coal mining practices, such as mountaintop mining. The letters specifically addressed two new surface coal mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky. EPA also intends to review other requests for mining permits.

“The two letters reflect EPA’s considerable concern regarding the environmental impact these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams,” said Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “I have directed the agency to review other mining permit requests. EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment.”

EPA’s letters, sent to the Corps office in Huntington, W.Va., stated that the coal mines would likely cause water quality problems in streams below the mines, would cause significant degradation to streams buried by mining activities, and that proposed steps to offset these impacts are inadequate. EPA has recommended specific actions be taken to further avoid and reduce these harmful impacts and to improve mitigation.

The letters were sent to the Corps by EPA senior officials in the agency’s Atlanta and Philadelphia offices. Permit applications for such projects are required by the Clean Water Act.

EPA also requested the opportunity to meet with the Corps and the mining companies seeking the new permits to discuss alternatives that would better protect streams, wetlands and rivers.

The Corps is responsible for issuing Clean Water Act permits for proposed surface coal mining operations that impact streams, wetlands, and other waters. EPA is required by the act to review proposed permits and provides comments to the Corps where necessary to ensure that proposed permits fully protect water quality.

Because of active litigation in the 4th Circuit challenging the issuance of Corps permits for coal mining, the Corps has been issuing far fewer permits in West Virginia since the litigation began in 2007. As a result, there is a significant backlog of permits under review by the Corps. EPA expects to be actively involved in the review of these permits following issuance of the 4th Circuit decision last month.

EPA is coordinating its action with the White House Council on Environmental Quality and with other agencies including the Corps.

More information on wetlands and the letters: http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/

Permaculture Author Imagines the Future

future-scenarios

This is cross posted from Speaking Truth to Power, a blog I just discovered through www.transitionus.ning.com. The post is a review of a book from Permaculture visionary David Holmgren, trying to list and imagine the options the human population has as we transition out of the Fossil Fuel age and into an age of climate change, scarcity, and political upheaval.

TransitionUs is a new social network of transtition activists all over the US working to justly and sustainably rework our culture.

Enjoy

…without radical behavioral and organizational change that would threaten the foundations of our growth economy, greenhouse gas emissions along with other environmental impacts will not decline. Economic recession is the only proven mechanism for a rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and may now be the only real hope for maintaining the earth in a habitable state. Taken together with the words of NASA climate scientist, Jim Hansen, who tells us that “the onset of severe impacts from climate change is now inevitable, even if there is a huge worldwide effort at mitigation”, David Holmgren’s words above cause me to pause and on some level stand in awe of the current global economic meltdown. I notice, first of all, that climate change now probably has a life of its own and has permanently escaped the influence of the human species. I also notice that economic collapse, while having unfolded rapidly within the past two years, has not done so in a falling-off-the-cliff scenario and may be slowing down the collapse of the ecosystem. In Future Scenarios, (Chelsea Green, 2009) David Holmgren, the author of Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability offers four possible sketches of transition from industrial civilization to a post-petroleum world. The characteristics and likely outcomes of them compel us to view them more closely. Physically, this paperback book is quite reader-friendly, embellished with colorful illustrations and beautiful photos and fits snugly into pocket or purse for effortless transport. The first scenario Holmgren names the Brown Tech, Top-Down Construction in which energy descent is slow, and climate change is fast. Brown Tech is essentially the corporatist system that has dominated the United States for the past sixty years, reaching its zenith during the George W. Bush administration. It is “top-down” in the sense that “national power constricts consumption and focuses resources to maintain the nation-state in the face of deteriorating climate and reduced energy and food supply.” (68) Brown Tech is characterized by centralized systems, high-density systems, national banks and currencies, a nationalist/fascist bias, male domination, and culturally speaking, a super-rationalist/fundamentalist dichotomy. Conversely, the Green-Tech scenario is characterized by slow energy-decline rates and mild climate change symptoms. The sense of chaos and crisis “is more muted without major economic collapse or conflict.” (68) This scenario is the one embraced by those well-meaning progressives who may believe that we have enough time for strategically transitioning to a post-petroleum, downscaled world. In Green Tech there is good conservation, a great deal of renewable energy use, compact towns and small cities, regional currencies, the gender status is balanced and blended, and the philosophical orientation is essentially humanist and eco-rationalist. What makes Green Tech unrealistic and somewhat utopian, in my opinion, is the speed with which climate change is actually occurring. For Green Tech to be fully implemented, climate change must be slow. “The relatively benign climate allows a resurgence of rural and regional economies on the back of sustained and growing prices for all natural commodities including feedstock for biofuels.” (69) The third scenario, and the one which Holmgren clearly prefers, is the Earth-Steward: Bottom-Up Rebuild in which energy use declines rapidly, and climate change symptoms remain mild. Shocks to the world’s financial system in this scenario result in severe depressions and intense resource wars. Electronic grids become nonfunctional, and mass mobility of people and goods is curtailed. Cities become hollowed out as larger businesses collapse, and large numbers of former city-dwellers form a new underclass and provide basic labor in exchange for food and living space. The biggest difference, according to Holmgren, between the green-and brown-tech scenarios is that “the rebuilding and stabilization is no longer based on dreams of sustainability or restoring the old system. Instead, people accept that each generation will have to face the challenges of further ongoing simplification and localization of society as the fossil-resource base continues to decline. This simplification in the material domain is seen as the opportunity for growth in the spiritual domain. (81) In other words, “while the impacts on people and local environments…are severe, there is also a cultural and spiritual revolution as people are released from the rat race of addictive behaviors.” In the Earth-Steward model, local currency and barter are the principal forms of exchange, gender-wise, females dominate, and earth spirituality prevails as the dominant cultural and spiritual force. The last scenario is the Lifeboat Civilization Triage of rapid energy decline rates and severe climate change symptoms-in other words, a fast crash. Most forms of economic and social organization collapse, and local wars, including the use of nuclear weapons, exacerbate the collapse in some areas. Waves of famine and disease decimate social and economic capacity “on a scale larger than the Black Death in medieval Europe, leading to a halving of the global population in a few decades.” (82) In a Lifeboat Civilization, collapse has occurred so quickly that little planning can be done for a smoother transition, and the survivalist mentality generally prevails. Hence, one finds hamlets and gated communities and a quasi-feudal system which is predominantly patriarchal. The cultural and spiritual orientation is warrior-like in response to the trauma of a rapid collapse, thus the word “triage” to describe its fundamental modus operandi. What Holmgren wants the reader to understand, however, is that the four scenarios are not linear; he imagines them as “one nested within the other.” This suggests, he says, “that the four organizational levels represented by the scenarios from the household to the national level will all be transformed as global systems weaken and contract, but none will fail completely.” (101) Not unlike the scenarios of collapse Dmitry Orlov relates regarding the former Soviet Union, Holmgren’s four-nested schema suggests that in the Earth-Steward and Lifeboat scenarios, there could still be a government issuing edicts, but no one, outside that nation’s capital, would take notice. One unmistakable conclusion Future Scenarios draws is that the more slowly the decline unfolds, the more opportunity for planning and mobilizing for the demise; the more rapidly events occur, the more traumatic the unraveling will be because of the inability to put new systems in place which may allow it to be more navigable. As noted above, economic collapse is impeding rampant growth and in that sense, despite the pain it is creating for millions of humans, may be allowing the earth community to breathe a bit easier for a bit longer. Or as Holmgren says, “The economic hard-liners could be right: There is no way to stop the train of global industrial capitalism (other than by crashing).” Future Scenarios offers fascinating and fertile challenges for engaging Peak Oil and climate change and confronts us with the question that will not die: Will our journey to a post-petroleum world be a transition or a trauma? The longer we wait to make the profoundly radical choices necessary at this juncture of history, the greater the certainty that choices we would not prefer will be made for us.

Food-backed Local Money

Cross posted from The Oil Drum. I know Asheville, NC is working on alternative currencies, and many other cities and towns. I dont know of any in Virginia or West Virginia, though if somebody else does, please  let me know.

Image 1. Front and back sides of a Mendo Credits slip. Our first printing of Mendo Credits was for 600 notes sold at $10 each. Proceeds from the sale of Mendo Credits allows us to purchase 8000 pounds of grains and dry beans. Mendo Credits are 100% backed by specific quantities of pinto beans, triticale, and white and brown rice.

As a kid did you ever fantasize about Monopoly game money becoming real? I know I did. Perhaps that’s why I left the printer shop the other day with a sense of bemusement. I had just designed and printed $6000 of money called Mendo Credits. I felt confident that people would accept it, and I also proudly considered that Ben Bernanke doesn’t make money as good as this.

Now before you call the Treasury Department to report me, listen to my story. It may sound funny, but the reality of money is deadly serious. This is perfectly legal and I want you to play copy cat.

Rethinking Food Security

Most institutions, such as food aid NGOs or the US Department of Agriculture, express concern about food security in terms of the ability for low income people to purchase adequate food. This is a valid way to think of food security. If food prices are high relative to income, or if other compelling expenses such as housing, health care and transportation also require a large portion of income, then securing adequate food on an individual or family level will be problematic. Programs that disperse food to the needy, redistribute income through tax policies, assist with the high costs of non-food expenses, guarantee a living wage, etc. all address distribution inequity and are laudable.

But the question I want to ask is whether they are now sufficient? Two unspoken assumptions underpinning the framing food security narrowly as an “income problem” require rethinking.

The first assumption is that enough food can actually be grown and delivered to wherever it needs to go. A study of the intersection of supply limits to water, energy and topsoil combined with climate change should dispel the notion that food abundance can simply be taken for granted. Over 90% of transportation relies on oil, and extraction of oil appears to be entering a permanent global decline. The fuel cost spike of 2008 severely hampered food distribution in some parts of the world. Cheap transportation, which permits food to be grown thousands of miles from where it is eaten, stored in centralized facilities, and delivered daily to where we live, shouldn’t be taken for granted either.

The second assumption is that the money we have now will remain a reliable medium of exchange that enables a smooth flow of production and distribution. Few people realize that most money comes into existence through bank credit that is backed by the borrower’s debt and any collateral. Banks don’t actually have money to lend, they simply decide who is “credit worthy,” and for how much. After a borrower signs the loan documents the bank creates the corresponding money in electronic accounts, such as a checking account. Credit and debt are therefore “flip sides of a coin.” People receiving bank credit are in debt to banks, but, correspondingly, banks are in debt to people for all the deposits on hand. When too many loans default, banks are at risk of defaulting on their own promise to maintain the savings of depositors. This is why credit dries up as debts go bad: As debts are cancelled through bankruptcy then a corresponding level of credit must disappear also. In the present banking system it is mathematically impossible for all loans to return their principal plus interest without a constant expansion of debt/credit. But a system that depends upon unending growth eventually ends. The actions of the Federal Reserve to re-inflate the reserves of the banking system are a desperate attempt to fix something that is permanently broken. Unfortunately, the systemic problems are deeper than the surface actions currently being taken by the Federal Reserve, The U.S. Treasury and the U.S. Government. When I think of the global financial system nowadays what comes to mind is the “Humpty Dumpty” rhyme. Knowing that the debt-based money system we currently rely on is failing, we created Mendo Credits to function without debt or interest.

Food-Backed Local Currency

The money I had printed was created with all the above-mentioned issues in mind: wide income disparity, lack of practical self-reliance, unsustainable agriculture, resource depletion, climate change, a fragile just-in-time delivery system, a failing money system, and rising unemployment. When I said that “Ben Bernanke doesn’t make money as good as this” I meant that today’s dominant money actually creates or exacerbates those troubles, whereas Mendo Credits can be part of their solution.

Along with several other people, I am working with Patty Bruder and Cyndee Logan of a local non-profit called North Coast Opportunities (NCO). NCO mainly provides social services, such as running preschools, senior support, and managing community gardens. Mendo Credits is a new food-backed local currency project partly funded by a grant from the California Endowment. The overall goals of the project are to improve community health, economic vitality and environmental sustainability through local food system development. For as long as I have known Patty and Cyndee they have been thinking about the importance of system change and practical self-reliance. They’d prefer to develop a community garden where low income families can grow their own food rather than hand out meal money.

Image 2. The farms package our orders in what are called 1-ton totes, which are large bags moved on wooden pallets. For comparison, an entire hopper car load would be about 12 tons. A local business that does nearly daily trucking to the Sacramento Valley currently transports our food to their warehouse space, where it is also kept pest free using rodent traps. The warehouse tends to stay cool, but we will have to worry about insects during the heat of summer. We have a commercial scale and household storage buckets available. From left to right: Cyndee Logan, Mike Adair and Patty Bruder fill and weigh buckets in preparation for a distribution day.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.

Image 3. A great way to spread awareness of the many issues confronting us is by spending Mendo Credits into circulation. The acceptance of money is largely a social phenomenon, and it is too early to say how well Mendo Credits will be recognized as a local currency. On the several occasions where I have tried to so far, I have had no trouble paying individuals using Mendo Credits. For example, the printer of Mendo Credits asked for payment in Mendo Credits. In the example pictured above, my friend Michael Foley opens his wallet to redeem Mendo Credits for food. He is handing over the same bills I paid him for custom tractor work four weeks earlier. Pending sales of rice and beans to a local burrito shop may mean they will begin accepting Mendo Credits for prepared food.Mendo Credits are backed by a tangible asset. In other words, Mendo Credits are a “reserve currency” as opposed to a “fiat currency” like Federal Reserve dollars. Many people are familiar with money backed by gold, which was once the case with U.S. dollars, but Mendo Credits are backed by reserves of stored food. Our reserve currency has a number of desirable properties at this time in history.

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.

Mendo Credits help with our goal of greater community self-reliance by directing investment towards essential long-term capital. For example, if a small grain silo costs $5000 to build, credits can be issued with prices that reflect both the cost of grain and storage. Eventually, local farmers could be contracted to supply grains and dry beans to our silos. Our land base would then have higher value and be able to support more jobs.

Image 4. People redeem Mendo Credits for food in downtown Willits, such as the Community Center pictured here. As our stores become depleted we can decide to issue a new batch of currency. Profits from previous sales plus income from the new Mendo Credits can form the capital to buy more food and replenish our stocks. We encourage household storage and consumption so that the population has their own food buffer and we can expand our capacities.Currently we buy grains and beans from farms about 150 miles away, which is as close as we can locate. These farms are organic and family owned. The point is that we can decide to support agricultural best practices and once we establish relationships with farmers and become significant buyers, we can seek improvements when warranted.

Our goal to move product aligns with the needs of households to be financially frugal and eat healthy foods. We are selling organic grains and beans at lower prices than in stores, and are developing informative guides for preparing meals around whole and seasonal foods. Our guides also help families assess how much they eat to decide how many Mendo Credits to buy and whether they want to store significant amounts in their home. Emergency preparedness is enhanced as more families buy in bulk, habitually eat, and restock their food stores.

Image 5. Mendo Food Futures is developing guides for using wholesome, locally grown and potential storage foods in everyday meals and snacks. For example, make your own energy bars with minimally processed grains, toasted nuts, dried fruit and honey. No baking or refrigeration required, and almost universally loved.Mendo Credits in Practice

When I told my friend Sara about Mendo Credits she beamed with delight, opened her wallet, and showed me an UDIS. A Honduran food and farmer cooperative, COMAL, issues its own local currency called the UDIS for many of the same reasons we started Mendo Credits. It was great to learn that these same ideas had already taken hold elsewhere and have a record of success.

Mendo Credits are just beginning to circulate in the town of Willits, CA and we hope this spreads around our region. Four central downtown businesses are serving as sales outlets for the new currency: The Bank of Willits, Mendonesia Café, The Book Juggler, and Leaves of Grass Bookstore. NCO also sells them at the Willits Farmers’ Market.

Image 6. Four downtown businesses sell Mendo Credits. Pictured here is Bank of Willits President Richard Willoughby, who proudly sells Mendo Credits and calls them “real money.”A local business is currently assisting with transportation and storage. Their truck picks up from farms in the Sacramento Valley and hauls one ton totes on pallets to their warehouse. We transfer from the totes into 3.5 or 5 gallon buckets and take these to a convenient downtown location for distribution. To make it quick and easy to distribute grains and beans, we only sell in specified increments as given on each Mendo Credits slip. For example, 11 lbs of rice can be redeemed for a single Mendo Credits note. We have several buckets of rice to distribute from, each one containing about 40 lbs of rice. When a customer wants to redeem a note for rice, we can place their container on our commercial scale, zero the readout, and pour out 11 lbs.

Mendo Credits are a 100% reserve currency with each note representing some fixed quantity of food. Therefore, the Mendo Credits brought to us for redemption are moved out of circulation. However, redemption of Mendo Credits signals a potential demand, which allows us to issue new notes. We have to watch our supplies of grains and beans and estimate future demand. At some point before all our current food stores are claimed we will issue more Mendo Credits. A combination of profits from previous sales plus the income from new notes, which may not be sold out yet, can go towards buying more food supplies.

This is a small beginning but we are already looking at what it would entail to expand Mendo Credits significantly. We have cost estimates for building large silos along the railroad tracks, for example, and are actively raising funds for several small silos in the meantime. The investment required is substantial, but compared to what our society typically spends it looks like a bargain. For perspective, the storage capacity to hold enough grains and dry beans to feed the Willits area (about 14,000 people) for one month costs $120,000. A half million dollars would build the silos, fill them with food, and give us the peace of mind of a one month supply of food for the community, and potentially spawn a revitalization of the local food system, including jobs in farming, food processing, waste recapture, and transportation.

Image 7. Willits is geographically rather isolated, and local officials are concerned about food security with respect to transportation failures. No significant food storage exists in the area, with surveys showing less than a week of food in grocery stores. County Sheriff Tom Allman says a major earthquake could easily isolate us for a month. Patty Bruder (left) and Cyndee Logan (right) of Mendo Food Futures discuss the possible placement of grain and bean silos on City of Willits property adjacent to railroad tracks with the City’s Community Development Director Alan Falleri.Initial enthusiasm suggests that Mendo Credits will begin circulating like cash within town. However, since the supply of Mendo Credits is limited to the supply of grains and beans in storage, they can’t become a dominant means of exchange until our local economy has very large storage facilities and is on its way towards food self-sufficiency. In the meantime, they are a fantastic educational device and may spur investment towards local food security.

References

A good introduction to local currencies can be found online at: http://www.feasta.org/documents/shortcircuit/index.html?sc3/c3.html and Big Gav wrote a nice article about them too: http://anz.theoildrum.com/node/4633

Treating food security as an income issue is evident by questions in this survey: http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsec/FILES/FSGuide.pdf

For further explanations of how our present financial system works see: http://www.chrismartenson.com/ and http://www.moneyasdebt.net/

An article in English about the UDIS can be found here: http://www.new-ag.info/09/01/develop/dev3.php

Energy Bar Recipe

Ingredients
• 1 cup finely chopped nuts and seeds
• 3 cups rolled oats
• 1 ¼ cups dried fruit, half finely chopped (size of small raisin or less) other half pureed.
• 1 ½ cups cereal
• 1 ½ cups water
• ¾ cup honey
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 teaspoons of seasonings (e.g., vanilla extract, cinnamon, etc.)
Instructions
Lightly toast the nuts and rolled oats. Combine toasted nuts and oats with chopped dried fruit. Boil water, add cereal, stir and then let sit for 3 minutes. Mix pureed fruit, honey, oil, salt and spices into hot cereal and keep on low heat for 7 minutes. Combine all ingredients, press into ca. 9 x 13 inch pan and let sit for 3 hours. Cut into bars and store in covered container.