Reinventing the Informal Economy

This one is cross posted from Casaubon’s Book, a blog all about living in a world crashing towards a lower energy future, and all the myriad ways that we can be part of peacefully and responsibly birthing that new world. In the veign of transition towns, permaculture, and decentralizing, the ruminations below are all about interpreting the growth of the domination, energy-intensive, oppressive system that is now shaking in its foundations around us, and what we can do to anticipate and survive its collapse. Good stuff, thanks Sharon.

Reinventing the Informal Economy

Sharon May 29th, 2009

One of the most important things to know, I think, is that the growth we depend on (including the “green shoots” we might or might not be seeing) is always fed by taking something from somewhere else.  That is, we tend to talk about growth as though it comes, magically, from nowhere – we all of a sudden wake up and realize we need VCRs and then, the VCR industry emerges, the economy grows, we move on to DVDs and Blu-ray or whatever, and on and on.

But this is not all the story.  Many people who read this will be familiar with one part of the story that was left out – the energy equation.  That is, all growth depends on energy as a master resource, and the assumption that energy consumption can always grow, is, well, a problem.  Those of you who are peak oil aware will have seen many versions of this account, revising the classic economic assumption that we’ll just find more energy when we need it.

But there’s another piece of the story that doesn’t get told quite as often – that energy is only part of the equation.  In order to grow, we have to use a lot of energy, of course, but that energy use *has never* come without also bringing many more people into the economy as well – while energy does reduce human labor in some ways (ie, one guy can do with a tractor what 40 guys did with horses), the net demand for human labor in growing economies is always positive – you need more and more people.

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Raising the Dead: Memorial Day Activists Jailed in Protest to Stop 998 Coal Sludge Deaths

Reposted from the Huffington Post. Check out Mountain Justice. for the latest! Original post by Jeff Biggers

In three separate direct actions in the West Virginia coalfields yesterday, nonviolent protesters launched the new phase of Operation Appalachian Spring, a growing national campaign to stop mountaintop removal mining and raise awareness of the catastrophic potential of government regulated blasting near a precarious coal sludge impoundment.

“The toxic lake at Brushy Fork dam sits atop a honeycomb of abandoned underground mines,”said Chuck Nelson, from Raleigh County, W.Va. “Massey wants to blast within 100 feet of that dam. The company’s own filings with the state Department of Environmental Protection project a minimum death toll of 998 should the seven-billion-gallon dam break. EPA should override the DEP and revoke this blasting permit for the safety of the community.” Nelson did not participate in the civil disobedience actions.

The nearby Shumate Dam sits a few football fields atop the Marsh Fork elementary school.

In a telling if not bizarre twist of violations and governmental priorities, Mountain Justice activists who floated a “West Virginia Says No More Toxic Sludge” banner atop the toxic multi-billion gallon Brushy Fork slurry impoundment were arrested for “littering.”

Still unable to make bail, nine of the 17 arrested protesters are being held on trespassing charges at the Southern Regional Jail in Beckley, West Virginia. In an extraordinary move to crack down on the protesters, nine violators were given a cash bail of $2000 a piece, which, according to the organizers, prohibits a bail bondsman deposit and requires full payment.

Donations for the activists’ emergency bail fund can be made at a paypal link at:

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Call for Volunteers to Help Flooded OVEC Members in Mingo County

May 11
Alert Archive

OVEC Action Alert
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition


 Call for Volunteers to Help Flooded OVEC Members in Mingo County
Late Friday night and early Saturday morning, heavy rains hit southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. OVEC's Mingo County organizer Patricia Feeney is making contact with our members there. She's found that many could use help with clean-up of their homes and yards. For instance, our members living in Rawl Hollow report flooding debris with mud, stumps and rocks coming off the mountaintop removal site above their homes.

If you can assist, please contact Patricia at <a href=”” target=”_blank”> or 304-475-3873. The goal is to have clean-up crews in over the weekend, but if you have time to donate sooner or later, please contact Patricia, as clean-up efforts will be ongoing. 

News reports says at least 300 buildings in Mingo County alone were destroyed in the flooding. The National Guard has been called in and the Red Cross is on the scene.

The Logan Banner reports that flooding inundated a cemetery:
Greg Dixon and Vickie Bailey walked over the rubble and mud that had covered the Marcum cemetery. He said the water rushed out of the top of the mountain.

"This has to be caused by strip mining," Dixon, who takes care of the cemetery, said as he searched for missing tombstones. “All this came from the top of the mountain.”

The Charleston Gazette's Ken Ward Jr. reminds readers of his blog "Coal Tattoo" about the studies that have been done: Now, it’s difficult without a lot more site-specific information to say that a particular flood was made worse by mountaintop removal. But in general, there’s little question that such large-scale land disturbance makes flooding more likely and makes floods that do occur worse.  

If you suspect that debris has washed off a mountaintop removal site onto your property, be sure to file a report with the WV Department of Environmental Protection at  800-654-5227.

Click here for YouTube-posted video of the flooding in Gilbert in Mingo County.

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Secret EPA study: Big cancer risks from coal-ash ponds

Secret EPA study: Big cancer risks from coal-ash ponds

by Ken Ward Jr.

Every year, coal-fired power plants dump nearly 100 million tons of various wastes — fly ash, bottom ash, and scrubber sludge — into landfills and impoundments. Can living near one of these dumps increase your risk of getting cancer?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thinks so. But under the Bush administration, the agency didn’t want you to know that. Now, the Obama EPA has released a previously secret study that found residents near these coal-ash dumps have as much as a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from drinking water contaminated with arsenic.

That’s according to a new report being released right now by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice . I’ve posted the report, “Coming Clean: What EPA Knows About the Dangers of Coal Ash,” here and a list of the coal-ash dumps examined in the secret EPA study here. The EPA study itself is posted here.

Among the key findings:

The problem may be twice as big as the date indicate — The number of unlined and clay-lined ash ponds and landfills currently in operation in the United States is likely to be more than double the number of units represented in the EPA survey data.

The coal ash threat could linger for 100 years — Because some of the EPA data go back to the mid-1990s, it is possible that some of the listed dumps are no longer in use. The EPA warns, however, that peak pollution from ash ponds can occur long after the waste is placed and is likely to result in peak exposures about 78 to 105 years after the pond first began operation.

Higher cancer risk for up to 1 in 50 nearby residents — The EPA estimates that up to 1 in 50 nearby residents could get cancer from exposure to arsenic leaking into drinking water wells from unlined waste ponds that mix ash with coal refuse. Threats are also posed by high levels of other metals, including boron, selenium and lead.

Higher non-cancer risks from lead and other sources — The EPA also predicted that these unlined ash ponds can increase the risk of other “non-cancer” health effects, such as damage to vital organs like the liver and kidneys, or damage to the central nervous system. Unlined waste ponds that mix ash and coal refuse will result in exposures up to nine times the federal standard for lead, a deadly neuro-toxin that can damage the central nervous system, especially in young children.

This report is the latest — and among the most significant — bit of information about coal-ash dangers to surface since December’s disastrous collapse of a similar facility at the TVA’s Kingston Plant in East Tennessee. As Coal Tattoo readers well know, the TVA mess made clear how poorly regulated coal ash handling and disposal is, and put the issue on the front burner for the Obama administration and Congress. It’s sure to put more pressure on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who has promised to deal with coal ash, but has lots of things on her plate.

Now, the risk numbers — dealing with additional health risks for folks who rely on well water and live near where coal-ash dumps contaminated groundwater — were for the most part released two years ago, when EPA published an August 2007 Risk Assessment study. But what’s new here is that essentially the same information was available to EPA nearly five years earlier in this October 2002 report — but the Bush EPA never gave the information to the public. In March, the Obama EPA quietly posted the document on an agency rulemaking Web site. (It’s also important to note that the August 2007 report itself didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved from reporters like me, even after the TVA disaster).

And, the 2002 report reveals some incredible new findings about risks to aquatic ecosystems and wildlife: According to EPA data, ash ponds are predicted to leak boron into surface waters at concentrations 2,000 times higher than what is safe for aquatic life. And, EPA data also shows levels of arsenic and selenium will be 10 times higher than what is safe.

“We now have the full picture about coal dump sites across America, and it is not pretty,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “The EPA’s data shows that the disposal of coal ash, especially in unlined ponds, results in alarmingly high risks of cancer and diseases of the heart, lung, liver, stomach and other organs and can seriously harm aquatic ecosystems and wildlife near disposal sites.”

Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans, one of the environmental community’s top experts on this issue, said:

Given what the agency already knows, coal ash ponds must be phased out — and cleaned out — within five years, to keep their toxic cargo from building up and jeopardizing the health of nearby residents, poisoning wildlife, and contaminating rivers and streams.

So-called “dry landfills” — especially those that are unlined — also pose unacceptable risks, and ought to be regulated as hazardous waste disposal sites. The EPA’s risk assessment clearly establishes that unlined coal-ash disposal sites — wet and dry — are hazardous to human health and the environment.

We hope the new leadership at the EPA will act on that knowledge before further serious damage occurs to our health and environment.

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Climate Scientist Hansen hopes lawmakers’ cap-and-trade approach to climate will fail (05/04/2009)

From the No New Coal Listserv

POLICY: Hansen hopes lawmakers' cap-and-trade approach to climate will fail (05/04/2009)

Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter

NEW YORK –NASA's leading climate scientist says he hopes that climate legislation proposed by Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Edward Markey (Mass.) to introduce carbon emissions trading to the United States fails. He says lawmakers should abandon cap-and-trade initiatives altogether and implement a simple carbon tax instead.

James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a vocal advocate for action on global warming, told an audience at a conference hosted by Columbia University climate policy students that cap and trade is a scheme devised by Wall Street that will do nothing to alleviate the global warming problem.

"Trading of rights to pollute … introduces speculation and makes millionaires on Wall Street," Hansen said in his keynote lecture at Columbia University's 350 Climate Conference held here Saturday. "I hope cap and trade doesn't pass, because we need a much more effective approach."

Hansen also stands opposed to so-called "cap and dividend" proposals that would introduce pollution trading and a near full auctioning of emissions, with proceeds from the auctions going back to the public. Instead, Hansen proposed a "tax and dividend" approach to tax fossil fuels at the point where they are extracted from the ground, to set a firm price on carbon. Proceeds from the tax, rather than from the auctioning of allowances, would then be distributed to consumers.

"It could be implemented in one year, as opposed to decades with cap and trade," he said. "The bureaucracy is very simple."

Public remains apathetic about climate

Hansen also said climate activists need to be more vocal and strategic in getting the public to lobby harder for action to reduce emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. He pointed to recent public opinion polls showing that among Americans' concerns, climate change ranks nearly last in the order of priority, well behind the economy and the United States' dependence on foreign oil.

"It's hard for people to realize that we have a crisis, because you don't see much happening," he said. "If people understood the implications for their children and grandchildren, they would care."

Hansen also urged conference participants to press the United States to negotiate a robust international agreement by the final negotiating round of U.N. climate change talks this year at Copenhagen. He said the new agreement has to be much more far reaching than the Kyoto Protocol, which he deems to have been entirely ineffective, and the Copenhagen talks should emphasize action by the United States and China.

The Kyoto Protocol "didn't do anything to global emissions," said Hansen. "We need real action, not just another Kyoto Protocol."

But ultimately, an effective response to climate change will require a variety of actions, he argued. That includes a new, much stronger international agreement, action by U.S. lawmakers to finally put a price on carbon through a tax, and new policies designed to ultimately phase out fossil fuel consumption.

"We're going to have to make the decision to leave coal in the ground" or burn it only at power plants utilizing carbon capture and sequestration technology, Hansen said. "Perhaps the best chance is in the courts," he added.

Speaking before Hansen's attack on cap-and-trade legislation, Mark Crane, director of Columbia University's graduate degree program in climate and society, suggested that climate activists start adopting more strategic language to get the public more engaged in the issue.

The term "climate change" is better than "global warming," he said, but Crane suggested "deteriorating atmosphere" as a much more visual term to employ. If "cap and trade" does move forward in Congress, proponents should consider calling it a "pollution reduction refund" to gain public acceptance, he said.

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Welcome to The Small Axe

"Small Axe" is a song written by Lee Perry, released on the Wailers album Burnin' in 1973.Check the lyrics here

The song is a triumphant declaration that though the repressed, the oppressed, the enlightened, the suffering, the outcasts, the counter-culturalists, the meek, and the masses may hold little sway or say in the conventional halls of power, together we hold the Tools for Taking Down the Big Tree of Babylon: tools for ending coercion, eco-destruction, injustice, hate and misunderstanding.

The Small Axe sites are  places to share those tools; to discuss the cutting down of the bad tree; to envision the next world; to learn from others the best practices of sustainable cultural shift; to share memes of love, peace, justice, bio-centrism, beauty, art and creation.

We share laughter and beauty here as much as pointing out the ugly symptoms of babylon, and we ask for your voice, for your art, for your criticism and your praise.

We are striving for a world truly ruled by all people and all life, for free spaces for all voices to be heard, striving against rule by the few, against the stifling of any voice. We set before us the most important path there is in this world: Exodus from the cages of self-hate, bio-hate, and fear; heading towards new worlds of freedom, love, peace and eco-harmony.

We are leaving babylon, flying away home to Zion. Will you fly with us?

Some of the contributors to this site are based in the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge bio-regions, others share their voices from around the Earth. If you have something to say, if youwant to grab up your own Small Axe, let us know. The more voices, the more blades chopping, the stronger we are, the faster the felling of this cancerous tree.

Welcome, let us start chopping, chanting, striding down babylon. a new world is possible.

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