Nov 292010

So far all the ferry discussion, debate  and analysis has avoided the subject of sustainability. The question I would like to see discussed is: how happy will we be with car ferry service to Gooseberry Point if gasoline prices increase towards $10 a gallon? What if, coincident with price increases there are also fuel shortages?

Warnings about Peak Oil are no longer the plaintive cries of Chicken Little. The Peak Oil discussion has gone  mainstream. Back in April I wrote a post about how the US Army has acknowledged that we can expect fuel shortages. This week the International Energy Agency (IEA) “…has gone from denying that conventional oil production will peak in our lifetime to saying it happened four years ago.

It seems to me that all of our thinking about the ferry and Gooseberry Point is predicated on $3 a gallon gasoline and a readily available supply. But what if you had to wait in line for two to three hours to fuel up and then had to pay $10 a gallon? Where would you like to be waiting for a ferry? Would you want to be waiting in a car?

I recall the gas crisis of the mid-seventies. I had a thirty mile commute one way. The seed was planted. I no longer wanted to be a commuter. I wanted to live close enough to work to be able to walk. It took me several years but I did accomplish that goal.

The consensus of people who think about these things is that Peak Oil will affect suburbs more than cities for obvious reasons. People who live in suburbs are too far from work and from services. Residents of self-sufficient rural communities will probably be in better shape than cities but suburbs will be obsolete. Some argue that in the future we will return to a city/country pattern of living.

Right now Lummi Island isn’t  rural community; it’s a suburb of Bellingham. All the arguments for “protecting our way of life” are geared toward protecting the island as a suburb. That is, protecting one’s ability to make daily trips, or even multiple trips to town and back. That’s a good plan as long as gas is $3 and available. It’s a good interim (1-5 year) plan. Long term it’s not sustainable.

Nov 272010

“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” Mark Twain

Michael Brownlee, co-founder of Transition Colorado says, “There is just a markedly greater degree of denial here in the U.S. with things like fossil fuel depletion and climate change and economic decline.” Probably not surprising in a country where 5% of the world’s population uses 20% of the energy.

Denial is a defense mechanism  postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.”

Denial is why Transition movements in the U.S. have difficulty gaining any real traction. According to Mr. Brownlee, again, in an article  in the Fall 2010 issue of Yes Magazine, “There’s much less a sense of community and connectivity here. It makes it more difficult for people to think in terms of self-organizing as a community around these issues.”

But even where efforts towards energy descent have made marked progress, denial raises its ugly head. In the last four years New York City, under Mayor Blomberg, has added 250 miles of bike lanes to facilitate the uses of bicycles for urban transportation. Anyone who has spent time in European cities such as Copenhagen, where huge posses of bike riders dominate the streets, might think this was a great leap forward. Not the motorists of the Big Apple. “Surging bike ridership has created a simmering cultural conflict between competing notions of urban transportation. Many New Yorkers object to bicycle lanes as sudden, drastic changes to their coveted concrete front yards.“He’s taking away my rights as a driver,” Leslie Sicklick, 45, said of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.”

We want our cars. We don’t need no stinking bike lanes.

Nobody wants to think about what might happen if the “peakers” are right. Writer Jim Quinn lays it out again here “The US Military, the German Military, and the UK Department of Energy have all done detailed studies of the situation and come to the same conclusions. Social chaos, economic confusion, trade barriers, conflict, food shortages, riots, and war are in our future.”

Chris Nelder descibes reaction to Peak Oil using the Kubler-Ross stages of denial:
1.    Denial: “There’s plenty of oil out there, and we can drill our way out of this.”
2.    Anger: “Why aren’t those bastards drilling our way out of this?”
3.    Bargaining: “Well maybe ANWR, the continental offshore, the tar sands, and slightly more   efficient cars will fix it.”
4.    Depression: “Oh man, we’re screwed, it’s too big a problem for me, I might as well give up.”
5.    Acceptance: “I’m ready for the second half of the Age of Oil and I’m going to find a way forward.”

Or Kubler-Ross as applied to the Lummi Island Ferry:
1. Denial: We’ve had a ferry for 100 years and should have one for 100 more.
2. Anger:  Gosh dang County is incompetent and the Lummis are greedy.
3. Bargaining: More people would ride if the County reduced rates but how about only $2 more?
4. Depression: They’re going to raise the rates anyway and the Lummis aren’t through dicking with us.
5. Acceptance: Maybe we should come up with some kind of realistic, sustainable, long-term plan for island transportation.

“Denial — is the only fact
Perceived by the Denied,”
Emily Dickinson

Nov 252010

That Will Forever Change How You See the World (From Alternet.)
This post first appeared on EcoSalon.

Based on the handful of these that I have read, this looks like a great reading list for the next year.

1. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough & Michael Braungart. Why settle for a throwaway culture? This book is a must read because it inspires elegant design solutions, stating that every single product must either go back to the earth or back into industry to be made into something else. A revolutionary way of upgrading the Industrial Revolution – talk about life changing.
2. Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison. The classic text on permaculture design (which is not limited to gardens, but can also be used to design homes, communities and societies in general). An excellent introduction for the aspiring student or someone who just wants to know what it’s all about.
3. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. What exactly would happen to the earth if human life disappeared? The author explores a few different scenarios in great detail (including a suddenly depopulated Manhattan). Absolutely addictive reading.
4. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. A great read for the locavores. The author spends a year eating only from her garden, or that which is locally grown or raised. A foodie’s delight, this book proves how richly one can live off the land.
5. Eating For Beauty by David Wolfe. Leading raw foodist David Wolfe takes that old adage “you are what you eat” to a new level. He describes how what you eat literally creates who you are, and which foods will create the most beautiful you – in body and in spirit.
6. Lifeplace: Bioregional Thought and Practice by Robert L. Thayer, Jr. In a world gone insanely global, this book takes us deeper into the microcosm. A bioregion is defined by nature, not by politics, and having intimate connection with your home means living within that context – historically, geographically and culturally.
7. Green Building & Remodeling For Dummies by Eric Corey Freed. Written by the founder of organicARCHITECT, this book is a comprehensive guide to green building materials and techniques, energy and water systems, and the pros and cons of everything. Check out a sample chapter here.
8. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth by James Lovelock. First published in 1979, this book sets forth the Gaia Hypothesis, stating that our planet is more than a sum of its resources, but rather a fully integrated living being, with systems of life more complex than previously imagined. I wonder what Gaia’s thinking about us now?
9. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. Follow a McDonald’s meal back to a cornfield in Iowa. Learn about the differences between large and small organic farms. See what it’s like to hunt and gather for oneself. Food is what builds our bodies – we ought to know what it takes to build our food.
10. Ecovillages: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Communities by Jan Martin Bang. Documenting some of the successful Ecovillages around the world, the author shows us how groups of people have come to together to live out the permaculture model in both rural and urban environments.
11. Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves by McCamant, Durrett and Hertzman. If you think intentional communities are too much like communes, but typical modern housing creates too much isolation, cohousing may be the answer you’re looking for. Explore these European neighborhoods built with the aim of fostering community while simultaneously respecting each family’s personal space.
12. The Findhorn Garden: Pioneering a New Vision of Man and Nature in Cooperation by The Findhorn Community. The founders of Findhorn were guided to begin growing a garden (including tomatoes, roses and tropicals) on an infertile, sandy plot in cold coastal Scotland. The quality and quantity of what they grew stunned horticulturists around the world. Enjoy this photo-filled book and learn the surprising secret of their success.

Continue reading »

Nov 232010

A few aficionados are fond of saying, “If it’s Monday, it’s Kunstler” and hurry to read James Howard Kunstler’s weekly rant about how we are S.O.L. and swirling down the toilet, flushed there by bad planning, denial and our love of creature comfort. All of his weekly essays are pretty much the same but vividly written. From the most recent disquisition:

“What a scary season! This is what it feels like to hit the wall of limits to everything the earth provides us. Our oil problems are for real and urgent, despite the arrant nonsense (“THERE WILL BE FUEL”) published last week in The New York Times – a news organization that runs a direct hose-line of smoke up its own ass from the oil industry’s chief PR shop IHS-CERA, The Times’s sole source on the energy beat. Meanwhile, Europe is back to imploding financially again (with Ireland as the rotting head of the dead fish in the current rotation). The US housing sector has flat-lined, the banks are so lost in the “mortgage-gate” morass of lost and robo-forged documents that the ghost of Roy Cohen couldn’t get them out of it alive…” maybe you get the picture. Kunstler thinks everything is going to turn to crap and I pretty much agree with him.

Kunstler is also a novelist and was recently at Village Books reading from his new book—The Witch of Hebron, a fable of life just a few years in the future after his predicted collapse of our economic, government and society. I say “fable” because Mr. Kunstler livens his story with a witch, a ghost, a clairvoyant and a mesmerizer. It’s a great read and book two of what I personally hope is a long series of tales. Book one—A World Made By Hand — was a very good read. The Witch of Hebron is even better. He doesn’t belabor the environmental and social changes promised in our collective future. Instead, he uses the new society, economics and culture as a backdrop for his stories, stories which are told in a format that would make an excellent HBO series. But his POV is clear. At one point a couple of the characters, on the run, overnight in a looted, stripped and abandoned McMansion:

“In the old times, people of means build their houses anywhere they pleased. It was not necessary to live close to a town. It was not necessary to follow any rural way of life in the rural places. In the old times, even the few farmers who remained did not put in kitchen gardens. It was not necessary when the supermarkets overflowed with food from all over the world, and a dizzying extravaganza of food-like products poured out of America’s own factory labs, and the backroads were full of cars taking people effortlessly to indoor jobs that were also effortless, if tedious, and paid princely cash-money salaries.”

There’s a lot for Lummi Islanders to think about in just this one paragraph. Right now, because of a very convenient and reasonably inexpensive ferry service “it is not necessary to follow any rural way of life…” even though we live in what is unarguably a rural situation.

I recommend Mr. Kunstler’s weekly essays to everyone. In addition, he recently was interviewed by Chris Martenson on a wide range of subjects. One of the points he makes is that he sees Americans being blind-sided by events such as the oil spigot being turned off abruptly. For my part, I worry that Lummi Island may be blind-sided in the same way by events that are outside our control. What we can do is begin to prepare and plan for contingencies, a much more productive use of energy than arguing over the fine points of future ferry rates.

The characters of World Made by Hand and The Witch of Hebron were clearly unprepared for their fate. Those living in a rural setting had certain advantages and quickly demonstrated the adaptability and resilience necessary to survive and prosper.

Sometimes it’s takes the novelist to educate us through stories. But I fear, as does Kunstler, that the majority of us will not be ready, physically, emotionally or financially for what the future has in store.

We can only hope for a good witch to show up and transform us.

Nov 212010

Rich Frye has an interesting paper posted on the Ferry Forum web site  that raises good questions about the County’s wisdom in continuing to raise ferry rates. The County should pay close attention to what he has to say. His is an argument based on elasticity and a sound one from that economic perspective. I personally expect to try and reduce my trips across Hale’s Passage. I was trying to do that before the rates increased just because  there are real costs every time you get in your car and start driving. But I wonder if all the consequences that Rich suggests could happen will come to pass? And, I wonder if we can blame the county for the economic problems we will inevitably face in the coming years.

Here’s his list of the social and economic impacts of proposed fare increases
 Many residents will leave the island.
 Daily commuting will become increasingly unfeasible.
 Rental properties will be increasingly vacant, posing new financial burdens on owners.
 Lower and middle income families will leave the island.
 School enrollment will drop.
 Island businesses, always at the margin, will lose customers.
 Island workers will lose jobs.
 Islanders will spend less money in the county economy.
 Property values will drop, reducing island tax revenue for the County.
 Total fare revenues will decline substantially after an initial rise.

I argued in an earlier post that we already have a significant cost for driving to Bellingham in a private auto. The amount is disputable ( I guessed approximately $36) but the fact that it is a significant cost is indisputable.

The way we operate in this country (and county) is to decide where we want to go and when we want to go there, then get in our personal vehicle, very often by ourselves, and drive there. Damn the cost. This is true as much on Lummi Island as anywhere. Driving in Seattle, for example, the commuter lane (which requires only 2 people in a car) is virtually empty.
We don’t give much thought to combining trips, sharing rides or eliminating unnecessary trips. We mostly don’t think at all about riding the bus. Of course, when you get off the ferry at Gooseberry Point you are a long way from anywhere you really want to be and don’t have any good options, given the poor bus schedule, other than private auto. Unfortunately, the majority of the people on the island, according to PLIC, want to get off at Gooseberry and for the next 50 years.

Rather than look at the ferry rate cost from the viewpoint of elasticity, why not consider how sustainable in the long term taking private autos via Gooseberry Point will be? Again, what additional problems will we have to deal with if gas double or triples, becomes less available, or the parking lot at Gooseberry disappears?

We spent a lot of time worrying that the Lummis wouldn’t let us land at Gooseberry. Now we are worked up about the cost of landing at Gooseberry and there is speculation at to dire consequences. I sure don’t know what would happen but let me take the list that Rich Frye proposed and mess with it a bit:

Continue reading »

Nov 192010


Take Yes Magazine‘s quiz. Use a scale of 1 pt for strongly disagree, 2pts for disagree, 3 pts for agree, 4 pts for strongly agree.

70 or higher = Leading the way to more resilient communities!
46–69 = Off to a good start…

45 or lower = You have many opportunities to become more resilient.

1. I put my savings and investments in community and regional banks and local institutions.


2. I buy or barter the goods and services I need from local merchants, organizations, or individuals.


3. I make my income from my local economy.


4. I know how to fix, grow, build, or create things (such as repair a roof, grow kale, give a guitar lesson) that others would want in good times and hard times.


5. I have an alternative source of livelihood that could
sustain me (and my family) if my current source were no longer viable.


6. I consume locally grown food that I could afford even if prices went up substantially (e.g., from a food co-op, backyard garden).


7. I know how to preserve food and keep a well-stocked pantry.


8. I have access to sources of water, even when the weather is unpredictable or the tap water doesn’t work (such as a rainwater tank or a reliable well).


9. I have ways to get around, even if the gas at the pump is unavailable or pricey (such as feet, bike, electric car).


10. I have alternative heat and energy sources (such as solar panels or a wood stove) if the power goes out or utilities get expensive.


Continue with the quiz by clicking on this link. There are twenty questions total. If you take it on line your score will be automatically calculated.

Nov 172010

Damon Vrabel does have a plan. He outlines it in his talk on Sovereign Money

that is, money issued by our own government rather than by a banking cartel (The Federal Reserve Bank).  He recognizes it would be difficult to pull off but offers steps that we can begin to take now:

1. Pull money from the Big Banks. Use local credit unions.
2. As much as possible, stop doing business with multi-national corporations.
3. Turn off the TV which continually feeds us information provided by the folks at the top of the pyramid.
4. Get active with our local governments: city, county, state. Make them do their jobs.
5. Push states to reactivate the state banking system.
6. Start a Transition Town.
7. Get involved at the precinct level.
8. Reconnect with the local community; develop self-sufficiency.
9. Don’t vote in the Federal show; spend political energies locally.

You can keep up with Damon Vrabel by following his blog.

Nov 162010

Damon Vrabel continues his video lessons with a series called “The Culture of Empire.” First video is here:

Since You Tube is difficult to navigate, you can find the entire list of videos on Vrabel’s website here:

I can’t emphasize how helpful these “lessons” are in explaining such things as why Democrats and Republicans are simply two sides of the same coin. And, Mr. Vrabel, whose background is West Point, Harvard Business School and corporate American, focuses on one of my own favorite themes—how narcissism has prevailed as the force that dominates our culture.

Damon Vrabel describes the “misdirect” of politics better than anyone I’ve listened to recently. Our political system is a huge misdirect which leads us to the conclusion that we have a choice when, in fact, the fix is in. He also explains clearly how the laws of physics apply. Action and reaction. Bush 1 to Clinton. Clinton to Bush 2. Bush 2 to Obama creating the impression that there will be substantive change. And here’s the big idea: Vrabel teaches that we shouldn’t focus at all on Left vs. Right. What needs our attention is Big vs. Small. That’s where the battle is.  It’s the argument that has been going on since the early days of our country’s history. It’s the Jeffersonian Republic against Hamilton’s Federalism/Empire. The pendulum has swung wildly toward Empire. Time for it to swing the other way.

Nov 142010

Chris Martenson’s Crash Course was the starting point for this blog. Chris explains economics in an alternative way that goes far in demonstrating why this time the economic cycle will not turn around quickly. Continuing the line of thought from Chris, Tom K. was kind enough to send me a series of videos by a guy named Damon Vrabel who explains very clearly and succinctly our economic system. I can’t verify every detail of this presentation but it has the ring of truth. Watching these videos the puzzle pieces start to fall into place. This view of history and economics will not make you happy. The speaker challenges our view of Economics 101. Well worth your time to follow his “lessons.”

Nov 092010

YES Magazine recently had a several articles about resilience and the Transition Town Movement which are worth reading:

I doubt that those of us interested in Transition will get much traction on the idea until the ferry issue is settled and everyone makes their adjustments to whatever the outcome turns out to be. It’s a good Transition exercise, though, adapting to  change. Once we know how we will get back and forth for the next couple of years and find out how much it will cost perhaps we can focus on another step in Transition.

The Transition Town Movement provides lots to think about but raises a number of questions. The first question is: Is anyone interested in the idea of Transition? The second question would be: Where should one start? My answer, of course, is you start with a garden. Try to grow some of your own food even if it’s just growing sprouts inside. We’ve actually made much progress on the island with growing food. There are lots of vegetable gardens and small orchards. Many of them are new. More people are thinking about providing for themselves and supplementing with locally grown food. When the Edible Garden Tour was organized this past summer it was pretty easy to come up with twenty gardens. There were many more gardens to choose from. And, hats off to the Heritage Trust for making space available on the Curry Preserve for a community garden. Hopefully, there will be a demand for a second community garden somewhere on the island.

My suggestion for step two (step one being the growing of food) would be “reskilling.” That is, learning how to do stuff that everyone used to know before the advent of cheap energy.

The Gardener’s Network is holding a series of workshops on trees with Sean Tate. If you are a gardener you should get involved in the Gardener’s network. He is adding to our skill in living with trees.

What else are we talking about when exploring “reskilling?” Here are some subjects from reskilling sessions sponsored by Transition Movements around the world: home energy efficiency, primitive wilderness living skills, home funerals and green burials, canning and preserving, sun ovens, singing, crocheting, making yogurt and cheese, beekeeping, and foraging for wild salad. Cooking, sewing, ing, repairing stuff, build soils and living thriftily. Bicycle repair. Making natural paints: Earth, Paints, Plasters & Pigments. Using medicinal herbs, Composting, water collection and conservation, drip systems, plant propagation, dehydrating foods, keeping chickens and ducks, solar water heating, krauting, jam-making and grafting.

The list can go on. Point is there are lots of skills many, if not most of us, have lost that can and should be relearned.

Nov 072010

If our island were a state what would our mission statement be? Here’s an example of an agenda for an island state:

“We will work immediately to build a sustainable economy where we produce our own clean energy and grow our own healthy food. We will build an economy fueled by our entrepreneurial spirit and our unique island ingenuity; an economy filled with good-paying jobs and opportunities for our children.

“We will make investments in our people and families—in their health and education beginning before birth, through early childhood, in our public schools and university system—to unlock every bit of potential in our greatest resource—our diverse island people.

“We will build community, reaching out to one another, improving our understanding of each other, always seeking resolution, and forming partnerships of all kinds to serve our children, our elders, and those who have fallen on hard times.”

This is, in fact, the agenda for an island state—Hawaii—as it appears on the website of their newly elected governor, Neil Abercrombie. Governor-elect Abercrombie recognizes that Hawaii is isolated and dependent on energy and food and is apparently eager to make the islands more sustainable. That will mean a lot of things; some stated, some not.

I  feel like I know Abercrombie as he is close personal friends with some of my close personal friends in Hawaii. I look forward to meeting him some day. And, since I consider Hawaii a second home, will watch his behavior closely to see if he walks the walk. We’ve been sucked in before by spell binding politicians who had no intention of making the changes listed in their platforms. Here’s hoping Abercrombie is different. If he succeeds he could be a model for other states to follow.

His acceptance speech is quite stirring, entertaining and very Hawaiian.