Good News: The future is about conserving and higher-quality lives

Post Carbon Institute (transcript, audio)
Address to the Commonwealth Club
Thanks to Mendo Conservers Club

Chris is a former Vice President of an international Fortune 300 company and used to be living in a large waterfront house until he came to the same realization that something isn’t quite right with society. About 5 years ago, Chris terminated his former high-paying, high-status position. He produced the hugely popular, on-line economics Crash Course. His children are now home-schooled, and the big house was sold in July of 2003 in preference for a small rental in rural western Massachusetts. The family grows a garden every year; preserves food, knows how to brew beer & wine, and raises chickens. Chris and Becca are making sure their family and community are becoming more self-sufficient and are sharing much of their wisdom with the online community on his website.

[…]  within our lifetime and that of our children, these disparate facts will coalesce into the greatest economic and physical challenge ever faced by our country, if not humanity.

It is also my opinion that if we do not develop a clear picture of the world we wish to create, the economic chaos and turbulence that we are now experiencing will prove to be the opening salvos in a long, disruptive period of adjustment.

It is my belief that we still have the time, resources, and know-how to create a brilliant future of our own design but that by putting our energies into sustaining the status quo we will default into a future shaped by disaster…

…we have everything we need right now to align our economics and resource use with reality. And we don’t need any new understandings to be developed. Brilliant people have been working at the margins for decades defining the issues and finding new ways of doing more with less.

What we lack is political will.

But there’s good news here too because more and more people are waking up all the time to the fact that humanity’s long experiment with “more” is about to end and an exciting new chapter is about to begin. Where people’s minds go, politics will eventually follow.

The really excellent news is that if we manage the transition elegantly we can actually improve things. A life with less pollution, more free time, meaningful jobs, more happiness, less stress and greater connection to each other as well as to nature are all within the realm of the possible. But only if we correctly diagnose the predicament and respond intelligently.

Our challenge then is not to find vast new resources to exploit, but to undertake the far more sophisticated and worthwhile task of using what we’ve got more wisely.

Q and A:

Q. How do we get off our addiction to oil?

A. We have to start telling ourselves different stories. When I go to Europe, I find that they lead a pretty comfortable lifestyle. And they exist on half the energy Americans do. We can do so much with conservation. That’s the first thing that should be out of our lips: not how do we get a better technology, not how do we find more oil really deep down, but how can we conserve? I believe we can cut our energy consumption in half which will buy us a lot of time which we can use for reorganizing ourselves. Electrified trains, reorganizing how we work and play so they are closer together, barge networks that move things on water, which is the most efficient way to do it. Get by with less.

The status quo is not going to be changed in Washington D.C. Women’s Rights, Labor Rights, the Environmental Movement, Civil Rights… all of these were brought kicking and screaming from the outside in.

We change our minds. We create a groundswell of what we want, and the politicians will follow. We will have to put enormous pressure on them… it will have to be an old social movement again.

I like what Sweden is doing. The 2020 plan. They’re going to be off imported oil by 2020 if they execute it. Efficiency standards, new building design codes, etc.

We also need a network of currencies. Currencies are commodities. We need other kinds of currencies that are not based on debt. Why does our government have to borrow money?

I purposefully cut my standard of living in half,  and I doubled my quality of life. Where we get our happiness and satisfaction is about the community we’ve got, the connections that we have… the ways we have fun is a lot less consumptive than a lot of families and we haven’t noticed it. We have absolutely high quality lives.

Complete presentation here

Mendo Media


My uncle, the late 5th District Supervisor Joe Scaramella, was an avid reader all his life. He described the county’s media during his tour in office in the 50s and 60s as “mostly duplicative and wishy-washy.” But Uncle Joe conceded that despite its pale timidity, the Mendo media were influential: he always said that without the endorsement of the Ukiah Daily Journal he would not have elected Fifth District Supervisor in 1952. “I ran four times before without the Journal’s endorsement,” he’d laugh. “And I lost every time.”

Joe Scaramella was subsequently re-elected four times and was responsible for a variety of major reforms of county government: an end to private budget meetings held in the offices of lumber company lawyers; a set of rules and procedures for the operations of the Board of Supervisors; establishment of a Civil Service Commission and orderly personnel management procedures; and an hour set aside before each meeting for a general hearing of the public. He implemented these steps in his first term in office — well before enactment of the Brown Act which at least theoretically forced public business out into the open for the public to admire. For his work on behalf of the public interest, Uncle Joe was denounced by the private beneficiaries of back door politics as a troublemaker.  “They fostered the notion that I was a troublemaker because I was critical, perhaps sometimes unnecessarily,” Scaramella remembered. “But, criticism in my judgment is an essential part of life. If nobody says anything negative, how can you expect things to improve?”

So how do the media in Mendocino County today stand up to Joe Scaramella’s invocation of negativity as change agent? A few pretty well — most not so good.

For criticism and negativity you’d have to concede that the Anderson Valley Advertiser wins rather easily, although there’s not much competition. The AVA, like it or not, can count numerous triumphs, from the clean-up of the County Office of Education and the return of the Courthouse law library to the public it was designed to serve in the 1990s to in-depth critical coverage of the Board of Supervisors and the legal system.

More Mendo Media at The AVA here

New Network of Responsible Business Organizations Forms

From Better World Club

Turmoil at the US Chamber of Commerce Is The Backdrop

A number of Responsible Business Organizations came together on October 23rd to agree on principles for a network of responsible business organizations, the American Sustainable Business Council. The groups included New Voice of Business, Green America, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), and B Corporation, among others…

The new network comes together against the backdrop of turmoil at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has announced a hardline stance against action on climate change, a policy that may have breached the Chamber’s internal rules as it was not passed by a board vote.

In September and October 2009, several companies quit the Chamber due to the Chamber’s stance on environmental impact reform, including Exelon Corp, PG&E Corp, PNM Resources, Apple Inc, and Mohawk Fine Paper. Nike, Inc decided to resign their board of directors position but to continue membership. Nike stated that they believe they can better influence policy by being part of the conversation.

Give credit where it’s due: The US Chamber of Commerce “Knows Drama” (our apologies to TNT). In a move calculated to simultaneously grandstand and stall for time (until another round of elections?), the Chamber attempted to force the Environmental Protection Agency to arrange a climate science hearing before any federal climate regulations were passed and in order to challenge the very notion of human-caused climate change.

In any case, regardless of their impact on society and whether they are warming or cooling the earth, the fossil fuels that are a substantial source of climate change are polluting. And products should be priced so that pollution and its impact on 3rd parties are discouraged.

The Chamber opposes the Waxman-Markey energy bill and is threatening to sue the EPA if it regulates greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that such a move would dramatically increase “the price of everything that uses energy.”

Take Action! WELL (Willits Econonomic Localization) Local Currrency Meeting 4pm Today Sunday 1/31/10

Map Little Lake Grange
291 School Street, Willits

Panel discussion will feature Bret Cooperrider from Ukiah Brewery discussing “Mendo Moola,” Derek Huntington, President of Sonoma County GoLocal Cooperative speaking about his local buying card program, Cyndee Logan with Mendo Food Futures, commodity backed currency, and others. Sponsored by WELL (Willits Economic Localization). Please bring your own table wares in addition to potluck dish, and join us for this rousing discussion about viable local currency options for our community.

We Need a Food Revolution: Michael Pollan with Oprah (VIDEO)

Civil Eats

On Wednesday, Michael Pollan appeared on Oprah to discuss the food system and the film Food, Inc. At the beginning of the program, entitled “Before You Grocery Shop Again: Food 101,” Oprah said that she saw Food, Inc., and it inspired her to host this discussion. “We all have to start paying more attention to what we’re putting in our bodies,” she said. “Do you know where you food really comes from? What’s been added, what’s been taken out? What goes down before they put a label on it?” Interspersed throughout the show were clips of the film, including the film’s introduction on the disconnect between our idea of food production and its reality; chicken production, featuring a farmer speaking out against the industry; and a family that can’t afford to eat real food and is forced to choose fast food.

Pollan explained how “the less we spend on food, the more we spend on healthcare,” siting statistics that show that in 1960, we spent 18% of our income on food and 5% on healthcare nationally, while we now spend 9% of our income on food and 17% on healthcare nationally. They got into the nitty gritty about the western diet and its pitfalls, and Oprah got a laugh when she exclaimed, “the low-fat kick made everybody fatter!”

When Oprah asks Pollan what he eats, and he speaks in favor of cooking: “I think cooking is really key because it’s the only way you’re going to take back control of your diet from the corporations who want to cook for us,” he said. “The fact is, so far corporations don’t cook that well. They tend to use too much salt, fat and sugar—much more than you would ever use at home.” The best line in the program came from Oprah: “We need a food revolution, because people want the corporations to cook for them because it all boils down to convenience.” Pollan agreed, saying that when you understand what it takes to make the food we are currently eating, “you lose your appetite.”

Article and video here

Oco Time’s New Website

[What an honor to have this family, this beloved business, these employees, in our community! -DS]

A Just Cause, Not a Just War

Via CommonDreams

Editor’s note: The following essay appeared in the December issue of The Progressive in 2001, and was reposted here at shortly after, just three months following the events of September 11th.  As Rudyard Kipling long ago and famously observed, you can recognize wisdom amidst crisis by locating those who ‘keep their heads when all about are losing theirs.’  Zinn’s work is too vast and too incalculable to paraphrase or compile, but when you read his Violence Doesn’t Work or Changing Obama’s Mindset you easily recognize the wisdom and integrity of a man who saw beyond the hysteria of a moment.  Howard Zinn, as Daniel Ellsberg has said, “was the best human being I’ve ever known. The best example of what a human can be, and can do with their life.” We could not agree more.

A Just Cause, Not a Just War (December, 2001)

I believe two moral judgments can be made about the present “war”: The September 11 attack constitutes a crime against humanity and cannot be justified, and the bombing of Afghanistan is also a crime, which cannot be justified.

And yet, voices across the political spectrum, including many on the left, have described this as a “just war.” One longtime advocate of peace, Richard Falk, wrote in The Nation that this is “the first truly just war since World War II.” Robert Kuttner, another consistent supporter of social justice, declared in The American Prospect that only people on the extreme left could believe this is not a just war.

I have puzzled over this. How can a war be truly just when it involves the daily killing of civilians, when it causes hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to leave their homes to escape the bombs, when it may not find those who planned the September 11 attacks, and when it will multiply the ranks of people who are angry enough at this country to become terrorists themselves?

How To Ruin Organic Farming

The Contrary Farmer

This is supposed to be good news. Our dear government has finally recognized that organic farmers are at least as deserving of bribery as all those sinful chemical farmers. After all, industrial agriculture gets $17.2 billion dollars in direct payments every year so surely a little bit of money ought also to go to holy, humble, horse and hoe husbandmen who also help keep the world from starvation. In fact, organic farmers now have their very own farm subsidy program under the Environmental Quality Incentive Program to the tune of $50 million bucks. Ain’t that wonderful?

I will go as far out on the end of my bucket loader as I can and bet even money that this is the beginning of the end of organic farming. Government learned a long time ago that farmers, like everyone else, can be persuaded to do what the government wants done by handing out money. The result? Since government subsidy programs got serious about 70 years ago, the number of commercial farmers has plummeted from over 12 million to something less that one million. That’s how helpful the payments have been. Then along came small organic farmers who although unsubsidized for the most part, began doubling and tripling in number with each passing year. Whoa. Can’t have that, for heaven’s sake. That might mean that government subsidies don’t really help farmers. Maybe, perish the thought, government doesn’t know how to help farmers. Or, perish two thoughts, maybe government doesn’t really want to help farmers but just wants cheap food so the people can afford to buy more SUVs. Any trend toward farmers becoming successful without government subsidies has to be stopped. Uncle knows how to do that. Offer them money.

Full article here

World-Class Absinthe from Ukiah’s Own Germain-Robin Distillery

Ansley Coale, left, and Crispin Cain sip absinthe in Ukiah, Calif.

Thanks to Janie Sheppard

In the oceanic world of distillers and spirits distributors, 200 gallons is a drip of the faucet. But at the original Germain-Robin distillery, a tiny wooden cottage on the side of a mountain just west of this small city in Mendocino County, 200 gallons is the entire annual output of one of the best absinthes made in the United States.

To adherents of absinthe’s lurid, mythic glamour, the distillery’s Absinthe Superieure must seem disappointingly pure in its mellow complexity and lingering, subtle evocation of herbs and botanicals. It’s yet another triumph for Germain-Robin, whose brandies are recognized as among the best in the world, rivaling top Cognacs and Armagnacs.

But producing distinctive, world-class brandies and spirits does not guarantee financial success in the precarious world of microdistilling. Paradoxically, Germain-Robin owes its survival to the spirit that hip bartenders and cocktail aficionados love to hate: vodka. Making vodka would never have occurred to Ansley Coale back in 1981.

He was a frustrated history professor who owned 2,000 acres in the hills above Ukiah. One day, he picked up a hitchhiker, Hubert Germain-Robin, a young French tourist whose family had made Cognac for nine generations. Mr. Germain-Robin was concerned about the direction of the Cognac industry, which he saw losing its ancient hand-distilling methods as it became more corporate.

Together, they hatched the idea of making brandy using fine wine grapes like pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, rather than the mundane ugni blanc employed in Cognac. Mr. Germain-Robin found an old copper still abandoned in Cognac and shipped it over. Mr. Coale proposed housing it on his land, which he said he had bought in 1973 for $90 an acre.