Archive for April, 2007

There’s One Movement Now!

Sharon April 21st, 2007

There’s Only One Movement Now…

In honor of International Women’s Day (you did remember International Women’s Day, Right?), the IUCN has released an extensive report detailing exactly how awful climate change is going to be for women. How bad will it be? Really, really bad. That is, women are going to disproportionately endure the consequences of climate change - the hunger, the drought, the diseases, the economic burden, the poverty, because women make up a majority of the world’s poor. And, of course, women are disproportionately under-represented among those people who make climate policy decisions, and poor women even more than rich ones.

There’s a summary here at Mother Jones, and a link to the original PDF file. I really recommend you read it.

Now the thing that I’m probably best known for (and it is a pretty teeny bit of fame) is an essay I wrote last year entitled “Peak Oil Is a Women’s Issue.” I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that got so much attention - among other things, it got reproduced on a DOE subsidized website right next to an article by Newt Gingerich - my face and Newt’s put together (now there’s a vision for you - Gah!).

And the reason this article was so famous wasn’t because it was so revelatory - I was only pointing out the obvious. But a vast majority of people who read the article responded as though I was saying something really knew, because they’d never really thought about it before. Now we know (gee, could we have guessed) that climate change *and* peak oil are going to be a major 1-2 punch for women all over the world. They threaten not only to do us a great deal of harm, but to throw back gains in things like population stability. Women have fewer children when they know the children they do have are likely to survive to adulthood. Women who think war or poverty or disease or hunger may take away their sons and daughters keep having babies, because that’s the only way they can be sure of having children live to adulthood. If we want to see the world’s population level off and decline, we *MUST* see these issues as women’s issues.

But not just women’s issues. The days of there being all these balkanized little movements must end. Because Peak Oil and Climate Change are, obviously, issues for women - and for every man who has a reason to care about their mothers, their sisters, their friends, their lovers, their daughters - that is, all men. And Peak Oil and Climate Change are Men’s issues - because who do we think will overwhelmingly be dragged off to fight our resource wars? Who will be killed by oil companies trying to get at the last drops in Africa? Who will go to jail for selling illicit things to support themselves and their families? Who resist and fight and be cut down with guns? Yes, the US does involve women in combat, and our daughters are at risk too, but men die of poverty and violence in ways that women often do not. And those men are our fathers, brothers, sons and lovers, friends and family.

And, if you think this is just a matter of gender, think again. Perhaps you’ve never cared much about the anti-racist struggle, or perhaps that’s where you devote your energies. Well if you look, the poorest women and children and men in the world, the ones who die first of hunger and disease, the ones who first dragged off to die in foolish wars or put in jail, the ones who suffer the most and about whom we care the least are not white people. Climate change and Peak Oil will only make that worse. When I attended ASPO-Boston, a group of protestors flooded into the room - black and latino people from the urban city of Chelsea, one of the poorest and most polluted places in the country. Many of the powerful people sitting in the room at ASPO did not see themselves, instinctively, as on the same side as the protestors. We have to change that, and change that now. Peak Oil and Climate Change are as much about racism and institutionalized poverty as they are about ice cores and depletion rates. We should fix this because it is the right thing to do - but if not for that reason, then out of pure self-interest. Because what is done to the least of our brethren will be done to us tomorrow, when we are poor and our power is stripped from us. That’s not the best reason to care about the way peak oil and climate change affect non-white people. But if you cannot do it for any other reason, remember, that at some point, all of us will be “other.” Unless we take power and ensure that it is never acceptable to bargain away the lives of people who are poor and not powerful, our lives will be next.

There is only one movement now. Are you involved in the struggles for immigrants rights? Or for that matter for a sane and humane immigration policy? Well if you think that’s a nasty situation now, imagine it as poverty rises and food grows shorter, as water struggles and desperation merge. As Mexico’s oil fields, and thus political power and wealth decline, we’re going to increasingly see that no border can keep everyone apart. And we’re going to need our immigrants more than ever - people who in their own lands or here have worked in agriculture - because we need 50-100 million new farmers, and most Americans haven’t got the faintest idea where potatoes come from. So let’s start talking about land redistribution, and about humane border policies and dealing with the simple reality that hungry, impoverished people (who are in many cases hungry and impoverished because of our policies in their nation) will do whatever it takes. Again, if you can’t think of any other reason to care, think that someday, you too might be willing to do whatever is needed to feed your family. Remember, the least of our brethren are *US* (to paraphrase Jesus).

Perhaps you are anti-globalization, pro labor or anti-free trade or just one of the millions of ordinary people on every side of the political spectrum who have noticed that despite all the claims, you aren’t getting any richer - in fact, things are getting tougher every year. Well, there’s no question that climate change and peak oil are going to drive globalization into the ground - we simply can’t keep transporting things around the globe that we can perfectly well make where we are. The only question is whether we’ll all be driven into the ground or not in the process - we need to localize our food and manufacturing, we need to rebuild local economies. These issues are inextricably linked with the future - climate change alone could eat up 20% of the *World’s* GDP - and we are not acting fast enough.

Perhaps you’ve been a long-time environmentalist, always concerned with climate change, but you don’t understand peak oil. Or perhaps you are worried about peak oil, but think climate change isn’t definite yet. Time to get over those misconceptions. The two are going to intersect in painful ways - we have to start planning for a future that is both lower emission and simply lower in every other way. Let’s be honest, there’s no real difference. If your concern about peak oil is based on the science - on that actual study of the material that’s out there, you know that the science of climate change is far less controversial, and far less debatable. That’s not to say peak oil isn’t real - just that I think you have to be kind of a nutcase to look at the evidence for peak oil and say, “yes, that makes sense to me, but I’m not buying climate change.” And if you are any kind of environmentalist, you know that finite things run out - period. So who cares whether the peak is 2010 or 2005 or 2015 - we all know it isn’t going to be a thousand years from now. Let’s remediate together.

Saying there is only one movement now does not mean that things like the struggle for economic justice or civil rights is over - it just means that every single person who believes that there is hope for a decent future, and who has some investment in that future now shares the same basic goals. We must remediate and adapt to what is coming. We must deal with peak oil and climate change. We must get over our stupid prejudices and divisions and form a whole cloth movement of universal JUSTICE. Peak oil is about Justice. Climate Change is about Justice. They are about the most basic questions of human justice - who eats? Who lives? Who has water? Who decides? Who gets health care, and to have their kids live to grow up, who gets enslaved and impressed into military service? Who decides to let someone die, and who actually does the dying?

If any of this seems revelatory to you, if it has never before occurred to you that poor black women in Kenya or New Orleans are like you, and are the face of your future and your potential allies, time to wake up! If you’ve never thought of peasant farmers and people who are shot for trying to unionize in Ecuador as your brethren, people whose rights and needs should be a part of your focus, it is time to wake up. If you don’t see the problem of immigration and the loss of manufacturing jobs for poor white people in the south as linked to each other and to you, wake up. If you don’t recognize that Justice for everyone means justice for you, it is time to WAKE UP!

There are a lot more regular people than there are rich folks, politicians and corporate powers. So of course they want us to be balkanized, divided, debating. They want feminists to see poor southern white men as their enemy, instead of allies and victims of corporate greed. They want peak oil tarred as something only for “liberals” and climate change advocates to be “hippie environmentalists.” They want churches to fight over whether or not to deal with climate change and Jews and Moslems to wonder if they have any common ground at all. Guess what - we do - and it is the simplest common ground in history. We want to live, to go on, to prosper, to have enough, to live in a just society, to have peace, and hope for the future. That depends on unity. Getting over our differences and finding common ground will be hard work. The only reason to do it is because it is so necessary. Those in power are terrified of ordinary people and their anger, their fear and their passion for justice. Of course they want as many ordinary people as possible fighting over things like gay marriage and Don Imus. Of course they don’t care if poor people die, or go hungry - hungry people are too weak to fight, and dead people can’t call out for justice.

Sooner or later we’re all going to wake up and notice, because the future will be slapping us in the face. I vote sooner. I vote now. I vote today. I vote we scare the fuck out of them, and save the world.


If Fox News Admits We’re Near the Peak…

Sharon April 20th, 2007

So Fox publicized a recent Swedish story here:,2933,266764,00.html. What is most interesting to me is that they took the story from, whose headline was “Oil Could Peak Next Year” and changed it to reflect the outside numbers from Robelius’s study. Everyone raise their hand who thinks that Fox did this because they didn’t want to be accused of scaremongering or overstatement. The simple fact is that the Saudi and Mexican decline, OPEC cuts, and the overwhelming number of petroleum geologists are now all pointing at the same outcome - peak now, or 10 minutes from now or awfully soon.

In the same review at energy bulletin, is a reiteration from Robert Hirsch, the lead scientists on the DOE’s report on mitigating peak oil, of the fact that we need at least 20 years to adapt. He says,

“Peak oil presents the world with a risk management problem of tremendous complexity and enormity. Prudent risk minimization requires the implementation of mitigation measures roughly 20 years before peaking, to avoid a very damaging world liquid fuels shortfall.2 Since it is uncertain when peaking will occur or whether it will be due to geological or investment constraints, the challenge is indeed vexing.”


Now let me count on my fingers…are there 20 years before 2018? Nope, I don’t think so. How about before 2005, the highest production point so far, and potentially the world’s peak. And let us note that world natural gas is expected to peak in the next decade, and North American natural gas (you get what’s on your continent for the most part), and a recent study suggests that coal will peak at 2025. The Hirsch report was based upon the assumption that we’d have a good bit of natural gas and coal at low prices to fall back on.

No matter how you figure it, we’re in fairly serious trouble. The Fox article is still fixated on transportation, which is certainly an issue and tends to be the first thing people think of when they hear about peak oil. But in a sense, transportation is a meta problem - yes, transporting things and people around will be an issue. But it is the basics of life - the economy that runs on cheap energy, and the food that cheap energy and wealthy economy produce, etc..

The simple fact is that we’re well short of time to fix this. So you do what you do when you can’t fix everything. Triage. It is time to figure out what the essential elements of our lives are, and focus in on them.

Me, I’d pick food, shelter, and basic medical care instead of keeping the planes flying and the cars running, but no one elected me.


Getting used to my new weather patterns

Sharon April 17th, 2007

Well, the creek spilled over a bit, but never made it to the house. The good thing about the flooded basement is that eventually, it being an old house with a stone foundation and a dirt floor, the water kind of goes away on its own. And the furnace now seems fine. Yay! Still, I’m not sad to see the hind end of this storm. I hear it is supposed to get sunny and 50ish this weekend - do I dare to plant my potatoes - *finally*?

To the extent that one can judge based on a rapidly changing environment, this does seem to be the climate my region has - very wet, wet springs and early summers that may be warmer, but don’t necessarily mean a longer growing season on that end. But who knows - the old saying about New England weather, if you don’t like it, wait 10 minutes, applies to climate change.

I hope you are all well - and I’m more than willing to consider mailing some rain off to any of you who need it.


G-d Willing and the Creek Don’t…Uh Oh!

Sharon April 16th, 2007

Well, we had 8 inches of heavy, wet snow yesterday, and today we’ve had another 5 inches of rain. There’s a creek not 25 yards from our house, but the banks are high and there’s no record of it flooding ever in the last 130 years. Even last year, when far larger bodies of water flooded, the creek stayed nicely below its banks.

Well, I don’t have a tv, but creek watching is at least as exciting as any reality tv show. This morning, it breached its banks in my low pasture in the back - the house is a good ways up from it, but the pasture is now what I’m affectionately calling “Lake Woods.” And we’re about 6 inches from the banks up by the house. I’m wondering if I’ll be evacuating later.

The husband and kids are still in NYC - I’m hoping I won’t have to leave tonight and join neighbors on higher ground, but am glad that if I do, the only little things I’ll have to round up are furry. And the furnace isn’t working - the basement is flooded and the sump pump isn’t working. We’ve got wood, but I’m not looking forward to that repair bill.

I miss my kids. I miss my husband, not only because I love him, but because I’d really like to have someone to split the joy of wading through the water to try and get the sump working with. I’m not having a good day.

And here I thought climate change was going to be fun… ;-P!

Cheers, and I hope you are all dry,


Reverie Alone Won’t Do: Preparing for a World Without Honeybees

Sharon April 15th, 2007

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
-Emily Dickinson

I want to preface this by pointing out that I’m not a beekeeper (although this was supposed to be my first year - but I think I’ll wait until we know a little more about the future of honeybees), or an expert on Colony Collapse Disorder. On the other hand, it seems pretty clear that something really awful is happening to honeybees. If you haven’t been watching the news about Colony Collapse Disorder, here are some links (and thanks to Roel again for providing them):

I’ll also say that I don’t intend this to be scaremongering - none of us know what effect this might have on our lives. The end of the honeybee has been predicted before, and it didn’t happen then. But speaking pragmatically, I think it is generally better to know and prepare for the worst outcomes, and then be pleasantly surprised when they do not happen. I’ve not seen an essay yet anywhere that talks about how our local food systems might have to respond to CCD, so I’ve written one.

Now this may turn out to be something rapidly remedied. Or it may not be. In all likelihood, the honeybee will not go wholly extinct (and let us all pray that’s true). But CCD has led to a loss of almost 1/3 of all hives in the US, and is now spreading across Europe. And if the worst case were to come true, we would all of us need to rapidly adapt to a significant change in our society and its food security. G-d willing, the much quoted line from Albert Einstein, that if the honeybee went extinct human beings would be extinct in four years is an exaggeration. So we pray. But as we all know, G-d and good fortune help those who help themselves. Even if we cannot prevent the decline of the honeybee, there are some ways to ensure that local food systems survive and continue - we hope. This post is concerned primarily with ways that we can each respond locally to CCD, and ensure stable food sytems.

First of all, it is important to know which crops are dependent on bee pollination. About 1/3 of all food crops, including a vast majority of fruits and nuts, most oilseeds, coconuts, honey (duh) and other foods are dependent upon honeybees. In addition to that first 1/3, another 1/3 of what we eat is indirectly affected by bee pollination - either because bees give better yields, as in the case of some partially self-pollinating fruiting plants, soybeans, sesame, cowpeas, mustard and cashews. Or they are dependent on bee pollination because our food is indirectly dependent on them. For example, the milk you drink, or the beef you eat are a product of pasture and hay plants like clovers and alfalfa. In Australia, just less than 1/2 of the total economic product of agriculture is subsidized for free by honeybees. Here, because we eat so much meat and milk, it is very slightly more. The good news is that almost all grain crops are self or wind pollinating, and thus don’t depend on beans. Buckwheat is an exception, but since most people depend on wheat, corn and rice, rather than buckwheat, that’s a good thing.

The bad news that the majority of our vitamin C, fat and protein crops depend, at least partially, on honey bee pollination, as do many of our fiber crops - wool (indirectly), along with cotton and flax. Fully one half of all the fats in the world come from oil plants at least partially benefitted by honeybee pollination, and in some cases entirely dependent on it. These crops include sunflowers, coconuts, palms, olives, peanuts, rape and sunflowers. And a majority of our protein crops depend either directly on pollination to some degree, or come from animals that eat pollinator-dependent crops. These include beans, soybeans, peas, peanuts, nuts and many hay crops. Virtually all fruits are bee dependent, and the few exceptions tend not to be less common in our diets, such as paw paws, which depend on wasps.

There are other crops, not so major, whose loss we would notice as well, and other consequences that aren’t as obvious up front. Many flowers, and many medicinal herbs are bee dependent. Most legumes, used to build soil quality because they extract nitrogen from the air are to some degree bee dependent. Our ability to garden organically in a world of depleting fossil fuels depends on pollinators. The plants honeybees pollinate provide food and habitat for thousands of other species of insects, birds and animals. We can expect to see other extinctions follow if we lose the honeybee. And most of all, cross pollination and hybridity often increase the vigor of natural species. All of species diversity is threatened by the loss of honeybees.

Honeybees are not native to the Americas, and so most crops that were here before the pilgrims brought bees to the continent can be pollinated with native species. The difficulty with this is that many native species are in decline right now - some seriously endangered. So while squash and blueberries have potential native pollinators, our practices have reduced their numbers so that it may be very difficult at best to achieve decent pollination. One of the best things you can do to attract and protect native pollinators is to plant native gardens, with combinations of native plants. These are the ones that our pollinators evolved to attend to. You want regionally specific and appropriate plants - if you live in the Dakotas, your plant choices will be different than if you live in Florida.

What else can we do? As noted we can bring other pollinators to our gardens. Orchard Mason bees are one such option, but there are many others. You can order pollinating insects and get instructions for making homes for them here: They are sold out for this year, and it is too late to ship them, but consider ordering early for next year. They also have some excellent information about pollination, pollinators and fruit crops.

You can also make your garden as hospitable as possible to alternate pollinators, both native and non-native - there are thousands of other species of bug and bird that do at least some pollinating. Here are some suggestions for plants to grow and ways to make your garden species diverse: Some studies suggest that bumblebees may pollinate many of the same crops that honeybees do. The problem is that population densities of bumblebees are often much lower than honeybees.

One of the most important things you can do is discourage the use of pesticides in your neighborhood - we need all the pollinators we can get. You might consider putting together a fact sheet about CCD, pollination and food systems and passing it out to neighbors, to discourage them from spraying. I have no idea whether the rather sketchy connection between cell phones and bees has anything to it or not, but just on principle, you might consider cutting back on using yours, and discouraging your community from putting up more towers. Couldn’t hurt.

Another important role - support research into CCD, limiting GMOs and your local beekeepers. The latter are suffering the most - encourage your state to offer subsidies. And remember, every bee we preserve is a hedge against hard times. It is not clear yet whether GMOs have anything to do with CCD, but whether or not it does, the precautionary principle alone would mark a compelling argument in favor of not putting our food supply at risk because of unproven technologies whose long term effects we do not know.

Ok, on to making sure you get some food even if the bees are not pollinating. One of the most basic things you can do is to rely primarily on species that *don’t* require bee pollination. For staple foods, this would involve grains, potatoes and sweet potatoes - corn is wind pollinated, and while bees do visit potato blossoms, potatos are vegetatively propagated. I will be adding more of both crops to my gardens this year. If the worst were to happen, and we were to experience a major shortage of protein and fat crops, we will have to have more staple grain crops to compensate. I would also overplant leguminous crops - these are only partly dependent on pollination, so if you plant a lot of soybeans or peas or peanuts, you will get some harvest. These are important crops for us. It goes without saying that in hard times, such grains should go to feed people primarily, rather than animals.

On the subject of animals, it might make sense to consider raising animals that have evolved to handle flexible diets and lower inputs, even if the short term yields are lower. That is, it might make more sense to raise raise older breeds of chicken, for example, like the Dominique, which forage well and can adapt to and still lay even without high protein, soy-based feeds. If fats and proteins are in short supply, eggs will be extremely valuable. Icelandic and Soay sheep, and Dexter Cattle are among the other breeds that one might consider. Geese are an excellent resource - they live almost entirely on grasses, and produce high quality fats. This might be very important in difficult times. I don’t claim to be an expert on any livestock, and I myself only have poultry (chickens, geese, ducks, we’re adding turkeys this year). I would welcome more expert advice. One thing I would say is that if we have to rely on non-leguminous grasses and grass hay alone, we will probably be producing far fewer animals, and many of them may have lower body weights. Keeping animals through the winter will also be more difficult (not impossible - Europeans wintered animals on root crops for centuries). But planning for a lower meat diet would only be prudent.

Fruits are a harder nut to crack, so to speak. If you have a small enough number of trees or vines, you can hand pollinate - this is fairly easily done with a small paintbrush. But there are limits to how much hand pollination anyone can do. You might also want to invest in fruiting plants that don’t require outside pollination. These plants will be labelled “self-pollinating” in your catalog. Among the fruits that are at least partially self-fertile (that is, they’ll produce some fruit without insect pollination) are lingonberries, Blue Elder variety of elderberry, some raspberries and blackberries, red and white currants (but not black), highbush cranberry, serviceberries, Queen Cox Apple (the only self-fruitful one I’ve seen), Moonglow Pears, some peaches and peach/plum crosses, Stanley and Sprite Plums, Some sweet cherries and all tart cherries, Puget Gold Apricots, Quinces, Medlars, Paw Paws, Mulberries and Pomegranites. Almost none of these will pollinate nearly as well without bees, but they may get you a crop. It is also worth noting that you can get vitamin C from a variety of other sources that don’t depend on insect pollination.

As far as I know, there are no nuts that aren’t dependent on bees, and other major bee dependent crops include cucumbers, melons, and all squashes, as well as beans and legumes. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant produce much better with bees. Adapting to the absence of honeybees will probably involve a combination of hand pollination, changing our diets to live with far fewer of these crops, and finding alternate pollinators. I’m still figuring this one out myself. I strongly recommend that any and all of my readers begin working on adapting their diets, their garden practices and their planning to this - add self-fruitful fruiting plants, and grow flowers to attract beneficial insects. Change your recipes around to reduce your dependence on bee-pollinated foods. Experiment with hand pollination and seed saving. Start adapting your animals to different diets, and thinking in terms of how you will respond if the very worst case scenario occurred. Because if it did, we’d need all hands on deck, make sure that Albert Einstein was wrong.


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