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02 Nov 2007

The certainty of uncertainty (RealClimate)

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The certainty of uncertainty

A paper on climate sensitivity today in Science will no doubt see a great deal of press in the next few weeks. In "Why is climate sensitivity so unpredictable?", Gerard Roe and Marcia Baker explore the origin of the range of climate sensitivities typically cited in the literature. In particular they seek to explain the characteristic shape of the distribution of estimated climate sensitivities. This distribution includes a long tail towards values much higher than the standard 2-4.5 degrees C change in temperature (for a doubling of CO2) commonly referred to.

In essence, what Roe and Baker show is that this characteristic shape arises from the non-linear relationship between the strength of climate feedbacks (f) and the resulting temperature response (deltaT), which is proportional to 1/(1-f). They show that this places a strong constraint on our ability to determine a specific "true" value of climate sensitivity, S. These results could well be taken to suggest that climate sensitivity is so uncertain as to be effectively unknowable. This would be quite wrong.

The IPCC Summary For Policymakers shows the graph below for a business-as-usual carbon emissions scenario, comparing temperatures in the 1980s with temperatures in the 2020s (orange) and 2090s (red). The latter period is roughly when CO2 will have doubled under this scenario. The resulting global temperature changes cluster between 2 and 5 degrees C, but with a non-zero probability of a small negative temperature change and long tail suggesting somewhat higher probabilities of a very high temperature change (up to 8 degrees is shown).

We have very strong evidence for the middle range of climate sensitivities cited by the IPCC. But what Roe and Baker emphasize is that ruling out very high sensitivites is very difficult because even the relatively small feedbacks, if they are highly uncertain, can have a very large impact on our ability to determine S.

Paleoclimate data do provide a means to constrain the tail on the distribution and perhaps to show the likelihood of large values of S is lower than Roe and Baker's calculations suggest. In particular, Annan and Hargreaves (2006) used a Bayesian statistical approach that combines information from both 20th century observations and from last glacial maximum data to produce an estimate of climate sensitivity that is much better constrained than by either set of observations alone (see our post on this, here). Their result is a mean value of deltaT close to 3ºC, and a high probability that the sensitivity is less than 4.5ºC, for a doubling of CO2 above pre-industrial levels. Thus, we emphasize that Roe and Baker's result do not really tell us that, for example, 11°C of global warming in the next century entury is any likelier than we have suggested previously.

On the other hand, there is a counterpoint to such a comforting result. Roe and Baker note that the extreme warmth of the Eocene — something that has stymied climate modelers — could in principle be explained by not-very-dramatic changes in the strengths of the feedbacks, again because small changes in f can produce dramatic change in S. The boundary conditions for Eocene climate remain too poorly known to include in a formal calculation of climate sensitivity, but at the very least the extreme climate of this time suggests that we cannot readily cut the tail off the probability distribution of S.

It would be wrong to think that climate scientists have been ignorant of the non-linear nature of feedbacks on climate sensitivity. Several papers dating back a couple of decades show essentially the same result (for example, Hansen et al., 1984; Schlesinger, 1988; see below for full citations). But Roe and Baker's paper is probably the most succinct and accessible treatment of the subject to date, and is a timely reminder of some very basic points that are not always appreciated. For example, it is often assumed that the tail on the distribution of climate sensitivity is due to the large uncertainty in some feedbacks, particularly clouds. Roe and Baker make it very clear that this is not the case. (The tail in S results from the probability distribution of the feedback strengths, and unless those uncertainties are distributed very, very differently than the Gaussian distribution assumed by Roe and Baker, the tail will remain). Furthermore, they point out that "uncertainty" in the feedbacks need not mean "lack of knowledge" but may also reflect the complexity of the feedback processes themselves. That is to say, because the strength of the feedbacks are themselves variable, the true climate sensitivity (not just our ability to know what it is) is inherently uncertain.

What will get the most discussion in the popular press, of course, are the policy implications of Roe and Baker's paper. Myles Allen and David Frame take a stab at this in their Perspective.* Their chief point is that it is probably a bad idea to assign a specific threshold value for CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, above which "dangerous interference in the climate system" may result. For example, 450 ppm is an oft-cited threshold since this keeps deltaT below 2°C using standard climate sensitivities. But the skewed nature of the distribution of possible sensitivities means that it is much more likely that 450 ppm will give us more than 4.5°C of global warming rather than less than 2°.

Allen and Frame suggest that the way to address this is though an adaptive climate change policy, in which there are movable CO2 concentration targets that can be revised downwards if future observations suggest that the climate sensitivity is indeed greater than the middle IPCC range. We agree that adaptive policies are needed. There is no point in continuing to pursue a 450 ppm stabilization goal in the eventuality that temperatures have already exceeded the expected 2 deg C. More reductions would be called for. Similarly, if temperature rises more slowly than expected, that would buy time. However, in our view, Allen and Frame's discussion turns the precautionary principle on its head by implying that downward revision can always be done later, after more data are in. But a good adaptive strategy depends on nimble action and forward thinking — both of which are typically in short supply. If reactions to a worse-than-expected climate change are delayed, they make an overshoot of any temperature target very likely, and corrective action very expensive. Thus conservative strategies would seem in order, which probably implies initial targets of much lower than 450 ppm, and still subject to further revision.

The bottom line is that climate sensitivity is uncertain, but we can pretty much rule out low values that would imply there is nothing to worry about. The possibility of high values will be much harder to rule out. This is something policy makers should recognize and confront.

Hansen, J.E., et al., in Climate Processes and Climate Sensitivity, J. E. Hansen, T. Takahashi, Eds. (Geophysical Monograph 29, American Geophysical Union, Washington, DC, 1984), pp. 130–163.
Schlesinger, M.E., 1988: Quantitative analysis of feedbacks in climate model simulations of CO2-induced warming. In Physically-Based Modelling and Simulation of Climate and Climatic Change, M. E. Schlesinger, Ed., NATO Advanced Study Institute Series, Kluwer, Dordrecht, 653-736.
*See also the news article in Nature. And our congratulations to Myles Allen and his colleagues who won the Euro Prix award for their work.

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The Weather Makers : How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth
By Tim Flannery
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26 Oct 2007

Climate change: What’s in the rising tide? (Nature)

Climate change: What's in the rising tide?

The nitrogen cycle rarely features in the grim litany of things at risk from global warming. Nick Lane reports on research that might change this — with grave consequences for ocean chemistry.

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Colossal bridges bestride the waters of Narragansett Bay. Towns, interstate highways and suburbs sprawl along its shores and its waves are studded by thousands of pleasure boats. Yet the estuary retains a quiet beauty that befits the pious settlers who, 350 years ago, named the islands within the bay Prudence, Hope and Patience.

Extending its briny fingers through much of Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay has long juxtaposed man and nature, pollution and purity. Industrialization in the nineteenth century led to the rapid growth of cities such as Providence, a port at the bay's north end. The area now supports about a million people, all flushing their waste into the pastoral watershed. Reactive nitrogen compounds from treated sewage, industrial waste and fertilizers have poured in for decades, but remained at a relatively constant level for the past 25 years. Nevertheless, set against this steady background, a silent microbial and biochemical transformation has occurred in the bay that could have devastating ecological effects. The cause is pollution, but of an indirect sort — the changes seem to be down to global warming.

For the past three decades, the bottom sediments of the bay have mopped up much of the reactive nitrogen that humans have dumped into it. Although the fraction sequestered had been falling, this valuable natural sink has been protecting the bay and the coastal oceans from the effects of nitrate runoff. But last year the sediments abruptly stopped performing this service. Worse than that, they went into reverse. In a single summer, the bay switched from being a net sink to a net source of nitrates1.

Robinson "Wally" Fulweiler, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and her colleagues at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, were among the first to notice the turning environmental tide. If Narragansett is typical of other bays, they argue, it could be the harbinger of a new threat. Shifting the effect of anthropogenic nitrogen loading beyond the immediate coastal zone could destabilize ocean ecosystems by acidifying the waters, exacerbating harmful algal blooms, killing fish and shellfish, or perhaps even powering a vicious new cycle of global warming. The studies are currently hard to interpret and some say the system is poised to rebalance itself. But if they are wrong, global warming may do more to the oceans than make them rise.

According to Fulweiler, the root of the problem is a disconnect between life in the water column and that in the bottom sediments — the pelagic and benthic ecosystems, respectively. Under normal conditions, phytoplankton in the water column generate new organic matter through photosynthesis, some of which filters down to the bottom sediments — the benthos — where it provides food for bacteria. These benthic bacteria detoxify the water, removing excess nitrates, phosphates, and other pollutants while adding various micronutrients back to the water column. Healthy coastal ecosystems tend to have a good interchange — a tight coupling — between the pelagic and the benthic zones.

A silent switch

In Narragansett, the pelagic ecosystem is failing. Primary productivity, as measured by chlorophyll concentration, has fallen by 40% during the past 30 years, reflecting a dwindling of the spring bloom of phytoplankton.

"Presumably, some of the excess nitrogen is being flushed out to sea."

Robinson "Wally" Fulweiler


Unlike harmful algal blooms — in which excess nutrients such as nitrates provoke a strangling growth of weed-like algae, ultimately leaving the water full of dead, rotting matter — normal seasonal blooms of phytoplankton are necessary to maintain the health of the estuary. The decline, Fulweiler says, could have been caused by warmer winters, either because they provide thicker cloud cover or because they allow more grazing zooplankton to flourish. Either way, rising temperatures are hitting primary productivity.

Falling productivity means a decline in the quantity and quality of organic matter reaching benthic bacteria, notably the denitrifiers. Denitrifying bacteria convert nitrates back to inert nitrogen gas. Just as organic molecules from food are reacted with oxygen to generate energy in animals, these denitrifying bacteria glean energy when organic remains react with nitrate.

The benthic denitrifiers are choosy eaters. They live on 'labile organic carbon', essentially, fresh food. A decline in primary productivity was likely to hit them hard. What came as a shock was the switch to a completely new population — the nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These organisms take nitrogen dissolved in water and convert it into ammonia, in a process known as nitrogen fixation. This new organic nitrogen is ultimately converted into nitrates by a third group of bacteria, the nitrifiers. So the sediments not only stop mopping up excess nitrates, they start adding more to the pot (see 'The changing cycle').

What flipped the switch is unknown. The nitrifying bacteria at the end of this chain have been shown to have unpredictable population patterns2. If that is the case here, then the change may not be significant. But a more troubling explanation relates to the composition of non-labile organic matter. According to Bess Ward, a biogeochemist at Princeton University in New Jersey, organic matter can become so depleted of nitrogen that it no longer provides enough sustenance for denitrifying bacteria. That stops their growth. Because nitrogen fixers don't face this constraint, they thrive.

If Ward is right, then the switch could be both persistent and widespread. The overall equation is not trivial. Under normal circumstances, the sediments in Narragansett Bay decontaminate around one quarter of the reactive nitrogen compounds running off from farmland and sewage — something in the order of 1,000 tonnes of nitrogen, or 5,000 tonnes of nitrate, every year — making the failure of denitrification significant in its own right. Fulweiler notes that the excess nitrogen is not accumulating as dissolved nitrates in the bay, nor is it stimulating algal blooms. Presumably, she says, at least some is simply being flushed out to sea.

An unbalanced equation

"Last year 17,000 tonnes of nitrate went unaccounted for in Narragansett Bay."

In addition to this substantial flux, in the three summer months of 2006, the rate of nitrogen fixation by the thriving nitrogen fixers was estimated to be around 1.5 times greater than the total input from rivers, sewage and atmospheric pollution combined — nearly 3,000 tonnes of nitrogen converting into 12,000 tonnes of nitrate. Even allowing for more typical conditions throughout the rest of the year, this still represents 20–60% more nitrogen input annually. Last year, in Narragansett Bay, some 17,000 tonnes of nitrate went unaccounted for. So, what's happening to it all?

A switch from denitrification to nitrogen fixation is utterly unexpected, which in itself shows just how much remains to be learned about the nitrogen cycle. Fulweiler notes that nitrogen-fixing bacteria in estuarine sediments have not been seen as important players in the nitrogen cycle before. But balancing the nitrogen cycle has been a bit of an embarrassment for years. It should be easy enough — just sum up the total nitrate inputs, from natural and anthropogenic sources, and subtract the flux back to the atmosphere as nitrogen gas. Instead, it's a giant mismatch. The calculated rate of global denitrification is twice the known inputs from fixation and anthropogenic sources. As Lou Codispoti at the University of Maryland's Horn Point Laboratory (HPL) just outside Cambridge says, either the cycle doesn't balance at all — that is, today's oceans are in some sort of a 'transient' state — or scientists have overlooked a whole lot of nitrogen fixation somewhere.

"Either the oceans are in some sort of transient state or scientists have overlooked a lot of nitrogen fixation."

Lou Codispoti

Most suspect the latter. And set against this background, Narragansett Bay might just represent a small fraction of that missing nitrogen. On the other hand, if global warming really does alter the nitrogen cycle, it could throw the global equation off balance.

Fulweiler is the first to admit that a correlation is not proof of causality. Nevertheless, she's concerned with what might be a trend. There are hints from elsewhere that nitrogen fixation is picking up. A similar uncoupling of the pelagic and benthic ecosystems was noted in the arctic last year. Jackie Grebmeier at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and her collaborators reported3 a 75% drop in benthic oxygen consumption (a surrogate for carbon supply) between 1988 and 2004. More recently, oceanographer Judy O'Neil at the HPL measured nitrogen fixation in tributaries to Chesapeake Bay, a few hundred miles south of Narragansett. Although she's yet to quantify their total contribution, her data incriminate cyanobacterial blooms, rather than benthic nitrogen-fixation for flipping the switch. The reason is that cyanobacterial blooms are notoriously full of toxins, which makes them unpalatable to grazing zooplankton, and the animals that eat them in turn. As a result, more carbon is flushed out in a dissolved state rather than passing down to the bottom sediments via faecal pellets.

The trend appears new according to Ward, who, working with Todd Kana and his colleagues at the HPL, looked for evidence of nitrogen fixation in the Chesapeake 5 years ago; they found no activity. Later, working with Jon Zehr and others at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Ward found copies of the genes required for fixation in the sediments there4. What's more, they were associated with the most unusual suspects, such as proteobacteria, which have never before been associated with nitrogen fixation. Nitrogen fixation requires a suite of 10 to 20 genes; if lying fallow, these are costly to maintain and so ought to be lost. Ward says that if they're there, they're being used.

Some like it hot

Judy O'Neil samples a thick bloom of assorted algae (inset) from the Sassafras River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.Judy O'Neil samples a thick bloom of assorted algae (inset) from the Sassafras River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.B. DENNISON

In the Chesapeake, too, the rise in nitrogen fixation probably relates to global warming, albeit for different reasons. Here there is no evidence of failing spring blooms, but rather a gradual takeover by cyanobacteria, which apparently "like it hot". Don Canfield, a geochemist at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, says he thinks the trend is global. If he's right, nitrate export could rise substantially in a matter of a few years.

Of course verifying the export of nitrogen hinges on balancing that stubborn nitrogen cycle equation. Paul Falkowski, a biogeochemist at Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is sceptical about nitrogen export from Narragansett Bay. If ammonia and nitrates are being produced in such large quantities, he asks, then why are we seeing a steady decline in primary productivity, rather than an increase in blooms? And if the nitrates are all being flushed out into coastal waters, then the more buoyant, fresher water from the bay (with its river inputs) ought to float in the sunny surface waters above the denser saline, and we should see blooms there instead. Satellite images, he says, don't show dramatic blooms.

Fulweiler has plausible answers, which need to be tested: in the bay itself, nitrates may be swallowed up by other bacteria competing for resources with phytoplankton in the water column. If so, then the export of nitrates to the oceans would be more limited, and the problem would revert back to one of local ecology. On the other hand if more nitrates really are exported out to sea, Fulweiler argues, they wouldn't necessarily stimulate large algal blooms. The salinity gap between Narragansett Bay and the ocean is quite small, she says, so the waters emerging from the bay might not float.

In the absence of dramatic blooms, the water might instead be getting more acidic, according to Scott Doney and his collaborators at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. Both nitrates and sulphates acidify ocean waters. The impact on the open ocean is limited, compared with the acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide levels, but Doney's marine modelling suggests that the effects of nitrates in coastal waters may be serious. The organisms most likely to be affected by ocean acidification are those with shells or skeletons made from calcium carbonate, including many algae that would otherwise bloom5.

No laughing matter

Another possibility, if the waters emerging from Narragansett sink, is a bloom of denitrifying bacteria lower in the water column. Denitrification in coastal waters tends to be dominated by the classic bacterial pathway; and a major by-product of this is nitrous oxide — laughing gas. Nitrous oxide is 200–300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

In 2000, Wajih Naqvi and his colleagues at the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa, India, reported an alarming accumulation of nitrous oxide in the Arabian Sea, along the western Indian continental shelf, following a monsoon washout of nitrate fertilizers6. The calculated emissions from the region in just 6 months accounted for as much as 5% of annual ocean emissions from a region that makes up only 0.05% of the world's oceans. Although there is much to learn about the interplay of factors controlling oceanic nitrous oxide emissions, Naqvi says that emissions are generally greatest in oxygen-minimum zones. Because these are spreading as a result of global warming (oxygen is less soluble in warmer waters) and eutrophic conditions (an increase in chemical nutrients) nitrous oxide emissions will in all probability rise.

Most observers anticipate that restrictions in the use of nitrates, along with better facilities for treating sewage and industrial waste, will reduce oceanic nitrogen contamination. But a widespread switch to nitrogen fixation, as a result of global warming, could raise nitrate levels and nitrous oxide emissions despite human intervention, driving a vicious cycle. Balancing the nitrogen cycle as the world warms suddenly looks more critical and more uncertain than ever.

Nick Lane is a science writer and honorary reader at University College London.

Currently reading :
The Weather Makers : How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth
By Tim Flannery
Release date: 27 January, 2006

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Excellent Peak Oil resource from ASPO-USA Conference

2007 ASPO-USA Houston World Oil Conference

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The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World
By Paul Roberts
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25 Oct 2007

Celebrating Bhagat Singh, Ghandi’s Revolutionary Counterpart

Celebrating Bhagat Singh

A tribute to Bhagat Singh on the occasion of his birth centenary.


THE revolutionary nationalist phase of the freedom struggle, of which Bhagat Singh was an iconic figure, was a brief, powerful and violent episode in a movement otherwise considered to be peaceful. To many it was nothing but an aberration, as the Indian freedom struggle was universally acknowledged as a non-violent movement. Treated as an avoidable interlude, though heroic and idealistic, its influence on the course of the national liberation struggle is considered negligible, and sometimes even negative. The mainstream historiography, concerned more with the elaboration of the non-violent character of the struggle, has not given enough attention to other streams of the freedom struggle, of which revolutionary nationalism is an important facet.

The historians' neglect does not reflect the contemporary popular interest in Bhagat Singh's mission or appreciation of his role in the freedom struggle. In fact, Bhagat Singh was a very popular leader in the 1930s. Jawaharlal Nehru uses the word 'amazing' to describe the popularity of Bhagat Singh. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the official historian of the Indian National Congress, confirms that Bhagat Singh was as widely known all over India and as popular as Gandhiji. He was an idol of the youth and a household name, which aroused admiration and respect.

Yet, it is rather surprising that till very recently serious academic work has not addressed adequately the contribution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades to the national life. In fact, the revolutionary nationalist phase itself has not been an area of serious academic investigation. Moreover, the birth centenary of Bhagat Singh is not being observed as an event of national importance or accorded official patronage reserved for national heroes. The reason for this neglect is worth exploring. Is it because the questions he raised about imperialism and economic exploitation are uncomfortable for the present ruling elite?

Yet, Bhagat Singh has not been entirely forgotten either, thanks to individuals and organisations who recognise the value of radical ideas and interventions in society. Consequently, a couple of publications that appeared recently in English critically evaluate his contribution to the freedom struggle. There are also several new publications in regional languages.

The popular image of Bhagat Singh is of a terrorist who took to violence in contrast to the pacifist methods adopted by the mainstream liberation movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Those who believed in the practice of violence as a political weapon, like some sections of the Left and present-day terrorists, have sought to perpetuate this notion. But the description of a terrorist, in the meaning attributed to the term either in the early 20th century or in the post-9/11 era, does not sit well on Bhagat Singh.


A handcuffed Bhagat Singh being interrogated in Lahore after his first arrest, in 1927. The photograph was apparently taken secretly by the police and was discovered in secret police records after 1947.

Bhagat Singh himself had drawn attention to this: "Let me announce with all the strength at my command that I am not a terrorist and I never was, except perhaps, in the beginning of my revolutionary career. And I am convinced that we cannot gain through those methods." This oft-repeated self-appraisal points to the evolution of his political ideas and practice. Even if in his last political act he had used the bomb to make the deaf hear, he had long time back given up violence as a part of his political armoury. Such a transformation as a result of deep study and contemplation distinguished him from those who had earlier taken to the cult of the bomb.

The significance of Bhagat Singh in the anti-colonial struggle was not because of his choice of violence as a method of resistance, as many including Gandhiji underlined, or his idealistic heroism for which he is rightly and universally admired. His real contribution lay in trying to formulate a revolutionary philosophy and a course of action, taking into account the travails of colonial subjection, on the one hand and the character of internal exploitation, on the other. In this attempt he differed from both the Indian National Congress and the early nationalist revolutionaries.

Although the Indian national movement is known for its non-violent character, beginning with the Chapekar brothers in Maharashtra, violence, as a means to arouse the conscience of the people or as retribution for the excesses of the British, had become a mode of expression of anti-imperialist sentiments. The brave and patriotic young men and women, disgusted with the policy of mendicancy followed by the Indian National Congress, had chosen the path of armed encounter, eliminating those officials who were particularly unjust and oppressive. The initial attempts in this direction, though heroic and idealistic, did not go beyond individual acts of murder and as such did not develop as a viable and popular form of struggle. It attracted several adherents in different parts of the country, particularly in Bengal and Maharashtra. The movement left in its trail a large number of martyrs who were rightly admired for their heroism and sacrifice.

The mass mobilisation strategies of Gandhiji embodied in the non-violent Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920-21 had led to either the incorporation of the revolutionaries in it or their marginalisation. In fact, several revolutionaries, including Bhagat Singh, had participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement. The withdrawal of the movement as a result of the violence at Chauri Chaura, however, disillusioned most of them, who consequently sought an alternative path, leading to what is generally described as the second phase of the revolutionary movement.

Ideological turn

The importance of the second phase of the revolutionary movement was in its ideological content. In shaping its character Bhagat Singh played the most crucial role, even if he discounted the role of individuals in history. What enabled him to do so was his intellectual engagement with Marxism, which transformed him from a "romantic idealist revolutionary" to a materialist and atheist. As testified by his comrades, he was a voracious reader who had "deeply studied the history of the Russian revolutionary movement". The story goes that he asked the warden who had come to take him to the gallows to wait until he finished what he was reading.

"Study," he said, "was the cry that reverberated in the corridors of my mind. My previous faith and convictions underwent a remarkable modification. The romance of violent methods alone which was so prominent amongst our predecessors was replaced by serious ideas… I got ample opportunity to study various ideals of world revolution. I studied Bakunin, the anarchist leader, something of Marx, the father of communism and much of Lenin, Trotsky and others, the men who had successfully carried out a revolution in their country."

His reading list was much larger, including among others, Tom Paine, Upton Sinclaire, Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Spinoza, James Mill, Karl Kautsky, Nikolay Bukharin, and Thomas Aquinas. With such an intellectual make up, his ideas evolved over a period of time culminating in his conviction in materialism, socialism and atheism.


The front page of The Tribune of March 25, 1931, printed from Lahore.

Bhagat Singh's ideological world and political perspectives were shaped by his deep study of radical literature, which enabled him to develop an egalitarian view of society. From this literature he imbibed the ideas of democracy, socialism and rationalism, which eventually became the guiding principles of his political and social philosophy. He envisioned a system in which there was "no exploitation of man by man and nation by nation". He realised that a qualitative change in the existing social relations was necessary for ushering in such a condition.

Although an admirer of Gandhi for the manner in which he managed to mobilise the masses, he did not believe that Gandhian philosophy and programme would lead to a fundamental transformation of society. Gandhian politics, he observed, would only result in the replacement of one set of exploiters by another. The alternative was found in socialism, which he incorporated in the ideology and programme of the movements with which he was associated. What distinguished him from the earlier revolutionaries was this ideological factor.


However, the three organisations with which Bhagat Singh was associated and whose activities he decisively influenced indicate the evolution of his ideas. They were the Hindustan Republican Association, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association and the Naujawan Bharat Sabha. The objective of the Hindustan Republican Association, formed in 1924, was to establish a federated republic by an organised and armed revolution. It advocated the abolition of all systems that make any kind of exploitation of man by man possible. It was also committed to the organisation of labour and kisans as this was necessary for the successful struggle against feudalism and capitalism.

The Hindustan Republican Association did not pronounce socialism as one of its objectives. It became so only when the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association was formed in 1928. This change was primarily because of the influence of Bhagat Singh, who had by then come under the influence of Marxism. Hence the change in the name to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, which was committed to not only political independence but also economic freedom. The manifesto stated:

Foreign domination and economic exploitation have unmanned the vast majority of the people who constitute the workers and peasants of India. The position of the Indian proletariat, is today, extremely critical. It has double danger to face. It has to bear the onslaught of foreign capitalism on the one hand and the treacherous attack of Indian capital on the other. The latter is showing a progressive tendency to join forces with the former… Indian capital is preparing to betray the masses into the hands of foreign capital and receive as a price of this betrayal, a little share in the government of the country. The hope of the proletariat is, therefore, now centred on socialism, which alone can lead to the establishment of complete independence and the removal of all-social distinctions and privileges.

The transformation of the Hindustan Republican Association to the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association coincided with a shift in Bhagat Singh's own political understanding in which socialism formed the central concern. What constituted socialism was not well defined then, except in its bare essentials. He conceived of socialism as the abolition of capitalism and class domination.

It is unfortunate that his book entitled The Ideal of Socialism, which was smuggled out of the jail along with three other manuscripts, has not survived, as it would have given a much fuller account of his ideas on socialism. However, the political programme of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha founded in 1926 was firmly anchored in a socialist and secular agenda. The aim of the Sabha was to establish an independent republic of labourers and peasants. The ways of empowering these two classes figure prominently in almost all writings of Bhagat Singh.


The intellectual ability and analytical capacity of Bhagat Singh are best expressed in his tract on atheism, entitled 'Why I Am An Atheist', which he wrote during the last days in jail. It mainly addresses issues relating to the existence of God and the origin of man. In both cases he adopts a rational view. In the case of the origin of man, he invoked Darwin's theory of evolution. About God, he rejected mechanical interpretations and sought to explain belief in God on ideological grounds. He wrote: "Unlike certain of the radicals I would not attribute the origin of God to the ingenuity of exploiters who wanted to keep the people under their subjection by preaching the existence of a Supreme Being and then claiming an authority and sanction from him for their privileged positions."

He believed that God was "brought into imaginary existence to encourage man to face boldly all the trying circumstances". He thus recognised the role of religion in the life of the masses. Reminiscent of the role Marx ascribed to religion, Bhagat Singh wrote: "God was to serve as a father, mother, sister and brother, friend and helper… so that when in great distress having been betrayed and deserted by all friends, he may find consolation in the idea that an ever true friend was still there to help him, to support him and that He was Almighty and could do anything. The idea of God is helpful to man in distress." At the same time, he rejected the existence of a benevolent God, as otherwise there would not have been any injustice in the world.

Bhagat Singh was quite conscious of the role religion could play in public life. He was opposed to communal politics from which he tried to distance the organisations he was associated with. The Naujawan Bharat Sabha, for instance, did not entertain those belonging to religious-communal organisations as its members. The rules of the Sabha, drafted by Bhagat Singh, emphasised its opposition to communalism as well as its resolve to create the spirit of general tolerance among the public.

In other words, Bhagat Singh was a champion of secularism, which he appears to have held as central to his political practice, as any nexus between religion and politics was likely to endanger the pluralistic ethos of Indian society. Emancipation from the bondage of religion and superstition was, in his reckoning, crucial for revolutionary practice and, therefore, he tried to instil rational thinking in the minds of all his comrades. Given these ideas of Bhagat Singh, it is paradoxical that the Hindu communal forces are trying to appropriate him as their ideologue.


Bhagat Singh is popularly remembered for his two daring acts – avenging the death of Lala Lajpath Rai by killing the British police official, J.P Saunders, and throwing a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly. The second was an attempt to stir the nation to act more boldly against imperialism, which, however, silenced the brilliant mind of this committed revolutionary.

The trial and hanging of Bhagat Singh, along with his comrades Sukhdev and Rajguru, on March 23, 1931, had shocked the nation. Within the Congress, however, there were differences of opinion. They ranged from a total disapproval of the methods of the revolutionaries, as in the case of Mahatma Gandhi, to an appreciation of their patriotism and commitment to freedom by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose.

Nehru was all praise for the Naujawan Bharat Sabha and expected that it would "grow in strength to take a leading part in forming a national India". Recognising the popularity of Bhagat Singh, Nehru stated: "He was a clean fighter who faced his enemy in the open field. He was a young boy full of burning zeal for the country. He was like a spark which became a flame in a short time and spread from one end of the country to the other dispelling the prevailing darkness everywhere." Subhas Chandra Bose recognised Bhagat Singh as a symbol of awakening among the youth.

But Gandhji's attitude was entirely different. Committed to non-violence, he could not approve of the methods of the revolutionaries. Holding that the revolutionaries have retarded the progress of the country, he considered them as "deluded patriots", "men past reason" and "enemies of the country". He believed that a "revolutionary's sacrifice, nobility and love are not only waste of effort, but being ignorant and misguided and misjudged, do, and have done, more harm to the country than any other activity".

But even within the Congress there were many who thought otherwise. Many prominent Congress leaders, such as Motilal Nehru, Purushotamdas Tandon, Shiv Prasad Gupta and Shaukat Ali, helped the revolutionaries politically and financially. The division within the Congress was clearly manifested in the Lahore session, in which Mahtma Gandhi moved a resolution deploring the attempt to blow up the Viceregal Special (train) at Delhi. The resolution did not have a smooth passage in the session. When put to vote, it was passed only with a narrow majority of 81, with 904 voting in favour and 823 against.


In Patiala, Children march with portraits of Bhagat Singh to mark the birth anniversary.

Despite the well-known opinion of Gandhiji about the revolutionaries, when Bhagat Singh and his comrades were sentenced to death there was general expectation that Gandhi would save their lives by interceding with the Viceroy. Failure to do so has been a matter of great disappointment and disapproval. The feeling among a considerable section of the youth, as mentioned by Subhas Chandra Bose, was that "Mahatma had betrayed the cause of Bhagat Singh and his comrades". But Gandhiji said that he would have gladly surrendered his own life to the Viceroy to save Bhagat Singh and his friends. He also claimed that he had pleaded with the Viceroy with all the persuasion at his command to save their lives.

The memoirs of Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy, tell a different story. He reveals that Gandhi asked him:

"Would your Excellency see any objection to my saying that I tried for the young man's life? I said I saw none, if he would also add that from my point of view he did not know what other course I could have taken. He thought for a moment, then finally agreed and on that basis went to Karachi… and I was told that he was roughly received. But when he had opportunity he spoke in the sense agreed between us."

Whether a more decisive intervention by Gandhiji at a time when the government was eager to effect a pact with the Congress would have possibly forced the Viceroy to commute the death sentence is a moot question. Whether Bhagat Singh's revolutionary philosophy had anything to do with Gandhiji's reluctance to assert himself more forcefully would remain one of the unsolved riddles of history. After all, Gandhiji had dissociated himself with the move to raise a memorial to Bhagat Singh. And if Bhagat Singh had been spared would it have made a difference to the revolutionary movement is another imponderable of history.Bhagat Singh died in 1931 when he was only 23 years. During this brief period, he grew out of the religious influences of an Arya Samaj family, overcame the illusions of bourgeois nationalism and embraced a revolutionary movement informed by Marxism. Revolution, he said, "is the spirit, the longing for a change for the better. The people generally get accustomed to the established order of things and begin to tremble at the very idea of change. It is this lethargical spirit that needs to be replaced by the revolutionary spirit." In other words, he realised the importance of creating a transformation of social and political consciousness, for which the dissemination of radical ideas was a necessary precondition. Reminiscent of the Gramcian notion of intellectually equipping the masses for revolution, he told the young political workers about the importance of "educating and enlightening the workers".

Bhagat Singh himself underwent a revolutionary transformation in ideas through the reading of Marxism and other radical literature. As a result, at the end of his brief but tumultuous life, he had traversed an exciting intellectual terrain, which made him a socialist and an atheist. The transformation that Bhagat Singh underwent, which was primarily due to his exposure to Marxism, was not widely known during his life time. There is a criticism, however, that his understanding and application of Marxism was not complete or adequately scientific. The criticism is based mainly on the assumption that Bhagat Singh preferred youth and not class as the category for political mobilisation. But class was central to his political analysis.

About two months before his martyrdom, he wrote that the "real revolutionary armies are in the villages and factories, the peasantry and labourers". Further, his view of politics was based on class struggle: "…the struggle in India would continue so long as a handful of exploiters go on exploiting the labour of the common people for their own ends. It matters little whether these exploiters are purely British capitalists, or British and Indians in alliance, or even purely Indians."

Bhagat Singh was one of the early Marxists of India who tried to chart out a revolutionary path for the country. His contribution to nurture a democratic, socialist and secular tradition has considerable contemporary relevance. •

K.N. Panikkar, a former professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a former Vice-Chancellor of Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, is currently the chairman of the Kerala Council for Historical Research.

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By Robert McFarland
Release date: 25 October, 1990

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23 Oct 2007

Toward An Ecotechnic Society, by John Michael Greer (The Archdruid Report)

Toward An Ecotechnic Society

One of the consequences of taking ecological models seriously, in trying to understand the predicament of industrial society, is that many of the common assumptions of contemporary culture stand in need of being stood on their heads. Plenty of people aware of the peak oil issue nowadays, for example, think of it in terms of finding some new energy source so that we can maintain industrial society in something like its current form. From an ecological standpoint, this approach nearly defines the term "counterproductive," because it's precisely the current form of industrial society that makes our predicament inescapable.

As it exists today, the industrial economy can best be described in ecological terms as a scheme for turning resources into pollution at the highest possible rate. Thus resource exhaustion and pollution problems aren't accidental outcomes of industrialism, they're hardwired into the industrial system: the faster resources turn into pollution, the more the industrial economy prospers, and vice versa. That forms the heart of our predicament. Peak oil is simply one symptom of a wider crisis – the radical unsustainability of a system that has evolved to maximize resource consumption on a finite planet – and trying to respond to it without dealing with the larger picture simply guarantees that other symptoms will surface elsewhere and take its place.

For most of a century now, people who have grasped this predicament have proposed that our civilization needs to make a transition toward sustainability. In the 1970s, in particular, quite a range of proposals for making the transition were floated, and even today a new one surfaces in print every year or so. Many of them are well conceived and would probably work tolerably well, and even the worst would probably turn out better than the present policy of sleepwalking toward the abyss. Not one of them, even in the midst of the 1970s energy crises, received more than a moment's consideration, either from the power centers in government and business that make most of the routine decisions in modern societies, or from the mass of the population whose opinions form the court of last appeal.

There are plenty of ways to understand this failure, but the ecological perspectives covered in last week's post offer a perspective that as far as I know has rarely been brought to bear on the problem. If the transition between different human social systems can be seen as a form of succession, with one society replacing another the way that one seral stage supplants another in nature, then it may be worth suggesting that social change might follow a timetable of its own making. In the succession process in an eastern woodland biome, for example, grasses replace weeds, shrubs replace grasses, and trees replace shrubs in a sequence whose order and time frame can to some extent be predicted in advance.

The reasons behind this predictability are not irrelevant to our present situation. The bare earth of a vacant lot in Ohio, say, is a suitable environment for weeds; it isn't a suitable environment for the hardwood trees, understory plants, and other living things that make up the climax community of an eastern woodland. Pioneer weeds, which have evolved to thrive on disturbed soil, thus spring up fast and cover the ground in a few seasons. In the process, though, they change the environment and make it suitable, not for more pioneer weeds, but for grasses and other plants, and these proceed to outcompete the weeds and occupy the vacant lot in their place.

The same process then repeats itself, as the grasses and plants of the second sere change the environment of the vacant lot and make it better suited to a different sere than it is to their own descendants. The process continues, gradually slowing down, until it finally reaches a climax community – a sere that maintains an environment suitable for the offspring of its own member organisms. At this point sustainability has been achieved; the climax community still changes over time with shifts in climate and the arrival of new species from elsewhere, and it can also be knocked back down to bare earth by a fire or some other disaster, but it can retain the same recognizable form over thousands of years or more. The quest for a sustainable society, in other words, parallels the movement of ecosystems in the direction of a climax community, and neither process can be accomplished in a single transition.

This is supported by a clear example from human history. The invention of agriculture in the Old World took place following the end of the last ice age around 11,000 years ago, when drastic climate change disrupted stable ecosystems around the world and forced human cultures to find new ways to support themselves. In the Middle East, fertile grasslands turned into desert as winter rains that had fallen reliably for millennia stopped, and people turned to grain cultivation in river valleys and livestock raising on the surrounding hills as the only alternative to starvation. The same process took place somewhat later in Mexico, the heartland of New World agriculture, as a parallel set of climate shifts caused desertification there as well.

The new ecology of farming proved highly successful and spread rapidly, but it was still highly inefficient, relying on natural soil fertility. It took thousands of years and a series of catastrophic crashes to evolve into a truly sustainable system, and some of the final steps in that direction did not take place until the birth of organic agriculture in the 20th century. Still, it's important to realize that it did become sustainable, and has been sustainable in some ecosystems for centuries. The immense sustainability of East Asian rice culture was documented long ago by F.H. King in Farmers of Forty Centuries; not many people realize, however, that Syria – where grain farming was probably invented, and has certainly been practiced as long as anywhere on earth – is still a major wheat exporter today.

The birth of industrialism a few hundred years ago, I suggest, represents the parallel emergence of another new human ecology. Like agriculture in the early part of its historical trajectory, this new ecology in its present form is hugely inefficient, wasting energy and resources at unsustainable rates. Like agriculture, in turn, its development will likely be punctuated by catastrophic crashes, of which the first promises to arrive on schedule in the next few decades. It's possible that one of these crashes will spell the end of the entire project – not all new ecological ventures bear fruit, after all – but it's also possible that less wasteful expressions of the same basic ecology may eventually find their way to sustainability in a new model of human community that relies on those elements of high technology that can be produced, powered, and maintained over the long term using renewable resources.

It seems worth proposing that from the standpoint of the far future, industrialism may prove to be only one early and inefficient form of what might be called the technic society. Like other modes of human ecology, the technic society might best be defined by the energy sources that power it. A hunter-gatherer society relies primarily on energy in the form of food, harvested from the natural ecosystem, and supplemented with very small amounts of nonfood energy in the form of firewood and the like. An agricultural society relies primarily on energy in the form of food, harvested from an artificial ecosystem created and maintained by human effort, and supplemented with modest amounts of nonfood energy in the form of firewood and other fuels, along with small amounts of wind, hydropower, and sunlight.

A technic society, in turn, relies primarily on nonfood energy from renewable or nonrenewable sources, supplemented by food that is produced partly or wholly using nonfood energy. Modern industrial civilization is simply a technic society that relies on nonrenewable energy resources for its power, and maximizes production of goods and services at the cost of vast inefficiency. At the other end of the spectrum is a mode of technic society that might usefully be called an ecotechnic society, which relies on renewable energy resources, and maximizes the efficiency of its energy and resource use at the cost of far more restricted access to goods and services.

In the twilight of the industrial age, the concept of an ecotechnic society may seem appealing, and not just to those who recognize the depth of humanity's dependence on the Earth's biosphere. Still, we're not there yet, and if the succession model is anything to go by, trying to leap directly from the rank weeds of industrial society to the verdant forest of an ecotechnic civilization simply won't work. Even outside the succession model, we have only the vaguest idea of what a truly sustainable technic society would look like, and history suggests that a long process of evolution by trial and error will be needed to get the bugs out and develop a form of technic civilization that can actually sustain itself for the long term.

The approaching breakdown of modern industrial society impacts this process, of course, but not in the way so often proposed by the current crop of secular apocalyptic faiths. Those people who expect the end of the industrial age to usher in their preferred version of Utopia, I am convinced, are in for a massive disappointment. Radical social ventures tend to flourish in the expanding phase of a culture's history, when abundant resources allow room for experimentation; in the harsher realities of an age of decline and contraction, that freedom simply doesn't exist. In the decades and centuries ahead of us, when most people will have to struggle for survival and many will lose the fight, dreams of building an ideal society will have to take a back seat to more immediate needs.

In an important way, though, this is simply a restatement of points already made. If human societies replace one another by way of something akin to ecological succession, the societies that rise among the ruins of industrial civilization will be those best suited to the environment created by their predecessors. They may still be a fair distance from sustainability, but odds are that they will have moved significantly in that direction, if only because the opportunities for extravagant resource use will be sharply reduced by the exhaustion of so many resources. What forms those societies are likely to take will be the subject of next week's post.

posted by John Michael Greer

Currently reading :
Toward an Ecological Society
By Murray Bookchin
Release date: December, 1988

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Uncommon Grace: Biology and Economic Theory, by Charles Sullivan

Uncommon Grace: Biology and Economic Theory
by Charles Sullivan | Oct 21 2007 - 9:51am |

My wife, Alice, and I hold a deed to twenty acres of land in Morgan County, West Virginia. To most people, there is nothing remarkable about this place. But to us, it is extraordinary. I have spent seventeen years exploring the botany of this land: photographing its wild flowers, learning the language of its avian citizens, and capturing its various moods on film and in pixels. Knowing it as I do, I could never think of this place as a resource. It is simply home: the source.

In a society that holds sacred the private ownership of property and economic self interest, it may seem strange that neither my wife nor I consider ourselves property owners. At best, we are squatters or temporary guardians of something that has inherent value; an evolving biological entity that exists far beyond the realm of economic self interest and monetary valuation systems.

Alice and I share this sacred space with numerous plants and animals—most of them wild, and some of them domesticated. Among the latter: five horses, three dogs, and numerous felines. We do not own these animals any more than they own us; they are not our pets. They are simply animal companions, members of the extended human family, and valued equally with human beings, mushrooms, and copperhead snakes.

Unlike my wife and me, none of these animals have to work for a living. They are not expected to perform tricks for us. They are simply free to be who they are. We do the best we can for them with our limited resources. What we get in return is priceless; something that defies quantification. Whatever it is, it is greater than the sum of its parts but as ethereal as the morning mist that rises from a brook. Yet, it is as real as the soil and sky.

It is impossible to commodify the sacred bonds that exist between the human animal, and the non-human animal—a bond that extents into the landscape that spawned them. To claim ownership of another living being, whether wild forest, or domesticated canine, is to break the sacred bonds and reduce them into commodities—mere objects for use. It is to make them our property and force them into slavery; objects for economic exploitation.

So it is with the land itself.

In an ownership society, the land is valued not as an evolved living biological entity with inherent value and rights, including the fulfillment of its own evolutionary destiny, but as a commodity—a natural resource.

In this unnatural schema, wild forests lose their structural and biological diversity to become pulp for paper mills, and are turned into toilet paper, or packaging for ipods. Diverse forests become tree farms and plantations, monocultures thirsting for toxic chemicals to keep them alive. They are no longer natural, no longer wholly real or authentic. This process of industrial forestry moves the land from the realm of the sacred into that of economic theory; and it is falsely called science. That which has inherent value is thus devolved into mere property, a commodity; divested of its sacredness, a severed part divorced from the whole.

Treated as private property, the wild earth, with its essential ecological processes, dies a death of a thousand cuts, as economic myth and Disneyesque plantations supplant the authentic natural landscape, and the artificial is freely substituted for the real.

Surrounded by the artificial, we live in a time when people can no longer tell the difference between the real and the synthetic; the natural and the unnatural. Sadly, they do not even know what has been lost or that it can never be replaced.

Thus we have a culture which holds that economic self interest is the highest expression of human freedom. It is a paradigm that asserts its superiority over all others, including the public welfare and the wellbeing of the earth. It is the foundation of Adam Smith's capitalism, as espoused in The Wealth of Nations, and modified many times since.

But freedom that subjugates others is not freedom at all.

Private ownership is a paradigm that values the economic parts of nature—those that can accrue wealth to the land owner, while assigning no value to the parts that are economically unimportant, or the greater public good, including the world's genetic libraries. Yet, in nature, it is often the non-economic parts that provide the essential ecological functions that make life itself possible. Not just human life—all life.

Here in Morgan County, wild forests provide shade on hot summer afternoons, and diverse habitat for multitudes of species, both plant and animal. Together, the interrelationship formed by these species constitute a dance of life that promotes the dynamic equilibrium of a complex ecosystem—the magnificent Central Appalachian Hardwood and Mixed Mesophytic Forest.

Aided by fungus and precipitation, insects residing in decaying trees move nutrients through the earth, building healthy soil. Forests purify the air and remove pollutants, while also trapping and holding greenhouse gases. Wild forests filter pollutants from streams and rivers, providing pure drinking water to foxes, beetles, and people. All of this, and much, much, more, is provided without cost to us; as a right of citizenship in this world.

Left alone, the wild earth—unlike human constructed systems, is a beautifully self-regulating arrangement in dynamic equilibrium; a system that runs on biological capital, rather than artificial economic arrangements. The management of such systems, which have evolved over billions of years, implies the superiority of man over nature, his dominion over the earth—a dangerous and foolish notion that requires unfathomable hubris, and equal parts stupidity.

Cultures that are based upon reductionism and monoculture fail to perceive the organic whole of life; the interconnectedness of all things, both living and non-living. Economic formulae, no matter how sophisticated and scientific they may appear, are a construct of the human mind—an artificial system of accounting. Nature does not recognize them. They have no validity in the real world. Yet we think they are of overriding importance, the basis of everything we do; man as center of the universe, as in the time of Ptolemy.

In truth, ecology and biology are the natural capital upon which nature works. They are the underpinning of all social and economic paradigms—bar none. Impair and denigrate them and everything in them, including us, is diminished. Damage them excessively, and everything falls, including our precious ownership society.

Ecological integrity is the foundation of planetary health. It is the organizing principle of life. Undermining that integrity for short term profits is to limit all future options in perpetuity, the ultimate incarnation of insensate greed and selfishness. It is the work of foolish and misguided men who are undoing the world; men who cannot conceive of anything larger than themselves, including the public welfare, or the planetary ecology; the world's only authentic economy.

Ecological literacy, understanding how nature works, must necessarily supersede economic self interest in favor of the collective good, the organic whole. The world was not made to be exploited, to be divided into parcels and privatized. Contrary to popular belief, human beings are not masters of the earth. We are subject to the same immutable natural law as yeast cells. We were blessed with a few short years in paradise, and the gift of consciousness of our place in the cosmos.

If we are, indeed, rational beings, we have a moral obligation to defend our place from those who would defile and exploit it. Our allegiance is to the earth and to one another, not to monetary systems that exploit and cheapen life for profit.

Like all economic systems that are not based upon real science, or an appropriate land ethic, the concept of property rights and private ownership are misguided and ultimately self-destructive constructs. The public welfare and the ecological integrity of the earth exceed all economic self interests in importance. Economics are based upon self-serving, false premises, whereas ecology is real.

There are dire consequences to ignoring reality, for substituting the artificial for the natural. The earth will never conform to our views of her. The needs of the greater biological community outweigh the wants of the self-interested few, looking to make a fast buck.

It is a sad and foolish notion that nature must conform to man and his prideful economic constructs. The world operates on natural capital—biological processes from which humankind evolved. That understanding must be the guiding principle in all that we do. Unlike the mythos promoted by economics, ecological literacy encourages a healthy sense of belonging to something much larger than the sum of its parts, the greater biological community; it promotes a healthy sense of the sacred.

Conservationist David Brower once stated: "Economics is a form of brain damage." I could not agree more. We need to develop a holistic world view in place of that which was born of hubris and economic self interest. That view will not be born of capitalism, or any repressive religious theology. It can only come from healthful interaction with the organic world, in the big outside.

Henry Thoreau astutely observed, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." Like the American Indian, Thoreau's world view was not anthropocentric (man-centered), it was biocentric (earth-centered); holistic and whole. That is a world view we can live with.

The most precious things in life are those that cannot be commodified, and hence, owned. Like twenty acres in a place we call West Virginia—beauty, grace, elegance, and tranquility cannot be bought and sold, or traded on Wall Street. These qualities are a gift unto the world provided without cost. We should freely enjoy them in ways that are non-consumptive, and therefore, non-destructive. We should give thanks for the natural wealth the world possesses and leave it for others to enjoy, long after we have departed this life.

As Edward Abbey, an anarchist, once lamented, "The earth belongs to everyone, and to no one." We are simply citizens of the greater biological community, distinguished only by our capacity for destruction and self deception.
Charles Sullivan
About author Charles Sullivan is a photographer and free-lance writer living in the hinterland of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at

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By Ernest Callenbach
Release date: 01 March, 1990

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The "Great Game" Enters the Mediterranean: Gas, Oil, War, and Geo-Politics

The "Great Game" Enters the Mediterranean: Gas, Oil, War, and Geo-Politics
By Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya

Global Research, October 14, 2007

Preface: The Caspian Sea Summit and the Historical Crossroads of the 21st Century

This article is part of The Sino-Russia Alliance: Challenging America's Ambitions in Eurasia (September 23, 2007). For editorial reasons the article is being published by Global Research in three parts. It is strongly advised that readers also study the prior piece. 

History is in the making. The Second Summit of Caspian Sea States in Tehran will change the global geo-political environment. This article also gives a strong contextual background to what will be in the backdrop at Tehran. The strategic course of Eurasia and global energy reserves hangs in the balance.

It is no mere chance that before the upcoming summit in Tehran that three important post-Soviet organizations (the Commonwealth of Independents States, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Eurasian Economic Community) simultaneously held meetings in Tajikistan. Nor is it mere coincidence that the SCO and CSTO have signed cooperation agreements during these meetings in Tajikistan, which has effectively made China a semi-formal member of the CSTO alliance. It should be noted that all SCO members are also members of CSTO, aside from China.

This is all in addition to the fact that the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and the U.S. Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, were both in Moscow for important, but mostly hushed, discussions with the Kremlin before Vladimir Putin is due to arrive in Iran. This could have been America's last attempt at breaking the Chinese-Russian-Iranian coalition in Eurasia. World leaders will watch for any public outcomes from the Russian President's visit to Tehran. It is also worth noting that NATO's Secretary-General was in the Caucasus region for a brief visit in regards to NATO expansion. The Russian President will also be in Germany for a summit with Angela Merkel before arriving in Tehran.

On five fronts there is antagonism between the U.S. and its allies with Russia, China, and their allies: East Africa, the Korean Peninsula, Indo-China, the Middle East, and the Balkans. While the Korean front seems to have calmed down, the Indo-China front has been heated up with the start of instability in Myanmar (Burma). This is part of the broader effort to encircle the titans of the Eurasian landmass, Russia and China. Simultaneous to all this, NATO is preparing itself for a possible showdown with Serbia and Russia over Kosovo. These preparations include NATO military exercises in Croatia and the Adriatic Sea.

In May, 2007 the Secretary-General of CSTO, Nikolai Bordyuzha invited Iran to apply to the Eurasian military pact; "If Iran applies in accordance with our charter, [CSTO] will consider the application," he told reporters. In the following weeks, the CSTO alliance has also announced with greater emphasis, like NATO, that it too is prepared to get involved in Afghanistan and global "peacekeeping" operations. This is a challenge to NATO's global objectives and in fact an announcement that NATO no longer has a monopoly as the foremost global military organization.

The globe is becoming further militarized than what it already is by two military blocs. In addition, Moscow has also stated that it will now charge domestic prices for Russian weaponry and military hardware to all CSTO members. Also, reports about the strengthening prospects of a large-scale Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq are getting stronger, which is deeply related to Anglo-American plans for balkanizing Iraq and sculpting a "New Middle East." A global showdown is in the works.

Finally, the Second Summit of Caspian Sea States will also finalize the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Energy resources, ecology, energy cooperation, security, and defensive ties will also be discussed. The outcome of this summit will decide the nature of Russo-Iranian relations and the fate of Eurasia. What happens in Tehran may decide the course of the the rest of this century. Humanity is at an important historical crossroad. This is why I felt that it was important to release this second portion of the original article before the Second Summit of the Caspian Sea States.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Ottawa, October 13, 2007.

The haunting spectre of a major war hangs over the Middle East, but war is not written in stone. A Eurasian-based counter-alliance, built around the nucleus of a Chinese-Russian-Iranian coalition also makes an Anglo-American war against Iran an unpalatable option that could turn the globe inside-out. [1] 

America's superpower status would in all likelihood come to an end in a war against Iran. Aside from these factors, contrary to the rhetoric from all the powers involved in the conflicts of the Middle East there exists a level of international cooperation between all parties. Has the nature of the march to war changed?

Tehran's Rising Star: Failure of the Anglo-American attempt to Encircle and Isolate Iran

Shrouded in mystery are the dealings between Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan during an August, 2007 meeting between President Ahamdinejad and President Aliyev. Both leaders signed a joint declaration in Baku on August 21, 2007 stating that both republics are against foreign interference in the affairs of other nations and the use of force for solving problems. This is a direct slur at the United States. Baku also reemphasized its recognition of Iran's nuclear energy program as a legitimate right.

However, the meetings between the two sides took place after a few months of meetings between Baku and the U.S. together with NATO officials.

Baku seems to be caught in the middle of a balancing act between Russia, Iran, America, and NATO. At the same time as the meetings between the Iranian President and Aliyev in Baku, Iranian officials were also in Yerevan holding talks with Armenian officials.

This could be part of an Iranian attempt to end tensions between Baku and Yerevan, which would benefit Iran and the Caucasus region. The tensions between Yerevan and Baku have been supported by the U.S. since the onset of the post-Cold War era, with Baku within the U.S. and NATO spheres of influence. 


At first glance, Iran has been busy engaging in what can be called a counter-offensive to American encroachment. Iranian officials have been meeting with Central Asian, Caucasian, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and North African leaders in a stream of talks on security and energy. The SCO meeting in Kyrgyzstan was one of these. The importance of the gathering was highlighted by the joint participation of the Iranian President and the Secretary-General of the Supreme Security Council of Iran, Ali Larijani.


Iran's dialogue with the presidents of Turkmenistan, the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Algeria are part of an effort to map out a unified energy strategy spearheaded by Moscow and Tehran. Iran and the Sultanate of Oman are also making arrangements to engage in four joint oil projects in the Persian Gulf. [2]

Iran has also announced that it will start construction of an important pipeline route from the Caspian Sea to the Gulf of Oman.[3] This project is directly linked to Iranian talks with Turkmenistan and the Republic of Azerbaijan, two countries that share the Caspian Sea with Iran. Furthermore, after closed-door discussions with Iranian officials, the Republic of Azerbaijan has stated that it is interested in cooperating with the SCO. [4] In addition, Venezuela, Iran, and Syria are also coordinating energy and industrial projects.

The Nabucco Project, Eurasian Energy Corridors, and the Russo-Iranian Energy Front

Across Eurasia strategic energy corridors are being developed. What do these international developments insinuate? A Eurasian-based energy strategy is taking shape. In Central Asia, Russia, Iran and China have essentially secured their own energy routes for both gas and oil. This is one of the reasons all three powers in a united stance warned the U.S. at the SCO's Bishkek Summit, in Kyrgyzstan, to stay out of Central Asia. [5]


In part one of the answers to these questions leads to the Nabucco Project, which will transport natural gas from the Caucasus, Iran, Central Asia, and the Eastern Mediterranean towards Western Europe through Turkey and the Balkans. Spin-offs of the energy project could include routes going through the former Yugoslav republics. Egyptian gas is even projected to be connected to the pipeline network vis-à-vis Syria. There is even a possibility that Libyan gas from Libyan fields near the Egyptian border may be directed to European markets through a route going through Egypt, Jordan, and Syria which will connect to the Nabucco Pipeline. 

At first glance, it appears that the transport of Central Asian gas, under the Nabucco Project, through a route going through Iran to Turkey and the Balkans is detrimental to Russian interests under the terms of the Port Turkmenbashi Agreement signed by Turkmenistan, Russia, and Kazakhstan. However, Iran and Russia are allies and partners, at least in regards to the energy rivalry in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea against the U.S. and the European Union. 

In May, 2007 the leaders of Turkmenistan, Russia, and Kazakhstan also planned the inclusion of an Iranian energy route, from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf, as an extension of the Turkmenbashi Agreement. A route going through either Russia or Iran is mutually beneficial to both countries. Both Tehran and Moscow have been working together to regulate the price of natural gas on a global scale. If Turkmen gas goes through Russian or Iranian territory, Moscow will profit either way. Both Tehran and Moscow have hedged their bets in a win-win situation.

Russia is also involved in the Nabucco Project and has secured a Balkan energy route for the transportation of fuel to Western Europe from Russia vis-à-vis Greece and Bulgaria. To this end on May 21, 2007 the Russian President arrived in Austria to discuss energy cooperation and the Nabucco Project with the Austrian government. [6] One of the outcomes of the Russian President's visits to Austria was the opening of a large natural gas storage compound, near Salzburg, with a holding capacity of 2.4 billion cubic metres. [7] The Nabucco Project and a united Russo-Iranian energy initiative are also the main reasons that the Russian President will visit Tehran for an important summit of leaders from the Caspian Sea, in mid-October of 2007. 

Map: Contours of the Nabucco Project
© Jan Horst Keppler, European Parliament (Committee on Foreign Affairs), 2007.

One might ask if Russia, Iran, and Syria are surrendering to the demands of America and the E.U. by providing them with what they sought in the first place.

The answer is no. The Franco-German entente is very interested in the Nabucco Project and through Austria has much at stake in the energy project. French and German energy firms also want to get involved as are Russian and Iranian companies. This is also one of the reasons Vienna has been vocally supporting Syria and Iran in the international arena. Total S.A., the giant French-based energy firm, is also working with Iran in the energy sectors.


Tehran, Moscow, and Damascus have not been fully co-opted; they are acting in their national and security interests. However, the national interests of modern nation-states should also be scutinized further. The leverage Moscow and Tehran now have can be used to drive a wedge between the Franco-German entente and the Anglo-American alliance. A case in standing is the initial willingness of France and Germany to accept the Iranian nuclear energy program. It is believed in Moscow and Tehran that the Franco-German entente could be persuaded to distance itself from the Anglo-American war agenda with the right leverage and incentives.

This could also be one of the factors for the marine route of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which runs from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany and bypasses existing energy transit routes going through the Baltic States, Ukraine, Belarus, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland. Eastern Europe is part of what is called "New Europe" as a result of Donald Rumsfeld's 2003 comments that only "Old Europe," meaning the Franco-German entente, was against the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. [8] For example Poland is an Anglo-American ally and could block the transit of gas from Russia to Germany if it was prompted to do so by Britain and America. Moreover, Russia could exert pressure on these Eastern European countries by cutting their gas supplies without effecting Western Europe. Several of these Eastern European states also were pursuing transit fee schemes and reduced gas prices because of their strategic placements as energy transit routes.

Russia and Iran are also the nations with the largest natural gas reserves in the world. This is in addition to the following facts; Iran also exerts influence over the Straits of Hormuz; both Russia and Iran control the export of Central Asian energy to global markets; and Syria is the lynchpin for an Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor. Iran, Russia, and Syria will now exercise a great deal of control and influence over these energy corridors and by extension the nations that are dependent on them in the European continent. This is another reason why Russia has built military facilities on the Mediterranean shores of Syria. The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will also further strengthen this position globally.


Map: Nabucco Gas Pipeline Project Gas Supply Sources for Nabucco
© Nabucco Gas Pipeline International GmbH, 2007.

Map: Levantine Energy Corridor
© Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Global Research, 2007.

Map: Gas-Pipeline vom Iran bis Österreich 
English translation from German: Gas Pipeline from Iran to Austria
© Der Standard, 2007.

The Baltic-Caspian-Persian Gulf Energy Corridor: The Mother of all Energy Corridors?

To add to all this, American and British allies by their very despotic and self-concerned natures will not hesitate to realign themselves, if presented with the opportunity, with Russia, China, and Iran. These puppet regimes and so-called allies, from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to Egypt, have no personal loyalties and are fair-weather allies. If they can help it, the moment they believe that they can no longer benefit from their relationships as clients they will try to abandon the Anglo-American camp without hesitation. Any hesitation on their part will be in regards to their own political longevity. Iran, Russia, and China have already been in the long process of courting the leaders of the Arab Sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf.

The ultimate aim of Russo-Iranian energy cooperation will be the establishment of a north-south energy corridor from the Baltic Sea to the Persian Gulf and with the Caspian Sea as its mid-axis. An east-west corridor from the Caspian Sea, Iran, and Central Asia to India and China will also be linked to this. Iranian oil could also be transported to Europe through Russian territory, hence bypassing the sea and consolidating Russo-Iranian control over international energy security. If other states in the Persian Gulf were included into the equation a dramatic seismic shift in the global balance of power could occur. This is also one of the reasons that the oil-rich Arab Sheikhdoms are being courted by Russia, Iran, and China.

Eurasian Energy Corridors: Two-Edged Knives?

However, the creation of these energy corridors and networks is like a two-edged sword. These geo-strategic fulcrums or energy pivots can also switch their directions of leverage. The integration of infrastructure also leads towards economic integration. If other factors in the geo-political equations are changed or manipulated, the U.S., Britain, and their partners might wield control over these routes. This is one reason why Zbigniew Brzezinski stated that the creation of a Turkish-Iranian pipeline would benefit America. [9] It should also be noted that Turkey will also be jointly developing three gas projects in the South Pars gas fields with Iran. [10]

If regime change were initiated in Iran or Russia or one of the Central Asian republics the energy network being consolidated and strengthened between Russia, Central Asia, and Iran could be obstructed and ruined. This is why the U.S. and Britain have been desperately promoting covert and overt velvet revolutions in the Caucasus, Iran, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Central Asia. To the U.S. and E.U. the creation of a Baltic-Caspian-Persian Gulf energy grid is almost the equivalent, in regards to energy security, of a "Unipolar World," but only not in their favour.

The "Great Game" Enters the Mediterranean Sea


The title "Great Game" is a term that originates from the struggle between Britain and Czarist Russia to control significant portions of Eurasia. The term is attributed to Arthur Conolly. A romanticized British novel, Kim, written by Rudyard Kipling and published in 1901 arguably immortalized the concept and term. This Victorian novel was a suspenseful story about the competition between Czarist Russia and Britain to control the vast geographic stretch that included Central Asia, India, and Tibet. In reality the "Great Game" was a struggle for control of a vast geographic area that not only included Tibet, the Indian sub-continent, and Central Asia, but also included the Caucasus and Iran. Additionally, it was London that was the primary antagonist, because of British attempts to enter Russian Central Asia. In fact the British had spying networks and facilities in Khorason, Iran and in Afghanistan that would operate against the interests of St. Petersburg in Russian Central Asia.


A contemporary version of the "Great Game" is being played once again for control of roughly the same geographic stretch, but with more players and greater intensity. Central Asia became the focus of international rivalry after the collapse of the former U.S.S.R. and the end of the Cold War. For the most part Central Asia, aside from Afghanistan, has been insulated. It has been the Middle East and the Balkans where this contest has been playing itself out violently.

The "Great Game" has also taken new dimensions and has entered the Mediterranean. This gradual outward movement has been creeping in a westward direction from the Middle East and the Balkans as the area of contention is expanded. This is not a one-directional competition. With the drawing in of Algeria, this push has reached the Western Mediterranean or the "Latin Sea" as Halford J. Mackinder refers to it, whereas before it was limited to the Eastern Mediterranean. This extension of the area of the "Great Game" is also a result of the outward push from Eurasia of the Eurasian-based alliance of Russia, Iran, and China. Examples of this are the emerging inroads China is making in the African continent and Iran's alliances in Latin America.

However, in reality the Mediterranean region is no stranger to international rivalry or conflicts similar to the "Great Game." The Second Turkish-Egyptian War (1839-1849), also called the Syrian War, was a historical example of this. It was during this war that Beirut was bombarded by British warships. The Ottoman Empire, supported by Britain, Czarist Russia, and the Austrian Empire, was facing-off against an expansionist Egypt, which was supported by Spain and France. The whole conflict had the overtones of underlying rivalries between Europe's major powers. Another example is the three Punic Wars between the ancient Carthagians and the Romans. 

Gas, Oil, and Geo-Politics in the Mediterranean Sea

The Mediterranean has literally become an extension to the international and dangerous rivalries for control of Central Asian and Caucasian energy resources. Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, and Egypt are all Arab countries involved. Algeria already supplies gas to the E.U. through the Trans-Mediterranean Pipeline which runs to the Italian island of Sicily via Tunisia and the Mediterranean Sea. Niger and Nigeria are also building a natural gas pipeline that will reach the E.U. via Algerian energy infrastructure. Libya also supplies gas to the E.U through the Greenstream Pipeline which connects to Sicily via an underwater route in the Mediterranean Sea. 

Russia and Iran are spearheading a move to bring Algeria into their orbit in order to establish a gas cartel. If Algeria, and possibly Libya, can be brought into the orbits of Moscow and Tehran the leverage and influence of both would be greatly increased and both would tighten their control over global energy corridors and European energy supplies. Approximately 97 percent of the projected amount of natural gas that will be imported by continental Europe would be controlled by Russia, Iran, and Syria under such an arrangement, whereas without Algeria approximately 93.6 percent of the natural gas exported would be controlled. [11] Algeria is also the sixth largest exporter of oil to the U.S., following behind Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Nigeria.

Western and Central European energy security would be under tight controls from Russia, Iran, Turkey, Algeria, and Syria because of their control over the geo-strategic energy routes. This is one of the reasons that the E.U. has unsuccessfully tried to force Russia to sign an E.U. energy charter that would obligate Moscow to supply energy to the E.U. and one of the reasons that NATO is considering using Article 5 of its military charter for energy security. [12] In addition, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America obligates America's top energy sources, Canada and Mexico, to supply the U.S. with oil and gas. Worldwide the securing of energy resources has become an issue of force and involuntary compulsion.

Map: Missing link between giant sources (in bcm) and potential markets
Note: The missing link implied is the Nabucco Pipeline, giant sources are the Middle East and former Soviet Union, and potential markets are the western and central members of the European Union.
© Nabucco Gas Pipeline International GmbH, 2007.


Oceania versus Eurasia in the Mediterranean Littoral

"...we might weld together the West and the East, and permanently penetrate the Heartland with oceanic freedom."

-Sir Halford J. Mackinder (Democratic Ideals and Reality, 1919); In regards to "oceanic freedom" refer to George Orwell's definition or warning in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

It was also in the Mediterranean Sea that the geo-strategic paradigm of sea-power versus land-power that was observed by Halford Mackinder first came into play. [13] Mackinder put forward the concept, which one is tempted to almost label as organic, that rival powers or entities, as they expand, would compete for dominance in a certain area and as they reached maritime areas this competition would eventually be taken to the seas as both powers would try and turn the maritime area into a lake under their own total control. This is what the Romans did to the Mediterranean Sea.  It was only once a victor emerged from these competitions that the emphasis on naval power would decline in the maritime areas.

According to Mackinder, the First World War was "a war between Islanders [e.g., Britain, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Japan] and Continentals [Eurasians; e.g., Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire], there can be no doubt about that." [14] Also, according to Mackinder it was dominant sea-power that won the First World War.

Naval power has clearly had a cutting edge over land-power in establishing empires. Western European nations like Britain, Portugal, and Spain are all examples of nations that became thalassocracies, empires at sea. Through the control of the seas an island-nation with no land borders with a rival can invade and eventually expand into a rival's territory.

The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is a modern embodiment of Halford J. Makinder's oceanic-power versus land-power paradigm. [15] The Anglo-American alliance and their allies represent oceanic-power, while the Eurasian-based counter-alliance, based around the nucleus of a Chinese-Russian-Iranian coalition, represents land-power.

It can also be observed that historically Eurasian economies did not require far-reaching trade and could exist within a smaller geographic trading area, while the economies of the oceanic powers such as Britain and the U.S., also called "trade-dependent maritime realms" by some academics, have depended on maritime and international trade for economic survival. If the Eurasians were to exclude the U.S. and Britain from the trade and economic system of the Eurasian mainland, there would be grave economic consequences for these "trade-dependent maritime realms." This was what Napoléon Bonaparte was trying to impose through his Continental System in Europe against Britain and this is also one of the reasons for the survival of the Iranian economy under American sanctions.

Two blocs are starting to manifest themselves in similarity to the geographic boundaries of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and Mackinder's Islander versus Continental scheme; a Eurasian-based bloc and a naval-based, oceanic bloc based on the fringes of Eurasia as well as North America and Australasia. The latter bloc is NATO and its network of regional military alliances, while the former is the reactionary counter-alliance formed by the Chinese-Russian-Iranian coalition as its nucleus.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya is an independent writer based in Ottawa specializing in Middle Eastern affairs. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG).


[1] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, The Sino-Russian Coalition: Challenging America's Ambitions in Eurasia, Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), August 26, 2007.

[2] Iran, Oman to develop joint oilfields, Press TV (Iran), August 25, 2007.


[3] Iran to lay Caspian-Oman seas oil pipelines, Mehr News Agency (MNA), August 27, 2007.

[4] Azerbaijan interested in ties with SCO - official, Interfax, August 25, 2007.

[5] Leila Saralayeva, Russia, China, Iran Warn U.S. at Summit, Associated Press, August 16, 2007.

[6] Putin heads for Austria, energy high on agenda, Reuters, May 21, 2007.

[7] Russia, Austria to open gas storage facility - Putin, Russian News and Information Agency (RIA Novosti), May 23, 2007.

[8] Outrage at 'old Europe' remarks, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), January 23, 2003.

[9] Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (NYC, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997), p.204.


[10] Roman Kupchinsky, Turkey: Ankara Seeks Role As East-West 'Energy Bridge,' Radio Free Europe (RFE), August 27, 2007.

[11] These figures are based on calculations that are built on mid-2006 statistical figures from British Petroleum (BP). They are based on imports and exclude each E.U. member state's domestic or indigenous production. 


British Petroleum (BP), Quantifying Energy: BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2006 (London, U.K.: Beacon Press, June 2006), p.22.


bcm = billion cubic metres

1 bcm = 263.96 billion gallons


Total amount of natural gas imports projected for European energy markets: 139, 960 bcm.

139, 960 bcm = 100% of natural gas imports


Total amount of natural gas imports projected from Algeria: 4, 580 bcm.

4, 580 bcm/ 139, 960 bcm ˜ 0.037 bcm

0.037 bcm X 100 = 3.27% ˜ 3.3%

Therefore: 4, 580 bcm ˜ 3.3% of natural gas imports


Total amount projected from the Middle East, Caspian Sea, and Central Asia sources: 83, 140 bcm.

83, 140 bcm/ 139, 960 bcm ˜ 0.594 bcm

0.594 bcm X 100 ˜ 59.4%

Therefore: 83, 140 bcm ˜ 59.4% of natural gas imports

* Calculations include Egyptian natural gas reserves.


Total amount projected from Russia, Caspian Sea, and Central Asian sources: 47, 820 bcm.

47, 820 bcm/ 139, 960 bcm ˜ 0.3416 bcm

0.3416 bcm X 100 = 34.16% ˜ 34.2%

Therefore: 4, 580 bcm ˜ 34.2% of natural gas imports


[12] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, The Globalization of Military Power: NATO Expansion, Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), May 17, 2007.

The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) in North America between Canada, the United States, and Mexico is also related to this parallel drive in Eurasia and the Mediterranean littoral to ensure access to energy resources. Under the framework of the SPP both Mexico and Canada are obligated, without choice, to supply the United States with its energy needs, even at the expense of Mexican and Canadian national, economic, demographic, and environmental interests. The matter of energy supplies has been transformed into a security issue. There is a strong link between NATO, E.U., and North American energy initiatives in this regard.

[13] Halford John Mackinder, Chap. 3 (The Seaman's Point of View), in Democratic Ideals and Reality (London, U.K.: Constables and Company Ltd., 1919), pp.38-92.

[14] Ibid., p.88.

"The Heartland, for the purposes of strategical thinking, includes the Baltic Sea, the navigable Middle and Lower Danube, the Black Sea, Asia Minor, Armenia, Persia [Iran], Tibet, and Mongolia. Within it, therefore, were Brandenburg-Prussia and Austria-Hungary, as well as Russia a vast triple base of man-power, which was lacking to the horse-riders of history [a reference to the people's of the Eurasian steppes that invaded Europe and the Middle East, such as the Iranic Scythians, the Magyars, and various Turkic tribes]. The Heartland is the region to which, under modern conditions, sea-power can be refused access, though the western part of it lies without the region of the Arctic and Continental [Eurasian] drainage. There is one striking physcial circumstance which knits it graphically together; the whole of it [the Heartland], even to the brink of the Persian Mountains [the older English name for the Zagros Mountains] overlooking torrid Mesopotamia [Iraq], lies under snow in the winter time (Chap. 4, p.141)."

[15] Supra. note 12.

"Aside from the global naval force being created by the U.S. and NATO, a strategy has been devised to control international trade, international movement, and international waters. The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), under the mask of stopping the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) components or technology and the systems for their delivery (missile technology or components), sets out to control the flow of resources and to control international trade. The policy was drafted by John Bolton, while serving in the U.S. State Department as U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (Nazemroaya, NATO Expansion)."

Mackinder also argued for a super-navy under the control of the League of Nations that would control Germany and Russia: "None the less the League of Nations should have the right under International Law of sending War fleets into the Black and Baltic Seas (Chap. 6, p.215)." This is part of Mackinder's solution to securing the Eurasian Heartland through what he called an  "internationalisation"  process in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.


[1] Jan Horst Keppler: Institut français des relations internationales (Ifri) Energy Program of the Université Paris Dauphine, France (International Relations and Security of Energy Supply: Risks to Continuity and Geopolitical Risks).

[2] Nabucco Gas Pipeline International GmbH.

[3] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG).

[4] Der Standard, Austria.

[5] Nabucco Gas Pipeline International GmbH.


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America's "Long War:" The Legacy of the Iraq-Iran and Soviet-Afghan Wars

War and the "New World Order"
The March to War: Détente in the Middle East or "Calm before the Storm?"

The Globalization of Military Power: NATO Expansion

Global Military Alliance: Encircling Russia and China

Plans for redrawing the Middle East: The Project for a "New Middle East

Nabucco Gas Pipeline Project: Gas Bridge between Caspian Region/ Middle East/ Egypt and Europe

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The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East
By Robert Fisk
Release date: 13 February, 2007

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21 Oct 2007

Earthtrends: Ocean Acidification, the Other Threat of Rising CO2 Emissions

September 2007 Monthly Update: Ocean Acidification, the Other Threat of Rising CO2 Emissions

By Crystal Davis on Tuesday, October 2, 2007.

Fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes release over six billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. The consequences of these greenhouse gas emissions are often discussed in terms of rising global temperatures, but global warming is not the only threat from increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2). Ocean acidification, which occurs when CO2 in the atmosphere reacts with water to create carbonic acid, has already increased ocean acidity by 30 percent (Doney, 2006). Although the chemistry of this effect is well understood and not much debated, the full consequences of ocean acidification for marine ecosystems and human well-being are only beginning to be revealed.

Figure 1: Changes in Sea-Surface pH from Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions (pre-industrial to 1990s)
Note: Lower pH indicates greater acidity (see Box 1: Understanding the pH Scale)

ocean acidification map

Source: Pacific Science Association, 2007

Oceans and the Global Carbon Cycle

The ocean plays a critical role in the global carbon cycle: the amount of carbon stored in the ocean is roughly 50 times greater than that in the atmosphere (see Figure 2). At the surface, the ocean interacts constantly with the atmosphere to absorb and release carbon dioxide. Once absorbed, a carbon atom will remain in the ocean for hundreds of years, circulating from the ocean's surface to its depths and back to the surface again. A small amount of this absorbed carbon will descend to the ocean floor in the form of dead marine organisms, where it is then trapped within deep ocean sediments. Overall, the ocean acts as a carbon sink, with a net intake of approximately two billion metric tons of carbon per year, equivalent to one-third of annual anthropogenic emissions (Royal Society, 2005).

Figure 2: Annual Carbon Flows and Storage (billion metric tons)

global carbon cycle

Source: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, 2007

CO2 Emissions and Ocean Acidification

With the rise of atmospheric CO2 concentrations from the pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million to 379 parts per million in 2005 (IPCC, 2007), the amount of carbon in the ocean has increased substantially and rapidly. Global data collected over several decades indicate that the oceans have absorbed at least half of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions that have occurred since 1750 (Sabine et. al., 2004). This carbon dioxide has combined with water to form carbonic acid, which, like all acids, releases hydrogen ions (H+) into solution, making ocean surface water 30 percent more acidic on average. Depending on the extent of future CO2 emissions and other factors, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) predicts that ocean acidity could increase by 150 percent by 2100 (see Figure 3).


Box 1: Understanding the pH Scale

The pH scale, ranging from zero to 14, is used by scientists to measure the acidity or alkalinity (a.k.a. basicity) of a solution, which is determined by the concentration of hydrogen ions, where more H+ indicates greater acidity. Solutions with a value of seven are considered neutral (such as pure water), with lower values being more acidic and higher values being more alkaline. The pH of pristine seawater ranges between 8 and 8.3, indicating that the ocean is naturally somewhat alkaline, although deeper and colder water tends to be more acidic. Due to the nature of the pH scale, a 30 percent increase in ocean acidity corresponds to a decrease of only 0.1 pH units.

Figure 3: Past and Projected Oceanic pH Levels

projected oceanic pH

Source: EUR-OCEANS, 2007

Potential Impacts on Marine Organisms

A 150 percent increase in ocean acidity would be undetectable to the average human, but certain marine organisms including mollusks, crustaceans, reef-forming corals and some species of algae and phytoplankton are particularly vulnerable to small changes in pH. These species, known as "marine calcifiers," all create skeletons or shells out of calcium carbonate. The essential building block for this process is the carbonate ion, but when combined with hydrogen ions released by carbonic acid, it is rendered useless for shell-building organisms. The concentration of carbonate ions is expected to decline by half during this century due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (Orr et. al., 2005).

Marine calcifiers face a second challenge: their calcium carbonate shells dissolve in environments that are too acidic. In fact, some deep, cold ocean waters are naturally too acidic for marine calcifiers to survive, meaning that these organisms only exist above a certain depth known as the "saturation horizon." With ocean acidification, the saturation horizon is expected to shift closer to the surface by 50 to 200 meters relative to its position during the 1800s (Doney, 2006). The Southern and Arctic oceans, which are colder and therefore naturally more acidic, may become entirely inhospitable for organisms with shells made from aragonite--one of the weaker mineral forms of calcium carbonate--by the end of this century (EUR-OCEANS, 2007).

Potential impacts on harvested species like fishes and squids are more uncertain. One area of concern is acidosis, or the build-up of carbonic acid in body fluids, which can disrupt growth, respiration and reproduction. An indirect but perhaps more certain consequence is that many species will suffer from the loss of marine calcifiers, which provide essential food and habitat (including coral reefs) for countless ocean dwellers.

Figure 4: Oceanic Aragonite Saturation Levels (1765-2100)

arogonite saturation

Source: Ocean Acidification Network, 2006

Uncertainties Highlight Need for Additional Research

Scientists are still unclear about the full consequences of ocean acidification. Several lab studies that have investigated the effects of increased acidity on marine calcifiers have found concerning results, but theories regarding impacts at the ecosystem level remain speculative. Effects on human well-being, both through lost fisheries and recreational potential, are also unknown.

Despite our lack of knowledge, the trend of ocean acidification is undeniably concerning, especially considering the devastating consequences that acid rain had on freshwater ecosystems during the 20th century. Furthermore, the ocean is currently undergoing other potentially dangerous changes, including warming, sea level rise, pollution and overfishing. The rapid pace at which these changes are occurring, and the fact that they are happening simultaneously, threatens to disrupt the ocean's well-balanced physical, chemical and biological processes faster than they can adapt.

Once the ocean's pH has been lowered, it will take thousands of years to reverse. Thus, reducing carbon dioxide emissions will be critical to minimizing future ocean acidification. Even if emissions are reduced, however, the ocean will inevitably continue to undergo significant human-induced changes throughout this century. To prepare for these changes, we will need scientific research to enhance our knowledge of complex ocean processes and ecosystem interactions. Furthermore, ocean resource and fisheries managers, with the support of improved scientific understanding, must be alert to early warning signs of ecosystem decline and take precautionary measures to protect vulnerable species.


The Ocean Acidification Network

NASA Oceanography: The Ocean and the Carbon Cycle

"The Dangers of Ocean Acidification" (Doney, 2006)

"Ocean Acidification - the other half of the CO2 problem" (EUR-OCEAN, 2007)

Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission


Map: Coral Bleaching Events and Sea Surface Temperature Anamoly Hot Spots, 1997-1998

CO2 Emissions Data

"Coral Reefs: Assessing the Threat"

"Acid Rain: Downpour in Asia"

Currently reading :
With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change
By Fred Pearce
Release date: 07 March, 2007

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Culture Change - A strange feeling as a way of life - Making sense of our predicament, shaping

A strange feeling as a way of life - Making sense of our predicament, shaping our future
Written by Jan Lundberg
Culture Change Letter 169 - October 14, 2007

commute-evacuateIs everything alright? It should be, but it increasingly feels like it's not -- even though we may have enough to eat and have a comfortable roof over our heads. We can go buy anything we imagine we need. Besides more war and a corporate-lackey government, what's wrong with our lives in what's supposed to be a democracy?

This question has been explored by many social philosophers. Some answers have emerged. But they usually don't offer a realistic, current analysis of what's happening to the economy and infrastructure of "developed, rich" countries. Nor do they flesh out well the likely scenarios of a world without abundant exosomatic energy as we've come to expect with electricity, transport and petroleum-grown/distributed food.

If the world has become an ugly place because of civilization, few people dare oppose something so monumental as what's assumed to be the totality of exalted, wondrous human history. Civilization. Is it forever? Do we have any control over our lives or the future?

The isolation of daily existence that lacks village/tribal culture takes a constant toll, but it's not closely analyzed, quantified or publicized. For that could interfere with profits and getting people to keep going to work. And nothing is allowed to interfere with mass education's purpose of conformity and brainwashing.

We are instead told, through Big Brother's messages (government and corporate media), that everything is normal and part of amazing progress. Like the combatant told to get back on the battlefield to kill and die, when the psychiatric analysis conveniently denies shell-shock and battle fatigue, the worker or consumer must carry on and smile away the day. So we soldier on as regimented and industrial units aware of some things wrong, but not able to pinpoint the real trouble perhaps. Distractions can soothe while digging our graves.

Some of us are more aware or concerned about today's threatening state of the world than others, but we have trouble admitting that we've been significantly dehumanized. In today's cultural expectations for the elite and celebrities, everyone else is inconsequential and allowed to aspire to hyperconsumerism as the goal of "life."

Young modern people often cope with the conditions of alienation by having someone else address it: they seek refuge and solace in musical groups' lyrics and the artist's image of freedom and honest expression. Idolatry of musicians (usually poets) is relatively recent, only decades old, for the masses of Western peoples. For the very few individuals, authors serve as moral and artistic leaders. Tom Robbins, Edward Abbey and Daniel Quinn are among the few who have serious cults about them, in a loose and positive sense. James Howard Kunstler and Richard Heinberg sit atop a most practical new genre, petrocollapse, gaining them conscious adherents.

Outside one's world of favorite music and books, or, in the more common case, television or video games, there is a constant assault on the sensibilities of our animal and spiritual selves. Besides the hard pavement and lack of nature (a lawn does not quite qualify) stained with toxic oil, with exhaust hovering about, the refuges of the supermarket or even the health food store are hardly fulfilling or truly welcoming. They are experiences of packaging, plastic touching food, and the roar of fossil-fueled machines for cooling and freezing. Same with many restaurants, except upscale ones that most of us cannot afford: they are noisy experiences, where the music played -- usually techno and of no lyrical importance -- barely disguises the machines' hum.

The amount of food and products shipped from afar is astounding. The abundance and affluence represented by a single Whole Foods Market is such that one should wonder how it can keep going in terms of shipping and quantities. How much the customer questions this petroleum-fired frenzy to satiate with a fleeting cornucopia is not known, but is not significant if we judge by action. The average person does not lift a finger to produce food locally in any way, even if it can lower one's cost, improve health, reduce global warming, cut petroleum consumption, and offer social opportunities.

The workers in these markets, restaurants and other retail stores are mere units for production with no say over business practices or, almost as rarely, over environmental policy. Wages are not enough to survive on without combining households with other people. The minimum-wage, poor-benefit slavery is not quite questioned; proof is that unions are weak and grassroots organizing such as wildcat strikes are exceedingly rare.

One reason for the lack of resistance to stultifying and dead-end conditions is poor health and low mental energy via pharmaceutical drugs. Half the people are on some antidepressant or mood-altering drug, and a good many more are on pain killers, antibiotics, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, cold medicine, and more. As discussed in Culture Change Letter 45, Dec. 2, 2003 ("Brain control of the masses via pollutants"), the constant exposure to toxic chemicals serves as mind control: Carbon monoxide, lead, and fluoride are only a few. Hormones in food, pesticides residues and estrogenic plastics are influencing not just health but the future of families and the collective state of mind. Younger and younger menstruation, and birth defects of boys feminized by chemicals in plastics, are more and more common and swept under the rug. The human race becomes weaker and less wild day by day. The domestication of the human is our downfall, but is championed by the capitalist and bureaucrat. There are even those who enslave themselves through their mental attitude, to emulate their masters, as Steven Biko and Bob Marley reminded us.


As all these problems keep going unaddressed and allowed to worsen, it is no wonder that our very existence is under threat without a fight against climate disruption. Is it so very hard for people to imagine living in different ways -- some just minor changes anyone can do -- that we must jump off "the ecological cliff like motorized lemmings" (to quote our featured cartoonist Andy Singer, from his cover art of an Auto-Free Times magazine)?

Perception from on high is disturbing

Climbing to the top of my nearest hill in San Francisco, my purpose is not to enjoy the view but to experience a bit of fresh air and nature. Some birds dwell in these urban islands of trees, bushes and soil. So few people are there, but they are happy, relaxed and friendly (unless deranged and out to rob). I find the view of San Francisco Bay and the megalopolis most disturbing, seeing in all directions the industrial activity and oil-fueled trade of questionable imported products. Massive port facilities dwarf the human scale of sustainable import/export. A very small number of sailboats for pleasure can't quite offer a vision of renewable-energy travel and exchange. Passenger planes take off, military jets show off their ear-splitting capabilities, all against the backdrop of polluted air that is warming in general thanks to commercial activity and the mindless consumption by the individual. The hills are full of roads and energy-wasting houses. It's not like this everywhere; the hills around Kyoto are pitch black at night, for they consist of forest, trails and small, outdoor temples.

Seven million people surround me in this metastasized, metropolitan area. Those among them who really care whether Barry Bonds used steroids to hit baseballs, or what pregnant celebrity has checked into a drug rehab facility, are not likely to be trying to live lightly on the planet. Normal citizens under the spell of mass media want to consume, and be given answers and easy fixes. Such citizens, I suspect, would argue about the color-coordination of the shoes and handbag of the person in front of them in the line, like sheep, to the slaughterhouse. For they are already there in line, as they want to know badly what's on cable TV and what's in the freezer to eat. They may get what they want tonight, and again, and again, but it will come to an abrupt end, and will people pick up a shovel to plant food or pick up the gun to take others' food? That depends on the area affected, the culture (urban U.S. or otherwise), and population size.

Why should I be disturbed by what I see now, when all is basically calm? Or feel uneasy as I putter about in the safety of my comfortable home? Is not San Francisco and the surrounding area a great city, with many wonderful people and activities to appreciate? What about the noble struggles of valiant, compromised hard-working people, or the dysfunctional and disabled folk who are really kind? The social injustice that is still pervasive, in our vaunted age of scientific and technological prowess, is outrageous and occupies many of the best hearts and minds in the world who live in our very midst. Much of what ails people, it is thought, is that they do not have enough cheap, affordable energy or material things that are supposed to both satisfy and uplift. More public funds for health care, through an end to costly, imperialist wars, would be the ticket to a healthy society, in the eyes of more and more.

Except, that altruistic aspiration is becoming clouded with the uncertainty and fright growing around our awakening to climate change. In the buzzing Bay Area and every other large and small city, we are behaving as if there is no threat to the climate and thus our future survival as a species. Just looking around at the unceasing traffic, it is clear that basic, radical but easy solutions are being kept on the shelf or buried. Tiny changes, usually just initiatives that don't threaten the current life style (e.g., different engines), are called "green." Green this and green that. But the big "greening" will be the rediscovery of community and working with others as if our survival depends on our collaboration as equals. Our bosses and political leaders have been as useful in the needed transition as -- to borrow an expression from my late father -- tits on a bull.

As I pointed out in a CBS Radio Network interview aired Sept. 21, 2007, with Dan Raviv, we have caused and are witnessing such rapid changes in climate that the planet is approaching a state not seen in 55 million years. So I did add to general paranoia, but I did not do it gratuitously. For I was explaining why I had gone, at that point, 16 days without any nourishment whatsoever in the Climate Emergency Fast. I also mentioned solutions such as car-free living and slashing petroleum use now, rather than waiting for the renewable energy technofix. I had to bring up two more scary situations we cannot just wipe away with an ideal election outcome: we have arrived at peak oil, and we all have plastics in our bodies.


I have written 168 columns and reports before this one on, exploring our dominant culture's weaknesses and fatal flaws, and identifying examples of destructive policies and individuals. The bad guys are not really the problem, and the good guys will not save us. We have to be our own leaders. We can do two things to help our own cause as individuals, as members of our true community just ahead, and as a species. I believe those two things are

(1) to appreciate how dependent modern society is on a broken system of exploitation of both nature and our fellow human beings, and face that we are thus facing imminent collapse. It is economic/financial, related to energy. It is also related to both our bodily and ecological health that has been compromised, as outlined in the beginning of this essay. Climate chaos has been assured and it is widely known, but most people sit on their hands as the executioner prepares to swing the axe. Do I have to spell out that we ought to stop sitting on our hands, and disarm the executioner by ceasing our own fossil-fueled self-destruction?

(2) In the absence of a movement over the past few decades to deal with these issues most meaningfully, when smaller collective actions would have still made a major difference, we must resign ourselves to (A) seeing "nature bat last" and knock us out of the ball park. That's a train wreck we can no longer stop, although we can slow it down a tad and allow for some survivors. The other runaway train is (B) the collapsing economy. Smoke and mirrors are keeping it alive, such as with "free trade agreements" such as CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Like other such schemes, it will open more areas to exploitation and ramping up of exports and petroleum usage -- even if for a short while as oil dwindles quickly. With these two main train wrecks (A and B) disposing of society as we know it, our hopes must be in retaining and reviving models of sustainability. This website has dwelled on them, and has described tools of sustainability as well; they are not really "doom and gloom" unless we allow it and we abhor change.

When we finally find ourselves unable to keep up the treadmill of high-energy economic activity such as employment and shopping, chaos will quickly ensue. We will then become painfully aware of the reality of overpopulation. We will yearn for some productive land and clean water, but there hasn't been enough to go around for some time here and in most parts of our human-heavy world. To "get by" comfortably or exuberantly -- expanding the economy and population -- we tapped the Earth's store of fossil energy, to the tune of anywhere from six to ten Earths' equivalent of sustainable photosynthetic energy and nonrenewable resources.


I am in just one part of the industrialized world, in a large, sophisticated city filled with thrill seekers concerned more with consuming than changing their consciousness and saving the world. But I remain hopeful of a return to the raising of mass awareness as happened in the 1960s. The awakening was not complete, and change was thwarted by secret government programs and the ongoing lure of technological gold, one might say. People went back to sleep. But we still have music that can change the world, and we have power we are letting lie dormant for now. San Francisco is the Western Hemisphere's leader in banning petroleum plastic bags, and the city has banned its own use of plastic water bottles. Maybe this is rather significant for our common future.

The global peak in oil extraction has been recognized by the City and County Of San Francisco, and the crisis is being explored for mitigation in part through education of the citizenry. I am honored to have been appointed by the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 4th to be a member of the new Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force. On it I can only try to share my knowledge and my enthusiasm for meaningful social change through both policy and individual life-style transformation. The goal in my heart and mind is to help point the way to a "new" culture of frugal, local energy use and climate-saving daily living for our precious Earth and all its species. Be assured the technofix is not going to get a free pass on my watch, nor, I suspect, from my esteemed fellow task force members.

With some luck, solidarity, hard work and widespread openness in these increasingly "interesting times," maybe my "strange feeling" will no longer be "a way of life," but will give way to a more fulfilled sense of purpose buoyed by tangible results on the bioregional level.

* * * * *

Andy Singer's website: -- Dear reader, did you see the one at the top of the page?

City Repair Project's co-founder is architect Mark Lakeman. This group has managed to get Portland, Oregon city code to allow any intersection to be converted into a neighborhood community center. See drawing below, by Andy Singer. City Repair website:

William R. Catton, author of Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, Foreword by Stewart Udall

"Overextension: our American way of life is not sustainable" by Chris Clugston, in Culture Change:

"Fasting for the climate and self: The Climate Emergency Fast continues" by Jan Lundberg, Culture Change Letter 166, Sept. 12, 2007

Village Building Convergence (City Repair Project)

United Paved Precincts of America
Anywhere, UPPA (United Paved Precincts of America)

Currently reading :
The Collapse of Complex Societies (New Studies in Archaeology)
By Joseph Tainter
Release date: 30 March, 1990

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20 Oct 2007

The Future of Food

Thanks to...
Kindness of Strangers Create Global Cooling & frankOdelic

The Future of Food

i am fortunate enough to live in an area of highly intelligent and aware people In my community. This video is available for free at my favorite video store. i have been watching it and stopped as i knew i HAD TO SHARE THIS!


Working together for a happier, healthier, more humane planet,
Reverend Nan Sea Love
Founder and Director,
Kindness of Strangers


1. Click the "Reply to Poster" button at the bottom of this post.
2. Copy all the html code, create a new bulletin, paste the code in there.
3. Be nice, give credit to the sender(s) when re-posting.

Currently watching :
The Power Of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

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