Clash of the Citadels, Part I

by Aaron G. Lehmer-Chang

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part one of a three-part sci-fi series chronicling the adventures of several leaders in a post-petroleum, climate-ravaged San Francisco Bay Area in the early 22nd century. It is under consideration for publication within John Michael Greer’s next post-oil sci-fi anthology. For more about his first work, please visit the publisher’s page.

ImageMarch 14, 2115, 0200 Hours
St. Francis Citadel, San Francisco, California Autonomous Region

Bryce Morgan peered through his eye scope across San Francisco Bay, scanning the East Bay hills for signs of troop movements. Some on the High Council thought him paranoid for his constant surveillance. But as defense chief for St. Francis Citadel, Bryce figured he couldn’t be too cautious.

Especially in times like these. Especially since 2115 marked the eleventh straight year of the Great Drought, with all the water skirmishes and rising cross-bay conflict that’s come with it. Of course, the political tensions could have been far less, if only Council Premier Alito hadn’t…

“See anything interesting, chief?” asked Alara Alito as she strode into the overlook antechamber. Her long white gown flowed freely in the night air, matched only in elegance by her waist-length silver braid.

Bryce gathered his composure before turning to face her. “Nothing out of the ordinary, premier. Mostly water scavengers in the lowlands trying to tap the main lines again. Nothing our patrols can’t handle.”

“Of course,” said Alara, joining his side by the overlook archway. “May I?” she asked, reaching for the eye scope. Scanning eastward, her expression turned quickly from calm to alarm: “Wait! Why is the Stone Mason Lodge lit up at this time of night?”

“Let me see that!” Bryce grunted, snatching the eye scope. “I had no idea. They must have been commissioned by Piedmont Citadel, or perhaps someone from the East Bay Defense Corps.”

Alara frowned at Bryce, sighing in disappointment. “Well, whomever it was, Chief Morgan, they’ve obviously gotten wind of our plans. And now, we have only weeks before their entire waterfront is reinforced with stone barricades!”

“They can’t possibly have the manpower to work that quickly,” Bryce pleaded.

Alara stared at him in disbelief, then returned her gaze eastward. “You, of all people, should never underestimate their determination, especially after their last bit of water thievery,” she said. “We’re simply going to have to speed up our timetable.”

“But respectfully, premier, what if we’re going about this the wrong way? What if we infiltrate their Defense Corps instead? Find a trusted confidant to learn more about their plans?”

What?!? And give Councilor Imani even more time to rally her people against us?” screamed Alara. “I’m afraid that’s a risk we can’t afford to take.”

*   *   *   *   *

March 14, 2115, 0210 Hours
Fairview Heights, Hayward, California Autonomous Region

Thump! Thump! Thump!

“Uh, wha?” answered Brandon Lee, stumbling to his feet from a deep slumber. “Just a minute!” Pulling open the security panel, he saw two men dressed in defense garb just inches from his door.

“What’s going on?” Brandon demanded. “Why wasn’t I called on my radio?”

“Apologies, councilor,” replied the taller of the two, handing Brandon a sealed scroll through the barred opening. “It’s an urgent, top secret message from Council President Imani. She couldn’t risk anyone listening in on your frequency.”

“Thank you for your service,” Brandon said. The men mounted their horses and strode off in the night.

Brandon lit his lamp and reached for his monocle. Unsealing the scroll, he read:


Dearest Brandon:

It is with the greatest sadness that I must inform you we’ve once again spotted SF forces at one of the core aqueducts near San Pablo Reservoir. Several onsite sources confirmed at least four SF infiltrators carrying what appeared to be sizeable caches of explosives.

Don’t worry, nothing has happened. Not yet anyway. But we weren’t able to make any arrests. If last year’s security breaches are any indication of their resolve, we have every reason to believe they’re now planning on blackmailing us by threatening our very own primary water source.

Brandon, let me personally stress to you how much I’ve admired your efforts to keep the peace over the years by brokering water rights agreements between our region’s various factions. But we cannot let them jeopardize the East Bay’s rightful claim to our fair share of what remains of the Hetch Hetchy Regional water flow. If they disrupt even a small portion of San Pablo, they could force us to completely relinquish our claim to Hetch Hetchy. You know the chaos that would ensue if that ever came to pass, especially within the communities you hold most dear.

As a precautionary measure, I’ve established security checkpoints at the harbors and Bay Bridge feeder roads. I’ve also asked the Masons to begin 24-hour requisition and production of wall-grade stone. This may be their largest public works contract since Piedmont Citadel’s construction. I know you’ll be tempted to overturn these efforts, but I will not go down in history as the East Bay’s first council president who left her guard down in a time of crisis.

In any event, we need you Brandon. Please come as quickly you can to an emergency session at East Bay Regional Hall. We’ll begin proceedings at 0900 hours tomorrow morning. I’m confident that together, we can forge a strong defense plan that will force Alito to come to her senses.

Yours truly,

Nesalla Imani
Council President
East Bay Regional Authority, Oakland

Brandon couldn’t believe it was coming to this. Security checkpoints? Stone walls? Granted, Alito’s minions were obviously behind the security breach at San Pablo a few years back. But these kinds of moves will only fuel people’s fury. The last thing the East Bay needs is more angry San Francisco visitors, merchants, and public officials being frisked or having their boats and carriages searched.

There must be a way to stop this from spiraling, he thought. And then he remembered: “Desirae…”

*   *   *   *   *

March 14, 2115, 0715 Hours
Arroyo Viejo Training Farm, Oakland, California Autonomous Region

Desirae Greene wiped the beads of sweat from her brow. Today was shaping up to be another scorcher. It’s been that way as long as she can remember. Granny used to tell stories of cooler times, when the sea breezes would rush inland, and the springtime highs would reach only into the 70s. These days, East Bay towns like Oakland were lucky to see highs lower than 90.

Still, Arroyo Viejo’s bountiful gardens were some of the most lush, teeming landscapes around. If it weren’t for the massive rainwater basins constructed decades ago, none of this would be possible. They’ve allowed several acres of prime parkland to be transformed into a self-sustaining oasis that now feeds over 80 families, and doubles as a training ground for upstart farmers hoping to join the northern townships. Thank goodness the torrents still come, once in awhile anyway.

“Sis, you have a visitor,” said Honor Greene, arguably the most slender of Desirae’s family, also known as Sly among the local stewards. “It’s him again,” he said, not hiding his disdain.

Desirae’s stomach turned. Anxious flashes of energy coursed through her chest. She smiled. How long had it been since she’d seen him? Two, maybe three months? Something serious must have come up for him to have gambled on her being here. Something very serious.

“Please let him in Sly,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I promise not to get too entangled.” Sly went to open the front gates, waving Brandon’s horse-drawn carriage into the main storage yard. Brandon approached her with diplomatic assuredness, dressed to the nines in full council garb. This wouldn’t be a romantic visit, she thought. Probably for the best.

“You’ve done wonders here,” said Brandon, flashing his warm, familiar smile. She couldn’t help but smile back as she reached for him. They embraced, and held one another tightly, if only for a moment. Brandon peered over her shoulder, furrowing his brow.

“What’s going on, Brandon?” she asked. “Are you here to drag me, kicking and screaming, on one of your wild-ass political crusades?”

“You know me well, Desirae,” he said. “But this time it’s different. Seems the residents of SF Citadel are screaming bloody murder over their recent losses. Nesalla thinks Premier Alito’s planning an all-out attack to reclaim exclusive access to Hetch Hetchy’s water. It’s starting to get ugly.”

“When hasn’t it been?” she asked. “Why should I care if the citadel dwellers are forced to cut back a little? Serves them right for walling themselves off and taking more than their fair share.”

“It’s not that simple, and you know it,” he pleaded. “Not everyone in these parts is as fortunate as your Urban Water Guild communities. Most still rely on that new flow. For them, this is life and death, Desirae.” He gazed into her eyes, searching for agreement.

“I know,” she sighed. “But what can we do about it? Alito will simply take what she wants.”

“Not if the lowland communities come together to defend our rights,” he said. “Alito’s expecting us to be divided, too busy squabbling amongst ourselves to pay attention to her schemes. But if she faced a united front with people putting their bodies on the line, she’d have to back off.”

Desirae looked at him with worry, the kind of worry that won’t be comforted away. “There will be losses, painful losses,” she said. “And there’s still a great deal of anger from the last time Piedmont Citadel turned its back on our people. It’s going to take some hard convincing.”

“I understand,” Brandon said. “But this is coming from Nesalla directly, not citadel leadership. I’m heading to an emergency session at East Bay Regional in about an hour. I’ll try to calm tensions as much as I can, but we need to come together around this, Desirae.”

“I’ll check with the guild leadership,” she said. “And put the call out to our friends in the neighborhood assemblies. But I can’t offer any promises.”

“No promises,” he acknowledged. “But if I know you, we’ll have scores of allies by nightfall.”

Obama’s Trans-Pacific Pact Lets Corporations Rule

Here we go again. Under the guise of “free trade,” President Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessors by pushing yet another global pact designed to let multi-national corporations overrule popular democracy. Much like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) would grant new rights to corporations to challenge our hard-won democratic laws protecting public health, consumers, and the environment.

Essentially, the TPPA would allow corporations to legally contest democratic laws before an international tribunal. The tribunal could not only overrule our legal standards, but also impose economic sanctions against us if we refuse to abide by its rulings. If passed, the agreement would go into effect between the United States and twelve Pacific Rim countries, including Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia, posing one of the biggest threats ever to our countries’ climate, consumer, and worker protection laws. According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, other TPPA measures would restrict internet users’ freedom of speech, curb their right to privacy and due process, and hinder their ability to innovate.

Noted MIT professor Noam Chomsky says of the pact: “It’s called free trade, but that’s just a joke. These are extreme, highly protectionist measures designed to undermine freedom of trade. In fact, much of what’s leaked about the TPP indicates that it’s not about trade at all, it’s about investor rights.” In other words, the pact would grant even more power to corporations at a time when their free-wheeling practices have already contributed mightily to growing economic inequality, financial insecurity, environmental pollution, and public health crises. Indeed, a select group of corporate partners — companies like General Electric, Goldman Sachs, and Pfizer — have sent legions of lobbyists to Washington to push the TPPA at all costs, knowing full well that looser regulations will help boost their bottom lines at our expense.

What’s worse is that the terms of the agreement are being negotiated in secret, with the Obama administration regarding the terms of the deal as classified information, even going so far as to limit Congress’s ability to review the negotiation text. Thankfully, a growing number of congressional representatives are coming out against this corporate domination scheme, along with a coalescing movement of grassroots organizations and community groups across the country. The climate advocacy group has organized an online petition calling on Congress to reject the TPPA. An Inter-Continental Day of Action will be held on Friday, January 31st with activities scheduled in cities around the world.

Rather than granting unaccountable corporations more control over our lives, communities, and environment, we the people must begin demanding that corporations serve the public interest first. Our common heritage is our climate, our water, our energy, our airwaves, and our land. Corporations have proven themselves incredibly capable of amazing innovation, speedy dissemination of new technologies, and efficient provision of services (at least to those with the ability to pay for them). But they’ve simultaneously proven themselves to be incredibly incapable of creating sufficient employment opportunities for supporting our families, ensuring public health, stabilizing our communities, or sustaining our environment — arguably the most fundamental aspects of everyday life that hold our society together.

Given these colossal failures, the last thing we should be doing is enshrining new rights to corporations into international treaties. It is they who should serve at our pleasure. We should not only reject the TPPA, we must overturn the Citizens United federal ruling that granted corporations unlimited rights to donate money to political candidates, essentially transforming our elections into little more than bidding wars between the wealthiest donors to control seats in Congress.

Eventually, as our social and ecological crises come to a head, we will need to reassert public authority over corporations entirely, making their existence subject to performance measures that we democratically decide together must be met. We could harness the market to put them in competition with one another to meet public objectives like providing employment, housing, creating sustainable transportation and energy systems, and much more. Failure to do so would simply mean their public contracts would end, and new opportunities would be granted to those who can.

Preparedness Matters More than CO2 Targets

[Reposted from the Winter 2014 issue of the Earth Island Journal.]

If we environmentalists were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that several decades of heroic efforts to curb carbon emissions have yielded very little progress. Despite repeated warnings from scientists and the inspiring rise of climate activism, global emissions continue to grow, having recently passed the dangerous threshold of 400 parts per million (ppm).

“Passing the 400 [ppm] mark reminds me that we are on an inexorable march to 450 ppm and much higher levels,” says Dr. Michael Gunson of the Global Change & Energy Program. Such views are sobering, to say the least, especially knowing that it takes about four decades for the impacts of prior emissions to take full effect. We’ve already witnessed nearly a 1˚ C increase in average global temperatures from emissions between 1900 and the early 1970s. If you add the emissions “already in the pipeline” over the decades since, we’re almost guaranteed another 0.5˚ C in warming by mid-century. This would take us precariously close to the much-dreaded 2˚ C increase that scientists warn would have “severe climate impacts on social and natural systems.”

Preventing Climate Change No Longer a Viable Strategy

Stabilizing the global climate at or below a 2˚ C increase would require unprecedented cuts in emissions — on the order of 80 percent or more — by 2050. Translated into real-life terms, residents, governments, and businesses the world over would practically need to cease their reliance on fossil fuels in little more than a generation.

Given the anemic international agreements attempted thus far and the glacial pace of progress in Washington, the prospects for meaningful political action seem remote. Moreover, if we were to continue being honest, we’d have to acknowledge that industrial civilization is simply too “locked in” to fossil fuel dependency to cut emissions quickly or deeply enough to prevent climate instability. We’re not only addicted to fossil fuels, the needle is grafted to our collective arm.

Peak Oil Will Curb Carbon Emissions

Thankfully, that one-time reservoir of fossil fuels we’ve been gifted is starting to run dry, which will grant our overtaxed atmosphere some reprieve from carbon emissions in the decades to come. We’re entering a period that petroleum geologists refer to as “peak oil,” that maximum point in production when we can no longer extract oil at rates higher than we have before. It corresponds roughly to the half-way point in our global endowment, which will soon mean that we modern-day humans will have less and less oil and related fossil fuels to work with each and every year.

According to a recent assessment by Europe’s Energy Watch Group, “world [crude] oil production has not increased anymore but has entered a plateau since about 2005.” We can expect crude oil from mature fields to continue to decline, dropping as much as 40 percent by 2030. In another new report, Climate After Growth, Post Carbon Institute’s director Asher Miller and Transition Network founder Rob Hopkins note that the planet’s oil fields are declining at an average rate of 4 million barrels per day — roughly one-fifth of what Americans consume every day.

In response, oil firms are desperately trying to replace those losses via costly and risky forms of extraction like hydro-fracking and deepwater drilling to reach unconventional forms of energy like shale gas and Canadian tar sands. Great media hoopla has accompanied the resurgence of the US fossil fuel industry from such development. But the Energy Watch Group’s analysis reveals that US shale oil will actually “peak between 2015 and 2017, followed by a steep decline,” a pattern that’s expected to repeat itself globally.

Energy analyst Chris Nelder sums up our present conundrum this way: “Global production will fall when the decline of mature fields overwhelms new additions. When, precisely, that will happen, no one can say for certain. But it’s almost definitely before 2020.”

Many environmentalists still hold out hope that we can simply “swap in” renewable energy to replace the vast, concentrated energy provided by fossil fuels. We’ll need all the solar, wind, oceanic, biomass, hydro, and geothermal energy we can get, but renewable energy (now about 13 percent of global energy use) simply cannot be scaled up at the pace needed to supplant our fossil fuel use — certainly not before the predicted down-curve in available oil and gas supplies.

Shifting the Debate to Infrastructure Transformation

If true, then the question shifts from, “How do we reduce fossil fuel use?” (which will happen anyway) to, “How do we make the best use of what we have left to adapt to climate change and the coming energy crunch?”

Mitigating climate change’s worst impacts is critical, especially when they disproportionately affect society’s most vulnerable and our vital life-support systems. But the idea that we should simply leave the rest of the recoverable fossil fuels in the ground is starting to sound increasingly naïve and morally questionable. It’s naïve because of the sheer inertia we’ve witnessed during the past three decades in terms of global climate action. To think that will change anytime soon is wishful thinking. And it’s wrong because leaving our remaining fossil fuels untapped would consign hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people to their deaths, given how dependent we are on fossil-fueled infrastructure.

What’s vital now is shifting our infrastructure away from fossil dependency and migrating threatened coastal communities and economies inland. As fossil fuels decline, we’ll need to rehabilitate rural economies, re-nutrify denuded soils, and rebuild diverse local food systems. As the snowpack diminishes from climate change, we’ll need rainwater catchment and storage basins, reforested watersheds, and water-efficient irrigation systems. As sea levels rise, we’ll need to build more dikes, levees, and channels to protect our cities. We’ll need to de-pave many of our streets, highways, and parking lots to free up space for growing food, open up covered creeks, and reseed natural landscapes. We’ll need to energy retrofit our buildings, revitalize rail transport lines, convert seafaring vessels to sail, and retool our decaying manufacturing infrastructure.

All of this will require redirecting substantial fossil fuels from wasteful consumption toward these ends. We face challenging times ahead from the global warming that is already coming, along with the consequences of overshooting our planet’s resource limits. We must brace ourselves. Instead of saddling future generations with a crumbling, oil-dependent infrastructure, our legacy must be to carefully apply the resources we have left to fertilize, fortify, and beautify our world.

Denial of Nature’s Limits is the Problem

The_World_in_His_hands_by_SaviourMachineLast week, The New York Times published a fantastical piece on human exceptionalism entitled “Overpopulation Is Not The Problem,” in which author Erle C. Ellis claimed that human societies have no limits to their growth. That’s right — limits are merely an illusion. Expansion über alles! That’s our species’ birthright, and rightful destiny.

“There really is no such thing as a human carrying capacity,” writes Ellis, castigating those of us concerned with ecological limits as believers that humans are little different than “bacteria in a petri dish.” Perhaps even more outlandishly, Ellis goes on to state that “[t]he idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history, and most likely the future.” Who’s history exactly?

As an associate professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Ellis should know better. Unless he steered clear of the stacks of thoughtful volumes available to him on the rise and fall of past civilizations, he would surely have encountered chronicle after chronicle of societies that faced progressively daunting ecological challenges, and which plummeted in population as a result.

Anthropologist Jared Diamond’s recent treatise, Collapse, offers a sobering survey of past human overshoot: from the fall of the Anasazi of southwestern North America due to deforestation and warfare over depleting resources, to the collapse of the Maya due to overcultivation and prolonged drought, to the recent genocide in Rwanda, due in part to increasing numbers of people contending for land in a formerly sustainable subsistence economy. In each of these cases, people (quite unlike bacteria) deployed complex social and technological innovations under increasingly stressful circumstances. And yet, their societies collapsed.

The lesson we should draw from this is not that that we are immune from nature’s limits. Quite the contrary: we fail to moderate our environmental impact at our own peril.

In fairness to Ellis, he rightly points out that humans are “niche creators,” beings who have an impressive history of transforming ecosystems to sustain ourselves and often to facilitate our very survival. This recognition, however, does not magically exempt us from ecological processes, pressures, and limits. It simply means we must utilize our “niche creation” skills in ways that allow our planet’s life-support systems to persevere.

Unfortunately, many of our world’s vital ecosystems are already on the brink of collapse. Despite incredible leaps in resource-use efficiency, ecological understanding, and technological know-how, our planet’s forests and sensitive habitats are being devastated far faster than they’re regenerating, arable lands are turning into deserts and soils are being mined of their critical nutrients, our oceans are being overfished and polluted with more toxins than can safely be absorbed, our freshwater aquifers and waterways are being depleted at rates several times faster than they’re being replenished, and our atmosphere is being flooded with so much carbon that our global climate is warming to extreme degrees. Moreover, the fossil fuels we rely on for transportation, agriculture, housing, manufacturing, and so much more are becoming harder and harder to find and extract, posing severe challenges to the very foundation of industrial civilization.

All of these realities will pose severe constraints on economic activity, which in turn, will limit human numbers. Just because we’ve overcome ecological constraints in the past, expanding from smaller niches to ever-larger ones, doesn’t mean we can therefore transcend our entire planet’s very real ecological boundaries.

Yes, we humans are “niche creators,” as Ellis so colorfully calls us. But rather than cling to the tired and dangerous myth of human exceptionalism from nature, it’s time to embrace our proper role as stewards and balancers of Earth’s incredible bounty. Through the knowledge we’ve gained from ecology, permaculture, and anthropology, we have within our power the capacity to remake our societies to respect nature’s cycles, life-giving processes, and yes, even its limits — while simultaneously allowing us all to live life to its fullest. Constant expansion of our numbers isn’t necessary for that vision. Humility and belief in ourselves is.

Justice for Trayvon: Ungating Our Communities

Justice for TrayvonFor three straight nights following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, protests raged here in Oakland and throughout the Bay Area. Our communities have been reeling with fury, fear, and frustration.

For many in this historically black, culturally rich, and economically ravaged town, the “system” — the whole damned system — failed to provide an ounce of justice for Trayvon. The verdict’s message to young black and brown men: your lives matter less than those who fear you, and they have a right to kill you if you cross the line. It’s a horrifying and oppressive thought for anyone to hear. It’s even worse to have it sanctified by the courts.

Many see this case is proof-positive of the racial bias of our legal system. For all its vaunted ideals of equal justice before the law, that system now manages to cage 1 million African Americans in prison — out of 2.3 million incarcerated overall in the U.S. Not only are blacks over-represented, they’re imprisoned at nearly six times the rate of whites. If those trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

It’s this backdrop of systemic racism that stacked the deck against young Trayvon the moment he dared to wander freely in the gated community in Sanford, Florida. And while this particular community was racially diverse, Trayvon was nonetheless profiled as a young, black, loitering, non-property-owner — in other words, a trespasser who didn’t belong. Being the scary trespasser, young Mr. Martin was automatically treated like a criminal by police, instead of Mr. Zimmerman, his assailant.

The fear of “trespassers” and perceived “undesirables” is now fueling a housing boom of gated communities across the U.S. Between 2001 and 2009 alone, our country saw a 53 percent increase in homes built in gated communities, which in 2009 amounted to more than 10 million homes. Author Benjamin Rich, who traveled 27,000 miles between 2007 and 2009 living in predominantly white gated communities across the U.S., summed up his impressions in the New York Times: “Gated communities churn a vicious cycle by attracting like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders.”

Indeed, the meteoric rise of all things private — private communities, private security guards, private schools, private parks, private roads, etc. — only contributes to the “us” versus “them” mentality. The privileged get to enclose and insulate themselves from their surroundings — creating a kind of Fortress America — while the rest of us are left to scramble for what’s left, hopefully not getting targeted, profiled, or killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If we’re not careful, our world may one day become filled with ever-higher walls, endless security checkpoints, and a population consumed by fear. Is that the America we want?

Let me be clear: we all deserve safety and security. We all deserve communities where we and our children can flourish to our fullest potential, free of predators, criminals, or others who may wish to do us harm. But by erecting ever more walls, ever more security gates, and ever more barricades, we’re really only denying ourselves our full potential.

It’s time to ungate our communities, both figuratively and literally. Safe and vibrant communities have neighbors who know each other and look out for one another. They have active and proud residents who are involved in local improvement efforts. They’re mixed in income, race, cultural background, and cut across generations. They have homegrown businesses, neighborhood groups, and regular events that bring people together in common cause. And they have plenty of accessible parks, open spaces, and well-trafficked walkways that facilitate interaction, familiarity, and security.

Let’s honor Trayvon’s death by recommitting to building inclusive, welcoming, and resilient communities for us all.

A Message of Hope to My Son

ImageThis is my first Father’s Day. I’m one of those “older” parents: having spent most of my time in my 20s and 30s engaged in social activism and not enough time nurturing deep relationships, I ended up pushing off fatherhood until my early 40s.

Now here I am, with a beautiful, energetic 4-month-old son (we named him Justice) and an amazing life partner who has shown herself to be an incredibly attentive, deeply loving mother. Although we come from differing religious traditions — I’m a former Catholic turned spiritual agnostic, she’s a former Buddhist turned Baha’i — we both share a deep and abiding concern for the fate of our world.

This concern is fused inextricably with our love for our son. We expose him to a diverse circle of friends and caretakers so he’ll learn early on the common humanity in us all. We take him on forest hikes, let him gaze curiously at the sky, and help him cuddle with our cats so he’ll have appreciation for this planet we call home. And we babble, giggle, tickle, cradle, and sing to him as much as we can so he’ll know viscerally how precious and joyful life truly is. Of course, we know this is only the beginning. He’ll need far more than this.

For we live in profoundly perilous times, to say the least. Justice is inheriting a planet wracked by environmental decline, marred by violent conflict, and increasingly divided between the super-rich and increasingly super-poor. Oh yes, and all of these crises just happen to be converging just now in new and disturbing ways.

You might ask: then why have children? It’s a fair question.

My answer: because in the midst of it all, one of the most responsible things we can do is nurture our young to become caretakers and shepherds of a better future.

Having witnessed Justice’s fierce yearnings since birth — his adorable smiles, coos, rollovers, kicks, and yes, even his drools — I feel all the more committed to helping him prepare for the wrenching, and potentially glorious years ahead.

As the American Empire fades, forcing us to learn to make and do things we’ve off-shored to others, he’ll need a can-do attitude, an adaptive mindset, and a willingness to learn new skills (and some old ones too). As his friends and neighbors face economic difficulties in greater numbers, he’ll need to create and seize new opportunities in partnership with those around him. As our food, energy, and water become all the more taxed, he’ll need to help restore our land, air, and sea. And as stresses mount and conflicts arise, he’ll need the power of loving persuasion to bring people together in the spirit of sharing and unity.

Okay, perhaps I’m putting a bit too much on our “Little Man,” as we’re so fond of calling him. He’s not even a toddler yet!

Still, I have reason for hope for my son, his generation, and those yet born who will one day usher in a new era.

My first place of solace is nature’s resilience. Despite being clear-cut, over-harvested, polluted, mined, and abused in countless ways, our planet is still marvelously abundant, mostly functioning, and teeming with life. Its life-giving processes are, to be sure, being pushed to the brink, and our global climate has been shaken off balance in irrevocable ways. Still, our planet will survive, with or without us — and will almost certainly be granted a reprieve once fossil fuel-powered civilization begins to wind down in the decades to come. Justice will bear witness to incredible loss, but can take comfort in the fact that nature’s resilience, with the healing hands of millions, will restore, rehabilitate, and recalibrate life’s presence here on Earth.

My second reason for hope is history’s promise. While war, injustice, and hatred have scarred our existence for millennia, peacemakers, social justice advocates, and, dare I say, love-makers of all kinds have consistently sprung into action, reminding us of our humanity and changing history for the better, time and time again. From the early challenges to Roman imperial excess to the popular overthrow of dictators and tyrants, from courageous resistance in the Nazi-occupied Warsaw Ghetto to the peaceful Indian revolution over British occupation, from the American anti-slavery movement to the Civil Rights movement — all of these and many more point to our species’ thirst for justice, and a willingness to make deep sacrifices to ensure dignity for us all.

Such passion and determination show no signs of letting up in the present day: less than one year ago, millions of people the world over took part in the “Occupy” movement to challenge Wall Street “banksters” and global financiers’ rigging of our economies. Right now, widespread demonstrations for freedom and justice are underway throughout Turkey, often in the face of violent government repression. Such determined action will be sorely needed in our own neck of the woods, at least if we hope to push our society from corporate domination to democratic community. Given the resurgence of the youth, permaculture, economic justice, food sovereignty, and climate protection movements, I remain hopeful for a more equitable, humane future.

Lastly, I have faith in the human heart. I don’t for a minute believe that humanity is bad or “evil” by nature. We’re all prone to selfishness, dishonesty, and misdeeds. But we also have an innate capacity for empathy, fellowship, and deeply felt love. This love, despite its failings, transcends space, time, race, gender, religion, nation, and species.

When I see Justice laugh or smile with joy, I nearly melt. His innocence has a due date, it’s true. But his heart need never shy away from love for his brothers and sisters, whose destiny we must all help guide toward brilliant tomorrows.



Fascinating blog suggesting that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has overestimated the fossil fuels available to burn by FOUR TIMES as what’s economically feasible to burn.

Originally posted on Ultimate Fulfillment:

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. If future energy consumption (which is mostly fossil fuel) drops because of a financial collapse brought on by high oil prices and other limits, then, at least in theory, climate change should be less of a problem.  One of the important variables in climate change models is the amount of  carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels that enters the atmosphere. In a recent post (Peak Oil Demand is Already a Huge Problem), I showed the following estimate of future energy consumption.

Figure 1. One view of future energy consumption for the world as a whole. History is based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 1. One view of future energy consumption for the world as a whole. History is based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

I explained in that post that oil limits are different from what most people expect. Oil limits are price limits. Indirectly because of these price limits, fuel consumption of all sorts (not just…

View original 2,225 more words