Why Germany Resists the Transition to Electric Vehicles

Running on Empty: Will Germany’s Car Industry Survive?

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the resistance of Germany’s government and auto industry to the transition to electric vehicles.

Germany car industry, the world’s largest, contributes 2% to global carbon emissions. Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, their government pledged to produce one million electric vehicles by next year. Without a single major electric vehicle manufacturer, clearly they won’t meet this goal.

The filmmakers contrast Germany with Norway, where 77% of new vehicles are electric. And China, which will ban the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles after 2027.

Due its failure to transition to electric vehicles (EVs), industry analysts predict the German car industry has only a 50-50 chance of surviving. Many key auto designers are emigrating to other countries where they can work on developing EVs. Moreover without a domestic EV market, environmentally conscious drivers will buy imported EVs instead of Germany’s old fashioned gas guzzlers.

 

A Global Project to Regreen Our Deserts

 

Regreening the Planet

VPRO (2013)

Film Review

This documentary is about a global social enterprise called Commonland stared by Chinese American environmentalist John D Liu and Dutch ecologist Willem Ferwerda. The primary purpose of Commonland is to attract business investment for regreening landscapes that have been desertified due to destructive industrial farming practices.

Liu first got his start regreening the Loess Plateau in China, using organic and biodynamic principles that focus on restoring healthy soil microorganisms and smart water use.

The documentary features amazing footage of four regreening projects in China, India, Egypt and Spain. Each emphasizes the economic and job creation potential of regreening. Large scale projects that shift communities from imported to locally produced food are one of the best ways to create jobs for unemployed youth.

More information at the Commonland website>

 

Improving Food Production by Subtracting Oil

The following video is the keynote address by Indian activist Vendana Shiva at the 2015 Soil Not Oil conference in Richmond California. Her primary theme is the destructive effect of industrial agriculture on soil, human health, water balance, climate, ecological diversity, economic inequality and world peace (as the driver of continual resource wars).

She maintains industrial agriculture is an extremely inefficient method of food production – requiring ten calories of oil for every calorie of food produced. Factory farming is only economically viable because of heavy government subsidies of oil production and the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer manufactured from natural gas. If Food Inc were required to pay the full cost of industrial farming (including the toxic effects of the chemicals they use), it would be many times more expensive than organic farming.

She maintains real purpose of industrial farming is to increase GDP by producing more commodities, when it should be to maintain soil and human health.

Prior to the industrial age, farming was as much about soil regeneration as food production. The talk particularly emphasizes the importance of “carbonizing” soil with organic matter. It cites studies showing that a two ton per hectare increase in organic matter removes ten gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. This also makes the soil drought resistant by improving its capacity to store water.

The Sinister Purpose of Western Education

Schooling the World: the White Man’s Last Burden

Directed by Carol Black (2010)

Film Review

Schooling the World, featuring Indian environmental activist Vendana Shiva and Helene Norberg Hodge (producer of Economics of Happiness), is about the colonizing function of western education. The “White Man’s Burden” is a Victorian reference to the schooling of ignorant natives for the purpose of “civilizing” them.

Historically, the primary purpose of western education has been to facilitate the seizure of occupied land by destroying native language and culture. At present, however, its main purpose is to train children to use corporate products in a modern environment and to become compliant workers in a global industrial system. Thanks to western education, “backward” third world children transition from self-sufficient members of local economies to dependent cogs in the global economy.

The documentary gives three examples of this philosophy in practice: the historical outrage of indigenous Americans being kidnapped from their parents (in both Canada and the US) to have their language and culture forcibly stripped from them and modern day Ladakh and India, where rural parents experience intense pressure to send their kids to English schools.

In Ladakh, a Buddhist education teaching children compassion, cooperation and respect for nature has been replaced by an education valuing conformity, regimentation and love for money. Meanwhile many Indian parents sell their homes to pay for western-style education they believe will win their kids positions as doctors or engineers. In the end, the majority end up unemployed, with a lucky few finding entry level work.

Instead of teaching them sustainable living in harmony with nature, Western education teaches children to see themselves as separate from the natural world by locking them up in dark, airless, ugly spaces – and giving them books about nature.

The filmmakers challenge the wisdom of allowing the industrial north to force their educational model on the entire world when it clearly isn’t working for western youth. They refer to statistics showing that 16 million American young people suffer from depression and 1.6 million take psychotropic medication.

They also challenge that “development” (ie colonization) and western education lifts the “developing” world out of poverty. Historical evidence shows clearly that third world misery is a direct result of systematically stripping native inhabitants of their land, local economies, language and culture.

A Novel About the Transition Movement

2nd life of Sally Mottram

By the bestselling author of the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

The Second Life of Sally Motram

By David Nobbs (2014)

Book Review

Comedy writer David Nobbs, known for the British satiric news program That Was the Week, That Was and the hit TV series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, died on August 8 at age 80. The latter was a bestselling book before it became a TV show.

The back cover makes no mention that The Second Life of Sally Motram concerns the Transition Town movement. In fact, this is only revealed on page 117, when the heroine goes to Totnes (the birthplace of the Transition movement) and comes home with The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins.

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin has always been one of my favorite TV series, thanks to Nobbs’s brilliant portrayal of human quirks, foibles and idiosyncrasies. The same humor pervades his final novel, his parting gift to the sustainability movement.

The plot concerns a penniless widow of a colorless lawyer who has hanged himself rather than face bankruptcy over his gambling debts. Through the efforts of heroine Sally Mottram, the dying former mill town of Potherthwait resurrects itself by joining the international Transition movement. Like Transition Towns all over the world, residents breathe new life into their community by reviving local food production, installing solar energy projects, rejuvenating local businesses and general community building.

Although our own efforts to launch Transition Town New Plymouth haven’t been quite as spectacular as Potherthwaite’s, I found it reassuring that Mottram struggled with many of the same quirks and foibles trying to organize her friends and neighbors.

Nobbs acknowledges his stepdaughter and her husband for inspiring him to write the book. Both are heavily involved with the French Transition movement.

I can’t wait for it to become a TV series. Imagine a sit-com about political activism and social change.

 

Link to Transition New Plymouth Facebook page: Transition New Plymouth

The Politics of Hemp

3-types-cannabis2

The farm bill Obama signed in February 2014 included an amendment to legalize industrial hemp production for research purposes. The amendment allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp (defined as the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis) for academic or agricultural research purposes. However it only applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.

As of September 15, 2014, nineteen states had passed laws to provide for hemp pilot studies and/or for production as described by the Farm Bill stipulations.

Six states (Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Tennessee and South Carolina) have gone even further, with legislation nullifying the longstanding federal ban on hemp cultivation. All six states allow farmers to produce hemp for the commercial market.  A year ago, the Obama Justice Department quietly signaled that they wouldn’t prosecute marijuana use in states that had legalized the drug for recreational and/or medical use. Thus far the same hands-off policy seems to apply to states that have legalized hemp production.

The Fiber Modern Synthetics  Replaced

Hemp cultivation is big business. Even though it hasn’t been grown in the United States for decades, America is one of the fastest-growing hemp markets.  In 2011, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of legal hemp products (mainly from China), up from $1.4 million in 2000. With the recent anti-smoking movement and declining tobacco exports, hemp is high on the list replacement crops for tobacco farmers.

Industrial hemp is one of the most versatile plants known to man. Hemp fiber is used in the production of paper, textiles, rope, sails, clothing, plastics, insulation, dry wall, fiber board and other construction materials; while hempseed oil is used as a lubricant and base for paints and varnishes, as well as in cooking and beauty products.

Hemp: Proven Alternative to Petroleum-Based Synthetics

hemp

Hemp-based paper, textiles, rope, construction materials and plastics are the tried and true low tech alternative to modern synthetics that consume large quantities of fossil fuel during manufacture. Prior to the industrial revolution, the vast majority of textiles, clothing, canvas (the Dutch word for cannabis), rope and paper was made of hemp.

Before the invention of the cotton gin in the 1820s, 80% of the world’s textiles, fabrics, and clothing were made of hemp. During the nineteenth century, hemp was the main ingredient of 75% of the world’s paper. Until the US government passed a crippling hemp tax in 1937, most bank notes and archival papers were made of hemp (owing to its greater durability) and most paints and varnishes were made from hemp seed oil.

The Conspiracy to Kill Hemp

Hemp first began losing ground in 1850 to cheaper substitutes made of cotton, jute and sisal. Prior to 1917, hemp had to be processed by hand, involving huge labor costs incompatible with mass commercial production. After George W Schlicten automated hemp processing in 1917 with a new machine called the hemp decorticator, Henry Ford set up the first biomass fuel production plant in Iron Mountain Michigan. His intention was to run his Model T on hemp-based ethanol.

ford_quote_about_use_of_hemp_product_smart_marijuana_use

All this was happening at the precise moment that the munitions company DuPont was patenting synthetic fibers (nylon, rayon, Dacron, etc) and plastics derived from petroleum. Hemp posed a major threat to DuPont’s ability to market these synthetic fibers for fabrics, rope and other products because hemp was so cheap and readily available. The chemical giant also had a commercial interest in replacing hemp-based paper with paper produced from wood chips (they held the patent on the sulfates and sulfites used to produce paper pulp) and in replacing ethanol with gasoline as the major fuel source in automobiles (they held the patent on tetraethyl lead, which allowed gasoline to burn more smoothly in the internal combustion engine Ford designed to run on ethanol).

The main co-conspirators in the plot to kill hemp included DuPont, William Randolph Hearst (who owned a logging company and a paper manufacturing plant) and Andrew Mellon, president of Mellon Bank and DuPont’s major financier.

In 1930, Mellon, as US Secretary of the Treasury, created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and appointed his nephew Henry Anslinger to run it. Between 1935 and 1937, Anslinger and a handful of DuPont’s cronies in Congress secretly wrote a bill to tax hemp production.

Meanwhile Anslinger and Hearst orchestrated a massive media campaign demonizing a dangerous new drug called marihuana that supposedly turned Mexicans and black jazz musicians into crazed killers. Anslinger and his cronies rushed through the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 on a Friday afternoon before any lawmakers had a chance to read it. Only a handful realized the crippling effect the new law, which would also tax hemp, would have on the hemp industry.

In 1970 the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act was declared unconstitutional and replaced with the Controlled Substances Act. The latter official equated hemp with the drug marijuana (even though they come from very different plants*) and enacted an official prohibition against hemp cultivation.


*Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa, variety sativa) is a tall, skinny plant with few major branches below the primary branches at the top. It has seven long thin leaflets and is grown in rows a foot apart. It produces good quality fiber and has a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of 1% or less. Marijuana plants (Cannabis sativa, variety indica), in contrast, are short and bushy and must be spaced six feet apart for optimum growth. They have five leaflets, with three of them nearly twice the width of hemp leaflets. They produce negligible usable fiber and have a THC concentration of 4-20%. See image above.

photo credit: arbyreed via photopin cc

Also posted at Veterans Today

How to Tell Where Your Food Comes from

barcode

Consumers in North America and Europe are consciously opting for nationally – or better still locally – grown foods as a way of reducing fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions. Increasing concern over “food miles” (i.e. the distance their food travels before reaching their table) has led the US Congress to enact country of origin labeling (COOL) on fresh beef, pork, lamb, fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables. The right of the US government to require COOL was recently upheld by the World Trade Organization, in response to a complaint by Canada and Mexico. The WTO ruling is confusing, as the secret tribunal that decides such matters also ruled the COOL labeling requirements the US was requiring were excessively burdensome. See WTO Dispute Settlement.

Although COOL labeling is not required on frozen, canned or processed foods, the country responsible for manufacturing an item is indicated by the first three digits of the bar code. The latter is used universally in automated checkout systems.

Deciphering the bar code:

  • 00-13 USA & Canada
  • 30-37 France
  • 40-44 Germany
  • 49 Japan
  • 50 UK
  • 57 Denmark
  • 64-Finland
  • 76 Switzerland and Liechtenstein
  • 93 Australia
  • 94 New Zealand
  • 480–489 Philippines
  • 628 Saudi-Arabia
  • 629 United Arab Emirates
  • 690-695 China (including Hong Kong)
  • 740-745 Central America
  • 750 Mexico
  • 885 Thailand
  • 893 Vietnam

Consumers need to be aware that China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam have no food inspection regulations. Thus there is no guarantee food manufactured in these countries is safe.

For more country codes go to EAN codes

photo credit: jDevaun via photopin cc

WikiHouse and the Means of Production

(This is the 9th of a series of emails about ending the right of private banks to issue money. It concerns WikiHouse and a proposal to remove the means of production from the monetary system through publicly owned Open Source technology.)

In the following video, architect Alastair Parvain envisions using WikiHouse and comparable Open Source manufacturing tools to take architecture, construction and manufacturing out of the monetary system by allowing people look to the commons to meet their basic human needs – via freely available Open Source technology.

Originally applied to free, publicly available software, the term Open Source has been expanded to include architecture, scientific research and other technical information which is made freely available in the public arena. See Open Source and Sustainability.

WikiHouse has been described as an open source construction set. The aim is to allow anyone to design, download and “print” CNC-milled houses which can be assembled by a small group of people with minimal formal skill or training. A CNC wood cutter is a CNC (computer numerical control) router that creates objects from wood along the same lines as a 3D printer.

WikiHouse has caught on in a big way in New Zealand, thanks to the 2011 Christchurch earthquake that caused over 6100 businesses that were displaced and needed to relocate quickly to survive. WikiHouse seemed an ideal solution to Martin Luff and Danny Squires, who founded New Zealand’s WikiHouse Lab

In addition to offering relatively low cost rehousing for businesses and residents, it also builds community solidarity by turning house building into a social event. Prior to the fossil fuel era, home building was a major community event in which your friends and neighbors got together to build you a house. With skyrocketing energy costs, we need to look more to community and cooperation, rather than technology, to meet our basic needs.

Parvain stresses that the world currently faces major economic, ecological and resource crises. These urgent dilemmas can’t be solved by either corporations or non-profit organizations so long as they continue to treat citizens as passive consumers.

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

blue gold

Blue-Gold: World Water Wars (Sam Bozzo 2008)

Film Review

inspired by Canadian activists Maud Barlow and Tony Clarke’s book Blue Gold, this film opened my eyes to the reality that water scarcity is a far more serious and imminent problem than either fossil fuel scarcity or climate change. The film outlines three main areas in which public policy around water is urgently needed: run-off management, aquifer destruction and water privatization.

Water Run-Off

I previously believed that chemical and nutrient pollution was the greatest threat to our fresh water supply. However according to Blue Gold, run-off is actually the biggest problem – the loss of fresh water when rainwater winds up in the ocean instead of being trapped as groundwater. Fresh water only comprises  3% of global water (the rest is sea water), and much of it is so badly polluted it’s no longer useable.

The four main ways urbanization and development accelerate run-off include the construction of 50,000 dams worldwide, the paving over of soil with cement and asphalt, deforestation (destroying tree roots that normally trap water), and the destruction of wetlands (the destruction of mangroves and other plants that naturally purify water.

Aquifer Depletion

Aquifer depletion is largely due to industrial agriculture and the unregulated use of water in manufacturing, fracking and bottled water plants. Once the water from the aquifer is gone, it takes thousands of years to replace it. The film depicts several communities where citizens, across the political spectrum, have banded together to block Coca Cola and Nestle from taking their water. Some cases have involved long expensive court battles, with several corporations threatening individual activists with SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) suits.

Water Privatization, Desalination and Water Wars

The last half of the film focuses on water privatization, water desalination, and water wars. In many developing countries, water privatization is already a life and death issue. In several African countries,  the private corporations that own the public water supply set the price so high that people end up drinking polluted water and die. The decision by Bolivia to sell its fresh water to Bechtel sparked a mass rebellion and ultimately the collapse of the Bolivian government.

In the US, an alarming number of city water have been privatized and sold to corporations.

The worldwide move to construct water desalination plants to reclaim water from sea water is closely linked to the issue of privatization. In addition to being extremely expensive, water desalination greatly increases climate emissions owing to the massive amount of fossil fuel it requires.

Water Wars

Blue Gold gives several examples of historic water wars (in the US) and predicts where the next water wars are most likely to take place. They point to strategic US military bases around the Great Lakes and in Paraguay (across the border from a Brazilian aquifer that is one of the largest in the world). They also offer a possible explanation why the Bush family have acquired massive amounts of property in Paraguay.

The film ends on a positive note with recommendations for citizen activists:

  1. Learn where your water comes from – the name of the watershed and (if privatized) the name of the multinational corporation that controls it. Local communities need to actively fight attempts by local government to allow water extraction or the takeover of local water supplies by multinational corporations.
  2. Kick the bottled water habit. This is a trick advertisers play on you. It is no healthier for you than tap water (and may be less healthy owing to phthalates and bisphenol A from the plastic that may be linked with breast cancer and low sperm counts). The nasty taste of tap water is easily masked with a little lemon juice.
  3. Lobby your local and state leaders to
  • Remove hydroelectric dams and replace with newer, more eco-friendly microturbine technology.
  • Adopt an active run-off management plan in which lost groundwater is measured and minimized through eco-friendly development planning. One example is the Blue Alternative (in which groundwater is replaced by digging small catchment pools in open spaces).
  • Pass local and state resolutions and constitutional amendments recognizing access to fresh water as a basic human right. Uruguay has adopted the right to water in their national Constitution.

Enjoy:

Open Source and Sustainability

open source

As strange as it may sound, switching to Open Source operating systems and software can save a lot more carbon emissions than changing your lightbulbs.

I myself have switched to Firefox (instead of Microsoft Explorer) and Open Office (instead of Microscoft Word) and plan to download Linux soon to replace Windows. As a community organizer for 30+ years, Microsoft has been the bane of my existence. Most of the activists I work with use MS Word (and before that MS Works) to create documents. Predictably Microsoft has come out with a new version of Word that is unreadable by older versions. Clearly this is a calculated maneuver to force customers to continually purchase new upgrades.

Opening Pesky Docx Files

This time, however, I followed the advice of a fellow Green Party member and downloaded Open Office, provided free by Sun Microsystems Open Source software. Thanks to the Open Source movement, every time Microsoft comes out with a new word processing program, Open Office offers upgrades to translate the new program to either Open Office or an older version of Word. Not only does it open those pesky docx files, but it creates spreadsheets and slideshows and allows you to save graphics as either PDF or JPG files. It probably does lots of other things I haven’t discovered yet.

The other great thing about Open Office is that, like other Open Source software, it runs faster than Microsoft programs, crashes less and is less much likely to have security problems. This is because Sun Microsystems makes Open Office code freely available for other programmers to improve and build on. Computers aren’t like soup. By involving more people in creating code, you make it far more likely someone will find all the bugs and security problems.

Download Open Office Free at https://www.openoffice.org/

New Zealand residents have their own Open Office site: http://www.openoffice.org.nz/

How Open Source Reduces Carbon Emissions

So, people ask me, how does this reduce carbon emissions? There are obviously small energy savings (related to DVD production, packaging, transportation, etc) when an individual downloads software instead of buying it off the shelf. However the big emissions savings occur when large companies that maintain vast amounts of data switch to Open Source. Recently the Bank of New Zealand vastly reduced their energy costs and carbon emissions by converting their front end systems to Open Source.

They save money and energy by  speeding up and simplifying their data processes with a single (Red Hat Linux) program, instead of relying on three or four programs for different functions.

Companies Going Open Source

In response to the global recession, the immense cost savings is leading many government agencies and Fortune 500 companies to switch to Open Source for part or all of their data processing. The best known are BART (Bay Area Transit System), Burlington Coats, CISCO, Conoco, the Mobil Travel Guide (Exxon’s consumer website), Royal Dutch Shell, Panasonic, Hilfiger, Toyota Motor Sales USA, US Army, US federal courts, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the US Post Office.

Countries Going Open Source

Third world countries are also benefiting from Open Source cost savings. Brazil was the  first to mandate Open Soft systems for all their government offices.  In 2013, 16 third world countries (Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, India, Kenya, Guatemala, Botswana, Rwanda, Togo, Lesotho, Mali, Ghana, Namibia and Chad) saved over $100 million dollars by installing Open Soft software to track their health care workforce.

Open Source Design: Reclaiming the Commons

Engineers, architects and climate change activists in the Open Sustainability movement are expanding Open Source Design beyond its computer applications to ensure the rapid spread of ideas and technologies that reduce energy use and carbon emissions.

Examples include

    1. Open Source green architecture and renewable energy technologies
    2. The Creative Commons – a nonprofit California organization devoted to expanding the range of inventions and creative works available for others to share and build on.
    3. Singularity University – “a grand scheme to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies to address Humanity’s Grand Challenges.”
    4. Public Library of Science – a nonprofit open access scientific publishing project aimed at creating a library of open access journals, with the eventual goal of making all scientific medical research freely available to the public.
    5. Wikipedia – a free open source encyclopedia (which I discuss in my next post).

photo credit: guccio@文房具社 via photopin cc