Thursday, December 20, 2007


I'm traveling Friday night from the high plateau of the cerrado back to the forests of Acre, along path of Santo Daime and I'll be leaving the Internet zones for a few weeks. But first, here's a little Solstice image -- not a Daime vision -- just playing in the computer...


In this season of many spiritual ceremonies and many festivals in Brazil it's common to say boas festas (happy parties) along with Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Seasons Greetings because there is so much joy.

Perhaps, the energy can be shared through some videos (past and present).

From Ceu do Planato in Brasilia

From the dining hall at Vila Fortaleza, Acre

And from the family church in Bujari, Acre.

From these places and people of the family of Juramidam everywhere I send vibes of joy, many good wishes and a prayer that you may see your highest aspirations realized wherever you are.

Encounter for the New Horizon 2008

Pics and stories from the 2007 Encounter

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Save the Urubu. In Portuguese urubu means vulture but in this case it refers to a lovely stream and watershed running through a suburban-style subdivision north of the Brazilian capital of Brasilia.

It's a beautiful place to photograph, especially in early morning light.


In September the neighborhood began to organize, along with several environmental and social organizations, for its permanent protection.

Their motto, painted on a rock near a favorite swimming hole,


said "The Heart of Nature Beats With Your Help."


Recently everyone came together again to discuss...


to plant trees...


to share food...


to have fun...


and to be entertained by a marvelous performance group called Seu Estrelo that presents the music and myths of the popular cultures of the cerrado.

With spirit...



With people...






And with a place like this...


All we can say is...


More photos:

Gathering (Sept 07)

Gathering (Dec 07)

Seu Estrelo

Corrego Urubu

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


The previous post really got me thinking about why we seem to be so stuck and I began writing about it over at the terra preta bio-energy forum. I turned a few email messages into a mental meander. Here goes....

Politics has its ways to distort both logic and market forces. For example, the most recent US energy bill avoided two opportunities to guide business as usual into new directions. One would have required utilities to generate an increasing share of their power from renewable sources like wind. The other would have rolled back about $12 billion in tax breaks granted to the oil companies in the last energy bill and used the proceeds to help develop cleaner fuels and new energy technologies.

That's politics as usual. But, I believe there's an even deeper "logic" at work: the industrial age paradigm generates both profits and progress from resource extraction and disregard for waste. It approaches limits through depletions and pollutions. It generates a zero-sum politics of scarcity. Viewed from the perspective of the earth, the human race is a vast collection of "haves" and "have-nots" in a process of taking and wasting and fighting for the spoils. This is the field on which business-as-usual plays. The rich get richer, and so on....

I keep thinking that there is another logic deeply embedded in the terra preta model. Rather than a one-way taking from the earth by the human race, it presents the possibility of reciprocities that have not been part of the previous industrial paradigm. In essence, it shows a view from the earth which says that by capturing and converting waste into soil, we the human race may enter a process of giving and using. This, in turn, presents a potential for moving us from exhaustion toward abundance and generates a new playing field for business-as-usual. It suggests the possibility of truly sustainable abundance and a system in which all get richer.

Kevin Chisholm responded, saying "Politics is the Art of having Benefits diverted to one sector of Society, and Costs diverted to another."

Which got me thinking...

A long time ago when I used to teach political science in the university it was popular to say that politics was about "who gets what, when and how" or that it was about "whose ox gets gored." Looking at Bali, for example, it seems like these definitions still have reasonable descriptive power. Looking at the US Congress, these views of politics have extraordinary descriptive power. Put together a coalition of Midwest farmers, oil and auto companies and you get E85. There's just no other way to explain a huge subsidy for corn ethanol.

And when we consider that the top 20 or so developed economies collectively subsidize their agricultures at the level of $1 Billion PER DAY we can see the magnitude of the challenge of changing a complex institutionalized system. I say all this not to condemn politics per se. Replacing politics with either the market or a benevolent dictator or the IPCC scientists also will bring forth distortions from the ideal outcome.

Why is this, why are the distortions so predictable? I have a suspicion that it's because there is usually a hidden assumption buried in the good intentions of the problem-solvers and reformers -- namely, that human nature must and can change. I think you know the drill -- we must become more compassionate, less competitive, more altruistic, less greedy, less consuming, less wasteful, etc, etc. And then the inevitable happens... we turn out to still be human. Thus, I have often wondered if it might be possible to devise a system that honored our humanness and somehow worked.

One example that has always intrigued me is the
the Potlatch or Giveaway ceremonies practiced among the tribal peoples of the North American Pacific Northwest. Although it is easy to romanticize the Potlatch as an example of altruism, it really is not. Rather, it is a very complex system for determining and maintaining the status and prestige of different families within the tribe. Usually, it is performed under notions of reciprocity but among some tribes it has also been known to be very competitive, where a family will "insult" another family by demonstrating its ability to give way or waste more than the competition.

Just imagine a young type A aggressive male wanting recognition, power and the attentions of the lovely maiden. He displays his worth, not through accumulation of stored stuff but through his ability to give it away. Thus, a very human trait gets channeled into something that is, in consequence, a collective benefit. It works, I believe, in no small part because it honors human nature rather than seeking to change it.

And what is the human nature that forms our present global predicament? We multiply. We consume. We waste. And the reformers' programs sound like... Multiply less. Consume less. Waste less. These ARE important goals but we often find much to our chagrin that for every 'enlightened soul' who 'evolves' there are 10 waiting in line anxious to acquire the bad habits. Even where reproduction is decreased, the motive is often that fewer children to provide for means that more stuff can be acquired. Markets receive the message and are quick to respond. And it is all buttressed by politics and business and human nature.

I believe there are two ways out, harder and softer.

The harder way is that we continue to deplete the earth's resources and deposit our wastes into the wrong places up until the point where a stressed planet strikes back with a crash that imposes fewer numbers, survival behaviors and a new evolutionary path forged out of much conflict and suffering.

The softer way is to become more fully human by learning how to cycle our humanness no longer into ecosystem depletion but into renewal and restoration for both people and nature. The beautiful possibility is that terra preta may hold the secret of turning our wastefulness into a resource that allows for a better outcome from a business and a politics and a human nature as usual.

The old saw that "it matters not so much what you do but how you do it" may hold the deeper truth. The secret of abundance may lie in the giveaway. Google is proving this daily within the info-sphere. Terra Preta may prove it within the eco-sphere. Really, it isn't so much about giving or taking but more about where and how we leave the residues.

Respectfully, I would like to suggest that this is a revolutionary shift -- a sea change -- that requires a leap of faith. It may turn out that consciousness-as-usual is what needs to be changed -- from faith in taking to faith in giving and from faith in scarcity to faith in abundance.

We have quite a song to sing. Let's do it.

OK, that's my-your-our dream.


In the US:

NY Times, December 18, 2007

Shopping at a Whole Foods Market in suburban Chicago, Meredith Estes said food prices have jumped so much she has resorted to coupons. Charles T. Rodgers Jr., an Arkansas cattle rancher, said normal feed rations are so expensive and scarce he is scrambling for alternatives. In Oregon, Jack Joyce, the owner of Rogue Ales, said the cost of barley malt has soared 88 percent this year. Read full article.

And In Brazil:


U.S. corn subsidies for ethanol production are contributing to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, reports a tropical forest scientist writing in this week's issue of the journal Science. Read full article.


Sunday, December 16, 2007


Andrew Rivkin has a great idea of building an archive of many voices from Bali. I was glad to see him include Newman's letter from Bali which is titled "The Mask Maker" and is comment #3 at today's DOT EARTH. Thanks Newm for the on-the-spot insights and thanks Andrew for running a different kind of view.

The general drift of reactions have expressed disillusionment with the way the European Union caved in on setting firm targets for reducing CO2 emissions and almost everyone focused on the obstructionist role played by the US.

There was general agreement that the moment of highest drama came as Kevin Conrad, Papua New Guinea's ambassador for climate change, confronted the US.

Peter Riggs of the Forum on Democracy and Trade, gave the following account:

And then it was the turn of the United States. Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, with only the absolute bare minimum of diplomatic language, stated flatly that the United States rejected the changes. It was not prepared to accept the G-77 text.

Then occurred one of the most remarkable sounds that has perhaps ever been heard in the annals of international diplomacy—like a collective global groan—descending then to a murmer, then increasing in volume to a full-throated expression of rage and anger and booing and jeering, lasting for a full minute, so that finally the Minister had to call the meeting back to order.

Then the backlash began. South Africa’s representative, with great eloquence, noted that the U.S. statement was ‘most unwelcome’ and ‘without basis.’ ... Referring to redrafts from earlier in the week, Brazil noted that the EU and China and the G77 had gone along with most of the amendments offered by the U.S.—they had not blocked progress. ... Tanzania stated the situation flatly: “the United States has the power, and that is the power to wreck the progress made thus far.”

Casting all diplomatic niceties to the winds, the representative from Papua New Guinea stood up and said: “if you’re not willing to lead, please get out of the way.”

A pause. A lull. ...

Dobriansky signals she wishes to speak, and Witoelar calls on the United States.

”We are heartened by the strong commitments made by the major developing countries here at Bali,”

And then: “The United States will join the consensus” regarding the proposed compromise text.

A surge of emotion through the hall, and then a collective sigh of relief. No standing ovation, no cheering—but a sustained, respectful applause.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Now, after Bali, come the pundits and lots opinions. Next come the proposed plans. Then (hopefully) action. It's mind boggling to see what it takes to change habits but this is truly a huge undertaking. Our energy hungry industrial world is presently 80% dependent on fossil fuels. So there's going to be much more talk and lots of politics.

Andrew Revkin gives a good running account at DOT EARTH and he is being a true blogger, inviting a global conversation: "... on Sunday I’ll post a series of “Letters from Bali” from people who attended the meeting in various guises — activists, politicians, scientists. Were you there? What impression did the gathering leave? Hopeful? Disgusted? Drained? Energized?"

The big question is whether talk and politics and the slow machinery of the democratic process can meet the challenge in time or if Nature will have to teach us in harsher ways. Personally, I dunno, but it seems that we're all going to get pulled into the conversation. Perhaps, if we tire of our differences, we will be able to see our common plight -- that's the dream. Like the Hopi elder said, this could be a very good time.

(UPDATE) There are already signs. As the US played bad guy obstructionist, the developing countries let go of their own past resistance against being judged on their own (often dismal) problems and stepped forward into a new leadership role. According to Washington Post writer Juliet Eilperin:

"It has never happened before," [Marthinus] van Schalkwyk [of South Africa] said of his and other developing countries' willingness to be judged on their climate efforts. "A year ago it would have been unthinkable."

In rapid succession, other developing nations also chastised the U.S. for blocking a global agreement.

"If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way," said Kevin Conrad, Papua New Guinea's ambassador for climate change.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the standoff between American and other nations helped inspire the developing world to "pull together to keep the process alive before it sunk.

"I've been in this business for twenty years, and I've never seen a drama like that in the U.N. process," he added.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Rainforest protection plan takes shape

By Peter Gelling

NUSA DUA, Indonesia: Governments at the United Nations meeting on climate change agreed in principle Friday to a system that would compensate developing countries for protecting their rain forests, a deal that officials described as a nascent but innovative effort to mitigate deforestation and global warming.

The cutting down of forests across the globe contributes a startling 20 percent of the world's annual greenhouse pollution through burning, gases released from deforested soil and smoldering peat, scientists say. By comparison, the U.S. share of greenhouse emissions is 24 percent of the world total.

"It's a landmark in bringing a large group of developing countries into active participation in reducing emissions," said Philip Clapp, deputy managing director of the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of the Pew charitable trusts in the United States. "It has the potential for first time to generate the kind of investment in forest protection that has been unavailable until now."

The precise ways that countries with large rain forests, like Indonesia and Brazil, will be compensated have not been fully worked out.

UN officials said that part of the financing would come from developed countries in the form of aid and that other funds will come from carbon credits - part of the system of incentives for reducing greenhouse gases mandated by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The agreement on deforestation, formally known as the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries, is part of the wider discussions here on reaching a global agreement on addressing climate change.

The World Bank, together with the Nature Conservancy, another U.S.-based environmental group, announced this week the establishment of several pilot projects to further the aims of the UN plan.

A $100 million Readiness Fund would provide developing countries with technical and financial assistance to measure carbon stored in its forests and devise strategies to reduce deforestation. It would also finance research on measuring reductions in emissions though sustaining forests.

A $200 million Carbon Fund will test the financial mechanisms in the UN plan, such as the trade of carbon credits, that could lead to less deforestation.
Click for full article.

UPDATE: Daphne Wysham writing in The Nation has presented a highly critical dissenting view that "carbon trading is not some innocuous attempt at climate stability. It is the neoliberal agenda writ large." Hoodwinked in Bali on Carbon Credits

Good to know of the pitfalls at the git-go. Obviously, there's going to be a LOT to work out. I and a lot of Brazilians I know hope that we (left, right and middle) will be able to put a forest protection plan in place that looks as good on the ground as on paper.

Friday, December 07, 2007


My good friend and maskmaker
extraordinaire Newman winters in
Bali where he lives and works with
local carvers and mask makers. He
is quite close to Nusa Dua, the
peninsula where the big UN-IPCC
conference is now being held.

I asked him to "file a report".

Dear Lou,

I can tell from your blog that this conference is
very important to you and the work you are doing
in Brazil, indeed on the planet. By comparison I
feel a little sheepish about my own connection with
world affairs. I do not have a clue of what is going
on in this most important of arenas; since as part of
my meditation here I refrain from paying any attention
at all to current affairs/media news.

So although I am only a few kilometers from the
conference; I have no idea what is going on there.
Indeed, you for sure know much more than I do.
My reflections then are coming from a different space.
I realize this might not be what you had in mind from
your "man on the spot" but perhaps another view from
Bali can also be part of the global picture.

The conference is being held on a sandy peninsula
at the south of the island. This area was scooped up
a few decades ago by mega corporations since it boasts
perhaps the finest beaches in Bali. It is now home to
the likes of the Hyatt regency and Club Med. It is without
doubt the most energy greedy part of the Island; air
conditioning, electrically generated endless hot water
(solar hot water heaters are amazingly absent from this
sunny place), huge swimming pools and more cars per
person than the rest of Bali, or the rest of Indonesia for
that matter.

The Balinese themselves see little financial gain from
the millions of dollars that pass through this place except
for very low pay for mostly menial jobs. I'm talking US$50
per month for working ten hours a day seven days a week,
cleaning rooms that rent for hundreds of dollars a day.
The land itself was bought from the Balinese either by
wealthy Javanese or foreigners. No doubt the delegates
will think they are in paradise and they are; but it is rather
a walled off conclave for the wealthy at the edge of that

The Balinese themselves live in quite densely populated
villages surrounded by unbelievably beautiful terraced
rice padis, sculpted into the volcanic slopes that comprise
this place. They have very highly developed community
structures that govern all aspects of life and are woven into
their spiritual life. I have never come across a people who
spend so much time praying to ensure the balance of the

So far the contributions of western culture to this mix have
been the introduction of pesticides and chemical fertilizers
for agriculture, motorized vehicles, and that consumer itch
that is generated and fueled by the hypnosis of television
and advertising. The results of western tourism to Bali have been....well very western. More jobs, more pollution of the
air, water and land and epidemic physical illness. Diabetes,
heart attacks and cancer are rife now, where they were
virtually unknown before the 1970's.

Amazingly the Balinese have not given up on praying;
indeed for them, more income often means more
elaborate ceremonies. The people wear the beauty of
their spiritual dedication in their open hearted gaze and
their happy demeanor. If you can get away from the tourist
ghettos, Bali is a beautiful place. It must seem somewhat
ironic then to these people, that the very "advanced"
westerners who brought all this trash and sickness to Bali,
are now gathering at the edge of the Island to try to figure
out how to get out of this mess.

I'm pretty sure the consensus among the Hindus of Bali
is that the rest of the world just doesn't pray enough.
Their solution?.... Pray more to make up for it and
trust that a balance will be achieved in this way.

I have been wintering in the hills around Ubud for
20 years. I've never been to Nusa Dua, the peninsula
where the conference is being held. I'm not drawn
to go there.

Love to you my friend.




Newm -- tooth ceremony
Elaborate offerings to the gods for a tooth filing ceremony
where young Balinese have their pointed canine teeth filed
flat to symbolize their journey into higher consciousness.

Newman's assistant on her wedding day.

Newm -- Bali NexGen
Next generation of Balinese

Newman in Bali
Newman in Bali.

There are some fine examples of Newm's work at
Newman's Commedia Mask Company.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007



This is important, so I'm posting it as reported at Mongabay. Follow the link to their treasure trove of vitally important rainforest information.

Amazon deforestation could be reduced to zero at $3 carbon price
Rhett Butler,
December 4, 2007

The Amazon rainforest could play a major part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that result from deforestation, reports a new study published by scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center, the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia, and the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. At a carbon price of $3 per ton, protecting the Amazon for its carbon value could outweigh the opportunity costs of forgoing logging, cattle ranching, and soy expansion in the region. 2008 certified emission-reduction credits for carbon currently trade at more than $90 per ton ($25 per ton of CO2).

The report, published as more than 10,000 policymakers and scientists meet for UN climate talks on the Indonesian island of Bali, presents a conceptual framework for estimating the costs to tropical nations of implementing programs to reduce emissions by reducing deforestation (REDD). During the 1990s, tropical deforestation and forest degradation contributed 7 to 28% of global, human-induced carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Cutting deforestation would reduce these emissions as well as provide other ecosystem services.

The report, titled "The Costs and Benefits of Reducing Carbon Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in the Brazilian Amazon," uses Brazil as a case study for REDD. Brazil is home to the bulk of the world's remaining tropical forest cover but has had the world's highest average annual loss of forest for more than three decades. Nevertheless, Brazil's forests contain more carbon (38-56 billion tons in the Amazon alone) in tropical forest trees than any other country.

The study argues that reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to zero over a ten year period from a current average of 20,000 square kilometers per year is not only acheivable at a low cost ($8 in direct government outlays and $18 billion in forgone opportunity costs over 30 years), but would bring benefits to a wide range of Brazilians, including some of the country's poorest people--forest dwellers--who would see their income double. The initiative would also reduce fire-based costs to society (respiratory illness, deaths, agricultural and forestry damages) of $10 to $80 million per year, protect the rainfall system that fuels the Brazilian grain belt and hydroelectric energy generation, and conserve the Amazon's unmatched biodiversity. Importantly the effort would reduce carbon emissions 6 billion tons below the historical baseline and 13 billion tons below projected levels.

Daniel Nepstad (2007). The Costs and Benefits of Reducing Carbon Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in the Brazilian Amazon [PDF]. The Woods Hole Research Center. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP), Thirteenth session. 3-14 December 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007


The widely read NY Times columist Tom Friedman has a very interesting op-ed in yesterday's edition, entitled "The People We Have Been Waiting For." In it he talks about visting the young student generation of engineers at MIT and witnessing their decision stop waiting for the elder generation to solve the world's problems.

"... I got together with three engineering undergrads who helped launch the Vehicle Design Summit — a global, open-source, collaborative effort, managed by M.I.T. students, that has 25 college teams around the world, including in India and China, working together to build a plug-in electric hybrid within three years. Each team contributes a different set of parts or designs. I thought writing for my college newspaper was cool. These kids are building a hyper-efficient car, which, they hope, “will demonstrate a 95 percent reduction in embodied energy, materials and toxicity from cradle to cradle to grave” and provide “200 m.p.g. energy equivalency or better.” The Linux of cars!

They’re not waiting for G.M. Their goal, they explain on their Web site — — is “to identify the key characteristics of events like the race to the moon and then transpose this energy, passion, focus and urgency” on catalyzing a global team to build a clean car. I just love their tag line. It’s what gives me hope:

“We are the people we have been waiting for.”
Read it all here.

There are lots of ways to express our need for individual initiative and collective responsibility. I've always loved to say, "WE are the ONE we've been waiting for." But how it is said is not very important compared with the sensibility that informs the words. For this, I always turn to the words of the un-named Hopi Elder.

A Hopi Elder Speaks

"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour, and there are things to be considered:

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader."

"The Elder then clasped his hands together and said, This could be a good time!"

"There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and they will suffer greatly.

"Know the river has its destination. The Elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.

"At this time in history we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over.

"Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

"We are the ones we've been waiting for. "

This statement began to appear on the eve of the Millenium and it has been attributed at times to an individual and at times to a council. Or,
maybe it arrived somehow in lots of people's minds. But figuring out the source is not as important as acting on the message. What a blessing it is to know that this is exactly what people are starting to do.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Here is a mavelous TED Talk presentation by master storyteller
and ethnobotanist Wade Davis whose mutileveled book on the
Amazon, called One River, is one of my favorites.

In the video Wade is describing the present threat of losing cultural
diversity and, along with it, the role of storytelling. His virtuoso
presentation is an example of the power of story.

(There's no more to read)