Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009


In 2004, thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers from all four corners, moved by their concern for our planet, came together at a historic gathering, where they decided to form an alliance: The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.

We've been following the 13 Grandmothers largely through our dear friend Agnes Baker Pilgrim. Now, the film documenting their collective story has been released.

Through the years, they've become teachers and icons who are galvanizing and uniting a rapidly emerging global movement. They are awakening people to the urgent need for change if we are to survive on this planet.

Please go here for more information on the film and links about the Grandmothers.

Friday, September 25, 2009



Daniel Goleman says, "Wal-Mart’s push to develop a sustainability index for the products it carries could prove to be a pivotal moment...."

15 Sep 2009: Analysis

Green Intelligence: Toward
True Ecological Transparency

Wal-Mart’s push to develop a sustainability index for the products it carries could prove to be a pivotal moment in the effort to make consumers aware of the environmental impacts of what they buy.

by daniel goleman

Two months ago, Wal-Mart made an announcement that could set off an ecological earthquake: The giant retailer disclosed it was cooperating with an academic consortium to develop a sustainability index for rating its hundreds of thousands of products.

Just weeks after Wal-Mart’s announcement, the Harvard Business Review featured a cover story proclaiming that sustainability has become the key to successful corporate strategy. The article, co-authored by the University of Michigan-based strategy maven C.K. Prahalad, proclaimed that the next business model must be green and touted ecological innovation as the coming driver of economic growth.

Wal-Mart has handed the environmental movement a new tool for ameliorating the human footprint: using an emerging generation of information systems to create market pressures to upgrade the ecological performance of commerce and industry. This strategy entails making life-cycle-assessment data for products transparent — that is, labeling them with a sound, independent rating so shoppers can easily take the ecological impacts into account as they decide what to buy.

Indeed, the Wal-Mart announcement has thrust what once seemed merely an intriguing idea into a market reality companies will have to deal with — not just in tomorrow’s strategic plans, but in today’s logistics and operations. Wal-Mart’s 100,000-plus suppliers (and the likes of Procter & Gamble counts as just one) will be required to reveal their products’ ecological impacts or have them dropped from the retailer’s stores worldwide.

continue reading at Yale's, "environment360".

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


That is certainly what we had last Sunday in São Paulo as the Santo Daime church Reino do Sol (Kingdom of the Sun) celebrated its 7th birthday with the singing of the hymnal Reinado do Sol of Gê Marques, many new fardados (initiates), the wedding of Sonia and Elias, a couple of baptisms, and seemingly endless joy. PARABÉNS!

There are about one dozen Santo Daime churches in greater São Paulo. Each has its own special energy. At Reino do Sol the specialty is a mixture of the traditions of Santo Daime and Umbanda.

The best headline for the day would be "Reino Really Rocks". Many more videos and photos follow. It is no exaggeration to say that the energy just keeps building and building. I hope you have time to check them out.

Here are some photos,

and there are more photos here.

"SPECIAL EDITION" NEW YORK POST from The Yes Men on Vimeo.

See more fine coverage at

Don’t Engineer Climate, Engineer Yourself?

During 2005 talks over the climate treaty in Montreal, for example, the National Center for Public Policy Research, a group opposing emissions restrictions, tried to illustrate its view of carbon markets by handing out mock emissions credits. These are the chits created under a cap-and-trade system for controlling pollution that allow businesses that make cuts beyond requirements to sell the extra tons to others. In this case, the mock credits were printed in five languages on rolls of toilet paper. Environmental groups responded in kind. The National Environmental Trust distributed custom-printed noise-making rubber whoopee cushions printed with a caricature of President George W. Bush and the words “ Emissions Accomplished.”

Now comes Survivaball. Until now, I was too busy covering the United Nations climate summit meeting and related activities to track the latest unconventional efforts to make points related to global warming, undertaken by the Yes Men, a clever group that started by passing out thousands of free copies of a fake edition of The New York Post blaring “We’re Screwed” in huge type. Then they followed up with the rollout (almost literally) of a new survival technology, Survivaball, intended to give residents of planet Earth everything needed to endure global warming. An arrest was involved. The video above says it all.

Some are trying climate art, some climate-related ceramics, some green music. Can you think of other ways to avoid the “ blah, blah, blah, bang” response to slow-drip issues like accumulating greenhouse gases?


That's how Prince Charles describes the all-important effort to save the global rainforests. Mongabay has a an interview with Tony Juniper, environmentalist, author, and special adviser to the Prince's Rainforest Project.

Go to original article.

Prince Charles of Great Britain has emerged as one of the world’s highest-profile promoters of a scheme that could finally put an end to destruction of tropical rainforests.

The Prince’s Rainforest Project, launched in 2007, is promoting awareness of the role deforestation plays in climate change—it accounts for nearly a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions. The project also publicizes the multitude of benefits tropical forests provide, including maintenance of rainfall, biodiversity, and sustainable livelihoods for millions of people. But the initiative goes beyond merely raising awareness. Prince Charles is using his considerable influence to bring political and business leaders together to devise and support a plan to provide emergency funding to save rainforests. The money would provide a financing bridge for tropical countries to begin taking steps necessary to reduce deforestation— a prelude to a broader U.N.-backed mechanism (known as REDD for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which would compensate developing countries for their progress in protecting their forests.

“If deforestation can be stopped in its tracks, then we will be able to buy ourselves some much-needed time to build the low carbon economies on which our futures depend,” Prince Charles states on his web site. “I have endeavored to create a global public, private and NGO partnership to discover an innovative means of halting tropical deforestation. Success would literally transform the situation for our children and grandchildren and for every species on the planet.”

Continue reading at Mongabay.

Monday, September 21, 2009



"Tonight is the global premiere of “ The Age of Stupid.” The film is a scorching appeal for humans to avoid knowingly up-ending the earth’s climate, delivered from the vantage-point of 2055, when the giant London Eye ferris wheel looks more like a waterwheel, with its bottom immersed in the Thames, along with much of central London."

DotEarth has a description and an excellent set of links to reviews and more information. Please check it out HERE.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009



Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish is loaded with reports and clips arriving from Tehran. Here's one that sums it up:

The Revolution Lives!

Today's Qods rally has been a huge blow to the regime. While Ahmadinejad delivers one of the most unhinged and despicable anti-Semitic rants he has ever uttered, trying to rally Iranians with the usual Jew-baiting, the crowds display contempt. Here is a video with a government bus chanting the slogan "Down with the USA!" The crowd chants: "Down with Russia!"

What's particularly encouraging is that the crowds are waving green again - despite strict warnings that such displays would be punished viciously. The regime is done. It has lost the people. But its death throes remain extremely dangerous.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


São Paulo

São Paulo City is BIG, the biggest city in South America and home to more high-rise buildings than I have seen anywhere else. Of course, there's a lot of concrete and it naturally became the substrate for a great deal of the city's art -- both human made and made by nature.

It's been quite a visual adjustment to be so "concretized". In the forest I roamed almost always with my camera and never failed to find photographic beauty. But I have largely ignored the city, at least camera-wise. Indeed, missing home in Acre, I was starting to develop an "attitude". So I decided to spend some time exploring what kind of photos might be captured from the concrete.

Just about every one who visits comments on the graffiti. Yesterday, Dave (who was visiting from NY) and I took a stroll through the neighborhood to check it out. I think this was my favorite:


Here's a slideshow of more graffiti and Dave getting into its mood.

Again, in this morning's soft light, I got intrigued by the concrete surfaces of the neighborhood -- especially by the patinas built up by weathering and many layers of paint, and the way they contrasted with things natural and human-made. It turned out to be like opening a a treasure chest.

Here's one


and, another slideshow:


UPDATE: My 88 year old uncle who recently fell from a ladder while pruning a tree and suffered a spinal compression fracture came through surgery VERY well and is now liberated from pain. He sends thanks for your prayers and he promises to climb no more ladders.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009



That's what the wild salmon of Idaho's Snake River want to do. They want to do it in the pools where they were born before migrating to sea to grow to adults and return when they "get the urge to merge" -- that is if they can get past the 4 dams that block all but a small percent who get up the fish ladders and around the obstacles.

Environmental groups and local activists have tried for years to get the antiquated dams removed and were hoping the the Obama administration might depart from 8 years of avoidance and denial under Bush to be the one to take action. But not so. Instead, the government is following the Bush approach with some new mitigation measures and will remove the dams only as a "last resort" after more "careful scientific studies".

In other words, instead of letting the salmon spawn until they die, they propose to study them to death.

Citizens have been appealing to Massachusetts Senator Kerry, who occupies a powerful position in the US Senate, to intervene as he has done on important issues in Alaska.

Last, but not least, here's the best Youtube clip that I could find. A superb vision of the wildness we seek to preserve in the few remnant places where it can still exist.

Yes, enough of the Salmon can get past the bears but they need our help to get past the dams.

Take action here.

See more of Ray Toll's art here.


US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has begun to send strong signals that there will not be any climate legislation this year and U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is urging the Copenhagen negotiators to "avoid unrealistic goals".

How should we feel about this? I think Tom Petty has the right answer...


I Won't Back Down Lyrics


Global warming is not a spectator sport.

It is the job of the people to hold their leaders' toes to the fire.

Looking for the action?

24 October 2009


Find many ways to act at

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Brazil's Cerrado, located in the interior plain, has long been recognized by scientists as the source of most of its fresh ground water and as one of world's most bio-diverse grasslands. But popularly, it was seen as a vast arid wasteland of stunted vegetation and suffered in comparison much better known lush Amazon basin.

It was thought worthless for agriculture until researchers at Brazil’s agricultural and livestock research agency, Embrapa, discovered that it could be made fertile by appropriate additions of phosphorus and lime. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug saw the Cerrado as one of Earth's last remaining arable frontiers for the expansion of agriculture, which is was indeed.

Former Brazilian Minister of Agriculture Alysson Paolinelli, soil scientist Edson Lobato (also of Brazil), and American soil scientist A. Colin McClung
were awarded the 2006 World Food Prize for their leadership in opening the Cerrado to agricultural and food production.

The agricultural revolution arrived at an enormous ecological cost. Over 50% of the cerrado was converted in less than three decades and today, with only 7.5% protected, it is threatened by single-crop monoculture plantations (particularly soybeans), the expansion of agriculture in general, and the burning of the vegetation for charcoal.

However, that may soon change. Recent studies show that damage to the Cerrado results in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those produced by destruction of the Amazon rainforest, said Brazil's Environment Minister Carlos Minc and he has announced a new government initiative to increase monitoring, create new protected areas, and launch sustainable development projects in the region.


Norman Borlaug - LIFE
Norman Borlaug 1970 LIFE Magazine photo

That's the title of John Tierney's post at the NY Times which begins with:

"Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, was celebrated for performing “miracles” by President Bartlet and an African leader in “The West Wing” .... He was described as history’s “greatest human being” by Penn and Teller (in their program featuring Dr. Borlaug and some of his opponents, like Greenpeace). Since his death on Saturday night at the age of 95, tributes from world leaders have been flowing."

While praise for the man is universal, praise for the agricultural revolution that he spawned is not.

Indeed, the range of opinions could not be greater:

For example, Tom Philpott at GRIST observes:

"One of the most ironic things I see in Borlaug obits is the idea that his innovations made countries like Mexico and India “self-sufficient” in food production. Actually, these nations became perilously dependent on foreign input suppliers for their food security.

"In India, site of the Green Revolution’s greatest putative triumph, the legacy is even more mixed.

"Today in India’s grain belt, less than 40 years after Borlaug’s Nobel triumph, the water table has been nearly completely tapped out by massive irrigation projects, farmers are in severe economic crisis, and cancer rates, seemingly related to agrichemical use, are tragically high.

"In other words, to generate the massive yield gains that won Borlaug his Nobel, the nation sacrificed its most productive farmland and a generation of farmers. Meanwhile, as in Mexico, urban poverty and malnutrition in India’s urban centers remained stubbornly persistent.

"For me, the point isn’t that Borlaug is a villain and that crop yields don’t matter; rather, it’s that boosting yield alone can’t solve hunger problems in any but the most fleeting way. Farmers’ economic well-being; biodiversity; ecology; local knowledge, buy-in, and food traditions—all of these things matter, too."

Monday, September 14, 2009


Bird & Bee

Lucky shot.

Sitting here in the center of South America's largest city and surfing the complex worlds of the Internet, I can't help thinking back on a simpler life in Acre. How sweet the memories are.

Back in early July, our 24 hour journey began in Capixaba and traveled to Bujari for the celebration of São Pedro and a full night of singing and dancing, 3 baptisms and much joy. Family, love, children, fun, nature, sunrise, a refreshing swim, a perch in a tree and then rest. All in a day.

Viva simplicity!

Sunday, September 13, 2009



Flying Spaghetti Monster The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the deity of the parody religion “The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster”. It was created by Bobby Henderson as a satirical protest to the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution in public schools. Henderson parodies the concept of intelligent design by professing belief in a supernatural creator, which closely resembles spaghetti and meatballs and calls for the “Pastafarian” theory of creation to be taught in science classrooms.

Touched by His Noodly Appendage


I'll  Be Gone
photo via Bits and Pieces

So... are we going to get fried again?

Speaking of the post-bailout situation in a lead article in today's NY Times, critics of Wall Street's ways are warning

... that the system has grown riskier since last fall. The extensive government support that began after Lehman collapsed will lead investors to assume that governments will always prevent major banks from collapsing, he said.

So investors will lend money to the financial industry on easy terms. In turn, financial institutions will use that cheap money to make risky loans and trades. The banks will keep the profits when their bets pay off, while taxpayers will swallow the losses when the bets go bad and threaten the system.

Economists call the phenomenon moral hazard. Bankers have a different term: I.B.G. The phrase implies that by the time a deal goes sour, “I’ll be gone,” after having received a sizable bonus.

The New Republic assesses the global situation: The Next Financial Crisis It's coming -- and we just made it worse.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A ‘Digital Participatory Culture’

“Free software is a possibility that those kids will reinvent things that need to be reinvented.”
Lula da Silva - Speech at 10.FISL, POA, Jun/2009

In 27 interviews with ministers (culture and education), artists (Gilberto Gil, Antonio Risério), and specialists we ask them about digital culture


Digital culture is a new, emergent term. It has been used in different forms by different sectors, and incorporates different perspectives about the impact of digital technology and networking in society. The Ministry of Culture see, as it's role, the convening of a collective reflection on these broader perspectives, encouraging the participation of all stakeholders in an innovative process of collaborative construction of public policies for the digital sector.

The cheapening of the personal computer and cellular phone, combined with the rapid development of applications using free software and free services on the network, has promoted a radical democratization of access to new means of production and access to knowledge. The digitization of culture, combined with the global race to connect everything to everyone all the time, turns open networks at this moment in history into something too big, which now requires specific consideration.

A recent debate in the blogosphere about an article in Wired Magazine - "The New Socialism," by Kevin Kelly - raised the issue of lack of appropriate terms to communicate the ongoing phenomena within the networks. Re-framing the term 'socialism' to refer to the innovative arrangements for sharing and collaboration typical of a collective connected by the Internet has generated controversy and has been challenged strongly by Lawrence Lessig, the American lawyer known for his activism in the debate over the revision of copyright laws.

Lessig argues that we are facing something entirely new, and that it is not appropriate to reuse terms loaded with former meanings to describe the current situation. His concern seems to be related to the typical American notion that establishes an inverse relationship between individual autonomy and state power -- a notion that is also the essence of th classic contest between right and left. However, as Kelly argues, the so called 'digital socialism' ('stateless socialism'?!) seems to host both classical libertarians who hate government in general, and the global political movements that are critical of excessive market logic.

Finally, there is a real lack of conceptual characterization for the phenomena encountered in digital culture. Yochai Benkler, reflecting creatively about the possibility of a political theory of the network, sees the emergence of social networks and peer production of an alternative to both the proprietary systems fundamental to the logic of the state and to the market. An innovative new cultural 'operating system' would be able to foster both creativity, productivity and freedom, while also satisfying the demands of both individuals and collectives. Benkler speaks of a 'participatory culture'.

With the arrival of ubiquitous, instant and inexpensive collaboration tools, it is possible to promote opportunities for debate and a collective model where public decentralized coordination can create innovative solutions to the issues presented by the 21st century. The implementation of this technology in the digital network environment, coupled with the concept of 'participatory culture' of Benkler, creates the possibility of bridging policies that once seemed mutually exclusive, inviting open discussion by opposing interest groups that have specialized in fighting in the trenches.

The Forum for Brazilian Digital Culture

In order to better understand the various parts that make up the mosaic of digital culture, to facilitate the public participation of those concerned with monitoring, and to assist the construction of public policies and regulatory frameworks that will format the sector, the Ministry of Culture is launching the Forum for Brazilian Digital Culture.

The process begins with the launch of the social network '', and the invitation of experts and networks of cultural activists to register and profile their digital identities and references (their blog, twitter, delicious, youtube, etc...) into the Forum. The environment was built to aggregate people and their socialstreams linked by the tag #culturadigitalbr, thus organizing and documenting their participation in the debate. Live presentational and virtual online events during the second half of 2009 will propel the discussion into the proposed five guiding themes: memory, communication, art, infrastructure and economy.

We have made several interviews with specialists, agency ministers, people from academia and artists, which turned into a book: The goal was to collect and provide initial inputs to warm up the debate, which will be consolidated at an international seminar to be held in November. Notably, the process of 'Brazilian Digital Culture Forum' will happen in parallel with major debates on regulatory frameworks and public policies that directly affect the landscape of digital culture.

The new draft copyright law which will be presented by the Ministry of Culture for public consultation and the cyber-crime law (Law azeredo) -- to be voted on in the House -- deals with structural issues for the governance of the digital environment. The national conferences of Culture and Communication coincidentally will also be going on, which makes the second semester of 2009 a special time for proposing, contemplating and debating visions of the future we want for the country.

The coordination of the 'Brazilian Digital Culture Forum' now is making available the '' network environment for all who wish to organize and document free conferences and/or other specific events related to these processes. We believe that the time is right to be motivated toward new ways to develop consensus and build proposals. MINC seeks to introduce into the prospect of digital culture the innovative elements that facilitate and promote greater engagement and more effective participation of interested citizens.

The most creative people are never all together in a single company or government or organization, or country. To open the processes of constructing public policies in the network, and facilitating the collaboration of stakeholders, is almost obvious as an initiative appropriate and necessary at the dawn of this century. Promoting innovation in processes and creating tools for distributed governance can refine democracy and transform society.

This article is foreword to the book ‘CulturaDigital.BR’,
an edition that is part of the process of the Brazilian Digital Culture Forum

Friday, September 11, 2009


Bear in a Chair

Andy Revkin posted this photo at DotEarth and invited reflections on the increaingly common interface between humans and wildlife.

Here's my 2 cents worth:

I've been fascinated (haunted?) by the pic of the bear in the chair. It triggered memories of my days in Oregon where I lived in a backwoods hippie community where folks avoided cruelty to wildlife at all costs. But there were limits.

One summer a black bear started to frequent yards and porches. Indeed, the big discussion at the swimming hole was "didja see the bear?" and "how didja chase it away?". Turns out that the bear was pretty fearless. Loud noises and threatening gestures, banging on pots and pans, and fireworks didn't work. Finally, it was discovered that the bear was terrified of cars. Just going out and starting up the pickup was enough to send it racing for the woods. That worked well for a few weeks. The community had discovered a benign response.

But one day, a guy came home to find the bear sitting in his young son's unoccupied playpen, actually playing with the kid's toys. That was too much. Out came the rifle and the bear was history.

Another Oregon anecdote is from my summer-long vigils in a wilderness camp on Bald Mountain in the Siskiyou National Forest. One year there was an old logger guy camped about 3 miles down the trail where he was doing some post-fire salvage work. He loved to feed a local deer and put out a bowl or oatmeal or cornflakes for it everyday. When I visited him, he proudly showed me how "tame and friendly" the deer had become.

Eventually the logger left and the deer went in search of another friendly human which, unfortunately, was me. The deer became the terrorist of my camp, waiting until no one was there to come marauding, kicking apart the tent, dumping buckets, stealing sweat-soaked shirts (loaded with salt) and doing much mischief. This went on for two years! Needless to say, I was not pleased.

There was much wildlife in the old-growth forest surrounding my camp. Each summer I sighted bears and cougars. I wasn't afraid because I knew that they had not habituated. I kept it that way by shouting and jumping up and down whenever one was near. Basically, my defense was that I knew that if animals remained in their wild nature, fearful of anything unfamiliar, that I could maintain safe space and be protected within my "nature". The bears could remain bears and I and the visitors to my camp could be secure and comfortable as humans. Nature provides for peaceful co-existence with boundaries. I was careful not to upset this natural balance.

The people of the far North (I forget whether Eskimo or Inuit) have an insightful way of looking at this: They love their dogs (which are constant work companions) but they truly revere the wolves. They view their dogs as lesser, seeing them as slaves to human purpose. But the wolves remain "virgin" -- truly free spirits -- beings worthy of adoration.

They have a saying, "Gifts turn wolves into dogs".

Yup, domestication is like like that. There are benefits for sure but also a host of problems that are not easily resolved. Contemporary human-and-nature interface is like that. I wrestled with it at my Amazon home and wrote a post about my struggles.

I don't know the big picture solution in a world of endless human diaspora into the habitats of other beings but I keep thinking of the saying: "Fences make good neighbors". Some separations have purposes. Perhaps, we should strive to keep it that way.


According to there are more than 55,000 environmental nonprofit organizations registered in the U.S. today, and many more green businesses.

Nevertheless, the world-leading American lifestyle remains the largest per capita consumer and polluter.

Back in the States I was part of an outstanding grass-roots nonprofit called The Siskiyou Project. I used to travel around with an Ancient Forest slideshow and solicit support for our efforts to save the forest. I used say, "There are 3 things - from easy to hard. Give money, take political action and, hardest, change your lifestyle." I suspected that most people took the first option and that this was a strong financial base for the world of non-profits. I came to believe that something more was needed.

Worldchanging is now touting a business model of "radical collaboration". And I have always appreciated the thinking of the Lovins team. But I fail to understand how greater efficiencies will halt or reconfigure the inexorable collective march toward greater consumption and exhaustion of the earth's resources.

Are you impressed with the remedy?




Brazil's Enviro Minister: Our President Is Going To Copenhagen
by Daniel Kessler
San Francisco, California on 09.11.09

Brazil's Environment Minister Carlos Minc made big climate news on Wednesday, criticizing weak U.S. targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, announcing new restrictions on the country's huge farm sector to slash deforestation, and saying that Brazil's president will travel to Copenhagen to attend the international climate negotiations in December.

Minc also said that Brazil would soon put forward targets to cut carbon emissions. Clearly, Brazil's goal will be more ambitious that those of the U.S., with Minc saying, "They (the U.S.) have to come closer to something beyond a 20 percent reduction." The U.S. target under the Waxman-Markey bill, which has cleared the House, is about 4 percent below 1990 levels.

Minc sounded a familiar tune for developing countries, saying developing countries should set reduction targets and that developed countries should increase their financing for mitigation and adaptation to fight against climate change. WWF estimates about $160 billion annually is needed from developed countries.

Last year, Brazil announced a plan to cut Amazon deforestation in half over 10 years. Deforestation contributes to making Brazil the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally. Minc said that next week Brazil will announce new restrictions on sugar cane planting and seek to ban new sugar mills in the Amazon, a major source of deforestation.



The story of small tribal peoples fighting a 27 billion dollar oil deal and the heart-wrenching legacy of illness and suffering from past oil spills are portrayed in the new many awards winning "must see" Joe Berlinger film, CRUDE. Please watch for it.

At this time when media attention seems captured by oceanic oil spills, I want to alert everyone to saga of bloody battles between big oil and the indigenous peoples of the Western Amazon. This struggle has been going for 70 years and is intensifying. There's an excellent current update and a set of background articles at

To get a sense of what it takes to protect a single place that is home to some of the greatest biodiversity on earth, check this incredible history of fighting to protect Ecuador's Yasuní Man and the Biosphere Reserve.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Fat and Fast Food
Photo: Alan Zale for The New York Times

Ever wonder why good health, good living and harmony between people and nature seem so difficult to achieve? Well, in the industrialized world (mostly in the North but now quickly spreading to the South) the fat cats -- the oligarchs of global agribusiness -- receive over a billion dollars (USD) of public taxpayer-funded subsidies and perhaps even more than that in indirect supports and tariffs each day. And this distorts everything.

Think of it this way: according to a 2004 Tufts University study, "the average European cow receives more in subsidies than the nearly three billion people who live on less than two dollars a day". Why? Because the so-called "free market power" of global agribusiness conglomerates is the result of their incredibly effective lobbying power in the Congresses and Parliaments that control policy formulation in the "representative" democracies of the modern "developed and developing" world. And this effects everything from poverty to health to the number of cows in the Amazon to global warming.

Here is Michael Pollan's analysis of the link to the current health care debate in the US.

NY Times
September 10, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor

Go to
Original Article

Big Food vs. Big Insurance

Berkeley, Calif.

TO listen to President Obama’s speech on Wednesday night, or to just about anyone else in the health care debate, you would think that the biggest problem with health care in America is the system itself — perverse incentives, inefficiencies, unnecessary tests and procedures, lack of competition, and greed.

No one disputes that the $2.3 trillion we devote to the health care industry is often spent unwisely, but the fact that the United States spends twice as much per person as most European countries on health care can be substantially explained, as a study released last month says, by our being fatter. Even the most efficient health care system that the administration could hope to devise would still confront a rising tide of chronic disease linked to diet.

That’s why our success in bringing health care costs under control ultimately depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of health care spending now goes to treat “preventable chronic diseases.” Not all of these diseases are linked to diet — there’s smoking, for instance — but many, if not most, of them are.

We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to the so-called Western diet. One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity, a condition that now accounts for nearly a tenth of all spending on health care.

The American way of eating has become the elephant in the room in the debate over health care. The president has made a few notable allusions to it, and, by planting her vegetable garden on the South Lawn, Michelle Obama has tried to focus our attention on it. Just last month, Mr. Obama talked about putting a farmers’ market in front of the White House, and building new distribution networks to connect local farmers to public schools so that student lunches might offer more fresh produce and fewer Tater Tots. He’s even floated the idea of taxing soda.

But so far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.

Why the disconnect? Probably because reforming the food system is politically even more difficult than reforming the health care system. At least in the health care battle, the administration can count some powerful corporate interests on its side — like the large segment of the Fortune 500 that has concluded the current system is unsustainable.

That is hardly the case when it comes to challenging agribusiness. Cheap food is going to be popular as long as the social and environmental costs of that food are charged to the future. There’s lots of money to be made selling fast food and then treating the diseases that fast food causes. One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry.

The market for prescription drugs and medical devices to manage Type 2 diabetes, which the Centers for Disease Control estimates will afflict one in three Americans born after 2000, is one of the brighter spots in the American economy. As things stand, the health care industry finds it more profitable to treat chronic diseases than to prevent them. There’s more money in amputating the limbs of diabetics than in counseling them on diet and exercise.

As for the insurers, you would think preventing chronic diseases would be good business, but, at least under the current rules, it’s much better business simply to keep patients at risk for chronic disease out of your pool of customers, whether through lifetime caps on coverage or rules against pre-existing conditions or by figuring out ways to toss patients overboard when they become ill.

But these rules may well be about to change — and, when it comes to reforming the American diet and food system, that step alone could be a game changer. Even under the weaker versions of health care reform now on offer, health insurers would be required to take everyone at the same rates, provide a standard level of coverage and keep people on their rolls regardless of their health. Terms like “pre-existing conditions” and “underwriting” would vanish from the health insurance rulebook — and, when they do, the relationship between the health insurance industry and the food industry will undergo a sea change.

The moment these new rules take effect, health insurance companies will promptly discover they have a powerful interest in reducing rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to diet. A patient with Type 2 diabetes incurs additional health care costs of more than $6,600 a year; over a lifetime, that can come to more than $400,000. Insurers will quickly figure out that every case of Type 2 diabetes they can prevent adds $400,000 to their bottom line. Suddenly, every can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look like a threat to future profits.

When health insurers can no longer evade much of the cost of treating the collateral damage of the American diet, the movement to reform the food system — everything from farm policy to food marketing and school lunches — will acquire a powerful and wealthy ally, something it hasn’t really ever had before.

AGRIBUSINESS dominates the agriculture committees of Congress, and has swatted away most efforts at reform. But what happens when the health insurance industry realizes that our system of farm subsidies makes junk food cheap, and fresh produce dear, and thus contributes to obesity and Type 2 diabetes? It will promptly get involved in the fight over the farm bill — which is to say, the industry will begin buying seats on those agriculture committees and demanding that the next bill be written with the interests of the public health more firmly in mind.

In the same way much of the health insurance industry threw its weight behind the campaign against smoking, we can expect it to support, and perhaps even help pay for, public education efforts like New York City’s bold new ad campaign against drinking soda. At the moment, a federal campaign to discourage the consumption of sweetened soft drinks is a political nonstarter, but few things could do more to slow the rise of Type 2 diabetes among adolescents than to reduce their soda consumption, which represents 15 percent of their caloric intake.

That’s why it’s easy to imagine the industry throwing its weight behind a soda tax. School lunch reform would become its cause, too, and in time the industry would come to see that the development of regional food systems, which make fresh produce more available and reduce dependence on heavily processed food from far away, could help prevent chronic disease and reduce their costs.

Recently a team of designers from M.I.T. and Columbia was asked by the foundation of the insurer UnitedHealthcare to develop an innovative systems approach to tackling childhood obesity in America. Their conclusion surprised the designers as much as their sponsor: they determined that promoting the concept of a “foodshed” — a diversified, regional food economy — could be the key to improving the American diet.

All of which suggests that passing a health care reform bill, no matter how ambitious, is only the first step in solving our health care crisis. To keep from bankrupting ourselves, we will then have to get to work on improving our health — which means going to work on the American way of eating.

But even if we get a health care bill that does little more than require insurers to cover everyone on the same basis, it could put us on that course.

For it will force the industry, and the government, to take a good hard look at the elephant in the room and galvanize a movement to slim it down.

Michael Pollan, a contributing writer for The Times Magazine and a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


"The whole Amazon will be torn down if we don't come up with a sensible and effective system. The time to act is now." has just published one of the most thorough analysis of the current challenge to the Amazon Basin that I have seen. It's got everything, including photos, graphs and back stories. If you want to understand the incredible challenge that the forest and its peoples are facing, including some stunning recent initiatives to turn back the devastation, please keep reading here.

Many thanks to Rhett Butler for continuing to bring us and the world the latest in-depth information.


Poet Crab

This post is dedicated to my friend Poetcrab who was furious with my support for Obama before the election and has been going ballistic over my willingness to cut him lots of slack despite his disappointing performance.

I think that Maureen Dowd nailed it in today's New York Times. God bless her ornery soul!

Less Spocky, More Rocky


WASHINGTON - September 9, 2009

As soon as I started covering Barack Obama, I knew he was going to be trouble.

Not Global Trouble, like W. and Dick Cheney. Or Hanky-Panky Trouble, like Bill Clinton and John Edwards. Or Tedious Trouble, like John Kerry and Michael Dukakis.

He was going to be the kind of guy who whipped you up and then, when you were all excited, left you flat, and then, when you were deflated and exasperated and time was running out, ensorcelled you again with some sparkly fairy dust.

It’s an irritating pattern. Not as puerile as Bill Clinton’s pattern of wasting time and plunging into personal chaos, or as horrifying as Dick Cheney’s routine of bullying and cutting paper dolls out of the Constitution.

But not as reliably uplifting as Jed Bartlet either.

After keeping his great powers of persuasion and elucidation under wraps all summer, the president at long last comes forward to explain his health care plan to an utterly confused and increasingly skeptical and wary public.

He should have done this speech back in June and conjured up a better glossary. You can’t combat a scintillating term like “death panels” with a somnambulant one like “public option.”

President Obama is so wrapped up in his desire to be a different, more conciliatory, beer-summit kind of leader, he ignores some verities.

Sometimes, when you’ve got the mojo, you have to keep your foot on your opponent’s neck. When you’re trying to get a Sisyphean agenda passed, it’s good if people in the way — including rebellious elements in your own party — fear you.

Civil discourse is fine, but when the other side is fighting dirty, you should get angry. Don’t let the bully kick sand in your face. The White House should have impaled death panel malarkey as soon as it came up.

By the time the president got feisty in a speech on Monday, the inmates had taken over cable TV, much like the spooky spirits swarming up over Bald Mountain in “Fantasia.”

Even Steve Hildebrand, the strategist who helped shape Obama’s historic win in the Iowa caucuses, complains that his former hero “needs to be more bold in his leadership.” Disenchanted at Obama’s disengaged approach on health care and gay rights, Hildebrand told Politico’s Ben Smith that he was “losing patience.”

It was one thing for Obama to delegate freely when he was on the Harvard Law Review, but it’s madness to go play golf and delegate freely to Congress, letting Nancy Pelosi make your case. After signaling that there was nothing he’d fall on his sword for on health care; after dropping Van Jones at the first objection from Glenn Beck — a demagoon who called Obama a “racist” — the president is getting to be seen as an easy mark.

If Obama didn’t have a knife-thrower like Rahmbo in the Oval, Democrats would be totally convinced that the president would fold in a heartbeat.

In the absence of more vivid presidential leadership, the Democrats have reverted to their old DNA — self-destructive scrapping and spending. And the Republicans are sticking to theirs — being mean-spirited and shameless, attacking big government spending while taking no blame for their own.

Just as he let Hillary breathe new life into her faltering campaign in New Hampshire, Obama let the moribund Republicans revivify themselves in the slashing image of Limbaugh and Palin. Administration officials have been chortling that Republicans overreached in criticizing the president for giving a speech urging kids to study hard, write their own destiny and wash their hands.

It’s true that Republicans who objected looked risible. On MSNBC, Joe Watkins, a G.O.P. strategist, explained the perils of letting “one of the most gifted speakers that the world has ever seen” speak to impressionable children.

What if next time, he asked, the president made a strong argument to kids about the Defense of Marriage Act? “What if,” he wondered, “kids come back home and say to their mom and dad, when the president who they like and who they agree with, tells them marriage is not necessarily between a man and a woman?”

But if such Republicans seem loco, and the far left looks easily outmaneuvered, the president seems lame, too, for letting the crazies and uglies get on offense all summer, showcased by a superficial media beast. Laura Bush had to ride to Obama’s rescue and explain that he wasn’t a brain-washing alien, that it was a good thing for a president to inspire kids.

It shouldn’t take a superhuman effort by the Democrats, with an assist from a Republican former first lady, to beat back the most obviously nutty, stupid things that Republicans say.

The president told students on Tuesday that “being successful is hard” and “you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.”

He should take his own words to heart. He can live long and prosper by being less Spocky and more Rocky.


I suspect that Crab will remain dissatisfied that I haven't gone into the depths of what's wrong so I invite him to use the comment section below to tell you what he thinks.

Me? I think that the whole Congressional system is rotten to its core and that Obama has no appetite for revolution. So we're sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place. Or is it between a cloud and a sponge? No matter. Either way nothing changes, leaving many to wonder, "what was it that we believed in?".

Tuesday, September 08, 2009



This is my uncle Ciggie. He lives near Chicago.

He's a pretty special guy and one of the people who has been very important in my life.

As a child, my family was always encouraging me to be grown-up, providing books and special educational classes and many wonderful opportunities to develop.

But it was Ciggie who knew that what I really wanted was to just be a kid. He gave me an electric train when I was 5. He regularly showed up on Saturday's to take me to the movie matinee -- two cowboy flicks, 3 serial adventures and 15 cartoons (yup, this was pre-television). And, best of all, he gave me my first ticket to the natural world -- a fishing rod.

When I tell him about it, he says that he knew that it was hard to be an only child as he also was one and that he decided to become my brother so that we could both be happy.

Ciggie was 88 last January. He still learns things on the Internet where he sends me loving messages. He recently got slowed down a bit by a fall from a ladder but the doc says that things are going to be OK. I hope that you can join me in wishing him a speedy and complete recovery. After all... he's my brother.

Monday, September 07, 2009


What is Happiness?

A great question for Labor Day in the US and Independence Day in Brazil.

Andy Revkin at the NY Times has revisted the discussion of "Wealth, Work and Well-Being" at his Dotearth blog as sort of a Labor Day "special". The question of "what is happiness?" is core to the discussion.

I tossed in my 2 cents worth and he picked my comment as an "Editor's Choice". (Thanks Andy.) Here's what I had to say:

It's a lovely sunny Monday morning here in São Paulo where we are also celebrating a holiday, Brazilian Independence Day. And the thought of independence, of freedom from the past, brings me to yet another comment.

What is happiness? I believe it is freedom from the burdens of the past. It is independence from attachments to concepts that hold us back, that prevent us from stepping freely in the promises of future possibilities. If you are anything like me, perhaps you will see that a major bondage is our individual and collective judgments learned in the past or, indeed, our judgments of the past and of who we are.

Yes, there is a world of suffering. Yes, greed too often runs amok. Yes, our world needs to change. But why is it that in seeking a better world we so often end up judging each other for our very human qualities? Why do we think that we must change Human Nature? Do we really believe that to be human is to remain trapped in some sort of an Original Sin?

The Hebrew word for "sin" simply means to "miss the mark", to err or to be somehow "off-target". It's not a condemnation. It's how we learn and evolve. It's called, "trial and error". There's nothing "wrong" with that. It's simply our learning program.

As humans, we seem to have three main tendencies -- we expand the use of our tools, we multiply our numbers, and we generate a lot of waste. Is this wrong? Does it make us a failure? An experiment turned bad? Does the earth need a new Operating System? A whole new species?

I have come to believe that the answer is, "NO". We don't need a new OS, a White Leopard to replace Human Nature. But we desperately need a new configuration. Let me offer two examples of how Human Nature might be re-configured, one ancient and one quite contemporary:

My first example is the Potlatch ceremonies of the tribal peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The Potlatch was a great Giveaway ceremony that has been mistakenly interpreted by some romantic moderns as a great example of altruism, a replacement of competition with mutuality. But it was nothing of the kind. Indeed, it was an aggressive and often insulting competition through which families vied for status and type-A young warriors competed for the attention of the prettiest chicks. A young warrior would never accumulate possessions that would inhibit his prowess as a hunter. The way to advance was to give it all away and attract what he really wanted -- sort of a google principle.

The point is that these people did not try to change human nature. They configured greed, lust, envy, status and power competition into something that was communally beneficial.

My second example also has ancient roots but is now emerging in a contemporary form.

As Andy points out repeatedly, sustainability is the great 21st Century challenge as we head toward 9 billion people. Greater efficiency can offer some relief but it ultimately leads to more taking of the earth's resources. Aggregate consumption increases with development. Waste multiplies with numbers even as family size decreases. We still expand our takings, multiply our consumption and put our waste into the air and water. This is not "bad" Human Nature but rather a bad configuration. It violates Natural LAW (Land, Air, Water) by forgetting that the Land (soil) must be renewed.

Here's where we come back to Brazil and the terra preta practices of ancient Amazonian peoples who are now thought to have once supported high density populations of millions living in balance with the forest. They apparently achieved this feat by putting their waste not into the air or water (as industrial societies have done and still do) but by converting it all into a charcoal based soil amendment that increased soil stability and fertility. They did not stop wasting. They turned waste into an earth renewing resource.

Here's the seminal BBC documentary The Secret of El Dorado and here's the contemporary International Biochar Initiative that is carrying the ancient terra preta configuration into modern forms.

No, there's nothing fundamentally flawed with Human Nature. We just need to re-configure it into becoming more fully human which means, more relational, more reciprocal and, thus, more sustainable.

Finally, to come full circle, the global 2010 IBI meeting will be held in -- you guessed it -- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

What is happiness? I think it is whatever lessens our problems and helps us reconnect -- to the earth, to each other, and to ourselves. We are learning now in fits and starts how to be more fully human. With luck, one day we will be able to reach for happiness no longer as consumers but as creators.

As the wise Hopi elder said, "This could be a very good time."


Bear and Wolf
photo source

A Story by Lou Gold

Once there was a small boy by the name of Little Bear. When people spoke to Little Bear they emphasized the word "Little" more than the word "Bear" because he was smaller than the other boys around. But he had a BIG spirit.

Little Bear had a not always happy life. Somewhere along the way his mother had lost his father. Although she was a very good mother she was often so busy providing and gathering that she just wasn't there when Little Bear felt that he really needed her. Often he was quite lonely. And in his loneliness he retreated into a dream. In his dream he saw a magical homeland far away on a mountain near an ocean, where the trees grow very, very big.

The lonelier Little Bear got the more his dream grew. One day his dream grew so big that Little Bear, thinking only of the size of his spirit, left home to find the home of his dreams. He really wasn't concerned about his body that day. Indeed, he didn't even take any warm clothing or food. He walked all day and at dusk he was far away, at the edge of a great woods. There, for the first time he remembered his body. He knew he was now cold and he knew that he was hungry. And, worst of all, he remembered that he was terrified of the dark.

Darkness came anyway, as it always does. Little Bear thought he would lie down and retreat into his dream, because his dream had always saved him from painful experiences. As he lay down he felt that he was against a large furry animal but he couldn't see in the dark. Soon a full moon rose. As it lit up the woods he saw that, indeed, he was lying against a great wolf.

He said, "Who are you?" and the wolf answered, "I'm the greatest she-wolf of them all. I have been traveling this land for many, many, many moons. This full moon is very important because tomorrow I will reverse my tracks and begin the long journey home. My home is on a mountain near an ocean far away where the trees grow very, very big."

Little Bear jumped up and down with glee and said, "Oh, Great Mother, that is the home of my heart! I am trying to go there. Won't you take me?"

The old she-wolf laughed at him and said, "You're small, you can't hunt, you can't provide for yourself, and you don't understand the ways of the four-leggeds. My paws are not meant for carrying. It's true that many years ago when I was young, before I had sixteen litters of pups, my back would have been strong enough to carry you but now it is too weak. No, you will have to stay here."

When Little Bear heard that he began to cry. There was just no way to hold back his sadness. Tears rolled down his cheeks and one of them fell on the great she-wolf. When it struck against her body it awakened in her a long forgotten mother's instinct and her heart opened to Little Bear's need. She said, "Well, there is one way I can carry you. After bearing sixteen litters of pups there is now a great emptiness inside me. You can crawl in there and I will carry you that way, but I must warn you, it is very, very, very dark."

Little Bear weighed his fear of the darkness against his great desire to find the home of his dreams, and he crawled in. At first the darkness didn't bother him at all because it was a warm and comfortable place, nurturing and renewing. But as time went on it felt as if he was growing bigger. First he called out to ask what was happening to him, but his words were muffled. As the growing continued, what he had felt before as comforting and nurturing now felt confining and suffocating. And Little Bear once again became aware of his terror of the dark. He kicked and screamed and flailed about, all to no avail. He went into a full blown panic and exhausted he fell asleep, the deep sleep that follows only the greatest of exertions.

Meanwhile, the great She-Wolf was slowly making her way across the country. She had been rather cranky and irritable the last few days because of all the kicking going on inside her, but now she was relieved because a calm had returned. But she wondered to herself, "My this load I am carrying seems heavier than any of the litters I have borne before." As more time passed it got heavier and heavier, and she thought, "This is heavier than all of my sixteen litters combined."

Her stomach grew until it was almost touching the ground. Yet she was still a full moon cycle away from the mountain that was her home. She moved very slowly and could no longer hunt. That last month was torturous but finally, exhausted, she arrived at the foot of the mountain. There she sat, pondering her dilemma, "How did I ever get myself into such a fix? I have not only put my own life at risk, but now there is another life that is in jeopardy too." She felt sad and depressed and hopeless.

As she sat there another full moon rose. Beautifully it lit up the forest and a wondrous, magical deer came out of the trees. He looked over at her and said, "Oh, Great Mother, I can see your dilemma. You thought you could rescue some one, who was acting foolishly, but you have only endangered your life and another's as well. But I also see that you acted out of your best intentions and deepest instincts."

He walked over and lay besides her giving himself away for her nourishment. Ravenously she ate every morsel of flesh of his great carcass. In an instant, a tremendous surge of energy flowed through her body. She sprang up and ran toward the trail. She ran hard and heavy, all night, the full length of the trail to the top of the mountain. As first light dawned she arrived at her home. There she sat, panting in exhaustion. She felt sick to her stomach and again she wondered, "I probably could have gotten up here by eating only one flank of that deer. Why do I always do too much?"

Her stomach felt like it was going to turn inside out and she opened her mouth wide to heave up what was left of the magical deer. But a deer did not come out. Instead, it was a full-blown man.

He stood in front of her - radiant, glowing, powerful - rubbing his eyes and when he opened them he asked, "Where am I?" The great She-Wolf answered, "Look around you!" And he saw the home of his dreams - his heart home - on a mountain, by an ocean, where the trees grow very, very big.

He sang. He danced. And a great thunderous laugh roared out of his body. It was such a beautiful laugh that it made the trees laugh and the flowers laugh and the critters laugh until the whole mountain shook with laughter. The old She-Wolf lying there looked up at him and felt an old stirring in her body that she had not felt in a long time. She thought, "Hmmm, I may yet find me a young he-wolf and make another litter of pups."

The beautiful man looked down at her and asked, "Great Mother, I no longer have the body of Little Bear. Who am I?"

She answered, "Your new name is Laughing Bear. Go now. Leave the mountain. Spread your laugh across this great land. Bring joy into the hearts of everyone you meet. And always remember the children who dream our future and the mothers who carry us home."

by Lou
25 October 1991

Gray Wolf II
Photo Source