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Why New York’s fracking ban matters

The science is not in on fracking. There is lots of anecdotal evidence that fracking causes all manner of  problems, including contaminated water supplies and possibly even earthquakes. But especially when compared to other conventional energy generation techniques, including tar sands and nuclear power, it is unclear if banning fracking should be an environmentalist’s top priority.

There is, for example, no evidence at all the fracking leads to breast cancer (contrary to the borrowed graphics in my Pinkwash post). Yes, there are lots of nasty chemicals in fracking fluids, and certainly lots of them are toxic. But as my toxicologist and environmentalist friend Will Forest is fond of reminding me, “The first rule of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison.” Volumetrically, the amount of these chemicals being put into the water supply may well be so tiny as to not be a huge problem.

We do know there are better ways

We do know there are better ways

We can still unhesitatingly celebrate the New York ban anyway, for several reasons. At the top of the list is that fracking technology in the US has been promoted by the oil industry with a principal focus on profits. Dick Cheney famously exempted fracking companies from the Clean Water Act, creating what is oft referred to as the Halliburton Loophole, after the company he once ran. Fracking companies have successfully avoided even listing all the chemicals they use in the process, siting the importance of their “trade secrets,” again prioritizing profits over public health, while also impeding the investigation of health science. The EPA has been a tool of the oil industry, and not just under Bush/Cheney, revising their critical findings almost whenever the industry complains.

Gasoline prices in the US are low, largely because of fracking. The US enjoys a significant competitive advantage over both Europe and Japan, with natural gas prices of 1/3 to 1/4 respectively. The oil industry estimates that unconventional oil and gas production will more than double the current 1.7 million jobs it provides by 2035. But none of this economic “good news” should change our mind about the NY fracking ban, or any other state’s effort to ban this controversial process.

The end of peak oil, for now.

The end of peak oil, for now.

What is the absolute worst case here? Let’s assume the industry is right. If it turns out that there are no or only minimal environmental effects due to fracking, the science comes in and proves that this fear-based campaign to stop fracking in New York was a complete mistake. Then the fantastically powerful oil industry will simply get the next governor of NY to reverse the ban (which they’ll likely attempt anyway) and all that will have been lost is next quarters profits.

We can afford to wait.

Congrats to NY activists who won this fight

Congrats to NY activists who won this fight

The most ambiguous word i use

“Who is this ‘We’ you keep referring to?” One Facebook commenter wrote recently.  It is a great question actually.

In this particular case, i was referring to the intentional communities movement.  “We” are consuming dramatically fewer resources than our mainstream counter parts, because we are sharing.


But i also use it identify Twin Oaks and Acorn specifically, as large, established, successful, income sharing communities.

These are the toothbrushes "we" use.

These are the toothbrushes “we” use.

i regularly refer to the anti-nuclear movement as “we”.

no nukes

Sometimes “We” is the infamous Star Family


Often i use the word “We” to denote the entire set of people who want to change the world for the better.

If we can just think more about "we" than "me"

If we can just think more about “we” than “me”

Occasionally, it is the term i use to describe polyamory activists.


But of course the most simple approach is the just do the simple translation in your head.  When i say “We”, it is always safe to compress it down to simple mean “i”

Better than average questions

I often start tours of the community with the following rant:

You have two options today.  The first is that you can get a good tour.  In this, we wander around campus for 3 hours, and i tell you entertaining and informative stories, and you walk away thinking it was probably better than a movie.  The other option is you can have a great tour.  This however takes work on your side.  You need to listen to me for a bit and then start asking yourself “Why couldn’t i live here?”  This will result in you having a bunch of questions which are not part of my standard script.  When you start interrupting my endless rambling and start asking these questions, you will get a great tour.

We get thousands of questions in the communities movement, many of them simple and demographic (how many people, average age, average stay, number of years since founding, how many kids, cows, cats, etc).  Many of these are boring, at least to us who answer them all the time.  And answers to many of these can be found on the communes FAQ page.

And every so often we get some get someone really clever who is thinking about good questions and the stock answers just don’t have it covered and so it is with a recent student inquiry from Appalachian State University who sent the following set.

1. How has living at Twin Oaks changed your life?
2. What are the benefits and/or challenges of income sharing?
3. What does egalitarianism mean to you, and do you think Twin Oaks is a role model for this?
4. What kind of sustainability practices does Twin Oaks implement/practice?
5. Why do you think Twin Oaks is one of the longest-enduring communities in the US?
6. Are the decision making processes at Twin Oaks effective and equitable?
7. Does Twin Oaks represent equal opportunity for all members?
8. How is the quality of life different at Twin Oaks (In comparison to living outside community)?
9. What are the most beneficial/negative factors of community living?
10. Feel free to comment on anything that you find note-worthy about Twin Oaks community.

I thought at first i could answer them with links back to my blog posts, but a significant number can’t be answered that way.  So here goes.

How has living at Twin Oaks changed your life?

i worry about money much less.  i hardly worry about crime at all.  i spend less time doing political organizing work.  i spend more time outdoors.  i spend less time commuting.  i spend more time lobbying or trying to influence people who i know and less time trying to influence people who i don’t know (at least face-to-face).  In terms of polyamory, i have become much more part of the Old Guard.  I am more focused on propositional politics than opposition ones.  It is much easier to deal with my choice to get arrested for political protest than when i had a straight job, and thus i do it a bit more often.

life changing event

What are the benefits and/or challenges of income sharing?

There are a bunch of benefit.  You can work less and have more.  You need not worry about being fired, or about not having your basic needs met.  And you are also modeling an ecologically friendly way to live, which if applied widely, would actually save the world.  The challenge is that it is off-the-chart-difficult for people to trust each other.  Even when it is clearly to everyone involved that they will be better off by pooling resources, people don’t want to do it and would rather work much harder so that their stuff can sit at home idle all day while they are working to pay for it.

What does egalitarianism mean to you, and do you think Twin Oaks is a role model for this?

There is quite some disagreement as to what is meant by egalitarianism.  Some people think it simply means “equal access to all collective assets (potentially modified by extraordinary need).”  Others think it means “every hour of work is equal to every other hour of work and that there is no such thing as “women’s work” or “men’s work”.  Still others think it means we are trying to create a society in which everyone is equal in as many aspects as possible, especially economically.  Regardless of which definition you use, Twin Oaks is absolutely a role model.


What kind of sustainability practices does Twin Oaks implement/practice?

So i think the two main sustainability models for Ecovillages are Dark Green or Net Zero.  Twin Oaks follows neither of these, and actually energy self-sufficiency is no where near the top of our agenda.  Despite this we have super impressive numbers for our climate damaging gases being mitigated by this high sharing lifestyle.  Central to all this progress is radical sharing.  If there is a single thing we need to export to the mainstream, it is how to avoid brittle agreements and share better.

Why do you think Twin Oaks is one of the longest-enduring communities in the US?

So, Twin Oaks is only one of the longest-enduring intentional communities if you leave out the tremendous number of Christian communities, many of which are much larger and older than we are.  There are lots of differences between us and these places, most profoundly that we have no charismatic leader.  And 47 years is nothing to sneeze at.  Part of our success was we chose a good industry to be in early on (hammocks) and reliable cooperative business partner (in our case Pier 1).  Twin Oaks has fear of change, so we are quite hesitant to change our practices, even if there are models of better ways to do things.



Are the decision making processes at Twin Oaks effective and equitable?

Twin Oaks uses a planner/manager system, which is a self selecting autocracy with a democratic cap.  I actually think the Twin Oaks method is a terrible decision making system (Acorn, which uses consensus, is much better of to their meetings).  This is especially problematic when we have internal overrides.

There are many directions

There are many directions

Does Twin Oaks represent equal opportunity for all members?

Not perfectly, but better than any place i have ever been or heard about.

How is the quality of life different at Twin Oaks (In comparison to living outside community)?

More security, leff privacy.  More community, less personal access to money.  More flexibility, less resume building opportunities.  More trust in your own determination of what is good for you (how often you take sick time, what time of day you should get up, do you want to be scheduled or figure it out yourself).  More values-driven people than money-driven ones.

What are the most beneficial/negative factors of community living?

For some people, the restrictions that the community places on members are quite problematic.  This blog post lists many of them. And the community is a model of how to cut your carbon footprint.  But again, this only happens  if people feel proactive about this.

Feel free to comment on anything that you find note-worthy about Twin Oaks community.

You might find this useful.  It is the re-post of an article written in for an academic press.  The article is called Island.

How Sustainable is Twin Oaks?

Twin Oaks is an established income sharing community in central Virginia of 93 adults and 15 children.  Now located on a 450 acre farm, the commune operates 6 businesses, grows most of its own food–organically–builds it’s own buildings, teaches it’s own kids, and repairs it’s own appliances and vehicles.

Welcome to the Community

Welcome to the Community

Here is some of the mainstream and alternative media coverage of us:

Central to the community’s operation is the idea of sharing resources.  Twin Oaks has developed robust systems for sharing cars, bikes, clothes and businesses.  These systems are in sharp contrast to the casual sharing practiced in the mainstream where brittle agreements generally lead to failure.

Turns out to be quite difficult to take good pictures of Commie Clothes

Turns out to be quite difficult to take good pictures of Commie Clothes

One of the many advantages of sharing resources is dramatically reducing our negative ecological effect and carbon footprint.  The numbers below demonstrate we are already near the 80% reduction in carbon emissions that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is recommending by the year 2050.

[Note: It is unclear if the below numbers include our income generating businesses or not.  My guess is they do, and thus we are even more sustainable.  But i will check and indicate here what is true.]

Gasoline: The average Virginia resident uses about 530 gallons per year. Twin Oaks consumed about 15,267 gallons of gas in 2007. With an adult & child population on average of population of 96, that would put our consumption at 159 gallons per person. That is 70% less gasoline consumed.

gas pump noozle

Electricity: The average Virginia resident uses 13,860 kWh of Electricity per year. Twin Oaks consumed 268,065 kWh in 2007. With an adult & child population on average of 96, that would put our consumption at 2,792 kWh per person. That is 80% less electricity consumed.

These numbers pre-date our installation of a 10 kW solar panel array

These numbers pre-date our installation of a 10 kW solar panel array

Natural Gas: The average household in Virginia uses 767 therms of natural gas. Twin Oaks consumed 16,221 therms of natural gas in 2007. With an adult population on average of 87 adults, that would put our consumption at 186 therms per person. That is 76% less natural gas consumed.

Solid Waste: The average American produces 1,460 pounds of trash a year. Twin Oaks produced 18,780.00 pounds of solid waste in 2007. With an adult & child population on average of 96, that would put our production at 196 pounds per person. That is 87% less solid waste produced.

The cultural aspects of community life are as important as the economic ones.  We develop our own holidays.  Almost all our operations are run by volunteers.  We don’t use money internally and there is effectively no crime.

The cast and director of Freegantown

The cast and director of Freegantown

In many ways , the community is an island, culturally and economically separate from it’s immediate surroundings.  This cooperative model, however, is one of the very few solutions that can actually avoid the climate catastrophe the US is hurtling toward at breakneck speeds.

The original data for comparing Twin Oaks with US average consumption of electricity, natural gas, gasoline and solid waste were researched by Alexis Ziegler of Living Energy Farm.

An opportunity for your dark green friend

Perhaps there is this type of person in your life, they are unusually principled, comfortable with hard work and they likely think most people are not going far enough to personally work on saving the environment.  They might have principal objections to flying, a vegan diet or live off the grid.  People and groups which adopt these reasonable, but oft seen as extreme positions i sometimes refer to as “dark green“.  I worked in a Czech dark green groups office.  It was many floors of steps to walk up, i did not know for 3 years that there was an elevator in the building.   You know the type.

Living Energy Farm is an ambitious and challenging project.  Essentially preparing for a post petroleum world, while it can still be done relatively comfortably.  However they are using a prefigurative approach, in which we model the practices which will be used in the resource-scarce future.  This means lots of things by hands, living closer to the seasons and nightfall, and thinking about how to reduce one’s impact seriously.

Below is Living Energy Farms latest Newsletter.

21st century camp fire

21st century camp fire

Living Energy Farm
July, August, September 2014 Newsletter

Living Energy Farm Needs You!

Have you ever thought about helping Living Energy Farm? Well, now we have a warm, dry place for you to stay. After the relentless cold and wet of last winter, facing the prospect that our project could come to a halt this winter, we worked with our supporters to gain the use of a house in the town of Louisa, one mile from LEF. (We call the house Magnolia, in honor of the massive Magnolia tree in the yard.) This will allow us to keep the project moving through the coming cold months. If you have any carpentry or mechanical skills, that’s great. If not, we can still use your help. Now we can offer you a warm bed. Much better than a tent in winter!

We are, in all honesty, stretched pretty thin right now. With Debbie and Alexis expecting their new baby any time now [Nikita has been born and both mom and kid are healthy – Paxus] we are trying to bring in the harvest, keep construction moving, and take care of the daily necessities of life. In our last newsletter, we put out a call for support. The response was tremendous. We have had numerous people come by and pitch in. That has been a huge help! Now with Magnolia in place, we can support more people through the winter. We have a lot to learn from each other. Consider giving us a visit! If we are slow to communicate, be patient. We have our hands pretty full.

Barn Raising, post petroleum style

Barn Raising, post petroleum style


Our main house at LEF, Earthheart, is coming along. We have it “dried in,” meaning the roof, windows, doors, and sheathing are done, so the building can go through the winter without damage. Thanks to some glorious volunteer crews from our local Louisa Baptist Church and the APO Service Fraternity of UVA, the first coat of exterior stucco is largely done. The interior framing is complete. Most of the wiring for our DC electrical system is done. We still need to do some plumbing, and get the ductwork in place for the solar heating system. Once those utilities are in place, we can put in the ceiling, and the strawbales, then push to completion! We will have a strawbale workshop sometime in the next few months. We will post a note to our lists when that time comes.


Our seed harvest is almost finished for the year. This year our crops included corn, okra, watermelons, peppers, squash, and eggplant. We have “contracts” for each of these crops. These contracts are a non-binding agreements we make with the seed companies to produce a certain amount of seed. We will make almost all of our contracts this year, and we will have a significant surplus of some crops/ seeds.

Right livelihood, close to the earth

Right livelihood, close to the earth

This year we also contracted with seed companies to do variety trials of sweet corn and tomatoes. A variety trial consists of growing many different varieties (usually a few dozen) under identical conditions to compare yield, flavor, disease/insect resistance, and other factors. Our trials included many heirloom favorites, a few hybrids, and some new varieties coming from open-pollinated plant breeders across the country. Variety trials are a new and exciting line of work for us. They are the first step in the research and development of the best quality open pollinated varieties for organic conditions in our area. We are excited about pursuing this work in more depth next year, and maybe doing some breeding work as well, in cooperation with our friends at Common Wealth Seed Growers (

We started picking our first cultivated fruits from trees we grafted on the land just 3 years ago. The photo is of Rosa, our youngest member, holding Yates persimmons. The Ruby persimmons also made a good handful of fruit this year, though they are not ripe yet. Yummy!

People’s Climate March — New York City

Several of us from LEF went to New York City to attend to the People’s Climate March on Sept 21. (Lovely train ride.) We tried to get near the front of the march to hand out flyers and talk to people as they marched by, but we never found the front of the march. After many hours of handing our flyers and talking to people, we never saw the end of the march. Any guesses about number of people attending can only be guesses. Manhattan was swarmed by protesters. One of our supporters in the city made us a beautiful banner and sandwich boards. (I wore one that said “I am Building a Community that Runs Without Fossil Fuel.) A LOT of people were interested in our project. We conducted more than a half dozen interviews with independent film makers, handed our flyers, and spoke to hundreds of people.


The march was huge, diverse, impassioned — a beautiful display of the desire for a better world. As throngs of students, religious groups, and countless organizations chanting slogans about ending fossil fuel dependency passed by, I was deeply struck by how little understanding exists among the public of exactly what that means. After the march, numerous commentators have made the point that while it is was clear what the march was opposed to, it was not clear what it was in favor of. We feel like LEF is a answer to many of the problems caused by fossil fuel, and that is not a small matter. But we cannot expect important truths to magically transmit themselves. Corporations sell their products by communicating in multiple medias at the same time. We have to do something similar — keep talking about our important truths, over and over again. The most important thing you can do is to start taking your own life in the direction of fossil fuel sobriety, and talking to your friends about it. If we can help you do that, let’s see what we can teach each other. Life without fossil fuel is not hard, but we have to show people. We have to convince them. We will have to keep working on that for a long time to come.

Living Energy Farm is a project to build a demonstration farm, community, and education center in Louisa County that uses no fossil fuels. For more information see our website, or contact us at Donations are tax deductible.


The Facebook thread was incredulous.  Several people were completely convinced it was a joke.  How could a group fighting breast cancer be taking money from a company which sells fracking fluids and services (an activity known to cause cancer)?

But not only is it not a joke, it has been going on for a couple years now and until recently no one was paying attention.  The Susan G. Komen Foundation is this nations largest breast cancer fighting organization.  They have been happily taking $100K per year from oil extraction company Baker Hughes.

understandably unbelievable

understandably unbelievable

But for those who have been tracking the Komen Foundation’s political evolution, this should be no surprise.  In 2012, Komen chose to stop funding Planned Parenthood (PP), because they were “under investigation.” This was a thin rouse, which was quickly revealed for what it was, an effort by the conservative leadership of Komen to strike at PP because it provides abortion services.  The investigation consisted of trumped up charges by similarly motivated House Republicans, and it went nowhere.

fashionable corporate giving

fashionable corporate giving

But Komen’s plans to defund PP exploded in their face in a stunning way.  Individual contributions to Komen dropped dramatically.  In the fiscal year in which they made this mistake they lost $77 million over the previous year’s funding, representing 22% of their total income.  Komen reversed its choice to defund PP after only 3 days, but the damage was already done.

Fierce Backlash

Fierce Backlash

There are other problems with Komen.  Specifically, only 20% of the donations they receive go to breast cancer research.  Over 50% go to educational programs.  If you know the non-profit world, it is far easier to hide bloated salaries and bogus programming under the “education” category than under research.  And many critics think research is more important than education at this point.

And thus we add “Pinkwash” to our vocabulary.  As Baker Hughes produces 1,000 pink drill bits to promote their campaign,  there is now a petition to get Komen to reverse their choice, as they did so quickly with their PP foolishness.

Perhaps Komen has outlived its usefulness or is unreformable as an organization, and like Monsanto and Siemens nuclear division, it is time for it to die.

October is Umbrella Revolution

The pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong have been labeled by an excited mainstream media “The Umbrella Revolution”, despite the organizers distaste for the name.  They say they do not want a full revolution and they are a civil disobedience movement.  But as this month may well show, they have every capacity to become a major transformative effect on totalitarian mainland China.

If you have never been to Hong Kong it is a bit hard to describe.  I was there for a week in 1991.  It was the first place i saw someone talking on two cell phones at the same time.  Even over 20 years ago, this model of laissez-faire capitalism was running at 120% of the speed of Manhattan, with neon lights which more than rivaled it.  It is the only developed place that i have been which has virtually no zoning controls.  Sky rises host hair salons beside meat packing facilities beside student hostels.  But for over a century it has been an occupied land, first by the British who installed their provincial governors, then by the Chinese who want to continue to control the slate of candidates for governor in the 2017 elections, the first elections since independence in 1997.

One of many logos for the Umbrella Revolutions

It is called the Umbrella Revolution for a couple of reasons.  The first is that it is a collection of groups working together, starting with the Occupy Central with Peace and Love group, which was originally mostly academics and students.  The second is that protesters have been using umbrellas to hold back both the seasonal rains and the pepper spray of the police.

Size matters - transformative protests, their fraction of youth and number

Size matters – transformative protests, their fraction of youth and number

One of the questions that rolls through the minds of some activists is “How powerful is the Occupy name?”  My personal impression is that it is quite valuable, especially if you consider anyone dedicated to non-violence can use it.  Besides the current important protests in Hong Kong (partly organized by Occupy Central) there are numerous other Occupy affiliated groups doing all manner things.  One of my personal favorites is “Strike the Debt” which has purchased at cut rates student loans, which just paid slight me over $100K to cancel over $2 million in US student debt.  I’ve written about the San Francisco’s Occupy Housing which reclaims foreclosed properties for the original tenants.

The mainstream media often dismisses the Occupy movement as failed and chaotic.  What is actually true is that Occupy has inspired actions around the world, some of which are collapsing repressive regimes.  Let’s hope the Umbrella Revolution can wrestle control from the plutocrats in Beijing.

For poor weather and bad police

For poor weather and bad police

Crowds swelled to over 100K people despite the often challenging weather and challenging reprisals.


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