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 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.
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.
“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.
i regularly refer to the anti-nuclear movement as “we”.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is some of the mainstream and alternative media coverage of us:
Russia Today circa 2012
CNN circa 2010
Frequency555 circa 2010
Mojo Productions circa 2009
Voice of America circa 2009
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.