There is only one person ever who has won the Nobel Peace Prize, Order of Lenin (the highest honor of the Soviet Union) and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor in the US). And for over 20 years it was illegal to say his name or publish his picture in his home country.
Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan called him a terrorist. Dick Cheney voted against the resolution to release Mandela from jail. But this is unsurprising; Mandela was a Marxist. Besides fighting for the end of the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa, he also supported labor unions, redistribution of wealth and Fidel Castro. Conservative leaders were right to be afraid of him.
Nor did Mandela forget his roots when he came to power. In 2003, when Bush was promising to liberate Iraq’s people, Mandela said, “All that he wants is Iraqi oil.” When Bush declared Iraq’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons a threat to the planet, Mandela had the bad manners to remind Bush that the only country to have actually used nukes was the United States. Mandela’s message to America’s leaders, born from firsthand experience, was clear: Don’t pretend you are pure.
I was at Twin Oaks on Feb 11, 1990 when i saw a little note on the 3 X 5 board which read:
Today, Nelson Mandela is Free
I was amazed! Partly because i did not think the South Africa government would actually release him. I was convinced that letting Mandela out was admitting they had overstepped and that that meant Apartheid was coming down. And as it turned out, this came to pass, just about this way.
The Marxist became a democrat (though Mandela had always advocated multiracial and multiparty elections). The political prisoner became head of state. And those of us who believe in the power of hope had a new inspiration.
Rest in peace, Nelson. And thanks for all your work.
Other excellent coverage on the complex man who was Nelson Mandela:
Think Progress: The Right Wing’s Campaign Against Mandela
Think Progress: Six Things Mandela Believed That Don’t Get Talked About
Al Jazeera: Mandela the Radical
We have lots of different types of radical friends. And some of them are fully public in all the things they do and others have to operate slightly below the radar so they can keep doing what they do. In my travels over the last few months i have had the good fortune to visit a couple of inspiring places i have not been before. There exact locations are not important, what is critical is what they have learned and what they can teach others who are interested in some aspects of their work.
Let’s call my comrades place Freedonia. Imagine it in anyone of the urban centers which have seen hundreds to thousands of houses abandoned over the last couple of decades. The precise location does not matter.
Squatting 1.0, which i learned in Am*dam and Barcelona goes something like this: You find a group of friends who need housing. It is great if at least a couple of the friends are local to the area you are trying to move into. Then you search – you look for the right place to move into. The right place is one which is abandoned, unlikely to be used for residential or commercial purposes soon (perhaps because it is run down), but not in such bad shape that parts of it can not be heated (if you are in a climate that requires heat in the winter).
Then you break in. Once inside you do the opposite of what thieves do. Instead of looking for things to steal, you look for things of value which someone else might come back for, because if there are too many valuables, someone will come back for them and you will loose the place. We are not looking to steal treasure, we are trying to use space which is idle to satisfy real housing needs.
Then you settle in. You find cheap plates and flatware. You wire electricity from a near by light pole. Some people drop out, perhaps a new person or three join you. You figure out security so people can get in and out and if needed not be seen.
But there is a problem with old style squatting, especially in the US, where laws are designed to protect property holders, even owners who have are not paying taxes, abandoned their properties or are simply speculating. The problem is the police or private security will come in and throw you out and then secure the place in a way which will make it hard for you to get back in. Your group with no place to go falls apart and drifts off to other places.
Freedonia has things we have seen at other great squats, like Can Masdeu in Barcelona: there is a bike repair shop, a printing press, ovens (bread ovens at Can Masdeu and pizza ovens at Freedonia), public workshop and performance space, public gardens, zine publishing, an anarchist library, dedicated volunteers, support from locals in the area and more.
But what Freedoonia has that her European counter parts have not figured out is a technique to avoid the group falling apart when they are busted by the police or hired thugs. This is the 2.0 part.
Before they broke in, they moved in. They took advantage of the high number of abandoned buildings in close proximity to each other, they scoured newspapers, public records and local inside knowledge to find a place they could occupy legally, a base of operations. In the case of Freedonia, they found a place which was available for very little money, borrowed what they needed and moved in. They talked with locals and convinced the owner of a neighboring warehouse that in exchange for fixing parts of the roof and keeping the place secure they could occupy the warehouse, which most of these pictures are taken in. Well before squatting, they set up a stable, legal, large base of operations, for very little money.
When they moved into their first squat, they successfully occupied it for 6 months. They were like so many 1.0 squats before them busted. But instead of falling apart, they pulled back to the legal space. They were tight for a while, they looked for other places to occupy, but then after some months they established that in fact the best place to go, was the place they had already been thrown out of. They returned, corrected the mistake that got them thrown our the first time and have been there successfully for almost two years now.
The other clever thing they do in Freedonia is that they brew beer. They don’t sell it, but they do give it to volunteers and bring it to parties. Beer is not new. But it is socially very powerful. Combined with their high temperature pizza oven which can cook a pizza in less than 100 seconds. These innovative, dedicated urban dwellers may just re-ignite a viable squatting movement in this country.
If we are honest, we must confess that we are in the business of trying to change peoples minds. If the intentional communities movement is a model of what some part of what a better world looks like, than we (the people who speak for the movement) are some kind of ambassadors. Alternatively, you could call us propagandists.
adder, Billy from the amazing Baltimore Free Farm project and i all arrived in Ann Arbor for the North American Student Cooperative Organization (NASCO) Institute. There will be about 400 attendees including “faculty” (like the three of us who are presenting) at this years event.
What we have been doing on and off for long while now at these types of events is create fingerbooks that are event specific. Typically these include descriptions of some of the income sharing communities, some stuff about the movement in general and descriptions of workshops we are involved in.
When we are lucky, there is some space set aside by the event organizers for guerilla or wildcat workshops. These are ones which are scheduled by presenters, but not recognized by the organizers. They happen at the venue, they are related in topic to what is part of the general conference, but they are not “officially” part of the event. NASCO set up one small class room for guerilla workshops, we occupied it for half of the workshop slots, frequently having to roll over into the adjacent classrooms, because our unofficial workshops were quite popular.
Sadly, the folks from the Midden could not come to NASCO this year. But when they heard about the guerilla workshops, they got much more excited about next year. The joke was that we would take over the 4 classrooms which surrounded this years guerilla workshop space and offer 24 unofficial workshops at next years institute (4 workshops times 6 slots) and the prolific folks from the Midden would offer 6 of them. Below is my fantasy of what some of this full alternative conference at NASCO 2014 would look like:
Urban Dark Green Ecovillage Thread
1) Squatting and Salvage
2) Dumpster philosophy and practice
3) Shared House/Shared Campaign
4) Hitchhiking and train-hopping
Applied Commune Thread
1) Income Sharing and Cottage Industries
2) Radical Resource Sharing
3) Consensus and its Discontents
4) Viral expansion of the communities movement
1) Building Better Memes
2) Funology and crafting the better party
3) Trust based cashless systems
4) Make sharing the new religion?
Healthy Relationships Thread
5) Love Letter writing
Ken Bossong produces the best renewables weekly report called The Sustainable News Summaries. Here are my favorite stories from the most recent one:
Renewables will be 70% of new energy investment by 2025 according to CitiBank. This is the same CitiBank which did the new energy investment analysis and found investing in new reactor construction failed all 5 criteria. So let’s be clear here, this is not Greenpeace with some ecological agenda, This is a capitalist bank, which believes in externalizing internal costs where ever possible (meaning they want you the taxpayer to cover the cost of nuclear waste, accident insurance, investment risk and more). CitiBank is in the business of making money for their shareholders, this quarter. If the climate is destroyed or huge regions of the planet are left uninhabitable, this is not their concern. And what they are saying is that nukes are basically off the table. Nothing says you are winning like the vast majority of new investments going your way.
California leads the way on Renewables in the US. Germany is a renewables poor country. Yet long before Fukushima it decided that increasing it’s clean energy contribution was the path it wanted to follow. Unable to bring in more sunshine, or whip up great winds, Germany did what it could to encourage renewable energy development – it changed the tax law. This has been fantastically successful. In a similar fashion California has now decided to up the stake on renewables. What this new law does is:
- Requires state utilities to have at least 5.2 GW net metered generation – permitting customers to sell mostly solar and wind to the grid.
- It removes the cap on net metered electricity (previously 5%) which ill spur investment in household renewables
- Keeps California (which currently produces 20% of its electricity from renewables) on target to get to 33% by 2020.
- Separately, California is requiring utilities to have storage for almost a million households with of electricity. This enables more renewables at home.
On the down side persistent low natural gas prices in the US are impeding energy efficiency efforts.
If you want to see the full sustainable energy news Oct 19th, 2013 report it is available here.
You can subscribe by writing Ken at email@example.com
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
[The first part of this article is how these countries got out of nuclear power, the second half is about what they are replacing it with.]
In 1940, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Hirohito’s Japan were the original 3 Axis Powers in World War 2.
Since WW 2 these three nations have built and operated 80 production nuclear reactors (54 in Japan, 22 in Germany 4 in Italy). Today across these 3 countries there are only 9 operating, all in Germany, all of which will be phased out in 2022. Here is what happened to them:
In 1987, after Chernobyl, Italy had a referendum and voted to close its four operating reactors in three years. In 2011, to re-affirm this decision 95% of Italians voting again repudiated nuclear power.
On May 4, 1986, less than two weeks after the Chernobyl meltdown, a thorium fuel pebble bed production reactor in Germany had an accident and released radiation into the environment. Plant management tried to hide the release behind the Chernobyl releases. This accident undermined German trust in pebble bed reactors. It did not seem to dampen the global endless fringe enthusiasm for thorium reactors.
In 1990, after the Berlin Wall came down, but before re-unification, it was decided it was too dangerous to continue running Soviet design reactors at Greifswald and 5 operating reactors were closed. [Interestingly, these reactors almost never show up on reactor maps of Germany, even ones including closed reactors, they have simply vanished from public view, despite their huge decommissioning costs (as of 2008 almost US$2 billion have been spent on decommissioning Greifswald, and the job is far from done)].
In 2011 shortly after Fukushima, Germany’s long pro-nuclear Prime Minister Angela Merkel said
“when, in Japan, the apparently impossible becomes possible and the absolutely unlikely reality, then the situation changes.”
With this sentiment she temporarily closed 8 reactors. These temporary closures became permanent and the 2022 phase out of all reactors was approved by the parliament and government of Germany.
On March 10th 2011 Japan was the 3rd largest nuclear power in the world (after the US and France) with 54 operating production reactors. Today all Japanese reactors are either offline, melted down, irreversibly damaged or decommissioned. Unlike Italy and Germany, the nuclear future of Japan is quite unclear.
The current government would like to re-start as many reactors as possible. Interestingly, to this end they have decommissioned the two mostly undamaged reactors at Fukushima (blocks 5 and 6). A largely symbolic move, since the prefecture had already voted to ban all nuclear power plants in the region. The government has also decided to take over the largely failed Fukushima accident control responsibility for the nuclear utility TEPCO, which owns Fukushima.
All of these countries are working on renewable power sources to increase energy independence, avoid massive increases in their carbon footprints and ultimately save money.
So what is the World War 3 mentioned in the title of this blog? There is an undeclared global war against climate change. Unlike the two previous World Wars it will not principally be fought militarily. Like the previous world wars it will impact almost every country in the world and to win it will require significant dedication of resources and political will. To date the US especially has been lacking this political will. The old Axis Powers are showing up in a different way.
Italy’s recent definitive referendum cleared the way for continued government support of renewables, though some solar feed in tariffs have been phased out. So far this year Italy has produced 36% of its electricity from renewable sources, with an impressive 15.7% reduction in conventional energy sources. Current renewables produce 6 times more power annually than the total of the 4 reactors closed by 1990.
Germany is the global model for transforming 20th century energy systems into contemporary ones. If you pay casual attention to the news, or read the oft misinformed NY Times, you might think:
- That the German transition model is running into problems
- That it is unpopular among the German people
- Germany is paying for this transition with higher household electricity bills
- By quickly closing reactors, Germany must open new coal plants
Turns out every one of these assumptions is wrong. There are definitely challenges to implementing the full program called Energiewende (or Energy Transitions). In my conversation with old friend Martin Rocholl he made it clear that the German grid is not ready for the shift which is happening and there are other serious problems as well. But overall the very engineering adept Germans are on the path they have designed for themselves. Revenue neutral Feed in Tariffs for renewables are decreasing each year having done what they were always supposed to do, which is help these technologies mature and reach market parity.
Ninety percent of Germans think implementing this energy transition is important or very important. Fifty-one percent felt is was progressing too slowly, 30% think it is going at a fine pace. Fewer than 8% attribute the price increases in energy to the additional cost of renewables.
Are Germans paying more? In some ways certainly, But if we look at what German households pay for electricity as a fraction of their total expenses, it works out to be about 2 to 2.5%. In the US it is higher on average, closer to 3.5%.
As for the myth that more coal plants have opened since 3/11, it is just that, a myth. Fossil plants (mostly coal) have dropped 3 GW (the capacity of three large reactors) since the meltdowns. But what is most interesting about this, is it was not government action, but market effects. Renewables on feed in tariffs are pushing coal and even some gas plants out of business at a more competitive footing each day. The worlds largest engineering firm, Siemens, closed it’s nuclear branch.
Japan is still a crap shot. The current PM and government want to restart as many reactors as possible. But the new emboldened regulatory agent, a respected former MP going anti-nuclear and the willingness of local leaders and populace to be part of the effort to push back. Japan historically used a “consensus” process to operate it’s reactors in which local governors must approve reactor restarts. Currently no reactors are operating, likely some will come back on line. But what is clear is Japan is following Germany’s lead towards:
- home based renewable systems
- generation solutions which don’t require centralized utilities
- high renewable feed in tariffs which encourages investment
While it is still a tiny fraction of total generation, it is actually the first of these which i hold the most hope for. Just making households aware of what they consume and incentivized to conserve and think differently. While i have never been, everything i hear and read about. the Japanese is that they are as wasteful about energy as the US is. It is changing this mindset which will win WW3.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
An increasingly small part of the Federal government is shut down. But you need not worry, the NSA will continue to listen to your phone calls and monitor all your emails unimpeded. The military continues a failed war in Afghanistan without fear that one soldier will miss a paycheck. The DEA will continue to mount paramilitary operations against farmers in California. And we will cleverly spend a billion dollars a week on nuclear weapons, without considering saving in this area.
I both dislike and respect Obama. He is a brilliant politician, having demonstrated this in two tricky elections which he won handily. He got the ACA passed, through tremendous lobbies and an obsticular congress in the first place (yes, i am aware of the many real problems with the law). And then he got the Republican majority appointed Supreme Court to uphold it. And finally, he got re-elected, in part, defending it. It is simply disingenuous of the Republicans to say this is somehow not the will of the people or the law of the land.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]