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Heinberg: Puerto Rico is our Future

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My hometown of Santa Rosa, California, and surrounding communities were decimated by wildfires during the week of October 9, with entire neighborhoods completely erased. If you want a sense of how bad the fires were, watch this 11-minute video clip put together by three Berkeley firefighters. For a more personal view of the consequences of the fires, check out this webcomic account by the husband of the Sonoma County Director of Human Services (the couple lost their home). My wife Janet and I voluntarily evacuated our house at 4am on October 10 (we were just outside a mandatory evacuation zone), after bundling our four sleepy chickens into the back of our car. We were among the fortunate ones: we were able to return home late that same day. Meanwhile 19 residents of Santa Rosa had lost their lives (the death toll throughout the region stands at over 40) and hundreds—including many of our friends as well as a former Post Carbon Institute employee and her family—had lost homes and belongings. We’re glad to be spared, and wish the best for those not so fortunate.
Richard

Puerto Rico is our Future

News reports tell of the devastation left by a direct hit from Category 4 Hurricane Maria. Puerto Ricans already coping with damage from Hurricane Irma, which grazed the island just days before, were slammed with an even stronger storm on September 20, bringing more than a foot of rain and maximum sustained winds of at least 140 miles per hour. There is still no electricity—and likely won’t be for weeks or months—in this U.S. territory of 3.4 million people, many of whom also lack running water. Phone and internet service is likewise gone. Nearly all of Puerto Rico’s greenery has been blown away, including trees and food crops. A major dam is leaking and threatening to give way, endangering the lives of tens of thousands. This is a huge unfolding tragedy. But it’s also an opportunity to learn lessons, and to rebuild very differently.

Climate change no doubt played a role in the disaster, as warmer water generally feeds stronger storms. This season has seen a greater number of powerful, land-falling storms than the past few years combined. Four were Category 4 or 5, and three of them made landfall in the U.S.—a unique event in modern records. Puerto Rico is also vulnerable to rising seas: since 2010, average sea levels have increased at a rate of about 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) per year. And the process is accelerating, leading to erosion that’s devastating coastal communities.

Even before the storms, Puerto Rico’s economy was in a tailspin. It depends largely on manufacturing and the service industry, notably tourism, but the prospects for both are dismal. The island’s population is shrinking as more and more people seek opportunities in the continental U.S.. Puerto Rico depends entirely on imported energy sources—including bunker oil for some of its electricity production, plus natural gas and coal. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is a law unto itself, a monopoly that appears mismanaged (long close to bankruptcy), autocratic, and opaque. Over 80 percent of food is imported and the rate of car ownership is among the highest in the world (almost a car for each islander!).

To top it off, Puerto Rico is also in the throes of a debt crisis. The Commonwealth owes more than $70 billion to creditors, with an additional $50 billion in pension obligations. Puerto Rico’s government has been forced to dramatically cut spending and increase taxes; yet, despite these drastic measures, the situation remains bleak. In June 2015, Governor Padilla announced the Commonwealth was in a “death spiral” and that “the debt is not payable.” On August 3 of the same year, Puerto Rico defaulted on a $58 million bond payment. The Commonwealth filed for bankruptcy in May of this year after failing to raise money in capital markets.

A shrinking economy, a government unable to make debt payments, and a land vulnerable to rising seas and extreme weather: for those who are paying attention, this sounds like a premonition of global events in coming years. World debt levels have soared over the past decade as central banks have struggled to recover from the 2008 global financial crisis. Climate change is quickly moving from abstract scenarios to grim reality. World economic growth is slowing (economists obtusely call this “secular stagnation”), and is likely set to go into reverse as we hit the limits to growth that were first discussed almost a half-century ago. Could Puerto Rico’s present presage our own future?

If so, then we should all care a great deal about how the United States responds to the crisis in Puerto Rico. This could be an opportunity to prepare for metaphoric (and occasionally real) storms bearing down on everyone.

It’s relatively easy to give advice from the sidelines, but I do so having visited Puerto Rico in 2013, where I gave a presentation in the Puerto Rican Senate at the invitation of the Center for Sustainable Development Studies of the Universidad Metropolitana. There I warned of the inevitable end of world economic growth and recommended that Puerto Rico pave the way in preparing for it. The advice I gave then seems even more relevant now:

  • Invest in resilience. More shocks are on the way, so build redundancy in critical systems and promote pro-social behavior so that people’s first reflex is to share and to help one another.
  • Promote local food. Taking advantage of the island’s climate, follow the Cuban model for incentivizing careers in farming and increase domestic food production using permaculture methods.
  • Treat population decline as an opportunity. Lots of people will no doubt leave Puerto Rico as a result of the storm. This represents a cultural and human loss, but it also opens the way to making the size of the population of the island more congruent with its carrying capacity in terms of land area and natural resources.
  • Rethink transportation. The island’s current highway-automobile dominance needs to give way to increased use of bicycles, and to the provision of streetcars and and light rail. An interim program of ride- and car-sharing could help with the transition.
  • Repudiate debt. Use aid money to build a sharing economy, not to pay off creditors. Take a page from the European “degrowth” movement. An island currency and a Commonwealth bank could help stabilize the economy.
  • Build a different energy system. Patching up the old PREPA electricity generating and distribution system would be a waste of money. That system is both corrupt and unsustainable. Instead, invest reconstruction funds in distributed local renewables and low-power infrastructure.

These recommendations met with a polite response in 2013, but there was little subsequent evidence of a dramatic change of direction. That’s understandable: people tend to maintain their status quo as long as it’s viable. However, when people are in dire straits, they’re more likely to listen to unconventional advice. And when denial is no longer possible, they’re more likely to face reality.

In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein described how free-market policy wonks and neoliberal economists—and the financial and corporate interests that back them—look for moments of crisis as opportunities to trap countries in a cycle of massive infrastructure projects, rising consumption, and debt. No doubt neoliberal vultures are readying to swoop down on Puerto Rico at this very moment with their brand of “aid.” The government and people of the island will have some important choices to make in the coming weeks—whether to double down on infrastructure investments that lock them into a brittle and unsustainable way of life, or to break out in a different direction. They might take inspiration from Greensburg, Kansas—a town that was devastated by a powerful tornado in 2007 and chose to rebuild as “the greenest town in America.”

Obviously, the Puerto Rican people have immediate needs for food, water, fuel, and medical care. We mainland Americans should be doing all we can to make sure that help reaches those in the throes of crisis. But Puerto Ricans—all Americans, indeed all humans—should be thinking longer-term about what kind of society is sustainable and resilient in this time of increasing vulnerability to disasters of all kinds.

Richard Heinberg



76 Comments on "Heinberg: Puerto Rico is our Future"

  1. Cloggie on Mon, 30th Oct 2017 9:40 am 

    You are a fraud.

    You are a pussy, afraid of a real debate.

    You prefer to resort to name calling in order to hide your intellectual depth of a soup plate.

  2. Davy on Mon, 30th Oct 2017 10:59 am 

    It has you all hot and bothered, chump. That’s the point. The only one who relates to you anymore is mad kat. No wonder, you both are peas in a pod.

  3. DerHundistlos on Tue, 31st Oct 2017 3:40 am 

    Davy-

    Your comments above are right on. These two will dig-up any tripe so long as it denigrates the US. Why? To deflect attention away from the very more real and close to home disasters at their own homes. Only a fool would believe that one of the most densely populated countries on earth- the Ps-with a skyrocketing birthrate is safer than the US. That’s delusional with a capital D.

  4. Cloggie on Tue, 31st Oct 2017 4:16 am 

    Davy, your comments above are right on. These two will dig-up any tripe so long as it denigrates the US. Why? To deflect attention away from the very more real and close to home disasters at their own homes. Only a fool would believe that one of the most densely populated countries on earth- the Ps-with a skyrocketing birthrate is safer than the US. That’s delusional with a capital D.

    Your kind has been shitting on Europeans and especially on Germans for 72 years now. Payback against the “lost children of Europe” will feel good, very good.

  5. Davy on Tue, 31st Oct 2017 4:27 am 

    “Your kind has been shitting on Europeans and especially on Germans for 72 years now. Payback against the “lost children of Europe” will feel good, very good.”
    Listen to the dumb dutch dude whine. Did you Nazi’s get your ass kicked? If you Nazi would not have polluted the real Germany its greatness would not have been tarnished. It is Nazis like you dumb dutchman that destroy nations. BTW, I am very much more German than you are.

  6. Cloggie on Tue, 31st Oct 2017 5:29 am 

    I am very much more German than you are.

    No you are not, you are a Czech from Moravia, a typical Eastern European with low self-esteem and zero ethnic pride. Instead, like a Soviet, you get a kick from identifying yourself with a mass-murdering kosher-run collective that loves to terrorize the rest of the world… until it goes down, like it soon will.

    It is Nazis like you dumb dutchman that destroy nations.

    More American lies. I have told you many times what really happened in WW2…

    http://tinyurl.com/y9nbo88s

    …but you never ever engage in a debate, because you are scared shitless to do so, because you know you get your ass kicked by me. So you repeat the standard media lies.

    Germany was cornered by the Americans and Soviets as off 1933 and intentionally maneuvered into war and destroyed so that these two commie shitpiles could destroy and takeover Europe.

    Meanwhile the USSR has auto-destroyed and you are next, in a maelstrom of blood.

    After all, you can abolish a useless leftist commie economic system with a stroke of a pen, but you cannot do the same with tens of millions of hostile immigrants or a kosher overclass aiming at your destruction, using said immigrants as a proletariat of color.

    Beer and popcorn.

  7. Davy on Tue, 31st Oct 2017 6:13 am 

    “No you are not, you are a Czech from Moravia, a typical Eastern European”

    Dad’s side dumb dutchy. Mom’s side is 100% northern Germany. 50% beats nothing. dumb dutchies are German wannabe’s. LOL, no wonder you were overrun without a fight. IMA, in both directions. Double friggen LOL.

  8. Cloggie on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 5:49 am 

    Dad’s side dumb dutchy. Mom’s side is 100% northern Germany. 50% beats nothing.

    Yeah. Originally you called yourself Moravian and kept quiet about your German roots, the little PC coward that you are. But years later, after I began to talk up Germany on this forum, you decided the coast was clear to admit to your other heritage side, behind my broad back. Just because it was sexy all of a sudden.

    dumb dutchies are German wannabe’s.

    We’re the blondest and tallest people on earth. And delivered the most SS elite per capita.

    no wonder you were overrun without a fight.

    The usual American tripe, light on knowledge on everything. The Dutch fought four days against an overwhelming force in a tiny country flat as a pancake. The Germans destroyed Rotterdam completely from the air and threatened to do the same with Amsterdam. There was no way out.

    Americans in contrast get their asses kicked by the likes of Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.ROFL

    And in the coming WW3, probably directly after Trump, the US will be taken apart by the rest of the world, exploiting inner US divisions between left and right.

    But by that time you will have saved your sorry ass by fleeing to Italy. You will not fight for anything, because you do not believe in anything other than the US empire.

    The Grey Old Ki… um… Lady placed a page-wide add, calling for the overthrow of Trump by Antifa’s. Yesterday should have been the day of the American Neo-Bolshevik revolution, a total failure of course. Americans and revolution. Too many “Masterminds”. No resolve.ROFL

  9. makati1 on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 6:19 am 

    The US couldn’t win a battle if their opponent was a grandma in a wheelchair. They would be too drugged up and/or too fat to try. LOL

  10. Davy on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 6:32 am 

    “Yeah. Originally you called yourself Moravian and kept quiet about your German roots”
    Got references because it is not a big deal to me unlike a racist like you.

    “We’re the blondest and tallest people on earth. And delivered the most SS elite per capita.”
    I call dumb n dutch getting your ass kicked both ways. Dumb is dumb doesn’t matter if you are tall and blond.

    “Americans in contrast get their asses kicked by the likes of Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.ROFL”
    We never lost a significant battle in any one of these countries. Our military is the best trained and equipped in the world. So what is your point? Politically we are a disaster but that does not translate into the military effectiveness. Your Europe on the overhand has never been in battle except following the American lead.ROFL

    “But by that time you will have saved your sorry ass by fleeing to Italy. You will not fight for anything, because you do not believe in anything other than the US empire.”
    I already have my plot in the local cemetery. I plan to stay here. Unlike others here I am not a coward. I will make my last stand here. I for sure will stay here until my kids are of age and on their own. If I go to Italy it will be because that is the best option because of climate change reasons. Maybe my wife’s mountain village will be spared the worst. Yet, climate change worst may be after my death. I don’t think my decisions to go or stay stupid will be based on childish narrow minded criteria of Europe Good US bad. You are a disgrace to your country dumb. One of my best friends is Dutch and he told me there are people like you in his country and he says you make him ashamed just as I am ashamed of skin heads here.

    “believe in anything other than the US empire”
    First the US Empire is over. It is a multipolar world with the US still a major force and it will likely remain a major force until the end of globalism. I am preaching doom and prep when I can. Much of the time lately I have to neuter and moderate extremist, racist, and delusional anti-Americans. I moderate people talking up Asia and Europe and down the US strictly for emotional reason which are not based upon reality. I am preaching localism and a return to simplicity. I preach rejecting techno optimism as a cult. I realize we can’t leave it but we can quit digging a hole with it. I am against the worst of our system in the US but realize it is only going to get worse so I am preaching going under the radar screen and yielding to more powerful forces. Localize community involvement and prepare for what could be a sudden loss of complexity and affluence is my message. Let’s hope this is survivable because too much degree and duration could be extinction. Most of all I preach against people who lie about the truth and who live in deadly serious passions of hate and a false sense of entitlement because of narcissism. I despise people like dumb n Dutch and mad kat who brag about themselves and talk down others

  11. Davy on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 6:35 am 

    “The US couldn’t win a battle if their opponent was a grandma in a wheelchair. They would be too drugged up and/or too fat to try. LOL”

    Describes an old man like you mad kat. I find you drugged up or drunk many times with your comments and then you lie about the fact you drink. Are you an alcoholic mad kat?

  12. Cloggie on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 8:06 am 

    We never lost a significant battle in any one of these countries.

    But lost the war and failed to add any of these countries to that empire of yours. Boohoo.

    Our military is the best trained and equipped in the world. So what is your point?

    My point? No morale, despite all this overpriced half-functioning hardware. US GIs fight for a shabby paycheck in some foreign war against a country that did not do anything against their country. You opponents fought for their country, that’s the difference.

    Your Europe on the overhand has never been in battle except following the American lead.ROFL

    Americans and history, rolleys. France, Germany and Russia refused to cooperate in this Iraq safari and the beginning of the Paris-Berlin-Moscow alliance was born, now temporarily sabotaged by US last real vassal, Merkel.

    #FreedomFries
    #CheeseEatingSurrenderMonkeys

    These were the most happy years in the career of Vladimir Putin:

    http://tinyurl.com/ybtn97ea

    Geopolitical he was in Europe, where he wants to be, until today. And eventually he will arrive there. But before that glorious day will arrive, something needs to be cleared out of they way: you.

    I already have my plot in the local cemetery. I plan to stay here. Unlike others here I am not a coward.

    So you changed your mind in a matter of weeks? When you acquired your Italian passport you confided that you were glad to have options if things turned for the worse. I don’t believe you. You will flee, not fight.

    Interesting question: on whose side will you fight in CW2: constitutionalist deplorables or globalists? Dave will dodge the answer again and will weasel himself out by saying he is not an “extremist” or similar fake excuses.

    If I go to Italy it will be because that is the best option because of climate change reasons.

    Hahaha, well I guess that a civil war counts as a (social) change of climate.lol Good luck in European safety.

    I am preaching localism

    You don’t, you liar. You insist that Korea should remain a US colony, even if giving up on it could solve the nuclear crisis. Localism my foot.

  13. Davy on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 8:18 am 

    Europe follows the US militarily. They cannot field a large army outside its borders without US help. PERIOD

    US is best trained and equipped army in the world who has never lost a significant battle. FACT. There have been no real wars since WW2 so saying the US lost wars is irrelevant. The US won all its actions militarily but did not achieve its dubious political objectives. Result many dead and much needless destruction for poor political reasons. That is a tragedy.

  14. Davy on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 8:20 am 

    Don’t have an Italian passport, dumb. I might get one but it is not high on the list

  15. Davy on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 8:23 am 

    Do you have references where I said Korea should remain a US colony??? LIAR

  16. Cloggie on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 9:54 am 

    Do you have references where I said Korea should remain a US colony???

    Very recently I suggested once again that the Korean crisis should be solved by China and the US backing the following solution:

    – Unification Korea
    – Country should be democratic and capitalist
    – US troops removed from Korea
    – Korea neutral country (no West, no SCO)

    You were against that solution, as it was “against US interest”.

  17. Cloggie on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 10:02 am 

    Europe follows the US militarily. They cannot field a large army outside its borders without US help.

    Macron and the EU are about to change that. IA European army was always blocked by the UK, but their elite was wrong-footed by its own population and no longer have the power to block anything.

    US is best trained and equipped army in the world who has never lost a significant battle. FACT.

    You keep saying that but the reality is you always get your ass kicked by embarrassing small countries. FACT

    This makes one very skeptical is your are up to fighting a real war against real nations of many centuries old.

    Let’s face it, WW2 was mostly a war between the two giants of the European race, namely Germany and Russia. The role of the US was minimal: to show up at the last moment. For every dead American, 50 Soviets died.

    All these advantages are gone now, but you are still stuck with a deep state that intends to use the US population to go out and get the world for them.

    Not a single chance. Iran could become your demise.

  18. Davy on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 10:15 am 

    “You were against that solution, as it was “against US interest”.
    Dumb n dutch, references???? FRAUD

  19. Davy on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 10:20 am 

    “Macron and the EU are about to change that.” Dumb n dutch last I checked about to change is not “IS”.

    “You keep saying that but the reality is you always get your ass kicked by embarrassing small countries.” Dumb n dutch, Links or references?

    “Let’s face it, WW2 was mostly a war between the two giants of the European race, namely Germany and Russia.” AND was a dismal European failure and the reason the European continent is little more than a “has been” now. You lost nearly a whole century because of being a failure, dumb n dutch.

  20. Cloggie on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 11:09 am 

    AND was a dismal European failure and the reason the European continent is little more than a “has been” now. You lost nearly a whole century because of being a failure, dumb n dutch.

    Absolutely. The British and their French side kicks…

    http://tinyurl.com/y8a9j4vm

    …set Europe on fire by commencing WW1 against Germany, because the British as of 1991 wanted to destroy the Germans, 20 years after German unification in 1871, after “made in Germany” began to eclipse the British on world markets, knowing that the British century would be over if they would do nothing. And in 1914 the opportunity to wage war offered itself.

    In 1933 the Jews took control of the US government for the first time (until today) and smelled that they could exploit the European division to their advantage by pushing the British and French into a war guarantee for Poland and next began to ensure that the Germans would be forced into a war against Poland by encouraging the Poles to become tough with Germans forced to live in Poland. When Germany intervened there were already 100,000 German refugees who had fled from Poland to Germany.

    In 1939, neither the Germans, nor the French or English wanted war, remembering very well the devastation of WW1. The only ones who wanted war were Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, because they wanted Europe.

    http://tinyurl.com/ycbb6set

    http://tinyurl.com/y7rc8ro6

    As Chamberlain admitted in private: he was pushed into WW2 by the “Americans and World Jews”, who intentionally set Britain and France up for war, using Polish useful idiots to get the job done, who were fooled. The US promised Poland protection but when everything was over, Poland was handed over to the loving care of Stalin.

    And Davy knows this very well when he once accidentally spilled the beans by saying “we kicked your asses” and from that very moment Davy became my enemy and there is no way back.

    But that was 1945 and now it is 2017 and the roles are reversing. America has made itself an enemy of the entire world, never a good idea. China is rapidly rising, Russia just humiliated the US in Syria and Europe is meanwhile united and has no intention to stay much longer in that Big Whopper empire and its multicult insanity. So that is Eurasia against America and its Anglo vassals.

    No why don’t you attack Iran Davy and show the rest of the world what a big boy you are and see what happens next.

    You do realize that there is a European score to settle?

    Meanwhile for some insight what is happening in the US with its growing tensions:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHfvYv13tIU

  21. Davy on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 11:45 am 

    Dumb n Dutch, not going to read your history revisions. They are redundant and personal opinions. You offer empty tinyurl links probably to your personal WordPress blog. Your a fraud. Europe destoyed itself in the two great wars. There is no excus for that. The more you try to rationalize it away the worse you look.

  22. GregT on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 4:35 pm 

    “not going to read your history revisions.”

    La la la la la, I can’t hear you.

  23. Davy on Sun, 5th Nov 2017 4:50 pm 

    widdle G is back, where you been?

  24. GregT on Mon, 6th Nov 2017 12:41 am 

    Kids have been visiting. Family always takes precedence over complete strangers. Something that you are not likely to ever understand.

  25. makati1 on Mon, 6th Nov 2017 1:07 am 

    Hahahaha! Greg, you have Davy picture perfect. If you don’t like the message, either kill the messenger or pretend you don’t see or hear him. I had a five year old who did that when she was told to turn of the TV. lol

  26. Davy on Mon, 6th Nov 2017 6:34 am 

    widdle G, mad kat is getting his ass kick and you have gone awol. You should get back he is in pain. He does have a new friend he took up with and one who is a flaming anti-American conspiracy addict just like you, Dumb n dutch. You guys are peas in a pod dumb and intellectually dishonest.

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