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Page added on November 4, 2018

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Hope from Havana


Where I am staying in Havana there is no internet. There is an international hotel within walking distance where you can buy minutes for a few CUCs. Internet access, like travel for USAnians, was looking promising not too long ago as Cuba and the US embarked upon a slow reconciliation process. Hotel and restaurant developers and tour operators rushed in ahead of the crowds. For a brief moment everyone was making money. Then US policies reversed and the boom went bust. When 3G will get to Cuba now is anyone’s guess.
On the way here, I watched two videos that gave me a new perspective. I would link them to the article but can’t at the moment. The first was a fresh interview with former professor Guy McPherson that provided new insight into the course of his turn away from the “life of leisure” — university tenure — to live in a mud hut in the desert (and attract others to do likewise), there to await the end of civilization, if not actively assist in its demise.
At the time, he believed from the writings of Utah professor Tim Garrett that civilization is a heat engine and that unless arrested, global warming will kill us all. His prescription was to turn the key and shut that deadly engine down as quickly as possible.
Of course no one did, so he and his partner left the mud hut and moved to a farm in Belize to wait out the end.
Now he admits he was wrong about at least a part of that. Because the aerosols industrial civilization sends skyward each day bounce light back to space, the planet is a degree or two cooler than it would be if industrial civilization suddenly ended. Global dimming has been buying time to mend our ways. But, if everyone up and moved to mud huts, or a farm in Belize, the end of the human story would ensue rapidly and it would not be pretty.
He and his partner have now returned to live in upstate New York and do their part to keep civilization intact a little longer. It seemed the more ethical course.
The second video I watched was Stuart Scott’s latest taping with climate scientist Peter Wadhams lamenting that our system of economics incentivizes carbon dioxide emissions and dis-incentivizes removal. Until that changes, there is little hope for a reversal of the pre-ordained fate McPherson describes.
However, you need to remember that the Chinese are now able to produce a bag of biochar fertilizer that costs $1 less than a comparable bag of chemical fertilizer and produces 15% better results, on average. Because a Beijing Sanju biofertilizer factory uses crop residues previously burned as feedstock, in the process converting labile photosynthetic carbon — temporary soil carbon — into mineralized carbon — permanent soil carbon — each factory effectively removes 66 kilotons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year. The price-to-yield factor disposes of Wadhams’ complaint. Just ask any farmer if he would like to get something much better for less than what he is paying now.
China had constructed 5 of these factories when I toured one in September. Another 20 were under construction, with 200 more planned. By 2020 they will likely be exporting the technology all along the New Silk Road, to Indochina, India, Africa and Latin America. It is simple, scalable and shovel ready. It does not need to change any economic paradigms to get going. It does not require approval by the White House or Senate. It does not require either the Aquarian Age or the collapse of industrial civilization. It is a strategy that can re-green the desert and turn the tide.
Which brings me to why I am in Cuba with Hans Peter Schmidt from the Ithaka Institut in Switzerland. The Swiss government, through its development agency, has decided to back pilot projects across the country, training farmers how to make and use biochar to regenerate the soils of this much abused island.
Cuba supplies the other half of the necessary solution. The first rule of holes is, when you find yourself in one, stop digging. We need to stop adding carbon to the atmosphere. To do that, we are going to have to tamp down our carbonized ways, gradually, even as we draw the legacy carbon out of the air. This will require societal behavioral change. We need to ditch consumer culture in favor of conserver culture. Cuba knows how to do this. It was forced to when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90s, a time known to every Cuban as the “Special Period.”
During the Special Period tractors ran out of diesel and were replaced by oxen. Private cars were abandoned in favor of Chinese-made bicycles and “camels” — massive articulated buses. Water was hauled to upper floors of apartment houses by bucket. Caloric intake of the population declined by a third.
 Foreground — modern Cuban prosperity, Midground —1980s Russian-made Lada, Background — pulley hoist on roof for water bucket
Cuba survived that period and learned to thrive, just as it has survived every insult hurled at it since its student revolt and popular revolution in the 1950s. Today it risks back-sliding into affluence from its burgeoning tourist trade, but at least there are not all those annoying advertisements on state-run television.
To keep going despite 50 years of blockade and economic sanctions, being cut off from most modern technologies, in the center of the Atlantic hurricane alley, and still struggling with the cultural residues of slavery, colonialism and wars of liberation, Cuba developed an inner strength and self-pride that made it nearly immune to the bullying machinations of its neighbor to the north.
Cubans follow the daily Trump soaps on CNN same as everyone else
Cubans don’t relish sacrifice and struggle, but they don’t shy away from it either. They are working on the two most important pieces of the climate puzzle — one technological, the other behavioral — and are going to become something the rest of the world will emulate in coming years.

The Great Change by Albert Bates


23 Comments on "Hope from Havana"

  1. Sissyfuss on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 8:46 am 

    China has been around for millennia and even though they followed the Wests carnal lust for materialism they are much quicker to realize that the environmental damage done needs to be dealt with. The West could learn from them but hubris won’t allow the possibility that they could be erroneous in their philosophy.

  2. Davy on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 9:15 am 

    I have always thought Cuba a great example of a transition country. Check out Cuba at night from sat pics. There is very little lighting. This is a very good example of a country using its resources wisely. It is too bad they can’t reduce their military but with the US obsessed with their end I can understand why. Cuba is a wonderful country. I hope they can be a place where a hybrid of the old and new can be tested.

  3. Jef on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 9:42 am 

    Clearly Bert has lost a large % of his marbles.

    First off there is no waste or leftover biomass. It all must be returned to the soil and if you did not do that anymore and just kept putting in char you would create more problems than you solve.

    Second do you have any idea how much biomass 200 processing plants would need to keep operating let alone the thousands that he projects.

    Third this process is not removing carbon from the high atmosphere, it actually doesn’t remove any carbon. The plant does. So he proposes we keep industrial ag cranking out billions of tons of biomass??? or we just go around and collect up what is lying around???

    ALso aerosols don’t kick anything back into space, they just shade the land. Carbon keeps the heat in still.

  4. JuanP on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 10:17 am 

    Biochar would be part of the solution, if there was one, but we are facing a predicament, not a problem. We have reached the point in time when our species will self destruct. Human nature is the problem. Only genetic manipulation or selective breeding could create a better species. Right now humans are devolving, and becoming increasingly maladjusted to the natural environment. All the energy we are consuming is what is keeping most of us alive and consuming so much. Population and consumption are unsustainable and will, therefore, not be sustained. The process will be painful.

    I have met many Cubans that lived through the Special Period (I had breakfast with two of them today). Most of them are better off for it. They tend to be healthier and more open minded than the other Cubans. Cubans, in general, are honest, humble, hard working people. The Special Period is worth researching. How much the Cubans achieved with so little is amazing. Pretty much the opposite of the places where most of us live. In Cuba nothing is wasted. That’s the way it should be!

  5. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 12:03 pm 

    China has been around for millennia and even though they followed the Wests carnal lust for materialism they are much quicker to realize that the environmental damage done needs to be dealt with.

    Complete BS. They want western levels of wealth, “wisdom” be damned. The only reason they adopt renewable energy is that otherwise they suffocate in their cities. There is absolutely nothing “wise” about China, they just want to copy us.


    I have always thought Cuba a great example of a transition country. Check out Cuba at night from sat pics. There is very little lighting.

    LOL. More American “noble savage” gushing… Why not admire sat pics of inner-Congo, now they are dark at night!

    Davy loves to suggest that these Cubans switch off their magnificent street lighting, just to conserve energy. Isn’t that great?

    Seriously, they are “dark at night”, not because they are restraining themselves out of their imagined “wisdom”, but because they are too poor (read: incompetent) to get it “not dark at night”. And the US embargo is no big help either.

  6. Alice Friedemann on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 12:11 pm 

    Nothing will even come close to reducing CO2 as the decline of oil, natural gas, and coal, the billions of deaths from hunger and wars over declining resources as food and everything else declines that depends on fossils.

    I have a more nuanced and detailed post about what happened in Cuba here.

    Here’s the intro:
    Much of what follows is based on the excellent Oxfam analysis of the complexities involved in Cuba and its food production reforms.

    2012 update: Cuba’s agriculture experiments are not working out according to the New York Times. There are many reasons, but the main one is there aren’t enough trucks to distribute the food, and existing trucks are so old they often break down.

    2017 update: Organic or starve: can Cuba’s new farming model provide food security? The Guardian, a few points from this article

    Cuba has never been able to feed itself. It currently imports 60-80% of the food it consumes, at a cost of about $2bn a year. Two-thirds of its corn is imported and a similar amount of its rice
    Officials are promoting small, local farms as perhaps the only way for the country to finally start feeding itself, and there has been a gradual shift o smaller, often organic farms — a radical change from the monocrop sugarcane economy that ruled Cuba for a century. Organic farming does not bring the large yields that will solve Cuba’s problems however. Farm yields are pathetically low, despite Cuba having possibly the richest soil of any tropical country in the world, said Pedro Sanchez, an agronomist at the University of Florida.
    In the wake of the Soviet collapse, Cuba lost 80% of its international trade in under three years. The result was severe food shortages. Castro dubbed it “the special period in peacetime,” a euphemism for what many Cubans describe as one of the worst traumas of their lives. It dragged on for five years, but its psychological effects lasted much longer.
    One woman I met remembered people fainting in the street from hunger. An artist remembered regular rations for children, but, for adults like himself, an endless diet of sugar water. Another stressed years of blackouts and boredom, relieved only by lots of marijuana. An agronomist described to me the death of hundreds of thousands of farm animals due to the loss of imported feed. “We came very close to starvation,” he said.

  7. Davy on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 12:19 pm 

    “LOL. More American “noble savage” gushing… Why not admire sat pics of inner-Congo, now they are dark at night! Davy loves to suggest that these Cubans switch off their magnificent street lighting, just to conserve energy. Isn’t that great? Seriously, they are “dark at night”, not because they are restraining themselves out of their imagined “wisdom”, but because they are too poor (read: incompetent) to get it “not dark at night”. And the US embargo is no big help either.”

    LMFAO at the hypocrite, neder, in an earlier comment you were chastising Americans for wasting energy now you call Cubans incompetent for conserving. See, this is the stupid Euro chauvinistic agenda you carry around like a chip on your shoulder. You think you are so friggin good at everything because you are Euro. You just look stupid when you talk like that.

  8. I AM THE MOB on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 12:21 pm 

    America’s Most Violent Terrorists: White Christians – “The domestic radical right has killed more people than radical Islam since 9/11 in the United States, without a doubt.”

  9. Plantagenet on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 12:36 pm 

    When I was in Cuba the young Cubans I talked to were all hoping to emigrate to the US to find a better life. They had given up on socialism, given up on one-party communist rule, and given up on Cuba.


  10. Plantagenet on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 4:29 pm 

    I should mention, I have never been to Cuba. In fact, I have never been out of my own state. I have a vague idea of were Cuba might be, but, honestly, I have hardly ever talked to anyone from outside my own state, let alone America. I find foreigners frightening. CNN and Faux News, and the President tell me they are plotting against America all the time. They seem to have strange ideas and notions that I do not understand. And they often talk funny too. They scare me.


  11. DerHundistLos on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 6:16 pm 

    That’s funny…. I spent a considerable amount of time in Cuba and that was never my impression.

    Matter of fact, Cubans take pride in producing more scientific Phds than any other country in Central or South America. Cuba has one of the world’s most advanced biotechnology industries. Cuban technology produced a first of its kind highly efficacious theraputic Lung cancer vaccine. Cuba produced the Meningitis vaccine hundreds of millions of people depend. Cuba just launched a novel treatment that allows persons suffering from diabetes to save their limbs.

    And thanks to Fidel Castro who created expansive land and marine wildlife reserves, Cuba has THE most beautiful and intact ecosystem in the world. Compare that to the sick and polluted United States.

    When do you claim to have visited Cuba? I know you don’t speak the language, Planter’s Wart so just shut-up.

  12. DerHundistLos on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 6:23 pm 

    American capitalism will DESTROY Cuba. What I saw made me sick. This isn’t hope, but a celebration to fuck up and exploit a new, virgin environment.

    Sad beyond belief.

  13. green_achers on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 7:24 pm 

    Jet-setting Albert Bates spends more time in jet planes than Al Gore. He’s an important fellow, you know, has a planet to save, and all…

  14. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 7:31 pm 

    And thanks to Fidel Castro who created expansive land and marine wildlife reserves, Cuba has THE most beautiful and intact ecosystem in the world. Compare that to the sick and polluted United States.
    We are lucky that much was saved– the right wing criminals that were replaced would have raped what was left.
    Lucky they got their asses kicked.

  15. Here we go again on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 7:46 pm 

    That’s one thing I find odd about Permaculture Activists…they do tend to travel a lot by airplanes, automobiles, to their gatherings, certification courses, and like Albert …admiring other cultures and what have you. Perhaps if they shook a leg or two bare footed and lost some tire belly, might help in their cultural transition I’ve been hearing for a quarter century now.

  16. I AM THE MOB on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 8:00 pm 

    Populism is ‘making the world unstable’, warns David Cameron

  17. I AM THE MOB on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 8:10 pm 

    Migrant Slaves, Sanctuary Cities and the Coming of the Civil War

  18. DerHundistLos on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 8:15 pm 

    I want to add that Cuban biotech did what US drug mfgs. said was impossible. When my uncle was dying of Stage IV Lung cancer in 2010 and his US doctors had given up hope, I informed the family of the Cuban Lung cancer vaccine and I traveled to Cuba to obtain the vaccine (the stupid US embargo was reactivated under Trump and is killing tens of thousands of Americans sick with Lung cancer every year). Today, my uncle is alive and well thanks to Cuban technology.

    I urge any person who has a loved one diagnosed with Lung cancer to obtain the vaccine. Although not approved by the FDA due to the embargo, it is approved by the European Union’s FDA.

  19. DerHundistLos on Sun, 4th Nov 2018 11:59 pm 

    Duncan Idaho:

    You are entirely correct. As the rich ruling class were leaving Cuba for the US, they looted the Cuban treasury and absconded with approximately $879 million of the people’s money, which was a fortune in 1959. They settled in Miami and became very right-wing Republicans who continue to dictate US policy on Cuba, in terms of Republican US presidents.

  20. Davy on Mon, 5th Nov 2018 4:11 am 

    “Jet-setting Albert Bates spends more time in jet planes than Al Gore. He’s an important fellow, you know, has a planet to save, and all…”. Yea, I used to call them Subaru conservationist. We have this problem today with the leaders of the green movement. I do not mean green party I am pointing to those who preach green. The thing about Albert though is he is not rich that I know of. Al Gore is a rich prick hypocrite. So Albert is doing good work but yea at an environmental cost. Damned if you do or don’t.

    I preach green relative sacrifice. You are stuck living in the status quo. Some can escape it and go totally green. They can live off grid with very little power. Biomass for heat and food and water from the immediate environment with a minimum of consumer goods. This is the lucky few that can do this and live comfortably. It can be done but only for a few. There are many of the poor 6BIL that do it but they are a different conversation of poverty and depravation. For the rest of us it is about using the status quo to leave it. It is about leveraging it to create a hybrid of the new and old that is in support of the planetary cycles that are sustainable and resilient. It is about respecting family and tradition but heroically trying to adapt that powerful force because we have created a cultural narrative that is not sound. Yet, this unravelling narrative is what we have and we the people over 2 centuries have taken this narrative to the point of no return as a civilization.

    Our civilization is a brittle climax ecosystem where any future change will be destructive. Succession has been resisted so constructive evolutionary change has been stymied. We have extended healthy thresholds of change building up risk of destructive change. Yet, we have initiated a full on environmental change. Succession because of species extinction, climate change, and local ecosystem failure is now dramatic. Far quicker and with a deeper degree than is healthy for the planetary web of life. So this then points to a realization our civilization is late term both within and without and its destiny is a reset to a lower level of economic activity and population or possibly extinction. Techno efforts can and may extend this quite some time but I doubt for a growing population. Increasingly there will be haves and have nots with the haves shrinking. This is because resources and prime habitat are being degraded by overconsumption and over population at an alarming rate.

    This requires a new narrative at least for the individual and small groups. Yielding to the powerful forces that control this civilization both self-organizing and as active forces of power from groups and individuals. It means yielding but also leveraging. It means harnessing them to help you leave them but also avoiding their crushing activity. It means salvaging the crumbs of their waste stream. This can be done by many but not all. Some are not educated enough or in the position to adapt. If one can do it then it can be done if one lives with less affluence and with more wisdom. You can live locally, seasonally, and with intermittency more in harmony with planetary cycles for food, water, and shelter. You can turn away from consumerism but harness consumerism to accumulate material that has a future and has long term value. You can reject the simulative side of consumerism as destructive and unwise. You do this to build monasteries of change to adapt and mitigate the coming die down and economic reset that is likely. Maybe it will not be your monastery but it will be someone from the younger generations to come.

    This is about combining the best of the old that transported humans through the ages with the best of knowledge that has been accumulated at such a great cost to the planetary environment. This can be done with the biggest effort being from the universal intelligence found in attitudes that seeks wisdom over knowledge. Wisdom that chooses the best knowledge to keep as the beacon to navigate by. It is about a new spirituality that is not a new religion but a new way of life. Your current religion can be incorporated into it. No need to reinvent the wheel but a new wheel must be added and that wheel is embracing nature in wisdom. It is unclear if the enlightenment to understand this awakening can be maintained in a decline. Education will be some of the first casualties of decline. Yet if we can establish a new narrative and human myth that is nature based with symbolism and routine of activity it is possible we can usher in a new age of thinking even in a time of destructive change. This of course would be self-organizing grassroots up not top down.

    Anyone that is laughing at what I am saying as more cult shit is missing the point. This current human arrangement is a dead man walking. If we want to avoid the fate of an evolutionary dead end that is the result of overconsumption and over population then we must understand it is a dead end and live accordingly. This is likely the truth. We can never know the truth but real uncorrupted science is pointing to this reality so live accordingly. You will not change the world but you can change your world. This is about being the little mammal that had a better chance of outlasted the big dinosaurs. Immense change is coming collapse in place with the dignity that comes from universal wisdom found through nature.

  21. Anonymouse on Mon, 5th Nov 2018 1:33 pm 

    No one reads your rambling, nutter, word salads exceptionalturd.

  22. Free Speech Message Board on Tue, 6th Nov 2018 7:25 pm 

    Everyone has a price.

    Would you teach a North Korean spy English if you were paid $500 per hour?

    Would you teach a North Korean spy English if you thought he was from South Korea?

    Would you torture a Muslim if you thought he was a terrorist?

    Would you torture a Muslim if the US government paid you a $1000 per hour?

    Would you make a movie praising Communism if you were paid $1 million?

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