Archive for May, 2011

Tours through Hopi reservation showcase tribe’s culture, tradition through agriculture


Tours through Hopi reservation showcase tribe’s culture, tradition through agriculture


Posted 30 May 2011, by Felicia Fonseca  (Associated Press), The Daily Reporter,

BACAVI, Ariz. — Agriculture tours on the Hopi reservation are feeding the desire of tourists to learn about one of the oldest indigenous tribes in America.

One of the tour guides, Micah Loma’omvaya (Lowmuh’ ohm vie yah), shares stories about a tribe whose culture and tradition is rooted in farming.

The Hopi anthropologist talks about the preservation of ancient seeds and crops. Tourists are greeted by farmers at terraced gardens and at corn fields.

The tours also serve an economic need where business opportunities are scarce.

The lack of infrastructure on the 1.6 million-acre reservation means that industrial development is nonexistent. Tribal members have twice rejected gaming.

Tribal officials say tourism can help boost the economy.–Hopi-Agriculture-Tours/

Community Currencies and Happiness

Community Currencies and Happiness

Posted 30 May 2011, by Kuo Li-chuan, Taiwan News,

The permaculture concept includes the use of local currencies. Ithaca, New York, for example, introduced its own local currency in the 1970s.

A local currency, (also called “community currency”) is printed and issued at the local level, and can be used to purchase goods and services. The underlying spirit, however, is very different.

The Garden City community in New Taipei City’s Xindian District began issuing a community currency on May 20, 2008 at the suggestion of resident Lai Jiren, an active participant in community affairs. They call it “flower money,” and the idea is for people to help each other through activities supported by use of the currency. The organization running the scheme calls itself the Flower Money Club (hua qian bang), a pun with a second meaning: “spend money to help.”

Upon joining the club, each member receives 200 basic spending points. To spend the flower money, the parties to a transaction need to agree on how to deliver payment. They are not subject to the expectations, practices, or prices of mainstream society.

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Native Americans’ circumstances don’t keep them from being socially aware


Native Americans’ circumstances don’t keep them from being socially aware


Posted 29 May 2011, by Albert Bender, The Tennessean,

It was recently brought to my attention that a radio talk show host in Tampa, Fla., stated that “almost all Native Americans are drunks, do not work and live off the government dole.”

Obviously, this racist commentator is not aware of the thousands of Native Americans in multiple marches for health and clean water now crisscrossing the country.

Nobody, no other nationality or ethnic group, is doing anything to compare with native efforts. Keep in mind that Indian people are the most economically disadvantaged, the most ridden with health calamities, existing under the worst living conditions and yet evince more socially aware zeal and energy than the rest of America.

Let’s start with the Native American diabetes march, the “Longest Walk 3,’’ now trekking across the country. It’s organized by longtime Ojibwe Indian activist Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement. This march, composed of a northern and southern component, began on Feb. 14 and will arrive in Washington, D.C., on July 8.

The northern group started in Portland, Ore., and is crossing nine states; the southern group started in La Jolla, Calif., and is traversing 13 states. The components will meet in D.C. for the National Summit for Diabetes. The purpose of the 5,400-mile walk/run/relay is to focus attention on the diabetes epidemic among Native Americans.

Native Americans’ determination is incomparable

But this is not the only national Native American march. There also is the Mother Earth Water Walk to protest pollution and focus on the sacredness of clean water. This trek involves Indian people marching from the four corners of North America to meet on the shores of Lake Superior on June 12. On this march, water will be carried by hand in buckets from the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and Hudson Bay to Lake Superior.

The Mother Earth Water Walk was begun in 2003 by an Ojibwe grandmother as a prayer for clean water, for Mother Earth, for all the animals, birds, insects and for all human beings. There are western, eastern, southern and northern legs of this walk being trod by thousands of Native people. The energy, determination and strength of Native Americans, long laboring under such adverse circumstances as no one else in this land, is incomparable and incredible.

To the racist Florida talk show host: One wonders when he has walked across the country for the betterment of this land and its people. The rest of this country’s citizens need to take heart from the heroic actions of Native Americans and join in efforts for the uplifting of this country.

Where is the rest of America?

Albert Bender, a Cherokee activist, journalist and historian, lives in Antioch. Email:

Mother Earth’s rights get new respect


Mother Earth’s rights get new respect


Posted 29 May 2011, by Patricia Randolph, The Cap Times,

All beings have “the right to life and to exist.” — Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, April 2010

“Humanity is now using nature’s services 50 percent faster than what Earth can renew, reveals the 2010 edition of the Living Planet Report — the leading survey of the planet’s health” according to The Good Human website.

Nature’s services include wildlife. Sometimes hunters rationalize their sport with the model of American Indian traditions of ritual and prayer, assuming that the animal willingly agrees to give up his life. Just as we no longer treat black people as chattel, the indigenous people have evolved beyond that rationale to declare reverence for all life.

Some ancient cultures believe that the trees are the wisest beings and the animals are our teachers. We are to be humble and learn from them. Listen to them. Their suffering is our own. We must act urgently to replace our killing culture with a living paradigm.

There is no doubt that the dominant culture is killing the planet. Nature has been treated as a subsystem of the economy rather than the other way round. With all the new accumulation of knowledge, it has not translated into understanding.

Nothing can be more important than life.

With billions of animals confined for slaughter, with killing interests in control of state agency agendas to destroy wild native nature by farming her for maximum killing profit, we either awaken to the scope of this destruction, or allow this juggernaut to destroy life as we have known it. There are some very educated scientists who assert our trajectory threatens our very survival as a species.

After the Copenhagen global warming conference failed, Bolivia held its own gathering of world citizens in April 2010. There the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth was adopted by indigenous peoples and activists from all over the world. This document recognizes Mother Earth as the source of an indivisible linkage of interdependent beings with a common destiny. It gives legal standing to all beings.

This ethos harks back to the core teachings of major religions that we are all one. When we harm the other, we harm ourselves. With the rise of cancer, autism, heart disease, obesity, chronic wasting disease, and with the prevalence of oil spills, tsunamis, nuclear threat, Queensland and Pakistan under water, the Mississippi Valley flooding, unprecedented storms and tornadoes, drought, and war, we need to change almost everything. The declaration puts it this way:

“The capitalist system and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change.”

This declaration puts front and center that the rights that humans have given only themselves create imbalances that come back to haunt us, and may end us.

“Mother Earth and all beings are entitled to all the inherent rights recognized in this declaration without distinction of any kind, such as may be made between organic and inorganic beings, species, origin, use to human beings, or any other status.”

The revolutionary concept here is that destroying non-human life on the rationale that it is useful to humans to do so is an unacceptable violation of other beings. We do not have the right to kill or confine because we want to eat, display, own, wear, use or profit from another being’s life for our own human purposes.

This paradigm dignifies human rights with our profound obligations of stewardship to ensure the rights of all beings, to include the following:

The right to life and to exist, to be respected; the right to regenerate bio-capacity and continue vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions; the right to maintain integrity as a distinct, self-regulating and interrelated being; the right to water, clean air, and health; the right to be free from genetic engineering, contamination, pollution, toxic and radioactive waste; and the right to full and prompt restoration from the violation of these rights caused by human activity.

We protect ourselves only by protecting other beings.

I urge you to read this declaration for peaceable kinship in its entirety and to read about its presentation to the United Nations.

My 79-year-old American Indian neighbor pronounced the document “just common sense.”

I invite you to help organize on behalf of our bears, bobcats, wolves, coyotes, deer, our ducks and mourning doves, who cannot defend themselves. A webmaster would be really helpful. Artists, songwriters, students, organizers and representatives of like-minded groups (peace and justice, unions, teachers, hikers, bikers, birders, wildlife lovers and photographers) — please step up to help by contacting me. I am also available to speak to groups.

June 12 column: For the love and defense of Wisconsin’s gentle black bears

Patricia Randolph of Portage is a longtime activist for wildlife.

Sturgeon’s death highlights threat to ancient fish


Sturgeon’s death highlights threat to ancient fish

Posted 29 May 2011, by Arthur Max (Associated Press), Taiwan News,

Alas, poor Harald. Wired up to a satellite transmitter, he had much to teach science about the life of the great sturgeons of the Danube River and Black Sea.

His probable demise is a cautionary tale of the multiplying threats to the great sturgeons, sought since Roman times for the wealth they yield in meat and caviar.

Consider: A living creature from the age of the dinosaurs, a fish that can grow as long as a minibus, lives longer than most men, sniffs its way to its birthplace to spawn and can yield a fortune in caviar.

When in 2009 a team of Romanian and Norwegian researchers attached a satellite transmitter to Harald’s 2.9 meter (9 1/2-foot) body, they hoped the data beamed back would show them ways of halting the rapid drop in the sturgeons’ numbers. But now the Beluga sturgeon is missing, presumed to be a victim of poachers.

Sturgeon have thrived in the Danube for 200 million years, migrating from feeding grounds in the Black Sea to Germany 2,000 kms (1,200 miles) upstream. Archaeologists have found wooden sturgeon traps in the ruins of Roman fortresses behind the willow trees on the Danube’s banks, along with sturgeon bones dated to the 3rd century.

In the 1970s and ’80s Romania built giant dams across the Iron Gates gorge, cutting off half the sturgeons’ spawning grounds.

Fishermen, unrestrained after the collapse of order in eastern Europe in 1989, caught them in huge numbers as they began their migration, trapping them before they could reproduce. Pollution from agricultural run-off and expanding cities put them under further pressure, although the construction of water treatment plants in the last decade has lessened the flow of filth.

Now environmentalists are trying to head off the latest threat: a European Union plan to deepen shipping channels in the Danube that they fear could eliminate the last shallows where the sturgeon deposit their eggs, which would doom the fish to vanish in its last stronghold in Europe.

“Right now it’s teetering on the edge of extinction,” said Andreas Beckmann, director of the Danube-Carpathian program of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, or WWF. “That one project, depending on how it’s done, could push it over the edge.”

Under the plan, engineers would block partially several side channels of the Danube and divert water to the main fairway, enabling year-round shipping through what are now low-water bottlenecks. Concrete would reinforce the banks of some islands.

European and Romanian officials insist the proposed action would not further endanger the fish in the wild, free-flowing waters of the Lower Danube.

“There will be enough water to ensure migration,” said Serban Cucu, a senior Transport Ministry official and Romanian negotiator. Still, construction has been delayed for a year to allow more monitoring of the channels.

“If the data collected shows there is some influence, we will decide together whether to stop the project,” said Cucu, interviewed in his Bucharest office.

Sturgeon, which can live a century or more in both salt and fresh water, are genetically wired to reproduce only where they themselves were born. Equipped with four nostrils, each fish sniffs its way to its birthplace, says researcher Radu Suciu.

After the Iron Gates went up, fish west of the two dams effectively were rendered infertile. The reproduction rate was reduced by half, said Suciu, of the Danube Delta National Institute in Tulcea, at the mouth of the Danube Delta.

Even now, 40 years later, older fish congregate at the foot of the dam in spawning season.

This month, conservationists, governments and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization agreed to explore building a fish ladder for the sturgeon to crawl around the Iron Gates dams. But unlike salmon, sturgeon cannot jump and would have to use powerful underside muscles to climb nearly 40 meters (130 feet) through a chain of pools.

In a separate attempt to revive sturgeon stocks, experiments have begun to breed sturgeon in fish farms, safe from poachers who kill them for their roe, which is processed into expensive caviar.

In 1999, Stelic Gerghi, an unemployed aquaculture engineer from the Tulcea area, famously caught a 450 kilogram (990-pound) fish and extracted 82 kilograms (180 pounds) of roe. It earned him enough to finish building his home and buy a new car. He is now serving his third term as mayor of the Vacareni district.

International trade in sturgeon was banned in 2001, and in 2006 Romania outlawed sturgeon fishing, followed by Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova and lately Bulgaria.

“We stopped the clock,” says Suciu.

But as Harald’s story illustrates, the threats have not disappeared.

Harald, named for the king of Norway because that country sponsors sturgeon research, was 12 years old and weighed 80 kilograms (175 pounds) when he was caught and taken to an experimental farm. There his sperm was harvested to artificially fertilize the eggs of females.

After a month he was tagged with a transmitter and released back into the Danube in May 2009, carrying the hopes of scientists to learn how sturgeons travel and behave.

“He was in very good health, a strong fish,” said Suciu.

He made his way downstream to the Danube Delta and into the Black Sea. Abhorring light, he stayed in murky depths of 10 to 50 meters (30-150 feet).

Scientists pieced together his movements from 11,000 messages transmitted over five days after the tag reached the surface six months later.

Harald had foraged for herring, sprats, mackerel and other small fish for several weeks. Then in October he swam north.

Suddenly, on Nov. 2, he stopped moving. For three days he stayed on the bottom of the sea, 65 meters (215 feet) down, immobile.

During the night of Nov. 6, sometime after 2 a.m., Harald rose swiftly to the surface and went in a straight line 11 kilometers (7 miles) to Ukraine’s Crimean coast. He remained offshore for two days and on land for another two. The transmitter’s final messages, plotted with the help of Google Earth, indicated movement along a railway line.

Much of Harald’s data was lost during transmission to the satellite, but the scientists had enough information to surmise his fate: he had been snared by a hook or net, then hauled up in the dead of night and taken ashore by rowboat.

“This was really sad. It was a young fish. He came into the Danube to spawn for the first time,” said Suciu.

But the scientist was consoled that Harald left offspring that were released into the river. “The sons and daughters of Harald are safe in the Black Sea. He didn’t die for nothing,” he said.

Sturgeon’s death highlights threat to ancient fish

Vacaville farm, furnishes fruit, produce cafe franchise


Vacaville farm, furnishes fruit, produce cafe franchise

Posted 29 May 2011, by Richard Bammer, The Reporter,

For Matthew and Terces Engelhart of Vacaville, sharing is a way of life. Viewing it as an asset, not a liability, they say it informs everything they do.

Besides being parents to five children and grandparents to three, they grow organic food with sustainable methods on their 21-acre farm on Bucktown Lane, operating Cafe Gratitude, a small chain of raw food and vegan restaurants, most of them in the Bay Area, writing books and hosting webinars worldwide about their farming practices, which they call “regenerative agriculture.”

“It’s the keystone to a workable community,” Matthew, 54, said of the idea. Farming that “regenerates the land’s ability to provide, farming that is a win for the ecosystem that it’s in. It regenerates the land’s ability to produce life.”

But during a visit to their Vaca Valley spread, dubbed Be Love Farm, which includes seven acres of fruit and nut trees, an equal amount in vegetables and greenhouses, conversations hovered around, or hinted at, the idea of sharing — with themselves, their employees, the people they come in contact with and the land on which they live and work — and how they incorporate sharing into their expanding franchise.

Sharing started early in his life, said Matthew. He learned it from his parents, who adopted the five children of their best friends after the friends died in an accident. So sharing is integral in Cafe Gratitude, which he called “an experimental business model” called “sacred commerce,” where, according to the company website,, “transformational growth” is part of the work environment.

After meeting in San Francisco in 2000 and later living and farming family property in Maui, Hawaii, the Engelharts opened their first Cafe Gratitude in 2004 in San Francisco. They have since opened up cafes in Oakland (in a Whole Foods store), Cupertino (also in a Whole Foods store), Berkeley, Healdsburg and San Rafael, plus Gracias Madre, a vegan taqueria in San Francisco’s Mission District. They also sell Cafe Gratitude products in partnering stores across the nation.

With cash from investors, including pop musician Jason Mraz, they recently opened their sixth cafe in Los Angeles — “The partners in L.A. raised the money, we provided the training and culture,” said Matthew. If all goes as planned, they will soon open another cafe in a second Southern California town, in the beachside community of Venice.

Business has generally been moderate and steady, said Matthew. He added that, in 2010, estimated sales were $8 million, a relatively minuscule part of the $26.7 billion in organic food sales nationwide last year, as reported by the Organic Trade Association.

While his business is a for-profit concern, however, the Plattsburgh, N.Y., native likened revenue margins to those of grocery stores — “3 or 4 percent,” he said — citing the costs of providing health care to employees and being required by law to pay one of the highest minimum wages in the nation, $10 per hour.

“It’s worth it, however,” he added. “We transform lives everyday and serve 1,500 people a day.”

During summer, the farm’s most productive season, of course, Be Love Farm supplies nearly 50 percent of all the fruit and produce consumed at the restaurants. After harvest, it is trucked three times a week to a central kitchen on 14th Street in downtown San Francisco. The bounty includes a sizable list of foods, including cherries, peaches, pecans, walnuts, pears, persimmons, watermelons, pomegranates, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, kale, potatoes, figs, tomatoes, olives, watercress, sunflower sprouts, limes and oranges. All of it is grown without chemicals but certainly with generous portions of compost. The Engelharts keep it in several haystack-size mounds, in varying degrees of decomposition, in a row near the barn. They also raise some 100 free-range chickens, but the eggs are not used in food at the cafes but sold by the dozen at the farm.

At the Cafe Gratitude in Healdsburg, a visitor finds the Engelhart’s philosophy in action, with part of it literally spelled out on the menu, which begins, in a sort of preface: “Cafe Gratitude is our expression of a world of plenty.” The soups, salads, raw and cooked specialties, the breakfasts, use affirmations in their names, like I Am Thriving (cooked soup of the day), I Am Complete (a Mediterranean plate with almond hummus) and I Am Grateful (shredded kale with quinoa, black beans and tahini-garlic sauce). The latter, the cafes’ biggest seller, is free for the asking but a suggested donation of $7 is recommended — or it can be purchased for $14, to help pay the cost to feed a homeless or needy person, said Matthew.

Even the bowls and plates carry the Engelhart’s philosophy, printed in black, in the form of a question: “What Are You Grateful For?” Matthew said it is merely a simple assertion of their views of life and business, “an ever-evolving experiment.”

Their experiment includes a simple, if not spartan lifestyle at the farm. They live in a yurt, but otherwise spend most of their time outdoors. They bathe in an outdoor bathhouse, prepare their food in an outdoor kitchen and use a composting toilet. They built a sauna for use in the winter months and a pool to swim in during the high heat of Vacaville’s summers.

The Engelharts hold fast to the idea of biodynamics, an approach to life and living fostered by Rudolf Steiner, the 20th-century Austrian-Swiss social and spiritual philosopher, that their farm can be viewed as a living organism. To that end, they nurture the land’s soil organically, adding compost and organic nutrients if needed, to increase yields, to prevent disease and thwart pests and to maximize nutrition in the crops.

From time to time, they also hold workshops, Matthew said, “to train people to be leaders, to train people to live in their communities, to practice regenerative agriculture.”

No Shame, No Respect: Solar Millennium Builds A Road On Ancient Geoglyphs – Video

No Shame, No Respect: Solar Millennium Builds A Road On Ancient Geoglyphs – Video


Posted 28 May 2011, by Staff, Indigenous Peoples, Issues & Resources,


In the deserts of California, fast-tracked solar projects are proceeding without shame and without respect. BLM (Bureau of Land Management) permitting allowed projects to go ahead on the basis of inadequate EISs (Environmental Impact Statements), in a way that damages the environment and destroys significant Native American cultural resources.


To watch the video, please visit this link:

Will Big Solar Bulldoze Sacred Tribal Sites?

Will Big Solar Bulldoze Sacred Tribal Sites?


Why tribes believe solar companies are playing fast and loose with Native American heritage.

One of the Blythe Intaglios, safely fenced off from solar plant intrusion. Ron’s Log/Wikimedia Commons

Posted 28 May 2011, by Gavin Aronsen, Mother Jones,

Alfredo Figueroa, an elder in the Chemehuevi tribe, has spent all of his 77 years in the Sonoran Desert town of Blythe, next to the Colorado River in southeastern California. But now, he’s worried burial grounds and giant etchings in the earth that are sacred to his people could soon be replaced by giant solar panels. It’s part of the unprecedented expansion of solar power into California’s deserts, a key piece of President Obama’s push to make energy production 80 percent “clean” by 2035. Late last year, Figueroa filed suit to stop the 7,000-acre solar plant being built outside his hometown, along with five others approved for public lands.

The litigation was the latest in a series of lawsuits protesting the federal government’s expedited cultural and environmental review of solar project sites. It contends that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in a rush to qualify projects for Obama’s stimulus fund deadline (since extended to the end of this year), failed to adequately consult with tribes and properly identify at-risk ecosystems and sacred lands to avoid. A self-taught historian, Figueroa believes that the sands and hills outside Blythe are especially sacred: After reading a book his uncle gave him half a century ago, he became convinced that the fabled Aztec ancestral lands of Aztlán sat there.

One of Figueroa’s sympathizers once told a reporter that researchers would quickly dismiss “some little old man from the desert telling them he’s found Aztlán.” (Speculation about where the lands are runs from central Mexico to Wisconsin, but there’s no clear consensus that they exist at all.) But it would be a mistake to sell the man short. In the mid-’70s, he helped kill the Sundesert Nuclear Power Plant that was to go up southwest of Blythe. He launched a successful eight-year effort in 1992 to stop a proposed nuclear waste dump in the Mojave Desert. After that, he fought to win official recognition for hundreds of cultural sites along the Colorado River.

A study last year by the California Energy Commission (PDF), which grants permits to large-scale solar plants, found 17,000 cultural sites—not all indigenous—in the southern California desert that “will potentially be destroyed” by past, present, and future construction of various sorts. (That number is probably larger today, the CEC says.) BLM archeologist Rolla Queen defends the government’s review process, but admits that the dozens of solar proposals and projects in the desert region are “a little overwhelming.” Not since the days of the major dam-building projects of the 1920s and ’30s has the country seen public-land construction on this scale, he says. It shows: Overstressed government workers scramble to review new proposals while continuing to monitor sensitive areas at approved sites. Environmental groups are even more strapped for resources, and tribes often don’t have any legal staff at all.

While efforts are made to recover ancient artifacts, the excavation sites aren’t usually considered protection-worthy by government standards. But a good-faith effort to conduct a nation-to-nation consultation with federally recognized tribes, which have sovereign status, is mandatory. Last December, a federal judge imposed a temporary injunction on a project in Imperial Valley because in its review process, the government blew off the Quechan tribe of the Fort Yuma Reservation. (If built to its original specs, the project would engulf more than 6,000 acres of desert by the Mexican border, including habitats of the revered horned toad that is part of the tribe’s creation story.)

“That’s pretty strong medicine,” says Patrick Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School. “The judge said, ‘I’m not going to be swayed by arguments that say you can’t do this, you’ll kill the project.'” Instead, the judge said that the government should have considered the consequences beforehand. The company ended up selling the project to AES Solar, which appears to be waiting until the lawsuit is resolved before proceeding with any plans. Whatever the outcome, Quechan tribal elder Preston Arrow-weed will remain uneasy. “There’s places all over Imperial County where they plan to put these projects,” he says. “And it’s right over sacred sites.”

Figueroa’s challenge faces longer odds. Unlike the Quechan lawsuit, his is filed through his nonprofit, La Cuna de Aztlán Sacred Sites Protection Circle (PDF), rather than his tribe. (Of the dozens of desert tribes, so far only the Quechan has sued.)  That means his frustrations over the consultation process will likely be a non-starter, Parenteau says, because he lacks the sovereign governmental standing of the tribe itself. Charles Wood, the Chemehuevi tribal chairman, says that he has “wide-ranging concerns” about the project outside Blythe, including the eyesore and noise it will surely create. But he says that the company has heard him out and the tribe probably won’t sue. “We may have pushed it as far as we can to this point,” he says.

Because Solar Millennium, the company that owns the Blythe project, has circumnavigated some of the area’s most sacred sites in its ongoing construction, Figueroa’s other legal challenges there could be a tough sell, too. Ground etchings known as the Blythe Intaglios are fenced off, protected by federal law. The company agreed to avoid two other intaglios, of the Kokopelli fertility and Cicimitl afterlife deities, which Figueroa believes are thousands of years old but the BLM says are clearly less than 50 (which would make legal protection harder to come by). Still, the Chemehuevi people, like the Aztecs, were migratory, and burial grounds and other cultural sites are scattered throughout the desert. Certainly, Figueroa reasons, that includes the lands on which the six solar plants he’s suing are approved.

Some of the five other solar projects in Figueroa’s lawsuit could be tripped up by environmental litigation, even if his own efforts don’t make headway. The Sierra Club has launched a strong case against the CEC over review of the Calico project, now owned by K Road Power, in the Mojave (the CEC has an impressive track record at the state Supreme Court, however). The smaller Western Watersheds Project, concerned about the threatened desert tortoise, sued the federal government over the Ivanpah project, also in the Mojave. And the California Unions for Reliable Energy sued the BLM over the Sonoran-based Genesis project, arguing it would make improper use of water from a Colorado River aquifer.

People familiar with the Quechan’s Imperial Valley injunction say that energy companies and the BLM have learned their lesson. But to some Native Americans, that just means they’ll try harder to avoid lawsuits, sometimes by trying to save face after their projects have already won approval. “More and more, the BLM is in a position of throwing out this term ‘mitigation,'” Wood says, “not necessarily looking to tribes to stop the process, but what are the tribes’ problems so we can get around them?” Dave Singleton, who works for California’s Native American Heritage Commission, says that the BLM has not always respected tribal customs including the oral history of tribal elders who, like Figueroa and Arrow-weed, aren’t always members of their tribal councils. “We’re not against renewable energy,” Singleton says. “But it’s a matter of smart development, not just bulldozing through pursuant to an engineer’s drawing.”

Figueroa calls the influx of big solar the worst affront to tribes “since the coming of Cortés.” Whether it’s the latest theft of land from Native Americans or a renewable energy renaissance (or something in between), the continued construction of large-scale solar power plants in the southern California desert region seems for now like an inevitability. But Aztlán’s protector won’t submit. Figueroa promises, “This is a big, long battle that we’re going to undertake.”

Gavin Aronsen is an Editorial Intern at Mother Jones

The Transition from Oil to Free Energy…

The Transition from Oil to Free Energy…

Posted 26 May 2011, by Jason Immaraju, Day Glo (Blog),

Peak oil is defined as the point at which maximum oil production has been reached. This particular point is the center of controversial discussions: optimists affiliated with the industry predict that global peak oil will occur between 2030 and 2035, while other experts in the field claim that it has already peaked in 2006¹. While the official data is yet to be established, it is clear that the world is heading into the post-oil era. This issue is currently generating a multitude of discussions regarding changing the consumption attitudes of the developed and developing countries whose lives depend on the seemingly endless oil supply streaming from the invisible spigot.

Crude oil is not only the basis for transportation uses but also the integral ingredient for plastics, building materials, fertilizers, synthetic textiles and countless others. This commodity is completely integrated in our contemporary lifestyle, and petroleum-based products will inevitably become more expensive and scarce due to rising oil prices and slower rates of production.

Furthermore, oil is the source of the historical geopolitical tension that has gripped the global community. Modern warfare and threats of mass destruction all hinge on the control of oil resources. Only the elite civilizations can compete in this deadly battle, as it requires massive amounts of capital and military force to secure, develop, maintain and distribute the black gold. In addition, larger developing nations are experiencing a higher demand rate to support a growing infrastructure and transportation industries.

Locating the project on an oilfield presents a strategic opportunity to address the changing nature and attitude towards oil in the twenty-first century. The juxtaposition of a landscape full of “free energy” derived from the immediate surroundings with the precious crude oil still in the rocks below forms a speculative testing ground for shifting lifestyles. One mediator in this shift is the relatively new process of algae biofuel extraction.

Crude oil is nothing more than ancient algae remains that have been subjected to intense heat and pressure in anoxic subterranean conditions over a long period of time. Since this process is exclusive to certain parts of the planet and not broadly distributed, access is restricted and therefore gives crude oil its value. Algae biofuel, on the other hand, presents exciting opportunities to not only produce a cleaner resource unconstrained by geographical location, but also to fit into a closed loop cycle.

Michael Pawlyn, architectural expert on sustainable environments, explains the benefits of shifting our lifestyles and spaces in a recent TED talk². He explains nature as a “catalogue of products” where the waste of one organism in an ecosystem becomes the nutrient for another. This process of “biomimicry” gives value to the waste that we would usually discard and effectively motivates a more resilient and sustainable system. This shift is what Pawlyn describes as moving from a linear to a closed loop process and presents a massive opportunity in design.

The algae biofuel extraction process fits perfectly into the closed loop model as it requires simple abundant resources (usually in the form of byproducts or waste) found anywhere on the planet to operate: algae, sunlight, carbon dioxide and water infused with nutrients. This simple process can form a cyclical bond with a human and can foster a multiplicity of other connections that can form a stable alternative ecology.

Developing this symbiotic relationship between a human and algae forms the basic architectural proposition for the project: a living lab composed of various closed-loop cycles that form a resilient self-powered ecology in the midst of oil crisis. This system would invariably change the way the occupants live as well as individual subjective attitudes towards energy and the surrounding landscape.

However, the status of the crude oil still present under the oil field needs to be addressed. How does its value change and can it play a part in the new ecology developed above the wells? What do we do with this volatile compound capable of generating large amounts of energy? How will this design decision fit into the transition period from oil to renewable energy?

1. Zittel, Werner and Jorg Schindler. “Crude Oil: the Supply Outlook.” Report to the Energy Watch Group. 2007. See Page 12.

2. Pawlyn, Michael. “Using Nature’s Genius.” TED talk., November 2010