GROW YR OWN MICROBIAL SLAVE ARMY
http://news.discovery.com/tech/bacteria-salt-water-make-hydrogen-fuel-.html
Bacteria, Salt Water Make Hydrogen Fuel
by Jesse Emspak / Sep 21, 2011

The ‘hydrogen economy’ requires a lot of things, but first is an easy and cheap supply of hydrogen. There are lots of ways to make it, but most of them don’t produce large quantities quickly or inexpensively.  Professor Bruce Logan, director of the Hydrogen to Energy Center at Penn State University, has found a way to change that. He used a process called reverse electrodialysis, combined with some ordinary bacteria to get hydrogen out of water by breaking up its molecules. Water — which is made of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen — can be broken down with electricity. (This is a pretty common high school science experiment). The problem is that you need to pump a lot of energy into the water to break the molecules apart.

Logan thought there had to be a better way. He combined two methods of making electricity — one from microbial fuel cell research and the other from reverse electrodialysis. In a microbial fuel cell, bacteria eat organic molecules and during digestion, release electrons. In a reverse electrodialysis setup, a chamber is separated by a stack of membranes that allow charged particles, or ions, to move in only one direction. Filling the chamber with salt water on one side and fresher water on the other causes ions to try and move to the fresher side. That movement creates a voltage. Adding more membranes increases the voltage, but at a certain point it becomes unwieldy. By putting the bacteria in the side of the reverse electrodialysis chamber with the fresh water, and using only 11 membranes, Logan was able to generate enough voltage to generate hydrogen. Ordinarily he would need to generate about 0.414 volts. With this system, he can get .8 volts, nearly double. (The microbial part of the cell generates 0.3 volts and the RED system creates about 0.5.)

Using seawater, some less salty wastewater with sewage or other organic matter in it and the bacteria, Logan’s apparatus can produce about 1.6 cubic meters of hydrogen for every cubic meter of liquid through the system of chambers and membranes. Another bonus is that less energy goes into pumping the water — if anything, flow rates and pressure have to be kept relatively low so as not to damage the membranes.  Making hydrogen cheaper is a necessity if hydrogen cars are to be a reality. Some car companies already make hydrogen-powered models. The state of Hawaii is already experimenting with hydrogen fuel systems. Producing cheaper, abundant hydrogen — especially from sewer water and seawater — is a big step in that direction.

LIMITLESS
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14976893
Harvesting ‘limitless’ hydrogen from self-powered cells
by Mark Kinver / 20 September 2011

US researchers say they have demonstrated how cells fueled by bacteria can be “self-powered” and produce a limitless supply of hydrogen. Until now, they explained, an external source of electricity was required in order to power the process. However, the team added, the current cost of operating the new technology is too high to be used commercially. Details of the findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There are bacteria that occur naturally in the environment that are able to release electrons outside of the cell, so they can actually produce electricity as they are breaking down organic matter,” explained co-author Bruce Logan, from Pennsylvania State University, US. “We use those microbes, particularly inside something called a microbial fuel cell (MFC), to generate electrical power. “We can also use them in this device, where they need a little extra power to make hydrogen gas. “What that means is that they produce this electrical current, which are electrons, they release protons in the water and these combine with electrons.”

Prof Logan said that the technology to utilize this process to produce hydrogen was called microbial electrolysis cell (MEC). “The breakthrough here is that we do not need to use an electrical power source anymore to provide a little energy into the system. “All we need to do is add some fresh water and some salt water and some membranes, and the electrical potential that is there can provide that power.” The MECs use something called “reverse electrodialysis” (RED), which refers to the energy gathered from the difference in salinity, or salt content, between saltwater and freshwater.

In their paper, Prof Logan and colleague Younggy Kim explained how an envisioned RED system would use alternating stacks of membranes that harvest this energy; the movement of charged atoms move from the saltwater to freshwater creates a small voltage that can be put to work. “This is the crucial element of the latest research,” Prof Logan told BBC News, explaining the process of their system, known as a microbial reverse-electrodialysis electrolysis cell (MREC). “If you think about desalinating water, it takes energy. If you have a freshwater and saltwater interface, that can add energy. We realized that just a little bit of that energy could make this process go on its own.”

Artistic representation of hydrogen molecules (Image: Science Photo Library)

He said that the technology was still in its infancy, which was one of the reasons why it was not being exploited commercially. “Right now, it is such a new technology,” he explained. “In a way it is a little like solar power. We know we can convert solar energy into electricity but it has taken many years to lower the cost. “This is a similar thing: it is a new technology and it could be used, but right now it is probably a little expensive. So the question is, can we bring down the cost?” The next step, Prof Logan explained, was to develop larger-scale cells: “Then it will easier to evaluate the costs and investment needed to use the technology. The authors acknowledged that hydrogen had “significant potential as an efficient energy carrier”, but it had been dogged with high production costs and environmental concerns, because it is most often produced using fossil fuels.

Prof Logan observed: “We use hydrogen for many, many things. It is used in making [petrol], it is used in foods etc. Whether we use it in transportation… remains to be seen.” But, the authors wrote that their findings offered hope for the future: “This unique type of integrated system has significant potential to treat wastewater and simultaneously produce [hydrogen] gas without any consumption of electrical grid energy.” Prof Logan added that a working example of a microbial fuel cell was currently on display at London’s Science Museum, as part of the Water Wars exhibition.


Bacterial hydrolysis cell with reverse electrodialysis stack

a FEW GRAINS Of SALT
http://live.psu.edu/story/55172
‘Inexhaustible’ source of hydrogen may be unlocked by salt water / September 19, 2011

A grain of salt or two may be all that microbial electrolysis cells need to produce hydrogen from wastewater or organic byproducts, without adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere or using grid electricity, according to Penn State engineers. “This system could produce hydrogen anyplace that there is wastewater near sea water,” said Bruce E. Logan, Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering. “It uses no grid electricity and is completely carbon neutral. It is an inexhaustible source of energy.” Microbial electrolysis cells that produce hydrogen are the basis of this recent work, but previously, to produce hydrogen, the fuel cells required some electrical input. Now, Logan, working with postdoctoral fellow Younggy Kim, is using the difference between river water and seawater to add the extra energy needed to produce hydrogen. Their results, published in the Sept. 19 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “show that pure hydrogen gas can efficiently be produced from virtually limitless supplies of seawater and river water and biodegradable organic matter.”

Logan’s cells were between 58 and 64 percent efficient and produced between 0.8 to 1.6 cubic meters of hydrogen for every cubic meter of liquid through the cell each day. The researchers estimated that only about 1 percent of the energy produced in the cell was needed to pump water through the system. The key to these microbial electrolysis cells is reverse-electrodialysis or RED that extracts energy from the ionic differences between salt water and fresh water. A RED stack consists of alternating ion exchange membranes — positive and negative — with each RED contributing additively to the electrical output. “People have proposed making electricity out of RED stacks,” said Logan. “But you need so many membrane pairs and are trying to drive an unfavorable reaction.” For RED technology to hydrolyze water — split it into hydrogen and oxygen — requires 1.8 volts, which would in practice require about 25 pairs of membranes and increase pumping resistance. However, combining RED technology with exoelectrogenic bacteria — bacteria that consume organic material and produce an electric current — reduced the number of RED stacks to five membrane pairs.

Previous work with microbial electrolysis cells showed that they could, by themselves, produce about 0.3 volts of electricity, but not the 0.414 volts needed to generate hydrogen in these fuel cells. Adding less than 0.2 volts of outside electricity released the hydrogen. Now, by incorporating 11 membranes — five membrane pairs that produce about 0.5 volts — the cells produce hydrogen. “The added voltage that we need is a lot less than the 1.8 volts necessary to hydrolyze water,” said Logan. “Biodegradable liquids and cellulose waste are abundant and with no energy in and hydrogen out we can get rid of wastewater and by-products. This could be an inexhaustible source of energy.” Logan and Kim’s research used platinum as a catalyst on the cathode, but subsequent experimentation showed that a non-precious metal catalyst, molybdenum sulfide, had 51 percent energy efficiency.

CONTACT
Bruce Logan
http://www.engr.psu.edu/ce/enve/logan/
email : blogan [at] psu [dot] edu

WASTEWATER
http://www.fastcompany.com/1775321/coming-soon-wastewater-batteries-that-could-power-your-house
Batteries That Run On (And Clean) Used Toilet Water
by Ariel Schwartz / Aug 22, 2011

Humans should have a little more respect for dirty toilet water. In recent years, wastewater has become something of a commodity, with nuclear plants paying for treated wastewater to run their facilities, cities relying on so-called “toilet to tap” technology, and breweries turning wastewater into biogas that can be used to power their facilities. Soon enough, wastewater-powered batteries may even keep the lights on in your house or, at the very least, in the industrial plants that clean the wastewater.

Environmental engineer Bruce Logan is developing microbial fuel cells that rely on wastewater bacteria’s desire to munch on organic waste. When these bacteria eat the waste, electrons are released as a byproduct–and Logan’s fuel cell collects those electrons on carbon bristles, where they can move through a circuit and power everything from light bulbs to ceiling fans. Logan’s microbial fuel cells can produce both electrical power and hydrogen, meaning the cells could one day be used to juice up hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Logan’s fuel cells aren’t overly expensive. “In the early reactors, we used very expensive graphite rods and expensive polymers and precious metals like platinum. And we’ve now reached the point where we don’t have to use any precious metals,” he explained to the National Science Foundation. Microbial fuel cells still don’t produce enough power to be useful in our daily lives, but that may change soon–Logan estimates that the fuel cells will be ready to go in the next five to 10 years, at which point they could power entire wastewater treatment plants and still generate enough electricity to power neighboring towns. There may also be ones that use–and in the process-desalinate–salt water, using just the energy from the bacteria. And if the microbial fuel cells don’t work out, there’s another option: Chinese researchers have developed a photocatalytic fuel cell that uses light (as opposed to microbial cells) to clean wastewater and generate power. That technology is also far from commercialization, but in a few years, filthy water will power its own cleaning facilities one way or another.

http://www.n2yo.com/satellite/?s=90027
http://wa4nzd.wordpress.com/
http://nanosaild.engr.scu.edu/dashboard.htm


Artist’s concept of the NanoSail-D spacecraft in orbit. Credit: NASA

NANOSAIL-D
http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=16359
http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n1101/22nanosail/
NASA’s first solar sail makes unlikely comeback in orbit
by Stephen Clark / January 22, 2011

After testing the nerves of engineers, NASA confirmed Friday a tiny satellite unfurled an ultra-thin solar sail, a technology that has far-reaching applications both near Earth and in deep space. Project officials have “multiple confirmations” of a successful sail deployment, according to Dean Alhorn, the NanoSail-D mission’s project manager at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The 8.5-pound spacecraft, NASA’s first solar sail mission, transmitted a beacon signal indicating it attempted to release the sail, which measures 100 square feet and is made of a polymer material called CP1. The membrane is about 3 microns thick, tens of times thinner than a human hair. Not only did engineers get a positive beacon signal from the spacecraft, but ground-based observers reported they saw a different signature from the satellite as it passed overhead. “That signature is consistent with the size change we would normally see if it deployed,” Alhorn said Friday. “What they saw was significant enough for us to have a high confidence that we did deploy the sail.” The deployment occurred around 10 p.m. EST Thursday, according to NASA.

The membrane was wound on a spindle inside a triple CubeSat spacecraft about the size of a loaf of bread. Four spring-loaded guide booms were designed pop out of the compact spacecraft, then the polymer membrane was supposed to stretch tight in a diamond shape within about five seconds. That’s if the sail deployment went as planned. This week marked a significant turnaround for the NanoSail-D project. Officials were growing concerned over the spacecraft’s silence after its scheduled deployment from a mothership satellite named FASTSAT. NanoSail-D launched Nov. 19 inside FASTSAT, a NASA technology demonstration satellite. The craft was programmed to compute a time to release NanoSail-D, but officials never heard from the miniature satellite after its scheduled Dec. 6 separation. Telemetry indicated FASTSAT commanded separation of the subsatellite and the container’s door opened, but NASA couldn’t find NanoSail-D, leading officials to believe it was stuck inside its carrier. “When it was stuck inside, it was very depressing after working on this for three years,” Alhorn said, adding there is no definitive answer for why the craft failed to deploy on the first try. More than six weeks later, FASTSAT radioed Earth that it released NanoSail-D. The deployment was spontaneous, according to NASA.

Alhorn said NanoSail-D’s battery will be drained over the next few days, so the satellite’s beacon signal could die soon. Amateur ham radio operators around the world are listening for radio transmissions from the satellite. But there is still an opportunity for visual observers to catch a glimpse of the satellite. Although officials expect NanoSail-D to be dim for most of its mission, brief flares in brightness could make it visible to the naked eye. The spacecraft is tumbling right now, Alhorn said, but atmospheric drag in low Earth orbit should stabilize the sail’s attitude like a kite. Officials expect NanoSail-D will remain in space between 70 and 120 days until it eventually succumbs to drag and burns up in Earth’s atmosphere. The uncertainty depends on solar activity, which can increase drag for low Earth orbit satellites, causing them to lose altitude.

NASA is calling upon satellite watchers to track the satellite and take pictures. The best time to view the craft is around dawn and dusk. When the sail is tumbling, it could be visible anywhere in the sky, but once its orientation stabilizes, the best viewing will be when the satellite is close to the horizon, according to NASA. Observers can enter their location to find sighting opportunities for NanoSail-D. Because the sail is flying just above the atmosphere, drag is the largest force acting upon the spacecraft. NanoSail-D’s primary objective was to deploy the solar sail and re-enter the atmosphere, not perform any complex maneuvers or flight tests. “We actually did what we said we were going to do,” Alhorn said. “We hope, if there’s enough solar thrust, we might be able to see how much power this design can get.”

Solar sails work by harnessing the pressure of sunlight. Units of light called photons generate miniscule levels of thrust when they collide with a solar sail, much like a kite or sailboat responds to wind. They don’t generate much thrust, but sails can propel lightweight spacecraft long distances into the solar system on timescales much faster than chemical rockets. A Japanese solar sail mission, named Ikaros, successfully demonstrated solar sailing on the way from Earth to Venus last summer. NanoSail-D’s potential applications are closer to home. NASA and the U.S. military are interested in inexpensive methods of removing retired satellites from clogged traffic lanes in orbit. The military tracks nearly 16,000 objects larger than 4 inches circling Earth, and even small debris moving at high speeds pose serious threats to active spacecraft. DARPA, the Pentagon’s research and development agency, is studying concepts to pull debris and old satellites out of operational orbits. Such a job is technically challenging, but legal and political hurdles loom even taller, according to experts.

Low-cost CubeSat spacecraft like NanoSail-D could prove solar sails can be packed inside canisters like parachutes, providing a disposal system when satellites are finished with their missions. Over time, sails could slow satellite velocities enough to move the craft to graveyard orbits or into the atmosphere for a destructive re-entry. “It’s possible we could use this sail in the future, or some system similar to it, to aerobrake or de-orbit existing satellites,” Alhorn said. The spacecraft cost about $250,000 to build and test, according to Alhorn. NanoSail-D was originally scheduled to test Alhorn’s solar sail concept in 2008, but the CubeSat was lost in a rocket mishap. NASA had built two NanoSail-D spacecraft, so the agency sought a launch opportunity for the ground spare. The U.S. Air Force provided a Minotaur 4 rocket to launch FASTSAT, NanoSail-D and a cache of military payloads from Alaska in November. “It looked like this thing was going to never going to work,” Alhorn said. “But when we got a launch, we were happy. Then it didn’t come out, and it was a another disappointment in a long chain of solar sail failures. But lo and behold, it ejected on its own.”

20100616_ikaros_2_lg

IKAROS
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2010/07/sunrider-japanese-solar-sail-propelled-by-suns-photons.html
Sun-rider: Japanese solar sail propelled by sun’s photons
by Tiffany Hsu / July 15, 2010

Just when you thought your rooftop solar installation was cool, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has outdone you by putting solar panels in space. And these ones do more than just generate power – they’re able to help maneuver and accelerate the unmanned spacecraft to which they’re attached. The so-called Ikaros solar sail is literally being pushed by sunlight, the space agency said on its website Friday. Particles of light from the sun known as photons exert pressure when they fall on the solar sail’s super-reflective panels, which are embedded into the sail. The small but ongoing thrust exerts about 0.0002 pounds of force on the nearly 700-pound Ikaros. The kite-like drone, which can spin at up to 20 revolutions per minute, has thin-film solar cells built into its 46-feet-wide, 66-feet-diagonal frame.

The craft was launched in May from the Tanegashima Space Center. Ikaros, which stands for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun, was launched with the Akatsuki drone bound for orbit around Venus. Soon, scientists expect to be able to control the Ikaros’ velocity, according to the nonprofit Planetary Society of Pasadena, which is tracking the drone’s progress. The society is planning its own solar sail launch for about a year from now. The LightSail 1 will be lighter – around 10 pounds – and cost under $2 million.

The Japanese space agency already has other grand plans to collect solar power in space by 2030 and beam the energy down to Earth using projects covering several square miles and costing billions of dollars. “The main direction of all of this is that it’s a future propulsion method for planetary, interplanetary and maybe even interstellar missions,” said Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society. “Basically, it allows you to fly around the solar system without any fuel.” Now that’s true space-age energy efficiency.

20100616_ikaros_3_lg
Ikaros sail photographed by a tiny camera onboard. {Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency}

TACKING SOLAR SAILS
http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~diedrich/solarsails/intro/index.html
http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~diedrich/solarsails/links/
http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~diedrich/solarsails/

As every sailor knows, to tack a sailboat is to sail the boat at an angle into the wind. Solar sails can do their own form of tacking by using the force of sunlight pushing out from the sun to actually move closer the sun. Spacecraft, including solar sails, travel around the sun in orbits. A spacecraft that is propelled by a rocket can shrink its orbit, and thus move closer to the sun, by thrusting the rocket in the opposite direction as the spacecraft’s motion. Similarly, if a solar sail can produce thrust in the opposite direction as the spacecraft’s motion, its orbit will also shrink. By producing thrust in the same direction as the spacecraft’s motion, the orbit will expand, and the spacecraft will move farther away from the sun. A rocket can thrust opposite its motion by pointing the rocket engine forward along the path of its motion. This produces a force from the rocket engine that is in the opposite direction as the spacecraft’s motion.

Solar sails are more complex. The force produced by sunlight on a solar sail is the addition of the forces from the incoming sunlight and the reflected sunlight. This force always points away from the sun, and is at an angle that is close to a right angle to the surface of the sail. If this force is angled back along the solar sail’s path, the spacecraft’s orbit will start to shrink, bringing it closer to the sun. If the force is angled foreward along the spacecraft’s path, the orbit will grow and the solar sail will head farther from the sun. This is the general idea behind “tacking into the sun” for solar sails. In real practice, the behavior of a solar sail is more complicated because sunlight pushes not only along the spacecraft’s orbit, but also straight out from the sun. These effects are beyond the scope of this document, however. To visualize how this works, take a look at the following images.

Travelling away from the sun:

Travelling towards the sun:

http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=9860
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12844


Helium-3 Mmm, polarized helium-3 and neutron spin filters

WORLD HELIUM SHORTAGE
http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2010/01/us-sale-of-helium-criticised.html
http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-04/helium-3-shortage-hits-scientific-research-and-nuclear-security
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/take-a-deep-breath-why-the-world-is-running-out-of-helium-2059357.html
Why the world is running out of helium
by Steve Connor / 23 August 2010

It is the second-lightest element in the Universe, has the lowest boiling-point of any gas and is commonly used through the world to inflate party balloons. But helium is also a non-renewable resource and the world’s reserves of the precious gas are about to run out, a shortage that is likely to have far-reaching repercussions. Scientists have warned that the world’s most commonly used inert gas is being depleted at an astonishing rate because of a law passed in the United States in 1996 which has effectively made helium too cheap to recycle. The law stipulates that the US National Helium Reserve, which is kept in a disused underground gas field near Amarillo, Texas – by far the biggest store of helium in the world – must all be sold off by 2015, irrespective of the market price.

The experts warn that the world could run out of helium within 25 to 30 years, potentially spelling disaster for hospitals, whose MRI scanners are cooled by the gas in liquid form, and anti-terrorist authorities who rely on helium for their radiation monitors, as well as the millions of children who love to watch their helium-filled balloons float into the sky. Helium is made either by the nuclear fusion process of the Sun, or by the slow and steady radioactive decay of terrestrial rock, which accounts for all of the Earth’s store of the gas. There is no way of manufacturing it artificially, and practically all of the world’s reserves have been derived as a by-product from the extraction of natural gas, mostly in the giant oil- and gasfields of the American South-west, which historically have had the highest helium concentrations.

Liquid helium is critical for cooling cooling infrared detectors, nuclear reactors and the machinery of wind tunnels. The space industry uses it in sensitive satellite equipment and spacecraft, and Nasa uses helium in huge quantities to purge the potentially explosive fuel from its rockets. In the form of its isotope helium-3, helium is also crucial for research into the next generation of clean, waste-free nuclear reactors powered by nuclear fusion, the nuclear reaction that powers the Sun. Despite the critical role that the gas plays in the modern world, it is being depleted as an unprecedented rate and reserves could dwindle to virtually nothing within a generation, warns Nobel laureate Robert Richardson, professor of physics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “In 1996, the US Congress decided to sell off the strategic reserve and the consequence was that the market was swelled with cheap helium because its price was not determined by the market. The motivation was to sell it all by 2015,” Professor Richardson said. The basic problem is that helium is too cheap. The Earth is 4.7 billion years old and it has taken that long to accumulate our helium reserves, which we will dissipate in about 100 years. One generation does not have the right to determine availability for ever.” Soon after helium mining was developed at the turn of the previous century, the US established a National Helium Reserve in 1925. During the Second World War, helium was strategically important because of its use in military airships.

When the Cold War came along, it became even more important because of its uses in the purging of rocket fuel in intercontinental ballistic missiles. The national reserve was established in the porous rock of a disused natural gasfield 30 miles north of Amarillo, which soon became known as the Helium Capital of the World. A billion cubic metres – or about half of the world’s reserves – are now stored in this cluster of mines, pipes and vats that extend underground for more than 200 miles from Amarillo to Kansas. But in 1996, the US passed the Helium Privatisation Act which directed that this reserve should be sold by 2015 at a price that would substantially pay off the federal government’s original investment in building up the reserve. The law stipulated the amount of helium sold off each year should follow a straight line with the same amount being sold each year, irrespective of the global demand for it. This, according to Professor Richardson, who won his Nobel prize for his work on helium-3, was a mistake. “As a result of that Act, helium is far too cheap and is not treated as a precious resource,” he said. “It’s being squandered.”

Professor Richardson co-chaired an inquiry into the impending helium shortage convened by the influential US National Research Council, an arm of the US National Academy of Sciences. This report, which has just been published, recommends that the US Government should revisit and reconsider its policy of selling off the US national helium reserve. “They couldn’t sell it fast enough and the world price for helium gas is ridiculously cheap,” Professor Richardson told a summer meeting of Nobel laureates from around the world at Lindau in Germany. “You might at first think it will be peculiarly an American topic because the sources of helium are primarily in the US but I assure you it matters of the rest of the world also,” he said. Professor Richardson believes the price for helium should rise by between 20- and 50-fold to make recycling more worthwhile. Nasa, for instance, makes no attempt to recycle the helium used to clean is rocket fuel tanks, one of the single biggest uses of the gas. Professor Richardson also believes that party balloons filled with helium are too cheap, and they should really cost about $100 to reflect the precious nature of the gas they contain. “Once helium is released into the atmosphere in the form of party balloons or boiling helium it is lost to the Earth forever, lost to the Earth forever,” he emphasized.

What helium is used for:
Airships – As helium is lighter than air it can be used to inflate airships, blimps and balloons, providing lift. Although hydrogen is cheaper and more buoyant, helium is preferred as it is non-flammable and therefore safer.
MRI scanners – Helium’s low boiling point makes it useful for cooling metals needed for superconductivity, from cooling the superconducting magnets in medical MRI scanners to maintaining the low temperature of the Large Hadron Collider at Cern.
Deep-sea diving – Divers and others working under pressure use mixtures of helium, oxygen and nitrogen to breathe underwater, avoiding the problems caused by breathing ordinary air under high pressure, which include disorientation.
Rockets – As well as being used to clean out rocket engines, helium is used to pressurise the interior of liquid fuel rockets, condense hydrogen and oxygen to make rocket fuel, and force fuel into the engines during rocket launches.
Dating – Helium can be used to estimate the age of rocks and minerals containing uranium and thorium by measuring their retention of helium.
Telescopes – The gas is used in solar telescopes to prevent the heating of the air, which reduces the distorting effects of temperature variations in the space between lenses.

MINING the MOON
http://www.wired.com/science/space/news/2006/12/72276
http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/space/1283056
http://www.asi.org/adb/02/09/he3-intro.html
http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/19296/page1/
Mining the Moon
by Mark Williams / August 23, 2007

At the 21st century’s start, few would have predicted that by 2007, a second race for the moon would be under way. Yet the signs are that this is now the case. Furthermore, in today’s moon race, unlike the one that took place between the United States and the U.S.S.R. in the 1960s, a full roster of 21st-century global powers, including China and India, are competing. Even more surprising is that one reason for much of the interest appears to be plans to mine helium-3–purportedly an ideal fuel for fusion reactors but almost unavailable on Earth–from the moon’s surface. NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration has U.S. astronauts scheduled to be back on the moon in 2020 and permanently staffing a base there by 2024. While the U.S. space agency has neither announced nor denied any desire to mine helium-3, it has nevertheless placed advocates of mining He3 in influential positions. For its part, Russia claims that the aim of any lunar program of its own–for what it’s worth, the rocket corporation Energia recently started blustering, Soviet-style, that it will build a permanent moon base by 2015-2020–will be extracting He3.

The Chinese, too, apparently believe that helium-3 from the moon can enable fusion plants on Earth. This fall, the People’s Republic expects to orbit a satellite around the moon and then land an unmanned vehicle there in 2011. Nor does India intend to be left out. This past spring, its president, A.P.J. Kalam, and its prime minister, Manmohan Singh, made major speeches asserting that, besides constructing giant solar collectors in orbit and on the moon, the world’s largest democracy likewise intends to mine He3 from the lunar surface. India’s probe, Chandrayaan-1, will take off next year, and ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization, is talking about sending Chandrayaan-2, a surface rover, in 2010 or 2011. Simultaneously, Japan and Germany are also making noises about launching their own moon missions at around that time, and talking up the possibility of mining He3 and bringing it back to fuel fusion-based nuclear reactors on Earth.

Could He3 from the moon truly be a feasible solution to our power needs on Earth? Practical nuclear fusion is nowadays projected to be five decades off–the same prediction that was made at the 1958 Atoms for Peace conference in Brussels. If fusion power’s arrival date has remained constantly 50 years away since 1958, why would helium-3 suddenly make fusion power more feasible? Advocates of He3-based fusion point to the fact that current efforts to develop fusion-based power generation, like the ITER megaproject, use the deuterium-tritium fuel cycle, which is problematical. Deuterium and tritium are both hydrogen isotopes, and when they’re fused in a superheated plasma, two nuclei come together to create a helium nucleus–consisting of two protons and two neutrons–and a high-energy neutron. A deuterium-tritium fusion reaction releases 80 percent of its energy in a stream of high-energy neutrons, which are highly destructive for anything they hit, including a reactor’s containment vessel. Since tritium is highly radioactive, that makes containment a big problem as structures weaken and need to be replaced. Thus, whatever materials are used in a deuterium-tritium fusion power plant will have to endure serious punishment. And if that’s achievable, when that fusion reactor is eventually decommissioned, there will still be a lot of radioactive waste.

Helium-3 advocates claim that it, conversely, would be nonradioactive, obviating all those problems. But a serious critic has charged that in reality, He3-based fusion isn’t even a feasible option. In the August issue of Physics World, theoretical physicist Frank Close, at Oxford in the UK, has published an article called “Fears Over Factoids” in which, among other things, he summarizes some claims of the “helium aficionados,” then dismisses those claims as essentially fantasy. Close points out that in a tokamak–a machine that generates a doughnut-shaped magnetic field to confine the superheated plasmas necessary for fusion–deuterium reacts up to 100 times more slowly with helium-3 than it does with tritium. In a plasma contained in a tokamak, Close stresses, all the nuclei in the fuel get mixed together, so what’s most probable is that two deuterium nuclei will rapidly fuse and produce a tritium nucleus and proton. That tritium, in turn, will likely fuse with deuterium and finally yield one helium-4 atom and a neutron. In short, Close says, if helium-3 is mined from the moon and brought to Earth, in a standard tokamak the final result will still be deuterium-tritium fusion.

Second, Close rejects the claim that two helium-3 nuclei could realistically be made to fuse with each other to produce deuterium, an alpha particle and energy. That reaction occurs even more slowly than deuterium-tritium fusion, and the fuel would have to be heated to impractically high temperatures–six times the heat of the sun’s interior, by some calculations–that would be beyond the reach of any tokamak. Hence, Close concludes, “the lunar-helium-3 story is, to my mind, moonshine.” Close’s objection, however, assumes that deuterium-helium-3 fusion and pure helium-3 fusion would take place in tokamak-based reactors. There might be alternatives: for example, Gerald Kulcinski, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has maintained the only helium-3 fusion reactor in the world on an annual budget that’s barely into six figures.

Kulcinski’s He3-based fusion reactor, located in the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin, is very small. When running, it contains a spherical plasma roughly 10 centimeters in diameter that can produce sustained fusion with 200 million reactions per second. To produce a milliwatt of power, unfortunately, the reactor consumes a kilowatt. Close’s response is, therefore, valid enough: “When practical fusion occurs with a demonstrated net power output, I–and the world’s fusion community–can take note.” Still, that critique applies equally to ITER and the tokamak-based reactor effort, which also haven’t yet achieved breakeven (the point at which a fusion reactor produces as much energy as it consumes). What’s significant about the reactor in Wisconsin is that, as Kulcinski says, “We are doing both deuterium-He3 and He3-He3 reactions. We run deuterium-He3 fusion reactions daily, so we are very familiar with that reaction. We are also doing He3-He3 because if we can control that, it will have immense potential.”

The reactor at the Fusion Technology Institute uses a technology called inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC). Kulcinski explains: “If we used a tokamak to do deuterium-helium-3, it would need to be bigger than the ITER device, which already is stretching the bounds of credibility. Our IEC devices, on the other hand, are tabletop-sized, and during our deuterium-He3 runs, we do get some neutrons produced by side reaction with deuterium.” Nevertheless, Kulcinski continues, when side reactions occur that involve two deuterium nuclei fusing to produce a tritium nucleus and proton, the tritium produced is at such a higher energy level than the confinement system that it immediately escapes. “Consequently, the radioactivity in our deuterium-He3 system is only 2 percent of the radioactivity in a deuterium-tritium system.” More significant is the He3-He3 fusion reaction that Kulcinski and his assistants produce with their IEC-based reactor. In Kulcinski’s reactor, two helium-3 nuclei, each with two protons and one neutron, instead fuse to produce one helium-4 nucleus, consisting of two protons and two neutrons, and two highly energetic protons. “He3-He3 is not an easy reaction to promote,” Kulcinski says. “But He3-He3 fusion has the greatest potential.” That’s because helium-3, unlike tritium, is nonradioactive, which, first, means that Kulcinski’s reactor doesn’t need the massive containment vessel that deuterium-tritium fusion requires. Second, the protons it produces–unlike the neutrons produced by deuterium-tritium reactions–possess charges and can be contained using electric and magnetic fields, which in turn results in direct electricity generation. Kulcinski says that one of his graduate assistants at the Fusion Technology Institute is working on a solid-state device to capture the protons and convert their energy directly into electricity.

Still, Kulcinski’s reactor proves only the theoretical feasibility and advantages of He3-He3 fusion, with commercial viability lying decades in the future. “Currently,” he says, “the Department of Energy will tell us, ‘We’ll make fusion work. But you’re never going to go back to the moon, and that’s the only way you’ll get massive amounts of helium-3. So forget it.’ Meanwhile, the NASA folks tell us, ‘We can get the helium-3. But you’ll never get fusion to work.’ So DOE doesn’t think NASA can do its job, NASA doesn’t think that DOE can do its job, and we’re in between trying to get the two to work together.” Right now, Kulcinski’s funding comes from two wealthy individuals who are, he says, only interested in the research and without expectation of financial profit. Overall, then, helium-3 is not the low-hanging fruit among potential fuels to create practical fusion power, and it’s one that we will have to reach the moon to pluck. That said, if pure He3-based fusion power is realizable, it would have immense advantages.

HELIUM-3
http://www.engr.wisc.edu/ep/faculty/kulcinski_gerald.html#interests
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/536/1
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.08/helium.html
Helium Shortage?
by Emily Jenkins / Aug 2000

There are two kinds of stable helium. You know the first one: It puts lift in birthday balloons, Thanksgiving Day parades, the Goodyear blimp. The other kind, an isotope called helium-3, may not be as familiar. It’s a naturally occurring, but very rare, variant of helium that is missing a neutron. Helium-3 is the fuel for a form of nuclear fusion that, in theory, could provide us with a clean, virtually infinite power source. Gerald Kulcinski, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Fusion Technology Institute, is already halfway there. Kulcinski is in charge of an “inertial electrostatic confinement device,” an experimental low-power reactor that has successfully performed continuous deuterium-helium-3 fusion – a process that produces less waste than the standard deuterium-tritium fusion reaction. The next step, pure helium-3 fusion (3He-3He) is a long way off, but it’s worth the effort, says Kulcinski. “You’d have a little residual radioactivity when the reactor was running, but none when you turned it off. It would be a nuclear power source without the nuclear waste.”

If we ever achieve it, helium-3 fusion will be the premier rocket fuel for centuries to come. The same lightness that floats CargoLifter’s CL160 will allow helium to provide more power per unit of mass than anything else available. With it, rockets “could get to Mars in a weekend, instead of seven or eight months,” says Marshall Savage, an amateur futurist and the author of The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps. The problem? We may run out of helium – and therefore helium-3 – before the fusion technology is even developed. Nearly all of the world’s helium supply is found within a 250-mile radius of Amarillo, Texas (the Helium Capital of the World). A byproduct of billions of years of decay, helium is distilled from natural gas that has accumulated in the presence of radioactive uranium and thorium deposits. If it’s not extracted during the natural gas refining process, helium simply soars off when the gas is burned, unrecoverable.

The federal government first identified helium as a strategic resource in the 1920s; in 1960 Uncle Sam began socking it away in earnest. Thirty-two billion cubic feet of the gas are bunkered underground in Cliffside, a field of porous rock near Amarillo. But now the government is getting out of the helium business, and it’s selling the stockpile to all comers. Industrial buyers use the gas primarily for arc welding (helium creates an inert atmosphere around the flame) and leak detection (hydrogen has a smaller atom, but it usually forms a diatomic molecule, H2). NASA uses it to pressurize space shuttle fuel tanks: The Kennedy Space Center alone uses more than 75 million cubic feet annually. Liquid helium, which has the lowest melting point of any element (-452 degrees Fahrenheit), cools infrared detectors, nuclear reactors, wind tunnels, and the superconductive magnets in MRI equipment. At our current rate of consumption, Cliffside will likely be empty in 10 to 25 years, and the Earth will be virtually helium-free by the end of the 21st century. “For the scientific community, that’s a tragedy,” says Dave Cornelius, a Department of Interior chemist at Cliffside. “It would be a shame to squander it,” agrees Kulcinski.

For helium-3’s true believers – the ones who think the isotope’s fusion power will take us to the edge of our solar system and beyond – talk of the coming shortage is overblown: There’s a huge, untapped supply right in our own backyard. “The moon is the El Dorado of helium-3,” says Savage, and he’s right: Every star, including our sun, emits helium constantly. Implanted in the lunar soil by the solar wind, the all-important gas can be found on the moon by the bucketful. Associate professor Tim Swindle and his colleagues at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona have already begun prospecting. Swindle has mapped likely helium-3 deposits on the moon by charting the parts of the lunar landscape most exposed to solar wind against the locations of mineral deposits that best trap the element. But, says Swindle, when we really want a lot – when we’re rocketing to the Red Planet and back for Labor Day weekend – the best place to gas up won’t be the moon: “The really big source of it is way out.” In our quest for helium-3, we’ll travel to Uranus and Neptune, whose helium-rich atmospheres are very similar in chemical composition to the sun’s. If futurists like Swindle and Savage are right, the gas will be our reason for traveling to our solar system’s farthest reaches – and our means of getting there.

the NATIONAL HELIUM RESERVE
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Helium_Reserve
http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/2216/pagetwo.htm
http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/2216/index.html
http://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/08/us/closing-of-helium-reserve-raises-new-issues.html
Closing of Helium Reserve Raises New Issues
by Sam Howe Verhovek  /  October 8, 1997

Of all the Federal programs that have ever come under attack, perhaps none has been more ridiculed or more reviled than the national helium reserve, here on the high plains of the Texas Panhandle. It is a collection of pipelines and pumps and vats and, most of all, a seemingly staggering amount of helium: 31 billion cubic feet, enough to supply current Federal needs for 100 years. ”Amazingly stupid, even by Government standards,” P. J. O’Rourke, the conservative humorist, said of the program, which forces Federal agencies to buy helium at inflated prices from the reserve. ”The poster child of Government waste,” said Christopher Cox, the California Congressman who led the fight to get rid of this veritable Fort Knox of helium.

But now that President Clinton has signed a bill that will get the Government out of the helium business and sell off the nation’s helium reserve to private industry, which has long claimed that it can supply helium more cheaply to agencies like NASA, the issue is turning out to be more complicated. In a vivid demonstration that cutting the Federal budget is rarely as easy or as simple as it seems, some experts are even daring to say it: maybe the helium reserve wasn’t such a dumb idea after all.

The jury is still out on just how much money will be saved by closing the operation near here, in part because the new law, for reasons that might prove daunting even for a Nobel laureate in economics, still requires the Government to pay an inflated price for helium. In some of the first contracts signed for privately supplied helium, irritated National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials note that the price, around $70 per thousand cubic feet, is roughly the same that they paid for helium from the reserve.

The American Physical Society, a prominent group of physicists, warns that getting rid of the nation’s helium stockpile is profoundly shortsighted. Though most people may think of helium as the thing that fills balloons and blimps, it is essential in all kinds of scientific pursuits, including the space program. For future generations, scientists say, it will be vital in the development of superconducting power lines, magnetically levitated trains, new kinds of generators and motors, and technology not yet even dreamed of. No one is predicting that the Government’s helium operation, in tumbleweed country about 25 miles north of Amarillo, will be magically revived. ”Everything you see here — it’s all going to go,” said Robert Robertson, an operator in the plant’s control room. ”The death warrant has been signed.” Nonetheless, even a cursory examination of the privatization of the Federal helium program, which the President set into motion when he signed the law a year ago, suggests that so far, instead of saving money, it has led to a messy accounting quandary in which the benefits are not yet clear.

Because the stores here are so large, the law requires that the helium, stored in a massive underground dome, be sold off slowly, over the next two decades, so as not to disrupt prices in the growing world market for helium. And in what, in effect, creates a secondary market in which Government agencies will bid for helium at above-market prices, the helium must be sold at prices that will fully pay off the $1.4 billion ”debt” the helium conservation program has accumulated since President John F. Kennedy helped begin it in the 1960’s so the nation’s space program would have a reliable supply. But because the debt is actually money that is owed by one Government agency to another, paying it off is basically a paper transaction intended to clear the helium reserve’s ledger. The Congressional Budget Office has already ruled that paying off the helium program’s debt will not do anything to reduce the national debt, currently at $5.3 trillion or so.

The bottom line, of course, is just how much money the Government will save by buying helium from private suppliers like the Exxon Corporation. Even the Helium Advisory Council, the industry group that has lobbied vigorously for privatization, says it is not easy to calculate the saving, partly because the new law has not yet cleared the way for the true privatization of the helium program, which would mean selling at market prices. Carl Johnson, chairman of the council, predicts that the closing will save money. But when he was asked just how much taxpayers would save annually and when they would start seeing the saving, he said, ”It’s a very difficult question, and I don’t even know how I would begin to answer it.” Representative Cox, a Republican from Orange County, Calif., who led the crusade to kill the helium program, was more definitive, saying the saving would eventually amount to about $24 million a year: $20 million from the greater efficiencies at private plants, compared with the antiquated complex here, and $4 million from lower helium costs.

But NASA, the main Federal recipient of helium, has yet to save any money because of the privatization. ”We were all in favor of helium privatization, but we missed something here,” said Steve Parker, a procurement official at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. ”Your question is, are we getting the savings we were promised? That’s a no. We’re still paying inflated prices for the accrued debt.” Meanwhile, because nobody knows what will happen to the world market price for helium in coming decades, no one can say for sure whether selling off the national reserve is a good idea in the long run. ”What it really boils down to is this: Do you think this is true debt that is costing the American taxpayers, or is it a cost of a strategic decision to conserve crude helium?” said Timothy R. Spisak, general manager of operations of the helium program here. ”Remember, you’ve still got an asset out here, 30 billion cubic feet of helium. If you sell it off, you don’t have it anymore.”

Colorless, odorless and largely inert, helium is unique among Earth’s 100 or so elements because it remains liquid even at just above absolute zero, which is roughly 460 degrees Fahrenheit. That makes it extremely useful as a pressurizer and a coolant. Robert L. Park, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland and the director of the Washington office of the American Physical Society, said that helium would have vastly increased uses in the future and that selling off the Federal reserve might one day be seen as a catastrophically heedless decision. He urged Congress to find some way to mandate an increase in the size of national reserves, even if they are held by private industry.

The supply-and-demand equation involving helium, which is nonrenewable, is extremely complex. The problem is that helium is a byproduct of natural gas and that it is not always economical for companies to extract it. Currently, only about half of the 6.7 billion cubic feet of helium taken out of the earth each year is separated from natural gas and saved. The rest disappears into the atmosphere. But critics of the Government reserve program say concerns about the current loss of helium are overblown. They say there is no reason that the future demand for helium cannot be met by private industry, which already supplies 90 percent of the helium used in the United States. “‘The physicists are right and more expert on the value to science of helium than any source you could consult,” Representative Cox said. ”But the physicists are not experts on economics and markets. And a great deal of what’s at stake here is the latter and not the former.”

In the Texas Panhandle, where the helium operation’s staff of 165 will be whittled to a skeleton crew of about three dozen in the next few years, there has long been a sense of local pride in the program and outrage over the national scorn heaped upon it. ”The public’s been misinformed,” said Trooper Barker, a worker at the plant. ”They think it’s all some big joke about putting gas in blimps. Well, I’ve never once had a blimp fly out here and say, ‘O.K., fill ‘er up.’ ” Mr. Barker said that once private industry took over the helium, it would find ways to raise the price, an opinion widely shared in Amarillo. ”If NASA calls tonight and says, ‘We need 20 tank cars,’ we’ll get it out of our plant tonight,” said Terry Byrd, the production and maintenance manager, during a tour of the site. ”Private industry might charge a premium to do that.”

The helium program has had its defenders over the years, but the widespread national criticism has often made them seem to be voices in the wilderness. In a column two years ago, Gregory Curtis, the editor of Texas Monthly magazine, said that the derision was undeserved and that the helium conservation program was ”in fact an example of government working at its best.” Mr. Curtis said workers and managers at the helium program were ”intelligent, efficient and proud of their work, exactly the opposite of the thick and lazy bureaucrats Federal
workers are often said to be.”

The program has often been on the verge of elimination. In 1993, Bill Sarpalius, a Democrat who was Amarillo’s Congressman, persuaded President Clinton to keep the program alive. The President, struggling to gather a majority for his budget bill, spoke to Mr. Sarpalius four times on the day of the vote. ”Sure I talked to the President about helium,” Mr. Sarpalius, who was later defeated for re-election, said at the time. ”I talk to everyone I can in the Government about helium. And when I had the opportunity to explain to him that this was not really a billion-dollar loss, that this is a program that makes money for the Federal Government, that there’s another side to this picture, he was fascinated by it. He was really interested in helium.”

Mr. Sarpalius voted with the President, and the program was spared another year. But in 1996, with a conservative Republican Congressman, William M. Thornberry, now representing Amarillo and sentiment rising against the program, its gradual elimination was approved. Sometime around 2015, all the helium now in the Federal reserve is expected to be owned by private industry. ”There will be savings,” said Representative Cox, who is the father of 3- and 4-year-olds. ”We won’t know how much until my kids are out of college.”

MACY’S DAY PARADE HOARDING
http://www.photonics.com/content/news/2007/October/19/89406.aspx
Helium Demand Ballooning / Oct. 19, 2007

The worldwide shortage of helium is resulting in rising prices and tight supplies for party supply stores, but it won’t deflate Macy’s annual tradition of floating gigantic characters down Broadway in New York City this Thanksgiving. An international helium shortage, warned about for years, has become more evident recently, industry experts said, as rising global demands for the lighter-than-air, nonflammable gas mean short supplies for low-priority, consumer-level uses. While helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, it is hard to find on Earth, where it is a byproduct of radioactive decay underground. Here, helium is extracted from natural gas. While all natural gas contains at least trace quantities of helium, the gas is distilled from only about seven percent of the natural gas extracted from the ground, and only a few plants worldwide have the capability of separating helium from other gases and purifying it. In the US, purified helium is commercially recovered from natural gas deposits mostly in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. It was first discovered in 1903 when an exploratory well in Kansas produced a gas that “refused” to burn. Some of the richest sources are under the Texas Panhandle.

Most people’s familiarity with helium may be through its use in festive balloons, which accounts for about seven percent of the helium market worldwide, but the vast majority of supplies of the gas are for more high-tech applications. Helium is essential for things that require its unique properties — its inertness, its incredibly low “boiling point” (-451.48 °F) and its high thermal conductivity. It exists as a gas except under extreme conditions. At temperatures close to absolute zero (-459.7 °F), helium is a fluid; most materials are solid when cooled to such low temperatures. Liquid helium is used to supercool magnets in MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines, representing 20 percent of all helium use globally. Liquid helium is also used to cool some thermographic cameras, which detect heat instead of visible light and are used by search-and-rescue teams can locate people among rubble or through smoke. Another 17 percent of the helium produced globally is used to provide an inert gas shield for laser welding.

Other applications of helium include: in supersonic wind tunnels; to provide lift for high-altitude scientific research balloons; to pressurize space-shuttle fuel tanks; in fiber optics, semiconductor, computer chip and flat-panel display manufacturing; as a protective gas in growing silicon and germanium crystals and in titanium and zirconium production; to create a nitrogen-free atmosphere, when mixed with oxygen, for deep-sea divers so they won’t suffer from “the bends;” in the study of superconductivity and to create superconductive magnets for particle physics research; and in metallurgy and analytical chemistry and in leak detection. Because helium won’t become radioactive, it is also used as a cooling medium for nuclear reactors.

The first laser invented, a helium-neon laser, is used today in laser eye surgery and laser pointers. The shortage is a result of a “perfect storm” of problems, with a new plant in Algeria ramping up production later than anticipated and with half the expected capacity, a plant in Qatar coming online slower than expected, and the world’s largest source of commercial helium, the Exxon Mobil plant in Wyoming, operating at only 80 to 85 percent of capacity because of plant problems. Also, the Bureau of Land Manaqement (BLM), which provides crude helium to the refiners that supply about 40 percent of US helium production, has put restrictions on how much crude helium refiners can take out of the BLM pipeline to process, Phil Kornbluth, executive vice president of Matheson Tri-Gas Global Helium in Basking Ridge, N.J., said on National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” program last week.

The US government became interested in helium during World War I as a safe, noncombustible alternative to hydrogen for use in buoyant aircraft. In 1925 Congress created a Federal Helium Program to ensure that the gas would be available to the government for defense needs. The Bureau of Mines constructed and operated a large helium extraction and purification plant just north of Amarillo beginning in 1929. From 1929-1960, the federal government was the only domestic producer of helium. Because demand for helium increased during and after World War II, the government began offering incentives to private natural gas producers to strip helium from the gas and sell it to the government. Some of this helium was used for research, the NASA space program and other applications, but most was injected into a storage facility known as the Federal Helium Reserve.

By 1990 private demand for helium far exceeded federal demand, and the 1996 Helium Privatization Act redefined the government’s role in helium production. The BLM was given the responsibility of operating the Federal Helium Reserve and providing enriched crude helium to private refiners. The BLM’s facility near Amarillo provides crude helium to refiners that supply about 40 percent of helium supplies in the US, and almost 35 percent of the world’s helium production. The government’s strategic stockpile of helium in Amarillo, which held a three-year worldwide supply, is currently being sold off and will be mostly gone by 2015, Kornbluth said.

Under the 1996 Helium Privatization Act, by 2015 the secretary of the interior is to sell 850 million standard cubic meters (scm) from the Federal Helium Reserve, leaving 17 million scm, which represents a less than two-year supply. The Federal Helium Program’s original purpose, in 1925, was to ensure supplies of helium to the federal government for defense, research, and medical purposes. Over time, the program evolved into a conservation program with a primary goal of supplying the government with high-grade helium for high-tech research and aerospace purposes.

Party supply stores and florists around the country are complaining about increased helium prices and short supplies and its affect on their bottom lines. “It’s been affecting us since September 2006, and lately it’s been getting worse,” Lisa Dyer-Love, manager of Cook’s Balloonery in Westerville, Ohio, told the Columbus Dispatch. “The price of helium has gone up several times in the past year,” Matt Johnson, manager of Gases Plus, which supplies helium to party stores, car dealers and other consumers in Montana, told the Billings Gazette. “On average, when there’s been a price increase, it’s been 15 to 20 percent.” In September, industrial gas companies in Japan announced they planned to cut helium gas supplies by as much as 30 percent following significant shortages from US suppliers, a move that could have a detrimental impact on semiconductor manufacturing and electronics production in that country.

Earlier this month, Worthington Cylinders, a Columbus, Ohio-based supplier of pressure cylinders worldwide, announced a 6 percent price increase on all of its portable party kits, called Balloon Time Helium Balloon Kits, effective Nov. 1. “The current short supply and increased demand for helium has resulted in significantly higher helium prices. As a result, the company is forced to pass on its first price increase to the market in several years,” said Dusty McClintock, Worthington Cylinders vice president of sales. “The bottom line in terms of helium supply is that there is very little excess helium refining capacity, and domestic supplies of crude helium are growing ever tighter. Until overseas plants are fully online and/or additional plants are built, we’re potentially facing additional supply disruptions, if not shortages,” stated Leslie Theiss, manager of the BLM Amarillo field office in a January 2007 article on the BLM Web site. “For 350 days last year, the BLM’s crude helium enrichment facility was operating at full capacity, supplying more than 6 million cubic feet a day or 2.1 billion cubic feet per year. We can’t increase production because this would result in adverse impacts to the gas field, wells, compressors and other equipment.”

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade already has enough helium stockpiled to keep its balloons flying this November, Director of Media Relations Elina Kazan told the media recently. Macy’s has faced a helium shortage before — in 2006, parade organizers reportedly decided to use fewer balloons as a result. Also, when the gas was unexpectedly unavailable in 1958, parade organizers filled the balloons with air and suspended them from cranes, according to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Web site.

There may be relief coming, however. Gas companies Air Products and Matheson Tri-Gas announced this week they will build a liquid helium production plant near Big Piney, Wyoming, with an initial capacity of 200 million standard cubic feet per year. Production at the plant is expected to begin in 2009. The plant will be the 10th liquid helium plant operating in the US, and the first new US facility since 2000, the companies said. The facility would process natural gas from the Riley Ridge Field in Wyoming, the second largest helium-rich natural gas field in the US. Riley Ridge is believed to contain sufficient helium reserves to support production for decades. “We are enthusiastic about developing the helium reserves at Riley Ridge. Bringing on this new source, with very long-lived helium reserves, will enable us to further diversify our helium supply and enhance our ability to reliably serve our worldwide customers,” said John Van Sloun, general manager, Helium and Rare Gases, for Air Products. “We continue to see tightness in the supply of helium in the global market. The initial helium volumes expected from Riley Ridge in 2009 are relatively small, but this important new facility can produce additional product to help meet growing global demand.” Also, it was announced last month that Australia’s first-ever helium production plant will be built in the country’s Northern Territory at Darwin after a deal was reached between gas companies there. It is believed that the project will have the capacity to meet the entire country’s helium needs and also supply export markets.


http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/balloons.html

IMPACT ASSESSMENT
The Impact of Selling the Federal Helium Reserve
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=9860#toc

Description
The Helium Privatization Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-273) directs the Department of the Interior to begin liquidating the U.S. Federal Helium Reserve by 2005 in a manner consistent with minimum market disruption and at a price given by a formula specified in the act. It also mandates that the Department of the Interior enter into appropriate arrangements with the National Academy of Science to study and report on whether such disposal of helium reserves will have a substantial adverse effect on U.S. scientific, technical, biomedical, or national security interests.

This report is the product of that mandate. To provide context, the committee has examined the helium market and the helium industry as a whole to determine how helium users would be affected under various scenarios for selling the reserve within the act s constraints. The Federal Helium Reserve, the Bush Dome reservoir, and the Cliffside facility are mentioned throughout this report. It is important to recognize that they are distinct entities. The Federal Helium Reserve is federally owned crude helium gas that currently resides in the Bush Dome reservoir. The Cliffside facility includes the storage facility on the Bush Dome reservoir and the associated buildings pipeline.

PRICES SOARING
http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071119/news_1b19helium.html
Products, research rely on element
by Bob Secter  /  November 19, 2007

Helium, the second most plentiful element in the universe, is suddenly in short supply on this planet, and that means soaring prices for a lot of things. “Some customers have told me they’re just not going to sell balloons anymore because they can’t get helium,” said Chicago party wholesaler Lee Brody. “Everybody’s scrambling.” As raw materials crises go, the helium shortage clearly takes a back seat to the global oil crunch, but its repercussions go well beyond the cost of decorating birthdays or bar mitzvahs. The shortage shines a light on an obscure federal helium program critical to feeding the world’s growing appetite. To most of us, helium is just a novelty gas that floats blimps, bobs huge latex whales over car dealers and makes your voice sound like Daffy Duck when inhaled (which experts say is a really bad idea that
could lead to a collapsed lung). Demand for the gas has taken off in industry and scientific research in recent years, and the helium squeeze is being felt everywhere from university physics labs to plants in India, China, Taiwan and Korea that make today’s hottest consumer products. Japanese helium suppliers recently warned customers in the electronics industry to prepare for supply cuts of up to 30 percent.

Helium is less dense than air, which explains why it makes balloons rise. Sound waves travel faster through it. It is also noncombustible and can be liquefied to temperatures approaching absolute zero, properties that render it ideal for cooling metals that produce superconductivity or in processes that throw off a lot of heat. It is used to make flat-panel TVs, semiconductors, optical fibers and medical MRIs, and it toughens industrial welds. NASA uses a full train car load to pressurize a liquid fuel rocket. The U.S. government is the world’s No. 1 source, sucking helium out of a Texas reservoir it began filling after World War I when dirigibles were thought to be the coming thing. That stockpile will be empty in a decade, and new overseas sources have been slow to develop. “We’re pedaling as fast as we can here, but we just can’t produce enough,” said Leslie Theiss, manager of the Federal Helium Reserve near Amarillo. “One-third of the world’s helium comes from our little place here. That’s kind of frightening.”

In today’s increasingly interdependent global marketplace, the balloon business finds itself at the bottom of the helium supply chain. What began as spot shortages last year have grown chronic this year, said Kaufman, president of the International Balloon Association, a party industry trade group. Kaufman is also co-owner of M.K. Brody, a Chicago party wholesaler that often goes through 100 cylinders of helium in a week. The firm’s distributor recently put it on a weekly allotment of 33 cylinders. A standard tank with enough helium to blow up 400 average-size balloons cost $40 five years ago but $88 today, Kaufman said. He’s been told to expect another 50 percent price increase before Christmas. Cindi Cronin, who runs a Chicago party-decor business, said it’s become kind of a scavenger hunt lately to find helium. To stretch her supplies and save money, Cronin has started diluting the helium in balloon decorations with 40 percent air. “They still float, but not as long,” she said.

Helium is abundant in space, a byproduct of the nuclear fusion of stars. On Earth, it is locked largely in natural gas deposits and typically found only at trace levels too expensive to strip out and refine. By a quirk of geology, some natural gas fields in this country are blessed with robust helium concentrations. And that has made the United States to helium production what Saudi Arabia is to oil. Some of the richest sources are in the Texas panhandle, and that is where the federal government began stockpiling the gas in 1925. The Army considered it nearly as good as hydrogen to bring giant airships aloft and much safer, an assessment tragically borne out in 1937 when the hydrogen-filled Hindenburg erupted in flames over New Jersey and killed 36 people. In the 1990s, Congress decided the government should get out of the helium business. Federal law requires the stockpile to be sold off in about 10 years.

Private industry has been slow to pick up the slack. New production facilities in the Middle East have been plagued with problems and not produced hoped-for yields. “Demand is increasing overseas, and people are starting to get nervous,” said Maura Garvey, director of market research for Cryogas International, a Massachusetts-based trade journal that closely follows helium markets. She predicts helium supplies will remain tight through at least 2010 and possibly well beyond. Back in Amarillo, Theiss fears the day of reckoning for world helium supplies might be coming a lot faster than for oil or other nonrenewable commodities. “To our knowledge, nothing has been discovered to date that has the reserves we have here,” she said. “Exports have increased 50 percent in the last five years. If you’ve got a finite amount and a lot more suddenly starts going overseas, do the math. It’s not going to be good when we’re done here.”


Photo taken by Camille Flammarion in 1902 of lightning striking the Eiffel Tower on a summer night.

POSITIVELY CHARGED HUMIDITY
http://goldbook.iupac.org/E01992.html
http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20014798-54.html
Scientists work to harness lightning for electricity
by Candace Lombardi / August 26, 2010

Nikola Tesla would be jealous. A group of chemists from the University of Campinas in Brazil presented research on Wednesday claiming they’ve figured out how electricity is formed and released in the atmosphere. Based on this knowledge, the team said it believes a device could be developed for extracting electrical charges from the atmosphere and using it for electricity. The team, led by Fernando Galembeck, says they discovered the process by simulating water vapor reactions in a laboratory with dust particles common to the atmosphere.

They found that silica becomes more negatively charged when high levels of water vapor are present in the air, in other words during high humidity. They also found that aluminum phosphate becomes more positively charged in high humidity. “This was clear evidence that water in the atmosphere can accumulate electrical charges and transfer them to other materials it comes into contact with. We are calling this ‘hygroelectricity,’ meaning ‘humidity electricity,'” Galembeck said in a statement. But the discovery, if true, goes against the commonly held theory among scientists such as the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, that water is electroneutral–that it cannot store a charge. Galembeck, who is a member of the IUPAC, told New Scientist that he does not dispute the principle of electroneutrality in theory, but that he believes real-life substances like water have ion imbalances that can allow it to produce a charge.

The hygroelectricity discovery could lead to the invention of a device that is able to tap into all that energy. Akin to a solar panel, a hygroelectrical panel on a roof would capture atmospheric electricity that could then be transferred for a building’s energy use, according to the University of Capinas team. In addition to capturing electricity, such a device could also be used to drain the area around a building of its electrical charge, preventing the atmospheric discharge of electricity during storms–aka lightning. “We certainly have a long way to go. But the benefits in the long range of harnessing hygroelectricity could be substantial,” Galembeck said. The research was presented in Boston at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

STEAM SHOCKS
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=experts-do-cosmic-rays-cause-lightning
http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=harness-lightning-for-energy-thanks-2010-08-26
Harness lightning for energy, thanks to high humidity?
by David Biello / Aug 26, 2010

Why do the roiling, black clouds of a thunderstorm produce lightning? Ben Franklin and others helped prove that such lightning was discharged electricity, but what generates that electricity in such prodigious quantities? After all, storms generate millions of lightning bolts around the globe every year—even volcanoes can get in on the act as the recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökull did when photographs captured bolts of blue in the ash cloud.

Perhaps surprisingly, scientists still debate how exactly lightning forms; theories range from colliding slush and ice particles in convective clouds to, more speculatively, a rain of charged solar particles seeding the skies with electrical charge. Or perhaps the uncertainty about lightning formation is not surprising, given all that remains unknown about clouds and the perils of studying a storm—an electrical discharge can deliver millions of joules of energy in milliseconds.

But Brazilian researchers claim that their lab experiments imply that the water droplets that make up such storms can carry charge—an overturning of decades of scientific understanding that such water droplets must be electrically neutral. Specifically, chemists led by Fernando Galembeck of the University of Campinas found that when electrically isolated metals were exposed to high humidity—lots and lots of tiny water droplets known as vapor—the metals gained a small negative charge.

The same holds true for many other metals, according to Galembeck’s presentation at the American Chemical Society meeting in Boston on August 25—a phenomenon they’ve dubbed hygroelectricity, or humid electricity. “My colleagues and I found that common metals—aluminum, stainless steel and others—acquire charge when they are electrically isolated and exposed to humid air,” he says. “This is an extension to previously published results showing that insulators acquire charge under humid air. Thus, air is a charge reservoir.” The finding would seem to confirm anecdotes from the 19th century of workers literally shocked—rather than scalded—by steam. And it might explain how enough charge builds up for lightning, Galembeck argues.

The scientists envision devices to harness this charge out of thick (with water vapor) air—a metal piece, like a lightning rod, connected to one pole of a capacitor, a device for separating and storing electric charge. The other pole of the capacitor is grounded. Expose the metal to high humidity (perhaps within a shielded box) and harvest voltage. “If this could be done safely, it would allow us to have better control of thunderstorms,” Galembeck says, envisioning a renewable energy source from the humid air of the tropics and mid-latitudes.

Unfortunately, the finding violates the principle of electric neutrality, in which the differently charged molecules of an electrolyte like water cancel out. And although geophysicists and other atmospheric scientists may not know all the details of how lightning forms, they do have a general sense, and hygroelectricity seems to ignore what is largely understood. “It is utter nonsense,” says atmospheric physicist William Beasley of the University of Oklahoma, a lightning researcher. “All seriously considered mechanisms for electrification of thunderstorms that can lead to the kind of electric fields that are required for lightning involve convection and rebounding collisions between graupel [a slush ball] and ice particles in convective storms.”

Similar efforts to capture the electricity in a lightning bolt have failed, most recently, Alternate Energy Holdings’s would-be lightning capture tower outside Houston. The wired tower never worked. “This concept has been disproven many times over,” Beasley notes. What’s more, the amount of energy in a lightning bolt—never mind its crackling electric grandeur—is but a fraction of the amount of energy required to run even one 100-watt lightbulb, which uses 100 joules every second, for a day. But taming lightning is a prospect that has tempted experimenters since at least the Olympian thunderbolts of Zeus. Of course, the vast majority of the energy is in the storm itself—hurricanes, for example, have the heat energy of 10,000 nuclear bombs. Capturing that energy might prove frazzling.

ION IMBALANCE
http://www.free-energy-info.com/P6.pdf
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19367-can-we-grab-electricity-from-muggy-air.html
Can we grab electricity from muggy ai?
by Colin Barras / 26 August 2010

Every cloud has a silver lining: wet weather could soon be harnessed as a power source, if a team of chemists in Brazil is to be believed. In 1840, workers in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, reported painful electric shocks when they came into close contact with steam leaking from factory boilers. Both Michael Faraday and Alessandro Volta puzzled over the mysterious phenomenon, dubbed steam electricity, but it was ultimately forgotten without being fully understood.

Fernando Galembeck at the University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil, is one of a small number of researchers who thinks there is a simple explanation, but it involves accepting that water can store charge – a controversial idea that violates the principle of electroneutrality. This principle – which states that the negatively and positively charged particles in an electrolyte cancel each other out – is widely accepted by chemists, including the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). “I don’t dispute the IUPAC statement for the principle of electroneutrality,” says Galembeck. “But it is seldom applicable to real substances,” he says, because they frequently show ion imbalances, which produce a measurable charge.

His team electrically isolated chrome-plated brass tubes and then increased the humidity of the surrounding atmosphere. Once the relative humidity reached 90 per cent, the uncharged tube gained a small but detectable negative charge of 300 microcoulombs per square metre – equating to a capacity millions of times smaller than that of an AA battery.

Sensitive Victorians
The Victorian workers would have had to have been particularly sensitive souls to complain of such a shock, but Galembeck thinks his study shows steam electricity may be a credible phenomenon. He thinks the charge builds up because of a reaction between the chrome oxide layer that forms on the surface of the tube and the water in the atmosphere. As the relative humidity rises, more water condenses onto the tube’s surface. Hydrogen ions in the water react with the chrome oxide, leading to an ion imbalance that imparts excess charge onto the isolated metal.

The work finds favour with Gerald Pollack at the University of Washington in Seattle. Last year he suggested that pure water could store charge and behave much like a battery, after finding that passing a current between two submerged electrodes created a pH gradient in the water that persisted for an hour once the current had been switched off. He says this is evidence that the water stores areas of positive and negative charge, but the experiment led to a lively debate in the pages of the journal Langmuir over whether the results really violated the principle of electroneutrality or whether there were salt impurities in the water that led it to behave like a conventional electrochemical cell. Pollack calls the Campinas team’s work “interesting”. “It opens the door to many new possibilities,” he says.

Power from air
Galembeck thinks those possibilities include harnessing atmospheric humidity as a renewable power source, as light is converted to electricity in solar panels. “My work is currently targeted to verify this possibility and to explore it,” he says. However, he acknowledges that most researchers remain to be convinced that what he calls “hygroelectricity” will ever get off the ground.

Allen Bard at the University of Texas falls within that majority. “In general I think that it is true that our understanding of electrostatic phenomena and charging at solid/gas interfaces is incomplete,” he says. “I am, however, very sceptical about these phenomena being harnessed as a power source. The amounts of charge and power involved are very small.”

References: Galembeck presents his work at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston this week; it was previously published in Langmuir, DOI: 10.1021/la102494k. Pollack’s work was published in Langmuir, DOI: 10.1021/la802430k; the resulting debate in the journal can be followed here, here, and here.

ENERGY in the AIR
http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=222&content_id=CNBP_025407&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=197f0546-bbdc-45b0-94c6-e91b94bf2541
Electricity collected from the air could become the newest alternative energy source
Aug. 25, 2010

Imagine devices that capture electricity from the air ― much like solar cells capture sunlight ― and using them to light a house or recharge an electric car. Imagine using similar panels on the rooftops of buildings to prevent lightning before it forms. Strange as it may sound, scientists already are in the early stages of developing such devices, according to a report presented here today at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). “Our research could pave the way for turning electricity from the atmosphere into an alternative energy source for the future,” said study leader Fernando Galembeck, Ph.D. His research may help explain a 200-year-old scientific riddle about how electricity is produced and discharged in the atmosphere. “Just as solar energy could free some households from paying electric bills, this promising new energy source could have a similar effect,” he maintained. “If we know how electricity builds up and spreads in the atmosphere, we can also prevent death and damage caused by lightning strikes,” Galembeck said, noting that lightning causes thousands of deaths and injuries worldwide and millions of dollars in property damage.

The notion of harnessing the power of electricity formed naturally has tantalized scientists for centuries. They noticed that sparks of static electricity formed as steam escaped from boilers. Workers who touched the steam even got painful electrical shocks. Famed inventor Nikola Tesla, for example, was among those who dreamed of capturing and using electricity from the air. It’s the electricity formed, for instance, when water vapor collects on microscopic particles of dust and other material in the air. But until now, scientists lacked adequate knowledge about the processes involved in formation and release of electricity from water in the atmosphere, Galembeck said. He is with the University of Campinas in Campinas, SP, Brazil.

Scientists once believed that water droplets in the atmosphere were electrically neutral, and remained so even after coming into contact with the electrical charges on dust particles and droplets of other liquids. But new evidence suggested that water in the atmosphere really does pick up an electrical charge. Galembeck and colleagues confirmed that idea, using laboratory experiments that simulated water’s contact with dust particles in the air. They used tiny particles of silica and aluminum phosphate, both common airborne substances, showing that silica became more negatively charged in the presence of high humidity and aluminum phosphate became more positively charged. High humidity means high levels of water vapor in the air ― the vapor that condenses and becomes visible as “fog” on windows of air-conditioned cars and buildings on steamy summer days. “This was clear evidence that water in the atmosphere can accumulate electrical charges and transfer them to other materials it comes into contact with,” Galembeck explained. “We are calling this ‘hygroelectricity’, meaning ‘humidity electricity’.”

In the future, he added, it may be possible to develop collectors, similar to the solar cells that collect the sun to produce electricity, to capture hygroelectricity and route it to homes and businesses. Just as solar cells work best in sunny areas of the world, hygroelectrical panels would work more efficiently in areas with high humidity, such as the northeastern and southeastern United States and the humid tropics. Galembeck said that a similar approach might help prevent lightening from forming and striking. He envisioned placing hygroelectrical panels on top of buildings in regions that experience frequent thunderstorms. The panels would drain electricity out of the air, and prevent the building of electrical charge that is released in lightning. His research group already is testing metals to identify those with the greatest potential for use in capturing atmospheric electricity and preventing lightning strikes. “These are fascinating ideas that new studies by ourselves and by other scientific teams suggest are now possible,” Galembeck said. “We certainly have a long way to go. But the benefits in the long range of harnessing hygroelectricity could be substantial.”

CONTACT
Fernando Galembeck
http://www.fapesp.br/materia/5057/pfpmcg/professor-fernando-galembeck.htm
email : fernagal [at] igm.unicamp [dot] br

Gerald Pollack
http://faculty.washington.edu/ghp/researcthemes/water-based-technology
http://faculty.washington.edu/ghp/
email : ghp [at] u.washington [dot] edu

SEE ALSO : POLYWATER BATTERIES
http://www.uwtv.org/newsletter/insider_0408.asp

Dr. Gerald Pollack’s views on water have been called revolutionary. He attests that, despite what Mr. Wizard may have taught you, there are actually four phases of water: solid, liquid, vapor and gel. This fourth phase, Pollack says, may in fact be the most important of all. “If you want to understand what happens in any system – be it biological, or physical, or chemical, or oceanographic, or atmospheric, or whatever – it doesn’t matter, anything involving water, you really have to know the behavior of this special kind of gel-like water, which dominates.”

Pollack’s water studies have led to amazing possibilities: that water acts as a battery, that this battery may recharge in a way resembling photosynthesis, that these water batteries could be harnessed to produce electricity. He discusses these ideas in a lecture now playing on UWTV: “Water, Energy and Life: Fresh Views From the Water’s Edge.” Yet the search for these fresh views has not been without struggle. “Before I became controversial, I almost never had a problem; I had large amounts of funding,” Pollack, a UW professor of bioengineering, explained. “The more controversial I became, the more difficult it’s been to get money. There were several really dry years. “And now it’s gotten better because I think people are beginning to recognize the importance of the work on water. So it’s improving, but it’s still not easy.”

The study of water has a long history of unpopularity, Pollack said. “Six or seven decades ago, water was a really interesting subject. A lot of people thought that water had a particular chemistry – that it interacted with other molecules and was really an important feature of any system that contained water. Then, research almost stopped 40 years ago. There were two scientific debacles that took place that made everybody highly skeptical of any kind of research on water.” The first of these concerned polywater. “Some findings seemed to imply that water acted as though it was a polymer; in other words, all the molecules would somehow join together into a polymer and create some really weird kinds of effects,” Pollack described. Eventually, these results – first presented by a Russian chemist – were discredited. “The nails were driven into the coffin of water research by another debacle that took place 20 years later, and that was the idea of water memory,” Pollack said. “The idea was that water molecules could have memory of other substances into which it had been in contact.”

A debate in the science journal Nature eventually moved public opinion against this theory as well. “So because of these two incidents, scientists absolutely stayed away from water because water research was treacherous,” Pollack said. “You could drown in your own water.” Yet, these murky waters were not enough to deter Pollack from the subject. He first broached the topic in his 2001 book “Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life.” “The book asserts, contrary to the textbook view, that water is the most important and central protagonist in all of life,” Pollack said. “There are so many realms of science where water is central. In order to understand how everything works, you need to know the properties of water.” As Pollack sought to understand water, his focus turned to a particular phase near hydrophilic surfaces that didn’t quite fit in. “The three phases of water that everybody knows about in the textbook just don’t do it. In fact, it’s a 100-year-old idea that there’s a fourth phase of water. This is not an original idea.” Though the concept of a liquid crystalline, or gel-like, phase of water has been around for some time, the generally accepted view is that this kind of water is only two or three molecular layers thick. “And what we found in our experiments is that it’s not two or three layers, but two or three million layers. In other words, it’s the dominant feature,” Pollack said.

With this revelation in hand, Pollack focused his attention on this mostly unstudied phase of water. He has since discovered much about its underestimated thickness, its capacity to create a charge, its connections to photosynthesis and its practical applications. The thickness of this gel-like water may explain why items of higher density than water – such as a coin – can float. Surface tension is at work, but it arises from this thick, gel-like surface layer. “Turns out that the thickness depends on the pH,” Pollack said. “If you increase the pH, we found that this region gets thicker. It also gets thicker with time. So if you wait long enough, and if you have the right conditions, and maybe enough light beating down on it, you could conceivably get a very thick layer. “If we come up with the right conditions, maybe it’s true that we can walk on water – if this region can be made thick enough.”

Biblical aspirations aside, the energy carried within this water and the water near it may be even more impressive. Dr. Pollack works in his lab to demonstrate some of the unusual properties of water. “This kind of water is negative, and the water beyond is positive. Negative, positive – you have a battery,” Pollack explained. “The question is, how is it used and might we capitalize on this kind of battery?” The key to understanding how this water battery works is learning how it is recharged. “You can’t just get something for nothing – there has to be energy that charges it,” Pollack said. “This puzzled us for several years, and finally we found the answer: it’s light. It was a real surprise. So if you take one of these surfaces next to water, and you see the battery right next to it, and you shine light on it, the battery gets stronger. It’s a very powerful effect.” This effect takes on entirely new possibilities when considered in terms of the water within our bodies. “I’m suggesting that you – inside your body – actually have these little batteries, and, remember, the batteries are fueled by light,” Pollack said. “Why don’t we photosynthesize? And the answer is, probably we do. It may not be the main mechanism for getting energy, but it certainly could be one of them. In some ways, we may be more like plants and bacteria than we really think.”

All of these innovative ideas may have practical applications as well. Water in its gel-like phase excludes solutes. “It’s actually pretty pure,” Pollack explained. “If you could collect this water right near the surface, it should be free of bacteria, for example, and maybe also viruses. So we’ve constructed a prototype device in the laboratory that shows excellent separation, on the order of 200 to 1. And we’re now trying to scale this up to practical quantities of water that could be filtered.” A second possibility is extracting electrical energy from this natural water battery. “We’ve so far been able to get only small amounts of electrical energy out, but we just started the project,” Pollack said. “If this process that we found is the same as photosynthesis, or the same principle, and I do think it may be, then it’s a pretty efficient system.”

Pollack and other researchers clearly have a long and complex challenge ahead as they seek to understand water in new ways. But you don’t have to know Pollack well to see that the challenge itself is part of the intrigue of pursuing such work. “I’m so compelled to continue our studies because they reveal so much and they answer so many questions – even already – questions that have remained unanswered for so long. For Pollack, finding answers is a way of life. “I dream this stuff,” he confessed. “It never leaves me. If I’m sitting on the plane, sitting on the toilet seat, standing in the shower, it’s on my mind always. “When I see something in nature that doesn’t seem right, or doesn’t seem explained yet, I just can’t stop thinking about it. Thinking about how it might work. I dwell on the problem. I never stop.”

SEE ALSO:

CONTACT
Daniel Nocera
http://www.suncatalytix.com/tech.html
http://web.mit.edu/chemistry/dgn/www/people/nocera.shtml
http://web.mit.edu/chemistry/dgn/www/research/solar.shtml
email : nocera [at] mit [dot] edu

PERSONALIZED ENERGY
http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/nocera-0514.html
by David L. Chandler / May 14, 2010

Expanding on work published two years ago, MIT’s Daniel Nocera and his associates have found yet another formulation, based on inexpensive and widely available materials, that can efficiently catalyze the splitting of water molecules using electricity. This could ultimately form the basis for new storage systems that would allow buildings to be completely independent and self-sustaining in terms of energy: The systems would use energy from intermittent sources like sunlight or wind to create hydrogen fuel, which could then be used in fuel cells or other devices to produce electricity or transportation fuels as needed.

Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry, says that solar energy is the only feasible long-term way of meeting the world’s ever-increasing needs for energy, and that storage technology will be the key enabling factor to make sunlight practical as a dominant source of energy. He has focused his research on the development of less-expensive, more-durable materials to use as the electrodes in devices that use electricity to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water molecules. By doing so, he aims to imitate the process of photosynthesis, by which plants harvest sunlight and convert the energy into chemical form.

Nocera pictures small-scale systems in which rooftop solar panels would provide electricity to a home, and any excess would go to an electrolyzer — a device for splitting water molecules — to produce hydrogen, which would be stored in tanks. When more energy was needed, the hydrogen would be fed to a fuel cell, where it would combine with oxygen from the air to form water, and generate electricity at the same time. An electrolyzer uses two different electrodes, one of which releases the oxygen atoms and the other the hydrogen atoms. Although it is the hydrogen that would provide a storable source of energy, it is the oxygen side that is more difficult, so that’s where he and many other research groups have concentrated their efforts. In a paper in Science in 2008, Nocera reported the discovery of a durable and low-cost material for the oxygen-producing electrode based on the element cobalt.

Now, in research being reported this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), Nocera, along with postdoctoral researcher Mircea Dincă and graduate student Yogesh Surendranath, report the discovery of yet another material that can also efficiently and sustainably function as the oxygen-producing electrode. This time the material is nickel borate, made from materials that are even more abundant and inexpensive than the earlier find. Even more significantly, Nocera says, the new finding shows that the original compound was not a unique, anomalous material, and suggests that there may be a whole family of such compounds that researchers can study in search of one that has the best combination of characteristics to provide a widespread, long-term energy-storage technology. “Sometimes if you do one thing, and only do it once,” Nocera says, “you don’t know — is it extraordinary or unusual, or can it be commonplace?” In this case, the new material “keeps all the requirements of being cheap and easy to manufacture” that were found in the cobalt-based electrode, he says, but “with a different metal that’s even cheaper than cobalt.” The work was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Chesonis Family Foundation.

But the research is still in an early stage. “This is a door opener,” Nocera says. “Now, we know what works in terms of chemistry. One of the important next things will be to continue to tune the system, to make it go faster and better. This puts us on a fast technological path.” While the two compounds discovered so far work well, he says, he is convinced that as they carry out further research even better compounds will come to light. “I don’t think we’ve found the silver bullet yet,” he says. Already, as the research has continued, Nocera and his team have increased the rate of production from these catalysts a hundredfold from the level they initially reported two years ago.

John Turner, a research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, calls this a nice result, but says that commercial electrolyzers already exist that have better performance than these new laboratory versions. “The question then is under what circumstances would this system provide some advantage over the existing commercial systems,” he says. For large-scale deployment of solar fuel-producing systems, he says, “the big commercial electrolyzers use concentrated alkali for their electrolyte, which is OK in an industrial setting were engineers know how to handle the stuff safely; but when we are talking about thousands of square miles of solar water-splitting arrays, and individual homeowners, then an alternative electrolyte like this benign borate solution may be more viable.” The original discovery has already led to the creation of a company, called Sun Catalytix, that aims to commercialize the system in the next two years. And his research program was recently awarded a major grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency.

WHAT’S LYING AROUND
http://earthship.com/haiti-disaster-relief.html
http://earthship.com/aboutus

Earthship n. 1. passive solar home made of natural and recycled materials 2. thermal mass construction for temperature stabilization. 3. renewable energy & integrated water systems make the Earthship an off-grid home with little to no utility bills.

Biotecture n. 1. the profession of designing buildings and environments with consideration for their sustainability. 2. A combination of biology and architecture.

TIRES + BOTTLES + DIRT = HOUSE
http://blogs.wsj.com/developments/2010/07/20/solving-haitis-housing-problem-with-old-tires-bottles/
Solving Haiti’s Housing Problems with Old Tires, Bottles / July 20, 2010

Made from used tires, discarded bottles, cardboard, Styrofoam and other waste materials, Mr. Reynolds designs and builds these homes to be essentially energy self-sufficient. Earthships use solar energy and wind to generate their own power and heat; homes are designed to collect usable water from rain and snow and are built with greenhouses where resident can grown their own food. Mr. Reynolds has built more than 1,000 of the environmentally-friendly structures, including a community of them outside Taos, N.M., through his company, Earthship Biotecture. Now he’s bringing earthships to Haiti.

Earlier this month, Mr. Reynolds and two builders, along with a cameraman, went to Haiti intending to survey the area to see how they could help. “There was nothing but tents, nothing but cleanup,” Mr. Reynolds says of what he saw in Port-au-Prince. Instead of just surveying the city, Mr. Reynolds and his team ended up building. A non-governmental organization called Grassroots United, which had contacted Mr. Reynolds before he arrived, met his group at the airport and told him that they had some land upon which he could build. Anticipating his arrival, the organization had gotten Haitian children to collect tires and plastic bottles from the tent camps.

Mr. Reynolds himself had one arm in a cast because of rotator cuff surgery, and the two builders with him both got sick from the water and heat. “The three of us were worthless, pretty much,” he says. But 40 locals, ranging in age from four to 50, built an earthship in just four days under his guidance. “They had nothing to do. They were all eager to learn, and it turns out all the skills we could do, they could do.”

The earthship, just 120 square feet, is made of 120 tires packed with dirt–such tires are the main building blocks of any earthship. Designed to be earthquake- and hurricane-resistant, the Haiti earthship is not completely finished. Mr. Reynolds plans to return in October to add plaster to the exterior and a screened-in veranda with flush toilets, as well as outfit it for solar energy and water collection. He hopes the home will be used as a prototype for more in Haiti, an example of what’s possible. Earthships could be a boon for a place like Haiti, says Mr. Reynolds, where even the capital city has little infrastructure like sewage or electricity. “The most substantial thing I saw down there was a plywood shack,” he says.

The Haiti home isn’t the first that Mr. Reynolds has built in an area hit by disaster. Following the 2004 tsunami, he says, an architect from the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean found his website and asked him if he could help rebuild. There, Mr. Reynolds and his team erected a building made from automobile tires and bottles during a two-week visit. “On our last day there, the monsoons came, and we saw it catching water,” Mr. Reynolds says. Though he hasn’t been back to visit, he hears that the locals now use the structure like a well. The Andaman Islands Earthship was too complex for the locals to replicate themselves, Mr. Reynolds says, but he has since perfected his model for disaster relief to help locals in devastated areas rebuild themselves.

When he returns to Haiti in October, he plans to find a site where he can build a small village of earthships. “It doesn’t have to be in the city because there is nothing in the city anyway,” he says of the lack of infrastructure. “These buildings would provide their own power, their own water, their own sewage (systems).” Most important, Mr. Reynolds says, is a sense of empowerment instilled in those who helped. “They built the building!” he says. “The real thing that shows it’s possible for them to do it is that they did it.”

SEE ALSO : POST-TSUNAMI
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124510435308816591.html
Castles Made of Trash
by Dennis Nishi / June 16, 2009

Architect Michael Reynolds has built more than 1,000 homes from materials including used car tires and glass-bottle bottoms. He calls his self-sufficient designs “earthships” because they require little heating or cooling and generate their own electricity and water. His company, Earthship Biotecture of Taos, N.M., designs and builds sustainable homes world-wide.

Q: I hear you were a maverick even in architecture school.
A: I discovered early on that architecture needs to embody the needs of people. Most architects have impractical ideas that are wasteful. That’s why I’ve drifted away from what you know as architecture. The University of Cincinnati had a co-op program where you could work for three months and go to school for three months. It took me six years of working in a lot of architectural offices around the country to discover that I didn’t want to do architecture the way it was being done.

Q: Where did you get the idea to use trash?
A: Walter Cronkite did a piece on clear-cutting timber in the Northwest. Even in 1969, he predicted massive deforestation would result in wood scarcity and would affect our oxygen levels, things that have become big issues today. Charles Kuralt did another piece on beer cans being thrown all over the streets and highways. So I started playing with beer cans and trying to make them into building blocks. It was a way to kill two birds with one stone.

Q: How did you go from cans to car tires?
A: I later decided to try a different material and thought of the mountains of discarded tires that can be found everywhere. Pack them with dirt and they will store energy. Plus they’re strong and resilient, so I built an entire house out of them. I went on to add photovoltaic panels, windmills, water collection and onsite sewage treatment.

Q: It didn’t sound like you got many takers in the beginning.
A: We did sell houses here and there. I wasn’t trying to build a big corporation and, of course, our overhead was low. I just needed to get the idea out there. I was also a licensed contractor so I could work on other projects.

Q: Who were your early adopters?
A: When I started, it was young hipsters who were not afraid of trying something new. As recycling and conservation became more mainstream, it became a wider variety of people … from all walks of life.

Q: You relinquished your state architecture license in 2000. What led to this?
A: Some of the houses were too hot, went over budget and some roofs leaked. The customers complained and the investigators who were sent saw that I wasn’t following any of the rules. In the end, I was told if I relinquished my license, I could do more as a private citizen than under the cloak of an architect. Otherwise, they could fine me forever for violating codes. [He got back his national architecture license.]

Q: That’s when you took your fight to the state legislature?
A: I wrote a bill [that] makes it easier to build experimental homes [without the need for an architecture license]. It took three and a half years to get it through. Governor Bill Richardson signed it into law in 2007.

Q: And you went overseas with your ideas?
A: For awhile, … I went wherever there was a desire to use my ideas. After the earthquake and tsunami in 2004, an architect [from the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean] that lived right in the middle of the disaster saw our Web site and asked us to come.

Q: What did you see in the Andaman Islands?
A: Their whole community was just wiped out. We paid the local kids to bring us bottles, and we built a house out of them that collects its own water. We gave the plans to the engineers.

Q: What’s next?
A: We’re launching a village project called Eve: Earthship Village Ecology in Taos. The focus is complete independence. We’re specifically working on food production in the home, and we’ve dedicated 50% of the floor space to gardens.

Q: How efficient are your earthships?
A: We’re building homes today that don’t draw from the grid and have a $100 per year total utility bill. And they have flat screen TVs, broadband Internet and all the other comforts. The reason why more people are not doing it is because it takes forever for somebody doing a radical green project to get a permit.

CONTACT
Michael Reynolds
http://earthship.com/testimonials/united-states-policy-report-michael-reynolds-earthships
http://earthship.com/contact-earthship-biotecture
email : biotecture [at] earthship [dot] com

MODERN NATURAL RESOURCES
http://earthship.com/systems
http://earthship.com/materials/the-offgassing-non-issue-tires-are-hazardous-in-piles-not-earthships
http://earthship.com/codes-regulations-laws
http://earthship.com/materials/green-building-construction-materials
Green Building Construction Materials

House as Assemblage of by-products:
A sustainable home must make use of indigenous materials, those occurring naturally in the local area. For thousands and thousands of years, housing was built from found materials such as rock, earth, reeds and logs. Today, there are mountains of by-products of our civilization that are already made and delivered to all areas. These are the natural resources of the modern humanity.

An Earthship must make use of these materials via techniques available to the common person. These materials and the techniques for using them must be accessible to the common person in terms of price and skill required to use them. The less energy required to turn a found object into a usable building material the better. This concept is also called embodied-energy.

The Primary Building Block: Rammed-Earth encased in Steel Belted Rubber:
The major structural building component of the Earthship is recycled automobile tires filled with compacted earth to form a rammed earth brick encased in steel belted rubber. This brick and the resulting bearing walls it forms is virtually indestructible.

Aluminum Cans and Glass/Plastic Bottles:
These ‘little bricks’ are a great, simple way to build interior, non-structural walls. Aluminum can walls actually make very strong walls. The ‘little bricks’ create a cement-matrix that is very strong and very easy to build. Bottle can create beautiful colored walls that light shines through.

The Nature of the Materials
In keeping with the design and performance requirements of a Earthship Biotecture, the nature of the building matierials for an Earthship must have certain characteristics established. These characteristics must align with, rather than deteriorate, the environment of the planet. The requirements and characteristics below describe the nature of the ideal ‘building block’ for constructing the ideal building for residential and commercial applications. Many conventional materials satisfy one or two of these characteristics but no conventional materials satisfies all of them. Therefore, we must ‘invent’ or ‘create’ a new material or building block for the primary structure of the Earthship.

Indigenous:
Materials are found all over the planet. Shipping materials for long distances is not sustainable and uses excessive amounts of energy. In order for the Earthship to be easily accessible to the common person and to maintain a low impact on the planetary energy situation, a “building block” found all over the globe would be required.

Able to be fashioned with little or no energy: If a building material was found that was indigenous to many parts of the planet but it required massive amounts of energy to fashion into a usable form, then it would not be sustainable and not considered. The major building materials for an earthships must require little or no manufactured energy to fashion into use. This keeps them easily available to common people and at the same time would allow the large scale production of Earthships to maintain a relatively low impact on the planet.

Since there are so many of us, if we are to survive without literally consuming the planet, everything we use must be chosen with consideration to the impact of large scale application. We must explore building materials and methods that are not dependent on manufactured energy and that have the potential to contribute to the general well-being of the planet rather than exploit it.

Thermal Mass:
The materials that surround the spaces of an Earthship must be dense and massive in order to store the temperatures required to provide a habitable environment for humans and plants. The Earthship itself must be a ‘battery’ for storing temperature. Making buildings out of heavy dense mass is as important as making airplanes light. Obviously a heavy airplane takes more fuel to fly. Obviously a light house takes more fuel to heat and cool.

Durability:
We have built out of wood for centuries. Wood is organic and biodegradable. It goes away. So we have developed various poisonous chemical products to paint on it and make it last. This, plus the fact that wood is light and porous, makes it a very unsatisfactory building material. This is not to mention the fact that trees are our source of oxygen. For building housing that will last without chemicals, we should look around for materials that have durability as an inherent quality rather than trying to paint on durability. Wood is definitely a good material for cabinet doors and ceilings where mass is not a factor and where it protected so it will not rot, but the basic massive structure of buildings should be a natural resource that is inherently massive and durable by its own nature.

Resilient:
Earthquakes are an issue in many parts of the world. Any method of building must relate to this potential threat. Since earthquakes involve a horizontal movement or shaking of the structure, this suggests a material with resilience or capacity to move with this shaking. Brittle materials like concrete, break, crack and fracture. The ideal structural material for dealing with this kind of situation would have a ‘rubbery’ or resilient quality to it. This kind of material would allow movement without failure.

Low specific skill requirements:
If the materials for easily obtainable housing are to be truly accessibly to the common person they must, by their very nature, be easy to learn how to assemble. The nature of the materials for building an earthship must allow for assembling skills to be learned and mastered in a matter of hours, not year. These skills must be basic enough that specific talent is not required to learn them.

Low tech use/application: some systems of building today are simple if one has the appropriate high-tech expensive energy dependeant device or equipment. This, of course, limits the application of these methods to the professionals who have invested in the technology to enable them to use such methods. Becuase of the expense and energy required to get set up for these systems the common person is left totally dependent on those professionals for accessibility to these particular housing systems. Therefore the common person must go through the medium of money (bank loans, interest approvals, etc.) to gain access to a housing system that usually dictates performance and appearance.

If high-tech systems and skills are between the common person and their ability to obtain a home, we are setting ourselves up to place the very nature of our housing in the hans of economics rather than in the hands of the people. This situation has resulted in in human, energy-hog housing blocks and developments that make investors some quick money and leave the planet and the people with something that requires constant input of money and energy to operate. Earthship technology is the technology of natural phenomenon like the physics of the sun, the earth and people themselves.

GARBAGE PLASTICS as BUILDING MATERIAL
http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/hdhmr5aj7b4/
http://www.miller-mccune.com/science-environment/earthship-trooper-4343/
by Michael Haederle / August 14, 2008

The speed limit posted on the rutted dirt road that winds through the Greater World subdivision is 20 mph, but Michael Reynolds is easily doing twice that as he rides his knobby-tired Yamaha TT500 bike to the job site, his white mane flowing in the slipstream. He pulls up next to a strange-looking structure with curving walls and a row of big, south-facing windows and leads me in the door. The rooms are set side by side, with glass-covered front walls opening onto a corridor running the length of the building. The result is a double greenhouse that captures sunlight pouring in through the windows. Although the June sun is already glaring over the vast mesa outside Taos, N.M., the smooth, mud-plastered walls inside the half-finished building are cool to the touch. “It makes the space that you hang out in 65 to 75 degrees year-round, with no fuel,” Reynolds says. That’s how it’s supposed to be in an Earthship, the self-sustaining dwelling Reynolds has been refining over the past 35 years. “This is our latest model,” Reynolds says. “It’ll probably work better than anything we’ve done.” Earthships have earned the 63-year-old renegade architect some attention over the years, much of it from cable television shows marveling at their novel construction. Reynolds builds exterior and interior walls from discarded tires, “steel-belted, rubber-encased bricks” packed tightly with soil. This creates mass that absorbs heat from the sun in the winter but keeps a cool, steady temperature in the summer. Multi-hued glass bottles used as building blocks in bathroom walls admit a jewellike pattern of light, while a honeycomb of aluminum cans and plastic bottles bulks up exterior walls that are later covered with stucco.

Earthships use photovoltaic cells that produce enough electricity to run lights, computers and flat-screen TVs; their roofs funnel rainwater into underground cisterns. “Gray water” from sinks and showers first irrigates vegetables, flowers and small trees in the greenhouse and then flushes toilets. Northern New Mexico’s high desert receives about 12 inches of precipitation a year, with temperatures that can top 100 degrees in the summer and plunge to 35 degrees below zero in the winter, yet Earthships are surprisingly comfortable, year-round. Reynolds has long preached that we need to go “off the grid,” eliminating our reliance on the fragile web of utility and sewage systems that knits together modern civilization. Now, as global climate change and energy scarcity loom, people are starting to pay attention.

Garbage Warrior, a documentary from British filmmaker Oliver Hodge that follows Reynolds on his quest to transform the way we live, is being shown at film festivals and in theaters around the world. Thanks to the publicity and Reynolds’ self-published books, people have been calling Earthship Biotecture, Reynolds’ design-build firm, to book $200-an-hour phone consults about building their own Earthships. “We’re swamped,” he says. He has built demonstration models in rural Bolivia and the tsunami-ravaged Andaman Islands, as well as in Holland, France and the United Kingdom. Reynolds will spend the summer launching an Earthship resort on the Caribbean island of Bonaire; in the fall, he’ll teach at an architecture school in Bergen, Norway.
“We’ve been doing this for 35 years,” Reynolds says. “All of a sudden, the world has realized they need it. The good thing is we’ve had 35 years to rehearse. To be honest, we’re pretty fucking good at it.”

If he sounds cocky, Reynolds has needed self-confidence to hew to his singular vision. In the past 10 years, he has been sued by disgruntled homeowners, accused by local government of building illegal subdivisions and forced by the state of New Mexico to relinquish his architect’s license. (He remains licensed in Colorado and Arizona.) He even donned a jacket and tie to wage a three-year fight to get the New Mexico Legislature to pass a law allowing people to test off-the-grid housing. But in a sign of changing times, he’s won county approval for Greater World, the most populated of the three Earthship subdivisions he’s built around Taos and has even been appointed to the Taos County Planning Commission. Those subdivisions include roughly 100 homes that cater to an eclectic mix of hippies, teachers, artists, architects, hospital workers and retirees. Greater World, which sits on a 650-acre tract a mile west of the scenic Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, has become a popular attraction for tourists, who stop by to see the nearly 60 Earthships dotting the landscape. That may explain why the state recently earmarked $300,000 to build a new visitor center there.

Reynolds grew up in Louisville, Ky., and after graduating from the University of Cincinnati’s architecture school in 1969, he moved to Taos, then an end-of-the-road haven for artists and hippies. Troubled by the accumulating debris of consumer culture — tires, bottles and cans, plastics — Reynolds decided to incorporate it into his construction. He bought 20 acres of cheap land in the early 1970s and started building experimental structures, including a meditation pyramid made of beer cans and a geodesic dome; he lived in them himself to see how well they worked. Like other builders in the Southwest who weathered the energy crisis of the Ford-Carter years, he copied the ancient Anasazi Indians and started orienting his houses south-by-southeast to capture solar energy. The idea of using earth-filled tires to store energy and maintain a steady temperature came later. Reynolds built his first Earthship in 1987 (at a dirt-cheap $17 per square foot). He still lives in it with his astrologer wife, Chris. A growing number of ecologically minded followers were inspired by his vision, and Reynolds soon wrote Earthship Vol. 1, the first in a series of how-to books to enable people to build their own homes.

The Earthship concept gained an early ally in the late actor Dennis Weaver (of Gunsmoke fame), who had Reynolds build a 10,000-square-foot home outside Ridgeway, Colo., and talked up Earthships on The Tonight Show. Reynolds meanwhile started several Earthship subdivisions around Taos. STAR (Social Transformation Alternative Republic) was set on 1,100 acres just west of Tres Orejas, an extinct volcano. He carved out building sites on a steep mountain slope near the mouth of Taos Canyon that he christened REACH (Rural Earthship Alternative Community Habitat), and Weaver commissioned him to build a second Earthship there. Pat Habicht remembers the heady days in the early 1990s when it seemed Reynolds could do no wrong. She lived for 10 years in one of the first Earthships, perched on Blueberry Hill west of the Taos Plaza; she later sold it to move into a retirement community. “The great thing about Mike is that he was the first person here to make people seriously think about what the options are,” she says. “He’s concerned with the whole world and not just a few houses that one person can build.” Habicht adds that Earthship living was a memorable experience. “I miss that feeling of being looked after by the Earth. They really do work.”

But even as his concept was catching on, Reynolds was heading for a fall. In building his Earthship subdivisions, he says he relied on informal agreements with county zoning officials and the state Construction Industries Division, neither of which objected to what he was doing because they understood that Earthships were still experimental. But then a new Taos County planner took office and in 1997 declared Reynolds’ subdivisions illegal — after all, they had no utility infrastructure. Several people for whom Reynolds had built homes sued or filed complaints with the state, alleging that their Earthships leaked or were too cold. There were also allegations of cost overruns. It was the prelude to years of conflict. Where Reynolds had once been hailed as a visionary, now “I was a crook,” he says. Responding to various complaints, the New Mexico Board of Examiners for Architects filed formal charges against him in 2000, and later that year he agreed to relinquish his architect’s license.

Meanwhile, in 1998, Reynolds was sued by Earthship owner Suzanne Martin, who alleged he had violated the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act and breached their contract. Martin’s attorney, Lorenzo Atencio, says the construction on Martin’s two homes was shoddy. “The roof leaked,” he says. “The water storage system was not working properly. The wiring was exposed and unsightly.” And, Atencio says, the solar composting toilets Reynolds was using in those days didn’t work properly. A judge ruled in Martin’s favor in 2003. Reynolds appealed the decision, but the case was settled when Reynolds agreed to buy the Earthships back from Martin, Atencio says. Court records show all claims were dismissed in 2004. Reynolds, who represented himself in court, is bitter about the whole thing. “They took my license,” he says. “I got sued and lost a half-million dollars.” The way he sees it, his legal problems resulted from the trial-and-error nature of his ongoing experimentation. Reynolds is always tinkering, trying new ideas and discarding the ones that don’t work. At the same time, he has an obvious disdain for rules and regulations, which, in his view, hinder him from refining his designs in time to avert global catastrophe. Might some see that approach as reckless? “Hell yes, I’m reckless,” he declares. “How are you going to get through a jungle without swinging a machete?”

Sobered by the experience but unbowed, Reynolds says the ordeal taught him how little he needed to get by. “That stretch of hard times lightened my pack,” he says, “and I’ll never fill it up again.”
Although Reynolds is well known among alternative housing enthusiasts, he is far from a household name within the U.S. architectural establishment. “I think he’s making a big impact on a global level,” says his friend Marilyn Crenshaw, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based residential and commercial architect. “I don’t think he’s making a big impact in the U.S. I wish he would because what he has to share is great.” His genius resides in his ability to integrate thermal mass, solar power, rainwater catchment, photovoltaic and other technologies into a working whole. “Michael is an amazing systems designer,” she says. But Reynolds doesn’t dress or act the part of the serious architect and so isn’t always taken seriously, Crenshaw says. “He’s an innovator — people resist change,” she says. Crenshaw predicts that in an era of global warming and skyrocketing energy prices, “They’re all going to call him a rebel until the day they’re begging for it.”

Reynolds has lectured at various U.S. architecture schools through the years, and architecture students from Reynolds’ alma mater, the University of Cincinnati, have come to Taos to study with him. His work has also been written about in a number of textbooks and earlier this year was included in a Canadian Centre for Architecture exhibit on designs responding to the energy shortages of the 1970s. He has been invited to participate in a design project at the Bergen School of Architecture in Norway this fall.

From a distance, the Earthships at Greater World look like they’re afloat in a sea of sagebrush. Their windows glint in the sun, their roofs sloping back to humps that blend into the terrain. Reynolds shows the energy of a man 20 years younger as he walks briskly from room to room at the newest Earthship, nicknamed the Corner Cottage, inspecting the progress that has been made. Bearded, with wary green eyes, he delivers a rapid-fire monologue peppered with apocalyptic analogies. (In a scene from Garbage Warrior, he likens modern society to a herd of buffalo about to plunge off a 1,000-foot cliff.) He sometimes stays up at night worrying about how easily the systems that support our civilization could be disrupted by natural disasters or man-made catastrophes. Events like Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami underscore his concerns. “I don’t trust that the power and water and sewage is going to be available in the future,” he says.

At the Corner Cottage, half a dozen workmen with ponytails and dreadlocks pause at their work as Reynolds discusses with them what they would tackle next. The loss of his New Mexico architect’s license hasn’t hindered him much: There is no requirement that an architect be used to design residential housing as long as the plans are reviewed and stamped by an engineer or architect. He retains his general contractor’s license, and several members of his crew have architecture degrees.
Not that they need much direction. They have built most of the homes at Greater World (a total of 130 are planned), and many live here. They have mastered the art of pounding soil into tires with hand sledges and building walls from bottles and gobs of cement. They know how to craft ceilings with 12-inch vigas — peeled pine trunks harvested from nearby mountains — and how to trowel a smooth mud plaster flecked with bits of straw. Most of them are young enough to be his sons, but Reynolds regards them as his friends.

Just down the road, the sprawling 6,000-square-foot showpiece home he’s dubbed The Phoenix features a two-story greenhouse big enough to house a small fishpond, a gazebo and some citrus trees. Reynolds rents this place to overnight guests, who come from as far away as Japan to experience Earthship living for themselves. The Phoenix has been advertised for sale on the Internet for $1.5 million, which Reynolds admits is pricey, but he says this project is intentionally over the top, calculated to get wealthy and influential people interested. Meanwhile, he and his crew are building the prototype for an affordable three-bedroom, two-bath house that would suit the finances of ordinary homebuyers.

The Phoenix needs landscaping at the moment. There’s an unfinished bottle-and-cement wall meant to serve as an enclosure for goats and sheep, and piles of construction debris dot the periphery of the building site, parched in the desert sun. Inside, though, it’s a semitropical arboretum. The air is fragrant with the scent of growing things — bananas, grapes, corn, lemons, tangerines, oranges, tomatoes, amaranth, coconut palm and eggplant. All told, about 2,200 square feet of the structure are devoted to food production. “A family of four could live here, period, with nothing from the outside world,” Reynolds says as we stand in the greenhouse. In the kitchen, a super-insulated refrigerator runs on current from the photovoltaic system. The compressor is located on the top of the unit instead of the bottom so rising heat won’t work against the cooling system. The stove runs on bottled propane —Reynolds’ one concession to outside energy sources. He estimates that a standard 500-gallon propane tank will last for about three years, totaling $50 a year in energy costs.

Behind the living space is a long, narrow corridor, one wall of which is the towering stack of tires that give the building its thermal mass (there’s another three feet of compacted earth behind the tires, a barrier of rigid insulation and then several feet of mounded soil moved in with a backhoe). Transom openings in the rear of the rooms vent into this hallway, which has two vertical shafts leading up to large, movable skylights. With the tug of a rope, the counterweight-loaded covers can be raised, allowing warm air to escape. Outside, I follow Reynolds as he climbs onto the slope leading up to the building’s roof. Reynolds shows a V-shaped membrane that collects rainwater running off green sheet metal and directs it into twin drains leading to buried 3,000-gallon cisterns. He opens a cabinet housing the deep-cycle batteries that store power from the photovoltaic cells and another containing storage for biodiesel containers. “What we’re doing now is putting a small biodiesel plant, about the size of a washer, in each home,” he says. With five-gallon cans of cooking grease obtained from local restaurants, occupants can produce 25 gallons of bio-diesel a week and use it to supplement the rooftop solar collector that heats hot water for the kitchen and bath.

Reynolds calls my attention to a multicolored decoration along the roofline made from enameled sheet metal. The panels were harvested from washers, dryers and dishwashers at the local dump, he says. His workers have even salvaged heavy-duty trampoline springs to operate the skylights. “The dump is a gold mine; it really is,” he says. “We’re using products that our neighborhood produces, and they don’t require any fuel.” A large Earthship like this one might use 1,000 tires, Reynolds says, each of which takes seven gallons of oil to produce. A growing number of the roughly 290 million scrap tires generated in the U.S. each year are burned for fuel or ground up for road base and other uses, but about 27 million still wind up in dumps. “I’ve got a mountain of tires,” Reynolds says. “There are more tires than there are trees.” He acknowledges that an Earthship still requires new building materials, including lumber, glass, insulation, wire, cement and steel. But by comparison with conventional construction, he estimates, “I’d say we’ve reduced the materials to the tune of 50 percent.”

The Earthships at Greater World run the gamut from lovingly tended to rough and half finished. That partly reflects the limited finances of some of the DIY owners but also something of the founder’s outlook. Pat Habicht, who did the finish work on her Earthship, says that for Reynolds, who favors function over form, aesthetics are strictly of secondary interest. “He doesn’t care what the hell it looks like,” she says, laughing. Reynolds believes it’s unconscionable for an architect to focus on how a building looks with little or no regard to what effect it will have on the environment. “They’re still allowing architects to make these little monuments to themselves that cost $60 million,” he snorts. “That’s a big part of the reason I’ve called this Biotecture. I don’t think architecture is capable of coming around fast enough. I don’t want to be labeled that.”

Kirsten Jacobsen, Earthship Biotecture’s educational director, was a college student in San Francisco when she came out to Taos 14 years ago to do a research project on Reynolds. “I thought it was great that people living in houses like these were making an impact just by getting up and reading a book,” she says. She wound up becoming part of his tribe, spending the next four years on a construction crew. She moved on to help run the Greater World visitor center, and now she serves as Reynolds’ right hand and air-traffic controller, keeping track of his commitments from the Earthship Biotecture office, a ramshackle structure with a dome on top. Jacobsen tells me it took her eight years to build her own 1,300-square-foot home in Greater World. While people simply live in a conventional house, she says, Earthship owners have to live with their houses. Jacobsen says maintaining the heating, cooling and water systems in her two-bedroom home doesn’t require much time; it’s mostly a matter of raising and lowering the shades and opening and closing the skylights. She estimates that she spends an hour every few months cleaning out water filters. “In the U.S., these ideas exist on the fringe of ‘green buildings,’” she says. “We’re not saying this is for everyone. We’re just saying this is a direction you ought to investigate.”

Tony Marvin, a longtime Taos resident who has renovated old adobe houses in town, bought a two-bedroom, 1,700-square-foot Earthship in Greater World two and a half years ago with his girlfriend. “It’s absolutely a stunning home,” he says. “There was actually nothing this beautiful at this price in Taos — not even close.” There was “a learning curve” in mastering the building’s water and electrical systems, Marvin says, but they work well. “One of the happiest days of my life was when I went to the gas utility and the electrical utility and said, ‘I want my accounts disconnected,’” he says. Serenity and self-sufficiency may be his goal, but Reynolds these days seems to be in perpetual motion, juggling international phone calls and supervising construction projects while finding time to draft floor plans and add to his collection of writings. His cluttered office at Greater World is strewn with blueprints and site renderings, the walls covered with large calendars mapping out his travel for the next six months.

He acknowledges the house-afire urgency, recounting a recent phone consult with a couple so worried about climate change that they told him, “We just need to get in a house that’s going to take care of us — now.” Reynolds warns there isn’t much time. “I knew that things were going down the tubes, and it was going to take a long time for people to get desperate enough to make these changes,” he says. “We extended ourselves out there for a long time, and nobody cared. Now that they see the icebergs melting, everybody cares.”

HYPOXIA
http://www.ncddc.noaa.gov/website/Hypoxia/viewer.htm
http://www.ncddc.noaa.gov/activities/gulf-hypoxia-stakeholders


concentrations of phytoplankton, the algal blooms that contribute to dead zones / photo: NASA

as in ‘HOW BIG is the DEAD ZONE this YEAR?’
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fertilizer-runoff-overwhelms-streams
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=oceanic-dead-zones-spread
http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/stories/2010/06/28/daily24.html
Gulf ‘dead zone’ to be larger than average / June 30, 2010

The Gulf oil spill isn’t the only foreign substance that concerns ecologists who monitor the region. University of Michigan aquatic researcher Donald Scavia and his colleagues say this year’s Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” is expected to be larger than average. The 2010 forecast, released this week by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicts that the dead zone could measure between 6,500 and 7,800 square miles, equivalent to the size of Lake Ontario. Even at the low end of the range, the size of this year’s dead zone would be the 10th-largest on record. The average size during the past five years was about 6,000 square miles. The Gulf dead zone forms each spring and summer off the Louisiana and Texas coasts when oxygen levels drop too low to support most life in bottom and near-bottom waters. Farmland runoff containing fertilizers and livestock waste is the main source of the nitrogen and phosphorus that fuel the growth of algae blooms, that, in turn, create the dead zone. Scavia says it is unclear at this point what impact the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will have on the size of this year’s dead zone. If sufficient oil reaches the area typically subject to summer hypoxia, the size of this summer’s Gulf dead zone could increase for two reasons: microbial breakdown of oil — which consumes oxygen — and the oil’s potential to reduce diffusion of oxygen from the air into the water, the process that normally replenishes oxygen levels in the water column, Scavia said. The five largest Gulf dead zones on record have occurred since 2001. The biggest occurred in 2002 and measured 8,484 square miles. The official size of the 2010 Gulf dead zone will be announced following a NOAA-supported monitoring survey led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium being held from July 24 through Aug. 2.

GROSS, STOP THAT
http://www.livescience.com/environment/080814-oceans-oxygen.html
Oceans Running Low on Oxygen
by Andrea Thompson / 14 August 2008

Parts of the world’s oceans are running low on oxygen, a new study finds. Fertilizers and other chemical pollutants in river runoff fuel blooms of algae that cause oxygen levels to dip precipitously when they die. A review of research into these so-called “dead zones,” detailed in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science, finds that the number of dead zones has roughly doubled every decade since the 1960’s. The study authors, Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Rutger Rosenberg of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, tallied 405 dead zones in coastal waters worldwide today, affecting about 95,000 square miles (245,000 square kilometers) of ocean, an area about the size of New Zealand. While that may seem small compared to the total coverage of the oceans, the local effects can be devastating to marine ecosystems. These dead zones occur when fertilizer runoff dumps excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, into coastal waters, providing food for algae. When these microscopic plants die and sink to the ocean bottom, bacteria feed on them and subsequently consume all the oxygen dissolved in the water. This leaves fish and other bottom-dwelling sea creatures without enough oxygen to survive, causing mass die-offs and displacements. Typically, the researchers noted, these events aren’t noticed until they threaten valuable fish stocks. The world’s largest dead zone is in the Baltic Sea. The largest dead zone in the United States sits in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River and is about the size of New Jersey. Scientists have predicted that the Gulf dead zone could grow larger than ever this summer. Diaz and Rosenburg said that dead zones now rank as one of “the key stressor[s] on marine ecosystems,” along with over-fishing and habitat loss. “There is no other variable of such ecological importance to coastal marine systems that has changed so drastically over such a short time as dissolved oxygen,” they wrote. With the possibility that climate change could exacerbate the situation through changes in ocean circulation, Diaz and Rosenburg recommend cutting back the amount of nitrogen-rich fertilizer that runs off into rivers.

FISH in WRONG PLACES
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/30/biologists-find-oil-spill-deadzones
Biologists find ‘dead zones’ around BP oil spill in Gulf
by Suzanne Goldenberg / 30 June 2010

Scientists are confronting growing evidence that BP’s ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico is creating oxygen-depleted “dead zones” where fish and other marine life cannot survive. In two separate research voyages, independent scientists have detected what were described as “astonishingly high” levels of methane, or natural gas, bubbling from the well site, setting off a chain of reactions that suck the oxygen out of the water. In some cases, methane concentrations are 100,000 times normal levels. Other scientists as well as sport fishermen are reporting unusual movements of fish, shrimp, crab and other marine life, including increased shark sightings closer to the Alabama coast. Larry Crowder, a marine biologist at Duke University, said there were already signs that fish were being driven from their habitat. “The animals are already voting with their fins to get away from where the oil spill is and where potentially there is oxygen depletion,” he said. “When you begin to see animals changing their distribution that is telling you about the quality of water further offshore. Basically, the fish are moving closer to shore to try to get to better water.”

Such sightings – and an accumulation of data from the site of the ruptured well and from the ocean depths miles away – have deepened concerns that the enormity of the environmental disaster in the Gulf has yet to be fully understood. It could also jeopardise the Gulf’s billion-dollar fishing and shrimping industry. In a conference call with reporters, Samantha Joye, a scientist at the University of Georgia who has been studying the effects of the spill at depth, said the ruptured well was producing up to 50% as much methane and other gases as oil. The finding presents a new challenge to scientists who so far have been focused on studying the effects on the Gulf of crude oil, and the 5.7m litres of chemical dispersants used to break up the slick. Joye said her preliminary findings suggested the high volume of methane coming out of the well could upset the ocean food chain. Such high concentrations, it is feared, would trigger the growth of microbes, which break up the methane, but also gobble up oxygen needed by marine life to survive, driving out other living things.

Joye said the methane was settling in a 200-metre layer of the water column, between depths of 1,000 to 1,300 metres in concentrations that were already threatening oxygen levels. “That water can go completely anoxic [extremely low oxygen] and that is a pretty serious situation for any oxygen-requiring organism. We haven’t seen zero-oxygen water but there is certainly enough gas in the water to draw oxygen down to zero,” she said. “It could wreak havoc with those communities that require oxygen,” Joye said, wiping out plankton and other organisms at the bottom of the food chain. A Texas A&M University oceanographer issued a similar warning last week on his return from a 10-day research voyage in the Gulf. John Kessler recorded “astonishingly high” methane levels in surface and deep water within a five-mile radius of the ruptured well. His team also recorded 30% depletion of oxygen in some locations. Even without the gusher, the Gulf was afflicted by 6,000 to 7,000 square miles of dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi river, caused by run-off from animal waste and farm fertiliser. The run-off sets off a chain reaction. Algae bloom and quickly die, and are eaten up by microbes that also consume oxygen needed by marine life. But the huge quantities of methane, or natural gas, being released from the well in addition to crude presents an entirely new danger to marine life and to the Gulf’s lucrative fishing and shrimping industry. “Things are changing, and what impacts there are on the food web are not going to be clear until we go out and measure that,” said Joye.

METHANE BUBBLE CAUSED RIG EXPLOSION
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/08/deepwater-horizon-blast-methane-bubble
Deepwater Horizon blast triggered by methane bubble, report shows
by David Batty / 8 May 2010
The deadly blast on board the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was triggered by a bubble of methane gas, an investigation by BP has revealed.

A report into last month’s blast said the gas escaped from the oil well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding. The sequence of events, described in the interviews with rig workers, provides the most detailed account of the blast that killed 11 workers and led to more than 3m gallons of crude oil pouring into the Gulf. Segments of the interviews conducted during BP’s internal investigation were described in detail to the Associated Press by Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor who serves on a National Academy of Engineering panel on oil pipeline safety. He also worked for BP as a risk assessment consultant during the 1990s. He received the details from industry friends seeking his expert opinion. The revelations came as a giant funnel was lowered over the oil well in a bid to contain oil leaking from it. BP said it may take up to 12 hours for the 98-ton, steel and concrete containment device to settle in place almost a mile (1.6km) below the surface. The company added that the operation appeared to be going as planned. If the procedure is successful, the device will hoover up 85% of the oil gushing from the ocean floor and pipe it into a tanker. But BP admits it is unclear whether its efforts will work. No containment box, or cofferdam, has ever been deployed at such depths and the operation is threatened by frigid ocean temperatures and the immense pressures. Meanwhile, crews have begun to drill a relief well, but that could take months. The outcome of the efforts to contain the oil could be critical to the future of offshore drilling in America. The Obama administration yesterday suspended new drilling in Alaska and Virginia. BP faces an equally daunting challenge to contain the political and financial fallout from the spill. Washington has kept up the pressure on the oil giant, a move seen in part as a tactic to divert criticism of its own role in the disaster. Recent news reports have suggested the interior department exercised lax oversight in approving BP’s operations in the Gulf, accepting too readily the company’s claims that there was little risk of an accident.

METHANE SEEP ECOSYSTEMS and YOU
http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.marine.010908.163912
http://people.whitman.edu/~yancey/califseeps.html
http://ocean.tamu.edu/Quarterdeck/QD5.3/macdonald.html
http://www.science.psu.edu/news-and-events/1997-news/iceworms.htm
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/02/000203075002.htm
http://www.livescience.com/environment/080318-biofuel-dead-zone.html
http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65L6IA20100622
Methane in Gulf “astonishingly high”: U.S. scientist
by Julie Steenhuysen / Jun 22 2010

As much as 1 million times the normal level of methane gas has been found in some regions near the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, enough to potentially deplete oxygen and create a dead zone, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday. Texas A&M University oceanography professor John Kessler, just back from a 10-day research expedition near the BP Plc oil spill in the gulf, says methane gas levels in some areas are “astonishingly high.” Kessler’s crew took measurements of both surface and deep water within a 5-mile (8 kilometer) radius of BP’s broken wellhead. “There is an incredible amount of methane in there,” Kessler told reporters in a telephone briefing. In some areas, the crew of 12 scientists found concentrations that were 100,000 times higher than normal. “We saw them approach a million times above background concentrations” in some areas, Kessler said. The scientists were looking for signs that the methane gas had depleted levels of oxygen dissolved in the water needed to sustain marine life. “At some locations, we saw depletions of up to 30 percent of oxygen based on its natural concentration in the waters. At other places, we saw no depletion of oxygen in the waters. We need to determine why that is,” he told the briefing. Methane occurs naturally in sea water, but high concentrations can encourage the growth of microbes that gobble up oxygen needed by marine life. Kessler said oxygen depletions have not reached a critical level yet, but the oil is still spilling into the Gulf, now at a rate of as much as 60,000 barrels a day, according to U.S. government estimates. “What is it going to look like two months down the road, six months down the road, two years down the road?” he asked. Methane, a natural gas, dissolves in seawater and some scientists think measuring methane could give a more accurate picture of the extent of the oil spill. Kessler said his team has taken those measurements, and is hoping to have an estimate soon. “Give us about a week and we should have some preliminary numbers on that,” he said.

POLLUTION vs POLLUTION : ADD MORE FERTILIZER?
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18971-bacteria-help-to-clean-up-deepwater-horizon-spill.html
Bacteria help to clean up Deepwater Horizon spill
by Debora MacKenzie / 27 May 2010

Zoom in on the Deepwater Horizon oil slick and you will find a motley community of critters hard at work breaking down the oil: bacteria. At the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego, California, this week, Jay Grimes of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg reported that over the past few years, researchers have found that dozens of different kinds of marine bacteria have a healthy appetite for oil. He said that water samples from the Gulf of Mexico are showing signs that marine bacteria are already pitching in to help with clean-up efforts, and that populations of these bacteria in this area are likely to boom as they feast on the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Among these are members of the Vibrio family, which includes the species that causes cholera. Grimes cautions that there is no evidence that this species is one of those that breaks down oil, although other Vibrios that cause human infections do. “The Vibrios use breakdown products of oil,” says Rita Colwell of the University of Maryland in College Park. “When [the oil from Deepwater Horizon] reaches the estuary, Vibrios very likely will increase.”

Feasting bacteria
Colwell says that the greatest risk of bacterial infection in the Gulf comes from Vibrio fish pathogens and other species that commonly infect shellfish. Some of these can cause disease in humans. Grimes’s research department had the only research vessel, the R/V Pelican, on the scene until BP sent one in this week. It brought back samples of oil droplets that already had Vibrios clustered around them. Low oxygen levels were also detected near patches of oil, a sign that bacteria are feasting. Crucially, R/V Pelican happened to be in the area when Deepwater Horizon blew up. That means the team could immediately collect water samples to test for bacterial populations from areas that were threatened by the spill but had not yet been contaminated. The work is on-going and will be vital in future studies of how the spill has changed local ecosystems. “Now we plan to see how the microbial community evolves when you give it oil,” says Grimes. He hopes to screen bacteria from oil-affected water for the DNA of oil-eating enzymes, and use this to determine their species. “This blowout could permanently reshuffle the microbial community in the Gulf,” Grimes says. In previous research he found that Vibrio became the dominant type of marine bacteria off the south-eastern US as oil tanker traffic increased after the 1970s.

Long-term threat
For now the oil mainly threatens larval fish clinging to the underside of mats of seaweed. “I hope most of the oil will stay out to sea,” says Grimes. “It may kill a year’s production of fish, but if it hits the coastal marshes, it could be there for a decade.” At particular risk are coastal salt marshes. Ultimately, the tiny bacteria which Grimes and his colleagues are poring over will finish the Deepwater clean-up operation. Speaking at the San Diego meeting, Ron Atlas of the University of Louisville, Kentucky, said that the oil-eating microbes already present in seawater will be enough to get rid of any oil that is not physically removed by the clean-up crews – except for insoluble, tarry material that poses little toxic risk. Atlas, who managed the “bioremediation” of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, says the bacterial process will be helped if fertiliser is added to the water, as then the oil-eaters will have the nitrogen and phosphate they need to grow. Fertiliser has already been used to aid the bacterial breakdown of oil that has hit the shore, but it could also help bacteria in the open sea if it is added to the detergents that are being used to disperse the oil. The fertiliser lodges in the surface of the oil droplets created by the detergents, he says – right where the bacteria can use them.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa growing on agar. The ‘NY3’ strain can help degrade polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), one of the most harmful contaminants in oil spills.

GROW yr OWN
http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2010/jun/new-strain-bacteria-discovered-could-aid-oil-spill-other-environmental-cleanup
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100611141527.htm
New Strain Of Bacteria Could Aid Oil Spill Cleanup / Jun 15, 2010

Researchers have discovered a new strain of bacteria that can produce non-toxic, comparatively inexpensive “rhamnolipids,” and effectively help degrade polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs – environmental pollutants that are one of the most harmful aspects of oil spills. Because of its unique characteristics, this new bacterial strain could be of considerable value in the long-term cleanup of the massive Gulf Coast oil spill, scientists say. More research to further reduce costs and scale up production would be needed before its commercial use, they added. The findings on this new bacterial strain that degrades the PAHs in oil and other hydrocarbons were just published in a professional journal, Biotechnology Advances, by researchers from Oregon State University and two collaborating universities in China. OSU is filing for a patent on the discovery. “PAHs are a widespread group of toxic, carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds, but also one of the biggest concerns about oil spills,” said Xihou Yin, a research assistant professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy. “Some of the most toxic aspects of oil to fish, wildlife and humans are from PAHs,” Yin said. “They can cause cancer, suppress immune system function, cause reproductive problems, nervous system effects and other health issues. This particular strain of bacteria appears to break up and degrade PAHs better than other approaches we have available.”

The discovery is strain “NY3” of a common bacteria that has been known of for decades, called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. It was isolated from a site in Shaanxi Province in China, where soils had been contaminated by oil. P. aeruginosa is widespread in the environment and can cause serious infections, but usually in people with health problems or compromised immune systems. However, some strains also have useful properties, including the ability to produce a group of “biosurfactants” called rhamnolipids. A “surfactant,” technically, is a type of wetting agent that lowers surface tension between liquids – but we recognize surfactants more commonly in such products as dishwashing detergent or shampoo. Biosurfactants are produced by living cells such as bacteria, fungi and yeast, and are generally non-toxic, environmentally benign and biodegradable. By comparison, chemical surfactants, which are usually derived from petroleum, are commonly toxic to health and ecosystems, and resist complete degradation.

Biosurfactants of various types are already used in a wide range of applications, from food processing to productions of paints, cosmetics, household products and pharmaceuticals. But they also have uses in decontamination of water and soils, with abilities to degrade such toxic compounds as heavy metals, carcinogenic pesticides and hydrocarbons. Although the type of biosurfactant called “rhamnolipids” have been used for many years, the newly discovered strain, NY3, stands out for some important reasons. Researchers said in the new study that it has an “extraordinary capacity” to produce rhamnolipids that could help break down oil, and then degrade some of its most serious toxic compounds, the PAHs.

Rhamnolipids are not toxic to microbial flora, human beings and animals, and they are completely biodegradable. These are compelling advantages over their synthetic chemical counterparts made from petroleum. Even at a very low concentration, rhamnolipids could remarkably increase the mobility, solubility and bioavailability of PAHs, and strain NY3 of P. aeruginosa has a strong capability of then degrading and decontaminating the PAHs. “The real bottleneck to replacing synthetic chemicals with biosurfactants like rhamnolipid is the high cost of production,” Yin said. “Most of the strains of P. aeruginosa now being used have a low yield of rhamnolipid. But strain NY3 has been optimized to produce a very high yield of 12 grams per liter, from initial production levels of 20 milligrams per liter.” By using low-cost sources of carbon or genetic engineering techniques, it may be possible to reduce costs even further and scale up production at very cost-effective levels, researchers said.

The rhamnolipids produced by NY3 strain appear to be stable in a wide range of temperature, pH and salinity conditions, and strain NY3 aggressively and efficiently degrades at least five PAH compounds of concern, the study showed. It’s easy to grow and cultivate in many routine laboratory media, and might be available for commercial use in a fairly short time. Further support to develop the technology is going to be sought from the National Science Foundation. “Compared to their chemically synthesized counterparts, microbial surfactants show great potential for useful activity with less environmental risk,” the researchers wrote in their report. “The search for safe and efficient methods to remove environmental pollutants is a major impetus in the search for novel biosurfactant-producing and PAH-degrading microorganisms.”

CONTACT
Xihou Yin
http://pharmacy.oregonstate.edu/faculty-staff/directory/xihou-yin
email : xihou.yin [at] oregonstate [dot] edu

INDUSTRY
http://www.biopetroclean.com/index.php/solutions/bpc-solutions-to-the-oil-spill-in-the-gulf-of-mexico
What can BPC do to help fight the environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico? / May 2010

Oily water remediation (on-shore)
“Assuming the upper layer of the oil spill is collected and pumped on-shore for oil-water separation, BPC will plan and execute the complete cleaning process of the oily water. Following a preliminary physical separation, BPC can utilize its technology for rapid remediation of oily contaminants (both dissolved and emulsified oils). The pumped water can be treated in large tanks or basins that will be converted into bioreactors by BPC’s professionals in a matter of days.

This type of implementation will enable a semi-continuous or continuous treatment process, reduce the footprint of the treatment infrastructure and vastly increase its capacity. In addition, the treatment process uses a bacterial cocktail that contains only naturally-occurring bacteria specifically tailored for the cleaning of this type of contaminated water and features a control unit to monitor and automate the entire process. One of BPC’s control units is currently available in Freeport, Texas and can be shipped to the cleaning site in a matter of days. The bacterial cultivation can be performed on-site by BPC’s personnel contemporaneously with the preparation of the infrastructure. We estimate the set-up will take no longer than 2 weeks. BPC’s modular solution can be rapidly implemented and will provide immediate and positive impact.

On-site soil remediation
BPC’s bioremediation technology is also applicable for on-site remediation of oil and sand contaminated with oil. The process involves adding a bacterial cocktail of naturally occurring bacteria and a mixture of nutrients that will efficiently lower the contamination to safe levels, with visible results in a matter of weeks. Furthermore, the water treatment process described above can enhance the soil bioremediation process. This involves discharging the biologically treated water on the nearby contaminated soil or sand to provide a continuous feed of oil-consuming bacteria. The soil remediation process can be designed and executed in parallel or separately from the water cleaning process. One of BPC’s systems is currently available in Freeport, Texas and can be delivered to the site within days.

Oily water remediation (off-shore)
BPC’s innovative technology can be effectively used for off-shore remediation of contaminated sea water. BPC can introduce a mixture of bacteria and hydrophobic nutrients that have high affinity and are capable of degrading oil molecules. This will allow for efficient treatment at sea and partially overcomes the problematic effect of high dilution.

Quick and easy implementation
BPC can transform any tank or basin available along the coast line into a bioreactor. Furthermore, BPC has one of its skid-mounted control units currently available in Freeport, Texas, which will allow for its delivery and deployment within days.

Simple operation
BPC’s biological process is monitored and controlled by an automated control unit which allows for straightforward operation and eliminates the need for additional manpower.

Field-proven technology
BPC’s technology was developed by world-renowned Prof. Eugene Rosenberg, a pioneer in the field of microbial ecology and bioremediation processes. BPC’s technology has been implemented in various projects around the world for treating oily water and contaminated soil. With its local distributor in North America, BPC can deploy its technology and provide its treatment solutions rapidly.

High-capacity capability
Considering the large volumes of contaminated water that must be treated, BPC suggests implementing its technology in a continuous or semi-continuous mode with low-residence time. This will allow for continuous discharge of treated water back into the Gulf of Mexico and free up storage space for more contaminated water to be treated.

Wide-scale deployment
As the spill gradually spreads through the Gulf of Mexico, the need for several cleaning stations in strategic positions along the coast is inevitable. BPC’s experts can build and operate several cleaning stations in parallel or act as advisors for third parties that wish to implement the BPC technology.”


Chemosynthetic Community Locations in the Gulf of Mexico

OIL EATERS [THIS HAS COME UP BEFORE]
http://www.gomr.mms.gov/homepg/regulate/environ/chemo/chemo.html
http://www.gomr.mms.gov/homepg/regulate/environ/chemo/chemo_locations.html
http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/06/22/science/20100622cold.html
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v317/n6035/full/317351a0.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/22/science/22cool.html
Cold, Dark and Teeming With Life
by William J. Broad / June 21, 2010

The deep seabed was once considered a biological desert. Life, the logic went, was synonymous with light and photosynthesis. The sun powered the planet’s food chains, and only a few scavengers could ply the preternaturally dark abyss. Then, in 1977, oceanographers working in the deep Pacific stumbled on bizarre ecosystems lush with clams, mussels and big tube worms — a cornucopia of abyssal life built on microbes that thrived in hot, mineral-rich waters welling up from volcanic cracks, feeding on the chemicals that leached into the seawater and serving as the basis for whole chains of life that got along just fine without sunlight. In 1984, scientists found that the heat was not necessary. In exploring the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, they discovered sunless habitats powered by a new form of nourishment. The microbes that founded the food chain lived not on hot minerals but on cold petrochemicals seeping up from the icy seabed.

Today, scientists have identified roughly one hundred sites in the gulf where cold-seep communities of clams, mussels and tube worms flourish in the sunless depths. And they have accumulated evidence of many more — hundreds by some estimates, thousands by others — most especially in the gulf’s deep, unexplored waters. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there were 2,000 communities, from suburbs to cities,” said Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University who studies the dark ecosystems. The world’s richest known concentration of these remarkable communities is in the Gulf of Mexico. The life forms include tube worms up to eight feet long. Some of the creatures appear old enough, scientists say, to predate the arrival of Columbus in the New World.

Now, by horrific accident, these cold communities have become the subject of a quiet debate among scientists. The gulf is, of course, the site of the giant oil spill that began April 20 with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drill rig. The question is what the oil pouring into the gulf means for these deep, dark habitats. Seep researchers have voiced strong concern about the threat to the dark ecosystems. The spill is a concentrated surge, they note, in contrast to the slow, diffuse, chronic seepage of petrochemicals across much of the gulf’s northern slope. Many factors, like the density of oil in undersea plumes, the size of resulting oxygen drops and the potential toxicity of oil dispersants — all unknowns — could grow into threats that outweigh any possible benefits and damage or even destroy the dark ecosystems.

Last year, scientists discovered a community roughly five miles from where the BP well, a mile deep, subsequently blew out. Its inhabitants include mussels and tube worms. So it seems that researchers will have some answers sooner rather than later. “There’s lots of uncertainty,” said Charles R. Fisher, a professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, who is leading a federal study of the dark habitats and who observed the nearby community. “Our best hope is that the impact is neutral or a minor problem.” A few scientists say the gushing oil — despite its clear harm to pelicans, turtles and other forms of coastal life — might ultimately represent a subtle boon to the creatures of the cold seeps and even to the wider food chain. “The gulf is such a great fishery because it’s fed organic matter from oil,” said Roger Sassen, a specialist on the cold seeps who recently retired from Texas A&M University. “It’s preadapted to crude oil. The image of this spill being a complete disaster is not true.” His stance seems to be a minority view.

Over roughly two decades, the federal government has spent at least $30 million uncovering and investigating the creatures of the cold seeps, a fair amount of money for basic ocean research. Washington has provided this money in an effort to ensure that oil development does no harm to the unusual ecosystems. Now, the nation’s worst oil spill at sea — with tens of millions of gallons spewing to date — has thrown that goal into doubt. The agency behind the exploration and surveying of the cold seeps is none other than the much-criticized Minerals Management Service of the Department of the Interior — not its oil regulators but a separate environmental arm, which long ago began hiring oceanographers, geologists, ecologists and marine biologists to investigate the gulf seabed and eventually pushed through regulations meant to protect the newly discovered ecosystems.

The minerals service is joining with other federal agencies to study whether the BP spill is harming the dark habitats. Scientists say ships may go to sea as soon as July, sending tethered robots down to the icy seabed to examine the seep communities and take samples for analysis. It is a bittersweet moment for scientists like Dr. MacDonald of Florida State University, who has devoted his career to documenting the ecosystem’s richness and complexity. In an interview, he said the sheer difficulty of trying to fathom the ecological impacts of the spill had left some of his colleagues dejected. “Once, we had this career studying obscure animals down there,” he said. “And now, it’s looking at this — probably for the rest of my career. It becomes this huge unknown.”

Inky darkness, icy temperatures and crushing pressures conspire to make studying the deep oceans arduous and remarkably costly. Humans are estimated to have glimpsed perhaps a millionth of the ocean floor. By contrast, people looking at the surface of the gulf have known about the seeping oil for centuries. Spanish records dating from the 16th century note floating oil. In the early 1980s, scientists investigating the oil seeps wondered if nearby creatures on the seabed might suffer chronic harm from pollution and serve as models for petrochemical risk. They lowered nets about a half mile down and pulled up, to their surprise, riots of healthy animals. “We report the discovery of dense biological communities associated with regions of oil and gas seepage,” six oceanographers at Texas A&M wrote in the journal Nature in September 1985.

The animals included snails, crabs, eels, clams and tube worms more than six feet long. The founding microbes of the food chain turned out to feed on seabed emissions of methane and hydrogen sulfide — a highly toxic chemical for land animals that has the odor of rotten eggs. Plants derive energy from sunlight and make living tissue in a process known as photosynthesis. The corresponding method among the microbes of the dark abyss is known as chemosynthesis. The minerals service proceeded to finance wide expeditions. It issued thick reports in 1988, 1992 and 2002. By then, scientists had discovered dozens of seep communities and found some of their inhabitants to be extraordinarily old. In the journal Nature, Dr. Fisher of Pennsylvania State University and two colleagues reported that gulf tube worms could live more than 250 years — making them among the oldest animals on the planet.

The latest expeditions have looked at seep communities as deep as 1.7 miles — far down the continental slope toward the gulf’s nether regions. In an interview, Dr. Fisher said investigations of the deeper communities suggested that tube worm species there grew slower and lived longer. How long? “It’s likely they can live a lot longer,” he answered. “I’m uncomfortable with an exact number, but we’re talking centuries — four, five or six centuries.” Over the years, scientists have found that the deep microbes not only eat exotic chemicals but also make carbonate (a building block of seashells) that forms a hard crust on the normally gooey seabed. The carbonate crusts can grow thick enough, they say, to reduce the flow of gas and oil through the seep communities and form attachment points for a variety of other sea creatures, especially deep corals and other filter feeders like brittle stars.

By probing the gulf’s deep waters with sound and other imaging technologies, scientists have found evidence for the existence on the northern continental slope of roughly 8,000 regions of hard crust — all, they say, potentially home to old or new seep communities. On its Web site, the minerals service freely admits “a management conflict” between encouraging oil development and protecting the dark ecosystems. It issued regulations in 1989 and has periodically toughened the rules, most recently in January. Now, in the wake of the oil disaster, many seep researchers have voiced strong concern about the threat to the dark ecosystems. Dr. Fisher said that thick oil could coat the respiratory structures of the animals and cause them to suffocate, and that high concentrations might otherwise prove toxic.

Samantha B. Joye, a cold-seep scientist at the University of Georgia, told a House science subcommittee on June 9 that the BP blowout represented “an unprecedented perturbation to the Gulf of Mexico system.” She expressed particular concern about the dispersants that BP is injecting a mile down into the spewing oil — in a largely successful effort to reduce the flow reaching the surface. Dr. Joye said the surge of oil into subsurface waters could feed microbes that consume oxygen. If their numbers explode, she said, the result could be a spike in oxygen consumption so large that its deep levels drop precipitously. The dark ecosystems, she noted, “can tolerate reduced oxygen concentrations.” But she cautioned that the BP spill will challenge their tolerance “beyond any previous insult.”

Now, oceanographers are preparing to dive deep to see how the dark communities are holding up. The lessons for oil precautions and regulatory care, they say, could have application not only for creatures in the inky depths of the Gulf of Mexico but also around the world. “Everywhere they looked, they’ve found them,” said Norman L. Guinasso Jr., director of Geochemical and Environmental Research at Texas A&M. He cited discoveries of seep communities off Angola, Indonesia and Trinidad. In exploring the gulf, Dr. Guinasso said, scientists are struggling to fathom the strengths and vulnerabilities of some of the planet’s oldest and most novel creatures. “People,” he said, “are still learning.”

CHARTER CITIES
http://www.chartercities.org/concept
http://www.chartercities.org/resources
http://www.chartercities.org/blog
http://www.chartercities.org/faq

THIS FIRST:
CRUCIBLES for INNOVATION
http://www.uscharterschools.org/cs/r/query/q/1558?x-title=New+Non-Federal+Research+and+Reports
Top 10 Charter Communities by Market Share
http://www.publiccharters.org/files/publications/MarketShare_P4.pdf
Equity Overlooked: Charter Schools and Civil Rights Policy
http://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/deseg/equity-overlooked-report-2009.pdf
Center for Education Reform’s 2009 Accountability Report
http://www.edreform.com/download/CER_2009_AR_Charter_Schools.pdf
Teacher Cooperatives
http://www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/Teacher_Cooperatives.html

EXPERIMENTAL CITY-STATE, AVAILABLE for LONG LEASE, WILL BUILD to SUIT

PREVIOUSLY on SPECTRE : WILL to POWER
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6990034.stm
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2007/07/21/if-only-he-would-apply-himself/
Kids in Guinea Study Under Airport Lamps / by Rukmini Callimachi

The sun has set in one of the world’s poorest nations and as the floodlights come on at G’bessi International Airport, the parking lot begins filling with children. The long stretch of pavement has the feel of a hushed library, each student sitting quietly, some moving their lips as their eyes traverse their French-language notes. It’s exam season in Guinea, ranked 160th out of 177 countries on the United Nations’ development index, and schoolchildren flock to the airport every night because it’s among the only places where they’ll always find the lights on. Groups of elementary and high school students begin heading to the airport at dusk, hoping to reserve a coveted spot under the oval light cast by one of a dozen lampposts in the parking lot. Some come from over an hour’s walk away. The lot is teeming with girls and boys by the time Air France Flight 767 rounds the Gulf of Guinea at an hour-and-a-half before midnight. They hardly look up from their notes as the Boeing jet begins its spiraling descent over the dark city, or as the newly arrived passengers come out, shoving luggage carts over the cracked pavement. “I used to study by candlelight at home but that hurt my eyes. So I prefer to come here. We’re used to it,” says 18-year-old Mohamed Sharif, who sat under the fluorescent beam memorizing notes on the terrain of Mongolia for the geography portion of his college entrance test.

Only about a fifth of Guinea’s 10 million people have access to electricity and even those that do experience frequent power cuts. With few families able to afford generators, students long ago discovered the airport. Parents require girls to be chaperoned to the airport by an older brother or a trusted male friend. Even young children are allowed to stay out late under the fluorescent bulbs, so long as they return in groups. “My parents don’t worry about me because they know I’m here to seek my future,” says 10-year-old Ali Mara, busy studying a diagram of the cephalothorax, the body of an insect. They sit by age group with 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds on a curb in a traffic island and teenagers on the concrete pilings flanking the national and international terminals. There are few cars to disturb their studies. Most are working on memorizing their notes, struggling to commit to memory entire paragraphs dictated by their teachers on the history of Marxism, or the unraveling of colonial Africa, or the geology of Siberia. Tests are largely feats of memorization, a relic from Guinea’s French colonial rulers. According to U.N. data, the average Guinean consumes 89 kilowatt-hours per year – the equivalent to keeping a 60-watt light bulb burning for two months – while the typical American burns up about 158 times that much. The students at the airport consider themselves lucky. Those living farther away study at gas stations and come home smelling of gasoline. Others sit on the curbs outside the homes of affluent families, picking up the crumbs of light falling out of their illuminated living rooms. “We have an edge because we live near the airport,” says 22-year-old Ismael Diallo, a university student.

It’s an edge in preparing for an exam in a country where unemployment is rampant, inflation has pushed the price of a large bag of rice to $30 and a typical government functionary earns around $60 a month. The lack of electricity is “a geological scandal,” says Michael McGovern, a political anthropologist at Yale University, quoting a phrase first used by a colonial administrator to describe Guinea’s untapped natural wealth. The Oregon-sized territory has rivers which if properly harnessed could electrify the region, McGovern says. It has gold, diamonds, iron and half the world’s reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum. For 23 years, the former French colony has been under the grip of Lansana Conte, a reclusive and temperamental army general who grabbed the presidency in a 1984 coup. Suffering from a heart ailment, Conte has repeatedly traveled abroad for medical treatment. Mass demonstrations earlier this year called for his resignation because of his health and the deteriorating economy, but he instead declared martial law. Eighteen-year-old Ousman Conde admits that sitting on the concrete piling is not comfortable, but says passing his upcoming exam could open doors. “It hurts,” he says, looking up from his notes on Karl Marx for the politics portion of the test. “But we prefer this hurt to the hurt of not doing well in our exams.”


the HONG KONG MODEL
http://www.newsweek.com/blogs/wealth-of-nations/2009/08/12/the-best-development-plan-in-the-world-originated-with-the-british-empire.html
The Best Development Plan in the World Originated With…the British Empire?

The secret to turning a poor nation into a rich one can’t be found in a World Bank report. It wasn’t hatched in the corridors of the International Monetary Fund, either. It came from the British Empire. That is one way, at least, of interpreting Stanford economist Paul Romer’s new plan for turning economically backward countries like Cuba into engines of growth like China. Experts have long known that the traditional tools of development don’t work: free trade, foreign investment, and charity have failed as many countries as they’ve helped. The rot in a dysfunctional country is at its core—in the laws, institutions, and informal rules that govern daily life.

How to fix a problem so fundamental? Let a rich country take over part of a poor one. The hope, says Romer, is that the superior norms of the developed country will take root abroad. He calls his plan Charter Cities and illustrates it with a thought experiment. Imagine if the U.S. closes its prison at Guantánamo Bay and hands the land over to Canada, which agrees to develop it. “A new city blossoms,” writes Romer.

It does for Cuba what Hong Kong, administered by the British, did for China; it connects Cuba to the global economy. To help the city flourish, the Canadians encourage immigration. It is a place with Canadian judges and Mounties that happily accepts millions of immigrants. Some of the new residents could be Cuban émigrés who return from North America. Others might be Haitians who come work in garment factories that firms no longer feel safe bringing into Haiti. The new city gives the Haitians their only chance to choose to live under a system of law that offers safety and opportunity.

Private contractors rush in to build airports and infrastructure, lured by the prospect of rising property values. Multinational firms open factories, attracted by the proximity to low-cost labor and the certainty of the Canadian legal system. Eventually, Cuban authorities decide to replicate the experiment across the island, opening new, Guantánamo-like “special economic zones,” much as mainland China did starting in 1979, taking the Hong Kong model to Shenzhen and beyond. When played out on a global scale, “the gains from doing this are just enormous,” says Romer.

Such a fanciful idea might be easily dismissed if it weren’t coming from such an economic heavyweight. Romer transformed the field of growth theory in the 1980s, and his name is peppered throughout macroeconomic textbooks; he’s been mentioned as a potential Nobel Prize recipient. “There’s a thin line between revolutionary and crazy,” says NYU economist and development expert William Easterly. “Paul Romer has been adept at walking that line throughout his career, staying just out of the crazy part. He’s still tiptoeing along that line with this new idea.”

Still, there’s a pie-in-the-sky grandiosity to the scheme that elides some major stumbling blocks. One problem, admits Romer, is the parallel between charter cities and colonialism. Great Britain, for instance, would surely have qualms about taking over a few hundred acres of coastline in Ghana, where the legacy of slavery is still deeply felt. Romer says the similarities are surface level only—there’s no coercion involved in a charter city since it would be founded on empty or near-empty land, and anyone who lives there would do so by choice. Charter cities would only be considered in countries that welcome them. But the colonial parallel would certainly still rankle some. One way to mitigate the PR problem would be to let a group of rich countries administer the charter area; that way, no single nation could be accused of exploiting the host.

But the image problem hints at a more basic choke point: politics. “What’s clever about Paul’s idea is he’s saying, here’s a totally brand-new government we can invent from scratch and make it compete with existing governments,” says Easterly. “Anyone who doesn’t like their existing government can move. That’s an appealing notion. We’re so sick of governments that mistreat us that it’s kind of sticking them in the eye to say, here, we’re going to come up with a new one.” But though political competition is a seductive idea, it’s also a threat to existing powers, some of whom would surely try to block it. And globally orchestrated projects have a very low success rate—just look at the molasseslike progression toward a climate-change agreement. “International politics is a swamp,” says Easterly. “Things that involve international politics do not inspire a great deal of optimism in me.”

Nonetheless, Romer is attacking the idea with the zeal of a, er, missionary. He’s left his teaching position at Stanford and founded a nonprofit to pursue Charter Cities full time. He says he’s already in talks with potential host countries, although he won’t divulge which ones. Romer is confident that, despite the challenges, we’ll see the first charter cities within a few years. For the world’s poor and oppressed, that will be none too soon.

CONTACT
Paul Romer
http://www.stanford.edu/~promer/
http://www.ted.com/speakers/paul_romer.html
email : paul.romer [at] stanford [dot] edu


students do homework under the dim lights of a parking lot at G’bessi Airport in Conakry, Guinea

HOMEWORK by STREET LIGHT
http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2010/01/for-richer-for-poorer/
For richer, for poorer
by Paul Romer / 27th January 2010

Forget aid—people in the poorest countries like Haiti need new cities with different rules. And developed countries should be the ones that build them

On the first day of TEDGlobal, a conference for technology enthusiasts in Oxford in July 2009, a surprise guest was unveiled: Gordon Brown. He began his presentation with a striking photograph of a vulture watching over a starving Sudanese girl. The internet, he said, meant such shocking images circulated quickly around the world, helping to mobilise a new global community of aid donors. Brown’s talk ended with a call to action: developed countries should give more aid to fight poverty.

When disaster strikes—as in the recent Haiti earthquake—the prime minister is right. Even small amounts of aid can save many lives. The moral case for aid is compelling. But we must also remember that aid is just palliative care. It doesn’t treat the underlying problems. As leaders like Rwandan president Paul Kagame have noted, it can even make these problems worse if it saps the innovation, ambition, confidence, and aspiration that ultimately helps poor countries grow.

So, two days later, I opened my own TED talk with a different photo, one of African students doing their homework at night under streetlights. I hoped the image would provoke astonishment rather than guilt or pity—for how could it be that the 100-year-old technology for lighting homes was still not available for the students? I argued that the failure could be traced to weak or wrong rules. The right rules can harness self-interest and use it to reduce poverty. The wrong rules stifle this force or channel it in ways that harm society.

The deeper problem, widely recognised but seldom addressed, is how to free people from bad rules. I floated a provocative idea. Instead of focusing on poor nations and how to change their rules, we should focus on poor people and how they can move somewhere with better rules. One way to do this is with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of new “charter cities,” where developed countries frame the rules and hundreds of millions of poor families could become residents.

How would such a city work? Imagine that a government in a poor country set aside a piece of uninhabited land. It invites a developed country to enter into a new type of partnership, in which the developed country sets up and enforces rules specified in a charter. Citizens from the poorer country, and the rest of the world, would be free to live and work in the city that emerges. It could create economic opportunities and encourage foreign investment, and by using uninhabited land it would ensure everyone living there would have chosen to do so with full knowledge of the rules. Roughly 3bn people, mostly the working poor, will move to cities over the next few decades. To my mind the choice is not whether the world will urbanise, but where and under which rules. Instead of expanding the slums in existing urban centres, new charter cities could provide safe, low-income housing and jobs that the world will need to accommodate this shift. Even more important, these cities could give poor people a chance to choose the rules they want to live and work under.

To understand why rules are the way to harness self-interest, and why such new cities could work where old cities have not, look again at the example of electricity. We know from the developed world that it costs very little to light a home—on average, less than one US penny an hour for a 100-watt bulb. We also know that most poor people in Africa are not starving. They could afford some light. Africans do not lack electricity because they are too poor. Indeed, reliable power is so important for education, productivity and job creation that it would be more accurate to say that many in Africa are poor because they don’t have electricity. So why don’t they?

Why the right rules matter
Consider development the other way round. US customers have cheap electricity mostly because rules channel self-interest in the right way. Some protect investments made by utilities, others stop these companies abusing their monopoly power. With such rules, companies win; efficient providers make a profit. But customers win too; they get access to a vital resource at low cost. It’s the absence of these rules that explains why many Africans don’t have electricity at home. It might seem a simple insight, but it took economists a long time to understand it.

In the 1950s and 1960s, economic models treated ideas as public goods, meaning that once one existed it was assumed to exist everywhere. Some ideas are like this—for example, the formula for oral rehydration therapy, the mixture of sugar, salt, and water, that stops children dying from diarrhoea. No one owns it and you can find it easily online. If all ideas were like this it would be easier for poor countries to grow. But they aren’t: patents and other legal rules stop some ideas spreading, while others are just easy to keep secret.

When I started graduate school in the late 1970s I was convinced economists underestimated the potential for new ideas to raise living standards. The body of work that grew out of my PhD thesis came to be called new growth theory, or post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory in Britain (when it was infamously taken up by new Labour in the mid-1990s). Initially I just wanted to understand how good ideas, like those which make cheap electric light possible, were discovered. But then another topic began to interest me: why didn’t ideas common in some parts of the world spread to others?

Put simply, some countries are better able to establish the type of rules that help good ideas spread, while others are trapped by bad rules that keep ideas out. The rules stopping cheap electricity, for instance, are not hard to identify. The threat of expropriation or political instability stops many western electricity companies moving into Africa. Those that do set up there can exploit their power as monopolists to charge excessive prices. Often they offer bribes to stop rules being enforced, or pay bribes themselves. Good rules would stop all this. So to unleash the potential of the marketplace, poor countries need to find a way to create good rules.

The challenge in setting up good rules lies in solving what economists call “commitment” problems. How can a developing country promise to keep the rules that govern investment fair? Nobel prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling illustrates this problem with the example of a kidnapper who decides he wants to free his victim. But the kidnapper worries that the victim, once released, will go to the authorities. The victim, eager to be free, promises not to—but there is no way for him to guarantee he will keep quiet. As a result, the kidnapper is compelled to kill the victim, even though both would be better off if a binding agreement could be made. Poor countries face similar problems: their leaders cannot make credible commitments to would-be investors.

Rich nations use well-functioning systems of courts, police and jails, developed over centuries, to solve such problems. Two people can make a commitment. If they don’t follow through, the courts will punish them. But many developing countries are still working their way down the same arduous path. Their leaders can fight corruption and establish independent courts and better rules over property rights, but such moves often require unpopular measures to coerce and cajole populations, making internal reforms excruciatingly slow. Subsequent leaders may undo any commitments they make. A faster route would seem to be for a developed country to impose new rules by force, as they did in the colonial period. There is evidence that some former colonies are more successful today because of rules established during their occupations. Yet any economic benefits usually took a long time to show up, and rarely compensated for years of condescension and the violent opposition it provoked. Today, violent civil conflicts have led some countries to again consider military humanitarian intervention, but this can only be justified in extreme circumstances. My point was that there is a middle ground between slow internal reforms and risky attempts at recolonialisation: the charter city.

There are large swathes of uninhabited land on the coast of sub-Saharan Africa that are too dry for agriculture. But a city can develop in even the driest locations, supported if necessary by desalinated and recycled water. And the new zone created need not be ruled directly from the developed partner country—residents of the charter city can administer the rules specified by their partner as long as the developed country retains the final say. This is what happens today in Mauritius, where the British Privy Council is still the court of final appeal in a judicial system staffed by Mauritians. Different cities could start with charters that differ in many ways. The common element would be that all residents would be there by choice—a Gallup survey found that 700m people around the world would be willing to move permanently to another country that offers safety and economic opportunity.

I started thinking about city-scale special zones after writing a paper about Mauritius. At the time of its independence in 1968, economists were pessimistic about this small island nation’s prospects. The population was growing rapidly, new jobs were scarce in its only real export industry (sugar), and high tariffs designed to protect small companies manufacturing for the domestic market meant no companies could profitably use their workers to manufacture goods for export. It was politically impossible to dismantle these barriers to trade, so policymakers did the next best thing: they created a special category of companies, ones said to be in a “special export zone.” The zone didn’t physically exist, in that these companies could locate anywhere on the island, but companies “inside” the zone operated under different rules. They faced no tariffs, or limits on imports or exports. Foreign companies in the zone could enter and exit freely, and keep profits they earned. Domestic companies could enter too. The only quid pro quo was that everyone in the zone had to produce only for export, so as not to compete with domestic firms. The zone was a dramatic success. Foreign businesses entered. Employment grew rapidly. The economy moved from agriculture to manufacturing. Once growth was underway, the government reduced trade barriers, freeing up the rest of the economy.

The history of development is littered with failed examples of similar zones. Mauritius was unusual because it had low levels of crime and the government already provided good utilities and infrastructure. The zone only had to remove one bad form of governance: trade restrictions. Yet many developing countries still can’t offer the basics, another reason why building new cities is an attractive option. Cities are just the right scale to offer basic conditions. So long as they can trade freely, even small cities are big enough to be self-sufficient. Yet because they are dense they require very little land.

To apply the lessons from Mauritius in countries with pervasive problems, the key is to create zones with new rules that are big enough to be self-contained. Big enough, that is, to hold a city. Then let people decide whether to enter.

When I returned to Mauritius in 2008, I outlined my ideas to Maurice Lam, head of the Mauritian Board of Investment. Maurice splits his time between Mauritius and Singapore. He and I knew that Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, had experimented in the 1990s with a similar idea, establishing new cities that Singapore could help to run in China and Indonesia. These ran into difficulties because the local governments retained discretionary powers that they used to interfere after Singapore had made large investments in infrastructure. This convinced us that explicit treaties reassigning administrative control over land were needed. Maurice also said that countries in Africa would be open to this kind of arrangement. Some officials, eager to make a credible commitment to foreign investors, had already made informal inquiries about whether Mauritius would be willing to take administrative control over their special export zones.

What could go wrong?
Some economists have objected that a charter agreement between two countries will not necessarily solve the commitment problem that lies at the heart of development failures. The leaders of many countries enter into agreements, sometimes with the best intentions, that subsequent leaders or officials do not honour—as Lee Kuan Yew found to his cost. To guard against such an outcome, partners in a charter city must negotiate a formal treaty, like the one that gave the British rights in Hong Kong (see box, right). Under this arrangement the only way for the host country to renege on its commitment would be to invade. Even governments that resent having signed such agreements in the past almost always respect them. The Cubans hate the agreement that gave the US control of Guantánamo Bay, but learned to live with it.

Another objection comes from those who study urbanisation. They point out that the location of most existing cities is determined by accidents of history or geography, and suggest, correctly, that there are geographical requirements for a city to survive. But they are surely wrong to think that all the good sites for cities are taken. Here distance matters, but it is not an insurmountable obstacle: Mauritius continues to develop despite its remote location. Flat land is cheaper to build on, but many cities have developed on hilly terrain. A river can provide fresh water and access to the sea, but with desalination, so too can any coastal location where a port could be built. Access to the sea is the only real necessity—as long as a charter city can ship goods back and forth on container ships, it can thrive even if its neighbours turn hostile or unstable. And there are thousands of largely uninhabited coastal locations on several continents that could qualify.

Other urban economists fear new cities will repeat the unimpressive history of government-planned ones like Brasília, or Dubai’s recent bust. But these are both extreme examples. The state was too intrusive in Brasília and almost non-existent in Dubai. Hong Kong is the middle ground, a state ruled by laws not men, but one that leaves competition and individual initiative to decide the details.

The experience in Hong Kong offers two further lessons. The first is the importance of giving people a choice about the rules that govern them. Hong Kong was sparsely populated when the British took over. Unlike other colonial systems, almost everyone chose to come and live under the new system. This gave the rules proposed by the British a degree of legitimacy they never had in India, where the rules were imposed on often unwilling subjects. This is why building new cities, rather than taking over existing ones, is so powerful.

The second lesson is the importance of getting the scale right. Most nations are too large to update all their rules and laws at once. The coercion needed to impose a new system on an existing population generates friction, no matter who is in charge. Leaders on mainland China understood this when they attempted to copy the successes of Hong Kong by gradually opening a few places, such as the new city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. Yet while nations are too big, towns and villages are too small. A village cannot capture the benefits that arise when millions of people live and work together under good rules. Cities offer the right scale for dramatic change.

The demands of migration
As billions of people urbanise in the coming decades, they can move to hundreds of new cities. The gains new cities can unleash are clear. Picture again the students studying under the streetlights. By themselves, political leaders in poor countries won’t provide cheap, reliable electricity any time soon. They can’t eliminate the political risk that holds back investment or ensure adequate regulatory controls. But working with a partner nation, they can establish a new city where millions of young people could pay pennies to be able to study at home. And as these cities seek out residents, the leaders and citizens in existing countries will face the most effective pressure for good governance—competition.

We know from history that the competitive pressures created by migration can boost economic growth. But strong opposition to immigration in the world’s richest economies prevents many people from moving to better systems of rules. Charter cities bring the good systems of rules to places that would welcome migrants. Indeed, charter cities offer the only viable path for substantial increases in global migration, bringing good rules to places that the world’s poor can easily and legally access, while lessening the contentious political frictions that arise from traditional migration flows.

Intelligently designed new cities can offer environmental benefits too, a point increasingly made by environmentalists like Stewart Brand (see p39.) For example, Indonesia emits greenhouse gases at a rate exceeded only by China and the US. This rate is partly due to logging practices in its rainforest, and efforts to clear land for palm-oil plantations and pulp-producing acacia trees. Brand has cited the experience of Panama to demonstrate the green potential of urbanisation: as people there left slash-and-burn agriculture for work in cities, forest regenerated on the land they left behind. Similar migration to new cities in places like Indonesia could do much to reduce carbon emissions from the developing world.

Investment in charter cities could also make more effective the aid rich countries give. The British experience in Hong Kong shows that enforcing rules costs partners very little, but can have a huge effect. Because Hong Kong helped make reform in the rest of China possible, the British intervention there arguably did more to reduce world poverty than all the official aid programmes of the 20th century, and at a fraction of the cost. And, if many such cities are built, fewer people will be trapped in the failed states that are the root cause of most humanitarian crises and security concerns.

There are many questions to be resolved before the first city is chartered. Is it better to have a group of rich nations, or a multinational body like the EU, play the role the British played in Hong Kong? How would such a city be governed? And how and when might transfer of control back to the host country be arranged? But as we begin to explore these questions, we must not lose sight of the fundamental insights that advocates of the free market underestimate. The win-win agreements that we see in well-functioning markets are possible only when there is a strong, credible government that can establish the rules. In places where these rules are not present, it could take centuries for locals to bootstrap themselves from bad rules to good. By creating new zones through partnerships at the national level, good rules can spread more quickly, and when they do, the benefits can be huge.

The world’s fortunate citizens must be able to provide assistance when disasters like the earthquake in Haiti strike, but we must also be wary of the practical and moral limits of aid. When the roles of benefactor and supplicant are institutionalised, both parties are diminished. In the case of Haiti, if nations in the region created just two charter cities, they could house the entire population of that country. Senegal has offered Haitians the opportunity to return to the home “of their ancestors.” “If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region,” a Senegal government spokesman said. Outside of the extraordinary circumstances of a crisis, the role of partner is better for everyone. And there are millions of people seeking partnerships around the world. Helping people build them successfully is the opportunity of the century

Hong Kong: the first charter city?
Hong Kong was a successful example of a special zone that could serve as a model for charter cities. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the only place in China where Chinese workers could enter partnerships with foreign workers and companies. Many of the Chinese who moved to Hong Kong started in low-skill jobs, making toys or sewing shirts. But over time their wages grew along with the skills that they gained working with educated managers, and using modern technologies and working practices.

Over time they acquired the values and norms that sustain modern cities. As a result, Hong Kong enjoyed rapid economic growth—in 1960, the average income was around £2,500; by 1997, it was around £20,000. Even if it had wanted to, the Chinese government acting alone could not have offered this opportunity. The credibility of rules developed over centuries by the British government was essential in attracting the foreign investment, companies and skilled workers that let these low-skill immigrants lift themselves out of poverty. As in Mauritius, authority rested ultimately with the British governor general, but most of the police and civil servants were Chinese. And the benefits demonstrated in Hong Kong became a model for reform-minded leaders in China itself.

ADOPT-a-CITY
http://video.forbes.com/fvn/21-century-cities-09/adopt-a-city
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2010/07/the-politically-incorrect-guide-to-ending-poverty/8134/
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty
by Sebastian Mallaby / July/August 2010

Halfway through the 12th Century, and a long time before economists began pondering how to turn poor places into rich ones, the Germanic prince Henry the Lion set out to create a merchant’s mecca on the lawless Baltic coast. It was an ambitious project, a bit like trying to build a new Chicago in modern Congo or Iraq. Northern Germany was plagued by what today’s development gurus might delicately call a “bad-governance equilibrium,” its townships frequently sacked by Slavic marauders such as the formidable pirate Niclot the Obotrite. But Henry was not a mouse. He seized control of a fledgling town called Lübeck, had Niclot beheaded on the battlefield, and arranged for Lübeck to become the seat of a diocese. A grand rectangular market was laid out at the center of the town; all that was missing was the merchants.

To attract that missing ingredient to his city, Henry hit on an idea that has enjoyed a sort of comeback lately. He devised a charter for Lübeck, a set of “most honorable civic rights,” calculating that a city with light regulation and fair laws would attract investment easily. The stultifying feudal hierarchy was cast aside; an autonomous council of local burgesses would govern Lübeck. Onerous taxes and trade restrictions were ruled out; merchants who settled in Lübeck would be exempt from duties and customs throughout Henry the Lion’s lands, which stretched south as far as Bavaria. The residents of Lübeck were promised fair treatment before the law and an independent mint that would shelter them from confiscatory inflation. With this bill of rights in place, Henry dispatched messengers to Russia, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Merchants who liked the sound of his charter were invited to migrate to Lübeck.

The plan worked. Immigrants soon began arriving in force, and Lübeck became the leading entrepôt for the budding Baltic Sea trade route, which eventually extended as far west as London and Bruges and as far east as Novgorod, in Russia. Hundreds of oaken cogs—ships powered by a single square sail—entered Lübeck’s harbor every year, their hulls bursting with Flemish cloth, Russian fur, and German salt. In less than a century, Lübeck went from a backwater to the most populous and prosperous town in northern Europe. “In medieval urban history there is hardly another example of a success so sudden and so brilliant,” writes the historian Philippe Dollinger.

Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than Lübeck’s wealth was the influence of its charter. As trade routes lengthened, new cities mushroomed all along the Baltic shore, and rather than develop a legal code from scratch, the next wave of city fathers copied Lübeck’s charter, importing its political and economic liberties. The early imitators included the nearby cities of Rostock and Danzig, but the charter was eventually adopted as far afield as Riga and Tallinn, the capitals of modern Latvia and Estonia. The medieval world had stumbled upon a formula for creating order out of chaos and prosperity amid backwardness. Lübeck ultimately became the seat of the Hanseatic League, an economic alliance of 200 cities that lasted nearly half a millennium.

Fast-forward several centuries, and Henry the Lion’s would-be heir is Paul Romer, a gentle economist at Stanford University. Elegant, bespectacled, geekishly curious in a boyish way, Romer is not the kind of person you might picture armed with a two-handed flanged mace, cutting down Slavic marauders. But he is bent on cutting down an adversary almost as resistant: the conventional approach to development in poor countries. Rather than betting that aid dollars can beat poverty, Romer is peddling a radical vision: that dysfunctional nations can kick-start their own development by creating new cities with new rules—Lübeck-style centers of progress that Romer calls “charter cities.” By building urban oases of technocratic sanity, struggling nations could attract investment and jobs; private capital would flood in and foreign aid would not be needed. And since Henry the Lion is not on hand to establish these new cities, Romer looks to the chief source of legitimate coercion that exists today—the governments that preside over the world’s more successful countries. To launch new charter cities, he says, poor countries should lease chunks of territory to enlightened foreign powers, which would take charge as though presiding over some imperial protectorate. Romer’s prescription is not merely neo-medieval, in other words. It is also neo-colonial.

Inevitably, Romer’s big idea attracts some skeptical responses. “Paul is very creative,” says William Easterly, a development economist at New York University, “and sometimes creativity can cross the line into craziness.” The way Easterly sees it, charter cities (like charter schools in American cities) may provide an alternative to incumbent government systems, promising experimentation, competition, and perhaps a new way forward. But Easterly also worries that Romer has fallen prey to an old siren song—the idea that you can slough off debilitating customs and vested interests by constructing a technocratic petri dish uncontaminated by politics. Other critics are blunter. “Romer makes it sound as though setting up a charter city is like setting up a fairground,” Elliott Sclar, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University, told me. “We take a clear piece of land, we turn on the bright lights, and we create this separate environment that will stand apart from everything that’s around it. I wish it were that simple.”

However simple-seeming his ideas, Romer is no lightweight. Starting in the late 1980s, he produced a series of papers that changed the way his profession thinks about economic growth; his most celebrated contribution, published in 1990, “was one of the best papers in economics in 25 or 30 years,” in the estimation of Charles I. Jones, a colleague of Romer’s at Stanford. Before the Romer revolution, theorists had explained an economy’s growing output by looking at the obvious inputs—the number of hours worked, the skills of the workforce, the quantity of machinery and other physical capital.

But Romer stressed a fourth driver of growth, which he termed simply “ideas,” a category that encompassed everything from the formula for a new drug to the most efficient sequence for stitching 19 pieces of material into a sneaker. In statistical tests, the traditional inputs appeared to account for only half the differences in countries’ output per person, suggesting that ideas might account for the remaining half—and that leaving them out of a growth theory was like leaving the prince out of Hamlet. And whereas the old models had predicted that growth would slow as population expansion put stress on resources, and as new investment in skills and capital yielded diminishing returns, Romer’s New Growth Theory opened the window onto a sunnier worldview: a larger number of affluent people means more ideas, so prosperity and population expansion might cause growth to speed up.

Romer’s enthusiasm for technology made him a natural West Coaster, so it is not surprising that, after spells on the faculty at the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago, he fetched up at the University of California at Berkeley and then at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. But the next turn in his thinking involved a rebellion against the libertarianism of his Silicon Valley home. “I was willing to be a bit confrontational,” Romer says, impishly. Starting with a paper he presented at a World Bank conference in 1992, Romer began to emphasize that “ideas” included more than just technologies and manufacturing processes. Ideas were also embodied in customs and institutions—or, as Romer later came to put it, “rules”—patent law, competition law, bankruptcy law, and so on, as well as the softer “norms” that govern people’s behavior. Indeed, these rules could be even more important than technologies, however much the digerati of Silicon Valley might wish to believe otherwise. Without new technologies, an economy might grow slowly. But without decent rules, an economy cannot even make use of the technologies that already exist.

To drive home the importance of good rules to economic growth, Romer sometimes shows a photograph of Guinean teenagers doing their homework under streetlights. The line of hunched, concentrating figures presents a mystery, Romer says; from the photo it is clear that the teens are not dirt poor, and youths like these generally own cell phones. Yet they evidently have no electric light at home, or they would not be studying by the curbside. “So here is the puzzle,” Romer declares: Why do these kids have access to a cutting-edge technology like the cell phone, but not to a 100-year-old technology for generating electric light in the home? The answer, in a word, is rules. Because of misguided price controls in the teenagers’ country, the local electricity utility has no incentive to connect their houses to the power grid. Their society lacks the rules that make technological advance meaningful.

For much of the 1990s, development economists built on Romer’s insights, so that laws and the institutions needed to enforce them became central to the mainstream view of what drives human progress. But then, having transformed academic economics, Romer shocked the profession once again—this time by abandoning it. Starting in 2001, he began to channel his energy into a start-up software company that he named Aplia. “I was extremely disappointed to lose Paul as an academic colleague,” Easterly told me. “By walking away from research, he no doubt ignored the advice of anyone he might have talked to.” But Romer shrugged off such complaints. “When I was young, there were too many old economists who were getting in the way,” he explained. “So after 10 years I wanted to get out of the way, and not stifle the next generation.” Besides, Romer’s father, Roy, a former governor of Colorado, had just begun running the Los Angeles school system. As a proponent of technology, the younger Romer was embarrassed that educators such as himself had barely used computers to boost their own productivity.

Like Romer’s research, his company was radical. It created teaching materials that could be accessed online by collegiate economics students, challenging the dead-tree model of the textbook-industrial complex. At first, Romer was told that his approach was crazy. Students were used to paying a fortune for textbooks and then getting the accompanying homework problems at a trivial cost; Romer’s little start-up presumed to invert custom. Sooner or later, Romer insisted, textbooks would be electronic, at which point they would be copied and shared. By contrast, access to online homework problems could be metered successfully on the Web, because the sale of the homework could be bundled with automatic, online grading. Professors would be drawn to the system, and to assigning Aplia’s online texts. And those who had stinted on handing out exercises because of the grading time required would now feel free to assign more, with the result that students would make faster progress. By the time Romer sold Aplia in 2007, students had submitted 200 million answers to its online problems, and the venture had made its founder independently wealthy—not rich enough to be invited to Silicon Valley’s fancy charity galas, but plenty rich enough to live without a salary. At 52 years old, he began to look for a new challenge.

Romer was not inclined to go back to academia. The World Bank sounded him out for the job of chief economist, a perch previously occupied by stars such as Stanley Fischer, Lawrence Summers, and Joseph Stiglitz, but Romer was not interested in that, either. What he wanted, he told me, was to draw on the intellectual creativity of his university days and the entrepreneurial initiative he had shown at Aplia—and above all, to be maximally ambitious. When he made his choice, in 2008, it was suitably bold. He gave up tenure at Stanford and set out to make his mark in his own way: with the help of three assistants, he launched his charter-cities campaign, operating partly out of the small office he retained at Stanford and partly out of a friend’s house or a local Peet’s Coffee. He also began to shuttle back and forth across the world, meeting with any developing-country leader who would grant him an audience. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, a surprising number proved ready to do so.

When Romer explains charter cities, he likes to invoke Hong Kong. For much of the 20th century, Hong Kong’s economy left mainland China’s in the dust, proving that enlightened rules can make a world of difference. By an accident of history, Hong Kong essentially had its own charter—a set of laws and institutions imposed by its British colonial overseers—and the charter served as a magnet for go-getters. At a time when much of East Asia was ruled by nationalist or Communist strongmen, Hong Kong’s colonial authorities put in place low taxes, minimal regulation, and legal protections for property rights and contracts; between 1913 and 1980, the city’s inflation-adjusted output per person jumped more than eightfold, making the average Hong Kong resident 10 times as rich as the average mainland Chinese, and about four-fifths as rich as the average Briton. Then, beginning around 1980, Hong Kong’s example inspired the mainland’s rulers to create copycat enclaves. Starting in Shenzhen City, adjacent to Hong Kong, and then curling west and north around the Pacific shore, China created a series of special economic zones that followed Hong Kong’s model. Pretty soon, one of history’s greatest export booms was under way, and between 1987 and 1998, an estimated 100 million Chinese rose above the $1-a-day income that defines abject poverty. The success of the special economic zones eventually drove China’s rulers to embrace the export-driven, pro-business model for the whole country. “In a sense, Britain inadvertently, through its actions in Hong Kong, did more to reduce world poverty than all the aid programs that we’ve undertaken in the last century,” Romer observes drily.

Of course, versions of China’s special economic zones have existed elsewhere, especially in Asia. But Romer is not just arguing for enclaves; he is arguing for enclaves that are run by foreign governments. To Romer, the fact that Hong Kong was a colonial experiment, imposed upon a humiliated China by means of a treaty signed aboard a British warship, is not just an embarrassing detail. On the contrary, British rule was central to the city’s success in persuading capitalists of all stripes to flock to it. Romer sometimes illustrates this point by citing another Communist country: modern-day Cuba. Cuba’s rulers have tried to induce foreign corporations to set up shop in special export zones, and have been greeted with understandable caution. But if Raúl Castro convinced a foreign government—ideally a rich democracy such as Canada—to assume sovereignty over a start-up city in Cuba, the prospect of a mini Canada in the sun might attract a flood of investment.

It must have occurred to Castro, Romer says, that his island could do with its own version of Hong Kong; and perhaps that the Guantánamo Bay zone, over which Cuba has already ceded sovereignty to the United States, would be a good place to build one. “Castro goes to the prime minister of Canada and says, ‘Look, the Yankees have a terrible PR problem. They want to get out. Why don’t you, Canada, take over? Run a special administrative zone. Allow a new city to be built up there,’” Romer muses, channeling a statesmanlike version of Raúl Castro that Cuba-watchers might not recognize. “Some of my citizens will move into that city,” Romer-as-Castro continues. “Others will hold back. But this will be the gateway that will connect the modern economy and the modern world to my country.”

When I put this scenario to Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, she described the whole notion as “wacky.” But not everyone has dismissed Romer’s vision so quickly. Romer maintains that when he started to discuss his thinking with governments in developing countries, he found many of them receptive. One nation in particular seemed eager to sign on: the island-state of Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa, where 90 percent of the people subsist on less than $2 a day.

In July 2008, Romer made his first trip to Madagascar’s bustling capital, Antananarivo. Madagascar’s government was anxious to attract foreign investment, and it understood that a credibility deficit held it back. In an earlier bout of openness, the island had lured in foreign garment firms, but then the political climate turned hostile and the firms fled; now the government was having trouble enticing them to come back. Faced with this obstacle, the Malagasy authorities were open to unconventional arrangements. To boost investment in agriculture, they were ready to lease a Connecticut-size tract of land to Daewoo, a South Korean corporation, for 99 years. To boost investment in export industries, they were thinking about inviting a tiny Indian Ocean neighbor, Mauritius, to administer an export-processing zone on Malagasy territory. Romer’s proposal fit in with these adventurous ideas. He returned to Antananarivo in November 2008 and held another round of promising meetings with government officials. The final hurdle, he was told, would be to secure an audience with the president, a former businessman named Marc Ravalomanana. Nothing could happen without his say-so.

Romer returned to Stanford and waited to hear when the president might be available. Periodically, he would receive an e-mail: Ravalomanana’s schedulers were battling to fit him in, but dozens of competing issues demanded the boss’s attention, and they were reluctant to commit to a firm time for the meeting. As the end of the year approached, without any appointment, Romer decided it was time for a gamble: he made the 30-hour trip from San Francisco once again, arriving in Antananarivo on the Sunday before Christmas, figuring that the president’s schedule might open up over the holidays. He checked himself into the Hotel du Louvre, close to the presidential palace, and called his government contacts to announce his arrival; then he set about waiting. He found that a patisserie nearby served finer French pastries than he had tasted in any American city. Sitting in the café with an espresso and a mille-feuille, Romer could see young men, stunted from malnutrition, watching over the cars parked in front of the hotel, hoping for a few tips. A portly European of a certain age walked by with an attractive young Malagasy woman on his arm, and the men outside the hotel stared. The look on their faces expressed all that needed to be said about global inequality.

Two days after he arrived, Romer got the summons he was waiting for. Late in the evening, on the night before Christmas Eve, he was ushered into the president’s personal residence, a recently refurbished but relatively modest home high in the hills. Ravalomanana had a few guests over to celebrate the holidays, and the mood was relaxed. He invited Romer out onto his balcony to see the view of the city, and then the two men moved into a study. The only symbols of authority were a large desk and a flag. The president was in shirtsleeves.

In public, Ravalomanana cut quite a figure. Handsome, youthful in appearance, and wealthy, he had started out selling homemade yogurt off the back of a bicycle and ended up holding a national monopoly on all dairy and oil products. But in private, Romer found the president quite approachable. Romer made his pitch for a charter city, and Ravalomanana responded that he wasn’t sure one was enough; if Romer could identify two rich countries willing to play the role of government trustee, it might be better to launch two parallel experiments. The president and the professor agreed that the new hubs should be open to migrants from nearby countries as well as to locals. They rose to examine a map of Madagascar on the study wall. Ravalomanana suggested building the first city on the island’s southwestern coast, which was largely uninhabited because of its dry heat. To Romer, the site sounded very much like the coastal locations that appeal most to the world’s affluent as vacation spots.

Romer has a quick smile and a knack for saying big things with small words, but he is not much for emotion. Recalling his trips to Madagascar, he sounds typically cool about them. But a more excitable person would be whooping out the punch lines at this point in the story; the fact that the charter-cities movement had progressed so far so fast is little short of astonishing. Barely a year after launching his venture, Romer was on the brink of a rare coup: a nation of 20 million people was about to embrace a neo-medieval, neo-colonial scheme untested in the modern history of development. But then a different sort of coup occurred—the kind of coup, unfortunately, that underscores the obstacles to Romer’s project.

Even as Romer was meeting with Ravalomanana, the president’s main political opponent was sniping at the proposed lease of farmland to Daewoo, and the idea of giving up vast swaths of territory to foreigners was growing increasingly unpopular. The arrangement was denounced as treason, and public protests gathered momentum, eventually turning violent. In late January 2009, protesters tossed homemade grenades at radio and TV stations that Ravalomanana owned; looters ransacked his chain of supermarkets. In February, guards opened fire on marchers in front of the presidential palace, killing 28 civilians. At this, units of the army mutinied. Soon, Ravalomanana was forced out of office.

The first action of the new government was to cancel the Daewoo project, and Romer’s plans in Madagascar were put on hold indefinitely. But the larger question was what, if anything, this disappointment signified for Romer’s whole approach. The riots appeared to demonstrate the explosive sensitivities surrounding sovereignty and land—sensitivities that are not confined to Madagascar. Indeed, versions of the Daewoo story have played out elsewhere. In the late 1990s, for example, Fiji’s government decided to bring in a British nonprofit to manage its mahogany forests, and an indigenous leader launched a revolt under the slogan “Fiji for the Fijians.” The rebellion was hypocritical: as the Oxford economist Paul Collier recounts in his book The Bottom Billion, the indigenous leader had himself backed a rival foreign bid to manage the mahogany. But the venality of the rebels’ motivation didn’t change the fact that a demagogue could easily attract support by railing against territorial concessions to foreigners.

Ever since the setback in Madagascar, Romer has been coy, for obvious reasons, about which governments are interested in his plan. But he remains optimistic. “I revived growth theory. I made technology work in higher ed. I am two for two, and I think the impossible can be done,” he told me cheerfully. He added that the Daewoo deal might not have been the main impetus for the coup in Madagascar; the real reasons for Ravalomanana’s downfall lay in idiosyncratic local rivalries, even if the opposition exploited sensitivities over land to incite antigovernment protests. I suggested that the fact that land concessions could trigger such emotions was still not a good sign. Romer stopped, considered, and chose his words carefully.

“Anything that involves land can be manipulated by people who want to rise up against a leader,” he began. “You have to find a place where there’s a strong enough leader with enough legitimacy to do this knowing that he’s going to get attacked. It narrows the options quite a bit. But we shouldn’t give up without trying a few more places.” In short, a disappointment with one client is no excuse for failing to pitch other ones. Any entrepreneur knows that.

As politically freighted as Romer’s ideas are, they also carry a continuing attraction to the people in charge of many poor countries, particularly those with rapidly growing populations. By some estimates, 3 billion people will move to cities in the next few decades, abandoning miserable and environmentally destructive work as subsistence farmers in the hope of better lives in manufacturing and services. In the absence of a Romer-type solution, these migrants will move into urban slums with no running water, high crime rates, few steady jobs, and sewage in the streets; charter cities seem a better option. And Romer’s idea has the great merit of paying for itself. Land in successful cities appreciates in value, creating wealth that can be unlocked to finance new buildings, businesses, and infrastructure. And so African officials continue to meet with Romer, and Romer continues to jet off to wherever they are ready to see him.

When you listen carefully, you realize that much of what Romer is saying should not be controversial. A few development economists argue that geography is destiny, but most share Romer’s conviction that decent rules are paramount. After all, Asia accounted for fully 56 percent of world income in 1820, only 16 percent in 1950, and a substantial 39 percent in 2008; what changed over this period was rules, not geography. Equally, Romer’s contention that a developing country can achieve good government by importing the credibility of foreigners fits with mainstream thinking. When Panama or Ecuador decides to do business in dollars, or when Slovenia embraces the euro, each country is importing the credibility of a foreign central bank. Similarly, joining the World Trade Organization is a proven way to import the rich world’s tariff structure, intellectual-property rules, and domestic regulations—and, just as important, to persuade investors that the reform is permanent. Importing foreign election monitors or peacekeepers can compensate for weak political institutions or security forces. And so on.

But Romer is also urging us to reexamine assumptions about citizenship and democracy, and this is where he gets more radical. In the kind of charter city he imagines, the governor would be appointed by Canada or some other rich nation, but the people who work there would come from poor countries—the whole point, after all, is to bring the governance of the developed world to workers in undeveloped places. It follows that the workers in Romer’s charter city wouldn’t be citizens in the full sense. They would be offered whatever protections the founding charter might lay down, and they would have to take them or leave them. Rather than getting a vote at the ballot box, Romer is saying, the residents of a charter city would have to vote with their feet. Their leaders would be accountable—but only to the rich voters in the country that appointed them.

This viewpoint is, to say the least, not in keeping with the idealized vision of development, in which freedom and prosperity advance in lockstep, with democracy serving as the necessary companion to economic progress. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan declared confidently, “Freedom works”; and in the 1990s Bill Clinton lectured foreign counterparts on how democracy had become all the more indispensable to progress with the advent of the “knowledge economy.” But assertions like these have seemed more fragile recently, with authoritarian China breaking growth records and state capitalism apparently thriving; Romer is hardly the only person to doubt that democracy is a necessary condition for economic progress. And to the extent that opt-in charter cities offer a third way—something between pure democracy and pure authoritarianism—those who care for liberty might do well to embrace the experiment. Charter cities make it harder for authoritarians to claim that their system offers the only fast route out of poverty.

The real test for Romer’s attitude toward democracy is not whether it conforms to Western ideals, but whether it appeals to the poor people whom Western aid agencies claim to be serving. And on this score, the answer is clear. In fact, you could say Romer’s assertion—that voting with your feet can be a palatable alternative to casting a ballot—already has 214 million adherents, for that is the number of people who have chosen to leave their home countries and settle as migrants in places where they have no political vote. Real development, as distinct from the idealized vision of development, involves hard personal choices. If people are willing to live as legal or illegal immigrants, with rights that range from limited to none, then logically, they should be even more eager to move to a Romerplex, which would promise most of the economic gains of uprooting to another continent while allowing migrants to stay closer to their families and cultures.

If you have stuck with Romer thus far, you are ready for the last part of his argument. If good rules are the key to development, it follows that the big development challenge is to grasp how to reform bad rules—and to accept that conventional approaches are not terribly successful. Think back to the African teenagers reading under the streetlights. The bad rules they contend with are well understood: dozens of World Bank missions have doubtless pointed out that price controls on electricity destroy the electric company’s incentive to sign up new customers. But what is not understood is how to abolish those controls, since the country’s elite, which is already hooked up to the electric grid, will fight tooth and nail against higher prices.

The standard response to this obstacle is to advocate democracy and hope that voters will force change: the minority that has electric light will be outvoted by the much larger number of people who have been denied it. But Romer argues that this way forward is too slow. People don’t always vote their economic interests, and elites with tentacles all over the ministry of energy may keep price controls in place for decades. So rather than wait in vain for electricity rules to change, we are better off starting a new experiment with brand-new rules—a charter city that stands outside the ministry’s authority. Rather than going at an obstacle head-on, Romer is saying, sidestepping it is frequently a better option.

Romer likes to clinch this point with an analogy from industry. A firm like IBM may develop a culture—a set of corporate rules—that is brilliantly suited to handling the institutional customers that buy mainframe computers. But when the PC is invented, and individuals become customers, the IBM culture proves awkward and slow; and reforming its rules turns out to be difficult. So along come Dell and Apple, with business models better targeted at household consumers, and pretty soon computer-users start preferring their products. Change from without comes more easily than change from within. Industrial progress comes from new entrants and new experiments, not from the slow process of changing established corporate bureaucracies.

Sometimes, Romer continues, established businesses subject themselves to an internal version of this process. They spawn experimental subsidiaries, known as “skunkworks,” to try out new business models. For example, the discount retailer Target began as an experimental skunkworks spun off by the old-line retailer Dayton Company. Target was given its own charter and allowed to test out a new approach; it succeeded so resoundingly that Dayton eventually ditched the parts of its business that ran according to the old rules and embraced the Target formula. Again, generating change within an organization is often less effective than driving change from without. If companies can change themselves by setting up subsidiaries with new rules, countries could do the same with charter cities.

Throughout our conversation, Romer maintained a steady confidence that poor countries will eventually welcome charter cities. At the end of one of his overseas trips, he messaged me from his iPhone: “Sadly can’t say more yet other than that in two cases I’m waiting for next step meeting w the president. As before I remain optimistic about response from developing countries.” In one case, Romer and his government counterparts have progressed quite far: they have identified the site for the charter city, and agreed that its success will require the construction of a new port. Meanwhile, Romer is equally confident that elite opinion will come around to his idea—and my own recent straw poll of development economists suggests that at least some of them have already done so.

But the largest obstacle Romer faces, by his own admission, still remains: he has to find countries willing to play the role of Britain in Hong Kong. Despite the good arguments that Romer makes for his vision, the responsibilities entailed in Empire 2.0 are not popular. How would a rich government contend with the shantytowns that might spring up around the borders of a charter city? Would it deport the inhabitants, and be accused of human-rights abuses? Or tolerate them and allow its oasis to be overrun with people who don’t respect its city charter? And what would the foreign trustee do if its host tried to nullify the lease? Would it defend its development experiment with an expeditionary army, as Margaret Thatcher defended the Falklands? A top official at one of Europe’s aid agencies told me, “Since we are responsible for our remaining overseas territories, I can tell you there is much grief in running these things. I would be surprised if Romer gets any takers.”

Sensing the resistance among potential trustee nations, Romer has come up with new variants on his formula. A group of advanced countries could share the burden of trusteeship, rather than one nation shouldering the responsibility alone. To reduce the sensitivities over land and sovereignty, the territory for a charter city could be provided by one country while the migrant workers come from another. When I asked Romer about setting up a charter city in post-earthquake Haiti, he recoiled at the idea: the country has no functioning government, so there is no entity that could transfer sovereignty over a parcel of territory in a legitimate way. But Romer was happy to contemplate creative variations on this theme. What if Mexico ceded some land for a charter city for Haitians, with the charter being administered by a consortium of outside governments?

Whatever becomes of Romer’s movement, it is going to be interesting. His thinking taps into so many currents of our era—an era in which millions of migrants embrace his vote-with-your feet vision; in which the old faith in democratic development is questioned; and in which globalization scrambles settled notions of who rules what where. On one side, critics will be scathing: Elliott Sclar, the Columbia professor, warns, “Charter cities amount to a new form of colonialism, and that’s the last thing we need right now.” On the other side, adherents will cheer eagerly: charter cities are “one of the best ideas that anybody in development ever had,” according to Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, D.C. And throughout these debates, it will be hard not to sympathize with Romer’s plea for fresh thinking. Charter cities face plenty of obstacles, and I could have written an article that dwelt exclusively on them. But when African teenagers do their homework under streetlights, isn’t Romer right to think the unthinkable?

HAVE GOOD RULES
http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/29/can-charter-cities-change-the-world-a-qa-with-paul-romer/
Can “Charter Cities” Change the World? A Q&A With Paul Romer
by Dwyer Gunn / September 29, 2009

Weak institutions and bad rules are some of the most significant obstacles to economic growth in developing countries. Paul Romer, an economist known for his work on economic growth, has a plan to change that and recently resigned his tenured teaching position at Stanford to devote his full energies to the challenge. “Moving from bad rules to better ones may be much harder than most economists have allowed.” Romer’s plan calls for the establishment of Hong Kong-like “charter cities,” special zones within developing countries with better rules and institutions. Romer agreed to answer some of our questions about his crazy and/or revolutionary plan below:

Q. You recently gave up your tenured teaching position at Stanford to launch an ambitious development initiative. Can you tell us about your new charter cities project?
A. Yes, instead of being a professor, I’m now a senior fellow there, which means exactly what it says: I’m officially an old guy. The key to the project is a charter city, which starts out as a city-sized piece of uninhabited territory and a charter or constitution specifying the rules that will apply there. If the charter specifies good rules (or in our professional jargon, good institutions) millions of people will come together to build a new city.

Q. What makes you confident that land and a good charter are all it takes?
A. A well-run city lets millions of people come together and enjoy the benefit they can get from working together and trading with each other. The benefits per person increase with the total number of people; this is why big cities are more productive than small cities or villages. Of course, none of this is new. Adam Smith was referring to the power of exchange and the importance of increasing returns when he wrote that, “the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.” There are many signs of the value created by all the exchange that takes place in a city. We see it in productivity and wage data. We also see it in the increase in the value of the land. Millions of people are willing to pay high rents just to live and work around millions of other people who are also paying high rents. Why? To get the benefits that come from exchange and interaction with so many others. In the developing world, most people don’t yet live in big well-run cities. Given the chance to move to one, hundreds of millions of people would go there to get a job, get an education for their children, and live in a place that is clean, safe, and healthy. Other people will make a profit by hiring them or supplying them with infrastructure and other services. If the rules let this happen, everyone can be better off. It doesn’t take any charity to build well-run cities.

Q. What kinds of rules would have to be specified in a charter for a new city?
A. Rules about public sanitation are a simple and familiar example. Without them, a city can’t be a healthy place to live; but these rules don’t just happen. The rules for a city are different from the ones for a village, but as a village slowly gets bigger, a city may be stuck with the rules of the village. In a village, it might be O.K. to rule that anyone can urinate anyplace they want. In a modern city, it is better to have a rule saying that people have to urinate into toilets connected to the sewer system. According to a recent news report, the city government in Paris is having trouble enforcing this rule. They have special police units that give tickets to men who urinate against walls. So when we speak of rules, we must understand both rules on paper and an effective system of enforcement. In many cities in poor countries, health is bad because governments don’t enforce basic rules about sanitation. The crime rate is appallingly high because the government doesn’t enforce rules that prohibit theft and violence. Traffic fatalities and congestion are both high because they don’t have good traffic rules or if they do, they don’t enforce them. The fact that people still flock to cities with such bad rules tells us something about how big the other benefits from living in a city must be. But given the choice, they would surely rather go to a city with good rules instead of one with bad rules.

Q. You have argued that new cities can speed up growth in the developing world. Aren’t the cities that the world needs springing up naturally? Why do we need the construct of a charter city to encourage faster or better urbanization?
A. Economists tend to assume that societies will naturally adopt good rules. If that were true, societies would put in place the rules needed to get the gains from a city and well-run cities would indeed spring up. The evidence suggests to the contrary that many societies are stuck with bad rules. Moving from bad rules to better ones may be much harder than most economists have allowed. The construct of a charter city is a suggestion about how we can change the dynamics of rules. It is a way to speed up the rate of improvement in the rules. There is an analogy that may be helpful here. Large corporations operate according to an internal set of rules that we sometimes call a corporate culture. A natural question to ask is what mechanisms lead to improvement in the rule-sets that prevail in all the corporations in an industry. If you think of an industry like computing, it is immediately evident that much of the change comes from the entry of new organizations. They have new rule-sets that attract resources away from the existing ones. IBM had good internal rules for working with big corporations and data centers, but they didn’t work as well for working with small businesses and individual consumers. If IBM had been the only company allowed to be in the computer business, it would have taken a very long time to get where we are now, with networked computers in our pockets. The entry of new organizations like Digital, Intel, and Apple that operated under very different internal sets of rules sped up change in the industry. Charter cities are a way to bring the power of entry and choice to the dynamics of the rules for cities.

Q. Let’s move on to logistics. Who might grant the charter for one of these cities and see that it will be enforced?
A. Different charters could specify different arrangements. This means that we could try many new types of innovative structures. If a national government has sufficient credibility, it could start a charter city within its own territory and administer it from the national capital. This is, in effect, what some countries have done when they have created special economic zones with rules that are different from the ones that prevail in the rest of the country. You could imagine that a country like India might try something like this to speed up urbanization by cutting through many local rules that get in the way of urban development. In poorer countries that don’t have the same kind of credibility with international investors, a more interesting but controversial possibility is that two or more countries might sign a treaty specifying the charter for a new city and allocate between them responsibilities for administering different parts of the treaty. Let me give you a specific example. Right now, the United States and Cuba have a treaty that gives the United States administrative control in perpetuity over a piece of sovereign Cuban territory, Guantanamo Bay. I’ve suggested that Canada and Cuba sign a new treaty in which Canada would take over administration of this area, bring Canadian rule of law there, and let a city grow up that could bring to Cuba some of the advantages that Hong Kong brought to China.

Q. Why will governments, particularly the entrenched, corrupt governments found in many countries, be willing to cede control of these zones?
A. First let me push back on an assumption that many people make and that seems to be implicit in your question. This assumption is that “bad guys” are why so many people are stuck living under bad rules. If you were a good guy and were the mayor of New York, would you be able to build enough consensus to implement congestion pricing for traffic, at least within our lifetimes? Or would you be strong enough to be able to coerce the people who don’t want it to go along? Narratives about good guys and bad guys are always entertaining, but there is a deeper reason why people get stuck under bad rules. For those of us who live in the United States, it is easier to understand in a context like New York that is more familiar. It is quite possible that its existing political system will never allow an improvement like congestion pricing, and yet many people would happily move to a new city that had sensible pricing and smoothly flowing traffic at all hours of the day. Systems of rules are “sticky”; they are difficult for any leader or group to change. With this in mind, suppose you were the president of Cuba. Suppose you wanted to do for Cuba what Deng Xiaoping did for China: engineer the transition from communism to rapid market-led growth. To do this, you might want to create a special zone where some of your citizens could opt-in to the market system without forcing others to make this change. You might be able to do this with a charter city that you control out of the president’s office. Now suppose you also want to make a binding commitment to rule-of-law protections for the foreign investors and potential residents from foreign countries you’d like to attract to this city. Investors from the rest of the world could finance the infrastructure for a new city in exchange for fee income from users. Entrepreneurs and managers from the rest of the world might come and run the businesses that would hire millions of people. Many of these highly educated and experienced people might be émigrés who left when the island turned to communism. These investors and these potential residents will come only if you can promise them the protections afforded by the rule of law. By yourself, with the Cuban institutions that you control, there is simply no way for you to make a credible binding commitment to the rule of law. You could simply change your mind later. More importantly, your successor, whomever that may be, might want to back out of any promises you make. The only way for you and your contemporaries to make a binding, long-term commitment is to sign a treaty with a country like Canada and to use it as a third-party guarantor. In effect, what a treaty lets you do is leverage the existing credibility of Canadian institutions and bring in the rule of law.

Q. But what if some future government in Cuba wants to violate the terms of the treaty and take the city over once it is built?
A. This is why the example of Guantanamo Bay is so revealing. In practice, countries around the world, even countries that can’t get along, still respect treaties. Cuba respects the treaty with the United States, even as they complain bitterly about it. Another good example is Hong Kong. The British clearly did not want to live up to the terms of the treaty they signed, which returned control of important parts of Hong Kong to China after 99 years. China didn’t want to wait that long to get Hong Kong back. But in the end, for 99 years, they stuck to the terms of the treaty they signed. Of course, in relations between countries there is always the possibility of an act of war that violates a treaty, but few nations are willing to cross such an explicit “bright red line.” Think back to how easy it was to mobilize a military reaction to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The armed nations of the world don’t respond well to unilateral acts of war.

Q. It all sounds great as a theoretical exercise, but honestly, don’t your colleagues tell you that something like this will never happen?
A. They do say this, which is actually kind of ironic when you line it up with the other things they say. They recognize that the construct of a charter city is something that could make everyone better off. They admit that there is no technological or economic constraint that keeps us from building many of these. Then they say that for political reasons, it will never happen. They tell me that you can’t change politics; you can’t overcome nationalism; there is no way for countries to work together to extend the reach of good rules. Then these same economists suggest that we should just stick to business as usual. We should offer conventional economic advice and assume that political systems will naturally follow our advice when we point to something that could make everyone better off. But of course, they have already revealed that they don’t believe this. What’s going on here is a kind of self-censoring. Economists seem to think that we should propose things that are acceptable and that political systems will pursue, but that we should avoid proposing or even discussing things that are controversial or politically incorrect. I think we’d do our jobs better if we just said what’s true without trying to be amateur politicians. For example, back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, lots of development economists didn’t talk about the benefits of direct foreign investment and spoke instead of self-sufficiency because they thought that this was what the political actors in most poor countries wanted to hear. Now, of course, almost all developing nations are encouraging inward DFI. When we self-censored back then, we just slowed down movement toward global flows of technology via foreign investment. It happened despite what development economists said, not because of what they said. Think about the truly important changes in political systems. Back in the middle ages, suppose that someone described a legal system that enforced rules and contracts that everyone had to obey, even the country’s leaders. What would informed opinion of the day have been? “Great idea, but it will never happen.” No question it was hard to pull off, but it did happen. People always think that the unfamiliar is impossible. Many times, all that holds us back is a failure of imagination.

POST-SCARCITY
http://understandingsociety.blogspot.com/2010/06/social-progress.html
http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/EconomicGrowth.html
http://reason.com/archives/2001/12/01/post-scarcity-prophet
Post-Scarcity Prophet
by Ronald Bailey / December 2001

reason: In terms of real per capita income, Americans today are seven times richer than they were in 1900. How did that happen?
Paul Romer: Many things contributed, but the essential one is technological change. What I mean by that is the discovery of better ways to do things. In most coffee shops these days, you’ll find that the small, medium, and large coffee cups all use the same size lid now, whereas even five years ago they used to have different size lids for the different cups. That small change in the geometry of the cups means that somebody can save a little time in setting up the coffee shop, preparing the cups, getting your coffee, and getting out. Millions of little discoveries like that, combined with some very big discoveries, like the electric motor and antibiotics, have made the quality of life for people today dramatically higher than it was 100 years ago. The estimate you cite of a seven-fold increase in income — that’s the kind of number you get from the official statistics, but the truth is that if you look at the actual change in the quality of life, it’s larger than the number suggests. People who had today’s average income in 1900 were not as well off as the average person today, because they didn’t have access to cheap lattés or antibiotics or penicillin.

reason: New Growth Theory divides the world into “ideas” and “things.” What do you mean by that?
Romer: The paper that makes up the cup in the coffee shop is a thing. The insight that you could design small, medium, and large cups so that they all use the same size lid — that’s an idea. The critical difference is that only one person can use a given amount of paper. Ideas can be used by many people at the same time.

reason: What about human capital, the acquired skills and learned abilities that can increase productivity?
Romer: Human capital is comparable to a thing. You have skills as a writer, for example, and somebody — reason — can use those skills. That’s not something that we can clone and replicate. The formula for an AIDS drug, that’s something you could send over the Internet or put on paper, and then everybody in the world could have access to it. This is a hard distinction for people to get used to, because there are so many tight interactions between human capital and ideas. For example, human capital is how we make ideas. It takes people, people’s brains, inquisitive people, to go out and find ideas like new drugs for AIDS. Similarly, when we make human capital with kids in school, we use ideas like the Pythagorean theorem or the quadratic formula. So human capital makes ideas, and ideas help make human capital. But still, they’re conceptually distinct.

reason: What do you see as the necessary preconditions for technological progress and economic growth?
Romer: One extremely important insight is that the process of technological discovery is supported by a unique set of institutions. Those are most productive when they’re tightly coupled with the institutions of the market. The Soviet Union had very strong science in some fields, but it wasn’t coupled with strong institutions in the market. The upshot was that the benefits of discovery were very limited for people living there. The wonder of the United States is that we’ve created institutions of science and institutions of the market. They’re very different, but together they’ve generated fantastic benefits. When we speak of institutions, economists mean more than just organizations. We mean conventions, even rules, about how things are done. The understanding which most sharply distinguishes science from the market has to do with property rights. In the market, the fundamental institution is the notion of private ownership, that an individual owns a piece of land or a body of water or a barrel of oil and that individual has almost unlimited scope to decide how that resource should be used. In science we have a very different ethic. When somebody discovers something like the quadratic formula or the Pythagorean theorem, the convention in science is that he can’t control that idea. He has to give it away. He publishes it. What’s rewarded in science is dissemination of ideas. And the way we reward it is we give the most prestige and respect to those people who first publish an idea.

reason: Yet there is a mechanism in the market called patents and copyright, for quasi-property rights in ideas.
Romer: That’s central to the theory. To the extent that you’re using the market system to refine and bring ideas into practical application, we have to create some kind of control over the idea. That could be through patents. It could be through copyright. It might even be through secrecy. A firm can keep secret a lot of what it knows how to do.

reason: A formula for Coca-Cola?
Romer: Yes. Or take a lot of the things that Wal-Mart understands about discount retailing. They have a lot of insight about logistics and marketing which they haven’t patented or copyrighted, yet they can still make more money on it than other people because they keep it closely held within the firm. So for relying on the market — and we do have to rely on the market to develop a lot of ideas — you have to have some mechanisms of control and some opportunities for people to make a profit developing those ideas. But there are other stages in the development of ideas. Think about the basic science that led to the discovery of the structure of DNA. There are some kinds of ideas where, once those ideas are uncovered, you’d like to make them as broadly available as possible, so everybody in the world can put them to good use. There we find it efficient to give those ideas away for free and encourage everybody to use them. If you’re going to be giving things away for free, you’re going to have to find some system to finance them, and that’s where government support typically comes in. In the next century we’re going to be moving back and forth, experimenting with where to draw the line between institutions of science and institutions of the market. People used to assign different types of problems to each institution. “Basic research” got government support; for “applied product development,” we’d rely on the market. Over time, people have recognized that that’s a pretty artificial distinction. What’s becoming more clear is that it’s actually the combined energies of those two sets of institutions, often working on the same problem, that lead to the best outcomes.

reason: We hear a lot of complaints from academicians about how business and corporations are taking over university research.
Romer: I think it’s important to have a distinct realm of science and a distinct realm of the market, but it’s also very good to have interaction between those two. One of the best forms of interaction is for people who work in one to move into the other. The people in university biology or biochemistry departments complain when they see somebody go on leave from the university and start a company that’s going to develop a new drug. That’s not the way it was done 30 years ago. But this is the best way to take those freely floating, contentiously discussed ideas from the realm of science and then get them out into the market process, because the reality is that there are virtually no ideas which generate benefits for consumers if there’s not an intervening for-profit firm which commercializes them, tailors them to the market, and then delivers them. You can point to examples where things jump right from science to benefits for the consumer, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

reason: Do we run the risk of ruining science by involving it too much in the market?
Romer: Well, some people would say that everything should be patented. The danger is that if you went that far, you could actually slow the discovery process down. There are very good theoretical reasons for thinking that market and property rights are the ideal solution for dealing with things, but there are also strong theoretical reasons for thinking that in the realm of ideas, intellectual property rights are a double-edged sword. You want to rely on them to some extent to get their benefits, but you want to have a parallel, independent system and then exploit the tension that’s created between the two.

reason: What are those theoretical reasons?
Romer: It traces back to this multiple use I was describing for ideas vs. single use for things. The miracle of the market system is that for objects, especially transformed objects, there’s a single price which does two different jobs. It creates an incentive for somebody to produce the right amount of a good, and it allocates who it should go to. A farmer looks at the price of a bushel of wheat and decides whether to plant wheat or plant corn. The price helps motivate the production of wheat. On the other side, when a consumer has to decide whether to buy bread or corn meal, the price allocates the wheat between the different possible users. One price does both jobs, so you can just let the market system create the price and everything works wonderfully. With ideas, you can’t get one price to do both things. Let me give an extreme example. Oral rehydration therapy is one of those few ideas which did actually jump immediately from science to consumer benefit. It’s a simple scientific insight about how you can save the life of a child who’s suffering from diarrhea. Literally millions of lives have been saved with it. So what price should you charge people for using it? Because everybody can use the idea at the same time, there’s no tragedy of the commons in the intellectual sphere. There’s no problem of overuse or overgrazing or overfishing an idea. If you give an idea away for free, you don’t get any of the problems when you try and give objects away for free. So the efficient thing for society is to offer really big rewards for some scientist who discovers an oral rehydration therapy. But then as soon as we discover it, we give the idea away for free to everybody throughout the world and explain “Just use this little mixture of basically sugar and salt, put it in water, and feed that to a kid who’s got diarrhea because if you give them pure water you’ll kill them.” So with ideas, you have this tension: You want high prices to motivate discovery, but you want low prices to achieve efficient widespread use. You can’t with a single price achieve both, so if you push things into the market, you try to compromise between those two, and it’s often an unhappy compromise. The government doesn’t pay drug companies prizes for coming up with AIDS drugs. It says they’ve got to incur these huge expenses, but then if they succeed, they can charge a high price for selling that drug. This has generated a lot of progress and we’re prolonging the life of people with AIDS, but the high price is also denying many people access to those drugs.

reason: Over the broad sweep of human history, technological progress and economic growth were painfully slow. Why has it sped up now?
Romer: It’s so striking. Evolution has not made us any smarter in the last 100,000 years. Why for almost all of that time is there nothing going on, and then in the last 200 years things suddenly just go nuts? One answer is that the more people you’re around, the better off you’re going to be. This again traces back to the fundamental difference I described before. If everything were just objects, like trees, then more people means there’s less wood per person. But if somebody discovers an idea, everybody gets to use it, so the more people you have who are potentially looking for ideas, the better off we’re all going to be. And each time we made a little improvement in technology, we could support a slightly larger population, and that led to more people who could go out and discover some new technology. Another answer is that we developed better institutions. Neither the institutions of the market nor the institutions of science existed even as late as the Middle Ages. Instead we had the feudal system, where peasants couldn’t decide where to work and the lord couldn’t sell his land. On the science side, we had alchemy. What did you do if you discovered anything? You kept it secret. The last thing you’d do was tell anybody.

reason: How did the better institutions come about?
Romer: That’s one of the deep questions. There’s some kind of political process, some group decision process, which leads to institutions. If you go back to what I said a minute ago about the advantages of having many people, you can see that there’s a tension here. There are huge benefits to having more people and having us all interact amongst ourselves to create goods and to share ideas. But you face a really big challenge in trying to coordinate all of those decisions, because if you have large numbers of independent decision makers who aren’t coordinating their actions appropriately, you could get chaos. Think about millions of drivers with no rules of the road, no agreement about whether you drive on the left or the right. So where do these institutions come from? It was a process of discovery, just as people discovered how to make bronze. They also discovered ways to organize political life. We can use democratic choice as an alternative to, say, a hereditary system of selecting who’s the king. What’s subtle here is, How do those discoveries get into action? It’s not like a profit motive in a firm that brings software to market. There was a process of persuasion when somebody discovered that, hey, this would be a better way for us to organize ourselves. So we had political and economic thinkers — Locke, Hobbes, Smith — who managed to persuade some of their peers to adopt those institutions. So institutions came from a combination of discovery, persuasion, adoption — and then copying. When good institutions work somewhere in the world, other places can copy them.

reason: Many economic historians are critical of New Growth Theory. Economic growth is a modern phenomenon, yet it appears that New Growth Theory should apply equally to the Roman Empire or Ming China as well as the modern world.
Romer: I think that’s a caricature of the theory. New Growth Theory describes what’s possible for us but says very explicitly that if you don’t have the right institutions in place, it won’t happen. If anything, it was the old style of theory which made it sound like technological change falls from the sky like manna from heaven, regardless of how we structure our institutions. This new theory says technological change comes about if you have the right institutions, which we have had.

reason: So what’s the crucial difference between Ming China and modern economies today?
Romer: Ming China was very advanced. It had steel. It had clocks. It had movable type. Yet it was far from generating either the modern institutions of science or the institutions of the market. The market and science differ in their treatment of property rights, but they’re similar in that they rely on individuals who are free to operate under essentially no constraints by authority or tradition. It took a special set of historical circumstances to persuade people that things could work if you freed people, within certain institutional constraints, to pursue their own interests. This is where Ming China was very far away from modern notions. Part of the answer to this big question about human history has been the acceptance of relatively unfettered freedom for large numbers of individuals. It’s something we just take for granted, but if you described it in the abstract to the people of 50,000 years ago, they would never believe it could possibly work. They were conditioned to systems where there was the head man or the chief, and as numbers got at all large, there was a sense that you had to have somebody with kind of dictatorial control. It was a deep philosophical insight and deep change in the whole way we viewed the world to tolerate and accept and then truly celebrate freedom. Freedom may be the fundamental hinge on which everything turns.

reason: You often cite the combinatorial explosion of ideas as the source of economic growth. What do you mean by that?
Romer: On any conceivable horizon — I’ll say until about 5 billion years from now, when the sun explodes — we’re not going to run out of discoveries. Just ask how many things we could make by taking the elements from the periodic table and mixing them together. There’s a simple mathematical calculation: It’s 10 followed by 30 zeros. In contrast, 10 followed by 19 zeros is about how much time has elapsed since the universe was created.

reason: Of all those billions of combinations, the vast majority are probably going to be useless. So how do you find the useful ones?
Romer: This is why science and the market are so important for this discovery process. It’s really important that we focus our energy on those paths that look promising, because there are many more dead ends out there than there are useful things to discover. You have to have systems which explore lots of different paths, but then those systems have to rigorously shut off the ones that aren’t paying off and shift resources into directions which look more promising. The market does this automatically. The institutions of science could tip either way. In American science, we have vigorous competition between lots of different universities, which leads to a kind of marketplace of ideas. You can think of other institutions of science that aren’t nearly as competitive. In the national laboratories, people are in the worst case civil servants: They’re there for life, and there’s always more funding for them.

reason: Does New Growth Theory give us some new insights on how to think about monopolies?
Romer: There was an old, simplistic notion that monopoly was always bad. It was based on the realm of objects — if you only have objects and you see somebody whose cost is significantly lower than their price, it would be a good idea to break up the monopoly and get competition to reign freely. So in the realm of things, of physical objects, there is a theoretical justification for why you should never tolerate monopoly. But in the realm of ideas, you have to have some degree of monopoly power. There are some very important benefits from monopoly, and there are some potential costs as well. What you have to do is weigh the costs against the benefits. Unfortunately, that kind of balancing test is sensitive to the specifics, so we don’t have general rules. Compare the costs and benefits of copyrighting books versus the costs and benefits of patenting the human genome. They’re just very different, so we have to create institutions that can respond differentially in those cases.

reason: You have written, “There is absolutely no reason why we cannot have persistent growth as far into the future as you can imagine.” Your Stanford colleague, the biologist Paul Ehrlich, disagrees. He believes that economic growth is an unsustainable cancer that is destroying the planet. How would you go about convincing people like Ehrlich that they are wrong?
Romer: Paul seems singularly immune to being convinced. He has been on the wrong side of these issues, so I wouldn’t set that as my standard of persuading anybody. However, if I took a neutral observer who might listen to me and Paul, there’s a pretty easy way to explain why I’m right and why Paul misunderstands. You have to define what you mean by growth. If by growth you mean population, more people, then Paul is actually right. There are physical limits on how many people you can have on Earth. If we took peak population growth rates from the ’70s at 2 percent per year, you can only sustain that for a couple of hundred years before you really run into true physical constraints.

reason: I would remind you that Ehrlich said that there would be billions of people dying of starvation in the 1980s.
Romer: He got the potentials wrong and the time frame wrong, but it’s absolutely true that population growth will have to come to zero at some point here on Earth. The only debate is about when. Now, what do I mean when I say growth can continue? I don’t mean growth in the number of people. I don’t even mean growth in the number of physical objects, because you clearly can’t get exponential growth in the amount of mass that each person controls. We’ve got the same mass here on Earth that we had 100,000 years ago and we’re never going to get any more of it. What I mean is growth in value, and the way you create value is by taking that fixed quantity of mass and rearranging it from a form that isn’t worth very much into a form that’s worth much more. A canonical example is turning sand on the beach into semiconductors.

reason: What do you make of the recent protests against globalization?
Romer: When we were describing the broad sweep of human history, we talked about how hard it was for people to get used to the idea of freedom. There was another kind of adjustment that we had to make as well: We had to get used to the idea of the market, and especially market exchange among anonymous strangers. People often contrast this with the institutions of the family, where you’ve got notions of sharing and mutual obligation. Many of us have a deep psychological intuition rooted in our evolutionary history that makes us feel warmly toward the family and suspicious of large, impersonal, anonymous market exchange. I think that emotional impulse is part of what some of the environmental ideologues draw on when they attack the whole market system and corporations and modern science and everything. This is a case where human psychology that was attuned to a hunter-gatherer environment is just a little bit out of touch with a new world that’s much more interconnected, much more interactive, and in many ways a much more satisfying and rich human experience. You can idealize life in a hunter-gatherer society, but nobody wants to go through the frequent death of a child — a very common experience for almost all of history that has been reduced a phenomenal degree within human memory.

reason: How would you convince protestors of the benefits of globalization?
Romer: First, just look at the facts. The protestors are amazingly ignorant about what has happened in terms of, say, life expectancy. Life expectancy for people in the poorest countries of the world is now better than life expectancy in England when Malthus was so worried about it. Then you look at the variation of experience between the poor countries that have done best and the ones that have done worst, and try to see what the correlations are. Which countries did best? Was it the countries that adopted the market most strongly, embraced foreign investment, and tried to adopt property rights? Or was it the other countries? The evidence again is clear. One of the untold stories about the ’80s and ’90s was the really dramatic turnaround in the developing world that took place on this issue. If you track the legislative history on foreign investment, you see a colonial legacy, even as late as the ’70s, where developing countries have laws designed to keep corporations out. Then there’s this dramatic turnaround as they saw the benefits that a few key economies received by inviting in foreign investment. It’s not the people from the developing world who are making the argument that Nike is a threat to their sovereignty or well-being. It’s people in the United States. The people in the developing world understand pretty clearly where their self-interest lies.

reason: What about boosting economic growth in developed countries?
Romer: For Europe and the United States, I think we need to be thinking very hard about how we can restructure our institutions of science. How can we restructure our system of higher education? How can we make sure that it has the benefits of vigorous competition and free entry, especially of those bright young people who might do really different kinds of things? We should not assume that we’ve already got the ideal institutions and the only thing we need to do is just throw more money at them. Unfortunately, I think a lot of countries have a long way to go to catch up to the state where we are in the United States — and I’m not that happy about where we are in the United States. Many European countries simply have not recognized the power of competition between institutions. So they have monolithic, state-run university systems. That stifles competition between individual researchers and slows down the whole innovative process. They also need to let people move more flexibly from the university into the private sector and back. This is something that many countries watching venture capital start-ups have become aware of, although they’ve been slower to get their institutions to adjust.

reason: In your recent paper on doing R&D, you said you think it would be possible to raise the growth rate from its average rate of 1.8 percent between 1870 and 1992 to 2.3 percent.
Romer: Well, I was trying to set a goal. When you’re thinking about the future, you never really know what we’re going to discover, but I think there’s a reason to set for ourselves an ambition of trying to raise the rate of growth by half a percent per year. The United States achieved about 0.5 percent a year faster growth than the U.K. did since 1870, so we’ve got a historical precedent for creating institutions which lead to better innovation of the market and strengthen science significantly. We should aim for that kind of improvement again.

reason: Why would that be important?
Romer: As you accumulate these growth rates over the decades, we get much higher levels of income. That lets us deal more effectively with all the problems we face, whether it’s making good on commitments to pay for people’s health care as they get older, preserving more of the environment, or providing resources so that people can have time to be out of the labor market for a certain period of time — when they’re raising kids, say, or when they want to take an extended sabbatical. Income per capita in 2000 was about $36,000 in year 2000 dollars. If real income per person grows at 1.8 percent per year, by 2050 it will increase to $88,000 in year 2000 purchasing power. Not bad. But if it grows at 2.3 percent per year, it will grow to about $113,000 in year 2000 purchasing power. In today’s purchasing power, that extra $25,000 per person is equal to income per capita in 1984. So if we can make the choices that increase the rate of growth or real income per person to 2.3 percent per year, in 50 years we can get extra income per person equal to what in 1984 it had taken us all of human history to achieve. One policy innovation, for example, that would boost the growth rate would be to subsidize universities to train more undergraduate and graduate students in science and engineering. Also, you could give graduate students portable fellowships that they could use to pay for training in any field of natural science and engineering at any institution the students choose. Graduate students would no longer be hostage to the sometimes parochial research interests of university professors. Portable fellowships would encourage lab directors and professors to develop programs that meet the research and career interests of the students.

reason: What’s next in New Growth Theory? Any conceptual breakthroughs on the horizon?
Romer: Because the economics of ideas are so different from the economics of markets, we’re going to have to develop a richer understanding of non-market institutions, science-like institutions. This is going to be a new endeavor for economics.

reason: Do you think that there is a big role for economic historians in helping uncover this richer theory?
Romer: History is an absolutely essential body of evidence, because you can’t make inferences about long-run trends using year-to-year or quarter-to-quarter data.

reason: There is a growing movement against technological progress around the world. Why is there this negative reaction to technological progress and what can we do about it?
Romer: You’re a big believer in turmoil and creative destruction when you’re early in life, because you can knock down the old and create your new thing. Once you achieve a certain level, you tend to get very conservative and try to slow the gales down, because they might blow you over. So I think we have to seriously commit ourselves to maintaining space for new entrants and for young people. That’s one way to keep the process going. Another is to do what scholars have always done: to proselytize, to dissect incoherent arguments. I think we’ll be able to maintain this dynamic of progress that was unleashed a couple centuries ago. There will be small setbacks and a lot of noise and complaining, but the opportunities and the benefits are just too great to pull back.

reason: Could anything stop economic growth and technological progress?
Romer: Even if one society loses its nerve, there’ll be new entrants who can take up the torch and push ahead. Mancur Olson talks about Caldwell’s Law, the idea that no nation has remained truly innovative for very long. Look at Italy, and then Holland, and then the U.K., and then the United States. The pessimistic interpretation is that nobody can keep the process going. The optimistic interpretation is, Yes, you can, but somebody else comes along and the progress moves from one place to the next. We’ve seen individual societies where conservative or reactionary elements suppress the changes. What has protected us in the past is that there were other nations that could try new paths. You didn’t have the same political dynamic everywhere at once. If in the far future we reach a situation where there really is truly global political control — if multinational institutions grow more powerful over economic affairs so that there is imposed uniformity across all nations — then there’d be a loss of diversity. And if the reactionary elements got in control of those institutions, there’d be no room for the new entrant, the upstart, to adopt new ideas. But that’s a pretty distant and unlikely prospect.

3rd PARTY OUTSIDE CONSULTANT
http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/files/congressional-testimony1.pdf
http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2004/12/legitimacy_101.html
http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2005/08/neotribalism.html
http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2010/06/journal-resilient-detroit.html
http://www.boingboing.net/2010/06/15/john-robb-interview.html
John Robb interview: Open Source Warfare & Resilience
by Chris Arkenberg / Jun 15, 2010

John Robb is a globally-recognized author, technologist, and entrepreneur specializing in the complex systems of insurgency and asymmetrical warfare. His book, Brave New War, is an Amazon best-seller and established his expertise as a researcher & military consultant. He has been featured in the New York Times, The Economist, and the Wall Street Journal. His daily thoughts are collected on his blog, Global Guerrillas.

Q. In your book Brave New War you explore the changing nature of warfare. What are some recent examples of insurgency, resource conflicts, or terrorism that you feel best illustrate this new landscape?
A. Here’s an interesting story that may do the trick. Back in 2004, the US military was getting trounced in guerrillas in Iraq. Worse, the US military establishment didn’t know why. Didn’t have a clue. To correct this, I began to write about how 21st Century warfare actually worked on my blog, Global Guerrillas. Essentially, I concluded that guerrilla groups could use open source organizational models (drawn from the software industry), networked super-empowerment (freely available high tech tools, network information access, connections to a globalized economy), and systems disruption (the targeting of critical points on infrastructure networks that cause cascading failures) to defeat even the most powerful of opponents, even a global superpower.

The new theories of warfare I developed on the blog proved both predictive and very popular. As a result, I spent a lot of time on the speaking circuit in Washington DC (DoD, CIA, NSA, etc.). Of course, since my work was on a blog everyone could read it, even the guerrillas themselves.So, it was a little surprising although not unexpected when I got an e-mail in 2009 from Henry Okah, a leader of MEND (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta). He invited me to Nigeria and stated that he was an avid reader of my blog.

It was a moment out of history, as if the UK’s General Liddell Hart (the originator of blitzkrieg armored warfare) got a note from Germany’s tank General Heinz Guderian in 1939, thanking him for his work. Here’s why: MEND’s campaign against Shell (the oil company) and the Nigerian government between 2006 and 2008 was a great example of how I thought 21st Century warfare would be fought. The organization structure was loose and organized along the lines of an open source movement. Lots of small autonomous groups joined together to take down the country’s oil infrastructure by targeting vulnerable points in the network (Nigeria is a major global oil exporter). During 2007, they were able to take out one million barrels a day of oil production. This shortfall was the reason oil prices rose to $147 a barrel. Those high prices had a negative global economic impact: the start of a global recession and a spike in default rates in US sub-prime mortgages (due to higher driving and food costs). That spike in sub-prime mortgage default rates radically accelerated the demise of our grossly over leveraged global financial sector, which in turn led to the financial panic of 2008.

In short, MEND’s disruption campaign, yielded tens of trillions of dollars in global economic damage for tens of thousands of dollars spent on making the attacks. That’s a return on investment (ROI) of 1,000,000,000%. How do nation-states survive when an unknown guerrilla group in a remote corner of the world can generate returns on that magnitude? They don’t.

Q. The United States is suffering both the economic decline of its industry and the ongoing dismantling of the social welfare apparatus supporting the citizenry. In your opinion, will this inevitably lead to some form of armed insurgency in America?
A. Yes. The establishment of a predatory and deeply unstable global economic system – beyond the control of any group of nations – is in the process of gutting developed democracies. Think in terms of the 2008 crisis, over and over again. Most of what we consider normal in the developed world, from the middle class lifestyle to government social safety nets, will be nearly gone in less than a decade. Most developed governments will be in and out of financial insolvency. Democracy, as we knew it, will wither and the nation-state bureaucracy will increasingly become an enforcer for the global bond market and kleptocratic transnational corporations. Think Argentina, Greece, Spain, Iceland, etc. As a result, the legitimacy of the developed democracies will fade and the sense of betrayal will be pervasive (think in terms of the collapse of the Soviet Union). People will begin to shift their loyalties to any local group that can provide for their daily needs. Many of these groups will be crime fueled local insurgencies and militias. In short, the developed democracies will hollow out.

Q. How big of a domestic threat is there from the narco-insurgency in Mexico and the growing power of Latin American gangs in America?
A. Very big. A threat that dwarfs anything we face in Afghanistan (a useless money pit of a war). It’s not a threat that can be solved by conventional military means, since the problem is that Mexico is a hollow state. Unlike a failed state like Somalia (utter chaos), a hollow state still retains the facade of a nation (borders, bureaucracy, etc.). However, a hollow state doesn’t exert any meaningful control over the countryside. It’s not only that the state can’t do it militarily, they don’t have anything they can offer people. So, instead, control is ceded to local groups that can provide basic levels of opt-in security, minimal services, and jobs via new connections to the global economy – think in terms of La Familia in Michoacana. The real danger to the US is that not only will these groups expand into the US (they already have), it is that these groups will accelerate the development of similar homegrown groups in the US as our middle class evaporates.

Q. Do you see a diminishing role for the state in large-scale governance? Does this compel communities to do it for themselves?
A. Yes, large scale governance is on the way out. Not only are nearly all governments financially insolvent, they can’t protect citizens from a global system that is running amok. As services and security begin to fade, local sources of order will emerge to fill the void. Hopefully, most people will opt to take control of this process by joining together with others to build resilient communities that can offer the independence, security, and prosperity that isn’t offered by the nation-state anymore. However, this is something you will have to build for yourself. Nobody is going to help you build it.

Q. In what ways are the new methods of insurgency & terror instructive towards building strategies for resiliency?
A. Here are a few of the parallels:
* Powerful technologies. Inexpensive tools that make it possible to produce locally what it used to take a global economy to produce.
* Networks. The ability to draw on the ideas of hundreds of thousands of people working on the same problems through open source tinkering networks. The ability to create new economic networks that accelerate prosperity.

Q. You’re currently writing a book about local resiliency. What are the primary global drivers behind your interest in resiliency?
A. Yes, I am. It’s about building resilient communities. Communities that offer energy independence, food security, economic prosperity, and protection. What are the global drivers that make resiliency important? Simply: stability, prosperity, and security is going away. You will soon find you are on your own, if you haven’t already. If you do nothing, you will suffer the predations of gangs, militias, and corrupt bureaucracies that will fill the void left by retreating nation-states. If you want to avoid this fate, you can build resilient communities that not only allow you and your family to survive intact, but to thrive. My goal with my new book, is to provide people with a road map on how to build resilient communities from scratch.

Q. What is the core messages you have to communities about preparing for the coming age?
A. Produce everything you can locally. Virtualize everything else. The value of your home will be based on the ability of your community to offer energy independence, food security, economic vitality, and protection. Survivalist stockpiles and zero footprint frugality are pathways to failure. Think in terms of vibrant local economic ecosystems that are exceedingly efficient, productive, and bountiful.

MEGA-CITY BEST PRACTICES
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0211/feature3/
http://www.megacities.nl/archive.html
http://www.megacitiesproject.org/pdf/success_stories.pdf

http://www.megacitiesproject.org/trans_1.php

Curitiba’s “Surface Metro” to New York: The “Surface Metro” system uses dedicated bus lanes, and cylindrical loading tubes which allow passengers to pay in advance and board quickly. When the bus pulls alongside the tube, the bus driver opens the bus and tube doors, and the passengers walk directly onto the bus. The reduced dwell time required by the buses at the tube station results in less waiting time, increased speed and roadway capacity, and lessened air pollution. In 1992, the system was demonstrated in New York where four of the tubes and buses were installed in lower Manhattan, with buses operating for six weeks.

Sao Paulo’s Alert II to New York City: Alert II was an air pollution reduction program in Sao Paulo utilizing publicly-displayed air pollution monitors and a comprehensive public education campaign to voluntarily close down the streets of downtown Sao Paulo on dangerously smoggy days. The program was adapted in New York City by a task force including Commissioner of Environmental Protection Albert Appleton and Commissioner of Transportation Gerard Soffian. The New York version of Alert II, which was called “Green Alert/No-Drive Day” involved shutting down Park Avenue to traffic on World Environment Day, June 3, 1993.

Bangkok’s Magic Eyes Anti-littering program to Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles: Magic Eyes is a unique anti-littering campaign targeted at children age 6-16. It utilizes green cartoon eyes (derived from traditional Thai mythology) which remind the children with songs and rhymes to pick up litter, and remind their parents to do the same. This program, which has reduced littering in Bangkok by an estimated 90% is now being replicated in Rio de Janeiro as part of the Clean Rio campaign through the Department of Sanitation and the School System. The enigmatic green eyes of the Thai version have been re-interpreted as a playful cartoon extraterrestrial more appropriate to the Brazilian culture. This innovation is also being adapted in Los Angeles, through the efforts of LA’s Best, an organization based in the Mayor’s office which designs and runs children’s educational programs.

Cairo’s Zabbaleen initiative to Manila and Bombay: In Cairo, the Zabbaleen people have eked out their existence for centuries by collecting trash and selling it to manufacturers capable of recycling it. Through the Zabbaleen initiative, the Zabbaleen have been given the training, equipment, and start-up funds necessary to organize small micro-enterprises where they convert the trash into marketable products, such as shoes, textiles, or pots and pans. In this way, the Zab baleen receives the benefits of adding value to the recyclable and can channel their profits into improving their community through the creation of better housing, schools, and health care centers. The Zabbaleen initiative is now being replicated in Bombay through the Bombay Municipal Corporation, which is incorporating the innovation into their “rag-pickers initiative”, in Manila through the Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies and it will also be replicated in Los Angeles by the Concerned Citizens of South Central (a community-based organization) as part of the W. K. Kellogg funded Urban Leadership for the 21st Centuty Project.

New York City’s “City Harvest” to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro: City Harvest is a non-profit organization in New York City which collects unused, unserved food from restaurants and redistributes it to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. In 1992, the basic idea of this innovation was introduced to a number of key government leaders in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo and was incorporated into the National Campaign Against Hunger and Misery, coordinated by IBASE.

Los Angeles’ Small Business Toxic Minimization Program to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires: Through the Small Business Toxic Minimization Program, retired chemical and environmental engineers are enlisted to site visit small businesses and help them to find creative ways to reduce toxic waste, while maximizing their bottom line profit as well. In 1992, the project was transferred to Rio de Janeiro where it is now being tested on a small scale by the Guanabara Bay De-Pollution Group. This year, it is also being replicated by the Mayor’s office of Avelleneda, one of the municipalities comprising Greater Buenos Aires. Through the Small Business Toxic Minimization Program, retired chemical and environmental engineers are enlisted to site visit small businesses and help them to find creative ways to reduce toxic waste, while maximizing their bottom line profit as well. In 1992, the project was transferred to Rio de Janeiro where it is now being tested on a small scale by the Guanabara Bay De-Pollution Group. This year, it is also being replicated by the Mayor’s office of Avelleneda, one of the municipalities comprising Greater Buenos Aires.

Bombay’s “Child-to-Child” Community Health Care program to Rio de Janeiro: Through the Child-to Child Program, children in Bombay’s squatter settlements are trained as mini-doctors who teach their friends and family about basic approaches to curative and preventative health care. The program is being adapted for implementation in Rio de Janeiro, by a team led by Maria Teresa Ewbank, who represents the Escola Nacional de Daude, ENSP.

‘UNSTOPPABLE’, ‘ENDLESS CITIES’
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/22/un-cities-mega-regions
UN report: World’s biggest cities merging into ‘mega-regions’
Trend towards ‘endless cities’ could significantly affect population and wealth in the next 50 years
by John Vidal / 22 March 2010

The world’s first mega-city, comprised of Hong Kong, Shenhzen and Guangzhou, home to about 120 million people. Photograph: Nasa
The world’s mega-cities are merging to form vast “mega-regions” which may stretch hundreds of kilometres across countries and be home to more than 100 million people, according to a major new UN report. The phenomenon of the so-called “endless city” could be one of the most significant developments – and problems – in the way people live and economies grow in the next 50 years, says UN-Habitat, the agency for human settlements, which identifies the trend of developing mega-regions in its biannual State of World Cities report.

The largest of these, says the report – launched today at the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro – is the Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region in China, home to about 120 million people. Other mega-regions have formed in Japan and Brazil and are developing in India, west Africa and elsewhere. The trend helped the world pass a tipping point in the last year, with more than half the world’s people now living in cities. The UN said that urbanisation is now “unstoppable”. Anna Tibaijuka, outgoing director of UN-Habitat, said: “Just over half the world now lives in cities but by 2050, over 70% of the world will be urban dwellers. By then, only 14% of people in rich countries will live outside cities, and 33% in poor countries.”

The development of mega-regions is regarded as generally positive, said the report’s co-author Eduardo Lopez Moreno: “They [mega-regions], rather than countries, are now driving wealth. Research shows that the world’s largest 40 mega-regions cover only a tiny fraction of the habitable surface of our planet and are home to fewer than 18% of the world’s population [but] account for 66% of all economic activity and about 85% of technological and scientific innovation,” said Moreno. “The top 25 cities in the world account for more than half of the world’s wealth,” he added. “And the five largest cities in India and China now account for 50% of those countries’ wealth.” The migration to cities, while making economic sense, is affecting the rural economy too: “Most of the wealth in rural areas already comes from people in urban areas sending money back,” Moreno said.

The growth of mega-regions and cities is also leading to unprecedented urban sprawl, new slums, unbalanced development and income inequalities as more and more people move to satellite or dormitory cities. “Cities like Los Angeles grew 45% in numbers between 1975-1990, but tripled their surface area in the same time. This sprawl is now increasingly happening in developing countries as real estate developers promote the image of a ‘world-class lifestyle’ outside the traditional city,” say the authors.

Urban sprawl, they say, is the symptom of a divided, dysfunctional city. “It is not only wasteful, it adds to transport costs, increases energy consumption, requires more resources, and causes the loss of prime farmland.” “The more unequal that cities become, the higher the risk that economic disparities will result in social and political tension. The likelihood of urban unrest in unequal cities is high. The cities that are prospering the most are generally those that are reducing inequalities,” said Moreno.

In a sample survey of world cities, the UN found the most unequal were in South Africa. Johannesburg was the least equal in the world, only marginally ahead of East London, Bloemfontein, and Pretoria. Latin American, Asian and African cities were generally more equal, but mainly because they were uniformly poor, with a high level of slums and little sanitation. Some of the most the most egalitarian cities were found to be Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh.

The US emerged as one of the most unequal societies with cities like New York, Chicago and Washington less equal than places like Brazzaville in Congo-Brazzaville, Managua in Nicaragua and Davao City in the Phillippines. “The marginalisation and segregation of specific groups [in the US] creates a city within a city. The richest 1% of households now earns more than 72 times the average income of the poorest 20% of the population. In the ‘other America’, poor black families are clustered in ghettoes lacking access to quality education, secure tenure, lucrative work and political power,” says the report.

The never-ending city
Cities are pushing beyond their limits and are merging into new massive conurbations known as mega-regions, which are linked both physically and economically. Their expansion drives economic growth but also leads to urban sprawl, rising inequalities and urban unrest. The biggest mega-regions, which are at the forefront of the rapid urbanisation sweeping the world, are:
• Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou, China, home to about 120 million people;
• Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe, Japan, expected to grow to 60 million people by 2015;
• Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo region with 43 million people in Brazil.

The same trend on an even larger scale is seen in fast-growing “urban corridors”:
• West Africa: 600km of urbanisation linking Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana, and driving the entire region’s economy;
• India: From Mumbai to Dehli;
• East Asia: Four connected megalopolises and 77 separate cities of over 200,000 people each occur from Beijing to Tokyo via Pyongyang and Seoul.

NO DEFENSES
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0JIW/is_4_56/ai_110458726/
http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/study-centre/1007-what-is-the-city-as-bruce-lee-geoff-manaugh
The Future of War and the Indirect City

In 1564, the Tuscan urban planner, archaeologist, military theorist, mathematician and writer Girolamo Maggi published a work of military urbanism called Della fortificatione delle città, written by his colleague Giacomo Fusto Castriotto. That work, on the fortification of cities, devoted several passages to what might be called indirect or soft fortification: that is, protecting an urban population from attack not through the use of heavy walls, inner citadels, or armed bastions—although the book is, of course, filled with such things—but through a complex street plan.

Indirect streets and narrow walkways could be put to use, Castriotto and Maggi argued, as agents of spatial disorientation, leading an invader everywhere but where they actually wanted to go. It was a kind of urban judo, or the city as martial art. The city itself could be weaponized, in other words, its layout made militarily strategic: turning the speed at which your enemy arrives into exactly what would later entrap him, lost, unable to retrace his footsteps, fatally vulnerable and spatially exposed.

The CCA exhibited much of its collected manuscripts on urban fortification seventeen years ago, under the name The Geometry of Defence: Fortification Treatises and Manuals, 1500-1800. In the accompanying pamphlet, curator and former CCA historiographer Michael J. Lewis describes the geometric complexification that the fortified cities of the Renaissance underwent in the name of self-protection (Alberto Pérez-Gómez’s Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science also contains a very lengthy history of this same material and is well worth consulting in full). A constantly shifting imbalance of power between the wall-builders and the invaders led to new spatializations of the metropolis. Whether due to the invention of gunpowder, massed assaults or simply new building techniques, the urban landscape was constantly reformatted according to the weapons that might be used against it.

Of course, this will be a very familiar story to most readers, so I don’t want to repeat it; I do, however, want to focus on the idea of forsaking mass—thick walls—for complexity in the name of strategic disorientation. There are well-known stories, for instance, of English coastal villages during World War II removing their road and street signs so as to prevent logical navigation by German aggressors, even erecting dummy signs to send confused Nazi paratroopers wandering off in the wrong direction.

But if the well-fortified Renaissance city could be seen, for the sake of argument, as something like the Hummer of military urbanism, what is the city-as-Bruce-Lee? A city that is lean, even physically underwhelming, but brilliantly fast and highly flexible? What is the city that needs no defensive walls at all?

There are a variety of possible answers here, all of which would be interesting to discuss; but I’m most struck by the possibility that the phenomenon recently dubbed the feral city is, in a sense, the anti-fortress in exactly this spatial sense. In a 2003 paper for the Naval War College Review, author Richard J. Norton describes the feral city as “a great metropolis covering hundreds of square miles. Once a vital component in a national economy, this sprawling urban environment is now a vast collection of blighted buildings, an immense petri dish of both ancient and new diseases, a territory where the rule of law has long been replaced by near anarchy in which the only security available is that which is attained through brute power.” From the perspective of a war planner or soldier, Norton explains, the feral city is spatially impenetrable; it is a maze resistant to aerial mapping and far too dangerous to explore on foot. Indeed, its “buildings, other structures, and subterranean spaces would offer nearly perfect protection from overhead sensors, whether satellites or unmanned aerial vehicles,” Norton writes, creating, in the process, an environment where soldiers are as likely to die from rabies, tetanus, and wild dog attacks as they are from armed combat.

I’m led to wonder here what a 21st-century defensive literature of the feral city might look like—from temporary barricades to cartographically incoherent slums experimenting with limited forms of micro-sovereignty. If the feral city is a city with no external walls but an infinite interior—endless spaces made of oblique architecture and indirect streets—then its ability to defend itself comes precisely through letting invaders in and disorienting them, not by keeping people out.

So if a city does away with defensive walls altogether, what specific spatial strategies are left for it to protect itself? For instance, can a city deliberately be made feral as an act of preemptive self-defense—and, if so, what architectural steps would be necessary to achieve such a thing? Channeling Archigram—or perhaps even Cisco—we might call this the insurgent instant city complete with its own infrastructural practices, its own rogue designers, and its own anti-architects.

How, then, could the spatial practice of urban feralization be codified, and what architectural lessons might be learned if this were to happen? Michael J. Lewis, describing the treatises on display at the CCA nearly two decades ago for The Geometry of Defence, refers to “fortification literature” or “the literature of the fortification,” including the publishing practices peculiar to this—for its time—top secret field of study. Privately circulated manuscripts, incomplete essayistic reflections, and even word of mouth only gradually solidified into full-length narratives; only at that point were they intended to communicate finely tuned, often firsthand, military knowledge of the city under siege to anyone who might want to discover it, whether that was a king, a layperson, or an enemy general (indeed, much of the literature of fortification went on to the form the core of an emergent field known as urban planning).

In another 50, 100, or even 500 years, then, will there be a defensive literature of the feral city, its systematic description, techniques for its defense (or obliteration), and its urban logic (or lack thereof)? Even if only on the level of urban form, this would be a fascinating journey, going from Castriotto’s and Maggi’s indirect streets to whole cities gone wild in the name of resisting outside intervention.

FERAL ZONES
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/12/magazine/12FERAL.html
http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/archive/story.asp?STORY_ID=1695
http://www.worldpolicy.newschool.edu/journal/articles/wpj04-1/liotta.htm
Redrawing the Map of the Future
by P. H. Liotta and James F. Miskel / Spring 2004

When the Cold War ended, scholars, pundits, and policymakers turned to the task of defining the new world order and America’s place in it. Some warned of coming anarchy or of the clash of civilizations. After September 11, those warnings seemed prescient. Since 9/11, our sense of insecurity has only increased, as has our reliance on military solutions to the problems we see before us. Yet the more we rely on military force, the less secure we feel. Perhaps the difficulty is in how we see the world that confronts us. It is as if we are trying to find our way using an old map, only to discover that the roads marked no longer exist.

One new map that may be particularly useful in helping us to see the contours of the future is the “earthlights” image reproduced here and available on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s website. The image is a composite of satellite photographs taken over a period of months that recorded the illumination from city lights, producing, according to NASA, a unique measure of “the spatial extent of urbanization.” The earthlights map forces us to think about some disturbing trends and effects that, if left unchecked, will likely come to haunt us in the coming decades. These developments, broadly considered here, are: the changing demographics of cities, particularly in what we call the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc; the increased possibility of failing regions within functioning but troubled states; and the rise of the “feral city” in states and regions inextricably linked to the process of globalization.

As one looks at the earthlights image, patterns of world order and disorder begin to emerge, and it becomes clear that tectonic forces are at play in the globe’s physical, economic, cultural, and political geography. The patterns of light suggest the inevitability of Central and Eastern Europe drawing ever closer, like moths to a flame, toward an enlarging European Union. Likewise, North Africa is being pulled away from the rest of Africa—and from the Middle East, despite certain cultural ties—and drawn toward a larger Euro-Mediterranean community. The earthlights image is revealing in other ways as well. It is interesting to see that India and Pakistan, which began from relatively equal starting points at partition in 1947 have gone in radically different directions: all of India is lit, while Pakistan is dark. The same story is evident on the Korean peninsula, where the thirty-eighth parallel forms a dramatic dividing line between the lights of South Korea and the dark shadow that is North Korea. The lights in the People’s Republic of China are clustered in the east, along the country’s Pacific coast, not evenly distributed throughout the country as in Taiwan or Japan. This suggests the eventual formation of “two Chinas”—one consisting of ever more densely populated urban zones, the other of underdeveloped and undergoverned hinterlands.

It is our view that we must pay greater attention to the shadows on the earthlights map. Like the drunk who loses his keys in the dark and looks for them under the streetlight because that is the only place he can see, we tend to focus our gaze on places where the lights are shining, even though the keys to greater security lie elsewhere. The attacks of September 11 not only revealed that Americans were vulnerable on their home soil; there also came the disturbing awareness that the new threat we faced came not from an enemy whose identity and capabilities were “in the light,” but from one operating from the shadows.

There now seems to be an emerging understanding that certain nontraditional security issues that have long plagued the so-called developing world—and which traditionally minded, state-centric strategists were content to consign to often ineffective nonstate entities (the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, corporations)— have circled back to haunt us. This is not to say that traditional state-centric security problems are things of the past, or that military force will have no role to play. They are not, and it will, as the war in Iraq demonstrates. But the “boomerang” effect of these nontraditional security issues could increasingly affect the policy decisions and options open to the developed states. Our concern is that while the military is wrestling with the challenge of developing ever more impressive means of deterring and defeating “in the light” threats, no agency of government at the state or multi-state level (including the U.S. military) is doing enough to understand and overcome the threats that are taking shape in the shadowy and dark areas on the earthlights map.

Anarchy, governmental collapse, ethnic rivalry, cultural grievances, religious-ideo-logical extremism, environmental degradation, natural resource depletion, competition for economic resources, drug trafficking, alliances between narco-traffickers and terrorists, the proliferation of “inhumane weapons,” cyberwar, and the spread of infectious disease threaten us all. We cannot isolate ourselves from their effects. The question is not whether we should concentrate on traditional “hard” security issues, which normally derive from the relationships between states, or on “soft” nontraditional security issues, which are not confined by national boundaries. The answer is that we must focus on both.

As our understanding of security concerns broadens and deepens, the traditional assumption that states and governments are the sole guarantors of security will be increasingly challenged. This is because our security may depend on how we cope with the broader human dilemma. Addressing this dilemma will require sustainable development strategies and must take into account population growth, particularly in the emerging world; the rapid spread of epidemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS; the impact of climate change, including shifts in precipitation patterns and rising sea levels; water scarcity; soil erosion and desertification; and increased urbanization and the growth of “mega-cities” around the globe. In the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc over the next two decades, more and more people will be compelled by economic or environmental pressures to migrate to cities that lack the infrastructure to support rapid, concentrated population growth.

To take just one of these problems, most of the states in the Middle East are already experiencing water scarcity (some have per capita water availability rates that are significantly lower than the minimums recommended by the World Health Organization) and water resources will obviously be stressed even further as the population surges by a third between 2000 and 2015. This population growth in the Middle East will likely have a deleterious effect on nearby regions and perhaps the developed world. The combination of indigenous population growth and water scarcity will undoubtedly lead to pressures on the Middle East’s large number of guest workers to return home, often to countries with struggling economies, where jobs are scarce. The return home of guest workers will eliminate remittances (for some countries the value of remittances from overseas workers is greater than the state’s foreign aid receipts) and increase the number of individuals who will draw upon the home government’s already limited resources. The differences between Israel’s low natural population growth rate and the high rates in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as in neighboring Arab states mean that Israel will be demographically swamped unless it aggressively promotes immigration—the very thing that water scarcity (and terrorism) seem likely to discourage. It also suggests that however the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is resolved, the real power struggle in the region may soon revolve around natural resources.

The Mega-City
Truly cataclysmic demographic changes will occur in the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc, with momentous shifts in the global landscape resulting from the “flocking” of people to urban centers. According to the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts, as well as data compiled by the National Geographic Society and the United Nations Population Division, world population will reach 7.2 billion in 2015, up from 6.1 billion in 2000. Ninety-five percent of the growth will take place in “emerging” countries, and nearly all projected population growth will occur in rapidly expanding urban areas.

The population of the greater New York metropolitan area, which stood at 12 million in 1950, is projected to grow to 17.6 million in 2015. In comparison, Nigeria’s capital city of Lagos, which had a population of 1 million in 1950, is projected to have 24.4 million inhabitants by 2015. While the population of Los Angeles is projected to increase over the same period from 4 million to 14.2 million, Karachi’s population will explode from 1.1 million to 20.6 million. Cairo in 1950 was a city of 2.1 million; in 2015 it will have 14.4 million inhabitants. Jakarta’s population will have grown from 2.8 million to 21.2 million. Thus, the real cause for concern lies not in the developed world but in the “population belt” from Lagos to Jakarta.

Urbanization in and of itself is neither a good nor a bad thing. Tokyo’s population is projected to reach 28.7 million in 2015, but Tokyo will likely be far better equipped to handle the infrastructure requirements of the mega-city than the cities of the emerging world. Seventy-two percent of Japanese already live in cities, and Japan has accommodated itself to an urbanized existence. It is unlikely, however, that Lagos or Dhaka or Tehran will be able to sustain growth rates such as those projected above. Indeed, it is doubtful that many cities in developed states could sustain such rates of growth as cities in the emerging world are experiencing. If, for example, New York’s rate of growth were the same as Dhaka’s (the capital of Bangladesh will have a population of 19 million by 2015, up from 10 million in 2000, and from 400,000 in 1950), the (Really) Big Apple would have a population just shy of 600 million people by 2015. As it seems unlikely that even a city in the world’s richest country could handle such rapid growth, how will impoverished Bangladesh accommodate such a dramatic surge in the population of its capital city?

Compounding the problem is the fact that in numerous regions where U.S. interests are involved we will see the continued reality of a (threat-based) security dilemma along with the rise of various (vulnerabilitybased) human dilemmas. By 2015, the number of cities with a population of over 5 million will skyrocket from 8 (in 1950) to 58, and we may see more than 600 cities worldwide with populations in excess of 1 million inhabitants by 2015; in 1950, by contrast, there were only 86 such cities. As our colleague Richard J. Norton notes in the August 2003 issue of the Naval War College Review, many of the burgeoning cities of the future may well become petri dishes of instability, disease, and terrorism. In other words, at least some of these cities will grow far beyond the “natural” carrying capacity of their respective national governments, with the result that governmental infrastructure and public services will be stretched past the breaking point. Cities in this condition will pose a particularly serious security threat because they will have both substantial pockets of darkness within their municipal boundaries and extensive commercial, communications, and transportation links to the rest of the world. In other words, it will be easy for groups in these urban pockets of darkness to export instability.

Pockets of Darkness
The issue of state failure began to be widely discussed in the 1990s. Instead of the peace dividend that was the promise of the end of the Cold War, instability and a collapse of governance appeared to be on the rise. The “failed state” was seen as a breeding ground for anarchy and violence, and the natural home of terrorists, warlords, ethnic militias, holy warriors, criminal gangs, arms dealers, and drug merchants. Policymakers hoped that research into state failure might provide early warning indicators that would trigger timely international interventions to prevent collapse, and to this end the Central Intelligence Agency established the State Failure Task Force to conduct a comprehensive examination of the issue. (The task force developed a “failure” model, with a claimed predictive accuracy of 67 percent.) Yet, as events of the past few years have illustrated, there are other bubbling petri dishes that deserve greater attention—pockets of darkness in undergoverned areas within functional but struggling states.

The para-states that take shape in these pockets of darkness (for example, the war-lord-dominated “tribal areas” of Afghanistan and the militia-run enclaves in Bosnia and Kosovo) develop Night of the Living Dead characteristics. Possessing some of the functional aspects of statehood, but lacking the civic equivalent of balanced, flexible limbs, these figurative zombies stagger into the future, unable to function independently without massive and continuous life support—in the form of U.N. aid, or bilateral assistance from other states, or “export earnings” from various criminal enterprises. These para-states and lawless zones inside “nonfailing” states often present greater threats to international stability than do failed states. Examples include eastern Colombia where narco-terrorists have operated for years inside remote valleys; the “lawless” triangle where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet and where Hezbollah, arms dealers, and smugglers of all stripes conduct business freely; the hinterlands of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where opposing ethnic groups, invading armies, and gangs pillage the countryside and terrorize the people (albeit at a temporarily lower level of intensity since the U.N. intervention in 2003); and Afghanistan beyond the outskirts of Kabul and Kandahar.

Focusing on failed states may have caused us to pay insufficient attention to the possibility that undergoverned zones in remote rural areas—or the mega-cities on the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc—may pose a greater threat to developed states than do failed states. It is inevitable that feral zones will emerge in both the ungoverned outback and inside cities along the arc.

Further compounding the problem posed by rapid urban population growth is the “youth bulge” phenomenon. In the near future, almost half of the adult populations of many African, Middle Eastern, and Southwest Asian countries will be between the ages of 15 and 29. Despite the recent spate of Chechen and Palestinian suicide bombings by women, young men are responsible for most acts of violence. As the overall population grows, so too will the population of young males looking for employment and educational services. If, as seems likely in the emerging megacities of the arc, there are too few jobs and educational opportunities to satisfy the demand, discontent, crime, and urban instability will result.

Other pockets of darkness are also likely to form around semi-urbanized collections of “displaced” populations. Tens of millions of refugees now live in semi-permanent camps in the West Bank and Gaza, Sudan, and the Great Lakes region of Aftica. These veritable slums, with their swollen populations—where life is lived without opportunity or hope—are themselves evolving into para-states, fertile ground for instability. The only saving grace from a security viewpoint is that the displaced are typically not well connected by road, rail, or air to the rest of the world and thus will be less efficient exporters of violence to distant locations.

Finding a Way Out
In a world that is becoming more interconnected economically and physically, it is impossible to separate zones of light from pockets of darkness. Many of the states that will be most adversely affected by demographic pressures and rapid urbanization are already entwined in the globalization process and are simply too important to be left to their own devices. Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia fall into this category. They are struggling—though not failed—states whose stability, or lack thereof, will influence security and economic trends all along the arc of emerging mega-cities.

We need to encourage internal public sector reform and public security improvements in states where governments are currently failing to keep the lights lit, where urban population growth is likely to lead to failure at the municipal level or force overstretched governments to withdraw from remote rural areas. If September 11 taught us anything, it is that our security is inextricably connected to domestic governance shortcomings elsewhere. Unfortunately, the United Nations, by virtue of its own inefficiency, the divergent agendas of its leading members, and its orientation toward state-level solutions, is not up to the task of promoting effective public sector reform. A more flexible approach is called for. We need to better organize the efforts of all of the actors in the international community: governments, international organizations, international nongovernmental organizations, national civil society organizations, and for-profit corporations. As Jonathan Lash, president of World Resources Institute, has aptly put it, what we need is a “shift from the stiff formal waltz of traditional diplomacy to the jazzier dance” of issue-based networks and creative partnerships.

Future strategies must move beyond policing actions and military interventions toward active prevention of resource scarcity and governance failures. Active prevention was the central premise of the strategy of cooperative security, developed by former secretary of defense William Perry and others at the Brookings Institution shortly after the end of the Cold War. The idea was to prevent discontent from leading to internal armed conflict by creating jobs, reducing poverty, and improving governance—especially in urban areas—before aggrieved groups resort to violence. Our current strategy of preemptive war, of using the military to force regime change and then for nation building in sustained “governance stability operations”—in essence for “kicking the door in” and then “putting the door back on”—is ill-suited to the challenges ahead.

A few heretics (most notably, Robert D. Kaplan, the author of The Coming Anarchy) claim that development—not poverty— leads to unrest by raising expectations. The destabilizing effects of rising expectations are undeniable, but in this wired and interconnected world, expectations are likely to continue to rise no matter what national governments do. The destabilizing effects will be most dramatic in struggling states with overpopulated cities.

Unfortunately, the typical response to situations of such complexity is to do nothing. Yet, that cannot be our response. Our first order of business must be to promote a sense of urgency. Then we must devise approaches for radical improvements in public infrastructure and governance—particularly in the states and municipalities along the Lagos-Cairo-Karachi-Jakarta arc. If we are to redraw the map of the future, there must be a new division of labor among governments, international agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and corporations. Perhaps what is needed is the equivalent of the 1972 Stockholm Conference, which launched the global environmental movement and established the United Nations Environment Program as the environmental conscience of the world. Another example of an attempt to build new approaches to global problems was the U.N. Habitat II Conference, held in Istanbul in 1996. Neither of these initiatives was completely successful in mobilizing international support, but they represent useful starting points.

This is not an argument for supremacy by stealth or to justify future intervention. But unless we act to contain, if not reverse, the worrisome trends outlined here, we are likely to be in for decades of military engagement and increased insecurity. Rather than justifying intervention, we ought to be thinking about investment. When we look at the map of the lit and unlit world, we can see where work needs to be done.

{P. H. Liotta holds the Jerome E. Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security and James F. Miskel is associate dean of academics and professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed here are the authors’ own and do not represent those of the Department of the Navy.}

MEANWHILE : CONTEST to PRODUCE LIGHT
http://www.lightingafrica.org
http://lightingafricaconference.org/index.php?id=108&tx_mininews_pi1[showUid]=11&cHash=f3709743abb32487cfe52cc8677d5248
http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/011269.html

The five winners of the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa 2010 Outstanding Product Awardswere recently announced:

MORE LIGHT PLEASE
http://www.nextbillion.net/blog/2010/05/20/killer-apps-at-lighting-africa-2010
by Nathan Wyeth / May 20, 2010
Looking for Killer Apps at Lighting Africa 2010

At the World Bank/IFC Lighting Africa Conference in Nairobi, some numbers are looking good for a change. There are still 1.6 billion people without access to electricity, but decreasing costs of solar panels and LED lighting have put individual solar-powered lamps at a price that is affordable for much of the base of the pyramid. Solar lantern distribution is projected to grow at 25-40% rates over the next 5 years in Africa.

Does this mean the path to modern energy for rural Africa is in clear view? I’m not sure it is, which is why when I’m meeting people at this conference sponsored by the IFC’s Lighting Africa program, I’m saying that I’m still looking for killer apps. Engineering better, cheaper products is often a process of putting one foot in front of the other, but distributing them will require side-stepping the barriers that solar energy has continually run up against at every price point.

And even if the goal is defined as lighting for Africa, lighting products themselves may not be the best starting point or a standalone approach, as opposed to more comprehensive platforms for energy access – laying the groundwork to go from portable pico-power retail products to household and community scale energy distribution, in terms of both business infrastructure and customer readiness/ability.

Even at these huge projected growth rates that are probably as much as any single product distribution company can handle, Gaurav Gupta of Dalberg Development Advisors is quick to point out that over 5 years, that will take solar lighting market penetration in Africa from an estimated 1.3% to an estimated 2.3%. So I am on the lookout for approaches that will also open up whole new horizontal growth and distribution in this sector.

I’m not sure I’ve found the killer apps here just yet, but there are promising new ideas floating around, some embodied in new start-ups operating in Africa. Here are a few things that I’m looking for:

– Defining and increasing the value of solar by linking to income and tangible payback. There is generalized information available on what people currently pay for kerosene lighting, but very fuzzy understanding of actual willingness to pay for new energy products – and this may reflect unclear marketing and product positioning as much as lack of data collection.

Anecdote-based discussion is unfolding at this conference about whether end-user financing is necessary for solar lighting products that cost anywhere from $10-50, illuminating the fact that while product designers have been focused on a combination of lighting price and quality, there’s no clearly established understanding of what people will pay for modern lighting at what income levels.

What is clear is that payback and specific utility matters more than price. For example, Barefoot Power is having great success with its Firefly 12 product – not the least expensive in its line – because this can charge mobile phones. If solar is linked to specific utility, or payback for lighting is clearly defined, customers will be able to tell retailers what they will pay for it and the supply chain will be able to adjust accordingly.

– Building customer relationships. What makes solar attractive as an energy source makes it more difficult as a retail product – if you do a good job with your lamp product you won’t see your customers again for a few years and they won’t need to buy a single thing from you until they’re ready for a second lantern. But as a new technology, solar product companies need to develop intense technology loyalty and evangelism and probably need to be focused as much on reselling to existing customers and finding new ones. How to stay connected to customers who hopefully won’t have to talk to you more than once ever few years?

Companies that offer energy as a service might begin by suppling rechargeable battery stations that can power a home’s electricity need, but could then build on this by installing distributed power generation with the same customers at a much lower cost of acquisition and much greater readiness to install and value a household solar system.

– Building distribution and maintenance platforms. As alluded to above, electricity is a unique product. It’s only useful in tandem with other products, and some certainty of supply is needed before those products become worth it.

Distribution platforms offer the opportunity to meet energy needs beyond lighting – both in terms of energy supply and the appliances that can be linked specifically to distributed energy generation. For example, an energy efficient fan is valuable when it can be linked to a reliable energy supply, and solar panels gain in value when they can power an energy efficient fan. I would love to find an energy company that could sell both to a household in tandem.

In places with even more constrained ability to pay for energy services, a village energy vendor who recharges phones or LED lamps from a solar array can become a future distributor of products and the village expert in repairing solar panels.

These ideas are peeking through the cracks here at Lighting Africa, but perhaps by default, disruptive ideas are not an easy fit for this kind of forum, focused specifically on delivering lighting. Development banks operate on a programmatic basis, with certain starting points, end points, and program strategies in between. A focus on lighting markets – rather than energy markets – is one such construct that I’m not sure is helping here. Within this, the IFC is focusing on product quality. I can’t disagree with supporting high quality lighting products, but this presupposes that retail solar lantern distribution is actually the first step that you want for electrifying Africa. Disruptive approaches may pop up here but will go against the grain.

Battery re-charge subscription services, income-generating village energy vending opportunities, and technology-agnostic energy retail chains are among the disruptive and promising approaches that I’m seeing here. Mobile communications and payments can and will be wrapped into effective approaches – they may become killer apps in themselves. And as one persuasive participant said towards the end of the conference, when solar companies get as smart at marketing at Safaricom has in Kenya, these products will find their way into customers’ hands. This sector is moving fast but the clear winners have yet to emerge.

RESOURCE ECONOMY
http://www.thevenusproject.com/a-new-social-design/essay
http://www.thevenusproject.com/a-new-social-design/resource-based-economy

The term and meaning of a Resource-Based Economy was originated by Jacque Fresco. It is a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. All resources become the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few. The premise upon which this system is based is that the Earth is abundant with plentiful resource; our practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant and counter productive to our survival.

Modern society has access to highly advanced technology and can make available food, clothing, housing and medical care; update our educational system; and develop a limitless supply of renewable, non-contaminating energy. By supplying an efficiently designed economy, everyone can enjoy a very high standard of living with all of the amenities of a high technological society.

A resource-based economy would utilize existing resources from the land and sea, physical equipment, industrial plants, etc. to enhance the lives of the total population. In an economy based on resources rather than money, we could easily produce all of the necessities of life and provide a high standard of living for all.

Consider the following examples: At the beginning of World War II the US had a mere 600 or so first-class fighting aircraft. We rapidly overcame this short supply by turning out more than 90,000 planes a year. The question at the start of World War II was: Do we have enough funds to produce the required implements of war? The answer was No, we did not have enough money, nor did we have enough gold; but we did have more than enough resources. It was the available resources that enabled the US to achieve the high production and efficiency required to win the war. Unfortunately this is only considered in times of war.

In a resource-based economy all of the world’s resources are held as the common heritage of all of Earth’s people, thus eventually outgrowing the need for the artificial boundaries that separate people. This is the unifying imperative.

We must emphasize that this approach to global governance has nothing whatever in common with the present aims of an elite to form a world government with themselves and large corporations at the helm, and the vast majority of the world’s population subservient to them. Our vision of globalization empowers each and every person on the planet to be the best they can be, not to live in abject subjugation to a corporate governing body.

Our proposals would not only add to the well being of people, but they would also provide the necessary information that would enable them to participate in any area of their competence. The measure of success would be based on the fulfilment of one’s individual pursuits rather than the acquisition of wealth, property and power.

At present, we have enough material resources to provide a very high standard of living for all of Earth’s inhabitants. Only when population exceeds the carrying capacity of the land do many problems such as greed, crime and violence emerge. By overcoming scarcity, most of the crimes and even the prisons of today’s society would no longer be necessary.

A resource-based economy would make it possible to use technology to overcome scarce resources by applying renewable sources of energy, computerizing and automating manufacturing and inventory, designing safe energy-efficient cities and advanced transportation systems, providing universal health care and more relevant education, and most of all by generating a new incentive system based on human and environmental concern.

Many people believe that there is too much technology in the world today, and that technology is the major cause of our environmental pollution. This is not the case. It is the abuse and misuse of technology that should be our major concern. In a more humane civilization, instead of machines displacing people they would shorten the workday, increase the availability of goods and services, and lengthen vacation time. If we utilize new technology to raise the standard of living for all people, then the infusion of machine technology would no longer be a threat.

A resource-based world economy would also involve all-out efforts to develop new, clean, and renewable sources of energy: geothermal; controlled fusion; solar; photovoltaic; wind, wave, and tidal power; and even fuel from the oceans. We would eventually be able to have energy in unlimited quantity that could propel civilization for thousands of years. A resource-based economy must also be committed to the redesign of our cities, transportation systems, and industrial plants, allowing them to be energy efficient, clean, and conveniently serve the needs of all people.

What else would a resource-based economy mean? Technology intelligently and efficiently applied, conserves energy, reduces waste, and provides more leisure time. With automated inventory on a global scale, we can maintain a balance between production and distribution. Only nutritious and healthy food would be available and planned obsolescence would be unnecessary and non-existent in a resource-based economy.

As we outgrow the need for professions based on the monetary system, for instance lawyers, bankers, insurance agents, marketing and advertising personnel, salespersons, and stockbrokers, a considerable amount of waste will be eliminated. Considerable amounts of energy would also be saved by eliminating the duplication of competitive products such as tools, eating utensils, pots, pans and vacuum cleaners. Choice is good. But instead of hundreds of different manufacturing plants and all the paperwork and personnel required to turn out similar products, only a few of the highest quality would be needed to serve the entire population. Our only shortage is the lack of creative thought and intelligence in ourselves and our elected leaders to solve these problems. The most valuable, untapped resource today is human ingenuity.

With the elimination of debt, the fear of losing one’s job will no longer be a threat This assurance, combined with education on how to relate to one another in a much more meaningful way, could considerably reduce both mental and physical stress and leave us free to explore and develop our abilities.

If the thought of eliminating money still troubles you, consider this: If a group of people with gold, diamonds and money were stranded on an island that had no resources such as food, clean air and water, their wealth would be irrelevant to their survival. It is only when resources are scarce that money can be used to control their distribution. One could not, for example, sell the air we breathe or water abundantly flowing down from a mountain stream. Although air and water are valuable, in abundance they cannot be sold.

Money is only important in a society when certain resources for survival must be rationed and the people accept money as an exchange medium for the scarce resources. Money is a social convention, an agreement if you will. It is neither a natural resource nor does it represent one. It is not necessary for survival unless we have been conditioned to accept it as such.

‘AGRICULTURAL URBANISM’
http://www.houstontomorrow.org/initiatives/story/agricultural-urbanism/
http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/land_use/2009/10/duany-on-agricultural-urbanism.html
http://www.cnu.org/search/projects
http://www.dpz.com/transect.aspx
http://smartcodecentral.com/smartfilesv9_2.html

LEISURE-BASED 1st WORLD LAND USE
http://vimeo.com/7240892

DOWNSIZING : CLEVELAND RAZED to GROW FORESTS
http://money.cnn.com/2010/06/25/news/companies/fannie_freddie_foreclosure_downsize.fortune/index.htmmega
Cleveland razed! Rust Belt remaking foreclosures into forests
by Nin-Hai Tseng / June 25, 2010

In a housing market still struggling to regain strength, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have quickly become two of the nation’s biggest landlords. By the end of March, the troubled mortgage finance companies had taken over 163,828 foreclosed houses. That’s more homes than there are in Seattle. In hopes of recouping some losses, Fannie and Freddie are working to sell the houses. In a healthy housing market, that makes sense. But they wouldn’t be in this predicament if that were the case. We’re still grappling with the same housing problems: too much supply, not enough demand.

How can the nation downsize with grace?
A growing chorus believes turning foreclosed homes into wide-open spaces — neighborhood parks, community gardens, or even urban forests — is the way to do it. It’s not exactly a far-fetched idea. Fortune has learned The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, is examining Wells Fargo’s (WFC, Fortune 500) portfolio of foreclosed homes to buy tracts in order to return the land to a greener state. Record foreclosures and lower land prices has created some unlikely opportunities — what the organization is calling a “green lining” to the real-estate crash. “We’ve always worked with banks to acquire properties, but obviously there’s a lot more pieces and much more opportunities these days,” said Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land, which help governments put together financing to acquire lands through grants, public dollars and private fundraising. For decades American cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, Youngstown, and St. Louis have responded to everything from white flight to population decline by converting abandoned lots or properties into plots for public uses. To be sure, not every structure has been demolished and turned into greener spaces. Some in good shape have been transformed into affordable housing, but creating open space has become a viable option for cities trying to shrink prosperously.

Conservation of land has its roots in the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. In keeping with the spirit of our late President, known as the Father of Conservation and a crusader for saving wild places, the idea of turning unneeded homes into green space is worth exploring. Roosevelt helped create 150 national forests, five national parks, and 18 national monuments, among other conservation projects. Altogether, he was instrumental in the conservation of about 230 million acres. “Roosevelt is famous for being a conservationist — he was onto this idea that the great outdoors built strong Americans,” says Armando Carbonell of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a Cambridge, Mass.-based policy research organization. “The amount of failure of real estate projects is so great that there are probably a lot of opportunities out there.”

In 2008 the federal government seized Fannie and Freddie because they were deeply troubled by bad loans. The companies hold titles to the foreclosed properties, and have hired real estate and marketing agencies to help sell their inventory. When a property is sold, the companies take payment and give the new homeowners title. As of the end of March, Freddie had taken over 53,831 homes, mostly concentrated in states with some of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates: California, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Illinois, and Georgia. Listings for homes in California ranged from $19,000 to $59,000; those in Florida, $5,000 to $24,000; in Illinois, $2,000 to $36,000; in Arizona, $15,500 to $37,500; in Michigan, $100 to $19,900; and in Georgia, $4,000 to $31,000.

The weak housing market has kept Freddie from selling at prices that would help it recoup all its losses. On average, the recovery rate has been approximately 60%, said Brad German, a spokesman for Freddie. Clearly there are few winners in this nightmarish housing market. No doubt there’s a better way: Freddie and Fannie need to be part of the solution. The companies could sell their properties to governments or a land trust, which could then turn them into neighborhood parks or urban gardens or some form of open space. Not every piece will work.

Location, location, location
The Trust for Public Land prefers homes it is looking at to sit in a neighborhood that does not already have a park or green space. However, if the foreclosed parcel is located adjacent to an existing park, it could be added into it. Finding a willing government, church, school or organization to maintain the open space is also important. Efforts to turn foreclosures into green space could prove economically beneficial, helping reduce the nation’s oversupply of homes. In turn, this could support and possibly raise home prices.

In Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, home to the rust-belt city of Cleveland, momentum has increased to ease the area’s rampant foreclosures through a greener approach. In April the county of about 1.3 million launched a land bank, an independent government corporation with the power to acquire tax-foreclosed properties or buy up discounted structures from banks or loan services. The agency is a variation on a handful of land banks that have formed nationwide — the first of which emerged in the 1970s in St. Louis, where residents’ flocking to the suburbs left an inventory of empty homes and buildings.

Unlike land banks of the past, Cuyahoga’s agency appears to have teeth. Not only can the land bank pick up vacant property, but it can also acquire homes, buildings, and other structures. The county apparently has received an outpouring of requests from a public that envisions greenhouses, parks, trails, and community gardens, in hopes of redefining neighborhoods left hollow by subprime lending and mortgage foreclosures. But not every parcel or property should be demolished and turned into wide-open spaces. Affordable housing is still in demand, and many communities dealing with record foreclosures would probably benefit more from attracting new industries and more businesses. Local and state governments dealing with budget shortfalls would probably rather see new homes or a new office park on their tax rolls, leading to increased government revenues from property taxes. State governments face one of the worst budget seasons in years. Between now and 2012, states must still close budget gaps totaling about $127 billion, according to a survey by the National Association of State Budget Officers. If market demand for homes just isn’t there and the location is right, communities could find even more value in greener spaces. “It suddenly becomes an asset for the community rather than a liability,” says Frank Alexander, a professor at Emory University Law School who has helped form land banks in Atlanta and Michigan’s Genesee County.

The green space effect
In 2007, Philadelphia saw an $18.1 million windfall in property taxes because property values rose in certain residential areas near parks, according to a 2008 study by The Trust for Public Land. What’s more, parks attract tourists. Philadelphia collected $5.2 million worth of sales tax from tourism spending by out-of-towners who visited the city primarily for its parks, according to the report. If anything, open spaces might just add to life’s simple pleasures. A separate survey by The Trust for Public Land has found that the economic downturn has occasioned more visitors to free parks and playgrounds, while admissions to paid events, like professional sports, have gone down. In a 2009 poll, 38% of adults with children under 6 years old said they’ve made greater use of parks.

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http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/101273-john-perry-barlow-internet-has-broken-political-system
John Perry Barlow: Internet has broken political system
by Gautham Nagesh / 06/03/10

“The political system is broken partly because of Internet,” Barlow said. “It’s made it impossible to govern anything the size of the nation-state. We’re going back to the city-state. The nation-state is ungovernably information-rich.” Speaking at Personal Democracy Forum in New York on Thursday, Barlow said there is too much going on at every level in Washington, D.C., for the government to effectively handle everything on its plate. Instead, he advocated citizens organizing around the issues most important to them.

Barlow also said that President Barack Obama’s election, driven largely by small donations, has fundamentally changed American politics. He said a similar bottom-up structure is needed for governing as well. “It’s not the second coming, everything won’t get better overnight, but that made it possible to see a future where it wasn’t simply a matter of money to define who won these things,” Barlow said. “The government could finally start belonging to people eventually.”

The former Grateful Dead songwriter said those disppointed in Obama are disregarding the extent to which the political system is broken. He blamed the Beltway establishment, which he said is loathe to give up any accumulated influence. “There is a circle of fat around the Beltway that is incredibly thick” Barlow said. “We can no longer try to run this country from the center. We’ve got to run it, just like the Internet, from the edges.”

A longtime advocate of individual’s rights online, Barlow also had some harsh words for the world’s leading search firm. “Google’s capacity to control human thought makes the Catholic church jealous, I bet,” Barlow said. “They wish they’d thought of it.” Despite his concerns, Barlow remains optimistic about the Internet’s ablitity as a force for good in politics, describing himself as a techno-utopian. “There are lots of battles to be fought, we can’t give them up,” Barlow said. “You folks in this room have the capacity to be some of the greatest ancestors anybody ever had.”