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Russia Rejects Demands To Leave Crimea

Russia Rejects Demands To Leave Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference in his country residence of Novo-Ogaryova outside Moscow on March 4, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 4 said that deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych had no political future but asserted he was legally still head of state. AFP PHOTO / RIA NOVOSTI PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE - POOL / ALEXEY NIKOLSKY        (Photo credit should read ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS/KIEV, March 5 (Reuters) – Russia rebuffed Western demands to withdraw forces in Ukraine’s Crimea region to their bases on Wednesday amid a day of high-stakes diplomacy in Paris aimed at easing tensions over Ukraine and averting the risk of war.

The European Union offered Ukraine’s new pro-Western government 11 billion euros in financial aid in the next couple of years provided Kiev reaches a deal with the International Monetary Fund. Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, also promised bilateral financial help.

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Ukraine’s new finance minister, Oleksander Shlapak, caused a fall in the Ukrainian bond and currency markets by saying his economically shattered country may start talks with creditors on restructuring its foreign currency debt.

A U.N. special envoy had to abandon a mission to Crimea after being stopped by armed men and besieged inside a cafe by a hostile crowd shouting “Russia! Russia!” Dutch diplomat Robert Serry agreed to leave Crimea to end the stand-off.

And the U.S. Defense Department, in an apparent attempt to signal resolve to Moscow, announced military measures to support eastern European NATO allies adjoining Russia and Ukraine.

Russia and the West are locked in the most serious battle since the end of the Cold War for influence in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with historic ties to Moscow that is a major commodities exporter and strategic link between East and West.

Ukraine pulled out of a trade deal with the EU under Russian pressure last year, sparking months of protests in Kiev and the Feb. 22 ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich, a Russian ally.

Ukraine says Russia has occupied Crimea, where its Black Sea fleet is based, provoking an international outcry and sharp falls in financial markets on Monday, though they have since stabilised.

The foreign ministers of Russia, the United States, Britain, and Germany met their French counterpart and French President Francois Hollande in Paris to try to start a diplomatic process to defuse the crisis.

But diplomats said it was not clear whether Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would take the crucial step of attending talks with Ukraine’s new foreign minister, a member of a government Moscow has described as illegitimate.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left the meeting at Hollande’s office without making any statement.

Earlier, Lavrov repeated Moscow’s assertion – ridiculed by the West – that the troops that have seized control of the Black Sea peninsula are not under Russian command.

Asked whether Moscow would order forces in Crimea back to their bases, Lavrov told a questioner in Madrid: “If you mean the self-defence units created by the inhabitants of Crimea, we give them no orders, they take no orders from us.

“As for the military personnel of the Black Sea Fleet, they are in their deployment sites. Yes, additional vigilance measures were taken to safeguard the sites … We will do everything not to allow any bloodshed.”

FACE-TO-FACE

Russia did not attend a meeting with Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia of the so-called Budapest group created to assure Ukraine’s security after it abandoned nuclear weapons in 1994.

But Kerry and Hague said they would try to bring the Russian and Ukrainian ministers together later in the day.

Poland’s foreign minister tweeted that he would attend a meeting in Paris with those two ministers plus the United States, Germany, Britain, France and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

But there was no confirmation that all sides would attend the session, which could be the first step in a diplomatic mediation process.

NATO and Russia were holding talks in Brussels amid concerns that a standoff between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Crimea could still spark violence, or that Moscow could also intervene in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

In a sign of heightened tensions in the east, a pro-Russian crowd in Donetsk, Yanukovich’s hometown, recaptured a regional administration building they had occupied before being ejected by police, a Reuters witness said.

The West is pushing for Russia to return troops to barracks, accept international monitors in Crimea and Ukraine and negotiate a solution to the crisis through a “contact group” probably under the auspices of a pan-European security body.

SANCTIONS

France said European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday could decide on sanctions against Russia if there is no “de-escalation” by then. Other EU countries, including Germany, are more reticent about sanctions.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said early measures could include restrictions on visas, the assets of individuals and existing discussions on economic ties with Russia.

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended Russia’s actions in Crimea, which used to be Russian territory, and said he would use force only as a last resort.

This eased market fears of a war over the former Soviet republic after sharp falls on Monday, though Russian shares and the rouble slipped again on Wednesday, and Ukraine’s hryvnia dropped against the dollar.

Russian forces remain in control of Crimea, where Interfax reported they seized control of two Ukrainian missile defence sites overnight, and Putin gave no sign of backing down.

In Brussels, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said EU deliver assistance to Kiev would in part be contingent on Ukraine signing an IMF loan deal, which will require painful economic reforms such as ending domestic gas subsidies and letting the hryvnia float.

“The package combined could bring an overall support of at least 11 billion euros over the next couple of years,” Barroso told a news conference. The United States offered Ukraine $1 billion in loan guarantees on Tuesday.

G7 MAY MEET SOON

At his first news conference since the crisis began, Putin said on Tuesday that Russia reserved the right to use all options to protect compatriots who were living in “terror” in Ukraine but that force was not needed for now.

He told his cabinet on Wednesday he did not want political tension to detract from economic cooperation with Russia’s “traditional partners”. But the foreign ministry said Moscow was preparing counter-measures against Western firms if necessary.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said after speaking to Obama that the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations were considering meeting in the near future, a move that would exclude Russia, which joined what became the G8 in 1998.

Lavrov told European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that an EU-brokered agreement signed by political leaders in Kiev on Feb. 21 should be the basis for stabilising the situation in Ukraine, his ministry said on Wednesday.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress the U.S. military was stepping up joint training through an aviation detachment in Poland and boosting participation in a NATO air policing mission over the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – the only former Soviet republics that are members of the Western alliance.

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Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight? by Judith D. Schwartz: Yale Environment 360

Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight? by Judith D. Schwartz: Yale Environment 360.

The degradation of soils from unsustainable agriculture and other development has released billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But new research shows how effective land restoration could play a major role in sequestering CO2 and slowing climate change.

by judith d. schwartz

In the 19th century, as land-hungry pioneers steered their wagon trains westward across the United States, they encountered a vast landscape of towering grasses that nurtured deep, fertile soils.

Today, just three percent of North America’s tallgrass prairie remains. Its disappearance has had a dramatic impact on the landscape and ecology of

The world’s cultivated soils have lost 50 to 70 percent of their original carbon stock.

the U.S., but a key consequence of that transformation has largely been overlooked: a massive loss of soil carbon into the atmosphere. The importance of soil carbon — how it is leached from the earth and how that process can be reversed — is the subject of intensifying scientific investigation, with important implications for the effort to slow the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

According to Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon stock, much of which has oxidized upon exposure to air to become CO2. Now, armed with rapidly expanding knowledge about carbon sequestration in soils, researchers are studying how land restoration programs in places like the

polar jet stream

Rattan Lal
Soil in a long-term experiment appears red when depleted of carbon (left) and dark brown when carbon content is high (right).

former North American prairie, the North China Plain, and even the parched interior of Australia might help put carbon back into the soil.

Absent carbon and critical microbes, soil becomes mere dirt, a process of deterioration that’s been rampant around the globe. Many scientists say that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought. Such regenerative techniques include planting fields year-round in crops or other cover, and agroforestry that combines crops, trees, and animal husbandry.

Recognition of the vital role played by soil carbon could mark an important if subtle shift in the discussion about global warming, which has been

A look at soil brings a sharper focus on potential carbon sinks.

heavily focused on curbing emissions of fossil fuels. But a look at soil brings a sharper focus on potential carbon sinks. Reducing emissions is crucial, but soil carbon sequestration needs to be part of the picture as well, says Lal. The top priorities, he says, are restoring degraded and eroded lands, as well as avoiding deforestation and the farming of peatlands, which are a major reservoir of carbon and are easily decomposed upon drainage and cultivation.

He adds that bringing carbon back into soils has to be done not only to offset fossil fuels, but also to feed our growing global population. “We cannot feed people if soil is degraded,” he says.

“Supply-side approaches, centered on CO2 sources, amount to reshuffling the Titanic deck chairs if we overlook demand-side solutions: where that carbon can and should go,” says Thomas J. Goreau, a biogeochemist and expert on carbon and nitrogen cycles who now serves as president of theGlobal Coral Reef Alliance. Goreau says we need to seek opportunities to increase soil carbon in all ecosystems — from tropical forests to pasture to wetlands — by replanting degraded areas, increased mulching of biomass instead of burning, large-scale use of biochar, improved pasture management, effective erosion control, and restoration of mangroves, salt marshes, and sea grasses.

“CO2 cannot be reduced to safe levels in time to avoid serious long-term impacts unless the other side of atmospheric CO2 balance is included,” Goreau says.

Scientists say that more carbon resides in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined; there are 2,500 billion tons of carbon in soil, compared with 800 billion tons in the atmosphere and 560 billion tons in plant and animal life. And compared to many proposed geoengineering fixes, storing carbon in soil is simple: It’s a matter of returning carbon where it belongs.

Through photosynthesis, a plant draws carbon out of the air to form carbon compounds. What the plant doesn’t need for growth is exuded through the roots to feed soil organisms, whereby the carbon is humified, or rendered stable. Carbon is the main component of soil organic matter and helps give soil its water-retention capacity, its structure, and its fertility. According to Lal, some pools of carbon housed in soil aggregates are so stable that they can last thousands of years. This is in contrast to “active” soil carbon,

‘If we treat soil carbon as a renewable resource, we can change the dynamics,’ says an expert.

which resides in topsoil and is in continual flux between microbial hosts and the atmosphere.

“If we treat soil carbon as a renewable resource, we can change the dynamics,” says Goreau. “When we have erosion, we lose soil, which carries with it organic carbon, into waterways. When soil is exposed, it oxidizes, essentially burning the soil carbon. We can take an alternate trajectory.”

As basic as soil carbon is, there’s much scientists are just learning about it, including how to make the most of its CO2 sequestration capacity. One promising strategy, says Goreau, is bolstering soil microbiology by adding beneficial microbes to stimulate the soil cycles where they have been interrupted by use of insecticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. As for agroforestry, programs with greater species diversity are better able to maximize the storage of carbon than monocultures. Many researchers are looking to biochar — produced when plant matter, manure, or other organic material is heated in a zero- or low-oxygen environment — for its ability to turn problem areas into productive sites while building soil carbon. Says Goreau, “Vast areas of deforested land that have been abandoned after soil degradation are excellent candidates for replanting and reforestation using biochar from the weeds now growing there.”

An important vehicle for moving carbon into soil is root, or mycorrhizal, fungi, which govern the give-and-take between plants and soil. According to Australian soil scientist Christine Jones, plants with mycorrhizal connections can transfer up to 15 percent more carbon to soil than their non-mycorrhizal counterparts. The most common mycorrhizal fungi are marked by threadlike filaments called hyphae that extend the reach of a plant, increasing access to nutrients and water. These hyphae are coated with a sticky substance called glomalin, discovered only in 1996, which is instrumental in soil structure and carbon storage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises land managers to protect glomalin by minimizing tillage and chemical inputs and using cover crops to keep living roots in the soil.

In research published in Nature in January, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Boston University assessed the carbon and nitrogen cycles under different mycorrhizal regimens and found that plants linked with fruiting, or mushroom-type, fungi stored 70 percent more carbon per unit of nitrogen in soil. Lead author Colin Averill, a fourth-year graduate student at the University of Texas, explains that the fungi take up organic nitrogen on behalf of the plant, out-competing soil microorganisms that decompose organic matter and release carbon. He says this points to soil biology as a

Our understanding of how soil life affects the carbon cycle is poised for tremendous growth.

driver of carbon storage, particularly “the mechanisms by which carbon can stay in the ground rather than going into the atmosphere.”

One implication of this research, says Goreau, is that “the effect of most landscape alterations is to convert them from systems that store carbon efficiently … toward ones that are inefficient in the use of nitrogen, and as a result are losing carbon storage.” By landscape alterations, he means from forest to cropland, or from small farms to industrial agriculture operations that use the chemicals that inhibit the mycorrhizal and microbial interactions that store carbon.

Our understanding of soil microbiology and how soil life affects the carbon cycle is poised for tremendous growth, says Goreau. This, he says, is thanks to the burgeoning field of metagenomics, the study of genetic material from specimens taken directly from the environment rather than cultured in a lab. “For the first time,” says Goreau, “we can identify all major soil biogeochemical pathways from the genetic information in the microbes.”

Even at our current level of knowledge, many see great potential for storing carbon in soil. Lal of Ohio State says that restoring soils of degraded and desertified ecosystems has the potential to store in world soils an additional 1 billion to 3 billion tons of carbon annually, equivalent to roughly 3.5 billion to 11 billion tons of CO2 emissions. (Annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning are roughly 32 billion tons.)

Many call Lal’s carbon soil storage figures low. This could reflect the fact that soil carbon is generally measured in the top 15 to 30 centimeters, whereas soil at depth may store carbon at much higher rates. For example, in land with deep-rooted grasses the soil can go down five meters or more.Research by Australian and British scientists published last year in the journal Plant and Soil examined soils in five southwestern Australia sites

MORE FROM YALE e360

As Uses of Biochar Expand,
Climate Benefits Still Uncertain

Biochar

Research shows that biochar made from plant fodder and even chicken manure can be used to scrub mercury from power plant emissions and clean up polluted soil. The big question is whether biochar can be produced on a sufficiently large scale to slow or reverse global warming.
READ MORE

at depths as great as nearly 40 meters. These findings add impetus to explore strategies such as working with deep-rooted perennial grasses to secure carbon at depth.

Those who champion soil carbon for climate mitigation frequently look to grasslands, which cover more than a quarter of the world’s land. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, grasslands also hold 20 percent of the world’s soil carbon stock. Much of this land is degraded, as evidenced in the U.S. Great Plains and places like northern Mexico, Africa’s Sahel, and Mongolia.

Seth Itzkan — founder of Massachusetts-based Planet-TECH Associates, a consulting firm specializing in restoration ecology — advocates Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG), a model developed by Zimbabwean wildlife biologist Allan Savory. In this practice, livestock are managed as a tool for large-scale land restoration, mimicking the herding and grazing patterns of wild ruminants that coevolved with grassland ecosystems. Animals are moved so that no plants are overgrazed, and grazing stimulates biological activity in the soil. Their waste adds fertility, and as they move in a herd their trampling aerates soil, presses in seeds, and pushes down dead plant matter so it can be acted upon by soil microorganisms. All of this generates soil carbon, plant carbon, and water retention. Savory says HPG doesn’t require more land — in fact it generally supports greater animal density — so it can be applied wherever livestock are raised.

In Australia, which has been suffering extreme heat and wildfires, policy-makers are taking seriously programs that build and stabilize soil carbon. The action plan Regenerate Australia outlines a strategy to restore up to 300 million hectares (740 million acres). A core goal is attaining previous soil carbon levels by introducing more sustainable grazing, farming, and water-retention practices.

Says Rattan Lal: “Soils of the world must be part of any agenda to address climate change, as well as food and water security. I think there is now a general awareness of soil carbon, an awareness that soil isn’t just a medium for plant growth.”

Fuel Fix » CEO: Oil industry ‘no longer the deep pocket’ as costs soar

Fuel Fix » CEO: Oil industry ‘no longer the deep pocket’ as costs soar.

Posted on March 4, 2014 at 2:55 pm by Jennifer A. Dlouhy
TOTAL S. A. CEO Christophe de Margerie speaks at the IHS CERAWeek energy conference in Houston on March 4, 2014. (Mayra Beltran/Houston Chronicle)

HOUSTON — Oil industry costs are spiraling out of control, and it’s time to rein them in, Total CEO Christophe de Margerie insisted Tuesday.

“Excellence cannot be an excuse for doing anything at any price,” de Margerie told oil and gas industry executives gathered at the IHS CERAWeek energy summit in Houston. “We cannot continue to swallow this huge inflation.”

The French oil executive suggested that soaring capital expenditures are partly being driven by greedy subcontractors. He stopped short of naming names, but blamed “Asian countries (that) think we are ready to pay forever.”

“We have to go to the sub-subcontractors and say: ‘We know what’s going on. We can no longer be the deep pocket,’” de Margerie said.

Big oil cuts

De Margerie’s comments came as other industry leaders highlighted the climbing costs of oil projects. Chevron CEO John Watson noted that those ventures are becoming far more complex, even as labor costs and offshore rig prices escalate.

Industry leaders also are under pressure to cut their capital spending — the backdrop for recent cuts announced by Shell Oil Co. and other energy majors.

Read more: Activist investors pressure energy companies to cut spending

The immediate answer was not clear for executives looking to get new balance in their books.

Safety expenses

While Watson suggested companies could look to share engineering work across projects, de Margerie urged more restraint on potentially inefficient environmental and safety expenditures that may have jumped in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

He suggested that safety and environmental concerns after the Gulf oil spill had been used to justify outsize expenses.

Cost-cutting doesn’t mean you are not doing your job properly, he stressed.

“A good company, which is extremely capital intensive, cannot just ignore that they are responsible for what they are producing,” de Margerie said. “There are ways of being safer, cleaner, without always adding additional costs.

“It’s now time to stop this, and we can do it without putting people in trouble” or at risk, he said. “It’s a lack of efficiency in most cases.”

‘Enhanced stimulation’

De Margerie’s colorful conversation with IHS CERA Chairman Daniel Yergin briefly strayed from cost concerns into oil-field terminology Tuesday. He suggested the industry made a blunder in widely adopting “hydraulic fracturing” as the name of the pivotal well completion technology allowing companies to extract previously inaccessible oil and gas resources.

He derided “this stupid word we are using, which is ‘fracturing.’” Yergin said he preferred “enhanced stimulation.”

He also cautioned against oil and gas industry pronouncements about abundant energy resources. When industry leaders “say there is plenty of oil and gas . . . you’re sending the message that we don’t care about the environment,” de Margerie said. “We do care. And the problem today is not the oil and gas resources — it is access to those resources.”

Some resources are locked away in relatively unfriendly countries, de Margerie said. There is “no more peak oil” and “no more peak gas,” he said, but those geopolitical and access constraints do translate into “peak capacity.”

The West Should Butt Out of Ukrainian Politics | Jackson Doughart

The West Should Butt Out of Ukrainian Politics | Jackson Doughart.

Jackson Doughart

Posted: 03/05/2014 5:16 pm

The West, and especially the English-speaking West, has wrongly taken sides in the present conflict in Ukraine. On the one hand, our leaders have mimicked the line of the news media, which simplistically represent the revolutionary ouster of President Yanukovych as an occasion of desperate democratic action against a corrupt leader. On the other hand, various pundits have elevated Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the status of enemy, whose actions must be “contained” as an apparent foreign-policy sine qua non.

For instance, the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer argues that President Obama “sees Ukraine as merely a crisis to be managed rather than an opportunity to alter the increasingly autocratic trajectory of the region, allow Ukrainians to join their destiny to the West, and block Russian neo-imperialism.”

In response to the Administration’s claim that democracy “must not be imposed by outside intervention but develop on its own,” Krauthammer writes: “Ukraine is never on its own. Not with a bear next door. American neutrality doesn’t allow an authentic Ukrainian polity to emerge. It leaves Ukraine naked to Russian pressure.”

But this “authentic Ukrainian polity” is wrought with ethnic divisions, particularly concerning the Crimean peninsula, which is populated in a majority by ethnic Russians. The pro-Europe posture of the protesters is a reflection less of a considered moral preference than of a country torn in politics and identity between East and West. Krauthammer also fails to mention that the “Russian pressure” involved here is not a mere exercise in imperial Realpolitik. What’s really involved is the fear of Ukrainians that they may be unduly influenced by Russia, or worse, that they may lose territory. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Russians fear that a more nationalist government will leave them with less clout and fewer political rights, such as the regional language recognition that the new parliament has just taken away from them.

Putin isn’t going to leave the Russian residents of the Ukraine, and especially those in Crimea, proverbially out to dry. It’s a matter of legitimate interest for Russia, whose ethnic brethren was stranded from the homeland when Ukraine declared independence, to use its geopolitical might to protect them. (One remembers that it was only in 1954 that Crimea was tacked onto the Ukrainian SSR — a fact of little importance when the entire country was run by the Kremlin, but of great importance now.) But so too it is legitimate for the new Ukrainian government to fight any specter of partition in Crimea. It will want to preserve the territorial integrity of its state and ensure that the substantial Ukrainian minority in that region remains within its sovereign borders.

Where does this leave Western countries and their national interests? As a rule, these kind of ethno-territorial conflicts involve deep-seated animosities that are scarcely appreciable to those unfamiliar with their histories. They also invariably involve the atrocious use of force by both sides, contrary to the tendency of news organizations and other media to portray such conflicts as one of “good guys” and “bad guys.” Evidently, not all human conflicts can be boiled down to matters of good versus evil.

A salient example is that of the Kosovo conflict of some 15 years ago. After having foolishly maintained an arms embargo that favoured the Serb forces over the Croats and Muslims during the Bosnian War, and subsequently intervening in pursuit of a peace agreement in 1995, the West came down like a ton of bricks on Serbia and Montenegro in 1999, which employed force to put down secessionist uprisings in the south. The Muslim Kosovar-Albanians formed a majority in the region and wished to break away from Serbia, either to form an independent state or to join Albania. The Christian Serbs, who formed a minority in Kosovo but a majority in the country, understandably wanted to keep Kosovo as part of their territory.

In hindsight, it remains remarkably unclear why the West was so decisively on the side of the Kosovar-Albanians. Perhaps we thought that extending a helping hand to the Kosovo Liberation Army would earn us sympathies in the Muslim world. Another idea, which is persuasive to me, is that the Western media collectively decided that Slobodon Milosevic was evil, which meant that any action his country took, however legitimate, was also evil. Today, Vladimir Putin has been deemed evil by our opinion-makers, meaning that any enemy of his is supposedly a friend of ours.

The Kosovo War had a further implication. When the United States and its allies directed NATO to perform air strikes on Serbia, it did so without the permission of the United Nations Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent and veto-wielding member. Perhaps more importantly, that case established the ability of a powerful state to choose one side in an ethnic conflict and commit military force in its support, seemingly without any overarching geopolitical reason.

Ironically, this plays directly into the hands of the loathed Mister Putin, who has called Obama’s bluff by first moving his troops to the Ukrainian border, and then into Crimea itself. Given the brazenness of our intervention in Kosovo, with its ignorance of international law as well as the wishes of other powerful states, on what remaining leg will we stand if Putin decides to forcibly remove Crimea from Ukraine? Such action, after all, would be ostensibly in support of a beleaguered minority seeking refuge from a nationalist government.

This is a very irresponsible way to even think about, and let alone conduct, foreign affairs. One doesn’t have to be an isolationist to see that some conflicts are not of paramount importance to the national interest, and hence to the calculation of sacrificing blood and treasure overseas. To the contrary, many such situations are, to use Krauthammer’s scornful words, “merely a crisis to be managed.”

Instead of making empty promises or threats, our message should be clear and decisive: “What is happening in Ukraine is a matter that its population has to sort out for itself. But, if asked, we will work with all interested parties to mediate a speedy and peaceful resolution.” No more, no less.

~
This piece also appears in the Prince Arthur Herald.

The West Should Butt Out of Ukrainian Politics | Jackson Doughart

The West Should Butt Out of Ukrainian Politics | Jackson Doughart.

Jackson Doughart

Posted: 03/05/2014 5:16 pm

The West, and especially the English-speaking West, has wrongly taken sides in the present conflict in Ukraine. On the one hand, our leaders have mimicked the line of the news media, which simplistically represent the revolutionary ouster of President Yanukovych as an occasion of desperate democratic action against a corrupt leader. On the other hand, various pundits have elevated Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the status of enemy, whose actions must be “contained” as an apparent foreign-policy sine qua non.

For instance, the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer argues that President Obama “sees Ukraine as merely a crisis to be managed rather than an opportunity to alter the increasingly autocratic trajectory of the region, allow Ukrainians to join their destiny to the West, and block Russian neo-imperialism.”

In response to the Administration’s claim that democracy “must not be imposed by outside intervention but develop on its own,” Krauthammer writes: “Ukraine is never on its own. Not with a bear next door. American neutrality doesn’t allow an authentic Ukrainian polity to emerge. It leaves Ukraine naked to Russian pressure.”

But this “authentic Ukrainian polity” is wrought with ethnic divisions, particularly concerning the Crimean peninsula, which is populated in a majority by ethnic Russians. The pro-Europe posture of the protesters is a reflection less of a considered moral preference than of a country torn in politics and identity between East and West. Krauthammer also fails to mention that the “Russian pressure” involved here is not a mere exercise in imperial Realpolitik. What’s really involved is the fear of Ukrainians that they may be unduly influenced by Russia, or worse, that they may lose territory. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Russians fear that a more nationalist government will leave them with less clout and fewer political rights, such as the regional language recognition that the new parliament has just taken away from them.

Putin isn’t going to leave the Russian residents of the Ukraine, and especially those in Crimea, proverbially out to dry. It’s a matter of legitimate interest for Russia, whose ethnic brethren was stranded from the homeland when Ukraine declared independence, to use its geopolitical might to protect them. (One remembers that it was only in 1954 that Crimea was tacked onto the Ukrainian SSR — a fact of little importance when the entire country was run by the Kremlin, but of great importance now.) But so too it is legitimate for the new Ukrainian government to fight any specter of partition in Crimea. It will want to preserve the territorial integrity of its state and ensure that the substantial Ukrainian minority in that region remains within its sovereign borders.

Where does this leave Western countries and their national interests? As a rule, these kind of ethno-territorial conflicts involve deep-seated animosities that are scarcely appreciable to those unfamiliar with their histories. They also invariably involve the atrocious use of force by both sides, contrary to the tendency of news organizations and other media to portray such conflicts as one of “good guys” and “bad guys.” Evidently, not all human conflicts can be boiled down to matters of good versus evil.

A salient example is that of the Kosovo conflict of some 15 years ago. After having foolishly maintained an arms embargo that favoured the Serb forces over the Croats and Muslims during the Bosnian War, and subsequently intervening in pursuit of a peace agreement in 1995, the West came down like a ton of bricks on Serbia and Montenegro in 1999, which employed force to put down secessionist uprisings in the south. The Muslim Kosovar-Albanians formed a majority in the region and wished to break away from Serbia, either to form an independent state or to join Albania. The Christian Serbs, who formed a minority in Kosovo but a majority in the country, understandably wanted to keep Kosovo as part of their territory.

In hindsight, it remains remarkably unclear why the West was so decisively on the side of the Kosovar-Albanians. Perhaps we thought that extending a helping hand to the Kosovo Liberation Army would earn us sympathies in the Muslim world. Another idea, which is persuasive to me, is that the Western media collectively decided that Slobodon Milosevic was evil, which meant that any action his country took, however legitimate, was also evil. Today, Vladimir Putin has been deemed evil by our opinion-makers, meaning that any enemy of his is supposedly a friend of ours.

The Kosovo War had a further implication. When the United States and its allies directed NATO to perform air strikes on Serbia, it did so without the permission of the United Nations Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent and veto-wielding member. Perhaps more importantly, that case established the ability of a powerful state to choose one side in an ethnic conflict and commit military force in its support, seemingly without any overarching geopolitical reason.

Ironically, this plays directly into the hands of the loathed Mister Putin, who has called Obama’s bluff by first moving his troops to the Ukrainian border, and then into Crimea itself. Given the brazenness of our intervention in Kosovo, with its ignorance of international law as well as the wishes of other powerful states, on what remaining leg will we stand if Putin decides to forcibly remove Crimea from Ukraine? Such action, after all, would be ostensibly in support of a beleaguered minority seeking refuge from a nationalist government.

This is a very irresponsible way to even think about, and let alone conduct, foreign affairs. One doesn’t have to be an isolationist to see that some conflicts are not of paramount importance to the national interest, and hence to the calculation of sacrificing blood and treasure overseas. To the contrary, many such situations are, to use Krauthammer’s scornful words, “merely a crisis to be managed.”

Instead of making empty promises or threats, our message should be clear and decisive: “What is happening in Ukraine is a matter that its population has to sort out for itself. But, if asked, we will work with all interested parties to mediate a speedy and peaceful resolution.” No more, no less.

~
This piece also appears in the Prince Arthur Herald.

Are You Crazy To Continue Believing In Collapse?: James Howards Kunstler | Peak Prosperity

Are You Crazy To Continue Believing In Collapse?: James Howards Kunstler | Peak Prosperity.

BLOG

Sandra Cunningham/Shutterstock

Are You Crazy To Continue Believing In Collapse?

That it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean you’re wrong
by James H. Kunstler
Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 4:16 AM

It’s nerve-wracking to live in the historical moment of an epic turning point, especially when the great groaning garbage barge of late industrial civilization doesn’t turn quickly where you know it must, and you are left feeling naked and ashamed with your dark worldview, your careful preparations for a difficult future, and your scornful or tittering relatives reminding you each day what a ninny you are to worry about the tendings of events.

Persevere. There are worse things in this life than not being right exactly on schedule.

Two simple words explain why more robust signs of an economic collapse have hung fire since the tremors of 2008: inertia and fraud. Never in human history has there been such a matrix of complex systems so vast, dense, weighty, and powerful for running everyday life (nor a larger population engaged in it). That much stuff in motion takes a while to slow down. The embodied energy has kept enough of it running to give the appearance of continuity. For instance, agri-biz still sends its amber waves of grain and tankers of corn-syrup to the Pepsico snack-food factories, and the WalMart trucks still faithfully convey the pallets of Cheetos, Fritos, Funyons, and Tostitos from the Pepsico loading dock to the big box aisles of glory. The freeways still hum with traffic even though oil is pricey at $100 a barrel. The lights stay on. The gabble and blabber of Cable TV continues remorselessly in the background of life. All of that is due to inertia. It gives the superficial impression of the old normal carrying on. Things go on until they can’t, in the immortal words of Herb Stein

The fraud is present in the abuse and misrepresentation of official statistics used as metrics in government policy, in the pervasive accounting chicanery of that same government in its fiscal dealings, as well as in our leading financial institutions and corporations, including control fraud in banking, interest rate rigging, mortgage and title fraud, front-running, naked shorting, re-hypothecation, money laundering, pumping-and-dumping, channel stuffing, the endless innovation of swindles, and, most importantly, the fundamental mispricing of the cost of money, which reverberates through everything else, most particularly real estate, stocks, and bonds. Beyond that, in the shadows of the shadowland known as shadow banking, a liminal realm of secrets and intrigues, only a few are privileged to know what is going on, and you can be sure they only know their end of the trade — while immense sums of ever more abstract “money” slosh through the derivative sewers on their way to oblivion in the ocean of failed trust.

So, don’t feel bad if this colossal armature of folly still stands, and have faith that the blinding light of God’s judgment will eventually shine even unto the watery depths where failed trust has sunk. Sooner or later the relationship between reality and truth re-sets to the calculus of what is actually happening.

Meanwhile, the big questions worth reflecting upon are: What is the shape of the future? How might we conduct ourselves in it and on our way to it; and how will we think and feel about all that? It’s very likely that the journey to where we’re going will be rougher than the actual destination, once we get there. There is a hearty consensus outside the mainstream financial media and the thickets of academia that the models we have been using to understand the economy look more broken each month, and this surely adds to the difficulty of constructing our own mental models for how the everyday world of the years ahead will operate.

Some of the commentators in blogville and elsewhere like to blame capitalism. Capitalism is a phantom adversary. It isn’t an economic system. It isn’t an ideology, really, or a belief system. If the word means anything, it describes the behavior of accumulated surplus wealth in concert with the known laws of physics — the movement of energy through time and space — and the choices we make organizing society in relation to that.  The energy is embodied as capital, represented in money for convenience. Interest expresses the cost of money over time and the risks associated with lending it. By the way, interest rates work the same way under all political systems, despite attempts in some societies to criminalize it.

During the high tide of the industrial expansion, when fossil fuels were cheap and we accumulated the greatest wealth surplus ever in history, humanity made some very bad choices, squandering this possibly one-time bonanza. We fought two world wars, and lots of wasteful lesser ones. Russia and its imitators attempted to collectivize wealth under gangster government and only succeeded in impoverishing everyone but the gangsters. America built suburbia and Las Vegas. The one thing that no “modern” culture did was plan for a future when the fossil fuel orgy and the techno-industrial fiesta might wind down, which is exactly the case now. Instead, we opted for the Julian Simon folly of crossing our fingers and hoping that some unnamed band ofgenius wizard innovators would mitigate the problems of resource scarcity and population overshoot just in time.

The demonizers of capitalism propose to remedy our compound predicament by just getting rid of money. But the idea of a human society without money leaves you either up a baobab tree on the paleolithic savannah, or in some sort of Ray Kurzweil techno-narcissistic masturbation fantasy multiverse with no relation to the organic doings on planet earth. I suspect as long as there are human societies there will be things to exchange that have a quality we call “money,” and as long as that’s the case, some individuals will have more of it than others, and they will lend some of their surplus to others on terms. What most people call capitalism was a model of economy derived from a particular transitory moment in history. It seemed to describe reality, but after a while it didn’t because reality changed and it was, finally, just a model. Nothing lasts forever. Boo-hoo, Karl Marx, J.M Keynes, and Paul Krugman.

What’s cracking up first is the complexity and abstraction of our current money operations, sometimes loosely called the financialized economy. If we blame anything for our problems with money, blame our half-baked attempts to mitigate the wind-down of the techno-industrial cavalcade of progress by issuing ersatz surplus wealth in the form of debt — that is, promises to fork over hypothetical not- yet-accumulated wealth at some future date. There are too many promises now, and too few trustworthy promisors, and poor prospects for generating the volumes of wealth as we did in the recent past.

The hidden (or ignored) truth of this quandary expresses itself inevitably in the degenerate culture of the day, the freak show of pornified criminal avarice that the USA has become. It only shows how demoralizing our recent history has been that the collective national attention is focused on such vulgar stupidities as twerking, or the Kanye-Kardashian porno romance, the doings of the Duck Dynasty, and the partying wolves of Wall Street. By slow increments since about the time John F. Kennedy was shot in the head, we’ve become a land where anything goes and nothing matters. The political blame for that can be distributed equally between Boomer progressives (e.g., inventors of political correctness) and the knuckle-dragging “free-market” conservatives (e.g.,money is free speech). The catch is, some things do matter, for instance whether the human race can continue to be civilized in some fashion when the techno-industrial orgy draws to a close.

In Part 2: How Life Will Change, we sort out the new operating principles that will matter more in the future than the trash heap of current cultural norms. The society that emerges from the post-growth economy will surely require a new moral compass, a set of values based on qualities of behavior and things worth caring about — as opposed to coolness, snobbery, menace, or power, the current lodestars of human aspiration.

Click here to access Part 2 of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

Are You Crazy To Continue Believing In Collapse?: James Howards Kunstler | Peak Prosperity

Are You Crazy To Continue Believing In Collapse?: James Howards Kunstler | Peak Prosperity.

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Sandra Cunningham/Shutterstock

Are You Crazy To Continue Believing In Collapse?

That it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean you’re wrong
by James H. Kunstler
Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 4:16 AM

It’s nerve-wracking to live in the historical moment of an epic turning point, especially when the great groaning garbage barge of late industrial civilization doesn’t turn quickly where you know it must, and you are left feeling naked and ashamed with your dark worldview, your careful preparations for a difficult future, and your scornful or tittering relatives reminding you each day what a ninny you are to worry about the tendings of events.

Persevere. There are worse things in this life than not being right exactly on schedule.

Two simple words explain why more robust signs of an economic collapse have hung fire since the tremors of 2008: inertia and fraud. Never in human history has there been such a matrix of complex systems so vast, dense, weighty, and powerful for running everyday life (nor a larger population engaged in it). That much stuff in motion takes a while to slow down. The embodied energy has kept enough of it running to give the appearance of continuity. For instance, agri-biz still sends its amber waves of grain and tankers of corn-syrup to the Pepsico snack-food factories, and the WalMart trucks still faithfully convey the pallets of Cheetos, Fritos, Funyons, and Tostitos from the Pepsico loading dock to the big box aisles of glory. The freeways still hum with traffic even though oil is pricey at $100 a barrel. The lights stay on. The gabble and blabber of Cable TV continues remorselessly in the background of life. All of that is due to inertia. It gives the superficial impression of the old normal carrying on. Things go on until they can’t, in the immortal words of Herb Stein

The fraud is present in the abuse and misrepresentation of official statistics used as metrics in government policy, in the pervasive accounting chicanery of that same government in its fiscal dealings, as well as in our leading financial institutions and corporations, including control fraud in banking, interest rate rigging, mortgage and title fraud, front-running, naked shorting, re-hypothecation, money laundering, pumping-and-dumping, channel stuffing, the endless innovation of swindles, and, most importantly, the fundamental mispricing of the cost of money, which reverberates through everything else, most particularly real estate, stocks, and bonds. Beyond that, in the shadows of the shadowland known as shadow banking, a liminal realm of secrets and intrigues, only a few are privileged to know what is going on, and you can be sure they only know their end of the trade — while immense sums of ever more abstract “money” slosh through the derivative sewers on their way to oblivion in the ocean of failed trust.

So, don’t feel bad if this colossal armature of folly still stands, and have faith that the blinding light of God’s judgment will eventually shine even unto the watery depths where failed trust has sunk. Sooner or later the relationship between reality and truth re-sets to the calculus of what is actually happening.

Meanwhile, the big questions worth reflecting upon are: What is the shape of the future? How might we conduct ourselves in it and on our way to it; and how will we think and feel about all that? It’s very likely that the journey to where we’re going will be rougher than the actual destination, once we get there. There is a hearty consensus outside the mainstream financial media and the thickets of academia that the models we have been using to understand the economy look more broken each month, and this surely adds to the difficulty of constructing our own mental models for how the everyday world of the years ahead will operate.

Some of the commentators in blogville and elsewhere like to blame capitalism. Capitalism is a phantom adversary. It isn’t an economic system. It isn’t an ideology, really, or a belief system. If the word means anything, it describes the behavior of accumulated surplus wealth in concert with the known laws of physics — the movement of energy through time and space — and the choices we make organizing society in relation to that.  The energy is embodied as capital, represented in money for convenience. Interest expresses the cost of money over time and the risks associated with lending it. By the way, interest rates work the same way under all political systems, despite attempts in some societies to criminalize it.

During the high tide of the industrial expansion, when fossil fuels were cheap and we accumulated the greatest wealth surplus ever in history, humanity made some very bad choices, squandering this possibly one-time bonanza. We fought two world wars, and lots of wasteful lesser ones. Russia and its imitators attempted to collectivize wealth under gangster government and only succeeded in impoverishing everyone but the gangsters. America built suburbia and Las Vegas. The one thing that no “modern” culture did was plan for a future when the fossil fuel orgy and the techno-industrial fiesta might wind down, which is exactly the case now. Instead, we opted for the Julian Simon folly of crossing our fingers and hoping that some unnamed band ofgenius wizard innovators would mitigate the problems of resource scarcity and population overshoot just in time.

The demonizers of capitalism propose to remedy our compound predicament by just getting rid of money. But the idea of a human society without money leaves you either up a baobab tree on the paleolithic savannah, or in some sort of Ray Kurzweil techno-narcissistic masturbation fantasy multiverse with no relation to the organic doings on planet earth. I suspect as long as there are human societies there will be things to exchange that have a quality we call “money,” and as long as that’s the case, some individuals will have more of it than others, and they will lend some of their surplus to others on terms. What most people call capitalism was a model of economy derived from a particular transitory moment in history. It seemed to describe reality, but after a while it didn’t because reality changed and it was, finally, just a model. Nothing lasts forever. Boo-hoo, Karl Marx, J.M Keynes, and Paul Krugman.

What’s cracking up first is the complexity and abstraction of our current money operations, sometimes loosely called the financialized economy. If we blame anything for our problems with money, blame our half-baked attempts to mitigate the wind-down of the techno-industrial cavalcade of progress by issuing ersatz surplus wealth in the form of debt — that is, promises to fork over hypothetical not- yet-accumulated wealth at some future date. There are too many promises now, and too few trustworthy promisors, and poor prospects for generating the volumes of wealth as we did in the recent past.

The hidden (or ignored) truth of this quandary expresses itself inevitably in the degenerate culture of the day, the freak show of pornified criminal avarice that the USA has become. It only shows how demoralizing our recent history has been that the collective national attention is focused on such vulgar stupidities as twerking, or the Kanye-Kardashian porno romance, the doings of the Duck Dynasty, and the partying wolves of Wall Street. By slow increments since about the time John F. Kennedy was shot in the head, we’ve become a land where anything goes and nothing matters. The political blame for that can be distributed equally between Boomer progressives (e.g., inventors of political correctness) and the knuckle-dragging “free-market” conservatives (e.g.,money is free speech). The catch is, some things do matter, for instance whether the human race can continue to be civilized in some fashion when the techno-industrial orgy draws to a close.

In Part 2: How Life Will Change, we sort out the new operating principles that will matter more in the future than the trash heap of current cultural norms. The society that emerges from the post-growth economy will surely require a new moral compass, a set of values based on qualities of behavior and things worth caring about — as opposed to coolness, snobbery, menace, or power, the current lodestars of human aspiration.

Click here to access Part 2 of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

What the Russian (and Chinese) papers are saying about Ukraine

What the Russian (and Chinese) papers are saying about Ukraine.

March 5, 2014
En route to Colombia

“Putin: Unconstitutional coup is taking place in Ukraine. The U.S halted military cooperation and trade negotiations with Russia”

That’s the headline from a Beijing newspaper– and no surprise that it leans slightly to the Russian side.

Beijing Paper What the Russian (and Chinese) papers are saying about Ukraine

The article goes on:

“Russian president Putin said on 4th March that unconstitutional coup is taking place in Ukraine and Russia will only use the army to Ukraine under “the most extreme situation”. This was the first time that Putin declared this publicly since the escalation of the situation in Ukraine.”

“U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened on March 2nd that the U.S and allied countries will take a series of actions including visa ban, capital controls, economic and trade sanctions, etc.”

“The White House issued this in a joint statement signed by the Group of Seven member countries and accused Russia of violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The White House also declared temporarily not to participate in the preparation for the G8 summit scheduled for June in Sochi, Russia.”

– and of course :

“Chinese Permanent Representative to the United Nations Liu Jieyi called for dialogue of all sides to resolve differences and maintain regional peace and stability. The united nations security council held an emergency meeting on the Ukrainian situation. Liu Jieyi said in the meeting that China is deeply concerned about Ukrainian situation and condemn the extreme violence in Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Russian newspaper Itar Tass had this headline (loose translation):

“Putin: Those [foreign nations] who are talking about imposing sanctions on the Russian Federation should first consider the impact of those sanctions”

Russian Paper What the Russian (and Chinese) papers are saying about Ukraine

The article goes on:

“President Putin told reporters that the damage to all countries involved is mutual:

“We can cause damage to each other– mutual damage. And this needs to be thought about. . . We believe our actions are fully justified. And any threats to Russia are counterproductive and harmful.”

Mr. Putin added that Russia is still preparing for upcoming G8 meeting.

“If [the other countries] do not want to come, they don’t have to,” he told reporters .

The Russian President also expressed the opinion that the U.S. has historically created its own geopolitical goals, and then dragging along the rest of the world underneath them:

“Our partners, especially in the U.S.– they always clearly formulate their geopolitical interests and pursue them very aggressively. Guided by the well-known phrase, “you are either with us or against us,” they drag the rest of the world along, underneath them. And whoever doesn’t go along is beaten and usually killed,” the President told reporters.

He emphasized that Russia’s actions come from legitimate grounds.So on one hand, the Chinese are essentially making the West out to be the belligerents, the Russians to be defending their interests, and the Chinese as the strong diplomats who are pushing for peace.

And on the other hand, the Russian papers are highlighting the utter hypocrisy of US foreign policy– it’s OK for America to invade whatever country it likes, but not for Russia to defend its own interests.

Ukraine Crisis: Harper Says Canada Sending Observers To Crimea

Ukraine Crisis: Harper Says Canada Sending Observers To Crimea.

OTTAWA – Canada will send two observers to join an unarmed military mission in Ukraine and will impose more sanctions on the regime of fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of international law,” Harper said in a statement.

“Canada will contribute observers to an important military observer mission in a co-ordinated effort to better monitor the Russian military intervention in Crimea.”

The two observers will deploy immediately under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, he said.

The Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, Vadym Prystaiko, told The Canadian Press earlier this week that many governments are looking for a first-hand look at the situation in Crimea.

He said the Ukrainian government wants to disprove the Russian claim that their invasion is in support of civilians in the Crimean peninsula.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also affirmed that Canada would once again contribute a large contingent of election observers for Ukraine’s next scheduled election in May.

Baird told the Commons that on his recent trip to Kyiv he offered Ukraine’s new prime minister and president “our full support in the conduct of the presidential election on May 25.”

“We have provided substantial assistance in the past, and we will obviously provide long-term and short-term election observers to ensure that the will and courage of the Ukrainian people be fully respected by the international community.”

Canada last sent a large observer force of hundreds to Ukraine in 2012 to monitor parliamentary elections, a regular occurrence that started in 2004 when former Liberal prime minister John Turner led a large team of international election monitors.

Harper also announced additional economic sanctions Wednesday against members of the Yanukovych regime, which he said came “at the request of the prosecutor general of Ukraine.”

Canada is also prepared to offer financial assistance and co-operation with its allies, including collaboration with the International Monetary Fund. Harper said it is critical that Ukraine receive financial assistance.

The prime minister said Canada is also suspending its participation in a joint commercial venture with Russia. The Canada-Russia Intergovernmental Economic Commission had been established to promote bilateral trade.

“Our actions with respect to the IEC, the freezing of assets of corrupt Ukrainian officials held in Canada and our involvement in the OSCE mission are further examples of our support for Ukraine and our goal of stabilizing the tense situation in Crimea,” his statement said.

“President (Vladimir) Putin must now immediately withdraw his forces to their bases and refrain from further provocative and dangerous actions.”

Harper earlier discussed the Ukraine crisis with Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

“The two leaders discussed developments in Crimea,” Harper’s office said. “They condemned in the strongest terms President Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine, noting that a de-escalation of the situation is in the best interest of the entire international community.”

The United States also announced support for its allies in Europe, including joint training with the Polish air force.

The Pentagon is increasing U.S. participation in NATO air missions in support of Baltic countries.

NATO said that it is suspending most of its meetings and reviewing all of its co-operation with Russia.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s secretary general, said its 28 members also decided “to intensify our partnership with Ukraine.”

End of Suburbia  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

End of Suburbia  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

 
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