About Greg Gerritt

The Founder of the think tank ProsperityForRI.com, and the Coordinator of the Rhode Island compost Initiative, Greg Gerritt has been involved in efforts to create a sustainable economy since the 1970’s when he began building solar buildings and creating organic homesteads. Currently involved in efforts around urban agriculture, compost, river restoration and the administration of the coalition of environmental organizations in RI, Gerritt has been the leading advocate in RI for making sure ecology is actually a component of efforts to create a sustainable economy in Rhode Island and a critic of the idea of sustainable growth on this finite planet.

urban redevelopment comment

The idea of using real estate development to restart cities is as old as cities, Unless it is truly based on looking out for the interests of the ecosystem and the marginalized, it is not going to work for the community. Most of the time these schemes benefit the wealthy few who own land rather than the workers or the children. They look better on paper than in reality. It is also interesting that the examples used in the article are primarily public projects like parks and flood control and resettling displaced people. If we are to have these public private partnerships the governments should not be giving sweetheart deals and tax breaks without great public scrutiny. But the marginalized get left out of the negotiation and the planet never gets a seat at the table. The thing that then makes the plan work. The people get rowdy and get in the streets and come to even the sham hearings. Because the track record is that when the public actually gets involved things are much more likely to work than when the are excluded.

greg gerritt  7/20/16

My screed to senator Reed

I am glad you acknowledge the history of racial violence in America. One that continues to this day. I have always stated that until the government gives up violence, gives up militarism and the glorification of killing, we shall not have peaceful streets. Ponder that a while.

if we want peaceful communities we need to give up the empire. We need to give up on the idea that it is our oil, or that we have any right to demand people sell it to us or let us drill for it in their country. The impunity of the oil business overseas also extends to our communities in which so much of our pollution and damage to climate is exempted from regulation.

I understand the politics is ridiculously stupid. We are the only country with a cliamte denying major party. Probably because we do everything we can to eliminate 3rd parties, including hold candidates in black cells in Chicago while a debate was going on. (Jill Stein was held in Chicago for 7 hrs during a debate in chicago in 2012. Zip tied to a chair. When the debate ended they let her, and VP candidate Cheri Honkola, go. )

We have to end the militarization of the police, our youth, and our schools and communities if we want peaceful communities. We have to stop breaking young people in crazy invasions, occupations, surgical strikes. They bring the trauma home. We have to stop the drug war and the class war, provide real health care, and stop poisoning communities. I consider it totalitarianism when a community can not stop big business from polluting them and sickening their kids. That is what the legislature and governor Raimondo just did to the people of Burrillville. they took away their right to petition and vote and to protect themselves from large corporations doing incredibly idiotict hings like build more infrastructure for fossil fuels. Infrastructure that will become stranded assets when we close it down.

You have to know that there is no way in hell we have a livable community if we run gas plants for the next 30 years. it will HAVE to be shut down well before that to keep Providence from drowing in the lifetime of your grandchildren.

Our inability to deal with climate is tied up with the violence that this nation was founded upon, genocide and slavery. it is always someone else who will suffer, so we are allowed to continue the abuse.. The poor will suffer as the rich pay congressmaen to speak lies and deny science. Anti science thinking is definitely related to patriarchy, you know rule by the most violent sexist men. Knowledge of what they do is taboo. They keep everyone in line with ignorance and violence.

We need a new national myth, the current ones are killing us and the planet.

What Open for Business in Rhode Island really means

Open for Business, the Business Climate, the actual climate, and economic development in RI. Greg Gerritt 7/8/16
The perennial question in Rhode Island, and many similar places around the world, is “how do we bring prosperity to our communities”. Actually I wish it was phrased that way. What we actually get is a “promise” the percentage of year on year GDP growth will go up if you do as they say. The reality in Rhode Island and many other old industrial neighborhoods is that 3% growth only happens at the crazy phase of a real estate or other speculative bubble, and signals that a crash is coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

What is missing in Rhode Island is a realistic assessment of the economy and what is actually possible in Rhode Island. AND a plan to increase the general prosperity in the slow to no growth system that we live in. The context is that every reputable global oriented economist has stated that the growth machine is slowing down. Global growth will now average just over 3% for the foreseeable future. Clearly there are places like China and India that are keeping the average high as they urbanize and industrialize. China has already seen its growth slow (now at 6%) as it attempts to shift towards a consumer economy rather than a production economy. They just can not afford to kill more people burning coal. The populace gets restless when they can not breathe the air. China is leading the way in solar power and speeding up its phaseout of coal. India is instituting a carbon tax.

Economic Growth in the 21st Century is concentrated in 3 types of places, with nearly every other place on earth experiencing 2% or less a year growth, most of which is just sucked up by the 1%. The places with 3+% growth a year include those with natural resource exploitation expansions such as fracking booms or deforestation for soybean or palm oil. Another category of rapid growth regions is large and mega cities in the developing world where people are being drawn into the cities as the mechanization of agriculture and the creation of giant plantations is costing them their land and livelihoods. These first generation urbanites are powering growth throughout the tropics, usually by leaving devastated the rural areas. Now they live in shanty towns in cities bulging at the seams and unable to provide basic services. The informal economy is how people get by, real jobs are reserved for the elites. The third category of places with above average growth are very large metropolitan areas in the developed world that are providing financial, cultural, or intellectual services to the world.

If growth is 3% globally, and above that in a specific places on the planet for reasons that are readily discernible with current knowledge, then one must realize that half of the people in the world are going to live in slower growing communities.

Rhode Island does not fit any of the categories for rapid growth, despite the constant yapping by our political and corporate elites as they pretend we fit the third category. We can argue about how well RI fits the category, but what seems to be of out of bounds for discussion is the effect the economic development strategy that is employed to further the growth of the financial, cultural, and intellectual services on everyone else in the community. Maybe if the economy of Rhode Island could grow at more then 3% a year without creating bubbles, the current strategy would have a chance of working, but when growth is about 1.8% the strategy fosters inequality and ecological destruction, which further damages the prosperity of communities.

The “intellectual” tool that the political, financial, and corporate elites use to beat us about the head is called “The Business Climate”. The entire point of the business climate, with indexes funded by the same folks who fund climate deniers and told us smoking cigarettes does not cause cancer, is to make it easier for rich folks to get richer as the global economy spirals down.

Lets be very clear. There is actually no correlation between rankings in the various business climate surveys (which often contradict each other) and the GDP growth rate or other measures of prosperity in a particular place. There is a very weak correlation between lower tax rates and growth, but no other indicators used in these very flawed indexes actually have any positive relationship with a healthy economy. Other factors are MUCH more important, including the economic history and culture of a community. Vermont ranks low on business climate indexes, NH high. The unemployment and growth rates have been neck and neck since the Great Recession. Kansas cut taxes, and crashed the state economy as well as short changing the schools. Missouri acted more conservatively (you know conserved some resources and programs that actually helped folks) and weathered the storms much more easily. Wisconsin elected a darling of the Tea P:arty, and enacted the requisite cuts in taxes and spending. Minnesota skipped the stupidity and is doing much better than its neighbor. You want the economy of California or Mississippi?

The manifestations of business climate insanity in Rhode Island are the ever louder efforts to reduce protections for the environment, lower taxes for the wealthy, further restrict the rights of communities to protect themselves from inappropriate development, and the use of real estate subsidies as the basic tool of economic development. The net result is that 90% of the people get poorer and the owners of land and those few who get jobs in the high tech or cultural global marketplace reap all the benefits. Growing inequality makes it much harder to run a consumer society, along with the ecological problems that growth and consumerism on a finite planet bring.

A simple way to tell that despite all the rhetoric and hot air, and all the stupid things the clowns on Smith hill have done, the growth rate in Rhode Island continues to hover at about 60 to 75% of the national average year after year. This is EXACTLY what one would expect given the actual conditions in Rhode Island and our not participating in the fracking boom. The 1.8% growth rate we have experienced in RI , is pretty close to the median in the US, Only half the states have rates above 1.8 the last few years even when the mean for growth in the US is hovering between 2.2 to 2.4%, So the politicians and the developers tell us, just go harder, double down on inequality, ecological destruction, and handouts to the rich. They keep telling us it will work, and it keeps not working.

One of the results of this pathetic bipartisan development scam is that the people have become wise to the scam. RI elites have a habit of looking for the next big thing so hard that they get taken for a ride regularly. Time after time the elites have offered some mega project with the intent of solving the RI economic dilemma once and for all. We have been offered the biggest and most stupendous Nuclear Power plants, Gas fired power plants, violent video game companies, ports, casinos, and baseball stadiums. The track record is that the projects they snuck through before we could stop them turned into real disasters. And in retrospect, if built, all the projects we stopped also would have been disasters. The gas infrastructure in Burrillville, Washington Park, and assorted other communities in and near Rhode Island is just the latest boondoggle being offered. You would think with such a pathetic track record they would quit already, but power corrupts and money is the root of evil, so the corporations keep coming back for more figuring the bought politicians will stay bought and not let the people ruin the game.

What may be the most galling about this whole thing is that we have an elite touting the economy of the past, dragging us backwards into the fossil fuel dependency we are trying to escape, dragging us towards back room deals for inside players while the rest of us struggle. The rich and powerful are always the last to know that the economy has changed and the old games do not work at all. We need a really new plan. One based on ecological healing, stopping climate change, building resilience to climate change, growing our own food, and creating a healthcare system that is based on prevention and is actually affordable for the entire community. Our future is not in building power plants, nor in giving huge subsidies to giant corporations so they will create 50 jobs that hardly anyone who already lives here could get.

So we keep resisting. Which brings us to the Clear River Energy plant proposed for Burrillville. The people of Burrillville are massively opposed to building the plant. They have turned out in large numbers time and again. So have activists from across the state. Reports have been written by experts pointing out how little the plant is needed, how it will not cut our energy bills, and how it will not function as anything resembling sustainable development. The community has pointed out the long term effects on health. We also know the plant will be shut down long before its expiration date as the climate crisis worsens and solar energy powers the land, Building a plant that we know will be shut early will cost the people of Rhode Island a bundle of money. It is the economy of the past, passed off as the Great White Hope.

The politicians and the corporates have this new slogan. Many states are adopting it after years of browbeating by the Koch Brother funded anti think tanks. Your state here is open for business. Its on billboards and on the lips of governors. It Is saying we shall restrict democracy and not give the people the right to say no to big corporations. In other words the elites would like to make sure the people can not stop their boondoggles, or the giveaways, the ecological harm, or the lower taxes for the rich when the schools are starving and so are the kids. That is what open for business really means, Yes we shall let the rich rob and pillage, we shall encourage greater inequality despite how it harms communities and the economy. In other words when the politicians and business elites are saying RI is closed for business it means we are not buying any of their boondoggles any more, that we want democracy, justice and healthy communities.

When the people are able to resist really stupid projects it gives the impression that the powerful can not deliver anything the rich ask for, anything the corporations demand,. It ties their hands when the people have a say and demand the right to prevent bad things from happening in their communities to prevent the politicians from selling them down the river,. In other words the practice of precaution, the practice of democracy, listening to the wisdom of the people instead of the dollars of the lobbyists and connected law firms has to go since it means we have a hard time saying we are open for business. In other words democracy is bad for business, so it has to go.

That is the real meaning of “ Open for Business”. Cut benefits for the poor. Relax environmental standards, give lots of subsidies to big corporations who when the contracts run out will go out to bid for bribes again. Excuse me, but this strategy has failed us for 50 years, and under the conditions of slower global growth and climate change, has to be among the stupider strategies on the planet, one simply designed for the rich to get richer and the poor poorer. Is it any wonder that we have more and more people begging at intersections. We have created development for the few, not the many.

The questions one gets after a rant like this are how are you going to feed, clothe and shelter everyone if the economy is not constantly growing. First of all the reality is that since 1973 for most Americans income has barely changed after inflation is taken into account. Fewer people own homes, fewer people have retirement accounts, more people have credit card and student loan debt. And for more and more people the only economy they are in is the informal and gig. So first of all the situation is not so rosy now. Whereas for the few, for the 10% with advanced degrees or the ownership of lots of real estate, life is good. They got bailed out in 2008, and have made up for all their “losses” while for the average American net assets remain well below what they were in 2008.

While we are loathe to admit it in public forums, the medical industrial complex is bankrupting us, along with the military industrial complex and the stupid breaking of the Middle East in pursuit of tame oil producers. At the same time the food supply becomes more and more fragile as the gene pool of plants shrink and superbugs and weeds develop. Now add in the climate chaos effects on agriculture. Rhode Island, like many places in the industrial world, is going to have to reinvent its agriculture and find a way to grow 20 times as much food as it does now. We need to produce 20% because places like California are going to be unable to supply us as the water supply diminishes and our willingness to incur climate chaos from shipping food diminishes. And guess what. If RI grows 20 times as much food as it does now, that is going to create the thousands of jobs they keep promising industry will bring, despite off shoring.

You know an elite has lost touch with the community, and become unmoored from economic realities when they work harder and harder to convince us that stuff we know is stupid is the next panacea. Open for business is a scam to steal from the poor and the workers and give to the rich. It is a scam to destroy ecosystems for short term profits, not create a sustainable prosperity. Lets deal with the real climate crisis, not the manufactured crisis of the business climate. Slow growth is our future, lets create prosperity for communities, not beat them around the head to give money to the rich.

The struggle in Burrillville

Letter to the editor sent to Projo June 5, 2016


The June 5, 2016 op ed by Laurie White and Michael Sabitoni “Poison ill aimed at power plant” is a commentary by two people who have lost sight of where the Rhode Island economy is going.  The Chamber of Commerce and the construction unions have chased after every boondoggle they have ever seen, offering us projects like the Quonset container port that was offered by con artists and would have opened just as the economy crashed in 2008.  They have not shown good judgment.

They offer a program of let the rich do anything they want even if everyone else knows it is a very bad idea that will hurt the community and needlessly damage the planet and the climate.  The power plant is a very short term fix and a very bad investment for Rhode Island.  By the time the plant reaches the end of its useful life, much more of Rhode Island will be under water and the people will have demanded that the damn thing be shut down.

The politicians, the Chamber, and labor unions have to understand the economy has changed and the way forward for our communities is ecological healing and economic justice.

Right now the only difference between authoritarian states and democracies is that in democracies the people can stop the corporate raiders with their votes and demand rules that keep the planet and their kids healthy.

That you call out against democracy and for special interests shows what this struggle is really about.

First calling Toads of the season

Communing with the Toads

I have been trying to figure out when the Fowler’s Toads were going to start arriving at the temporary pond in the North Burial Ground for the annual ritual of reproduction. Over the years the criteria that I have arrived at is first and foremost a pond with sufficient water. When the pond is too dry, it would be a wasted effort even for gamblers like toads, with 2 or 3 years out of 5 with complete cohort failure, The next criteria I can only verify by my own observations, I have never seen it in a book or on line, though I can not be the first to see this. Fowler’s Toads seem to require temperatures near 60 degrees Fahrenheit as it gets dark. Until Monday May 9 no evening in recent weeks, or when there was water in the pond, had been warm enough.

On Sunday May 8 I saw a toad burrow in the sandbank above the temporary pond. I only found these last year, so I do not know the timing of burrow digging. By the end of winter all the holes were filled back up. But it is clear the first one was re-excavated over the weekend. It was excavated into one of the zones that are eroding/filling in after being used last year.

I have been going out nearly every evening, especially since the pond filled last week with all those little rains. Monday May 9 the evening temperature was near 60. Since I saw the new burrow I had to assume at least one toad was around. So I was a bit hopeful that the3 warmer temperatures would prove fruitful.

I arrived at the pond sometime after 8:20, and it seems the first singer was just getting started. As the night grew darker the first singer was joined by at least one, and probably 2 other singers. Though Fowler’s Toads are not at all melodic. They were going strong when I left about 9:30, though no new singers had joined for a while. Interestingly, I did not see any new burrows when I walked by this afternoon (May 10) maybe only the females make burrows, as sometimes it seems the boys just stay at the pond through the whole mating season, which can go from early May to Early July.

I usually give a narration of what is going on in my videos, but in this case I want you to concentrate on the toads and not on the narration. So I did no narration. Hence this little note. The video is a progression from about 8:20 to 9:20, but i just include here a few short samples. If you want the whole 30 minutes I taped, come on down to the pond some evening real soon. Life is better than memorex. I am happy to go with you. The video starts as dark descends with one toad singing. As it gets darker another two toads eventually join the chorus. The 3 all sound a bit different, and standing by the pond I could discern at lest a few feet of separation of two of the callers.

Response to article in RI Future on Burrillville’s crisis

The political class in Rhode Island seems to be oblivious to the growing resistance. It may cost some of them their jobs.

Between quality of life issues, the fact that it will not save us any money once the gas starts being exported, and climate change, it is only the political and business classes who wish to maintain the old order and their power who support such a retrograde project. It is going backwards to build any additonal fossil fuel infrastructure and it will be useless, dangerous, and obsolete before it is finished being paid for. This will leave the people of RI on the hook for stranded costs for a plant that should never be built.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have openly recognized that everyone else on the planet has already opted for a clean energy future right now, with the only exceptions being the rich and the powerful.

In Rhode Island the elite has regularly tried to push on us some high priced or mega project for the supposed jobs that it would bring. When the public has been involved in the discussion we have stopped a bunch of stupid stuff like the Quonset megaport. When the public is kept out we get 38 Studios. It is clear the public has more wisdom about these things than the political class. Do not let the politicians drown the state No power plant in Burrillville and no more fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere. Clean energy and clean energy jobs are the future.

Climate Change letter Heritage Foundation lies everyday

To the Editor,

On April 15 2017 the Projo published another in the long series of lies and deceptions from the Heritage Foundation, “Inquisition against Deniers begins”. The Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973 as part of a larger strategy to undo democracy, racial equality and a clean environment by some of the biggest corporate criminals in the world, For over 40 years it has been wrong about just about everything, while helping to create a world in which science, truth, justice, and freedom have become an endangered species. Yet today the Heritage Foundation, and friends are complaining that they are being persecuted for lying.

The science of how additional carbon dioxide and methane overheat the planet is 100% certain and been known for 120 years, but businesses are allowed to lie. They do it all the time. But where they do not have the right to lie, and where it becomes fraud, is when people get hurt or die, or their homes are destroyed. Climate change is already among the leading cause of wars and refugees on the planet, and thousands are dying in extraordinary heat waves and the strongest hurricanes ever recorded. Rhode Island shore communities are watching beaches, houses, and marshes disappear, the drought in California threatens the American food system and the water pollution and toxic chemicals of fracking is poisoning thousands.

I wish the Providence Journal was more interested in the truth than in helping perpetuate the big lie of the climate deniers.

Greg Gerritt
37 6th St
Providence RI 02906

The end of the fossil fuel dinosaurs

Greg Gerritt April 1, 2016

I went to the hearing in front of the Rhode island Energy Facility Siting Board in Burrillville on March 31t about the proposed Clear River gas fired power plant. Hundreds of people turned out. When we arrived at 5:45 we had to go beyond the High School parking lot into the neighborhood to park. Upon walking up to the school what you saw were about 100 guys in union t-shirts. Inside the room got very full and I heard that 100 more people stayed outside . There were at least 4 police officers at the event to help keep the peace.

Invenergy provide the usual dog and pony show. Too many slides full of words. The guy needed an energy boost and a much better power point. He pretended to address the issues. But did not. You could tell he really did not want to be there. He was introduced by the company’s local RI lawyer one of the usual faces I see at the state house. I do not think the lawyer was very happy to see the sea of humanity opposing the project either.

Testimony from the public was OVERWHELMINGLY against the plant. The two towns folk who spoke in favor had nothing to say and were roundly booed. The rank and file union guys were a mixed bag. Some spoke for jobs and some where incoherent. The union leaders were more articulate, but still,. Stuck in the old paradigm. The opposition to the plant was lead by folks who live right in the neighborhood of the proposed plant. Noise, light pollution, toxics, odors, water and the destruction of their dreams and relatively pristine community were sited repeatedly. Many of the local residents also spoke passionately about climate, and the larger context, as did a few of us outsiders.

If public opinion matters, then the Energy Facility Siting Board has an easy decision. NO. if the political fix is in and the powers demand that it get built, the EFSB will be shut down as useless. If they can not determine that the plant will prevent us from ever meeting our greenhouse gas emissions goals, pollute the local environment, and create all sorts of hazards and burdens for the community, the EFSB is hiding. If they want to drown Providence they are fools.

I think what I took away from the hearings the most is how out of touch the union leaders are with where the economy is going and where their future jobs are going to be. I worked in construction for many years. It is an honorable way to make a living. But the unions need to learn to stop building things that are bad for communities because that eventually undercuts prosperity and their support in the community. They need to say no to the corporate criminals and stand with communities against destruction. They need to stop being dependent upon corporate criminals for their work and start developing their own projects. They should act more like a cooperative rather than pick up the dregs from the rich and tell communities that this is the way to create jobs. It harms their workers to be seen as harming communities. And in a low growth environment, they need to be even more careful.

There is a lot that needs to be built right now. We need housing that people can actually afford to live in. We need non polluting energy sources, new stormwater management systems, better roads, bike paths and rail corridors. But all the union executives seem to do ( and maybe this is because the most visible private sector unions are in construction, and the only projects big enough are those that are based on the public’s money) is shill for the worst corporate criminals, in this case an industry that has lied about the harm it does for the last 50 years, that knew greenhouse gases were going to cause big problems, and hid the information.

You have to ask why the pipe-fitters and the steel workers, with their pension funds, do not invest directly in their own workers. Why are they not building their own windfarms or their own solar arrays? Have they bought into the subservient to capital model that tells them to be shills for every stupid project that comes down the road so their members can get jobs?

Of course the politicians are also to blame. They refuse to understand the political and economic climate. They think they can muscle communities for corporates and base their careers on looting communities to benefit the rich. When do they get that taking care of communities, ecological healing and economic justice, are the road to prosperity, not burning dinosaurs to make the climate as hot as when the dinosaurs lived? And how can anyone who lives in Rhode Island not realize that pretending real estate development is economic development is a scam. Even the World Bank, IMF and OECD tells us that subsidizing the rich works AGAINST community prosperity. But then again, an analysis I read of the World Economic Forum in Davos pointed out that the politicians and the corporate criminals they consort with are the only ones in the whole world who are not ready for a new economy based on justice and healing ecosystems.

I said one thing at the end of my 2 minutes that i think I will repeat here. If we stop this power plant, it will be a shot heard round the world. The fossil fuel industry must be stopped,. Stop the coal mining, stop the pipelines, stop the fracking, stop the building of new infrastructure that ties us into the old system for the next 40 years. If we stop this plant it will be a beacon for people around the world that the empire can be stopped. That we can have a green future.

Little Rhody has a future as a leader, but the economy that gets us there is not the one that governor Wall St is leading us towards. We have reminded her of this before, and I hope she gets a clue soon.

Climate Resilience, Biodiversity, and the built environment

Greg Gerritt Biodiversity, Climate Resilience, and the built environment
We are looking at a rainwater pond in Providence’s North Burial Ground, It drains a few roads a little grassland. The pond goes up and down very regularly with the rain and sun. Filling with 2 inches of rain, drying out in 3 weeks of no rain. Most drainage systems are designed to infiltrate water, but for some reason, this pond does not drain in the deeper parts though the soil around the edge is very well drained.

Biodiversity is one of the key indicators of community resilience. Urban, rural, it does not matter, when biodiversity is high, the people are happier, healthier, and better fed. Under conditions of climate change this is even more important, because in Rhode Island biodiversity is associated with forests, trees, and clean water, all things that are critical for keeping our cool.

In discussing the built environment, such as stormwater runoff systems, it seems we have an opportunity to use our reconfiguration of the built environment to create habitat with some of the water. This strategy will not necessarily be useful in every place, and when pondering the vulnerable biota in Rhode Island, there are many pitfalls that could dramatically reduce the effectiveness of a particular effort. But it is clear from the videos behind me that there is the possibility of doing it in a way that creates sustaining populations. And amphibians, resilient as they are, are bellwethers of pollution, drought, flood, and many of the other ills of civilizations in climate upheaval.

In about 3 weeks I am convening some of the experts in RI and New England to discuss using stormwater to create amphibian habitat. My goal is for us to think about what guidelines there should be for such efforts, how we might design filtration systems and ponds so that the water is clean enough and the pond goes dry at about the right rate to both nurture amphibians and discourage predators and then ponder places where such ponds might do some good.

It is no longer good enough to slow down the damage, ecosystems are already in free fall around the world. Our job as people working for the health of the planet, is to work on the restoration of the ecosystems, biodiversity and climate. What I offer for amphibians and stormwater can apply to almost all aspects of the built environment. Could your walls hold bat houses or trellis for growing vines, Could your roof produce energy and hold flowers for bees? Can we have solar roads? Can every building have a garden, compost bin, rainwater reuse systems, and produce more energy than it uses to keep people comfortable?

One last thought on ecology. You can not have more forever on a finite planet. It is only if we use less and share more that our communities and ecosystems will work, and these guys can keep eating.

Cocktails and Conversation: The End of Economic Growth

Greg Gerritt  March 3 2016

I have been asked to provide a bit of context and contrast this evening about the economic environment we find ourselves in.
Economic growth is dead in the old mill towns of the industrialized west, and it is never coming back. There will still be economic growth in the tropics and Asia, the places there are still untapped natural resources and indigenous communities to plunder and the cities are swelling with people streaming out of the countryside. But in the eastern United States and western Europe what passes for growth is simply the financialization of the economy that is letting the 1% scoop up all of what is called growth while everyone else gets poorer, the ecosystems collapse, and the infrastructure fails.

On January 31 2016 the entire front page of the Sunday New York Times Book Review section was devoted to three books exploring the end of economic growth. It is time for those working in economic development to understand the new environment better and to prepare plans that match its opportunities rather than repeat the old stories. Don’t try to spin the growth machine faster, that makes it worse for most of us. We must adapt RI economic development to the low growth environment and work to create a more widespread prosperity through reviving ecosystems and economic justice.

The Brookings report offers Rhode Island jobs for 20 to 25% of the population, with no plan on how to create jobs in the neighborhoods that need jobs at a living wage. It promises riches if we take orders from the Koch Brothers, underfund our infrastructure and our schools by cutting taxes, and bet on industries that are harmful to the community or make jobs disappear. We are admonished to follow the dictates of the business climate indexes, but there is no correlation between a state’s business climate rankings and the health of its economy. While simple and efficient processes are important, the history, resource base, and culture of a community are much more important than the business climate in determining economic success, and there is no evidence that lax environmental, public health, and safety standards improves the economy in our neighborhoods any more than subsidies to the 1% to build baseball stadiums.

Our response to climate change is much more important than the business climate. Our willingness to end the use of fossil fuels, create zero net energy buildings, generate electricity from the sun and wind, grow much more of our own food, and sequester carbon in the soil will determine our fate.

As growth and jobs fade into the sunset reducing inequality in the ownership of assets becomes much more important. As Piketty notes, the growing inequality in and of its self is grinding down the economy. An economic plan offering subsidies to the rich for industries that are shedding employment, and chock full of subsidies to the real estate industry is one that leaves our communities behind.

I would like to have more time to devote to the relationship between what is happening in the forest and what is happening in Rhode Island. The World Bank says that keeping the forest in the hands of the forest people, and assets in the hands of the poor, gives better outcomes than any other strategy for development and may be the only chance we have to stop climate change. This information needs to inform how we redevelop our old riverine neighborhoods. The disempowered, disenfranchised and marginalized people of our Environmental Justice communities mirror many of the problems rainforest people have in dealing with development, and the solutions in the forest work here too. Build economies from the bottom up, not the top down.

A holistic approach to the health of our communities; reducing pollution, reducing harms, good nutrition, serves our communities better than our current obsession with using high tech biomedical businesses to grow the economy. Here is one little fact. It is absolutely impossible to have affordable healthcare for all if you use the medical industrial complex to drive economic growth. When the healthcare industry grows faster than our wages the industry draws investment while most of us still can not afford to go to the doctor.

Finally, pay attention to the resistance. It is global, and brings the wisdom of the world to your neighborhood. Building more fossil fuel infrastructure such as gas pipelines and power plants will create stranded assets, pollute vulnerable communities, and add to the climate disasters

We can live in Flint, we can live in Ferguson or we can have prosperous communities that heal ecosystems and practice justice. It’s your choice.

The Backwardness of RI Economic Development Policy

The silly season has begun on Smith Hill (home of the RI Capital Building) and we suffer from a string of pronouncements about what the RI legislature and governor will do to fix the economy and create jobs. These pronouncements, stated with all the pomp that politicians can muster, are exactly the same as these folks and their predecessors have been saying for all of the 20 years I have lived in Rhode Island, and they are still just plain wrongheaded and backwards.

The problem for Rhode Island, and many places around the country, is that economic policy as is currently practiced, is strictly a fact free zone. The ideology of the rich, give us more and more, seems to be the only directional signal Rhode Island politicians respond to despite the abundance of evidence that the only place it is leading us is over a cliff.

Here are some of the facts that seem to be ignored in RI as the politicians determine the economic development programs to push.
For brevity’s sake i will not provide references here, but they can be obtained by contacting me.

Inequality, social and economic, makes your economy worse. Thomas Piketty and many others have pointed this out.
Providence is the 5th most unequal economy in the country among cities. The metro region is the 14th most unequal. Policies being offered on Smith Hill are guaranteed to make inequality in Rhode Island worse. And we wonder why it does not work very well?

Tax breaks for “job creators” does not improve your economy and the data points out that providing millionaires with tax breaks and subsidies actually slows the economy. This definitely applies to real estate tax breaks which may do more to promote inequality than any other kind.

Business climate studies are a sham. There is no correlation between a state’s rank in any of the business climate indexes (and often they disagree on rankings) and economic performance. They are an ideological game rather than any scientific study of what it takes to make an economy work well.

Growth rates are determined buy the global economy, economic history, natural resources, labor and many other factors. Improving the “business climate” is a tiny sliver of what effects an economy, and the evidence points out that only one part of business climate rankings holds any water, taxation rates. The Kansas Inc study noted that lower tax rates may add up to 5% to your growth rate, an increase that is not noticeable on the street as it would mean going at most from a 1.7% growth rate to a 1.8% growth rate.

Taxes on the wealthy do not drive them out of the state, and often contribute to the improvements in infrastructure and public services that keep a community vibrant such as good roads, parks, cultural amenities, and schools. This has been noted for many years, but the myth keeps popping up as a way to beat the poor over the head.

There is no evidence what so ever that states that do a poor job of protecting the environment have stronger economies. In fact the data suggests that the reverse is true. If weak laws were good Mississippi would be an economic powerhouse and NY and California would be in the dumps.

If you want to eliminate poverty or at least reduce it dramatically, the most important thing is to make sure the economic assets of our low income communities end up in the hands of the lowest income folks, and especially low income women. This is of interest in our environmental justice communities as we redevelop brownfields. Gentrification lines the pockets of developers and displaces the community. It increases inequality. If our brownfields are to be an engine of prosperity the benefits need to stay in the community, not leak out.

Here are a few more things that probably do not rise to the level of facts, the research is not in, but have been much discussed by a number of prominent scholars as long term trends.

The era of rapid economic growth in the industrial west is long gone. Growth rates are going to continue to trend downwards.
Even in a recovery from the Great Recession the US has only had growth rates of 2.2 to 2.4% per year. Europe’s rates are lower. In the US old industrial cities lag behind the boomtowns of the south and west and the places destroying their water supplies with fracking.

Rapid growth is only likely in places experiencing rapid urbanization, with people leaving the farms and streaming into factories for low wage work. In other words if the US wanted rapid growth, we would have an open door for everyone who had the gumption to move here from Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

With more than half of China’s population now urbanized growth rates are slowing. The growth rate is still above that of the west, but the trend is clear. India is slightly behind in urbanization and industrialization so its growth rates, while never approaching the fastest growth years of the Chinese economy, may not trend downwards as fast. Propping up the real estate booms of Chinese cities only worked for a few years, and now the pigeons are coming home to roost.

Urbanization and rapid growth are highly dependent upon new sources of forest products. Chinese growth has emptied the forest of southern Asia and the Pacific basin. The planetary forest has now be reduced by MORE than 50%, which means that further growth will be affected by diminished opportunities to exploit new forests. In addition with our growing understanding that forests need to be preserved to protect the planet from rapid climate change, and that the best way to protect the forest and reduce poverty in forest communities is to keep the forest in the hands of the local community and not let it be stolen by outside forces, the growth of consumable forest products is slowing down and with it global economic growth.

Climate change will be a very important factor in our economic future. Creating clean renewable energy, eliminating fossil fuels, building soils and forests, moving people out of vulnerable places, and making sure the food supply is secure are going to be more important than real estate speculation for the people who live in Rhode island.

While specialty foods are accepted as part of the future of the RI economy by the political class, what they really seem to forget is that due to climate change and other factors, food security and even access to food, will become more difficult in Rhode Island. Especially for the poor.. A serious effort to make sure Rhode Island grows at least 20% of its food within the next 20 years provides food security when the next drought overwhelms the agricultural heartlands of the world like California, and creates jobs here.

It is absolutely impossible to have affordable healthcare if one of the main thrusts of economic development policy is to grow the medical industrial complex. The healthcare industry is already a drag on business development and is among the leading causes of bankruptcies as people already can not afford it. If the healthcare industry is to grow, especially if it is to grow faster than other sectors of the economy, then it is clearly impossible to hold down the costs on healthcare. There must be more money in the system each year, 5, 6, 8% more, and we have to take it out of our pockets, directly or indirectly, to pay for that. A few people get very high paying jobs, everyone else gets poorer.

While education is important, the education industry is another of the industries that is harming our communities more than helping as the price of education is growing much more rapidly than everything in the economy except health care costs. The high costs make it much less accessible to lower income people (increasing inequality) and coming out of school with huge debts gets in the way of people innovating.

Here are a few suggestions as to what might be done in Rhode Island to improve the economic health of our communities.

Stop fantasizing about rapid economic growth. It is not going to happen and all the things we do to chase the growth make things worse in many of our communities. Greater prosperity will be found in a steady state economy than in a growth economy that grows for the rich and makes everyone else poorer.

Do not build any more fossil fuel infrastructure. No more LNG compressors, no more pipelines, no more power plants. We need to reduce both the total amount of energy consumed and dramatically reduce the amount of fossil fuels we buy. Any money that would under the current system be spent on fossil fuel infrastructure should be spent on efficiency, insulation, solar power and wind power. Over the lang term that will create many more jobs than fossil fuels, and the money generated will stay here rather than going to places poisoning their water supplies or damaging the climate.

Grow more food. A lot more food. In the cities, in the suburbs, in the rural areas.

Single payer health care with a focus on community health. Sewers, clean water, and better nutrition have contributed far more to increases in life expectancy in the US (and around the world) than all the high tech medicine ever will.

Heal ecosystems. People eat from the ecosystem. If our soils and forests are healthier they hold more carbon and provide more food and fiber. Ocean ecosystems are very much overfished. Create refuges and stop all overfishing.

Create tax policies that reduce inequality. Tax capital gains and other wealth at higher rates. Put a price on carbon to reduce e carbon pollution and rebate some of those costs back to consumers, while using some of the money to reduce our carbon footprint.

Stop subsidizing the rich,. Stop giving tax breaks for real estate speculation. If the Rhode Island market will not see cranes in the sky without bankrupting the poor then we need a new strategy based on ecological healing and economic justice. One can not create a sustainable economy if it is based on ever more churning of real estate.

Get the money out of politics. As long as the rich call the tunes in politics and government, we shall continue to slide into anarchy and poverty.

The EFSB is a criminal organization

January 13 2016

I was disgusted by the actions of the government of Rhode Island yesterday. The Energy Facilities Siting Board, following upon the route laid out by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decided that the people shall not be heard. Yes there will be public hearings about the ridiculous effort to build a gas fired power plant to poison the planet in Burrillville, but the EFSB is going to do everything it can to prevent the public from asking the hard questions. Telling the community that it can not intervene means that the criminals in the fossil fuel industry, those dedicated to destroying the planet and democracy, will not have to answer questions under oath from the community. It means the truth will not come out. I am guessing that the EFSB will do just what its name says, site a facility despite the fact that it will harm the lives of those in Burrillville, poison the water and air all along the gas pipelines and in the fracking fields, and create an extraordinary financial burden on Rhode Islanders that will drain our resources long after we close the power station because of its effect on the climate.

The governor and her lackeys seem to have no clue about stranded assets, the upstream and downstream effects of the gas industry on communities, or even how the economy works. If they were so worried about jobs as they claim, they would know that the only thing that creates fewer jobs for $700 million dollars is building things designed to kill people. Another thing that seems to be missing form the EFSB discussion is the fact that recent studies have shown that Rhode Island has enough electricity in the market without this power plant.

The fact that Rhode Island has committed itself to reducing its carbon footprint, and this proposed facility, if built, makes it absolutely certain that if built we shall never meet our obligations to reduce our carbon footprint, makes this proposal one of the all time stupid proposals RI politicians have ever tried to foist on us, right up there with the Quonset Megaport, 38 Studios, and moving the Pawsox.

Economic development in Providence is just scamming by the rich

Response to article in RI future

Economic development in Rhode Island does not work because it is based on tax subsidies for real estate specualtion. The IMF and the World Bank have repeadtedly pointed out that tax breaks for the rich provide no benefits and can harm economic performance. Picketty pointed out that anything that makes an economy more unequal, which subsidies to the rich clearly do, harms an economy’s performance.

Rhode Island uses tax subsidies for the rich as its basic economic development strategy because of a complete lack of understanding of where the economy is going in the 21st century. We need to focus on ecological healing, food security, and building resilience to climate change. We also need to understand that we shall not see any more real economic growth. Until we actually understand that the economy needs to be more equal as it shrinks, we shall be stuck in the 38 studios model of give money to the rich and watch them squander it.

We are repeatedly told that nothing gets built in Providence without subsidy. That is a perfectly good reason to quit waiting for resal estate speculation to improve our economy. No self respecting capitalist would actually take a subsidy. But then again, the real estate barons in RI have always been crooks with a very weak understanding of how the economy works. All they want to do is line their pockets. If you can not do a project without subsidy, it is the wrong project.

What we really need is for the price of real estate to come down to what the market can actually afford. The subsidy game just artifically inflates the price of real estate rather than allowing it to come down to what is actually affordable.


The RI pension mess round 4

To my great surprise this morning in the newspaper there was an op-ed from the wackos at the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity that I mostly agreed with. It happens to be an issue that I have written about previously and have talked to the General Treasurer’s office about as well. What the author pointed out was that the return on the investments for the RI state pension fund in the last year was about 0.88% and that the expected return of 7.65% is totally unrealistic, and has been unrealistic for years.

The author provides much data to corroborate his point, and I totally agree that the pension crisis is far from over because returns on the investments have not matched what the state predicts for years.

The wackos of course do not offer any explanation of why returns are so low, and my guess is that they think if we just let the dogs of capitalism loose that the returns would be better, but all they do is point out that the taxpayers are on the hook for the difference.

It is my opinion that the pension fund investments will NEVER again reach 7.65% because the economy will never work that way again. We have reached the end of economic growth and therefore a return of 0.88% is about what will be generated. If you look at what are the conditions necessary for rapid economic growth, and therefore high rates of returns on investments, the US meets none of those criteria. And never will again as the ecosystems collapse due to over exploitation.

The right wing wackos say we can never find the money to make up for the slow investments, so I am guessing that they would like to cut pensions for the working people. But that is just stupid and would trash the RI economy even worse than their policies usually do.

What we find is that the rich are still getting VERY comfortable retirements, and are quite happy to keep stealing from the community to pay for it. What Rhode Island actually needs to do to make up for the shortfalls in the pension funds is raise taxes on the rich, raise taxes on corporations, and quite giving tax breaks to the rich for real estate speculation. That would allow us to fund the pensions for the workers who deserve them, and restore a bit of equity and justice into the economy, which will help it to work better.

Finally we need to be very clear that economic growth has gone away, and is not coming back. We need to figure out how to have more prosperous communities in a world of shrinking economies. Unfortunately the General Treasurer, the Governor, and the leaders of the legislators are all wearing blinders and are unwilling to admit the looting by the rich, when combined with ecological collapse, is harming our communities.

The intersection of ecological collapse and looting by the rich, fueled by the desire for ever faster growth is a killer. The best thing RI could do is ban all fossil fuel use and take serious steps to increase by 2000% the amount of food grown in RI. Nothing less will actually help the RI economy or prepare us for the storms ahead.

The RI economy index misses the boat

To the Editor, On Tuesday December 15 2015 the Providence Journal published its monthly report on Professor Len Lardaro’s RI monthly economic index “RI takes hit in economic index”. I have followed the discussion of the RI economy for quite some time, and more and more Professor’s Lardaro’s index reflects a lack of understanding of the conditions Rhode Island is immersed in. The very fact that the index is biased towards growth, at the same time that the long term growth machine of modern economies is grinding to a halt is indicative of a economics profession that has lost touch with what is actually needed in our communities.

The index is biased towards the desires of the rich and completely ignores how climate change and ecological collapse are being driven by the demands of growth. It also completely misses the economy most Rhode Islanders are living in, as what is reported as growth is usually just the poor getting poorer as the economy becomes less equal.

What is even more problematic is reports like this are then used to bludgeon the community into giving even more goodies to the rich. Considering the amount of information now coming out that says giving tax breaks to the rich is among the dumbest ways to try to make an economy work, Professor Lardaro would be doing Rhode Island much more of a service if he started measuring the things that are really going to help our communities.

letter to the editor December 4 2015

I have never found the essays of Peter Morici to be of much value, he is a strict ideologue. But his most recent offering in the December 3, 2015 Providence Journal, “Another bad deal for America” takes the cake. Morici is an economist, and most mainstream economists have totally missed the boat on the relationship between climate change and the economy. Morici tells us that only polluting is good for the economy, while all the evidence tells us that solar power and wind power are the future, and that pollution kills economies as well as people. Even in China folks are protesting.

Morici, acknowledges that climate change is real, and the world is on track for a really bad time. Where he goes off track is by saying that if other folks do not commit to reducing carbon enough to really stop climate change, then we should and just use our money for mitigation so we can grow our economy faster. Morici has apparently missed the ever building evidence that the growth machine has permanently gone off the tracks, not only here, but throughout the world. Polluting more is not going to bring back American jobs or the economies of our communities any more than more tax cuts for the rich will. Healing our ecosystems and creating more justice are the road to future prosperity.

The Growth Doctors keep overpredicting growth

The growth doctors keep overpredicting growth. Greg Gerritt November 2015

This past week Reuters published an article “Watchdogs struggle to explain optimism bias in rosy GDP forecasts” http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/04/global-economy-bias-idUSL8N12S4QR20151104 by James McGreevy.

The article goes on to explain that of the last 30 forecasts on the global growth of the Gross Domestic Product by the IMF and the World Bank 28 were too optimistic. In other words growth has consistently been lower than the economists have forecast. The article goes on to explain that if the forecasts were based on a proper understanding of the economy the direction of inaccuracy would have been mixed. But it seems everyone in the profession is consistently wrong and the experts seem to have no idea why they are consistently wrong. The article ends with a quote that seems very relevant “Everybody assumes that there’s mean reversion, which is what happened pre-2008 happens now,” said David Blanchflower, professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and another former policymaker at the Bank of England.
“They don’t get that it’s a different world now.”

For a while I have been pointing out (see links at the end of this essay) that the bias towards growth infests nearly everyone thinking about economic development, and that their bias towards growth, and their lack of understanding that it is a different world now, means that often they push policies and actions that they think will lead to growth, only to find that the world economy is gradually slowing down and the old levers do not move the economy forward,

“There’s no single answer for why, but economists say explanations include an under-appreciation of the damage done by the 2007-2008 financial crisis both to consumer demand and to banks’ willingness and ability to lend; the poorly-understood effects of increased global debt levels and a failure to predict surprisingly weak productivity. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/04/global-economy-bias-idUSL8N12S4QR20151104#S11LZOT36sphibLq.99”

I think the experts are barking up the wrong tree and really lack an understanding of just how fundamental the changes in the economy are and the reasons for the changes. I am sure the factors mentioned above have something to do with slow growth, but a big part of why the policy experts over estimate how much growth is going to happen is that they actually refuse to look at the role of ecological collapse (including climate change) and inequality in downshifting the long term structural rate of growth for the economy. I also believe that the analysts are unwilling to look at how the resistance to the corporate order is changing the investment climate for the fossil fuel industries and other industries gobbling up the planet to build malls and fill them with plastic. The bias for growth extends even to the language. A shrinking economy has negative growth, do we need more evidence of bias in thinking. They can not imagine a world without growth. But they need to get used to it.

I doubt anyone in the US policy establishment, especially those working on development at the municipal or county level, is thinking about how the fires in Indonesia in pursuit of palm oil, are negatively impacting productivity, speeding up climate hell, damaging the health of millions of people, and sparking the resistance of millions in Indonesia and around the world. Both the fires and the resistance portend a world in which there is much less growth, and with growth concentrated in the places that are now the poorest. The old industrial world has passed its growth peak and is moving towards a steady state economy.

The fires are just one of hundreds of examples in which ecological catastrophe and public health crisis are jointly ripping holes in the global economy. Thankfully the resistance grows daily. Another example is fracking and the resistance to all of the gas infrastructure that is building in communities from Providence to Peru, to Oregon, where Portland just passed a city ordinance directing the zoning regulators to zone out fossil fuel export facilities. I do not think any prudent investor is betting on a huge pipeline infrastructure getting built in the US between the earthquakes, floods, droughts, methane leaks, hurricanes, spills, and a resistance that is everywhere. I do not have to discuss the jobs picture other than to say pipelines create very few, whereas solar creates neighborhood jobs. Economically, If we just do not need it, and if the money does not get spent, GDP is smaller but the community is better off. A prime example is that if local forest communities are allowed to maintain ownership of the forest instead of forest concessions being sold to global commercial interests, and the community manages the forest in traditional or ecologically sound ways including selling forest products to the local markets, it raises living standards in the community, increases revenue in the national treasury, and protects the forest and biodiversity. I really appreciate that leaving the forest in the hands of the community increases tax revenue significantly more than the concession model, at least partly due to much less corruption.

Until the economists start to truly account for the damage being done to the planet and our communities in the pursuit of ever faster growth, they will continue to predict growth, they will continue to offer growth oriented policies that more and more often fail, and they will tell us growth will come if we just deregulate and let the corporados shut down democracy a bit more. Unfortunately for our communities the wrong headed policies and actions based on those wrong headed policies continue to benefit the 1% and therefore the political class, so it is just fine for the experts to be wrong in a consistently biased way. It helps constrict the policy space to what the rich want, even if those policies are almost guaranteed to make the situation worse for most communities.

It is quite clear that old industrial places are furthest along on the road to the end of growth. Rhode Island is much more likely to achieve a general prosperity if it gave up on real estate lead speculative growth and high tech health care and concentrated on local self reliance, solar energy, food security, and community health. No matter what policies Rhode Island appears to adopt, no matter what gyrations we perform to appease the wealthy in their ever greater quest for more, no matter what tax breaks we give to millionaires, it is not going to speed up our rate of growth. A GREAT business climate on a good day, will bring your growth rate up 5% a year, which in Rhode Island means the gyrations and business friendly politics may bring our growth rate from 2% to 2.1%. No matter what policies we adopt Rhode Island is going to lag the national and global growth rates. We are not in a resource boom, Fracking was the only thing that kept US GDP growth last year above 2%. Global growth is more and more going to be concentrated in low income countries. It should be no surprise that giving tax breaks to the rich does not work. Even the IMF says that giving tax breaks to millionaire “job creators” is a big waste of money as it does not work and actually makes your economy work less well. My guess is that giving tax money to millionaires to build buildings increases inequality and as Picketty noted, inequality is very bad for an economy.

In the 21st century we have reached the point where cutting more forests does not actually build your economy, it just creates refugees and brings more floods. Where the easy to reach mineral deposits of high grades are long gone and it takes ever more effort to mine and refine the same amount of iron or copper or drill for oil. Where we need to leave the fossil fuel deposits underground beneath healthy forests and soil. Where soil health and reforestation provide a lot more value than clearcutting and it has become clearer and clearer that the only way to keep our communities healthy is to keep the forest people in charge of the forests instead of allowing outsiders to squander them.

We need, and I mean need, for the policy people at all levels, and especially in old industrial places like Rhode Island, to understand that growth is going away and that it is going to take a very different approach to economic development to keep our communities prosperous in a world where things are truly different and our communities and the planet need a lot of healing. Many authors and thinkers have offered us a vision of a different economy over the last 50 years. Much of what was in the Whole Earth Catalog is coming to pass. Almost all of the predictions in “The Limits to Growth” are coming to pass. Much of what was once considered truly radically out there is now mainstream. The climate disasters are already here, we need a different economic model and new practices that focus on healing, not ripping more holes in the fabric of our lives. The old guard wants to continue in power, the new world demands democracy and an end to the fossil fuel industries and throw away culture.

The issue of running an economy based on growth for the 1% or for prosperous communities is going to be the same kind of struggle we who have to resist the empire have long endured. We can only hope that we make the voyage of true ecological and community healing faster than we have been traveling that road in the past. Holding to the policy and power dynamics of the past is holding us back and offers no way forward.

The following are fully referenced articles on ProspeirtyForRI.com that have the links to the more sources.






2015 BND essay

Recently 350.org reminded everyone on their email lists that the Paris meeting (COP 21) on Climate Change starts at the very end of November and called for marches and other events the weekend of November 28th to remind everyone how important it is to rein in the runaway climate train. So I signed the BND Winter Coat Exchange in RI up as a site. Climate change is one of those issues that truly demonstrates the effects of overconsumption, consumerism, and economic inequality on the planet as well as on our communities. Hence the very close alignment between stopping climate change and ending poverty and the Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange.

In case anyone needs reminding, this past week the most powerful hurricane winds ever in the Western Hemisphere were part of Hurricane Patricia. That it hit sparsely populated areas, that the word to batten down the hatches was listened to, and that it tore itself up on some mountains just inland is the reason that Mexico is not in mourning. 2015 is on track to be the hottest year ever and the extra warm oceans are fueling some very powerful storms. And some incredible rainstorms in the places the hurricanes are missing like South Carolina and Texas. But it will still be cold in Rhode Island this winter and folks are still going to need winter coats.

Ultimately those who will be harmed most by climate change are those that have burned the least amounts of fossil fuels, the poor living in the lowlands of the tropics. Those least vulnerable to climate change are those living in mansions on the hill, whether it is College Hill or the wealthy suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, and they have burned the most fuel, with big cars, big houses, and lots of airplane rides. And politically the wealthy are also those most preventing nations from moving forward on climate and equality.

To me it seems as if we moved much more radically towards economic justice the economy would work better and we would be much more adept at solving our social ills as well as stopping ecological catastrophes such as climate change. But the Koch Brothers think Democracy is for sale and therefore justice has no place at the table.

In addition to participating in the struggle to stop climate change by creating justice, this year on Buy Nothing Day I would like to salute the owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox for their tin ears and lack of understanding. Tearing up a beloved institution simply because you are rich enough, and thinking you can get what you want from Rhode Island’s legislature because you know a bunch of guys is the same thinking that brings us unrestrained climate change, and just as deadly. I am proud that I was able to contribute to the efforts that stopped the looting of the RI treasury to fill the pockets of the millionaires who constantly told us that they would negotiate with legislative leadership even as we reminded them how little Rhode Islanders like their legislative leadership because leadership is always giving the candy store to their friends and sticking it to the poor in the name of being business friendly. In other words rarely does the legislature do the right thing, So why would we like you stealing $150 million to stick in your pockets based on their say so. I seriously doubt any community is going to be foolish enough to give them millions and millions of dollars from the tax payers as it is becoming more and more evident that building baseball stadiums is NOT economic development. In fact the IMF even went so far as to say giving tax breaks to millionaires in the name of economic development is stupid as it does not work and often makes things worse. And yet this is the only strategy that seems to be on the table in Rhode Island.

And with give aways to the rich the only thing on the table, is it any wonder that more and more Rhode Islanders struggle to keep food on the table, struggle to afford health care, struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Rhode Island is going to move forward, develop into a great place for the 21st Century, only when it eliminates the use of fossil fuels, stops the give aways to the rich, and really gets the idea that healing our ecosystems is absolutely critical if we are to eliminate poverty. It is likely that growing food will be a much bigger part of our economy when we get there. It is this nexus between justice, equality, ecosystem healing, and democracy that will determine whether or not Rhode Island moves forward or backwards in the 21st Century. Buy Nothing Day each year gives us an opportunity to remind the chattering class how wrong headed the policies they offer are, while taking steps that actually benefit the poor and the community. I hope you will join in this celebration on November 27 and donate a winter coat if you can, or come get one if you need it. Volunteers are welcome and needed at all sites.

Early Fall in the Moshassuck Valley

October 8, 2015

The leaves are just starting to turn at the North Burial Ground, the earliest color often on the most damaged trees, but many of the warm season critters have left the stage. The little drainage swale filled up again with the recent rains, but other than mosquito larvae, a few bees, and two or three dragonflies, the drainage swale is pretty quiet. The big pond on the other hand has much more obvious absences. Since the storms and cooler temperatures the Bullfrogs have gone completely missing, or rather there are no longer any bullfrogs along the shore, but the tadpoles that will overwinter in the pond are still visible in the afternoon sun. There must still be something around to eat, as a Great Blue Heron was preening on the turtle log. The same cooler temperatures that sent the Bullfrogs into hibernation seem to have done the same for the Painted Turtles. No turtles have been seen either sunning in the morning or swimming around the pond. I guess I will see them in early April.

Another very noticeable thing is the color of the water. All summer the water is a murky cafe au lait color with almost no visibility. Two inches of water is enough to totally obscure the life. The water is still brown, but it has a clarity that has not been seen since early spring. The algae seem to be taking the winter off too. You can see things on the bottom of the pond a few feet off shore that were totally invisible two weeks ago. Just sort of wasted with no critters to see except for a few tiny fish.

Down river in the tidewater, along Canal St, the menhaden become the dominant living force in August. This year millions of fish came into the river, slowly swimming back and forth, round and round, sucking in algae. The initial wave was young fish, with schools being dominated by 1.5 inch and 3 inch fish. As the season wore on I started seeing small schools of adult menhaden,10 or 12 12 to 14 inch fish, acting just like their smaller relatives. With the rains and cooler temperatures it now appears that nearly all of the small fry have headed for deeper waters and now the downtown rivers are filled with thousands of the adults, and a scattering of 6 inch menhaden. I have seen Great Blue herons in the tidal Moshassuck this fall, and they will feed on any of the larger sizes of menhaden, and one morning this week I saw a Green Heron right below the state house. I hope the fish stick around for a while, as when they head back out into the bay the dominant life form in the river becomes the mallards, and stays that way until spring. As much as I like mallards, they are much less interesting than fish and herons, and a daily does of the interesting makes the walk to and from the office that much nicer.


Captured regulatory agencies

On the evening of September 15 2015 I went to the NOAA hearing on whether or not it makes sense to declare a variety of unique geological features with incredible biological productivity and diversity off the coast of New England National Monuments. The President has the sole discretion under the Antiquities act to declare national monuments.

Exactly what sites would be included is not yet decided, so NOAA held a listening session. Essentially the room was divided into two camps. The environmental community and the general public are overwhelmingly in favor of permanently protecting these sites, for a host of reasons including tourism, protection of endangered species, and because refuges like this help maintain the fish populations throughout the region, benefitting the fisheries industries for the long term.

Opposing the plan was the fishing industry. They had several reasons for opposing the plan. Some of it was just hatred of the administration, the president, and anything that smacks of government. I will ignore those arguments, they are simply a mind suck without substance. But what really struck me was the fishing community’s insistence that they are already protecting the areas through the Fisheries management councils and that therefore national monuments are an unnecessary and rogue process that is too vague at this stage. There was also the sentiment that the hearing should have been held further north where there are more commercial fisherman.

On some level I wanted to say to the fishermen, “welcome to my world”, a world in which arbitrary processes and fixes exclude the public from the decision making process in ways both blatant and insidious. I know we just ran into this same kind of inside game when we testified to oppose the expansion of gas pipelines and the building of fossil fuel infrastructure and the government, with the backing of all kinds of powerful interests, railroads communities.

But this one is a bit different. When my colleagues fight the government we are not only asking that they follow the law, we are also fighting captured regulatory agencies. BLM, USFS, BOMA (now MMS) , and local and state agencies, as well as all of the regulators of Wall St tend to be captured agencies. Captured agencies are those in which the regulated community controls the regulators such as the revolving door between Wall St and and the Securities and Exchange Commission, the oil companies sending people to MMS to manage gas leases, ranchers controlling the BLM. In this case it was completely obvious that the Marine Fisheries Councils are captured regulators.

Many people associated with the fisheries councils spoke at the hearing. I did not stay until the end, but I heard a number of fisheries council people speak and not one had anything good to say about the proposal to create a national monument. That tells me they are a captured regulatory agency and unlikely to really look at the issues from a broad perspective including that of the public. Can you really tell me that agencies that have only a fair to middling record of protecting fish stocks, that have a regular history of allowing overfishing and being slow to restrict catches, that have overseen the demise of fisheries are anything other than a captured agency. If these councils were not captured agencies surely there would have been at least one person associated with them that would understand the importance of protecting these spots, and protecting the larger public’s interest in these places. That the fishing industry is unwilling to look more broadly, that the industry and its “regulators” are willing to go all in on short term thinking, tells me that the captured bureaucracy of the fishery management councils needs to be opened up and removed from its insulated coccoon.

That the US has the Antiquities act points out very clearly that even 100 years ago we were very familiar with captured agencies (remember the Teapot Dome?) In other words, the President, who works for all of us even if he only rarely shows it, is allowed to put the public good over the misplaced concerns of a community used to getting just what it wants from captured regulators. And this is just the right place to use such powers.

Issues of democracy are important. And so often the government sides with the rich and powerful and subsidized industries against the public. Rhode Island is all too aware of what happens when inside deals are the norm, and has seen uprisings by the people to overturn bad decisions. But the display by commercial fishing interests at the hearing can be considered nothing but hypocrisy, turning on the government only when the people ask that the captured regulators get out of the way and let the government do the people’s work.

Economic development and amphibians. The stormwater connection

Economic development and amphibians. The stormwater connection.

Greg Gerritt Sept 7, 2015

The Rhode Island economy is mostly bedeviled by the excesses of neoliberal capitalism. Amphibians are the most vulnerable and endangered group of animals on the planet. It is therefore highly appropriate that transforming our stormwater infrastructure, building stronger communities as we build resilience into our infrastructure by returning some wetlands functionality, can also be part of what we do to restore amphibian habitat and populations.

Rhode Islands problems with flooding have worsened over time, primarily due to the destruction of wetlands, but exacerbated by the bigger storms that are now woven into the climate change we are experiencing in New England. Funny how one of the biggest polluter on the planet, the leading edge of deforestation as well as climate change, the automobile, is also the primary reason RI wetlands are so diminished, with our roads and sprawl. Well maybe not funny.

But we are shifting to electric cars run on solar and wind power, so the intersection between humans and the wet places our amphibians need can change as well. Rethinking how we manage water and stormwater in our communities is something we have to do to reduce flooding and pollution. Why not go the next step and use the transformation to create habitat?

There has been a bit of skepticism about our ability to create breeding habitat for amphibians, let alone do it within our stormwater infrastructure. Issues that have to be pondered include road salt, mosquitos, creating false hope for amphibians by ponds going dry or ending up with fish and bullfrogs instead of amphibians like salamanders and some toads that are suffering from reduced habitat in RI.

The fact that I study the amphibian population of a rainwater runoff swale in Providence’s North Burial Ground gives me some foundation for believing we can use stormwater to create amphibian habitat in at least a few places in Rhode Island, and research and communications with people building wetlands as amphibian habitat has convinced me that the questions we have about can we do this well enough to be useful can be answered in the affirmative.

Much of the green stormwater infrastructure built in the future will be in places that do not have sufficient feeding habitat close at hand, and therefor de not make sense as amphibian habitat. But in places with sufficient habitat, it makes sense for us to develop criteria for pond creation that match the species we would like to take advantage of the reconstructed water flows. This means we need to know well the habitat requirements of the various amphibians of Rhode Island as well as what design features would give us clean water in the right quantities in most years. I think the ecologists and designers in Rhode Island might find this interesting, and who knows what else it will stimulate as we evolve towards prosperity through climate resilience

I look forward to seeing what evolves from this changing paradigm.

The Youtube channel Moshassuckcritters focuses primarily on the amphibians in the North Burial Ground that live in the drainage swale

Link to the website of the RI Green infrastructure Coaliton

Fowler’s Toads and the little pond

There are still a few tadpoles in the pond in the North Burial Ground, and with today’s rain, the pond came up enough that they are swimming over the mowed grass and rather visible, but peak season is over and the last of the tadpoles will turn to toads very soon. The drama is over. Another year’s crop of toads is launched. The following video is about 14 minutes long, but I think it moves rather well and it is both informative and entertaining. It covers the entire season from early May to mid August. It shows all of the life stages of Fowler’s Toads, and how they intersect with the cycles of the drainage swale. I highly recommend that you view it on a large screen if you can as there are some very small critters and details that you will miss on a small screen. Commernts welcome. Greg


Babbits, Boosterism, and Economic Development

I had a little conversation the other night when i went down to City Hall to testify on the Tax stabilization plan for the I-195 lands and why this type of tax break is likely to cause harm to the city. I went armed with IMF statistics about how income distribution and redistribution affects economies . The IMF stated that tax breaks for “job creators” in the top 20% of the income distribution slows an economy. A 1% tilting of income distribution towards the top 20% slows growth by .08% per year, while giving the 1% greater percentage of income distribution to the bottom 20% adds .38% a year. In other words economies grow on average .46% faster each year if they lean towards the poor and increase the poor’s share of the income distribution.

The person I had the conversation with is the director of one of the downtown boosterism organizations. They promote downtown development and get all of their funding from downtown businesses. The main job is cheerleading and then working out the details for how to transform Providence into an economic powerhouse. If you read Sinclair Lewis’s book “Babbitt” you know exactly what I mean. The whole idea that downtown development pushes economies and that everyone should be cheerleading for the rich to do more is exactly what the capitalists and the landlords want because it makes it easier for them to suck at the public teat despite evidence that it harms communities and creates a more unequal society. For which they should be ashamed. Either ashamed to call themselves capitalists if they require a subsidy from the public to perform their work or ashamed that their business model of development is such a failure and actually harms communities. And ashamed with just how little they are paying attention to the world around them. But they have no shame.

They may pay lip service to climate change, but they are not ready to retreat from the coast. They may want development, but when the IMF, World Bank and OECD all say their methods and practices are sub par and worsen problems, they are not going to give them up, despite a 50 year track record of mediocrity. So I was accused of being too negative, of trying to put the city at a competitive disadvantage, and of promoting sprawl. Yup. Promoting sprawl because I want the city to use the land to grow food rather than give money tothe rich to house businesses that are bleeding the poor. I speak truth to power and they do not know what to do with the truth. And I understand that in the 21st century subsidizing the rich for the building of buildings is what you do when you run out of ideas and have no vision on what is really needed to create prosperous communities under conditions of economic shrinkage due to ecological collapse, debt burdens, and growing inequality. Food security has no role in their economy, nor housing for the homeless unless that is what is needed to get them out of downtown.

If standing strong against stealing by the rich makes me unpopular with the Babbits of the world, I am proud to wear it. And the resistance is global.

June ecology lessons 2015

Greg Gerrritt July 1, 2015

I keep spending more and more time in Providence’s North Burial Ground, and continue to find it the liveliest place in the city. For several years I have been filming the wildlife in the Burial Ground, with a special emphasis on life in two small ponds and especially the amphibians that inhabit them. This is my 4th year of study and the third year I have been filming. I decided to up the ante this year by getting a new camera, and setting a goal of creating a fictionalized children’s story on toad evolution, development and behavior from the footage I shoot this year.

I created some very interesting videos last year, using the process to further study the anatomy and behavior of Fowler’s Toad tadpoles. I was familiar with the mating behavior, somewhat, but realized that there were huge gaps in both my video footage and my knowledge of the Toads. I have doubled the number of hours I am spending with the camera in the Burial Ground and extended my night hours. I can not say my knowledge is in any way complete, but I can say that I have some amazing night time footage and know much more about the Fowler’s Toads, Gray Tree frogs, and Bullfrogs that inhabit the two ponds.

One of the things I learned this year is that Fowler’s Toads, at least a few, use the large permanent pond for breeding as well as the drainage swale. I did not realize they would try to breed in a permanent pond, and assumed if they did they would be unsuccessful. I heard, and have audio to prove it, that Fowler’s Toads call in the area of the pond amongst the Bullfrogs. In early June I saw some very small tadpoles in the pond right up against the peninsula that juts into the middle of the pond. I posted some video asking what they were since I have never seen very young Bullfrog tadpoles and was not sure what they looked like. Turns out I still have not seen young Bullfrog Tadpoles, and as these few tadpoles have developed it has become obvious they are Fowler’s Toads. As of July 1 at least one of the Fowler’s toad tadpoles in the large pond has some fairly well developed legs, appropriate for having been hatched several weeks ago, and something small Bullfrog tadpoles do not have.

Other video and naturalist highlights from the large pond include the very shy Great Blue Heron that I catch a glimpse of nearly every day, and the video of it swallowing a 12 inch fish that it caught as I was arriving at the pond. I have some closeups of a Red eared Slider turtle, have seen a nest laid by a snapping turtle, and have found that the population of Painted Turtles in the pond is at least 17, which is up 3 from last year and the most I have ever seen since I started watching. When I began 5 years ago there were 6 turtles.

Many people relish the larger pond and often I meet people there who tell me of childhoods in the neighborhood catching frogs and fishing in the pond. But my research is much more focused on the drainage swale/impermanent pond near the maintenance building just below the intersection of Branch Avenue and I-95. The drainage swale is about 75 ft long by 60 feet wide in a small bowl. It is entirely rain-fed, with a small watershed of cemetery roads draining in. It takes about 1/2 inch of rain to make the pond go up noticeably, but 3 inches of rain fills it up to a depth of maybe 18 inches. Its design is such that even 12 inches of rain could be absorbed with no threat to anything. The pond regularly goes dry, whenever we go three or 4 weeks with no appreciable rain. It went dry this year as soon as the snow melt was absorbed, filled up rains of May 31 and June 1, and then went dry again June 14. The second time it went dry was a bit traumatic as the frogs and toads were breeding as soon as the rains came, by June 9 there were many tadpoles swimming around, and thousands of tadpoles died from lack of water. I had seen small pools that had been cut off trap tadpoles before, but never had it gone completely dry with and entire crop of tadpoles. It was not a pretty sight.

In additon to studying the Tadpoles of the Burial Ground, I am concerned about amphibian populations and in conjunction with the Green Infrastructure Coalition I am exploring the use of rainwater green infrastructure for amphibian habitat in an effort to help amphibians in their struggle to survive the paving of the planet. I need to figure out how much water is necessary to get through breeding seasons and how to indentify appropriate places to put amphibian friendly green infrastructure.

June 15 it rained. And by the 16th the Fowler’s Toads and Gray Tree Frogs were calling and mating as if all was right in the world. By June 29 the mating had dwindled and there appeared to be only one Fowler’s Toad calling at the pond, but a number of Tree Frogs were still actively calling and frolicking. Spending more time among the calling night amphibians, for the first time I got to see and film the adults. I find that one tree frog seems to live in the stop sign at the corner right across from drainage swale, and i have footage of him calling at night before he leaps off the top of the sign and heads to join the fun in the pond. It will be interesting to see how late into the season breeding of the Tree Frogs goes.

The Toads , as it past years, seem to stop breeding earlier than the Tree Frogs, but again I have finally gotten to observe and film the adults so i am still learning. The toads are basically nocturnal (though I have audio of faint calling from the drainage swale in the middle of the day) and this year on a sand bank across the road from the pond (right next to the Tree Frog’s STOP sign) I found a number of Toad Burrows dug into the hillside. The first night I filmed a toad sitting in the burrow, and since have much footage of toads hanging out on the hillside after it gets completely dark. I also have figured out that on mating nights, once the females have mated they leave the pond, while the males keep calling until done for the night. I have on video several toads leaving the pond.

As of June 22 there was a new crop of tadpoles in the drainage swale. It takes a week for the eggs to hatch, so right on time. And almost every day since a new crop has hatched. When observing carefully one can now discern by size at least 5 different hatch days worth of tadpoles, and I expect there will be at least one more batch hatching soon.

While Gray Tree Frogs seem more numerous calling around the pond than the Fowler’s toads, Tree frog tadpoles seem to be much rarer in the pond. They are observed and filmed much less frequently, when netting fewer are caught. I am not sure why this is but have a few hypotheses that could be tested some day. One is that it is suboptimal habitat and that the Tree frogs are somehow constrained in mating even though calling loudly. Another is that the Tree Frogs use the pond differently than the Toads, not hanging out in shallow water for instance or staying further way from the shorelines so that I can neither see or net them. As yet it is a mystery, one that I will continue to ponder and seek evidence for.

Not much else new to report, but if you are interested check out the Moshassuckcritters Youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/Moshassuckcritters?view_as=public and the Late June video that inspired this essay. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBurdpgfTp4



Toads live in Burrows

I have been on the graveyard shift. Not quite overnite, but from dark until I run out of memory in the camera. In the last few weeks I have for the first time really seen the adult toads and tree frogs. I can now even tell them apart. Toads are bigger. I have seen the tree frogs call, though I have yet to see a toad call. Toads seem to only call at the pond, tree frogs call from around the pond as well. I have also found where the frogs and toads live when not breeding. Well, one tree frog seems to live in the stop sign across the road from the drainage swale where all the breeding action takes place.

I had read that Fowler’sToads live in burrows dug into sandy areas, and the other night I found some, between the STOP sign and the granite stairs in the bank across the road from the draianage swale. I saw a toad sitting at the edge of the burrow looking out yesterday, went back and looked at the burrows today and discovered they go more than 6 inches deep ( deeper then the piece of grass I used for measuring) and tonite found 3 or 4 toads hanging out on stteop sandy bank that they have dug their burrows into. I started checking the area just before dark and found no none. But over the next 45 minutes several appeared. Tonite’s video has not yet been processed, this note accompanies footage from this afternoon and last night.

What was also intersting tonite ws that for the first time in weeks when there was water in the swale, no frogs or toads were calling. It will be interesting to see if they return to calling after it rains this weekend, or if the breeding season has ended. There have been fewer and fewer toads caling, incluidng none last night, while the tree frogs seemed down to a small number of callers last night, and were silent tonite. I would actually be relived if it was the end of the breeding season, though now that I know you can find the adults near the pond after dark, I might still be on the late shift through the summer. If that is the case I am going to need a better lighting rig than hand held flashlights.

I have been on the graveyard shift, but even more on a voyage of discovery. Learning how to see the frogs and toads, learning about their habits, habitats, and requirements. Hopefully what I learn can be brought to story telling this fall.

What the Bureau of Economic Analysis Report says to Rhode Island

What the Bureau of Economic Analysis report says to Rhode Island and policy prescriptions that would be used if Rhode Island’s political leadership was actually willing to ponder what is going on.

Greg Gerritt June 2015

My goal is the most widespread prosperity possible in Rhode Island. Every kid should grow up well nourished, with every opportunity. Every adult should have a right livelihood, meaningful work that satisfies and supports the community and their family. We are far from that goal, and seem to be moving away from it towards a state of greater inequality, more intractable problems. It is my contention that we are moving in the wrong direction because a few people who benefit from the current system are pushing us there, and using their money to create a public policy arena that is toxic to our community. To combat this, in addition to feistiness, we need information and honest analysis. Then we have to bring what we learn into the public policy arena so that outcomes are based on reality, not a Chamber of Commerce fantasy.

The fantasy is that old industrial states will reach 3% economic growth per year on a regular basis. There are a number of reasons why the 3% growth game is a fantasy, and a very burdensome one to most of the community. But also a very useful fantasy for the wealthy. They always have a tool for giving themselves more if they can remotely tie it to the proposition that it would increase economic growth rates and create jobs. Study of places around the world experiencing rapid economic growth since the beginning of the industrial revolution point out the conditions necessary for rapid growth, essentially 3% per year or more growth for an extended period of time. When looking at the key factors leading to rapid economic growth I tend to follow Immanuel Wallerstein. Immanuel Wallerstein The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press, 1976,

Here is a synopsis of the criteria for rapid growth over the last 500 years, and just as relevant today. Places need at least one of these things to be happening, and rarely does a place have all three working simultaneously. Most of the industrialized west has none of these things happening, and therefore low growth rates are very common.

The first category is a natural resource boom. Fossil fuels and minerals are often involved, but as growth ultimately happens because of the demands of growing cities, even more important are forests and forest products such as wood to build new buildings and furniture. The record is quite clear, cities can not get built or grow without new sources of wood. And as the forests are usually gone on any flat land near cities soon after founding, the race to expropriate the wood used in new cities is going faster and farther afield now than ever before in human history. Less than half the global forest remains and deforestation numbers are in the millions of hectares every year. Deforestation and expropriation are often accompanied by genocide, compounding the problem.

The depletion of resources of all types: forests, fish, soil, minerals, phosphorous, clean water, the climate, sinks, whatever you can think of that people and the rest of the life on the planet need all the time, goes faster than ever, and is swiftly reaching limits and tipping points that seriously threaten civilization and our economy. Rhode Island has no natural resources that can stand additional pressure, and therefore we shall not get large scale natural resource based growth, though agriculture is one of our growth industries.

The second condition for rapid growth is a rapidly urbanizing population of rural dwellers coming into the city for their first taste of urban life. Many are the expropriated forest people who were left with the choice of moving to shanty towns or death if they resist and insist on the right to live on the lands of their people. Many others are farmers with no place to farm, families squeezed out by soil depleting agriculture foisted upon them by Monsanto and its ilk. Urban Rhode Island is not exactly a steamroller of population growth. We have no hinterlands producing too many hands for the land and encouraging all the kids to head out before the army comes, but we do have a flow from our neighbors to the south as their agriculture succumbs to free trade chemical agriculture, deforestation, and death squads funded and trained by the US government.

The third condition for rapid growth is to be a mega city with historic ties to one of several industries that globalize well such as finance, entertainment, medicine, and communications/computers. I know RI wants to be the home of design and the medical industrial complex, which globalizes reasonably well, despite how often medical bills bankrupt people, but we are not in a megacity and will not be until Earthcity jumps off the science fiction pages and into our lives. Often the policies communities use to get in this game increase inequality and harms 99% us while benefitting the owners of downtown land and others who can get subsidies and tax breaks (see medically induced financial disasters). In other words it is a strategy guaranteed to fail the community. If you build it it often stands empty without another reason to move for people to choose to move in.

But even the megacities of the rapidly industrializing lower income countries are unlikely to achieve a western income level before the boom runs out. One thing to watch for is the middle income trap in which low income places grow rapidly, but get stuck at a per capita income around $10K. China is struggling to avoid this, and very very few of the newly industrializing countries are managing to avoid it. South Korea may have been the last country to escape. One must never forget the resource base that is rapidly depleting and therefore will be unable to sustain growth forever.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis report on economic growth for 2014

About a year ago I started subscribing to the occasional releases of the Bureau of Economic Analysis. It is a Federal government agency and its primary job is to report on the rate of economic growth and parse the data a bit. The most recent release http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/gdp_state/gsp_newsrelease.htm discussed the final numbers for economic growth in 2014 nationally and by state. This report stated that the growth rate of the USA in 2014 was 2.2% up slightly from the 1.9% in 2013, and in keeping with the recent trend of being in the 2.2 neighborhood since the worst of the recession ended. Given the frantic efforts in Washington DC to boost growth, and the fact that none of the policy makers in DC consider 2.2% growth to be all that good, it makes me wonder whether the politicians actually know what is going on. All the kings horses and all the kings men could not put the growth machine back together again. And never will.

Rhode Island was tied for 28th in the rankings with Delaware and Illinois at 1.2%, just over half the national rate. Just that number in all likelihood will set off the Rhode Island counterparts of the men who scream for growth and bring down upon us the prescription of austerity for the people and more tax cuts for the wealthy. But if you look at the data state by state it tells you the business climate mania that sets the policy, the Chamber of Commerce ideology that sets the agenda, has almost nothing to do with how well the economy of the various states are doing. The reports on how poorly business climate indexes predict economic growth are legion. My favorite is from the Business Curmudgeon http://journal.c2er.org/2013/02/business-climate-revisited/ . Good jobs first also has a good report on the business climate scam. Grading Places: What Do the Business Climate Rankings Really Tell Us? by Peter Fisher, with a Preface by Greg LeRoy May 2013 http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/gradingplaces

The first thing that jumps out from the BEA data, maybe because those states are shown as bright blue on the map, is that 9 of the 10 states with the highest growth rates are in the West (the exception is West Virginia) and that at least 8 of the top 10 have some sort of fossil fuel boom going on. The fossil fuel boom data is not on the map, but is widely available elsewhere. In other words nearly all of the states leading the US in growth rates are destroying the planet, especially its water and climate, for a temporary fix today. Oregon and Washington seem to be the only exceptions among the top 10, and even they are much more dependent upon depleting natural resources than the RI economy. Fracking is the only thing keeping the national growth rate above 2% and if we did anything like Full Cost Accounting, and deducted pollution and climate change costs from the overall economy, we would be going backwards and the obviousness of economic shrinkage would have to be acknowledged.

If you look east of the Mississippi, no region, not even the South, home of the business climate junkies, has a growth rate above 1.7%, though 9 of the 10 states with growth rates between 1.9 and 2.8% are in the east. The Southeast and the Mid Atlantic states are at 1.7% including places experiencing fossil fuel extraction booms. New England is at 1.6% and the upper Midwest is at 1.4%. Of the Rust belt states, the East minus the South, Rhode Island’s 1.2% growth is right in the middle and we are third in New England ahead of Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut. MA and NH lead New England at 2.3% or just about right at the national average. Boston, the only really large city in New England, leads with its knowledge economy, but even around Harvard and MIT, MA can not rival the growth rates of a fossil fuel boom. Texas and North Dakota lead the growth parade, with North Dakota growing by 9% in 2014 after growing by 15% the year before, though it is likely that much of the growth is building prisons for all the criminals in the oil boom towns. Every jail in the fracking parts of the state is full. Only 16 states are above the national average in economic growth with 34 states below the average. This also is indicative of booms in the fossil fuel states and everyone else trending towards a steady state.

The slowest growing states are all over the place with New England, the Southeast, the Northern Plains, the Great Lakes, and Alaska all represented, though for the most part not the West Most have Republican administrations, but more importantly each faces unique challenges. Many are low tax, weak regulation states that just do not seem to work the way we are told they should.

The literature in the economics field is starting to reflect that many scholars are looking at the end of rapid economic growth for most of the industrial world. They look at the industrial revolution and the 1870’s fossil fuel revolution as aberrations in the growth rate, and see a downward trend. Robert Gordon Robert J Gordon Is US Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts Six Headwinds NBER Working Paper No. 18315 Issued in August 2012 http://www.nber.org/papers/w18315 helped get it started. They see depleted resources and growing inequality, and have come to realize that in consumer societies, growing inequality throws sand in the gears of the economy. Piketty made that concept one that is widely know. And the inequality seems to grow from a public policy dominated more and more by the rich as their greed knows no bounds despite the planetary limitations. If they are to get richer, the middle class must be diminished.

Often a way to compare economic policy outcomes is to compare adjoining states with reasonably similar underlying economies but different policies. The poster children for the austerity for the people and tax cuts for the rich policies that the Business Climate indexes tout could be Wisconsin and Kansas. They might be contrasted with Minnesota and Missouri.

Wisconsin grew at 1% last year despite Governor Walker’s breaking unions, cutting taxes and shrinking the state budget. I say despite because Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois, all adjoining states, grew faster. With administrations in Minnesota and Illinois not following the Chamber of Commerce cliff jumping frenzy. Michigan is jumping off the austerity cliff, but its economy has been so anemic for so long with the loss of the auto industry that with no where left to go but up it achieved somewhat higher growth last year even with the cracks in the facade widening as infrastructure breaks down.

Kansas went even farther than along the bunny trail of tax cuts to the point where its schools started shutting down for the year in May when they ran out of money. Kansas is experiencing something of an energy boom, so its growth rate slightly exceeds Missouri’s, but it is much lower than Oklahoma’s which is right in the middle of the boom. Nebraska had a slow growth rate, but as its unemployment rate was 2.6%, the lowest in the country, it did not have many people that could take new jobs. Kansas’s austerity program went so far that they had to shut the website of Kansas Inc, the state economic development agency. This is a big loss as Kansas Inc http://www.kansasinc.org/pubs/working/Business%20Climate%20Indexes.pdf ( the link takes you to something totally different as the website is closed down) did the definitive study comparing business climate indexes and economic performance, finding almost no correlation, and the study is no longer available on the web. You wonder if Kansas Inc was closed because it refused to mis-state the research and put its stamp of approval on the Governor’s misguided policies.

This analysis of growth rates points to a few things that seem relevant for RI. The first is that it is the economic and natural resources of a state, its history, geography, the size of its cities and its connections to the global economy have a much greater influence on economic growth rates than tax policies, regulatory regimes, or business climate. If all the top 5 growth rates are found in fracking states hell bent on global destruction, and none of the states with the slowest growth are involved in fracking, planetary destruction seems to be the key indicator of growth as long as you forget how to subtract the damage done instead of adding it to the Gross State Product.

The second is that growth is fading away in the US and will soon be gone. This is especially the case in states that were the growth regions of the Industrial Revolution like Rhode Island, but no longer fit the growth profile in the 21st Century. Industrialization in the rich economies no longer employs a broad working class and brings it into the middle class. Now computers eat jobs rather than create them, and we have no mechanism for creating jobs for people with High School diplomas. We are going to have to get ready for a steady state economy and we are going to have to figure out how to create prosperity and employment under those conditions.

I offer up a quote on growth that comes from some rather reputable consultants. McKinsey and Co. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/health_systems_and_services/Africa_A_continent_of_opportunity_for_pharma_and_patients?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck-oth-1506

Africa: A continent of opportunity for pharma and patients
Africa may be the only pharmaceutical market where genuinely high growth is still achievable. Here’s what’s driving that strength and how companies should react.
June 2015 | byTania Holt, Mehdi Lahrichi, and Jorge Santos da Silva

“In a world of slowing and stagnating markets, Africa represents perhaps the last geographic frontier where genuinely high growth is still achievable. Early movers can take these four steps to pursue competitive advantage:”

What McKinsey is saying, that rapid growth anywhere except in the very poorest and rapidly urbanizing places is likely to be a short term resource boom followed by a bust. Combined with the slowdown of growth in China, the steady state economy in most of western Europe, the collapse of ecosystems everywhere, and the growing inequality in which the anemic growth they tout all ends up in the hands of 1% of the population, one has to conclude that Rhode Island is very unlikely to ever achieve high growth rates again. No matter what tax policy and give aways they come up with. And the effort to achieve rapid growth is likely to do significant harm by damaging ecosystems and increasing inequality.
Since RI is not going to achieve high growth rates again, what we face in the public policy realm are choices as to which policies are likely to create the most widespread prosperity in the low to zero growth environment we find ourselves in. Unfortunately the policy makers in Rhode Island insist that they can get a high growth rate here if we just follow their prescription. Of course they have been failing for the last 50 years with this prescription. And unfortunately, policies to achieve growth that do not fit the actual situation we find ourselves in make things worse and accelerate inequality. Thereby making things worse. The political leadership get their marching orders along with the campaign cash they use to get reelected from global corporations and the real estate industry. The prescriptions of tax breaks for the wealthy, and subsidies for everyone who wants to build a building downtown definitely contributes to greater inequality in RI, and as Piketty (Capital in the 21st Century) and a variety of other authors have pointed out, increasing inequality makes it very hard to run a consumer society or an economy that works at all well. And when 99% of the income gains are going to 3 to 5% of the population, it makes it really hard to be a consumer oriented economy and get economic vitality from consumption as most people get poorer. What is frustrating about the policy disaster is that the results we are seeing are exactly what any thinking person would predict given the formula being crafted on Smith Hill.

The I-195 land and the RI economy of the future.
Brownfields are a critical component of the Rhode Island economy of the future and what we do with them, and how the benefits of reuse are distributed will be crucial to our ability to create prosperous communities. But before we go to brownfields we need to go back to forests. And bring in some lessons from the forest as to what kind of development is needed in RI communities and how it might be organized.
Forest health may be the most important indicator of ecosystem health on Earth, and no one has ever figured out how to build cities without a new supply of wood. Now think about the people who live in forests, who are often he most marginalized and disenfranchised people in a country, just like those who live near brownfields.
As noted earlier forests are a critical ingredient for prosperity. And with the global forest half gone, and our understanding of the role of forests in keeping our planet alive, more and more folks are realizing that it no longer is useful or makes sense for our communities to allow anyone to displace the forest people and steal their forest. In fact the World Bank found exactly the opposite to be the case, and that economic development is most helped, locally and nationally, by providing secure tenure for the forest people and making sure all of the benefits of economic development accrue to the poorest people in the community, since if any of it leaks out it defeats the poverty ending agenda and harms the overall health of the national economy as well as the forest. Managing Forest Resources for Sustainable Development: An Evaluation of World Bank Group Experience, prepared by the Independent Evaluation Group, distributed internally on December 28, 2012 http://www.redd-monitor.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/ForestCODE-Jan-2013.pdf

Now think about brownfields, the land that is most available in our old cities and along the rivers. Now think of areas near brownfields as the RI equivalent of forest communities, inhabited by the most disenfranchised and marginalized members of the community. And the people who most need to benefit from economic development (Think Olneyville, Woonsocket, and West Warwick) . Taking a hint from the World Bank we have to realize that the for the 195 lands to really benefit Rhode Island economically they really need to be used to build equity and create benefits for the lowest income people in the community.

But clearly the plan is to do exactly the opposite, it will be used to attract more wealthy folks and the very wealthy folks who buy land and build buildings will get large subsidies (essentially a transfer of wealth for the community to some of its wealthiest members) and tax breaks. I have been told by people in the real estate industry that nothing would get built in Providence without tax breaks as our economy is too bad and there is not enough profit in it. The subsidy is the profit.

Clearly there is a breakdown in the system, and the breakdown is the belief that churning prosperity redeveloping property in the city has to bring more money per square foot than it did the last time, with ever greater profits to the landlords of downtown, is actually economic development for the 21st century. In most older cities this system has failed for the last 50 years, but going through it again and again is the received wisdom. This system is also responsible for nearly all of the corruption in politics.

RI needs to pay attention to this lesson because if we want to end poverty, especially among the most disenfranchised and marginalized members of the community, we can not keep giving tax breaks to millionaires to develop brownfields into high end properties. We have to break the cycle of upcycling. Yes I know it is very hard in a system running on debt, but eventually the growing inequality must get reversed. If that means no one can afford to build buildings, then lets start to use the land for purposes that can spread the benefits widely and that means brownfields for community food security.

It means there will be a bit less money sloshing around. It means planning for the shrinkage of the economy with an eye on economic justice. Something we ought to do since 99% of us are never going to see growth again. In the growth game as currently played 1% gets 99% of the growth in income. But we need prosperous communities, and that means thinking about widespread prosperity in a shrinking economy. Based on ecological healing and economic justice.

Here on Earth, and in Rhode Island, for the sake of ecological healing and the future of food, we need to use less, and considering how many people really do NEED more, then the 1% and the middle class in the industrial world are going to have to use less.

Some people think that is impossible or it would be horrible. But we have to think about prosperity rather than growth. We have to reduce inequality, heal ecosystems, close the war machine, create zero carbon emissions, reforest and farm our sprawl. Not build shopping centers or the next big thing.
There is much spending we could easily eliminate in ways that mean a happier, healthier, and more vibrant community while spending less money and refusing to exploit workers around the world.

For Providence’s prosperity start with food security and turn the I-195 land into farms, not biomedical labs or baseball stadiums. If we keep thinking economic development starts with real estate speculation and subsidies for the rich, we shall be stuck forever. If we think we need to relax environmental protections to grow the economy faster, remind yourself that for 99% of us growth left town years ago, and ecosystem health underlies our prosperity. Its time to give up the fantasy that growth is helping us build better communities when it is all ending up in the pockets of the few. Its time to think about the real consequences of growth with a Full Cost Accounting System, and think about how in the industrial world it is never coming back. Then lets build a prosperous future with solar energy and no more war machine.

Greg speaks at the Sierra Club Rally June 2015

I spoke at the Sierra Club’s “The environment is everyone’s business” Rally this week. I wrote what I think is a prettty good speech on the RI economy. That is the first link. I ended up not reading the speech, but giving one of the best speeches I have made in quite a while. The second link has all of the talks that day. Many of them quite good. To see mine just scroll down to my picture. greg





RINPR whitewash on the baseball stadium

I went to the RINPR forum on the baseball stadium.  The audeience was strongly opposed to the stadium, or at least to a subsidy.  But the panel contained no community member of the opposition.  It contained Charles Steinberg of the Red Sox, an economist from Holy Cross, and an urban planner.  I guess RINPR was AFRAID that if they had a real opponent on the stage, one that would talk about the criminality of the rich stealing from the people and how increasing inequality is bad for communities, their fat cat donors like the RI Foundation would get upset.  Pathetic.  Class war has to be a part of this discussion or it is a whitewash and RINPR struck out.

One Rally, Two Speeches June 2015

I am speaking at a rally organized by Sierra Club on June 10 2015.  I worte a pretty good speech, then decided I needed somthing different. The second is differnt even though it starts with the same slogan.   I present them in the order I wrote them, and will read the second at the Rally.

You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, and we shall not do much of anything useful if we do not shut down the war machine and close the empire.

I have been watching the development of the New England and Rhode Island economies for more than 30 years, and the places I am most familiar with, Maine and Rhode Island, have consistently had an unemployment rate higher than the national average. I am aware and understand hard times in both rural America and urban America.

We are constantly told that Rhode Island needs a better business climate, but the reality is that Rhode Island actually needs to deal with Climate Change to put its economic house in order.

If we compare adjacent states with regressive versus progressive policies, Vermont and New Hampshire, Kansas and Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota in each pair the state that did not cut taxes for the rich and has maintained the integrity of the regulatory system has lower unemployment and better economic health. In other words doing exactly what the business climate prescription tells us to do gives us exactly the wrong answer.

We are also told that transparency and simple straightforward rules are the best, and I agree with that, but unfortunately the RI legislature continues to focus on sweetheart deals, real estate speculation, and tax cuts as its economic development strategy. This strategy has failed for 50 years, and betting on Meds and Eds on the I-195 lands development is going to work out just as well. Could there be something more typically Rhode Island than inside players getting the public to fund a baseball stadium on land that will be below sea level in the lifetime of some of the people assembled here today?

If Rhode Island is to get its economic house in order, the first thing it should do is develop a tax system that places a much bigger burden on the wealthy. Cutting taxes for the wealthy makes the economy more unequal and after Picketty, how can anyone take seriously supply side economics seriously. If the gap between rich and poor grows, especially after the end of real economic growth, (which is a story for another day) then everyone else is getting poorer, and it shows, as it does so brightly in Rhode Island. Tax cuts for the Rich in RI have not done a lick of good, but somehow the leadership of the legislature keeps talking about doing more of this.

After we get equality and justice right, or rather at the same time as we get equality and justice right, we have to get ecosystems right. Cut carbon emissions to zero, reforest the sprawl, and grow much more of our food right here. Go to zero waste. Compost. Implicit in a zero carbon society is solar and wind and wave energy. Restoring habitat for endangered species and cleaning up air and water emissions,have done wonders for the American economy. In spite of the serious efforts to destroy them and lies about what is actually going on. It is only when democracy is actually practiced that we can together deal with the war machine corruption, speculation, and ecosystem collapse that the 1% is shoveling on top of us.

Just as an aside there is only one organization on the planet that is planetary, that explicitly addresses the interrelationship of democracy, economy, ecology, equality, and peace, The Green Party, but for today, for here in Rhode Island in 2015, the takeaway is that the business climate game is a cruel joke on the people of Rhode Island and that stronger ecosystem protection, greater food security, solar and wind energy, and greater justice is what it will take to create prosperity in our communities in the future. And no public money for the millionaires baseball stadium. Keep the Pawsox in Pawtucket.



Take 2

You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, and if you do not shut down the war machine, you will not do any of it.

I thought about what to say, and could easily give you stump speech, but instead today I want to challenge you to think about something not really on the radar, the End of Economic Growth…
Ecosystems are in collapse, primarily to feed the ever expanding maw of consumerism. We must have MORE. And without MORE civilization will end. Excuse me, but what planet are they living on?

Here on Earth, we need to use less, and considering how many people really do NEED more, then the 1% and the middle class in the industrial world are going to have to use less.

Some people think that is impossible or it would be horrible. But we have to think about prosperity rather than growth. We have to reduce inequality, heal ecosystems, close the war machine, create zero carbon emissions, reforest and farm our sprawl. Not build shopping centers or the next big thing.
There is much spending we could easily eliminate in ways that mean a happier, healthier, and more vibrant community while spending less money and refusing to exploit workers around the world.

For Providence’s prosperity start with food security and turn the I-195 land into farms, not biomedical labs or baseball stadiums. If we keep thinking economic development starts with real estate speculation and subsidies for the rich, we shall be stuck forever. If we think we need to relax environmental protections to grow the economy faster, remind yourself that for 99% of us growth left town years ago, and ecosystem health underlies our prosperity.

The I-195 land is a brownfield, and I agree that brownfields are among the keys to the future of the RI economy, but not how the clowns on Smith Hill think about it, where giving subsidies and tax breaks to the rich is the only thing on the table.

I want you to think about the connection between brownfields and tropical forests. The 195 land destroyed neighborhoods 50 years ago, so it is hard to think about the people who lived there, but think about a place like Olneyville where the brownfields still are embedded in a neighborhood. Who lives there, and who will benefit from Brownfield redevelopment?

Now think about forests. Forest health may be the most important indicator of ecosystem health on Earth, and no one has ever figured out how to build cities without a new supply of wood. Now think about the people who live in forests, who are often he most marginalized and disenfranchised people in a country, just like those who live near brownfields. Usually the wood supply was obtained by genocide.

With the forest more than half gone and our ever growing understanding of how important forest are to our communities people are wondering how to keep the forests healthy. The World Bank did a study and figured out that the best way to preserve forests and help forest communities escape poverty is to give the forest dwellers secure tenure, and then make sure that any economic development projects keep the benefits in the hands of the poorest people in the community, usually women.

Brought to Providence it is clear that as long as the benefits from the development of brownfields is directed towards the speculators and the inside dealers (the same people who steal forests from the people who live there) instead of the benefits staying in the hands of the people in the community, our wealth gap will get worse, our economy and ecosystems will crumble and the world will be a more violent place.

Keep the Pawsox in Pawtucket and make sure the benefits of redevelopment flow to the poor, not the rich. This is how you heal ecosystems and create prosperous communities. And one day I hope the clowns of Smith Hill will begin to comprehend.



Jumping Tadpoles

I get to wander many of Providence’s wilder places on a pretty regular basis, and now that I have been taking wildlife videos in the North Burial Ground for several years I have become more knowledgeable about the wildlife in our city, as well as simply much more observant of the world around me.

With the dryness of this spring my usual haunt of the drainage swale is cracked mud and unless we get significant rains in the next week or two, it is unlikely that Fowler’s Toads or Gray Tree Frogs will breed there this year.  Luckily the other wet spot in the Burial Ground is a permanent pond that seems almost completely unaffected by the dry weather.  I have recorded two types of herons, many smaller birds, bats, at least two kinds of turtles, and a variety of other life this spring.  Many of these creatures are already posted on Moshassuckcritters, or will be by the time the fall rolls around.

This week i have been focusing on one of my favorite phenomena, the jumping Bullfrog tadpoles in the pond.  I have noticed this before, I have posted videos of it both of the last two years, but as is the case with all of this work, each year I probe a little deeper.

What I have learned, mostly from experience, followed by a bit of research, is that Bullfrog tadpoles tend to jump out of the water more the closer they get to becoming frogs.  Bullfrog tadpoles overwinter in the pond, with breeding in the late spring, development over the course of the summer, winter under the ice, and a spring growth spurt.  Last year for the first time I was able to capture in pixels first year Bullfrog tadpoles in the fall.  They are much bigger now.

As I did research I found a variety of things on why frog tadpoles jump out of the water, breeching like mini whales.  There is no one definitive answer, but what appears to be the case is that for some species of frogs the breeding ponds can become oxygen depleted, and as the frogs get closer to metamorphosis their lungs start to develop so they can breathe in the air, and need the oxygen.  This begs the question of why they need to expend so much energy jumping almost completely out of the water rather than just swimming to the surface of the pond.  For some species the jumping is a prelude to moving away from oxygen depleted and drying up ponds (always a problem for amphibians) and searching for new ponds.

The Bullfrogs I observe are in no danger of drying out, the pond is permanent, so while it may be oxygen depleted (I am guessing it is from the constant murk of dead algae blooms that color it coffee brown) the frogs are not going anywhere, and there are no other nearby waterbodies to move to except the Moshassuck River 200 yards away.

Some observers have suggested that tadpoles jump to escape predators.  This is entirely possible in some places and with some amphibian species, but in this case that seems most unlikely.  The only predators in the pond that this strategy would work on are snapping turtles, and there are at most 1 or 2 snappers in the pond.  Since the Bullfrog tadpoles are often simultaneously jumping all over the pond, clearly this is not the answer.

The final suggestion I have read is that this is innate behavior in the tadpoles that is preparing them for life as frogs.  As I write this I have no observations of legs on Bullfrog tadpoles yet this year, but that is probably as much due to the difficulty of observing tadpoles in the water in the murk, as anything, as with metamorphosis only 5 weeks away it is likely that legs are developing.  Based on my observations of leg development in Fowler’s Toad tadpoles, which i have studied intensively (check out “6 weeks in 90 Seconds” on the Moshassuckcritters Youtube channel) early stage legs in frogs are not much use, but s they develop the frogs use them more and more in locomotion, though as swimmers rather than jumpers until the front legs break out just as metamorphosis is  starting.

Therefore it is most reasonable to think that as tadpole bodies are slowly preparing to be frogs that jumping would start to become a part of the behavioral repertoire even before the legs are quite ready to use.  The exercising of muscles other than those in the legs that are part of the complex of muscles needed to jump as adult frogs could easily lead to jumping tadpoles with tiny legs.

My research is incomplete, and likely to be more complicated by the serious lack of knowledge/research in the field, so I will have to leave us pondering the relationship between low oxygen ponds and the development process in determing why Bullfrog tadpoles start jumping in May in Providence.  But what ever the reason the breeching mini whales are fun to watch, and I offer up this video.







Speaker Mattiello still wants to give away the farm

To the Editor,

I was horrified to read in the May 20 Providence Journal article entitled “Mattiello: Next pitch is the state’s” that the Speaker of the Rhode Island House is still trying to make a deal over the baseball stadium. Obviously he is not listening to the public. I attended the public forum at Hope HS on May 18 and other than someone who thought they might get a construction job for a few months building the stadium, not one person thought it was a good idea to provide any state or city tax subsidy to a bunch of millionaires trying to extort money from the public by threatening to leave. I am a baseball fan, as were most of the others at the hearing. But none of us thought giving away the public’s money was a good idea, and many thought the site was very flawed.

For a Speaker laser focused on economic development, Representative Mattiello is missing the boat on this too. There is no financial gain for the people from this by any measure, giving a public subsidy to very wealthy people will only serve to increase inequality, and as Picketty demonstrated recently, growing inequality harms economies. Economic development in the 21st Century is a bottom up, not a top down, proposition. That Rhode Island continues to think top down, and gives sweetheart deals to inside players, is why our economy does not work very well.
Greg Gerritt

An open letter to RI Speaker Nicholas mattiello

Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello,

I have been carefully watching the discussion about the effort to move the Pawsox to the Providence waterfront. I do not think it is a good idea, and the public seems to overwhelmingly oppose providing subsidies to this effort. Sometimes it appears that you are the only person publicly talking about trying to cut a deal that includes a public subsidy.

I am aware that you have said that this deal in no way resembles 38 Studios, but in one critical way so far it does. It is being negotiated without the official voice of the people involved. I think you are aware that if there had been public hearings on using the people’s money to fund 38 Studios the State of Rhode Island would not have made such a big mistake that we are still paying for. The second example I offer is one that is rarely mentioned, but may be an even more appropriate example. The proposal to build a container port at Quonset was very strongly supported by the political leadership of Rhode Island. The Governor, the Speaker, the well connected law firms all weighed in on it. But even so there was a very extensive public process, with stakeholders, studies, and public hearings. I was a stakeholder in the process so I am very aware of how well it worked, how much better everyone was informed by the process. The end result was that the more we knew, the worse the deal sounded, and eventually the proponents went away. If the State of Rhode Island had acted upon the first political impulse we would have opened a new port at exactly when the global recession hit and the people of Rhode Island would have been on the hook for about $1 Billiom dollars.

We all know the old expression, all of us collectively are smarter than any one of us. I ask one thing. Before you sign off on any deal, before you commit the people of RI to any financial support of the Providence Waterfront baseball stadium, hold public hearings. Ask the people of Rhode Island for their collective wisdom. The track record of the people on these sorts of things is very good. We saved the state $1 Billion and could have saved another $100 million if we had been allowed to participate in the process. Please publicly commit yourself to a full public process before committing any of our money to the baseball stadium.

Greg Gerritt


Infrastucture Bank versus baseball stadium

Rhode Island needs an infrastructure bank. And while the details are not 100% worked out there is much to recommend in the Governor and General Treasurer’s Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank proposal. Hopefully the details will create a workable infrastructure for the bank, but today lets focus on the idea.

If you take a good hard look at where the RI economy is going, we are in a very low growth phase. The conditions for rapid economic growth do not exist in Rhode Island, and cutting taxes for the rich and dismantling environmental and health regulations are not going to get us there. Given the low growth conditions, the only way to improve the well being of most Rhode Islanders is to create a healthy and resilient infrastructure designed specifically to help our communities respond properly to the climate change, food insecurity, and rising inequality that are currently haunting us.

It really is that simple. So I want to contrast the public investment in infrastructure with the proposal to build a baseball stadium on the Providence waterfront. In the May 3 Providence Journal there is a lengthy article detailing that the proposed baseball stadium would undo all of the efforts to properly manage stormwater throughout the I-195 lands because they would no longer have green open space to absorb water. And it would cost millions to move the stormwater infrastructure already in place.

The people of RI in this case are given a very contrasting set of choices. On one hand give $120 million of the public’s money to some people to build a baseball stadium that would contribute mightily to increasing the cost of managing stormwater, or investing the public’s money in Green Infrastructure that increases community resilience and safety, helps us cope with climate change, and creates more new jobs than a baseball stadium moving jobs that are now a mere 5 miles away. Of course these are not our only choices, but if the people of RI are investing in construction, it is pretty clear which one benefits us more. Support the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank.

Critique of REMI

I went to a talk about Carbon Pricing and what it might do to the RI economy by Scott Nystrom of REMI today.  I read the report yesterday.  The report was fine, said a carbon tax would not in any way hurt the RI economy.  But I learned some stuff about how REMI works that help me understand how the state of Maine got a report that did not answer any useful questions about how banning clearcutting was going to affect the economy.

One of the keys was openly stated.  The report stated it absolutely did not take into account the effect of climate change on the economy.  That jarred me into realizing that the report the State of Maine used against our campaign stating the effect of banning clearcutting on the Maine economy absolutely refused to use any data on the health of the forest and its depletion rate at that time.

Given that cutting practices in Maine changed dramatically in the years after the failed attempts to ban clearcutting, primarily because of the health of the forest and the depletion of the woods, clearly the REMI report , the use of the REMI model in situations involving natural systems that are being degraded, leaves much to be desired and provides truly false information to the public looking at the policy implications.

Given this flaw, maybe what we need is a study looking at the types of studies REMI has done over the last 30+ years to see how accurate they are.  Obviously they must have that information since they must use it to refine their methodology and equations.  I would love to see a report by REMI discussing which situations are the hardest for them to get right over time with a special emphasis on natural resource systems subject to depletion.  I did notice that the map in the presentation today did not include any studies done in Maine, so maybe REMI is in denial.


The Economic Growth Machine and Rhode Island

The Economic Growth Machine and Rhode Island  Greg Gerritt
I have a great deal of concern about the techniques the political elite in Rhode Island use in their efforts to elevate the rate of economic growth. My concerns come from the likelihood that the gyrations they perform are likely to do more harm than good to most of the people in our community. The reason the prescriptions of the elite are unlikely to work is that they are based on a misreading of the underlying conditions of the economy and a misreading of trends in the economy. The basic assumption of the RI political elite is that there can be extended periods of 3+% economic growth per year. Periods long enough to return Rhode Island to “full employment” so that the state’s coffers are filled.

I find this rather odd because a more honest assessment of the RI economy ( and I have been observing closely for 18 years) and its place in the global and national economies makes it rather clear that Rhode Island is not going to be a global growth leader, it does not have any of the conditions that would boost Rhode Island into an above average growth rate. And improving the “business climate” will improve the growth rate no more than 5%, in other words from 2% to 2.1%

For the last 50 years the average growth rate of the human economy on planet Earth has been 3.8% per year. No other 50 year period in the history of the planet has had a growth rate as high. Prior to the industrial revolution (1759 the year the development of the steam engine gave a jump start to the mining of coal in very large quantities) global growth rates were about 1%. Since 1759 they have averaged about 2%, and more and more reputable observers have written about how hard it will be to keep growth rates much above 2% going forward. In the last few years the growth rate globally has been 3.4% ( China is not likely to see a 10% growth rate ever again) and the US has had growth rates of 2.3, 2.4, and 2.2% the last 3 years, years touted as prime for economic recovery.

If growth rates are slowing, and what else could happen as the world’s resources and sinks come closer and closer to the brink of depletion, then half the world’s people will be experiencing growth rates above average and half of the people will experience growth rates below what is now a 3.4% global growth rate that will diminish going forward. Careful study has revealed what kind of places will be experiencing above average growth and which areas are likely to be experiencing below average growth.

In all likelihood places rapidly bringing on line new sources of minerals (fossil fuel and hard rock) will have high growth rates. Places rapidly destroying their forests will have fairly high growth rates. Places that are rapidly urbanizing ( moving people off the farms and out of the forest and into factories ) will have above average growth rates. Financial centers and very large urban areas (megacities) with one of a very few high tech or financial industry clusters will have above average growth rates. Everyone else is out of luck unless they learn to use less and share more. Adding to this trauma is that in many places well over 90% of the growth in income is ending up in the hands of 1 or 2% of the population, so even if RI reached 3% growth, 95% of us would still be getting poorer.

Given that RI does not have any of the four characteristics of rapidly growing areas ( despite our best attempts to convince high tech and advance life sciences companies to move here) it is likely that the people of Rhode Island are going to be among the 4 billion people living with less than average growth. We are not a basket case, so our growth rates are likely to be in the 1.8 to 2.2% area for the next few years unless we let our growing inequality go crazy, or we get slapped even harder by climate change, in which case our growth rate will slow further. We should also note that one of the key industries RI seems to want to hang its hat on, the medical industrial complex, is going to be unable to grow in any way that helps us if health care costs are out of control and drawing money away from other sectors of the economy.

Given this scenario, that RI will experience slower than average growth and only hold our position if we make sure our inequality does not get worse and we improve the health and resilience of our ecosystems, the realistic goal for Rhode Island is how do we get the greatest prosperity under conditions of relatively slow growth. Unfortunately the obsession with the business climate, the cutting of taxes and regulations, the running roughshod over communities and ecosystems, the further marginalization of the poor are likely to make our chances of achieving prosperity even more remote.

Rhode Island has a chance to create a more resilient and fairer economy. But tax breaks and giveaways to the already wealthy will lead to further deterioration of our communities, not an economic bonanza. It is time for an economy for the people, not the plutocrats, with food security and climate resilience at its center based on a clear understanding of how to live in a low growth environment.

I have been involved in the political process for over 30 years, and I understand that politicians must promise peace and prosperity to get elected, especially in the big money media frenzy politics we now endure, but it is time that some truth about growth rates and the long term trends in the economy entered the debate. If the truth is not part of the debate, I truly worry for Rhode Island.

Response to interesting article on development

I do not know where I fit into this categorization. I work alone under the name of ProsperityForRI.com, which is my blog. Sometimes I think I am a writer, writing about why economic development does not work very well in my community, but I am also in the trenches, attending tons of hearings, influencing policy makers, and helping to create new industries in my community (compost).

Most of my work really focuses on helping the developers, private and public, understand that their plans are totally unrealistic and that their ideas ar3e based on an economy that no longer exists. All of their work assumes that if we get the business climate right we can have an economic growth rate over 3%. I constantly remind them that Rhode Island, as an old industrial place with limited natural resources is going to have a growth rate below the national average, probably in the 2% range in a good year, and that our growth rate has nothing to do with our business climate. The materials I read from C2ER are an important part of my understanding of the economy and how that relates to my community. I think everyone should read the Kansas Inc study that showed that business climates have a miniscule effect on the economy, but the people who think up the crazy economic development policies in Rhode Island think that fast growth is just around the corner if we could only get rid of the poor and let the rich do whatever they want. of course they have thought this for 50 years and have been wrong forever.

I would like to see more from you on how communities ought to be much more honest about the slowing of global growth and where their community fits into this, but the politicians are completely in denial about what growth rates are possible. And always seduced by what the Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers tell them they could have if they would cut taxes and throw more inner city kids out of school.

– See more at: http://journal.c2er.org/2015/03/what-the-heck-is-going-on-with-local-economic-development/#sthash.X56RtAAn.dpuf

A letter to Governor Raimondo on economic development

Dear Governor Raimondo, I am writing about several different, but connected, topics relating to the Rhode Island economy.

The trigger for this letter is the effort by the new owners to move the Pawtucket Red Sox to the Providence waterfront. Personally I think it is a very bad idea, and that seems to be the statewide consensus based on letters to the paper and comments sent to the Summit neighborhood email list as well as conversations I have had. My request on this is that there be public hearings on this before anything happens. My guess is that if there are public hearings the outcry will be overwhelming and no board that had any public consciousness would give a permit. Then there is the issue of the richest men in the state asking for a subsidy for their hobby. Please publicly state that before anything happens you would like to see a full public airing of this topic. I have talked to various agencies in RI and the CRMC, the I-195 Commission, and the City of Providence all agreed that public hearings seemed a good thing, though all were constrained by the lack of any formal proposal in front of them. You do not need to be so constrained, and calling for a public airing at a time when another politician has admitted corruption around real estate development, would feed into a move towards better ethics legislation. A full public discussion sooner rather than later helps us all figure this out, one way or the other, at an earlier time with less overall cost.

Given the recent record of the political leadership of Rhode Island on major economic development projects, and Rhode Islanders well founded fear and dislike of the inside baseball politics of economic development, the proposal to move the Paw Sox just seems so Rhode Island. You and I are both familiar with the disaster of 38 Studios, a disaster that likely would not have happened if the decisions had been made after public hearings. You may not be as familiar with the public discussion of the proposed container port at Quonset. I was a stakeholder and participated in every public meeting from a seat at the table. If the governor and the legislature had had their way, 38 Studios would look like a child sized disaster compared to the billion dollar price tag of a port that would have opened as the recession hit. It was the public outcry and resolve that finally allowed the outing of the con men who had conned the leaders of the State with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads.

I will come back to this last point shortly but first I want to flag the issue of what is the appropriate use of the land in the knowledge district given our current placing of meds and eds at the heart of our economic development strategy.

The evidence is pretty clear that baseball stadiums are not big economy boosters. Building a baseball stadium on the waterfront, in addition to depriving the public of waterfront access (which in and of itself is a major issue with large financial implications for the taxpayers)) brings into question the entire meds and eds strategy as it relates to the use of the I-195 land. Devoting that much land to baseball and parking, especially on the waterfront, is probably not a smart move. Baseball creates few well paying jobs, few full time jobs.

I have serious problems with the strategy of placing meds and eds at the heart of economic development. Both industries are at about the limits of what the American public can pay for, and are leading causes of bankruptcies and stunted asset acquisition, but that is a discussion for another day. The question today is does the baseball stadium fit in with the best way to use the land to enhance the city? If we are betting on a Knowledge District, then this is not the way to do it.

Beyond the immediate question of a baseball stadium, economic development strategy in RI needs to be better adapted to the changing world economy, but not in the ways most folks talk about. What Rhode Island needs to adapt to is slowing growth rates globally and an understanding that our growth rate is going to be generally below average. Our growth rate will be below average not because of our business climate (though the inside baseball audacity of Mr. Skeffinton astounds, and these types of subsidies do not reflect well in the rankings) but primarily because most of the economic growth that does occur globally and in the US will end up in the few places that are global financial centers, the places that are rapidly industrializing low wage countries with rural populations to urbanize, and places with short lived natural resource booms. Rhode Island has none of these advantages and our growth rate is therefore going to be slightly below the slowing global and US growth rates even if we were the perfect business climate groupie.

Many people question the idea that growth is slowing, and politicians are extremely reluctant to even think about it, but more and more reputable experts are recognizing it. Even the global consulting firm McKinsey sent out a recent report noting that it is going to be very difficult to maintain current growth rates in the medium to long term due to changes in the economy and in planetary ecosystems. Planning for a slower growth rate, and understanding how to achieve maximum prosperity with slow growth, does not appear to be on the agenda, but it ought to be along with Full Cost Accounting. The current political climate calls for a “good business climate” despite the fact that business climates are remarkably persistent over time despite years of political rhetoric and legislative action, that business climates have very little overall effect on state economies (less than 5% of the growth rate is attributable to tax rates and transparency of bureaucracies) , and that it is clear that a good business climate creates greater inequality and that greater inequality is one of the things that hold back economies. Again a much larger discussion but one I would be willing to have with you and your advisers at your convenience.

In summation, I do not know if we can convince the new ownership of the Triple A Red Sox to return to Pawtucket, but we can make sure that any attempt to move to Providence gets a full public hearing. You should insist on the public hearing and then turn attention to what all of this reveals about the new world of economic development in post industrial Rhode Island.


Greg Gerritt Research Director ProsperityForRI.com

Business climates mean nothing

In the March 3, 2015 Providence Journal there was an article “RI 42nd in business climate”. I looked at the most recent available data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and RI was 33rd in rate of growth. Disparities like this are common, and more and more it is obvious that the business climate has little to do with actual economic performance.

Business climate rankings are an ideological test, not a ranking that has anything to do with real world performance. They are put together by people with a preference for the power of the rich rather than the welfare of the community. According to Kansas Inc no more than 5% of a state’s economic growth rate is determined by factors taken into account by business climate rankings. In other words if Rhode Island followed the prescriptions of the business climate rankers our growth rate might go from 2.2% to 2.3% while damaging our ecosystems and increasing inequality. It is time that Rhode Island, and especially Rhode Island politicians, stopped paying any attention to the business climate rankings.

Greg Gerritt

Economic Growth, Economic Policy and the Pawsox

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released its new economic growth numbers today.

A few things i want to ruminate on.

“Real gross domestic product — the value of the production of goods and services in the United States, adjusted for price changes — increased at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to the “second” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 5.0 percent.”

This is a good one. The good times rolled in the third quarter. At 5% we could keep up with China. We fell back to earth in the 4th quarter, 2.2%, which just so happens to match the growth rate in each of the last 3 years. Interestingly the biggest swings in spending were by the federal government, especially in the defense sector.

“2014 GDP

Real GDP increased 2.4 percent in 2014 (that is, from the 2013 annual level to the 2014 annual level), compared with an increase of 2.2 percent in 2013.”
The chart that followed also included the 2012 number, 2.3%. GDP growth in the last few years has been remarkably consistent the last few years, 2.2 to 2.4%. Actually the economy has been averaging something in the low two’s for quite a while. The national average includes things like the fracking boom towns of North Dakota (growth rate in 2013 15%) and Texas, the financial and entertainment centers of the universe, and the rural counties of Mississippi.

An honest assessment of Rhode Island puts us slightly below the national average in assets and growth potential. We are not a natural resource boom town, we are not a mega city and financial center. We are an old industrial place that lost out when the nation stopped being water-powered and we were no longer cheap labor. Despite the screams of the John Birchers (I was handed a John Birch Society pamphlet at a public hearing recently), the heroic efforts of the business climate obsessives, and the promises of the legislature the fundamentals of the Rhode Island economy remain those of a post industrial medium sized city that is vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change and the slowing global economy.

RI public policy is predicated on rapid growth, 3.2% on average. A better understanding of ourselves, especially of how economy works in a 2% growth world, would go a long way towards aligning policy with bringing prosperity to our communities rather than just filling the coffers of the few.

The cause du jour for this sermon is the effort by some of the wealthiest men in New England to move the Pawsox to a park in Providence. Rhode Island has a sordid history on this sort of thing, Big money crushing communities and demanding subsidies or threatening to go elsewhere with their money. I do not like the deal, but who cares. The one thing you should care about is making sure that the whole deal gets a very full public airing and that this is followed by a series of public hearings in all the affected communities. Today I have been making calls seeking a hearing and CRMC says it will hold one if they get a formal application, but the effected cities should also hold hearings for the public to air their concerns.

The more I read about the land in question, the less I like the deal. Either stealing public parks and waterfront or admitting that the knowledge district is more fantasy than reality. Neither makes us look good. The first thing the lords of Triple A should do is state that since they believe they are high rent economic development they are willing to pay fair market value for any land they build upon including all of the land they use for parking. Let the public airing truly begin before this develops any momentum and any more palms get greased.

Pawsox to Provsox

There are a number of reasons why moving the Pawsox from Pawtucket to Providence is pretty numb, and there are numerous reasons why people have a right to be unhappy at this transaction. But even more astonishing is how anyone among the new owners, especially those involved in any way in the policy discussions on economic development in Rhode Island, could see the !-195 lands as an appropriate place for a baseball stadium.

For years RI leadership has been touting the I-195 lands as the economic savior of Providence with all the potential of the “Knowledge District approach to economic development”. How in hell could they acquiesce to the use of these lands for a baseball stadium and its attendant parking lots.

I have a long track record of stating that the medical industrial economy is not a good foundation upon which to build an economy. Betting your economy on the leading cause of bankruptcy in the country seems a strange strategy and there is no doubt the medical industrial complex has played a big role in growing inequality in the American economy. My warnings about the expectations of growth from the medical industrial economy have been ignored and the bandwagon for high tech medicine continued. But now we have a proposal to throw that all away for a baseball stadium despite overwhelming evidence that sports arenas do not really help downtowns and create few family supporting jobs.

If the politicians go for the stadium, I almost hate to say it, it will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that even politicians have realized that the medical industrial economy is not going to do what they have been saying it would do all these years and it is time to give up. But i will say that giving up on the medical industrial economy can be done without doing anything as astronomically dumb as building a baseball stadium and parking lots. I sure hope the RI politicians will hold out for a better use of the I-195 lands than to sign it away to the lords of baseball.

From the Bottom Up, Regulations and Economic Development

The mantra says if you lower taxes and reduce regulations the invisible hand of the market will bring you prosperity and perpetual growth. The facts do not bear this out.

The reality is closer to if you lower taxes on the rich and reduce regulations on polluters the few who are already rich will benefit while the rest of the community will be harmed and poorer. The underlying assumption of the already wealthy is that economic development policy should be geared towards making them wealthier with trickle down carrying benefits to the larger community. The results have been 99% of the growth in income going to 1% of the population while 60% of Americans are getting poorer. In low income neighborhoods, economic development that actually reduces poverty and benefits communities is a bottom up process. The use of assets to generate wealth must place the overwhelming majority of the benefits in the hands of the poorest members of the community if poverty is to be reduced. This is why gentrification and real estate driven development is so problematic. The benefits flow out of the community into the hands of “developers”. We merely displace the poor to another spot. This process mirrors almost exactly what is happening to tropical forest communities as their economies change. When the community gets secure tenure to the forest, everyone benefits. When the forest is no longer locally controlled, it disappears, the children get hungry, and those people who do not die move to shanty towns. Until brownfields are turned into assets that directly benefit the people already living in the neighborhood poverty can be shifted to another location, but it will not be eliminated.

On the regulatory issue, everyone agrees that the process should be efficient, fair, transparent and reasonably swift. The problem is that as the government and its prodders seek to streamline the process they also seek to reduce the quality of protections for the public, AND they seek to cut the public out of the process. If you remember the bottom up approach from the previous paragraph, then you know that cutting the community out of the process of seeing if a particular project is appropriate for the community almost guarantees failure, and in Rhode Island, almost guarantees inside dealings. As we streamline the permitting process it is critical to our success as a state to make it easier for communities to intervene at the appropriate times and places and to stop bad projects.

History tells us that when the wealthy are allowed to do as they please, it almost always comes to a bad end. We all know how bad 38 Studios turned out for the people of Rhode Island, and we also know that public hearings would have shown the politicos the folly of the project. We need to remember that the flip side of this is the public involvement that helped stop the building of a container port in Quonset, much to the chagrin of the governor, the legislature, and the growth obsessives. The public outcry, sustained over an 18 month period, prevented a one billion dollar debacle that the taxpayers would still be paying off.

In our neighborhoods, as the greening of the economy becomes ever more important and critical for our prosperity, to streamline the regulatory process to the point where the public is streamlined right out of the picture means that truly inappropriate buildings will get built in truly inappropriate places. The long term economic benefits will disappear when in our haste to give out permits we create floods that could have been prevented.

You can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, you can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, and if Rhode Island wants prosperity we need to stop genuflecting to those who demand that we help them line their pockets through less regulation and lower taxes.

Economic Growth in Rhode Island

To the Editor,
The article “Economy grows despite weakness” in the February 18, 2015 Projo reported that the economic growth rate in Rhode Island was lower in the 4th quarter, 1.8% compared to 2.4% in the third quarter, and lower than was anticipated. Rhode Island’s economy is growing slower than the global average, the national average and the regional average. John Simmons comment ”trending lower… is a sign that the state economy has inherent weakness” seems to be in line with the sentiments of Rhode Island’ political leadership.

Simmons, and the rest of the business climate obsessives keep thinking they can pump up the growth rate by becoming “business friendly”, but any honest assessment of our growth potential will conclude that Rhode Island is going to be one of the places with a slower economic growth rate.

Instead of obsessing about a faster growth rate, the people of Rhode Island might be better served by a government that seeks a greater and more widespread prosperity in a low growth environment via ecological helping and economic justice.

Rapid growth will occur only in places that have the right conditions: New natural resource exploitation industries like fracking, rapidly expanding newly industrializing cities growing as rural people are driven off the land, or megacities with large financial sectors. Half the world will have growth that is below average. The sooner we learn to accept our low growth rate and create public policy that creates prosperity in our communities even under conditions of low growth, the better.
Greg Gerritt
Providence RI


Response to sustainable wood for instruments release

Glad the musicians are finally getting this. The current deforestation phase is only the continuation of 500 years of colonialism, standing on 10,000 years of urbanism. Stealing the resources of the forest is the only way empires and cities grow. The reality of climate change is just making it hip, but we have long known that leaving the forest in the hands of the forest people is much better for the forest and the world.

Musicians understand intellectual property and how the corporates screw them using the laws. It is completely analogous to what is happening to forest people.Outsiders with connections getting rich by stealing their forest. It is also how economic development works in brownfield communities where the benefits of development never ends up in the hands of the people who live there, they just get displaced again.

walking in a winter wonderland

I love being out in the snow. Hate being cold and wet. But once I learned how to dress, being out in the snow became a true joy. My favorite activity used to be cutting firewood in a low wind snowfall in the north woods. Hauling it home on the sled. Watching the big flakes

Instead of the woods and country roads I now walk Providence, and while I still love snow, walking is more difficult here, and most definitely more dangerous.

I love walking my neighborhood, on 6th St the block is shoveled from top to bottom including the corners, and most residential streets are well shoveled, with many people even creating places to cross at the corners. The North Burial Ground is also a treat. Might be plowed better than anywhere else in the city, and if you take the back streets, you can almost avoid North Main St. while getting there.

North Main St has never been a great place for winter walking. From 6th St going south on the east side of the street the block between 4th and 5th as usual took a bit longer than they should have to clear some hazards and the corner is still bad. I made a call to city hall about N Main St yesterday asking that they do some enforcement among the scofflaws, so that could have made a difference at some of the places on N Main getting it together late yesterday and today, but I will never know. I have now requested that Miriam and Home and Hospice clear their sidewalks, and the crew from the Burial Ground was snow blowing that stretch of N Main St. I had been cutting through the burial ground instead of using the sidewalk, now I can go back to the sidewalk. I did not go as far as Branch this morning, but as of Thursday that intersection was still not pedestrian friendly. The highway overpass on Industrial is always neglected from a pedestrian perspective, though the mini-mall just to the north had shoveled their sidewalk, a most unusual occurrence. The areas near University Shopping Mall is a disgrace. A BIG RI mall developer, CARPIONATO, ALWAYS LEAVES THEIR N MAIN SIDEWALK UNSHOVELED, Yes, it is a poorly designed sidewalk, and there is no place to put the snow, but that stretch of N Main is critical to connectivity and that stretch needs to be kept passable ALL winter. There are ways to do it. Charles and Canal were difficult near the river. River frontage with no building is considered no man’s land for shoveling, despite the fact that these spots are key transportation corridors for all transportation modes from canals, to trains to interstates, to traditional walking paths, to Rt 1. It is clearly the city’s responsibility for clearing overpasses and river frontage like Canal St. and it is one they totally neglect.

Downtown, the Downtown Improvement Program, funded by special levies, clears the sidewalks. Always passable. Heading out Broad St the I-95 crossing was hard walking or in the street walking and south of the 3 High Schools the fast food area created one of the most dangerous hazards to pedestrians, the driveway plowing that blocks the sidewalk. This is one I really do not get. Or rather get and am disgusted by it. A fast food or convenience store shows parking lot to the street. Plows its driveway and parking lot, piles the snow on the sidewalk between the driveways and at the edge of the property. Never clear their own sidewalk. One year I did an action on a convenience store. I shoveled the snow piled up on the sidewalk into their driveway. An hour later they had shoveled their sidewalk.

How hard could it be for these businesses having their contractor clearing the driveway do the sidewalk or at least not block the sidewalk any worse than it already is? Maybe they need a sidewalk contractor? But mostly it would mean paying attention.

I have not yet been south of my office on Rice St, so I can not say what is to the south, but experience shows that buildings in distress, buildings for sale, buildings with absentee landlords and weak management leave gaps in the shoveling, the corners will be difficult, and driveway plowers will block sidewalks leaving pedestrians in dead ends with knew deep snow and 6 ft mounds to cross.

Maybe it is a pipedream, but given the state of the world, cities are going to have to become more pedestrian friendly all year round. Maybe we shall know we have achieved climate resilience nirvana when after a snowstorm it is just as easy to walk around the city as to use any other means of transport. The current model of making someone a second class citizen for having a lower carbon footprint does not seem like a good strategy to me.

war and peace

To the editor,

The op-ed in January 23rd’s Providence Journal entitled “US, French foreign policy invites terrorism” is probably the most intelligent and accurate description of what is going on in the world that I have read in the Providence Journal in years. Though a teenager, Raymond Mancini demonstrates a better historical perspective and understanding of human nature and justice than any of the public officials making policy in Washington DC today.

You would think that Senator Reed, with his years of military service and years of service on the military oriented committees of the Senate would have figured out what Mr. Mancini has figured out, but Senator Reed and the rest of RI’s congressional delegation keep voting money for policies that keep blowing back on America and its allies.

If we keep bombing weddings, if we keep invading countries, if we keep military bases in over 100 countries, and reserve the right to kill, maim, and torture anyone we want we shall have frustrated people to stop Americans from invading their countries by all available means. The way to peace is not war, it is the withdrawal of American military personnel from the Middle East. That a teenager knows this better than any member of Congress, better than the President, and better than any member of the bureaucracy tells us we are in for some very hard times. At least until the generation of Raymond Mancini stops the stupid wars and ends the American torture machine.

Speaker Mattiello under a cloud.

Recently I saw an op ed in the paper that tells me I am not the only person questioning whether the current Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello, is the right man for the job. One of the leaders of the Progressive Democrats of RI concluded that the policy prescriptions of the Speaker are seriously out of alignment with the Democratic Party and the people of Rhode Island. That the Speaker sells his own party down the river is of no concern to me, I expect such shenanigans, but the policy prescriptions that the Speaker offers are seriously out of whack. Likely to make the economic problems worse in Rhode Island rather than alleviate them.

My special concern is issues along the ecology/economy interface and the economic development of low income communities, and I will come back to why the Speaker’s economic policy prescriptions will be ineffective due to ignoring ecological healing and economic justice another day, but today I want to point out one more problem the Speaker will bring to Rhode Island.
Given the recent history of RI Speaker’s of the House leaving office under a cloud, I am guessing that there is something inherent in the position and the men seeking it that causes the men seeking to be Speaker to be ethically challenged. The competition is so cut throat, especially in the scramble to fill the position when the Speaker leaves under a cloud, that anyone with a shred of ethics has no chance. The least qualified to lead therefore get the job.

The temptations these ethically challenged people have once they assume the mantle of speaker of the House in Rhode Island overwhelm them, especially when so much of their focus is the 100 year struggle to fix the Rhode Island economy, a post industrial economy centered on a mid size city in an age of mega cities.

Because of the sluggish economy in Rhode Island the obsession with economic development leads us to confuse real estate speculation with actual economic development. This belief that real estate speculation is economic development seems to have a particularly nasty twist when it comes to Speakers of the RI House as many of the recent occupants of the hot seat come to it from an occupational history as lawyers involved in the business of real estate transactions.

There are a number of problems with this beyond skewing the Speaker’s understanding of economic development in the 21st Century. The first and foremost is that real estate speculation in old industrial places like Rhode Island is not in any way a capitalist enterprise. Nearly all development except the spreading of sprawl into the exurbs happens with subsidies from the public.

Picture it. Most powerful man in RI, sets policy, directs investment, signs off on subsidies. He comes to the office already immersed in the real estate industry, including its use of subsidies and desire to drain every wetland. An industry that is already a huge source of money for state and local elections (mostly because of its need for subsidies), and the basic source of corruption in our communities. The Speaker of the House is right in the center of the fetid swamp enjoying the water.

As far as I know Speaker Mattiello is not currently under investigation and there is no word of his being involved in any corrupt dealings other than selling out the people of Rhode Island, which seems to be legal. But the combination of real estate oriented lawyer Speakers and the need for subsidies in the industry is so powerful that I am not asking if Speaker Mattiello will eventually have to leave under a cloud, only when. In the mean time we shall be subject to horrible and ineffective policy due to the anti regulatory, anti community, pro inequality memes that have already infested his brain due to his day job.

nibbling around the edges

We live in a time of great happenings.  War, revolution, climate change, food insecurity, space flights, modern medicine, and the internet.  Events are pulling communities in a multitude of directions simultaneously.  In a billion small ways the people of the Earth are rising to the challenges of our times, but our large institutions, the places where power accumulates, have done almost nothing of value for many years.  The large institutions, the domains of the rich and powerful, have regularly made crisies worse and contributed very little towards solutions.  The systems in which the few govern the many are failing.  Our communities demand more action than just the nibbling around the edges that our powerful institiuons will do as a way to pretend they care.  Nibbling around the edges is an excuse for not doing anything useful and an effort to pull wool over our eyes.  Nibbling around the edges will not solve the climate crisis.


it is time to root out corporatism, racism, and the fossil fuel and war industries from our communities.     Praise to the activists in New York who just threw a big monkey wrench into the fracking machine.  It is when we actually practice democracy that we shall rise to the great challenges of our time.

The US as a rogue nation

It seems like everyone on the planet is sick of the stupid games that the American Government plays.  A nation steeped in genocide and slavery and the violence necessary to keep such a stupid game going has created a domestic politics that makes useful engagement with everyone else on the planet nearly impossible.

Torture and climate change probably lead the list of American missteps, but policies around nuclear weapons, healthcare, privacy, destroying villages in order to save them, racism, trade and aid policies that are welfare for wealthy American lobbyists/campaign contributors, the world’s largest arms industry, spying on everyone, killing for oil, propping up dictators, arming Israel, and helping US banks and the financial industry loot the world also rank pretty high on the list of stupid things done by the American government, that currently leave Washington DC heads spinning as the US faces the global resistance to American madness.

Killing for peace is not working. The empire is bankrupting us and has not made us any safer.  Unfortunately in the US the domestic politics of failure in military adventurism results in ever greater violence and lunacy on the part of the rich and religious fundamentalists, further feeding the rolling disaster.  The militarization of American police forces, matching the violence blasted from American weapons around the world can not bring us to healthy communities.

Unfortunately for the American ruling class and fundamentalists just as drone warfare is getting us nowhere in Asia,  police violence backfiring here as well.  And on that hopeful note I bid you good day.