Blog post

Today, Democratic leadership in the US Senate abandoned plans to tackle climate legislation before the end of the year. With midterm elections in October likely leading to a narrower majority for Democrats (or even a minority) in Congress, that decision may be an irrevocable one. Time will tell, though time is one thing of which we have very little left. That is if we want to get serious about, you know, making sure this is a planet that can actually support life as we know it. No biggie. There are certainly some politicians in Washington D.C. who share our disappointment, some who get how serious of a *^#$@% mess we're in. But let's be honest, our nation's capitol is in need of some serious backbone. We're not fooling ourselves in thinking that sending some plastic spines is going to somehow save our collective hides. But sometimes a statement just needs to be made. So, if you'd like to add your voice to this campaign, please join us. 200 down. 337 to go. With sadness and anger, Asher

Original date of posting: June 16, 2010

The horrific Gulf oil spill disaster has clearly shown that our nation's leaders need us to show them what it means to have a backbone. So let's do just that - let's send one directly to President Obama, Vice President Biden, and each and every member of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

For every donation of $10 (covers costs only) we will send President Obama or a member of Congress a spine with your name on it.

In his oval office address last night on the BP oil spill, President Obama took an important, though long overdue, step in acknowledging that the days of cheap and abundant energy are essentially over.

"For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked‚ not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor."

But the President failed to follow these words with any proposal or plan.

Not since Jimmy Carter has one of our nation's leaders shown the backbone to really take on our addiction to fossil fuels--afraid, perhaps, to suffer the same political fate as Carter--while with each passing day and year we run out of time and resources to avert disaster.

In his recent response to President Obama's speech Post Carbon Institute Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg wrote:

Maybe the Carter Curse is real. Perhaps straight talk about energy is political suicide. But if nobody at least tries - if no one has the courage to make specific proposals that are commensurate with the scale of the challenge that faces us - then the political survival of the current office holder is essentially irrelevant.

Clearly our nation's leaders haven't found the backbone to stand up to Big Oil and break our addiction to fossil fuels, so we're asking you to lend them yours.

Our nation's leaders need 537 backbones. With your help, we'll drop ship a big box of fortitude on Washington D.C.

Along with a toy spine sent in your name, we will also include an optional statement from you, to our leaders, about what you are doing in your life to kick the fossil fuel habit. We'lll be documenting our backbone shipments in pictures and videos that will be uploaded to the PCI Facebook page, so keep an eye out on this campaign's progress.

We need to send 536 spines to Washington D.C. pronto. This means we'lll need help, so please help us spread the word.

Update: in response to questions about the toy spines.

A number of people have asked us what the toy spines are made of and where they are made. While we haven't settled on which exact spine to send to our nation's elected leaders, the truth is:

  • They'll likely be made of plastic.
  • They'll likely be made in China.
  • They'll likely be thrown away after delivery.

That's the straight truth. For many of you, that's a deal-breaker. Understandable. But, like Obama himself likes to say, sometimes "we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." At least, that's our calculation, in this instance.

We ultimately decided, with clear misgivings, that we need to take action in the real world and, just as maintaining a website or email account gobbles its share of coal and oil, so do our efforts. While we work diligently to curb our consumption, both as individuals and as an organization, there are times when we find transgressing to be for the greater good. This includes this campaign, our limited air travel, our daily vehicle travel (though many of our staff work at home or commute by bike or public transportation - and we mandate one work at home day/week to reduce travel) and various operational challenges.

We're wide open to criticism on this one. And we'll own it. One person's acceptable trade off is another person's unjustifiable action. While we hope you understand, we in turn understand if you don't.

Post Carbon Institute will net nothing from donations for this campaign. Our intent is, with your help, to push our nation's leaders to find the guts (well, we thought it would be easier to send a fake spine than guts in the mail) to face our dangerous oil addiction before it's too late. In a perfect world we could do that without using fossil fuels ourselves or purchasing throw-away junk manufactured in China. But this is not a perfect world.

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Reader Comments


plastic toys

From: Liz McLellan, Jul 23, 2010 12:49 AM

I love the sentiment but a throw away plastic protest (from China no less) seriously undermines your position. I know it sounds really funny... and I did giggle... but that was all I did.

I really want to support you guys in this but I can't get behind the form of this because I don't think it will have the effect you seek and because it will damage your reputation among a majority of serious activists who work hard to think through the implications of their gestures...

IF I thought it would be strategically effective... I might give it more consideration...but I do not think it will have anything like the impact you hope for...

It's been a long day involving a very sick dog here...or I would try to help brainstorm another choice... but I am afraid my brain is on strike...

Liz McLellan (@hyperlocavore)

Agree with Don: Plastic is Perfect

From: Tod Brilliant, Jul 22, 2010 08:04 PM


You nail it. We live in a world made of oil. Sending a hemp spine (as if) wouldn't be realistic. Anything we do, any way we protest, we use oil. In typing this email, I'm burning diesel. In flying or driving to a beach to hold hands or to DC to picket, we consuming gasoline. What kind of message are we sending? One of protest that occurs in the real world. I say plastic spines DIPPED in dirty oil from my crappy Saab.

Obama Quote

From: Stewart Breier, Jul 22, 2010 06:45 PM

I like Obama's quote, "we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

I could see the spines being made out of Chrome, but only with greater sponsorship.

Plastic Spines from China

From: Don, Jul 22, 2010 05:52 PM

I think plastic spines from China is a somewhat poetic description of our current leadership. I say send 'em.

spines that speak the truth

From: miriam, Jul 13, 2010 07:44 PM

this is a great idea - i love the sense of humour and fun amid the very serious message. but... it's hypocritical to send them 'spines' made of plastic! though it may decrease the immediate emotional impact, let's honestly consider paper versions. perhaps just a few of the chinese plastic versions to the top dogs? LIVE IN THE MOVEMENT


From: Bob Fies, Jun 30, 2010 06:59 PM

Go for it! The spines need to go out before Congress adjourns and be accompanied and followed up w some sort of national news events perhaps by arranging guest appearances now w Oprah, Jon Stewart, etc. Sending plastic weakens your message but if it has to be I'll still support it. The spine IMO can be a POSITIVE message which the recipient can choose to display and not throw away because (s)he feels encouraged and recognized and good about having and using it. It's definitely a carrot. The sticks are negative votes for the spineless.

Have you considered making it out of corn (durable yet degradeble cups have been made out of corn forat least three yrs. email me and I can trace my cup to its mfgr)?

Have you considered engaging a PR firm to do pro bono work for you? There's lots of "unused capacity" in the industry now and you can give them good PR and pack a more potent message.


From: Valli Sanstrom, Jun 30, 2010 04:40 PM

I wish I had 10 disspensable bucks to spend sending a message to Obama and Congress to have some spine and stand up to big oil AND coal. Great idea and I believe plastic spines made in China are probably the only option since we don't make anything in the US anymore.

organic not plastic

From: Stewart Breier, Jun 20, 2010 03:49 PM

I know that plastic is the quick and easy solution, and as much as I like the idea of injecting congress with a quick shot of the substance, I favor a more organic solution. I want the spines to be organic and vegan with a nontoxic preservative gloss. They should also be manufactured in the U.S.A., though I would be at ease if the produce came from Mexico.

Captain of Stellar.Freighter, a San Diego business

toy spine

From: marion , Jun 19, 2010 05:14 PM

Just send a spine printed on paper--with a little thought and the input of an artist, it could be dramatic enough to make an impact. Why buy plastic junk from China that will just be thrown away? That's a TOTAL WASTE of money and resources.

one small salvo

From: Asher Miller, Jun 18, 2010 10:17 AM

Just a quick response to folks like Green Knight, Christopher, and Caren:

In no way do we envision this campaign as the end-all-be-all response to the energy crisis. The purpose is simple and largely symbolic: to call out our nation's leaders for not having the courage or conviction to face our fossil fuel dependency head on. Do we expect it to "solve" everything? No. Is this campaign the sum total of our work? No.

Do we expect it to have some impact? Yes, otherwise we wouldn't bother. But we're not deluding ourselves in thinking that this is anything but one, small salvo in the biggest battle of our lifetimes. Nothing less. Nothing more.


From: Tracy Carpenter, Jun 18, 2010 08:29 AM

If we want to spend money on a catchy statement in this manner, let me suggest: 1. The spines should be on a stand that could become a permanent display- possibly some might keep them around, or at least donate them to some other cause, instead of the trash bin - It is hypocritical for PCI to contribute such a high profile example of throw away plastics to our waste problem, and we would deservedly have lowered our reputation by doing so. 2. For every ten dollars we spend on this mailing, another $10 needs to go to a clean up effort on the coast, maybe something for the wildlife rescue efforts. If we do not stand behind our rhetoric, we will lose the crediblility upon which we depend.

growing a spine

From: Caren Black, Jun 17, 2010 10:09 PM

How about WE demonstrate to the world what a real "spine" looks like?

It's time to let the System go down the toilet where it belongs, not appeal to it with plastic toys from China like a supplicant child making unheeded demands.

It's time to understand that bought and paid for "leaders" will never listen to us, care about us, feed, clothe, house or support us.

It's time to do these things for ourselves and each other. Let go. True freedom is risky, but it feels good.

oil rigs and shrimp boats

From: Four Arrows, Jun 17, 2010 02:37 PM

Oil Rigs and Shrimp Trawlers: Same Problem, Different Vehicle

Last week I told my wife “If I hear anyone else refer to the plight of those who earn a living in the shrimp industry I am going to scream.” Well, I just listened to a radio segment telling a sad story about how a shrimp fisherman, whose family had been in the business for many generations, is going to have to find other work as a result of the British Petroleum oil catastrophe.
“Come on people!” (This represents my scream on paper). It is time to wake up. It is good that the shrimp trawlers and the coastal shrimp farmers will suffer or go out of business because of the oil tragedy. In fact, if enough go out of business, the effect would neutralize to some degree the horrible destruction of fisheries and ocean flora and fauna that the oil spill will continue to cause.
Please don’t get me wrong. I empathize with the shrimpers. On a person to person level, it should always make us sad when we see someone’s traditional livelihood taken away over night. However, if the general population of consumer oriented citizens, including politicians and t.v./radio commentators, were aware of the social and ecological consequences of our shrimp addiction, just maybe we would also start being more mindful about the real problems that connect BP’s ecological impact to our personal choices. If we could gain this perspective, maybe our grandchildren might have a chance to enjoy the beauty of life on Earth. Perhaps fresh water, clean air and healthy oceans would exist for them.
Dear reader, do you have any idea how destructive of fisheries and ocean ecology shrimp trawling and farming are? If you are like I was several years ago and are like most people I meet, the answer is “no.” I won’t detail the issues here. You merely need to spend an hour on the Internet, or read my booklet, The Shrimp Habit: Why it is Devastating Our World and What You Can Do About it. By the way, this is not an advertisement per se. All profits go to Oceans Revolution (, another place where you can learn about the significant problems associated with French fried shrimp, shrimp cocktails, etc. that make shrimp the most profitable seafood in the world and the most deadly for the environment..
OK, I assume at this point you do not aware of the shrimp business issues. I will also take the negative position that you are not likely going to do the research to find out. An even worse presumption on my part (based on experience) is that because you don’t want to stop eating shrimp in some form, even if your curiosity caused you to do the research, you would dismiss the facts because you don’t want to change your lifestyle. The habit and convenience (and taste) would ultimately be more important than preventing by-catch death (of more than 400 other forms of ocean life), ocean floor destruction, species extinction, chemical pollution, ocean apoxia, ground water contamination, murder, rape, child labor, and genocide that relate to your shrimp habit.
Well, if we can’t stop eating shrimp after knowing the truth about what our consumption habits are doing to the oceans and coasts, how on Earth can we stop our over-consumption of oil? Charging BP to pay for shrimp farmers to get new boats is not a solution to the problem facing us. Sure, I’m all for BP having to pay costs to compensate shrimpers and everyone else, but after BP is held accountable, we should begin a major boycott not only of shrimp but of any drop of oil beyond that which we absolutely need until we employ more sensible forms of energy.
Four Arrows (Wahinkpe Topa)
I prefer my Indian name, but for those who will instantly reject what I’ve said because I am an “Indian” author, I include my Anglo name (Don Trent Jacobs) with my Anglo credentials (Ph.D., Ed.D.) My website is

Are The Spines Made of Plastic?

From: Tod Brilliant, Jun 17, 2010 11:33 AM

Karen -

GREAT question. Most likely they will be made of plastic, unless we can find (still searching) wooden versions. Please see note at end of blog post that addresses this concern.

Keep fighting,

Tod & PCI

Toy Spines

From: B. Kessler, Jun 17, 2010 09:56 AM

Ask 'em to keep the spine on display as a reminder. That makes it a more durable item, a tad greener.
You could donate them to kids, but they might have lead paint. Also our kids aren't the ones in need of a backbone. We need that on their behalf.
Love the campaign.

Fossil Fuel Dependence

From: geoff cox, Jun 16, 2010 10:44 PM

Now is the time to DO SOMETHING - we must not delay. Recognise the fantastic opportunity we have to develop new industries and not let Asia beat us to the punch.

With millions of us unemployed and industry on it's knees we need you all to act. The country needs to be put on a war footing. Forget the War on Terror, and War on Drugs, and lets have a war on Oil Dependence.

Good luck and God Speed.

What is this "toy spine" made out of?

From: karen, Jun 16, 2010 09:58 PM

Could you please tell us what this this "toy spine" made out of? Plastic, paper -- what is it?