- Take more time eating breakfast
- Make it a point to go outside and get on your hands and knees. Find something tiny, something fragile.
- Observe the processes going on around us, especially those of the natural variety.
- Find nature even if you’re in an urban setting. Seek it out, preferably on foot.
- Plant a seed and make sure it grows. Best if it is something you can eat like a tomato.
- Be okay with being small.
- Think about your use of resources, especially fossil fuels. Reduce travel especially if it requires a plane or auto. Embrace trains and bicycles for travel.
- Reduce your use of resources. Then reduce it again. And again. Don’t stop.
- Increase your capacity to renew life around you. Start small. That tomato plant needs friends. Why not grow a pepper and some basil too?
- Take time to learn about the non-human species that inhabit your region.
- Mulch something. Mulch some of your grass lawn if you have a lawn. Grass lawns are a waste of resources. *Plant fruit trees or fruit bushes.
- Compost your organic waste. Don’t forget to dig into the pile every so often to check out the process.
- *Your tomatoes, peppers and basil are probably a little lonely. Plant some native wildflowers. There’s a bird or a butterfly just waiting to be fed by the flowers you plant.
- Remember, smaller homes require fewer resources to build, maintain, heat and cool.
- Share resources with your friends and neighbors.
The current rate of extinctions compared to the geological norm is now several thousandfold faster, making this the sixth great mass extinction event in Earth’s history, and thus the start of the Anthropocene in its clearest demarcation, which is to say, we are in a biosphere catastrophe that will be obvious in the fossil record for as long as the Earth lasts.
It’s taken me far too long but I’m finally reading The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. In the paragraph before the quote above, he provides a list of recently extinct species, from that list: Saudi gazelle
Very sad news but not surprising. From habitat destruction to climate change to chemical agriculture, we’re wreaking havoc. Monarch butterflies are now listed as endangered
It seems fairly common amongst humans in modern societies that we seem to focus on our individual selves, we identify as singular human beings. Setting aside the importance of socialization and being a part of families, the human community, and the larger ecological community, it might also be worth mentioning that our individual human body is also not what it seems. Welcome to the human microbiome. Your body is human, bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists and viruses.
The human body is full of bacteria, and in fact is estimated to contain more bacterial cells than human cells.
Our bodies play host to a wide variety of microbes, called the human microbiota, that outnumber our own cells by about 10 to 1.
In any human body there are around 30 trillion human cells, but our microbiome is an estimated 39 trillion microbial cells including bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on and in us.
Due to their small size, these organisms make up only about 1-3 per cent of our body mass, but this belies the microbiome’s tremendous power and potential.
We have around 20-25,000 genes in each of our cells, but the human microbiome potentially holds 500 times more.
Moreover, the ability of microbes to evolve quickly, swap genes, multiply and adapt to changing circumstances give them – and us, their hosts – remarkable abilities that we’re only now beginning to fathom.
If you’ve read this blog for long you may have picked up that I’m a bit of an Apple fan. But it’s also true that I have, since around 1990, I have oriented the way I live my life around the question, “Is this good for the health of the Earth?” Those that know me would probably agree with the suggestion that I’m a bit extreme in that regard. The way I look at it is that it is, fundamentally, a question lived ethics and survival. What we do everyday impacts not only our future survival but the survival of countless other species with which we share the planet. Our choices thus far have been leading us to the extinction of other species and quite possibly our own. Our time on this planet does have an expiration date. One day humans will no longer exist on this planet. That’s a given. But will we end our time here prematurely due to poor behavior? Increasingly it looks as though we will.
I have long argued (as many have) that capitalism is incompatible with the longterm health of the planet. As an economic system it is focused on profit and specifically short-term profit. Corporations have demonstrated time and time again that they don’t do well when it concerns the environment and questions of human social justice. In the past ten years Apple has begun to demonstrate that it is possible continue making a profit even as it undergoes a dramatic shift in it’s social and environmental impact from a negative to a positive. Apple isn’t just minimizing its negative impact but is attempting and succeeding at creating a significant positive impact.
In recent years as it makes these changes it has made an effort to communicate to the public what it is doing. On the face of it it’s pretty easy to dismiss as the usual greenwashing that many companies engage in when they care about that aspect of how they appear to the public. In other words, marketing. But here’s the thing, Apple has gone so far in changing the way it operates that it no longer appears to be trying to convince the public that it is a good corporate “citizen”. They have seemingly made it a part of their mission to set the bar of conduct at a new level. This is a sustained effort to shift the fundamentals of the company from one that prioritizes profit to one which puts environmental impact on an equal footing.
In the lead-up to Earth Day 2017 we’ve seen a push by Apple to share what it’s been doing in these areas. In past years they have done the same but with each passing year as the scope of their commitment deepens it seems to be a shift from corporate marketing to one in which Apple sees a “teachable moment” and is educating the public not for it’s own benefit but for the public good. They are setting an example not just for corporations but even for citizens and governments. They aren’t just meeting the too-low requirements and goals set out by governments. They are exceeding them and raising the bar and not just by a little. And then they are saying to the world, do better. Do much better.
A day or so ago John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show published an interview with Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of Environmental Policy. I remember when Lisa Jackson moved over to Apple having served 4 years as head of the EPA under Obama. At the time I just figured, oh, the usual high-level corporate/government revolving door. I didn’t pay much attention to her. But listening to that interview I can only say that I am really impressed. She’s a fantastic asset to Apple as well as an excellent STEM role model who also addresses the connection between STEM and our social and ecological problems and needs. I’ve listened to it twice and might give it a third go. She offers some fascinating details about how Apple operates in relation to resources.
As an activist who protested Nike in the late 90s for it’s overseas labor policies I was keenly aware that Apple was having it’s own labor issues in the early 2000s (and probably before). I began paying attention then to both the labor and environmental practices of my favorite technology company with some hope that they would “Think Different” in their dealings with the world around them. They have not disappointed. While progress was made when Jobs was at the helm their move towards greater social and environmental responsibility really increased when Tim Cook took over. The focus on the social and environmental responsibility has intensified greatly over the past 5 years. This interview is an excellent summary of those changes. But what is truly breathtaking is the scope and depth to which they have gone.
It’s easy these days to become mired in a mix of hopelessness, despair, frustration and disgust. Our political system seems equal parts corrupt, inept, and circus. On the issue of climate change the U.S. has proven largely ineffectual and confused. From the public to government to business, we’ve made little progress at far too slow a rate. It seems very likely that we are past the point of no return and that all there is to do now is adapt and attempt to minimize what now seems to be inevitable. But I listen to this interview and not only am I inspired but I’m embarrassed that it is a company… a capitalist enterprise that is actually leading the way, that is setting the best possible example not only for other companies but for citizens. As someone who has long considered himself an activist (of sorts) I suddenly feel a bit ashamed of my despair. That might not be exactly it or quite the best way to put it but it’s close.
Also, Apple has put together four videos for Earth Day 2017. Good stuff.
And yet another bit of Apple and the environment bit of news, Macworld reports that Apple will return heat generated by data center to warm up homes:
Apple is building a new data center in Denmark, and it has some interesting ideas on how to power the data center with renewable energy, while also giving back to the community.
Excess heat generated by the data center will be captured and returned to the local district’s heating system, which will warm up homes in the community.
This is just one example of many that illustrates the scope of commitment that Apple is making to this effort. This is exactly the sort of project that Lisa Jackson is describing in the above linked interview with John Gruber.
Last but not least, Apple is set to move into it’s new headquarters, Apple Park. Much work is still being done but April was to be the month that employees started moving over. To say that I’m impressed with Apple Park would be a huge understatement. From native and edible landscaping to the heating and cooling to the local energy production, it is, by all accounts, the standard for large scale green architecture and landscaping.
As is my usual routine I took my dog Cosmo out for our walk to the mailbox yesterday. Along the way I had a thought about the precariousness of our existence on Earth. We live in this sort of illusion as our daily life is wrapped in an assumption of stability. For the most part our human brains encounter the same environment everyday. Most of us wake up in the morning and are active during the day. The light from our sun scatters in our atmosphere, heating and lighting and otherwise presenting a world around us that seems stable. Somedays are cloudy, others sunny, often a mix of the two. As we go about our days we see a mix of human and non-human species, natural and human environments. We eat and breath, work, play, and talk.
But our life on this planet exists on the thinnest of onion skins. The biosphere of our planet, the zone in which all life happens is remarkably thin. While the actual thickness of the biosphere is not easily measured it generally falls within a range of 6.5 miles. At the highest we have birds flying as high as 1.1 mile and at the depth we have fish 5.2 miles below the water. There are examples of higher flying birds and deeper dwelling organisms but they are exceptions to the general. The diameter of the earth is 7,918 miles. The radius is 3,959 miles. Almost all life on our planet lives on the outer 6.5 miles of that.
As an amateur astronomer I’ve spent a good bit of time viewing and contemplating space and distance. For all of the beauty of the stars in the night sky, space is mostly empty. The space between stars is vast. The space between galaxies even more so. If we just turn our attention to our own solar system and what exists here well, again, it’s mostly empty space. Our Sun makes up 99.86% of the matter in our solar system. Our Earth, though it is the densest planet in the solar system, is only the tiniest proportion of the mass of our solar system. It barely registers. On the scale of our solar system our Earth is merely a tiny point separated from the sun and other planets by vast distances. To get a sense of it watch this amazing video by Wylie Overstreet in which three guys drove out to the desert of Nevada with a to-scale model to demonstrate the spacing of our solar system.
Our lived experience, our world, is just a precarious, thin layer on what amounts to a very tiny planet. On a clear, dark night I can lookup and see several thousand stars with my naked eyes. In remote locations such as mine there is little light pollution and the atmosphere disappears. It is in this star-lit darkness that I can begin to experience the Earth as a space ship of sorts. It really is a living space ship. In our orbit around the sun we move through space at 67,000 miles per hour. But remember, our solar system is also moving around the center of the Milky Way galaxy at 490,000 miles per hour. Of course we don’t see it or feel it directly but it is happening nonetheless.
Life on Earth is precarious. It’s stability is not permanent. Our sense of day-to-day continuity is something we’re used to and something we assume will continue. I’d suggest that if more people had a better sense of how it all works, had a better sense of just how thin the envelope of safety is, perhaps they might be more inclined to take seriously the warning of science regarding climate change, habitat loss and other aspects of biosphere stability. It’s too late to stop much of what we’ve set in motion but if we don’t make real change very soon we will experience the worst case scenarios.
I’m big on small and have been for much of my adult life. Not just small but tiny if at all possible. What might it mean to be small?
I’d suggest that we just start by acknowledging our own smallness. We spend much of our lives in a relentless effort to find or create our identity which is a part of proving our worth to the world around us. It might be that we do this with good deeds or, as often seems to be the case, with accumulation of one sort or another. It’s this latter bit that leads so many to a lifetime of bigger houses, faster cars, prettier clothing.
But really, we are, each of us just a tiny being sharing a tiny planet with 7 billion other tiny beings such as ourselves. And, of course, our tiny planet is just one of many billions in our galaxy which is itself just one of many billions in the known universe. To say that we are small is an understatement. And yet, our scale, both in physical size as well as in time, is what we experience day to day. It’s what we know and what we function in.
Our lives are small in so many ways. In the span of humanity we are but a tiny blip. Humanity itself is just a moment in the larger span of time. It’s easy to feel insignificant and in a strange way we many of us spend much of our lives trying to prove ourselves otherwise. Steve Jobs referred to it as “putting a dent in the universe.” The striving to leave a mark, to leave our mark. Sadly, in our striving to leave a mark, the collective mark we may leave is more a scar on the tiny planet we inhabit. Our mark might well be not just our own extinction but it is, as I write these words, the extinction of many other species.
Another example of small is small as in intimate, which is to say, being aware of the simple things up close. When I take a walk in the woods I walk slowly. I’m happy to take a long hike for exercise but to truly explore I only need to venture out a few hundred feet outside my door. More often than not we miss the little detail going on all around us. It might be a cluster of tiny fungi growing in a carpet of moss. Or a snail moving across a rock. Those tiny things are easy to miss, especially for adults. We get busy with making life complicated and we tower so far above our toes that we rarely take the time or make the effort to see the world around us from a different perspective. Some of the most interesting stuff of life happens on this small scale.
What begins as awareness can grow into appreciation and respect. It’s been my experience and observation that in the hustle and bustle of “modern” life we have disconnected from many important processes that are obvious if we’re paying attention but easily invisible if we’re not. Everything from soil building via decay to the hatching of turtle eggs to the transformation of a Monarch from larvae to butterfly. Life and death is happening all around us.
I’ll admit here the limits of these words. As much as I respect science and the scientific method I’m not a scientist and what I can offer here is personal perspective based on observation. Like many of the words shared throughout history, be it on paper or pixel, I am, in my own way, reaching out. Not so much to convince as to connect. Might I suggest we might do better embrace small? It is really just another way of suggesting that we embrace fragility. That we acknowledge that the life on our planet rests precariously on a tiny edge that we are collectively tipping out of balance.
So, how might this embrace manifest itself in how we live our lives? I’ve got a list! By no means exhaustive. Just a few of the things I try to implement in my life. Just something to get you started.
It’s Royal’s birthday so I’ll put on a happy face. But this. This. I’m having a real hard time imagining a summertime without Monarchs. What else will we kill off because we don’t know how to live within limits, don’t know how to live as species that recognizes the needs of other species. Every grass lawn, every golf course is a problem.
Prime example, I’ve just had a bit of a family kerfluffle because now that I’m not living at the lake they are making changes. Gone are the native wildflowers, including the butterfly milkweed I planted (the exact food source mentioned in this article), the coneflowers, etc…. replaced by? Grass. Every area we humans occupy (at least those of us I have come to know in my life) we insist upon wiping nature clean with a green lawn or concrete.
Of course I often hear “Oh what does this one little patch matter”? There’s more growing over there (wave hands in some direction). It is as though we each live in a bubble and unwilling to acknowledge that what we do matters because millions (in this nation) of others are doing it as well. The denial of collective behavior and collective effect is very intentional.
So, today Monarchs. Tomorrow?
Specifically my personal future and also thinking a bit about this blog. I’ve obviously not been very consistent with updates. Honestly, I put some of the blame for that on Facebook. I’m sure I am not the only one who spends too much time there. While it is great for sharing I thing the downside is that much of that sharing is just reposting. I am also leery of so much content being under one roof so to speak.
So, still here. With the crazy heat and drought of this past summer my garden suffered as did the many trees and bushes I put in over the past four years. That said, almost all of my perennials survived even if they didn’t thrive. Luckily the veggie garden was, by chance, smaller. The climate future looks increasingly scary for those of us that want to eat food, wink wink.
As for my project here, it will continue for the time being though I struggle to remain enthusiastic with the annual veggies. Something about three months of intense drought and heat seems to make my garden time outside a bit less enjoyable. Our well is shallow which means I either need to haul water from the lake or invest several thousand into a new well. Climate change is ugly.
So, I’m thinking that it is time to add in a new element of activity which reflects a new interest (actually a childhood/life interest that has been sitting in a corner of my mind): astronomy! Well, science in general, but astronomy especially. While I have no intention of abandoning the permaculture work I think having another primary activity is a good thing and in the winter when growing is out I’ll have something very interesting to explore, namely, our universe.
Which brings me back to one my thoughts on the blog. I’ve not been consistent in writing about my permaculture/homestead efforts but do think I might be more consistent in reporting on my astronomical explorations as it is the sort of interest that lends itself to data collection and reporting. Should I do that here as a supplement to my other interests or do I start an astronomy based blog? Actually, I think I just sorted it out as I write. I’ll keep it here but will not just add in my astronomical observations but will also add in other science related material.
Actually, and don’t laugh, but I have this vision of humanity (or myself?) that connects to a few episodes/films from Star Trek that have always stuck with me. In particular, those which seem to showcase small, egalitarian villages in which science seems to not only co-exist with daily life, but informs a deeper and greater understanding of the relationship between humans and nature and the larger universe. Contrast this to our modern manifestation which seems to have largely become a tool for corporate profit with little regard to ethics. A great example would be GMOs and modern industrial agriculture as it might compare to a decentralized permaculture-based system informed by local and thoughtful observation.
One outlook, the modern corporate/capitalist/industrial, uses science primarily as a tool for the accumulation of wealth. The other uses science as a method for deepening our understanding of the natural world around us not just for technological development, but for the sake of understanding. In this second outlook the ethics of use would be an important part of the overall process and would include all sorts of new questions and concerns in any sort of possible application of scientific knowledge. In fact, one might say that the second view represents a kind of democratization of applied science.
Wow. I didn’t expect to take this post in this direction but it is interesting and it is something I’ve thought about off and on over the years so, yeah, I’ll be back to this at some point. Another area that I’d like to explore is science literacy and critical thought. There has been a long trend in the U.S. which seems to be gaining a bit of steam when, in fact, it should be losing steam and that is the movement against science. Such a movement can only happen when there is a lack of communication of knowledge. When people are ignorant of established scientific knowledge and the basic method which serves as its foundation there is room for manipulation.
So, you can expect that I’ll be spending some time discussing not just science but specifically science literacy. I’m not a trained scientist but I think I know enough to discuss some issues as a citizen. Specifically I’m likely to dig into the entwined relationship of politics, religion and global capitalism have been used to undermine science literacy to further their capacity as control agents: social, political, economic, ecological… everything from the genetics of corn to humans, from crowd control to the “entertainment” that comes out of the glowing screens in living rooms. Science and technology can be used in many ways for many different and often opposing agendas. I think that will be some interesting exploration.
There is also some real life stuff I’m hoping to make happen that reflects all of this, specifically a few ideas for how I might further science literacy here in rural Missouri where it is greatly needed. I’ll share that as well.
Deer hunting is in full swing these days. Last weekend my brother and uncle both shot deer. The taking of life is something I’ve been thinking about lately. A month ago I wrote about the two dogs I had to kill. I’ve thought about them off and on since that day and last weekend went to see their decaying bodies where I put them under a couple of trees. They are returning to nature and in that I find a bit of comfort. Nothing in nature is wasted. I don’t have a problem with death. It is inevitable and beautiful in its own way. We all return.
I suppose what I have a problem with is the unnecessary taking of life. When we butchered three of the roosters back in September I was okay with that because it really needed to be done. I’ve been catching and eating fish out of the lake over the past year and I’m okay with that because I know there are GOBS of fish in the lake. Harvesting fish and chickens when necessary for management I can deal with. Harvesting deer I can deal with because I know there are lots of them and they are an excellent source of local protein. I’ve been thinking that I might hunt a few rabbits or squirrels this winter because there are lots of them here. LOTS. I’m not sure I’ll do it though it fits into my plan of more local protein via very select harvesting of a variety of animals.
I have a block in my brain. I imagine a deer, rabbit, or squirrel going about its business of living. I imagine in vivid detail that rabbit in all it’s fuzzy adorableness and then I imagine its life coming to a sudden and violent end not by owl or fox but by a bullet. I know, rationally that death is a part of nature and as I said above, I embrace that cycle of life. Nature is organisms consuming one another, the constant movement of energy through consumption and digestion. I also know that local protein from a rabbit or squirrel is a healthy way for me to obtain protein. The alternative is to continue importing it from offsite in the form of a variety of beans, rice and other vegetable sources. I’m fairly certain that the most ecologically sustainable protein would be the local meat especially when it is actually on site.
I think I know that the most natural, energy efficient way for me to sustain my body is to strive for local food which means gardening and hunting. Because vegetable protein is so easily available at the grocery store I’ve allowed myself to view hunting as optional, unnecessary. I don’t NEED to hunt to survive. But the truth is that if I don’t make an effort to get food by hunting (and gardening) I’ll continue relying on imported energy from the grocery store which means thousands of food miles from who knows where. Of course, there is the looming economic depression which IS coming regardless of any can kicking by the Obama folks. Of course here is also peak oil and crazy weather, both of which will impact food production in the short and long terms. My point is that right now conditions permit that I can think and debate this with myself but the time may not be far off where I am forced to hunt by disruptions in the food supply. And I do believe that day is coming, sooner rather than later.
A part of my problem is a constant sense of guilt. I’ve gotten into the pattern of trying to offset what I deem to be the “bad” behavior of other people. Whether it is climate change or industrial agriculture’s method of meat production, the more I see others around me showing a lack of concern the more determined I am. The result is that I am very sensitive to the possibility that I might drive a car unnecessarily which is a direct response to seeing so many others show no care at all in their use of oil or coal. Quite honestly, I went through a couple years of pretty intense depression. I was so frustrated, angry, sad at my perception that most people don’t care about the impact of their lives that I wanted to end my own. I just shut down. Stopped going out in public. Stopped visiting family. Not only did I not want to get in a car but I often did not even want to eat. I wanted to crawl into the crook of big tree and fade away. When I moved to the cabin I had not planned on connecting to people again. I figured I’d find what little happiness I could alone in a garden and little cabin by the lake.
Back to my point, I think my reluctance to eat meat is a direct response to living in a country/culture where eating meat is just an accepted part of life. Most people I’ve ever known don’t really care about the welfare of the animals they eat and any kind of cruelty those animals may have endured before being butchered is simply a non-issue to them. You can see where this is going. My response has been to develop a very deep emotional connection to the animals around me. Whether it is a tufted titmouse, canada goose, white-tail deer, swallowtail butterfly or any of the critters around me, I respect their existence. How can I not? I’m struggling to reconcile this respect for the individuals with my understanding that in a healthy, natural ecosystem some animals eat other animals. Humans are animals after all. We are a part of it all. True as that is it is also true that we’ve allowed ourselves to become completely disconnected from what sustains us and with this alienation comes a dangerous ability to disrespect. I think we’ve forgotten that we are, in fact, animals and that we share this planet with many other species. We are just one. We like to think that we’re special because of our “intelligence” and yet I see what we’ve done with it and I can do is shake my head.
We humans, in our grand intelligence, have made war upon one another and upon the planet our way of life. Given this context I’ve made a habit of trying very hard to do no harm. I know that I’ve failed, I’ve done plenty of harm. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try. In any case, I’ve been thinking about what it means for me to survive and whether or not I’ll start hunting.
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Several weeks ago I finally made the short journey down to see Roger’s place. I’d met Roger this past fall through Ruth Ann and the Cowboy Coffee. It’s funny actually, the first or second time I’d gone into the coffee shop Roger was at the far end with Ruth and Juli and they were dancing and goofing off and it was at that moment that I knew that the coffee shop was going to be my favorite reason to drive into town.
Since then I’ve had some great conversations with Roger and he occasionally mentioned his farm south of town in the foothills of the Ozarks. It was obvious the very first time he told me some of the story of his family and this farm that this was a connection to the land far deeper than the norm. Of course, really, that’s not saying much is it? We live in a time when the norm seems to be constant migration with little to no connection to the land. Family farms and land based living has declined steadily for many decades. The norm today is the suburban subdivision or a place in the city. There are rarely any kind of long term connections formed to these places as they are simply meant for relatively short term occupancy by any one family, often 15 years or less.
Roger and his family have woven a different kind of story which is based on an intimacy with a landscape that is hard to really understand. His family first began living there in the mid 1800s and have been there ever since. Roger grew up there and continues to live in a house he built in the 1980s. The house he grew up in, built around the turn of the last century, is a stone’s throw away and is his son’s home today.
On the day of our trip my time was a bit limited so I got the “short” tour. I think we were there for maybe 1.5 hours and having seen what I saw in that time I know that it was the short tour. One could easily spend a day there. Or a lifetime. This is no ordinary place. As we walked and drove around Roger narrated with fantastic detail the various stories of the generations of his family.
The farm is deep down in a valley and feels protected, cradled by the hills. It stays cooler down here. The soil is pretty rocky too though there are quite a few areas which have been cultivated over the years.
We started with the beautiful white two story turn of the century home that he grew up in and then slowly moved further into the landscape and as we went the stories he told went further back in time. There are three springs on the property which, over the years, served as the family’s primary water source. In fact, the proximity to the springs was a primary reason for the location of the homestead. At one of these I bent down and for the first time in my life cupped my hands to drink the sweet water from a cold, natural spring. It flowed from under a tree into the rocky creek gravel. Fantastic.
From there we worked our way down the creek to the original family house which had been cut into three sections and moved from the original location further back which we also saw towards the end of our tour. This was an old, old house. Roger’s grandfather’s bedroom was left as it was when he died many years ago and given the state of the house and lack of windows seemed surprisingly intact. Roger told me of another spring that had been directed to the house using a pipe and showed me the buried tub that had been used to keep fish after they had been caught and before being eaten. In the cold flowing creek just outside the house a very nice bit of water cress was growing and I enjoyed several bites. I’m going to have to see if I can get some of that growing here because it was very tasty!!
Something else that Roger was sure to point out were the trees. So many wonderful trees were growing here! There was a nice mix of very old and young trees as well and the diversity of species was really fantastic. I’d imagine that it would be very interesting to explore the evolution of the land here in much greater detail. Roger knows trees and he knows the trees growing on the farm with great intimacy. In fact, he seems to know every inch of the land which brings me to the heart of this post. While I was in awe of the beauty of this landscape I think it was Roger’s connection to it that really struck me.
To spend an entire lifetime in one place seems very rare these days. That it is such a beautiful place and one that has served as a home for so many generations of a family only deepens an already profound relationship. I cannot really fathom such intimacy with the land. Those of you that know me or that read this blog you know my current adventure trying to co-create this permaculture homestead. I’ve barely been here a year and I already feel more at home. This is a place I spent many of my childhood summers and so there is that connection too. But my childhood memories and my knowledge of my ancestors includes several states and cities and many different yards and homes. There is no long term base for our family.
From the old family house we passed the remains of an old wagon worked our way down and through various pastures and to the creek where there were many beautiful pawpaws growing. Roger relayed the story of the all-day trip to pick-up the wagon from Farmington which, like another story about his grandfather walking to Mine La Motte (20+ miles each way), really gives perspective to life without the combustion engine. It also serves as a reminder of what the automobile has done to change our relationship to the natural world around us. You don’t see many details, smell any honeysuckle, or hear the song of birds when you travel in an air conditioned bubble at 60 mph.
The creek served as a place to swim, play and get cleaned up and I can’t imagine a better place to spend an afternoon. As we crossed the creek on foot to see the steep hillside opposite of the field I was again reminded of the amazing diversity of species in the area. I think if I were to spend much more time there I would begin getting a sense of the patterns and history of the plants and trees but in such a short time it was too much to take in. On the far side of the field away from the creek was a pine covered hill and small pond, an ideal area for blueberries I’d imagine. It was around this time that we circled back and my tour ended.
I look forward to another trip down there when I have more time to take in the details without feeling so overwhelmed. As I come to the end of this post I can’t help but feel that I’m missing something. I think when you’ve had a glimpse of something like this, something special with a history you also leave with questions. History is a story and an old homestead such as this feels like a window or, more accurately, a door that can be stepped through. Having Roger there to tell the history no doubt deepens the appreciation and understanding even as the stories evoke a sense of the unknown. In a strange way it is also a very direct connection to the ongoing flow of history. Roger is a part of it. We all are.
“Time is an enormous, long river and I am standing in it just as you are standing in it. My elders were the tributaries and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, every song they created and every poem they laid down flows down to me and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, take the time to reach out I can build that bridge between my world and theirs, I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world.”
–Utah Phillips from the song Bridges
Fantastic color last night. We’ve had more and more ducks showing up day-to-day. For a week there were maybe 5 and then 10 and suddenly there were 200 or more out there. They’re not close enough to get a good look but no matter, I’m just glad they are out there. Now that spring has come the nights are filled with frog song. I’m surrounded by this amazing life force… all of these beautiful creatures with their many voices. Yup, it’s a party.
Rob Hopkins of the Transition Town movement has an excellent post: about the need for fairly drastic 9% cuts in carbon emissions that we need to avert climate change. His post reminds me of something I wrote nearly a year ago, namely that we need a global recession. Humans have thus far proven incapable of dealing with this issue in any meaningful way. A recession or depression, though very difficult, will force the solution.
From Hopkins' post:
Last week a friend sent me a stunning, thinking-shifting powerpoint by Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre’s Energy Programme entitled Reframing Climate Change: from long-term targets to emission pathways. If you want a sobering and, frankly, deeply depressing, update on the implications of the latest climate science, this is as good a place to start as any. It looks at the scale of the year-on-year emissions that we need to make, and it is quite something. Given that we need to aim to stay below 450ppm in order to have any chance of avoiding runaway climate change (and even that, as the Climate Safety report, issued last week, and the recent testimony from Tim Helwig-Larsen and James Hansen at the House of Commons set out, is almost certainly not enough), what does that actually mean in terms of emissions cuts?
If , Anderson argues, we were to aim for 650ppm with global emissions peaking in 2020, we would need 3% annual cuts starting today. A huge task in itself. If we want to aim for 550ppm with emissions peaking in 2020, we would need 6% annual reductions (which means 9% reductions in emissions from energy generation). If we go for the 450ppm target, which is, realistically, the one that has any chance of preserving a stable climate, we need 9% reductions, every year, for the foreseeable future, starting now. 9%.
9% is just a number though, and as one wades through the climate change literature one is bombared with numbers… but having studied this presentation, 9% is clearly an important one, perhaps as important as Bill McKibben’s 350. What might it actually mean in practice? Anderson goes on to look at the rare occasions in the past when reductions have actually been achieved by ‘developed’ nations. Annual reductions of greater than 1% p.a. have, he argues, quoting the Stern Report, only ‘been associated with economic recession or upheaval’. Interesting.
I have little doubt that we have entered a greater depression or what James Kunstler calls the Long Emergency. The landscape of the United States is changing by the day and by the end of 2009 it will be very different place. We can waste resources fighting this inevitability or we can embrace it. I have chosen to embrace it by shifting to a greatly simplified life based on permaculture. I’ll do my best to become self sufficient and to share my surpluses.
What does a simple life like this look like? In the first 8 months of living at my homestead I’ve happily lived on 2-3 kWh a day (the U.S. average is around 31 a day) with no refrigerator, microwave, or other major appliances. I use a couple of compact fluorescent lights, a laptop, and, on occasion, a television. I haul water from a well and use 3-5 gallons a day. I cook with propane or wood stove which is also my heat in the winter. All humanure is composted for use on fruit trees after 2 years. I drive to town once a week. Next years expanded garden should produce much of my year’s food. If I can preserve it properly maybe most of my food. When the food forest has matured I’m hoping to be able to produce all my food for the year except for the rice and wheat.
Having lived a similar life at the deCleyre co-op in Memphis, TN I have little doubt that a great deal can be done on any suburban or city lot. Striving for a smaller carbon footprint and greater self reliance can happen anywhere though certainly those with more land can grow more. Washing clothes by hand and hanging to dry can happen practically anywhere as can food preparation from scratch.
The key is to take a hard look at what we use and assume as the normal, needed appliances. We often don’t need them, but have gotten used to them. The 9% reduction discussed in the article above is a very large cut from what we currently use. It will require that we all garden, reduce driving to only essential or emergency trips, and drastically reduce our consumption. In other word,s 9% is not accomplished by the easy stuff like changing light bulbs. It means little or no air conditioning, heating in the winter to 55 or 60 rather than 72. Imagine cutting your electrical use by half and then cut that in half again. Now cut it in half one more time. Anyone can do these things but it will not be easy and it will require commitment to drastic change. It really is that simple.
One last thought. For those that want to believe that we can solve this problem with technology. It is NOT going to happen that way. Sure, we can build out solar and wind power capacity and we should. But that is only part of the answer, probably the smallest part. The largest part will be the drastic conservation that we can all do RIGHT NOW without any government legislation or infrastructure change.
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Apparently there is talk that Al Gore might be head of the EPA in the Obama administration and just over a week ago Gore wrote up a dream list which was published in the New York Times.
One of my current favorite authors, Sharon Astyk, in her post A New Deal or a War Footing? Thinking Through Our Response to Climate Change wonders why there is no mention of lowering consumption. This is something I’ve written about before. Earlier this year I wrote that, in fact, a global economic recession was exactly what was needed as a way of forcing the lowering of consumption and thus a lowering of climate impact. From Sharon’s blog:
Quick - what’s not on this list? I bet you noticed, too - there’s no mention of consumption, either as an economic issue or at the personal level. Rather like coming out of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ we’re left with the message that there’s nothing for us to do other than lobby our fearless leaders.
What’s wrong with that? Addressing climate change manifestly requires policy solutions - but again we see ourselves trapped in the false dichotomy I discuss in Depletion and Abundance between public and private. There is no question in the world that consumption is a policy issue - 70% of our economy depends on consumer spending and personal consumption. Yet again we are being told that ‘personal action’ is something you do in the dark that makes no difference, while the really important stuff happens at the government tables.
In fact, in reality, we know differently. At US government tables we’ve seen exactly 0 major policy shifts so far - yes, we had the worst president imaginable, but that doesn’t change the fact that under Clinton, when Gore was vice-president, we saw the same zippo. At the same time, as consumers have slowed their spending, we’ve seen projections of world oil use fall dramatically - for the first time in decades, we are expecting an actual contraction in the use of oil. Earlier this year, actual driving miles fell dramatically - as much as 6% year over year. Now these things were in reaction to high prices - but they were consumption decisions made by private households that in the aggregate made more real difference in the impact of our emissions than all the treaties we’ve violated or refused to sign.
The assumption, of course, is that we make changes for economic reasons, but that we’d never make them for ecological reasons. My answer to that is simply this - no one has tried asking Americans to make major shifts in their lifestyle for the good of their country and their ecology in 30 years. We assume we know that this would never succeed - in practice, we don’t have the slightest idea what would happen.
Consumption is not simply accidentally left off the table by people who underestimate its power or prefer only to focus on legislation, it is left off because thinking about consumption undermines some of the presumptions of wholly technical and policy solutions. In fact, if we addressed consumption, we might have to change our basic assumptions about what we can accomplish.
Think about Gore’s list above in relation to consumption. The first thing, of course, that jumps out at you is the claim we have to bail out the car companies, even though, as Deutsche Bank announced, GM is worth nothing - its stock is worth absolutely nothing. Think about that one for a second, and consider what has to underly our presumptions that we should bail out a car company - underlying it is the assumption that we will all be buying cars again fairly soon - shiny new electric ones.
That is, underlying the assumptions of a Gore-style New Deal is the idea that we can do temporary bail outs because our consumption is going to go back up - only this time we’ll be consuming green products, including our electric cars. There are several problems with this - the obvious one being that it isn’t clear what will fund our ability to buy these new cars in the coming years. The assumption is that the new green jobs will do so - and perhaps that’s true, but there’s a ‘turtles all the way down’ quality to this analysis - the new deal will give us the ability to make these shifts, and the money will then only be spent for good (despite the fact that historically, the more we spend, the more we consume)….I’m not convinced anyone knows how that might happen.
Sharon offers many details in her thought provoking analysis of the energy input vs return in the massive renewable energy program that the Gore approach entails. I encourage you toread her post in it’s entirety.
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