There’s a neat symmetry in the numbers which helped to sink the European summit. The proposed budget was €50bn higher than the UK government could accept(1). This is the amount of money that European farmers are given every year(2). Britain’s contentious budget rebate is worth €3.6bn a year(3): a fraction less than our contribution to Europe’s farm subsidies(4).
Squatting at the heart of last week’s summit, poisoning all negotiations, is a vast wobbling lump of pork fat called the Common Agricultural Policy. The talks collapsed partly because the president of the European Council, pressed by the Francois Hollande, proposed inflating the great blob by a further €8bn over six years(5). I don’t often find myself on their side, but the British and Dutch governments were right to say no.
It is a source of perpetual wonder that the people of Europe tolerate this robbery. Farm subsidies are the 21st century equivalent of feudal aid: the taxes mediaeval vassals were forced to pay their lords for the privilege of being sat upon(6). The single payment scheme, which accounts for most of the money, is an award for owning land. The more you own, the more you receive.
The author scopes out an oyster reef in Pamlico Sound, NC
Photo Credit: Jason Gerhardt
Being a resident of the dryland Western US, I should probably be thinking more about wildfire and drought than storm surge and coastal erosion, but for some reason, I’ve been drawn to the shoreline recently. As I have yet to come across any significant permaculture analysis or design strategy for barrier islands and associated coasts, most of this discussion is drawn from applying permaculture design thinking to other research. My hope is that this article will inspire others to develop and contribute more specific permaculture content for such important ecosystems and communities.
As large hurricanes continually batter the Eastern coast of the United States, causing catastrophic damage and human suffering, it is time to think about how permaculture design applies to human communities in such environments. From 100-year floods to wildland fire to coastal superstorms, modern infrastructure is proving to be insufficiently designed to deal with such destructive forces of nature. As permaculture designers, we attempt to work with nature, harmonizing what we design with natural forces, while using those forces as a resource, patterning after them, pacifying them, or deflecting them.
The inherent nature of barrier islands and associated coastline is one of rapid and constant change — literally a foundation of shifting sands. Constant disturbance is perhaps the antithesis of permaculture (permanent-culture), so the question must be asked: how does permaculture apply in a place like this? Do we attempt to create greater stability or do we work with the changing nature of the place? Or, do we suggest that people shouldn’t be living in such places at all?
Editor’s Preamble: I would exhort readers to ignore the potentially off-putting length of this piece, to instead step into, and allow yourself to be absorbed by, this important and worthy attempt at future-visualising. Readers who have been following my own work over the last several years will recognise and appreciate the themes covered. From my own perspective, what follows is a highly pragmatic view on the potential near-future of civilisation, and I truly feel that the speed and shape of progression (i.e. objectively and cooperatively planned and peacefully implemented), or, regression (i.e. unplanned, reactive, desperate, monopolistic and individualistic), and ultimate form of that future will largely depend on how many people are objectively considering these themes and adjusting their lives, and their influence, accordingly.
by Dr Samuel Alexander, co-director of the Simplicity Institute and a lecturer with the Office for Environmental Programs, University of Melbourne.
When [we have] obtained those things necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, [our] vacation from humbler toil having commenced. – Henry David Thoreau
If a society does not have some vision of where it wants to be or what it wants to become, it cannot know whether it is heading in the right direction – it cannot even know whether it is lost. This is the confused position of consumer capitalism today, which has a fetish for economic growth but no answer to the question of what that growth is supposed to be for. It is simply assumed that growth is good for its own sake, but of course economic activity is merely a means, not an end. It can only ever be justified by some goal beyond itself, but that is precisely what consumer capitalism lacks – a purpose, a reason for existence. It is a means without an end, like a tool without a task. What makes this state of affairs all the more challenging is that the era of growth economics appears to be coming to a close, due to various financial, ecological, and energy constraints, and this is leaving growth-based economies without the very capacity for growth which defined them historically. Before long this will render consumer capitalism an obsolete system with neither a means nor an end, a situation that is in fact materialising before our very eyes. It seems that today we are living in the twilight of growth globally, which implies that the dawn of a new age is almost upon us – is perhaps already upon us. But as we turn this momentous page in history we find that humanity is without a narrative in which to lay down new roots. We are the generation in between stories, desperately clinging to yesterday’s story but uncertain of tomorrow’s. Then again, perhaps the new words we need are already with us; perhaps we just need to live them into existence.
In my last post, I showed a picture of a wood powered water heater, so now we’ll roll up our sleeves and get into how this was designed. But first a warning! Boiling water is easy to do, but boiling water in a closed container and not blowing yourself up is much trickier — in fact I’ve heard it said that there is the equivalent of a stick of dynamite in 500 grams of boiling water! So if you blow yourself up, be it on your own head. Having said that, I have spent a fair bit of time creating a design that is simple to build, safe and efficient.
So where does the ‘appropriate’ in ‘Appropriate Technology’ come from? To me, it is technology that ‘fits’ well into a place or setting. You’re not further enlightened? Okay, I’ll make some generalizations and go from there. For the ‘technology’ part, I like W. Brian Arthur’s definition, whereby technology is the capture or use of a phenomena for a specific purpose. So this could be everything from construction of a compost pile (consciously promoting the action of bacteria to break down organic matter for whatever reason) to a system of community governance. The ‘appropriate’ comes in when you recognise that some ways of developing local communities resonate better with human behavior than others — say, community land trusts as opposed to landlord/tenant arrangements.
The appropriate part is generally covered by the following:
it is human centered and human scaled
it is easily replicable and understandable
it focuses on locally available resources
it tends to be labour intensive but energy efficient.
A lot of people look to Barack Obama as the enlightened leader, the psychopomp who will lead the world away from the brink of catastrophe and into a new era. I see him in a somewhat different light. I see his election as the American expression of a global shift in consciousness that is already well underway. He may or may not be able to fulfill his promise of hope in any specific policy area, but the fact of his election speaks to a dramatic sea-change in the global Zeitgeist.
An individual in crisis may experience a sudden transformation or awakening as a response to an intolerable situation. The current crisis of civilization is starting to impact hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe, especially since the world was plunged into the economic crisis that is further compounding our accelerating ecological, environmental, energy and social crises. The sense of imminence created by this convergence is causing enormous numbers of people to wake up and wonder WTF has been going on while we dutifully lived out the consumerist dream. While we were sleeping that dream seems to have become a nightmare as the materialist utopia we were promised morphed into a cruel, life-destroying hoax .
Following on from the last one, this John D. Liu video from the Environmental Education Media Project takes us to the steppes of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. If you love learning from different cultures that find ways to survive and flourish in circumstances and climates very different from your own, as I do, then you’ll find this an interesting piece.
I’m not sure it’s possible, looking back now, to say exactly what I was expecting when I hopped on that plane and flew to Ethiopia for an internship at Strawberry Fields, but one thing I am sure of is that it’s been one of the most transformative, edifying experiences I’ve had in my life.
The dust-bowl era of the ‘dirty thirties’ was the worst man-made environmental disaster in U.S. history, and one of the worst in the world. If you take into account the short time-frame of human intervention which lead up to this dark decade — compared to many generations, or many centuries, for other global environmental catastrophes — it could even be described as the worst. With just a few decades of lead time, vast areas of grassland-protected soils, which had previously been stable for thousands of years, took flight, relatively speaking, virtually overnight.
This fun animation shows how reconnecting trees to our city’s watersheds is one of the fastest ways to create lasting jobs while rebuilding local economies and preparing our communities to thrive and survive increasing threats of severe weather.
And, below, Andy Lipkis, Founder and President of TreePeople, talks about Elmer Avenue — a neighborhood in Los Angeles’ NE San Fernando Valley that was transformed from a flood hazard zone into a model of sustainability.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects that the world’s wild fish harvest will fall to 90 million tons in 2012, down 2 percent from 2011. This is close to 4 percent below the all-time peak haul of nearly 94 million tons in 1996. The wild fish catch per person has dropped even more dramatically, from 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds) per person at its height in 1988 to 13 kilograms in 2012—a 37-year low. While wild fish harvests have flattened out during this time, the output from fish farming has soared from 24 million tons in the mid-1990s to a projected 67 million tons in 2012.
Over the last several decades, as demand for fish and shellfish for food, feed, and other products rose dramatically, fishing operations have used increasingly sophisticated technologies—such as on-vessel refrigeration and processing facilities, spotter planes, and GPS satellites. Industrial fishing fleets initially targeted the northern hemisphere’s coastal fish stocks, then as stocks were depleted they expanded progressively southward on average close to one degree of latitude annually since 1950. The fastest expansion was during the 1980s and early 1990s. Thereafter, the only frontiers remaining were the high seas, the hard-to-reach waters near Antarctica and in the Arctic, and the depths of the oceans.
One of the biggest political shocks of the past decade has been the transformation of Canada. Under the influence of the tar barons of Alberta, it has mutated from a country dominated by liberal, pacific, outward-looking values to a thuggish petro-state, ripping up both international treaties and the fabric of its own nation.
Prepare to be shocked again. Another country, whose green and humanitarian principles were just as well-established as Canada’s, is undergoing a similar transformation. Again, it is not the people of the nation who have changed – in both cases they remain, as far as I can tell, as delightful as ever – but the dominant political class and its destruction of both national values and international image.