We often only begin to understand the importance of nutrient- and water-cycling when they don’t — when they don’t cycle, that is. When ecosystems fail, when the hydrological cycle gets broken, when soils degrade faster than they build, the consequence is desertification. Already a full 25% of the planet’s land surface area (about 3.6 billion hectares) is desertified, and, worldwide, we’re adding to this enormous figure at a rate of 12 million hectares annually. And this rate is increasing.
More than ever before, we now understand the mechanisms behind desertification. Even just one lifetime ago we thought we were too small, and the world too large, for us to have any real effect on planetary functions, but that has all changed. Today we know that we are having a profoundly negative impact on the earth’s systems — those systems upon which all life, and all economic activity, depend — and we’re also learning that reversing that impact is a lot harder, and a lot more time-consuming and expensive, than preventative measures to avoid it in the first place.
I’m not sure there is a real cure against the insanity that consumerism has reached, but what I’m sure of (well, almost) is that we can be a little smarter (and conscious) in dealing with packaging the goods we don’t always need. Granted, I wish people would buy less in the first place… or at least repair, re-use, recycle, or repurpose.
It’s a global plague. Mountains of plastic bags, styrofoam and cardboard are accumulating in landfills while people continue buying more. The bad news is that it will continue. The good news is that some people are racking their brains to do something about it.
Here are two innovative ideas that principally target this phenomenon: packaging.
Here are a few useful tips to growing your own fresh organic food when you are low on space, time and gardening know-how.
If you love the idea of a food forest but are seriously lacking in space and knowledge, you might consider starting out with a few pots of green leafy vegetables and herbs. Fresh organic greens and herbs are not only nutritious and delicious but often decline rapidly in quality as soon as they are picked. These are all excellent reasons to devote them a little spot of soil at home! Below are some tips and plant recommendations from a gardening novice. All of the plants need sun and regular watering, as often as daily in a pot, but should not require much more effort from you at all.
Lighting in much of the ‘developing’ world is provided via expensive and polluting kerosene. Kerosene lamps are dangerous, require constant replenishment, and come with significant negative health impacts.
So, for the potential benefit of millions of people, London based designers, Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves, have spent four years working on an inexpensive, safe and health-neutral alternative — a gravity powered LED light! It’s clever, and well intentioned. Nice!
Martin and Jim initially looked at creating a light that would be powered by solar, as would most of us. But the idea of utilising gravity took hold of them — where the end user can do away with the need for expensive solar panels and batteries, which use a lot of resources in their manufacture — and the gravity light was born. The gravity light will work whether it’s day or night, sunny or cloudy.
At time of writing, Martin and Jim’s Indiegogo campaign to raise funds has already surpassed its basic goal of $55,000, but if you wish to donate it’ll help them further their goal of refining the design to make it even more useful, efficient and inexpensive.
The Grad Video series tells the stories of 10 graduates from our Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) courses, documenting what they’ve done with the knowledge, skills and inspiration they acquired from the course. Two film makers set out to find these graduates and catch them in action, capturing their successes, struggles, and transformations as they embark on new endeavours — starting gardens, homesteads, community projects, businesses, building sustainable homes and structures, hosting conferences and much more.
Above is the trailer for the ten-part series to follow.
World nuclear electricity-generating capacity has been essentially flat since 2007 and is likely to fall as plants retire faster than new ones are built. In fact, the actual electricity generated at nuclear power plants fell 5 percent between 2006 and 2011.
In 2011, following Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, 13 nuclear reactors in Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom were permanently taken offline. Seven new reactors, three of them in China, were connected to the grid. The net result was a two percent reduction in world nuclear capacity to 369,000 megawatts by the end of 2011. In 2012, the world has added a net 3,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity, with new additions in South Korea and Canada partly offset by more U.K. shutdowns.
In an isolated corner of northern Mozambique great things are being done. A demonstration farm run by the Manda Wilderness Agricultural Project, an offshoot of a local trust organization and set in the picturesque region of Manda Wilderness, is held together by the efforts by five local staff and an occasional international volunteer. The farm acts as a platform for teaching villagers agricultural techniques and serves as an experimentation ground for testing new farming methods and yielding a new variety of crops.
I came to Manda Wilderness in early October as a volunteer, and was immediately impressed by the scale of the farm and the commitment of the staff. After working on other projects within the sixteen communities of the Manda Wilderness region, I have recently spent my time working directly at the farm, developing projects based on methods of permaculture with other volunteers as we strive to increase the farm yield in sustainable and efficient ways.
There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map.
They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.
Editor’s Preamble: Despite the title, I’m no longer in Ladakh. Indeed, it was way back in August 2009 when I was there, so this article has been a long time coming (thanks to work on the WPN keeping me too busy, amongst other things!). I keep the ‘Letters from…’ part of the title to make my international reports easier to find.
I came to Ladakh with the purpose of profiling positive solutions for the Sustainable (R)evolution book project (still a work-in-progress, for those wondering), but quickly discovered that the kind of ‘development’ I found in Ladakh was more suitable to profile for another kind of book instead — one steeped in lessons gleaned from mistakes, rather than one focussed on shining examples of solutions in action…. This is another reason I haven’t written this article until today….
High up in the Himalayas, in India’s disputed and militarised northernmost state, Jammu & Kashmir, lies the sparsely populated region of Ladakh (map). It is one of the highest inhabited places on the planet, and also one of the driest. One of Ladakh’s claims to fame is that it hosts the highest drivable road in the world — where it crosses the Ladakh Range at 5578 metres. And, despite its high altitude, the dryness ensures the upper parts of the region barely see snow cover over the long, cold winter months.
Sometimes known as ‘Little Tibet’ (the ancient Ladakhi dynasties came from a Tibetan lineage), Ladakh is a worthy subject for permaculture discussion, as despite its inhospitable terrain and cold-arid desert climate, the Ladakhi people, historically, not only survived amidst their high altitude elements, they had actually improved the landscape over centuries of habitation and agricultural use, whilst living in (mostly) peaceful habitation with each other.
In permaculture design we look at the inputs and outputs of various components, and try to connect things to each other so that the supply from one thing meets the demand of another. We can grow our own food, and thus meet the nutritional needs of the family, and the organic waste is looped back into the system. Any waste is seen as a resource that can re-enter the system without causing harm or damage.
What about Zone 0? How can we minimise the pollution of our household space and still keep it clean? Since becoming more aware of the chemicals that are around us; in our air, water, food, household chemicals, office supplies, furniture and just about everything else, I have become a compulsive reader of labels. I may be on the extreme end of the spectrum, but a walk down the cleaning aisle of a supermarket feels like a visit to a toxic waste facility — and the smell is unbearable. I shudder to think of the lethal cocktail people take home in tubs, jars, cans and bottles. Despite the warning labels, these items end up in millions, if not billions, of homes around the world.
How, then, does one clean a house without poisonous household cleaning agents?
As permaculturists, we have a great many solutions for the water crisis. From water harvesting to reed bed grey water systems, to watershed rehabilitation, there are common sense approaches to holistically restore eco-system services, rehydrate our landscapes and stabilise water flows and the climate. In the video above, however, we come face to face with forces that can undo the work of thousands of enthusiastic permaculturists with a few signatures on a market based, industrial contract.