Posted by & filed under Consumerism, Peak Oil, Soil Erosion & Contamination, Water Contaminaton & Loss.

Coal Seam Gas (‘fracking’) in the Pillaga Forest, NSW, Australia

It was revealed last week that groundwater has been poisoned with uranium and heavy metals from Santos’s coal seam gas development in the Pilliga forest (Map).

Just two days after the Environmental Protection Agency gave a paltry $1,500 fine for the contamination spill, the NSW Government signed a memorandum of understanding with Santos to fast-track approvals for a massive coal seam gas field in the Pilliga — a recharge area for the Great Artesian Basin and the largest forest west of the Great Dividing Range left in New South Wales.

Our water to too precious to be threatened by a massive coal seam gas field, and the community is fighting back.

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Posted by & filed under Medicinal Plants, Plant Systems, Soil Biology, Soil Rehabilitation.

All of us who have studied permaculture have heard some impressive claims about comfrey. It is a dynamic nutrient accumulator; it improves the soil; it is “a slow motion fountain” of nutrients, bringing them up from the subsoil to improve the topsoil. We’ve heard lots of anecdotal evidence, but where is the empirical data for these claims? Peter Harper’s article in The Land last summer, “Permaculture: the Big Rock Candy Mountain,” made me want to find the scientific basis behind some of the anecdotal claims I’d heard other permaculturalists make, that I’d previously absorbed without question.

I ran to my books. From Introduction to Permaculture by Mollison and Slay to Gaia’s Garden by Hemenway to Edible Forest Gardens (Volume I & Volume II) by Jacke and Toensmeier, it is difficult to tell where any specific piece of information comes from, since all these books lack footnotes or endnotes. The Wikipedia article is peppered with “[citation needed]” and has been for years. The online database that comes closest to citing a source is Plants for a Future, which says comfrey’s value in compost was established by “a small booklet” (no indication where to obtain it) and the New RHS Dictionary of Gardening, which “contains a number of silly mistakes.” Clearly some newer and more conclusive evidence is in order!

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Posted by & filed under Society.

Soviet soldier waving the Red Banner over the central plaza of Stalingrad in 1943

The rule is as old as human war and conflict: If you are to prevail, you must know the mind of your adversary. Chess masters know this. Winning football coaches know this. Victorious generals know this. Successful diplomats know this. If they did not – if they all ignored this fundamental rule – they simply could not succeed.

The relative virtue or depravity of the opponent is irrelevant. The rule applies to even the most evil of opponents. In World War II, it was essential that the Allies understand the strategic planning of Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto and of Hitler’s general staff. The breaking of the Japanese naval codes turned the tide of the Pacific War at the Battle of Midway. Similarly, the success of the D Day invasion at Normandy turned on the Allies understanding, thanks to the Bletchley Park code-breakers, that they had successfully convinced Hitler that the landing would be at the Pas de Calais.

Similarly, if the current conflict with Russia over Ukraine and Crimea is to end peacefully, both sides must diligently strive to understand the minds and motivations of their opponents.

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Posted by & filed under Biofuels, Desertification, Food Shortages, Soil Erosion & Contamination, Water Contaminaton & Loss.

How the perverse consequences of a great idea are destroying the natural world.

In principle it’s a brilliant solution. Instead of leaving food waste and sewage and animal manure to decay in the open air, releasing methane which contributes to global warming, you can contain it, use micro-organisms to digest it, and capture the gas.

Biogas from anaerobic digestion could solve several problems at once. As well as a couple of million tonnes of sewage sludge, the UK produces between 16 and 18 million tonnes of food waste, much of which still goes into landfill. Farms here generate around 100 million tonnes of animal manure and slurry, a major cause of water pollution. It could all be processed in digesters. A tonne of food waste can produce about 300 kilowatt hours of energy: the UK’s discarded food, the renewable industry says, could generate enough electricity for 350,000 households. The residue can be used as fertiliser.

It was also a brilliant idea to turn waste chip fat into biodiesel. But the incentives to produce biodiesel, often justified by the claim that they would make use of waste, have created multiple ecological disasters. They have encouraged farmers to feed cars rather than people and financed the conversion of rainforests in Indonesia, Malaysia and West Africa into oil palm plantations, driving orangutans and many other species to the brink of extinction. In most cases, biodiesel, as a result of the changes in land use, has much higher greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuel it replaces.

Biogas is now going the same way. Provide the money to do the right thing and if you’re not careful it will be used to do the wrong thing.

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Posted by & filed under Animal Forage, Animal Housing, Bird Life, Commercial Farm Projects, Compost, Fencing, Land, Livestock, Soil Rehabilitation, Waste Systems & Recycling, Working Animals.

Trailer only — watch full video here!

"Who can weld?" Geoff asks. Keen to impress, my hand goes up. “I will see you at the shed after dinner tonight then”, a twinkle of excitement in his eye. This is the story of the chicken tractor on steroids from concept to birth.

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Posted by & filed under Building, Energy Systems, Waste Systems & Recycling.

Alfredo Moser with his solar water bottle bulbs


Thomas Alva Edison lit up the world with his electric bulb in the nineteenth century. In this century it is the solar bottle bulbs of Alfredo Moser which are illuminating thousands of houses of under-privileged people in many countries. This simple invention of the Brazilian mechanic is going viral and is been implemented in remote villages throughout the world. This article is the story of this invention — the solar bottle bulb or “Moser lamp” and how it is transforming people’s lives.

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Posted by & filed under Energy Systems, Retrofitting, Waste Systems & Recycling.

by Mo Lohre and Will Redwine

Sorry for the hiatus, but would you believe we came across a few bumps in the road? Just like with any worthwhile quest, unexpected challenges emerged. Now that we’ve had some time to address them, we are excited to share our struggles as well as our findings.

When we began the Creating the Alternative Tour we were determined to design a regenerative lifestyle while visiting and learning from initiatives that were aligned with our mission. We sought out vehicles that had the potential to run on wasted vegetable oil, from diesel buses to old Mercedes. On one of our typical bike rides around town, in Portland, Oregon, we came across an RV tucked behind a church, two blocks from our house. Its brightly painted suns and name "SolTrekker" caught our eye. We immediately assumed that it had something to do with solar technology. We were right! We could see solar panels and a painted sign that read “Rainwater Collection!”. Was this a regenerative miracle? We had to find out more since we were in the midst of trying to create our own green machine. As soon as we got home, we looked it up online and were impressed with the vehicle and non-profit associated with it.

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Posted by & filed under Community Projects, Compost, Urban Projects.

4th-grader Carter Schmidt is the proud CEO of Carter’s Compost, a bike-powered initiative that aims to build a more resilient community by recycling an entire neighborhood’s organic waste. The 9-year-old visionary is not only helping his folks’ urban farm but he is also encouraging members to grow their own food by redistributing the final product to his community — for only $5 a month! No wonder he was awarded the 2013 Recycler of the Year!

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Posted by & filed under Aid Projects, Community Projects.

Peach blossoming in Lesotho

The white-edged black clouds embrace the craggy green tops of the Maluti Mountains with patches of blue sky in between them. The late afternoon setting sun gives a golden glow to this mountain panorama. This is the setting for my farewell to Lesotho. My two year placement with Phelisanong as part of Australia’s support of southern Africa is coming to an end. It has been the best of times with many memories to keep and stories to tell. It is hard to know where to start this farewell from somewhere on the road less travelled.

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Posted by & filed under Building, Courses/Workshops.

I’m sitting here writing this article surrounded by 35 people, here to build Australia’s first council-approved Earthship in the Adelaide Hills — a home made largely out of recycled car tyres, cans, bottles and dirt. Among these people are travellers, architects, comedians, town planners, university students, artists, musicians, business owners and a handful of builders.

Most of them have never built a thing in their life and are picking up power tools for the first time. They’ve struggled through consecutive 40°C plus days, with big winds carrying the sounds of nearby bush fire warning sirens. It’s quite the change from sitting at an air conditioned desk for a day job. They are constantly challenged and taken out of their comfort zone, but ask any one of them about their experience and they’ll tell you that community building has changed their lives.

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