Mar 172010

County Councilperson Carl Weimer’s blog of March 13, 2010 is all about transition. He reports that the Energy Resource Scarcity/Peak Oil (ERSPO) Task Force which was appointed the Mayor of Bellingham and the County Executive would be making their report to the County Council on March 16, 2010. As Carl nicely puts it, the short version of this very long report is:

“We are running out of oil. Soon this will force us to address large increases in costs and associated  economic and social disruptions. Can county government think ahead of the curve to lessen these  impacts here in Whatcom County?”

Among the many recommendations made by ERSPO this one jumps out:

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Mar 162010

There are a number of islands in the Transition Movement and they are beginning to do some interesting things. It’s all pretty basic: grow more food locally, educate people, conserve and recycle, re-skill, use less of everything especially petroleum products. Here’s what some of our island brethren and sisteren are doing:

Transition Salt Spring Island has a program called, “Let’s grow more food this year.” “Salt Spring only grows five per cent of its fruits and vegetables — a very small amount of what could potentially be produced on the island. (An upcoming) gathering will use an open space format, in which the content is determined by the participants. In the first part of the event the whole group will share ideas of ways to grow more food this year. Several small group brainstorming, networking and planning sessions will follow. The aim is to envision concrete, easily implemented, immediate food-growing projects with the potential to increase the food supply and create new opportunities for people who would like to grow more food.”

The Isle of Wright (Great Britain) has a Vegswap program. “Vegswap enables you to swap your home grown or homemade produce with other local gardeners. You can save money, reduce food miles and be gentle on the environment and enjoy fresher, better tasting fruit and veg.”

Transition Waiheke Island (New Zealand) has established The Fabulous Fruit Tree Group and embarked on an ambitious project to plant 20,000 fruit trees over a ten year period to make Waikehe into a fruit center.

Transition Phillip Island (Australia) “is in the process of planning a Community Orchard. This project will enable Phillip Island communities to develop knowledge and skills in grafting, pruning, heritage varieties and social enterprise. All fruit grown in the Community Orchard will be sold on Phillip Island, reducing the food miles traveled by food from the paddock to (the) plate.”

Transition Whidbey  is working on developing a community currency system, and a web application to support local exchanges, called Whidbey Community eXchange.

Keep in mind that the Transition Movement is a relatively new phenomenon and most of these organizations are in the very early stage. Transition Whatcom, for example, is still in the “educate the communitity” phase.

Mar 152010
  • In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan reports that the average meal travels about 1500 miles to get to the store. The eat local movement points out that eating local uses way less fuel and puts more money in the farmer’s pocket helping to keep them in business and keep a local economy going.

So, shopping at Trader Joe’s beautiful  Bellingham store recently, I had to ask myself some serious questions. Did I really want rice from Thailand? Did I want green beans from Mexico? Did I want to save money buying food virtually all of which came from somewhere else, usually a far distant somewhere else. Sure, Trader Joe’s has lots of “organic” stuff but, as Michael Pollan and others have pointed out, corporate agriculture has hijacked the organic brand and made it almost meaningless. And what is Trader Joe’s organic commitment?

The Bellingham Food Co-op also sells beans from Mexico and packaged food from all over the place and corporate organic stuff but they do attempt to talk the talk (if they don’t always walk the walk) when it comes to  organic. And they do work hard to provide produce from local farmers and seeds from local seed producers.

CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) offer a direct link from farmer to consumer during the harvest season.  Ideally, I’d like to grow most of my own food and trade with others for what I can’t grow. This dream is probably several years in the future. But I hope it comes to fruition about the same time that gas shortages put a permanent crimp in Costco’s and Trader Joe’s marketing plan. Costco and Trader Joe have taken full advantage of cheap oil and interstate highways. Kudos. But, I think they will fade away  in the not so distant future.  I don’t want to be too reliant on them. We’ll drop by once in awhile and get some stuff, but the majority of the time we’ll shop where we can buy mostly local (and pay a little more) while we work on making a garden of our own productive. For more on local food you can check out Nancy Ging’s blog Whatcom Locavore.

Mar 132010

Our island recently had a severe shock when faced with the possibility of losing the ferry dock at Gooseberry Pt.

The question is, did we respond to this shock with resilience and a sense of community? Are we searching out long term solutions as well as solutions for the short term? Do we have the infrastructure in place to deal with the next shock, the thing we aren’t quite ready for?

I read lots of bad news. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better. The future is uncertain. Perhaps that’s why the Transition Town (Island) Movement is becoming so popular with 200 official organizations world-wide including Transition Whatcom.

Transition Whatcom is following game plan outlined in The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilence. Transition Whatcom is chomping at the bit to come to Lummi Island to put on programs for interested groups. Their big upcoming event is The Great Unleashing to be held April 10-11 at Bellingham High School. Everyone’s invited.

What is the Transition Movement? Best to hear about it from the horse’s mouth, a young Brit named Rob Hopkins, author of The Handbook, who has pretty much got this movement going by himself. The great thing about the Transition Movement is that it is optimistic, based on the idea that communities can pull together to help themselves.

Here’s Rob Hopkins at TED in Dec. 2009. 18 minutes.

Mar 122010

I really don’t need any more seed. I think I have about five years worth on hand. But when the gardener’s porn (the seed catalog) arrives in the mail, I can’t resist. Besides, I feel an obligation to support Uprising Seeds, a small family operation near Bellingham. Al M. and I took their seed saving workshop a year ago and had a chance to visit their seed growing operation. One wishes we could attract an operation like this to the island.

Catalog writing is an art and Crystine, at Uprising Seeds, who I assume to be the writer does a great job. Resist this for example:

Early Treviso Radicchio Heirloom Chichorium intybus
“We’ve grown to love all the diversity of the chicory/radicchio family and its regional Italian variations. This is a tall type, the shape of a tightly wrapped mini romaine heart, and a deep wine red with contrasting white veining. A tiny touch of refreshing bitterness rounds out the full flavor and sweetness. Lovely in a salad and unbeatable braised with garlic, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.” It was great radicchio.  Or,

“New for 2009 Schweizer Riessen Snow Pea Heirloom. We trialed this on recommendation from our good friend Heather Tiszai and were amazed by its vigor, sweet taste, and productivity. Beautiful bi color purple/pink blooms are born on study 6′ vines. The seemingly endless harvest of snow peas stay tender and sweet even as the pods mature and swell. An heirloom native to Switzerland, the name translates as “Swiss Giant”. One of our best discoveries of 2008 (needs trellising).”  Delicious as advertised.  Or,

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Mar 112010

It’s amazing to me that with the number of people who got exercised over Y2K and accumulated buckets full of rice and beans that we don’t have more emphasis on emergency food supplies in face of Peak Everything. If we had a gasoline crisis like the one in ’73 the supermarket shelves would be empty in about three days. It’s prudent to store some extra food. There is, in fact, lots of information available on the web through articles and Youtube videos on how to store food. I have watched a ton of them. The LDS Church has long advocated that their members store food for long-term emergencies and they are experts at it. They are also in the business. The big emergency food outlets are in Utah.
There are lots of ways to store food and water. This blog post will be about food.
A cheap starter set for food storage is Costco’s “Food for Health Emergency Food Kit” available on their website for $89.99.
This includes 275 of such items as potato soup, barley soup, whey milk and blueberry pancake. The reviews point out that the items are vegetarian and tasty, but high in sodium and low in calories. This kit is such a good buy ($.32 per serving) that it’s a no brainer.

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Mar 102010

In my former life I earned the professional designation as an Associate in Risk Management (ARM). This meant I was theoretically qualified to pontificate on the subject of “risk.” My clients were medium to large businesses who had multimillion dollar assets to protect.

As individuals we have assets to protect as well. In the last couple of years the name of the game has been what is called “asset conservation.” That is, try not to lose any money. As a result, many people have kept a substantial portion of their assets (if they still have any) in cash rather than equities or bonds. But with banks being taken over by the FDIC every Friday afternoon and the FDIC getting low on funds itself, one wonders if our cash in banks is safe. Will we be able to get it?

Quite a few Washington State banks have gone under in the last year. We read that the toxic assets on the books of large banks are understated and that they are on thin ice. We have the risk of bank failures or of banks unable to perform (give you your money at the teller window) in the event of some currency crisis. Lots of economic writers worry about a bank holiday—a forced closing by the government of banks for a period of time as happened in the olden days.

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Mar 092010

Sometimes we need the novelist to provide us with alternative visions of the future. Often it’s the science fiction writer who does this. But there is a odd genre of books that I would call “doomsday” or “post-apocalyptic.” These books stretch our imagination and ask us to envision a world gone haywire. They are certainly entertaining, often enlightening,  frequently motivating. Here are five that I’ve read in the last few years. Each plot has a different disaster that precipitates the action: Peak Oil, nuclear holocaust, electromagnetic pulse, economic collapse or pandemic. In each story, not unlike Cuba and Peak oil, communities reform and come together to solve the problems of survival and sustainability.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

A highly recommended book in the post-Apocalyptic genre tells the story of a small group of people in a rural Florida town before and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It’s well-written, believable and engaging. I found this book through Survivalblog and the poster claimed that this was the best in its category. Not the best, in my opinion, but a page turner. Focuses on a multi-racial neighborhood group who have the right stuff to survive and prosper. Alas, Babylon was published in 1959 and has sold millions of copies.

Down to a Sunless Sea by David Graham

Following the crash of the US due to Peak Oil and a nuclear holocaust, which is so bad it tilts the earth’s axis, our hero—a British Airlines 797 (sic) pilot—has to fly his crew and passengers out of trouble, finding love and a tropical future in the bargain. This is almost a procedural for pilots and rings with authenticity. A very fun read with a happy ending.

One Second After by William Forstchen

An electromagnetic pulse caused by suspected nuclear explosions high in the atmosphere fries everything electrical. Cars stop. Airplanes fall from the sky. Society unravels. Our hero, a retired Army colonel, now a history professor in a small North Carolina town attempts to cope with the apocalyptic events that follow. The denouement is not particularly original and there’s lots of flag waving and emotional singing, rationing, starving, executions, battle, tears shed over the family dog and love affairs.  One Second After, though readable, tries too hard to be a film candidate. As with all the others in this genre is based on the resiliency of community and is generally optimistic about the ability of humans to cope. (Written by a history professor at a small North Carolina college).

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Mar 082010

Jeremy Wwoofing

My brother in Hawaii was getting a bit discouraged trying to keep up with an acre of plantings and fruit trees on the fertile North Shore of Oahu. He had the place up for sale. Then he discovered Wwoofers. Ian was the first Wwoofer we met. He was from Detroit and graduate of the Chicago Culinary Institute. Tired of being a sous chef, Ian headed for Hawaii. He Wwoofed for a couple of months then moved on to a neighbor. Now he’s in New Zealand Wwoofing and learning permaculture.
On our next trip we met Jeramiah. Jeremy had a stressful job intervening with kids whose parents were sending them off, mostly unwillingly, to Outward Bound or some such drug rehab program. Jeremy was sort of like a bounty hunter hired by a kid’s parents to haul them off to Arizona. Jeremy was taking a break.

Nate was decompressing from working many years in Japan and Thailand (was fluent in both languages). He didn’t know much about gardening but was smart and liked to work.

Ryan, a Canadian, fought fires in the summer then spent the winter woofing in Hawaii. Sarah, another Canadian, was a horticulturalist who started in Hawaii as a woofer then found a job in her field.

David was an amazing musician who frequently entertained us after dinner.

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Mar 062010

Dan Rather posts this report on HD Net about a community in Vermont that has “closed the loop” on a local food system with organic farms, dairies, cheese and tofu makers, food cooperatives, a community supported restaurant and a community-wide composting operation. A well-done and interesting 18 minute video.

Mar 052010

Zenn NEV

When it looked like we might be facing a passenger ferry to Fairhaven, we asked ourselves: what will we do for transportation? One answer was to have an auto on both sides. But then, how would we get fuel to Lummi?

The NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) is a great solution. It goes 25 mph. The island speed limit is 25 mph. Most NEVs have a range of 40 miles. 40 miles of range could get us where we want to go on the island.

While in Seattle last month we visited MC Electric Vehicles to take a look. They have quite a few units on the showroom floor. They have Wheegos , Zenn , Miles and Vantage. We don’t recognize any of these names because they are usually small manufacturers with no name recognition.
The cars and trucks and vans are cute if a bit tinny looking. But, on some of them the price is right. Today you can buy a Zenn Electric Vehicle for $8, 324 net of rebates. Not a bad price for suitable island transportation.

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Mar 042010

If it’s hard to get your mind around the idea of Peak Oil or the concept of resiliency then you should devote an hour to the study of Cuba since the fall of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union crashed down, Cuba was left holding an empty energy bag. Oil imports were cut by more than half overnight. Food imports dropped by 80%. It was a desperate situation like something from an apocalyptic novel.

The Cubans showed a great deal of resilience in this emergency. They thought it might be short-term, lasting a few months. However, it turned out to be a permanent condition. Food was the first problem.  Farming and gardening became a necessity for nearly everyone. There were no more chemical fertilizers. Cubans had to learn organic farming. They did have the advantage of a wonderful climate. Within a few years virtually all available land was turned into farms and garden plots enabling the people of this island to feed themselves. Living in a warm climate is also an advantage when it comes to serving energy needs. But it’s still nice to be able to have some electricity once in awhile. Cubans have developed alternative energy sources using a permaculture model.

Transportation is a problem when your fuel supplies are cut off. The Cubans dealt with this in imaginative ways. With their economy turned upside down they also re-skilled. One of the interesting things they did was produce way more doctors than they required on a per capita basis and traded the skills of these doctors to other countries for things they needed (like Venezuela for some oil).

The Cubans aren’t worried about Peak Oil. They’ve been there and done that already. Understanding and appreciating what they’ve done can help us to develop resilience.

I encourage you to watch The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, a 52 minute video, which is educational, interesting and inspiring.