Jul 212010

The 50 item checklist from Freedom Guerrilla, a very interesting a provocative blog:

1.  Stop using plastic.  The easiest to stop using is bottled water, and just remember, bottled water is a scam anyway.  Here’s a resource.

2.  Support local, sustainable agriculture.  “Certified organic” generally is a better option when shooting in the dark, but not always.  You should discuss these subtleties with your grower.  To do this, you can support local farmer’s markets or join a CSA.  You can also go so far as to work (labor for board) on a sustainable farm.

3.  Live like a homesteader regardless of your zip code.  This means learning the basic skills and labor that have been used by humans (and still employed today) for centuries regardless of if you live on a farm, in suburbia, or in New York City.  Some of these skills include farming, canning/preserving, carpentry, metal work, sewing, etc.

4.  Employ self-inflicted brown outs.  Take your entire existence off the power grid every week for hours to days.

5.  Drive less or not at all. Explore moving closer to your food source (I call it, “a job”).  Make a goal and measure progress.  If you’re not within bike range, you may be stretching the commute a bit far.

6.  Compost your kitchen waste.

7.  Choose natural, sustainably harvested materials or better yet, invest locally with people you know.

8.  Support artists, artisans, craftspeople by buying and trading with them.  This eliminates unnecessary markups, middlemen, product travel, and wasteful overproduction that over inflates modern finance.

9.  Eliminate your debt by either paying it off or walking away from it.  Either way, live without debt and choose with method best supports your overall financial independence plan.

10.  When in doubt, cooperate.  Seek and create living solutions that support friends, family, and the tribe.  This may include moving into one house or homestead together (doubling, tripling up), sharing of tools or resources (eliminates unnecessary waste or inefficiency).

11.  Eat less/no meat.  Beef production is horribly unsustainable and destructive (read Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West for a bit of history).  There are dozens of better alternatives.  Try fasting for awhile to break a food addiction.

12.  Eat less in general.  The modern American diet leaves the practitioner overweight yet malnourished, addicted yet unsatisfied (pick up Food, Inc.: Mendel to Monsanto–The Promises and Perils of the Biotech Harvest for the complete lowdown).

13.  Use the barter economy. This helps reduce the demand for new products and keeps this engine alive a little longer while massaging the lizard brain with new crap.

Continue reading »

Jul 202010

Since I’m taking a short break we’ll welcome the thoughts of the Anonymous Blogger who lives on an island like I do:

I watched the Discovery Channel’s Energy series last night. It was good stuff. Basic and in layman’s terms. Of course it was sponsored by Shell Oil….but so it goes.  They used a light bulb as a measurement of “energy use per person” which led to the following observations: US consumption equals 100 light bulbs. Europe’s consumption equals 50 light bulbs. Asia equals 16 light bulbs. We are using twice as much energy as Europe and six times as much as Asia.

Americans are going to have to get more efficient with their energy use because we are clearly using more than our share.

Americans are very wasteful people.  We are not efficient with anything.  Asians and Europeans are way ahead of us.  Their transportation infrastructure alone puts them in front.  Of course there are many other variables that add to their ability to be efficient, but the bottom line is that the US that will now have to power down and meet the rest of the world. This is called “energy descent.”  This will be the transition that we will experience.  There is no option.

I think we have an enormous problem in the US. We’ve grown in a very rapid fashion on the back of an aging infrastructure.  Our infrastructure growth has not matched our population growth. We just grew our ability to consume energy.  Now we have a crumbling infrastructure unable to support the needs of the present and certainly not the needs of the future.

Our needs will have to diminish. A complete overhaul of our behavior is in order.  For example, we don’t need an internet that delivers all forms of content creating the need  to continually increase bandwidth. We just need basic text on the net and simple graphics. We are creating sources of energy drain for no reason except for entertainment. People will have to change.

For all the talk of energy it’s clear that water and food will be major players in the future.  Oil is not going away for a long time.  Solar, nuke, wind, tide, wave, etc, etc. are just stop gap tech. They are corporate driven. It’s about money: pass a carbon tax, create an industry, build big plants, put up some wind turbines, employ some people who will spend their money and consume.  All of this does not address the problem which is overpopulation and over consumption.

No matter what we create, the Earth has a certain carrying capacity. And folks, we’ve gone way beyond it.  So prepare for a future that will revolve around less of everything. I would certainly stock up on food, water, and other necessities because our aging infrastructure will break under growing demand.

If you think this is some sort of hoax, another Y2K, you are very mistaken.  The confluence of peak everything is going to be a game changer. We are using too many light bulbs.

Jul 162010

It can get a little frustrating yammering on about the need for moving towards  sustainable systems when no one really wants to, has time to or can afford to.

My theory is that people change via epiphanies. I think that people move from epiphany to epiphany but it’s hard to tell what brings one about. When an epiphany happens it is just like an electron making a quantum leap. We move from one point to another without traveling through the intervening space. One day, for example, you’re drinking pop. The next day you can’t stand the thought of putting it in your mouth. You have made a quantum leap. You’re not quite sure how it happened; how you got from there to here.

Working towards of goal of real sustainability is foreign to our culture. Up to this point in our history we’ve never run out of space and we’ve never run out of stuff. We’ve never actually run out of gas. The supermarket shelves are stuffed with food; Costco has crap piled high.

Sustainability sounds like a high minded idea. But, really now, who needs it? Everything seems to be okay if you don’t look too deeply.

Unless, of course, you really look into what is happening in the Gulf, Iraq or Afganistan, or Washington DC, or Wall Street, or even Whatcom County where the Council will soon make it easier for developers to develop agricultural land.

Bad things are happening. At some point events will reach a tipping point and we will all be affected. We have financial problems, energy problems and environmental problems. The evidence seems to point to a future with less: less income, less gas, less food. The idea of transition is to get somewhat prepared by developing some sustainability in your daily life. To review:

“Transition means we need to get ready to hunker down, to fend for ourselves, to support each other and work together. It means, on a personal level, getting your financial house in order, getting out of debt, stockpiling some foodstuffs, supplies  and water, finding out what skills you have that are tradeable, considering alternative modes of transportation, growing some food, building strong friendship networks, learning new skills, exchanging some cash for bullion, protecting your assets, making space for additional family members, reducing your carbon footprint, owning a boat (if you live on an island), raising animals for food (or becoming a vegetarian), saving seeds, keeping bees, staying physically fit, learning advanced first aid and self-care, preserving food, etc. etc.”

That said, I’m going to take a bit of a summer break to practice my quantum leaping.

Jul 152010

How does our point of view affect our motivation to change?

Most normal people are optimistic. In many ways, optimism is a defense mechanism. It’s depressing to have a negative view of the world. We want to be positive. The Transition Town Movement, for example, works hard to put a positive spin on energy descent suggesting that a more localized world will actually be an improvement. But we have no way of knowing exactly what the future will bring. Optimists believe things will cycle back. Good will prevail over evil.

Yet, the way things are lining up it appears that evil may have the upper hand for the time being. Dr. Mark Sircus, an osteopathic doctor who lives in Brazil and writes a very provocative blog believes that our world is in the hands of psychopaths; not the axe murder kind, but people “(who) function incognito in high-powered professions, all the way to the very top. These are people who have no conscience. They are described as being manipulative, charming, glib, deceptive, parasitic, irresponsible, selfish, callous, promiscuous, impulsive, antisocial, and aggressive. Their main defect—what psychologists call “severe emotional detachment” or a total lack of empathy and remorse—is concealed and harder to describe than the symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.”

The Soil and Health discussion group run by gardening guru Steve Solomon argued about this very thing a month or so ago with the prevailing view (of a bunch of gardeners and alternative health advocates) that sociopaths rule the world. Psychopath and sociopath are pretty strong terms but my own experience is that people with personality disorders, such as the narcissist, have managed to work their way into positions of power. These are people who are missing essential parts of their personality; people who don’t experience the full range of human emotion. The narcissist for example, only truly experiences anger and envy. All other human emotions like love are feigned. The narcissist comes equipped with an enormous sense of entitlement and they really don’t care how many metaphorical bodies they leave in their wake.

If it’s true that these kind of people are in charge as Dr. Sircus argues, then it is difficult to be optimistic about the future because we will be the victims of decisions made by “deciders” who don’t care about anyone else.

It’s horrible to think that key decision and policy makers don’t care. It’s unsettling and grates against our basic nature because so many of us do care. In most cases, a person who cares is no match for someone who doesn’t.

If your decisions about the future are based on the optimistic view that everything will turn out okay read Dr. Sircus or any of a number of writers who I’ve recommended and consider whether or not they may be right. If they are right then changes have to be made.

Jul 142010

“We are standing at a moment of substantial transition where we face the dual challenges of a world view and an economic system that seem to have enormous shortcomings, together with an environmental crisis – including that of climate change – which threatens to engulf us all.”

“Facing the future, therefore, requires a shift (to an approach) that is more balanced and integrated with Nature’s complexity – one that recognizes not just the build up of financial capital, but the equal importance of what we already have – environmental capital and, crucially, what I might best call “community capital.” That is, the networks of people and organizations, the post offices and pubs, the churches and village halls, the mosques, temples and bazaars – the wealth that holds our communities together; that enriches people’s lives through mutual support, love, loyalty and identity. Just as we have no way of accounting for the loss of the natural world, contemporary economics has no way of accounting for the loss of this community capital.”
“However, we each have within ourselves, as do our communities, more than one aspect to our identities – a complexity which is one of the defining characteristics of our common humanity. In fact, I have a hunch that this cultural diversity may provide us with the intellectual and social resilience to the challenges that we face in this moment of transition, just as biodiversity provides resilience to the domination of diseases found in monocultural systems. And this is why I have again and again been at such pains to convene communities of understanding across different disciplines and economic sectors.”

“That is the challenge we face, it seems to me – to see Nature’s capital and her processes as the very basis of a new form of economics and to engage communities at the grass roots to put those processes first. If we can do that, then we have an approach that acts locally by thinking globally, just as Nature does – all parts operating locally to establish the coherence of the whole.”

“It also validates the need for “Accounting for Sustainability” – a method by which businesses can take proper account of the cost to the Earth of their products and services and which I initiated and launched some four years ago. It is encouraging that this approach is being tested by a range of companies, government departments and agencies and I hope that it can be adopted more generally so that well-being and sustainability can be measured, rather than merely growth in consumption.”

“On the one hand, we have every good reason to believe that carrying on as we are will lead to a depleted and divided planet incapable of meeting the needs of its nine billion citizens, let alone sustaining its other life forms. On the other hand, we can adopt the technologies, lifestyles and, crucially, a much more integrated way of thinking and perceiving the world that can transform our relationship with the Earth that sustains us. The choice is certainly clear to me.”

You can watch this anti-establishment nut give his entire speech in the video below or click this link to read the transcript of his speech.

Jul 132010

It’s about this time of year that a gardener starts to get that smug look on his or her face. And who wouldn’t when you can walk out into your yard and pick three or four kinds of lettuce that you will never find in the grocery store because it doesn’t like to travel 1500 miles or live in plastic containers. Right now we have Australian Yellow Leaf, Crispy Mint and Flashy (part of my all volunteer army). Add some baby Bok Choi, arugula, tiny carrots from thinning, nasturtiums, fresh peas right out of the pod and a bell pepper and you’ve got one hell of a salad.

Cherry tomatoes are a not too far away. The beans are climbing the poles. A couple vines are all the way to the top. Cucumbers are starting take over their rows.  Squash vines are crawling though out the garden. Potatoes are blooming. Some of the corn is knee high and there are beets as big as softballs.

It doesn’t take much of a space to grow a tremendous array of veggies. If you take the Lummi Island Edible Garden Tour on Sunday July 18 you will see a broad spectrum of gardening possibilities. There are several  new gardeners and gardens on the tour and you will get many ideas on how to proceed and learn what is possible.

Gardening is fun. It’s relaxing and the returns are real and tasty.

My onions are popping out of the ground. Shallots stems are so heavy they are toppling over. Brocolli, cabbage, radicchio, endive, carrots, turnips are coming on strong. I tried to wait on the garlic until the tour but had to harvest it yesterday.

Jul 122010

This coming Sunday, July 18, twenty Lummi Island vegetable gardens will be open to view. This is a fund raiser sponsored by the Beach School Foundation with all proceeds going to the Beach School. The Beach Store Cafe is the co-sponsor and will provide a special lunch menu in their outdoor room and donate the proceeds to the school. So please stop in for lunch from 12-2pm. The garden tour is divided into two sections 9am to noon. 2pm to 5pm.

Here’s a map of the tour to give you a head start in planning for Saturday’s event.

The purpose of the tour is to encourage more people to grow their own food. Surprisingly, a lot of food can be grown in small spaces. I’ve written about this before regarding the well-known (in gardening and permaculture circles) Little House Near The Freeway. On our garden blog we’ve followed the impressive work of my nephew and niece on their small Portland urban lot.

The July 8 Seattle Times had a cover story titled “Extreme Gardening.” A young Seattle woman, inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle decided to grow her own food. What she has accomplished in one year should inspire everyone. She blogs at www.sustainableeats.com I’m impressed with what she’s learned in one garden season (though worried that things will be a bit crowded in her 1/5 acre by mid-summer).

Jul 092010

Note: There is an active Transition group in Bellingham which is looking for new members and for those interested in being part of the leadership group. Transition Whatcom also has a number of workshops and events planned which are detailed at the end of their most recent newsletter.

Transition Whatcom Seeks Members Who Want to Lead Its Next Steps

Now that Transition Whatcom has adopted a new structure, we invite TW members who are interested in becoming part of the Organizational Core Group.

The purpose of the Core Group is to support Transition work being done in our communities, plan for and coordinate this effort, and inspire transition work to continue and spread rhyzomatically!

The Core Group’s job (not all inclusive) is to:

1.    To serve the Vision and Mission of Transition Whatcom
2.    to keep the focus of transition work on the Vision and Mission
3.    attend the TW Council meetings
4.    create strategy and shared governance with the Council
5.    speaking engagements
6.    be liaisons with Transition US and other TIs
7.    create a mentorship process for revolving leadership of the Core Group
8.    set the Council meeting annual schedule
9.    manage the Council agenda
10.    provide leadership of TW
11.    *awareness raising in Whatcom County – movie showing, speaking engagements, etc
12.    *fundraising and management of existing funds
13.    *supporting new TIs – for events, website management and changes, volunteer coordinating
14.    *support for all TW members and initiatives, administrative and otherwise

Continue reading »

Jul 082010

In order to changes one’s thinking about how the world really works, it’s helpful to get acquainted with folks who think differently. There’s Glenn Greenwald writing at Salon.com on civil liberties. You have to buy Salon premium to read Glennzilla every day and he’s worth every penny. Matt Taibi blogs for Rolling Stone and writes long exposes for the magazine that makes the establishment’s hair stand on end. I’ve mentioned Kunstler repeatedly on this blog and his weekly tirade about happy motoring. Charles Hugh Smith is another smart guy who understands and explains how we are guilty of “overreach” in the way we approach our lives. All these fellows have strong writing styles. The ladies are involved as well. Check Sharon Astyk and Katherine Austin Fitts.

But you ought to meet Joe Bageant, a favorite of all doom and gloomers. Joe lives in Mexico and tells it like it is from south of the border:

“Consequently, the 100-year-long oil suckdown that put industrial countries in the tall cotton, now threatens to take back from subsequent beneficiary generation everything it gave. The Hummers, the golf courses, the big box stores, cruising at 35,000 feet over the Atlantic — everything.

You’d never know that, to look around at Americans or Canadians, who have not the slightest qualms about living in that 3,500 square foot vinyl sided fuck box, if they can manage to make the mortgage nut, or unashamedly buying a quadruple X large Raiders Jersey because, hey, a guy’s gotta eat, right? Why don’t I deserve a nice ride, a swimming pool and a flat screen? I worked for it (sure you did buddy, your $12,000 Visa/MasterCard tab is proof of that).

The doomers and the peak oilers gag, and they call it American denial. Personally, I think it is somewhat unfair to say that most Americans and Canadians are in denial. They simply don’t have fucking clue about what is really happening to them and their world. Everything they have been taught about working, money and “quality of life” constitutes the planet’s greatest problem — overshoot. Understanding this trashes our most basic assumptions, and requires a complete reversal in contemporary thought and practice about how we live in the world. When was the last time you saw any individual, much less an entire nation, do that?”

His July 6 essay, Waltzing At the Doomsday Ball is one of the best short essays on our economic plight that you can read. I highly recommend that you get acquainted with Joe.

Jul 072010

We read a book called Tops and Bottoms quite a bit around here. It’s about gardening so it’s one of my favorites. The plot is this: a rabbit family is down and out but they know this lazy bear who has a nice piece of property. The rabbit (I can’t stand rabbits, by the way) makes a deal with the lazy bear to farm his property. He makes the deal on shares. The bear can have “tops” or “bottoms.” First choice. When the bear takes “tops” the insidious little rabbit only plants stuff like carrots. Rabbit gets the carrots and the poor bear gets carrot tops. The next season the bear sort of catches on and takes bottoms. That year the bloody rabbit plants lettuce and corn. The bear gets zilch again.

This book pretty much explains why I don’t like rabbits. They lack a sense of fair play. Why couldn’t the rabbit have just planted beets? Then everyone could be happy. Beets are the most efficient food you can plant in your garden. There’s no waste. You eat the tops and the bottoms. You eat the entire plant. This may come as a surprise to some people for I’ve heard more than once about folks who buy a bunch of beets then cut off the tops and throw them away. This is crazy behavior. Beets are in the same family as chard and the greens are as good or better.

Last week we started canning beets. We like them pickled. They are a real treat in the wintertime. I planted a big bed of beets with well-separated rows then planted more beet seeds for a later crop in between the rows. We put up ten quarts on the first go around. We had one leaker that didn’t seal so had to crack that open and eat it. I was glad I had a leaker as I didn’t really want to wait until November to start in on them. We saved the tops too. Blanched the leaves for a couple of minutes and dried them on towels and put them in freezer bags.

An important part of growing your own food is extending both the growing season and the eating season. There are lots of ways to preserve food and I’m trying to learn more of them. But the canning and freezing season is underway. We get both the tops and bottoms no thanks to rabbits.

Jul 062010

There’s strong evidence that we are going Back To The Future, that the twenty-first century will be more like the nineteenth century than what we’ve been used to. We are starting to pay a price for progress in terms of environmental degradation and and economic malaise. We have developed a culture that centers on the private auto and this has resulted in an architecture that requires us to drive endlessly to do our business and get to our homes. It’s pretty easy to get nostalgic for the time when everything was walking distance, where market towns were a day’s walk apart, where big cities hummed with non-combustion activity. Everything in our civilization is compartmentalized and separated, spread out on long highway strips and into cul de sacs.  It’s easy to get out of touch.

We’ve been fortunate this year to have two nineteenth century experiences: a home birth and a home death. Ironically, there are some similarities with this coming and going. But the important part of the experience is that you are in touch with it. You are connected to it. It doesn’t take place in an institution with flourescent lights glaring and intercoms making announcements you can’t understand. These events traditionally took place at home with family in attendance, with neighbors standing by, with children seeing what was taking place. The loud exclamations of birthing, the rattle of a dying person connect you to the reality of the event. Being present is instructive and experiential as opposed to tedious (sitting in a waiting room of a hospital).

Somewhere along the way we decided we had to drive somewhere to birth or die. We forgot we could do it at home. These days more people are coming home to give birth or to pass on out of personal preference or economic necessity. Watching a babe’s head crown or seeing an old relative gasp last breaths will reconnect you to the world in the same way that getting out of your car and walking somewhere will do.

A home birth is a spectacular event to witness. I’ve told my daughter-in-law that two of the five most impressive things I’ve ever seen in my life are her giving birth (and I can’t remember the other three). A home death is on the other end of the joy spectrum. There’s sadness, of course, but I expect in many cases relief at the person’s release.

I’ve been out of touch with post-life events and was surprised to learn that so-called “green” burials are now allowed. “A Green Burial is a burial of an unembalmed body in a biodegradable casket without a burial vault or a grave liner.” I should say, “allowed again” for this is the way people were buried before our age of high technology.

According to the marketing of this nineteenth century burial technique we would save:
•    30 million board feet (70,000 m³) of hardwoods for caskets
•    90,272 tons of steel for caskets
•    14,000 tons of steel for vaults
•    2,700 tons of copper and bronze for caskets
•    1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete for vaults
•    827,060 US gallons (3,130 m³) of embalming fluid

Like most every aspect of our modern society there is a tremendous waste.

As a gardener what appeals to me about green burials is that a body would essentially be composted. Most twentieth century funeral services quoted from the Book of Common Prayer: “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” That’s composting in its essence but not possible when the body reeks of formaldehyde.

So as we move Back To The Future, as life becomes more local, as we slow down and get real, as we put our hands in the dirt, we can begin to get the feel of things as they really are. And when  we get to the end of it all, you can compost me. It’s very nineteenth century.

Jul 052010

On Monday, I recommend starting your internet day with Mr. Kunstler’s weekly essay. You might not agree with each and every thing he says, not do I. But, he’s mostly on target.

Money Quote:

“My tea party would encourage the necessary downscaling of all the critical activities of American daily life, including the re-localization of food production, the rebuilding of local commercial networks, the revitalization of the small towns and cities, and the difficult transition out of extreme car dependency.”

Read the whole thing here.