Monday, December 20, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.
And I say, "See who is in there with you and celebrate. . .
We are the ones we have been waiting for."
The concept is enigmatic, but with the current energetics shift underway, also very appropriate for discussion. The term was coined by Thomas Kuhn in his book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (1962), and he suggests that they occur when scientists encounter anomalies which cannot be explained by the universally accepted paradigm within which scientific progress has thereto been made. Take quantum mechanics (QM), for example, which is a branch of theoretical physics that doesn't conform to Newtonian principles. Whether or not QM ever amounts to anything more than a fascinating rumination, it does indeed represent a paradigm shift. A new physical construct had to be developed to explain the behavior of the quantum world.
So let's apply the concept to peak oil and our future as a species here on Earth. What would constitute a legitimate paradigm shift in this case? As with most questions of this nature, it is instructive to first further refine the implications of a paradigm shift, and then to define just what exactly our current/previous one is or was.
The paradigm, in Kuhn's view, is not simply the current theory, but the entire worldview in which it exists, and all of the implications which come with it. Take for example the idea of slavery. In the 18th century it was considered "liberal" to oppose slavery, whereas in the 21st century it is considered barbaric not to. This is a pretty big deal. The idea that one human has the right to capture and enslave another, by whatever means necessary, for his own energetic benefit is not just outmoded, it's inconceivable to most modern industrial humans. This constitutes a major shift in worldview, and by extension, a paradigm shift. But was it a genuine paradigm shift, or merely a new moral high-ground gladly settled on by people who had mastered better techniques for energy exploitation? I think it's curious that the immense energetic value of oil was discovered in the 1850s, just before the great debate over slavery was settled the following decade. To extrapolate that line of logic back a bit farther, did the areas of the U.S. and Britain that produced coal, another immense form of fossil energy, also produce anti-slavery sentiment? If coal was mined in the south instead of the north, might the Civil War have been pressed on the Yankees by southern liberators? Is it easier to give up the energetic advantage of human slavery when there is a technological replacement that is free of the fear and loathing that must've registered in every slaveholders mind? And not only a replacement, but a superior technology to boot! Too easy.
So we're forced to re-evaluate our perception of a legitimate paradigm shift concerning human slavery, and replace it with the less-gratifying concept that we merely found an exponentially better way to enslave energy for our desires. The game-changing energy derived from coal and then oil made it easy. Slavery became an obsolete technology. At least in the first world. The question of whether we will return to slavery in an energy descent world immediately comes to mind. And while I'd like to think that we have truly outgrown such atrocities in the last century and a half, the logical answer to me is yes, of course we will. When it is energetically advantageous to do so.
Moreover, did we really ever leave it behind? Don't we still exist in a world where covert slavery is acceptable, so long as it's not the classical whipped and chained Africans on the southern cotton plantation image before us? I can't count how many times Americans, when confronted with the sweat shop labor argument, have offered an explanation to the effect of "well, at least we're providing them with jobs!" Right, like several millennia of exquisite Chinese civilization depended on them making plastic toys for us. Is five bucks and a bowl of rice a day really any different from slavery? The ugly truth of it is that buying cheap goods made in the third world condones the modern day version of slavery. And it's "over there" because the practice would never fly within our borders. We're too guilty to look it in the eye. Slavery didn't disappear, we just outsourced it and moved on to something better.
So if we're starting to question the existence of genuine paradigm shifts in the thought patterns of industrial culture, what might we expect to constitute a legitimate one? The Aquarian New Age movement might have the answer, right? I mean, paradigm shifting is their piece de resistance, isn't it? So let's take a look then. What does the New Age offer us?
As I understand them, the tenets of the New Age are as follows:
1)Monism - All is One. Dr. Bronner's favorite. Everything and everyone is interrelated and interdependent.
2)Pantheism - All is god. Every living and non-living object in the universe contains within it a spark of the divine.
3)If all is one and all is god, then we are god. Therefore all of humanity is ignorant of its own divinity, and a major goal of the New Age movement is to discover that divinity.
4)We discover our own divinity through a change in consciousness.
5)Reincarnation - we achieve our divine potential through a series of lives spent bettering ourselves.
6)Moral relativism - all religions are true, and there are many paths to god.
Some of these concepts seem so self-evident that only the most myopic religious fundamentalists could argue. For instance, the idea that we are all interrelated and interconnected is, from an ecological point of view, practically set in stone. I might also offer that pantheism could just as easily be described as "none is god" as it is "all is god." If we are all interrelated and interconnected, then each and every facet of the whole plays a crucial role, but certainly doesn't require divinity. This is easy enough to visualize as mineral deposits contributing their elements to biological systems that function with said elements as limiting factors to growth. For example, without the phosphates trickling down the watershed from the surrounding rocky hillsides, the plants that support the food chain couldn't flourish. Likewise, without healthy plant communities, the resident animals wouldn't survive for very long. To promote an animal consumer like Homo sapiens to a position of ordained stewardship is to not understand much about food chains. Without the primary producers and decomposers our reign as king would be short indeed. It's just as accurate to consider fungal decomposers the stewards of the system, ordained or otherwise. We'd be up to our necks in detritus pretty quickly without their tireless breakdown of recalcitrant organic molecules. But a mycocentric view of the system is no more appropriate than a human-centered one. All system functions are equally important - producer, consumer, decomposer; therefore either all are god, or none are god, but all are the same for sure.
Number 3 in the list represents my main argument against the idea that New Age philosophy represents a legitimate paradigm shift. If we are all becoming gods, or slowly waking up to the idea that we always have been, then we are still riding an expansionary train of thought. According to this reasoning it seems logical to add a fourth way of being to the old "savagery, barbary, civilization" progressivist party line: deism. Where we transcend the corporeal toil of our lowly position as animals within Earth's biosphere. From barbarian to citizen to demi-god, expanding all the way. Where's the paradigm shift?
Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for increased self-awareness and spiritual betterment, but just as coal and oil gave us a way to disdain our lowly status as slave-holders without actually having to endure a real shift in worldview, New Age philosophy continues that logical course by allowing us to disdain our lowly position as mere humans, confined by physical and natural law. This is merely the next geometric expansion of a 10,000 year old march through increasing abundance.
But increasing abundance can't last forever. What goes up must come down. Now that we've shined the light of reason on some of the past and future misconceptions about what constitutes a genuine game-changing paradigm shift, we're left with the increasingly irritating question of what one truly is!
Into that question steps the answer we're all here to discuss: global energy peak. When oil production peaked in 2006 (according to the International Energy Agency, not just some peak oil doomers) those of us in the expansionary first world were confronted with our first view of a new way of being. Permanent energy descent and economic contraction, a more or less perpetual bear. Going back to the definition that opened the essay, contraction will present science, and everyone else on the growth track, an increasing number of anomalies that can't be explained by the previously accepted worldview. Nature behaves quite differently in a contractionary phase than it does in an expansionary one. The mother of all paradigm shifts lies before us, and I, as well as many of my readers, are just starting to come to grips with the gravity of the situation. Talking about comprehensive worldview shifts, energy descent will demand bottoms-up revolutions in every facet of our existence, from agriculture to politics, and religion to gender relations. Food chains will grow steadily shorter. Biodiversity will increase, perhaps even sparking an evolutionary flowering event. And relationships among the players in that contracting system will become more cooperative. Fighting over expanding energy resources made sense, and was actually ecologically adaptive, in our growth paradigm, but energy descent will reset the table on every matter we think we understand. With less to fight over, we will begin to understand that our strength lies in ever more local and cooperative arrangements, and, counter to the segregation and specialization of growth, the humble generalist will inherit the earth.
It's a truly fascinating time to be alive! Dangerous or not, I wouldn't trade it for any other period of history.
Monday, November 8, 2010
But back to potatoes first.
What a beautiful plant the potato is to see growing in your garden! It's an obvious member of the Solanaceae family, the nightshades, with a flower reminiscent of an eggplant's. Some tomatoes, like the Brandywine, are commonly dubbed "potato leaved" varieties, and that makes plenty of sense once you see these babies growing. But where tomatoes and eggplants play their cards out in the open, harvesting potatoes is far more like opening presents on Christmas morning! Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. There are few joys in the garden like turning up a pile of hidden spuds at the end of the potato season. One pound of seed potatoes yields roughly 10 pounds of calorie-dense, protein-dense tubers that can keep all winter in the root cellar (or in the ground if you prefer!). Matter of fact, potatoes produce more calories per acre than any other crop. And if you've grown them yourself, you'll know why it's worth the effort! And all you have to do to repeat the joy of growing potatoes next year is set aside a bucket of the small ones to plant the following spring. No reason to ever buy that variety again.
But make sure you rotate their location in the garden. Pest pressure can be nightmarish in the potato patch. Leaving them in the same place year after year is a sure recipe for pest build-up and reduced yield. The picture above shows my potato patch, the lush leafy green ring dotted with white and pink flowers, in Washington two years ago. Had I stayed in this garden, the patch would have been moved out to the next ring the following season. Potatoes also tend to revert back to their wild form after staying in the ground for a few years, becoming woody and less palatable. If not, they would easily be the undisputed number one crop on Earth!
Saturday, November 6, 2010
"Interesting thought Tripp, but what makes you think that a world with a lot less energy would necessarily devolve into decentralized tribalism?"
And here is my response:
Here's why: because according to widely accepted anthropological findings, about 150 people is the maximum number of folks any one person can keep up with - names, occupation, family relations, etc. At this level, which is basically the tribal level, societies are self-regulating. That is, everyone knows everyone, and is therefore accountable to everyone. It is in one man's interest not to kill another man because he would be found out and dealt with accordingly. You can't get away with much at the tribal level of organization.
Let's think of this as a comparison of food chains, tribes representing the shortest food chain that we are likely to see in such a highly populated world. Band organization is probably distant history for the most part.
So in that tribe of less than 150 people, there is no need for policemen, lawyers, judges, or even a chief, no kleptocrats whatsoever actually. Everyone is involved in acquiring food, even the "big man." Which is not a hereditary title, but conveyed solely on the merit of personal character. In ecological terms, kleptocrats represent parasites on the production system. That is, they are not directly involved in food production, and so have to be fed by the labors of other members of society. Ostensibly in return for a service of equal or greater value. Ostensibly.
Which takes us to the chiefdom level of societal organization. Because there are now roughly several thousand citizens at this level of political organization, they can't possibly know and respect everyone in the society, so 3rd-party arbitrators need to be employed - the police, lawyers, and so forth. Another layer of organization, another link in the food chain, but this time it's a new apex consumer class preying on the producing class below, and, because of typical and quantifiable energy loss to metabolic inefficiencies, every link up the food chain requires not an arithmetic expansion, but something closer to a logarithmic expansion of energy. Think about the preponderance of claims of inefficiency in the larger, more complex governments of the world. They're absolutely legitimate, and absolutely natural, according to energetics laws.
On top of this, new heights of political organization always demand monument building to solidify and consolidate their power, organized group projects like temples, monuments, and state houses. The impressive moai of Easter Island come immediately to mind. The chief is now typically ordained by the local deity, and the title passed on through hereditary title, thus creating a permanent entitled class above the producing masses. Another logarithmic expansion of energy flow up the food chain.
Without burdening the reader further with a discussion of state or even empire level organization, one can see quite plainly that increasingly-larger political organizations require exponentially more energy to maintain. (Think trial, appellate, and supreme court systems, with their level upon level of production capacity-draining kleptocrats.)
With the knowledge we have of peak oil, and understanding as we do that energy will now become increasingly difficult to capture, what sense does it make to assume that we won't enter some sort of balkanization process, slowly heading back through state, chiefdom, and on down to tribal level political organization?
Again, who knows about the timeframes here. I don't have a crystal ball in my pocket, more's the pity. But I understand ecosystem energetics fairly well, and I'm fairly certain that dwindling energy resources will remove apex predators from the food chain (something to celebrate in my opinion - think about the Bernie Madoffs of the world), in human societies just as in more classically natural populations. Because the most effective way to cut pork is by removing the head first. Which is why it never happens to any significant degree in complex political cultures; why on earth would I knowingly allow my underlings to dispatch me?? Besides the awful effects of DDT, this is one of the main reasons why birds of prey suffered from human expansion. They were apex predators who had their food chains undermined or usurped by us.
As a logical extension of this argument, one could almost assume that the greater a society's monument building is, the longer the food chain supporting it, and the more energetically unstable it is. That's why I don't worry too much about "the Chinese takeover" in a global energy descent context. Has there ever been a more monument-obsessed culture than the Chinese?
So yeah, I feel pretty confident that my macro perception of our trajectory is fairly well informed. Micro? Hard to say. But I think it's fair to assume that saving the planet (and thereby ourselves) relies on our getting small and getting local as quickly as we can. Because every link in the food chain that we remove cuts energy use logarithmically too. Which is why this might take a while. But me, I'm just ready to get back to something a lot less complicated. Some of us are simply skipping the hassle of organizing and reorganizing repeatedly, and instead, actively engaging neo-tribalism, and giving the uber-high-energy complex political organization we're all too familiar with a miss. Because we understand that our future depends on it, and we have the stones to act on that knowledge now.
I'm not sure "devolve" is the right word, but it would certainly be counter to the trends of the last ten millenia.
Friday, November 5, 2010
I hopped in the car early this morning to run get some baby cereal and bananas, and saw the mess. Figures, I thought. What the hell? They pulled the face off of our old and busted CD player, screwing up the console around it, but couldn't manage to get the business part out. Or didn't bother once they saw what it was. We don't care about stereos; you'd think the overflowing garden right beside the car, and the age of the car itself, might suggest that. I guess I'll just leave the doors open from now on. I'd rather lose Ella's booster seat than a window! Trunk was ajar too, but apparently they didn't like the contents of my urban farm vehicle's trunk either: soil probe, work boots, battery charger, mattock, definitely no amps or subwoofers.
Funny thing is, I didn't really care all that much. I didn't feel victimized, or stalked, or even unlucky. Things like cars mean less and less to me these days. I almost wish we could just be done with the whole car thing, and crap like this just reinforces that desire. But we're not ready to get stuck in this neighborhood, so we better hang onto it for a little while longer.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Trash can half full of soaked wheat straw. Half a bale fits in these 30 gallon models, so I do 2 cans at a time. I stuffed eight 5-gallon buckets with a soaked 40 lb bale of straw.
Keep layering straw and grain spawn every 3-ish inches. Pack it tight! Be better if it was chopped; you could get more in there. Sawdust works too I think. I'll try some sawdust next round, since there's a cabinet maker nearby with a dumpster full of sawdust free for the taking.
Next bale on to soak. These cans are really heavy when they're full of water, so I put them in the blueberry patch (very young blueberries still) before I filled them, thinking they might benefit from the tannic water after the straw has soaked. Old-and-busted in the background is slowly coughing up its parts for poultry/rabbit coops and tractors, and goat sheds. I'm hoping it's gone by spring, and since it was a boat garage in a former life, I'll grow a crop of sunflowers and mustard greens to accumulate heavy metals from the site. Maybe an oyster mushroom crop too. Oyster mushrooms can actually digest petroleum derivatives and metabolize heavy metals. Some say that they digest environmental toxins so completely that you could eat them after bioremediation! Not sure I'm that hungry yet.This afternoon Ella and I installed 5 worm towers in the sweet potato bed. You can see the large white PVC pipe sticking out, 2 in this view. As you can see, peppers and tomatoes are still going strong here in the zone 8 piedmont/coastal plain ecotone! We're testing these out with some leftover plumbing pipe in this one bed to see if they're worth using on a larger scale, and to make sure the plastic behaves. They're full of holes below ground level, and the idea is that the worms will come in to dine on compost we throw in there, down to 16" deep, and then leave their juicy castings all over the bed, tilling and fertilizing Nature's way. Not a lot of natural precedent for rototillers in a temperate climate. All of my annuals grow in double reach beds done Emilia Hazelip style.
Close-up of one of the worm towers filled to ground level with weeds and compost. Leave the really heavy stuff out as worms aren't much for eating banana and orange peels, and don't particularly care for aliums either. They love coffee grounds and tea though! The post-hole-diggers found some small and unexpected sweet potatoes maybe a foot deep, so I have a lot of hope that next season will produce a lot of them. Doesn't my sand look nice after a season's love??
New fire pit back near the livestock paddock. Woke up to a cool drizzly morning today and just thought we were going to need a hot fire. It was perfect.
Also started work on the central chicken coop of my rotational paddock system today. My 2 Americauna pullets are looking on eagerly. Woo-hoo!! Thirty-six square foot mansion. How spacious!
Their eggs are prized by French chefs and 007! Brought this breeding trio of French standard Black Copper Marans home last night. They're the ones that lay the dark chocolate brown eggs. Supposed to be the best quality egg available. We take our food very seriously around here! Oh, and my 2 crazy guineas seem to have taken a shine to ol' Chaucer.
Well there you go - a tour around Small Batch circa November 3rd, 2010. Hope you enjoyed it!
Sunday, October 31, 2010
From these simple, but heavy, beginnings, horses went on to serve as vehicles, tractors, tow trucks, tanks - they were everything for the next 6000 years. The next shock of this magnitude would have to wait for the arrival of the Third Reich and their iron tanks with mounted cannons. But even that was small potatoes compared to the way horses revolutionized life on Earth.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
A paper monetary note - US dollar, Japanese yen, German deutschemark - is, for all practical purposes, a unit of energy. And not just ONE unit of energy either, but a brand new unit of energy every time it changes hands. Doesn't matter much what it's traded for, a unit of energy is expended every time it moves. Unless you put that dollar under the mattress and sleep on it, that is. Then it basically ceases to exist.
But that's not what the majority of first-world humans do, is it? We buy groceries, go to concerts, and invest in big tobacco companies. Or maybe in so-called "green" or "socially responsible" investment vehicles, if we lean that way. Doesn't pencil out any differently though. A dollar spent in the economic machine is still a dollar. Even in a venture as seemingly innocent as the Nature Conservancy, where dollars are traded for valuable natural real estate, more money donated translates into more people working on that conservation. More plane flights hither and yon. More mortgages. More investment firms to handle the retirement funds for those employees. More dinners out. And the formal economy keeps on spinning, and by "spinning" I mean destroying the planet.
What about Heifer International? I used to subscribe to their "good works". Their business model revolves around taking first world donations to provide livestock and training to the "unfortunate" third-world poor. But those poor people are alive, and have been for millenia, quietly living sustainably, not reproducing more than they could feed. They were hunter-gatherers, or horticulturalists, living very local, low-impact lives. Now they are aspiring agriculturalists, and entrepreneurs. Ideas based on expansion of market share, and an "ethic" of size equaling self-worth. You were nothing until we gave you that water buffalo, and you'll be nothing again if you don't expand your holdings with it.
But how can 7 billion people expand their holdings? How can we all be agriculturalists, steadily clearing virgin land to convert into more humans? (Literal and metaphorical virgin land.) The simplest answer is that we can't. The physical world has physical limits. It's that easy. Modern industrial humans don't like the idea of limits. Not something we've ever had to tolerate much of. Up until now. I don't have much else to say on the matter beyond that we have to stop. Just stop moving, stop doing, stop consuming. I'm only aware of a couple of people who travel extensively yet manage to live carbon negative lives. And no, Al Gore is not one of them. Could be, but I don't know that for sure.
OK, so what about a kind of green tech stability? Can't we just replace our conventional systems with lower-energy alternatives? Of course we could! If that was what we were doing. But does it really make sense that an alternative power system for every individual property in the developed world would be cheaper energetically than a regional power grid? Should we just overlook that solar panels require the mining of rare earth elements like Indium and Hafnium? Metals that are near their peak supplies already? They are called rare earth elements for a reason. How exactly will we create a solar revolution when we've barely begun the task and we're already running low on the required materials? Same for wind. You're just not getting the same bang for the energetic buck that you get out of oil and coal, and that is a physical limit that matters.
Now Tripp, are you saying that you endorse oil and coal use for power production? Yep. Until we wrap our heads around the idea that the only way to use less energy is to actually use less energy! The point is, it's the behavioral modification that matters, not the technological. The primary fallacy of the supposed "green tech" movement is the severe disconnect from reality embedded in the idea that we can keep doing what we're doing after a brief equipment change. That is, as soon as we can get all those old incandescent bulbs switched out for CFLs, or better yet, LEDs, and get everybody recycling their trash, we'll be able to continue this grand expansionary experiment unabated. Never mind the mercury in the CFLs that no one recycles, or the production costs of these technologies - the R&D, the new or retrofitted factories and supply chains, the mining, and the billion dollar chemistry labs, not to mention the average everyday lives of the people involved, buying their groceries, attending their concerts, and investing in their big tobacco companies. Or Green Mountain Coffee, or whatever, doesn't matter.
It all requires energy. The only difference is who is benefitting from that spent energy, that is, which of the 2 aristocratic parties in this country can gain the upper hand by acquiring slightly more energy than the other. The people who think alt energy is the way of the future, and thus vote for Democrats to bring that to fruition, are just as culpable for destroying Earth as the Republicans who want things to continue like they are. Maybe even more so. I was recently sent an article about an off-grid grass-based agricultural operation, which at first glance made me happy. After all, grass-fed beef is without a doubt the lowest input meat available, and done properly can even sequester atmospheric carbon. But the article went on to say that this ranch had just installed 50 kW of solar capacity at a cost of $320,000, that will supply over 1/3 of the power for their abbatoir! A whole one third! Just for the abbatoir! And they were bragging about it! I don't care what "they" say about recovery time on a solar investment, there's no such thing. Not when one does a full environmental accounting anyway.
Nothing will change until WE change. There's no such thing as free energy, because even if you found it, the additional humans it would create still need to be fed, clothed, and housed, at a bare minimum, and increasingly they "require" a computer and ISP, a cell phone, a car, ....
The Green Tech revolution is nothing of the sort. It's business as usual in a pretty green wrapper. The only chance we have of persisting on planet Earth lies in our ability to drop our hubris a notch or three, and start asking how, rather than finding a better way to accomplish a given task, how we can manage to get by without bothering to accomplish that task at all.
That's where our biggest trouble lies. The idea of stopping, slowing down, or avoiding doing a task is tantamount to laziness in the eyes of the growth culture. Prosperity comes from hard work, right? Wrong. OK, maybe in the shortest of terms, but ultimately, prosperity comes from sustainability. Anything else is just selfish, no matter how noble the motive. What good does it do to acquire the wealth of the planet and leave no trees for the children? Will that stack of paper fed notes taste good? Do they burn slow and long for warmth in winter? Would it even matter if there is no rain to water food crops following a deforestation threshold?
We have to sort out our priorities, and we have to do it now. This is the only problem before us. It's the biggest problem ever faced by Homo sapiens, and it will be THE defining moment for all of humanity. Doesn't matter what our parents and grandparents tell us is right, or noble, or responsible. Their experience was nothing like our experience.
Ever heard of the "Punctuated Equilibrium Theory"? Makes a lot of sense to me. Basically, it suggests that there are long periods of slow steady building of resources and infrastructure, followed by very short, rapid bursts of consumption. Repeat cycle ad infinitum. In a human context, the groundwork was laid for our parents and grandparents by their predecessors - the telephone system, the interstate highway system, social safety nets, intellectual property laws, and so on - and then they burst out to exceptional material wealth by utilizing these resources to their fullest potential. But in the process of creating massive paper wealth they consumed the REAL capital reserves - the forests, the freshwater, the soil's fertility- and now the long slow rebuilding process must begin anew. That is our next task.
But before the hair on the back of your neck stands up, or your face turns red, or even one "How dare you!" is uttered, let me quickly add that what we've done for the past 70 years, and in the larger sense the past 10,000 years, is completely natural. I don't think for one second that my grandparents intended to leave me and my cohorts destitute ecologically. We did what any biological population in our shoes would have done. The energy was there, it was easy, and we expanded to take advantage of it. That's how natural populations work! But the dark side of being a regular old part of nature is that we face the same consequences that, say, yeast in a barrel of grape juice face. Once the available energy in the system is used up the population crashes. What's worse is that in a population that arranges its affairs around growth specifically, even borrowing from future growth that may or may not exist, that crash will come even sooner. As soon as the growth phase is over that is. So unless there really is some benevolent deity that really does think our activities are worth rewarding, a population keyhole event is precisely what we can expect following peak global energy.
How long we have is anyone's guess, but I think the past 3 years have been the opening act of more or less permanent energy descent and economic contraction. Whether or not I'm right about that is somewhat irrelevant, because it will come sooner or later. By predicting it in the near term I'm actually tossing out a best case scenario. As soon as we begin to descend from the great energy mountain the biosphere begins to recover. (Good news, I'm seeing that happen already in many ways.) Which is good news for all biology, including humans. Hard to see sometimes, through the cloud of paper money blurring our vision from the peak, but the sooner this stolen season at the summit ends the sooner we recover our humanity.
The love of money is not the root of all evil. Money itself is. We're enamored by it, we always want more, and why wouldn't we! Money lets us travel, and eat better, buy land, and help our friends and family. For a while. Then it's just paper again. And the view from the ash pile will be surprisingly bleak I'm afraid. Seven billion or so humans surrounded by clear-cuts, impoverished farmland, toxic water, and a whole lot of disbelief.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
What I'm about to propose walks a similar line.
Some sharp friends of mine and I have been talking about what to expect from energy descent. Specifically, how societies will reorganize themselves along shorter, lower energy food chains, supply lines, and loyalties. And we mostly agree that the procession from band to tribe, tribe to chiefdom, and chiefdom to state, will probably just reverse. But along with that realization comes the unavoidable prospect of a return to racism and xenophobia, traits that modern people mostly consider ugly, and gladly left behind. That was our ancestral condition though. No one travelled beyond neighboring tribal lands, if even that far, and tribal societies were extremely intolerant of outsiders. As Dr. Jared Diamond puts it, why would they be on our land except to introduce foreign diseases, rape our women, and reconnoiter our territory for future raids? I think it's safe to say that very few people desire a future like this.
But cultural homegeneity, including racial/ethnic/gender/religious amalgamations, and widespread common language, are anomolies of a mobile high-energy society. Anomolies that most often require oppression in one form or another, if not bloodshed, or even outright genocide. Call it "manifest destiny" or "divine providence," whatever you will, but in the end it's nothing more than steamrolling your neighbors because you think you are better. Not that it's unnatural. All of Nature works that way, but following peak global energy things are changing, and they deserve to be considered.
So instead of a wholesale return to racial and linguistic tribal organization, what might be expected is a realignment along ideological lines. As we begin the descent, I could see Southern Baptists forming Southern Baptist communities, motorsports enthusiasts in motorsport enthusiast enclaves, and permaculturalists in their ecovillages, regardless of race or national origin. Doesn't have to be very big either. Just a neighborhood might do. Foreign immigrants, as well as members of some religious sects, in the United States have been doing this for centuries. It's the majority mixture that's the odd part.
While a little hybrid vigor probably does a species good, if it's unsustainable it's unsustainable, so back to more local organization we go. If you look, you can already see this happening, even in the mighty U.S. The Libertarians were an offshoot of the GOP, now the Tea Party, Greens from Democrats, etc. The balkanization of our world is well underway already, and a declining annual energy budget will only accelerate the process. Doesn't really matter how much we oppose it.
As a permaculturalist, I see myself as somewhat ahead of the curve in relation to energy descent. No doubt there will be people reading this post who don't even know what I'm talking about, or think I'm a loon for even bringing up such dark tidings. But permaculture, in its loosest definition, really is the energy descent phase of human history itself. What one calls it is a secondary matter, as David Holmgren might point out. It is a linking science, a toolbox for navigating changing energetic realities. It's basically a set of ethics and principles, based on the Laws of Nature, that inform our decision-making processes for the brand new situation of declining energy. We've never dealt with this before, so the guidelines are still evolving, and permaculture offers the most realistic, and even hopeful, philosophy I've ever seen.
So not to belabor the point, if permaculture is the next phase of human experience it makes sense that we might attempt to adopt a unifying language for discussion of the matter. But which one to adopt? English is one of the most widespread languages on planet Earth today; it's the language of business one might say. But from a linguistics perspective, English is not a language of diplomacy. It's great for agriculture, and expansion, and imperialism, but not for contraction. There are many causes for why history has played out the way it has, and a society's language often reflects its own history. As natural as the progression of English has been through the centuries, it is a bad choice for what lies ahead.
That said, I'm not English-bashing per se, nor am I endorsing any other extant language, but rather, offering another extinct language, like Latin, for permacultural communication. Only this time it's our real mother tongue. Not just like Latin is for the Italic languages today - Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, but THE mother language for half of the world's population. I'm talking about Proto-Indo-European. PIE for short. It's a linguistics extrapolation, inferred from extensive knowledge of all of its daughter languages, from Norway to Bombay.
One might suggest that Latin is too Eurocentric, or too theocentric even, arising in the Roman Catholic stronghold. Or that English is too imperialistic or agitating for many. But, in the same way that permaculture is a tidal shift from large-scale mono-cropping agriculture and associated attitudes, toward local, integrated, horticultural systems and ways of being, the PIE language transports us back to a pre-imperialistic era. An era of, well, horticulture. Perhaps it would be a stretch to call it a language of peace, but if nothing else, most of us should find it accessible on a cellular level, probably far more so than Latin. Honestly, what percentage of the existing permaculture community descends from the Indo-European lineage? Ninety percent? More?
It's the imperialistic Indo-European cultural family that needs permaculture, because we are the people who expanded to a highly unstable position energetically. We are the ones who invented permaculture because we are the ones with the need for it. And if we're consciously moving toward horticulture, it might behoove us to adopt a common horticultural language. At least while we can communicate over long distances. And even after that we would probably incorporate much of it into our locally-developing daughter languages. I have a feeling that, in the same way English is appropriate for expansion, PIE might foster a more respectful attitude toward Nature in its speakers. Because it was the language of a more respectful era.
I'm starting at zero on this one like most of you. I have no loyalty to PIE, nor do I know more than a few words. But this is a pattern language I could embrace, and learn actively, because like everything else about my permacultural experience, it's been highly worth the effort. It's not as pompous as learning Latin, nor is it as queer as adopting Elvish, and who knows, it might have a real impact on what we are doing.
At this point I'm all ears for anyone who might want to refine this idea.
Thanks for your time,
And god said, "Yeah, I put cannabis on the planet exclusively for the enjoyment of humans (and maybe a few other animals that tag along with you guys, like rats, they like it too), but my followers have managed to muck up just about everything I did for their happiness."
"Like boobs?" I asked.
"Exactly. They claim they ate an apple and became "enlightened" about their nudity, or at least about female nudity, and henceforth adopted modesty as a blanket policy! Of course you're a sharp fellow, Tripp, you see the cascade of misery that followed, from the resource acquisition to make trousers and shoes, to the pain of bras and girdles, to the sweat shop labor now forced upon so-called "lesser" peoples, all the way to the embarrassment of the Oregon Ducks rotating game day wardrobe."
"Indeed, sir, they are the laughing stock of the BCS, with their diamond plated shoulder pads. But what about the apple itself? Another demonized plant?! What have they got against plants?? There are plenty of real enemies to be dealt with."
"Oh yeah, "the tree of knowledge" they call it. Tree of retardation is more like it. It's an apple for jeebus sake. [That was my son's real name, btw, jeebus, in lower case like e. e. cummings, not Hey-Zeus, like some wetback (sic)]. I thought the apple was a real homerun."
"Why wouldn't you!" I exclaimed.
"Well, Tripp, I've got to run. Still lots of misrepresentations on my behalf to clear up. You understand."
"I do, sir. Thank you for your time."
"Hey, son. I'm glad you permaculturalists are doing what you're doing. It's about time someone listened. And feel free to cheef all you want."
"Thank you, sir. I'd tell the church that you said so, but you know how that always ends up."
"I sure do. Oh, and one more thing, tell your buddy 8M, over at Jim Kunstler's blog, to ditch that fascist Darth Vader view of the future of his. I sent him back in time with the knowledge he has specifically so that he would stop that from happening, not to promote it. Damn."
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Check out this douche. Oh wait, that's me 5 years ago before I grew a soul. My wife says that I killed that 4' Eastern Diamondback rattler out of mercy, since it had been run over repeatedly on our dirt road by some hostile Homo sapiens passing by. But I think I was still just retarded enough at that point to think that this was OK. These guys are beautiful. And rare. And they indicate a healthy ecosystem, one they play a starring role in.
I ate that snake out of pure guilt. Floured it, fried it, and ate it, one 4" chunk at a time. That smarmy look on my face was all show. I was really reeling inside for not trying harder to save that magnificent creature. A little bloody patch on its side, and OFF WITH ITS HEAD! Why not, I have kittens to protect! Of all the absurdities, killing an old diamondback to protect a couple of resource-guzzling kittens. I should've fed them to this lord of the sandhills just as tribute. What a beautiful snake! Or was.
Well, joy of joys, this particular usurpation visited me again this weekend. We were up north looking at some family mountain property, and on our way out the neighbor we had just met decided he needed to pop a couple of 9mm rounds into a "copperhead" laying on the wooden bridge that is the only way out by car. He managed to wound the poor thing, knocking a little bit of its face off, but couldn't quite manage to put it out of its misery in a timely manner.
Here I intervened. I parked the car and walked up to our champion copperhead to see what condition his condition was in. A robust 24" inch snake writhed in pain before me - not a copperhead, not even a cottonmouth - down there by the creek; water moccasins don't live that far north. What we had here was cutural breakdown. This great big, smart, hairy fella had blown a couple of splinters out of the bridge, but despite his far superior technology, was coming up short against this mighty Northern water snake. Non-poisonous of course, just catching some morning sun in a bright spot of the forest's gloom before slithering off to catch a crawdad for lunch.
You'd think that every snake out there can fly, and has jaws big enough to swallow a linebacker. Which couldn't be farther from the truth. I don't want to over-emphasize how important snakes are to their ecosystems, but killing them willy-nilly is both ignorant AND stupid, and eventually leads to local food web collapses. Just what we need at this junction in history is for Nature to further withdraw her support for our cause. Imagine if we didn't have black kingsnakes out there, munching on their usual diet of rattlers, copperheads, and water moccasins!
Blam! rings the artillery fired around the world at our own rear ends.
I put that poor water snake out of its misery with my soil probe. One swift shot to separate its head from its body. It felt even more disgusting this time than the last, but this guy left me no choice. Some way to begin a friendship.
We have to stop killing everything we meet. Intentionally, collaterally, ignorantly, it won't matter why when our life support system collapses around us. Educate yourselves in the direction of cooperating with nature, as fast as you can. Plant food, make your garden comfortable for wild animals, but mostly just take some heat off of the industrial food chain so farmland can be left fallow, and wild food webs have a chance to recover. Energy descent will guarantee this result in the long run, but will it be fast enough to help us through the mess we've made?
I don't really want to say which way I think it will go. But I very much understand why people believe in god.