Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Outlier Generation

Never was there a stranger time and place to live than the United States of America between 1940 and the present.  Failure to understand this simple sentence lies at the heart of most of the modern world's biggest problems and predicaments.  For obvious reasons, we've always called them the "baby boomers," but from now on I'm going to start referring to them as "the outlier generation," because, let's be honest, they're a pretty odd bunch.  Let me show you just HOW odd they are:

All things begin with energy, and so this discussion will too.  Between 1930 and 2005, a mere 75 years, roughly the average life expectancy of one human in the U.S.A. today, fully HALF of the planet's stores of fossil fuels were dug out of the ground and burnt.  Wait.  Back up for a second.  I know that must seem like a whole lot of black stuff at first glance, but let's break it down a little more thoroughly.  What we're talking about here is approximately half a billion years of ancient sunlight, fossilized solar power, laid down, submitted to the awesome span of geologic time and pressurized by an immeasurable overburden, until Earth's most stable, most portable, most energetically-dense resources emerged on the near side of the fossil fuel revolution about 300 years ago.  At least that's when we began learning how to put the stuff to work.  Although petroleum didn't really make its debut until about 1850, and didn't hit its stride, in return-on-investment (ROI) terms, for almost another century.  It was just peaking, just really coming into its own, when the baby boomers - er, that is, the outliers - got their first spankings.  This was the energy reality into which they were born.  History's greatest energy gift of all time was laid at their feet like so much gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

It's no wonder they think energy grows on trees.  Nor is it surprising that such opulence might foster the attitudes about energy so prevalent in their minds today.  No amount of monkeying around with amorphous silicon plates, giant wind turbines, hydro-electric dams, nuclear fission, ocean currents (please), hydrogen (snicker), ethanol (guffaw), or any other more or less esteemed member of the vaporware club, will EVER replace half a billion years of conveniently portable, and energetically super-dense ancient sunlight.  Not even close.  What it will do is give them a lot to chatter about, those monkeys, some poo to throw around in self-important ways, and lots of monkey biscuits for slick articles to be written about for publishing in slick monkey magazines.  That level of natural-born affluence makes for a helluva lot of hubris, and that's a character quality the outliers possess in spades.

So what's after energy?  Other natural resources?  Good.  Let's go there next.  Americans, lead by the outlier generation of course, "only" use 25% of the world's annual energy budget (that's 5% of the global population, mind you), but fully 1/3 of its natural resources and industrial product.  Apparently, energy isn't the ONLY thing that grows on trees.  Trees also grow on trees, and I guess they all belong to the outlier generation.  Which I suppose is OK; I mean, it's not like we need them for rain or oxygen or to prevent topsoil erosion or anything important like that.  How many of the world's houses do you figure this one generation owns?  I wonder.  You know, I'm going to go out on a limb and say roughly the same percentage as the amount of Earth's fossil fuels they feel entitled to.  Roughly half.  Half of all Earthling homes are owned by the outliers.  [I don't really care if I'm talking out of my backside at this point - my snarkiness is in free-range mode now and it has to fly.  Besides, I bet I'm not that far off...].  

What else?  Oh yeah, from my last post, rock phosphate is in terminal decline after 75 years of outlier amok-running.  There goes industrial ag!  Copper is all but gone in any sort of useful concentration outside of the recycling bin.  Iron ain't far behind.  Coal is currently peaking. There goes industrial everything else!  Fresh water is in red-line.  The very air is tainted and toxic.  Estuaries are dead and bloated.  So much for seafood!  I'm glad nobody outside the outlier generation likes lobster and crab, or tuna; that makes this less painful.  And what's left is priced so high that only they can afford it.  Which is good, because it all belongs to them, right?  Thousands upon thousands of the world's life forms have gone extinct during their tenure.  More humans are enslaved than ever before to bring them their pie at discount prices.  The list is exhausting.  I thought this would be a bright spot after energy.  Let's move on.

What's next?  We now see that fresh water is something we've been graciously afforded a whiff of by its owners.  Mmmm.  I liked it.  Water.  Shhh.  Don't tell the Californians that we have a little left here in Georgia.  Quick, change the subject!  How about food.  Food?  Nah, we're gonna need to convert it all to fuel for the masters' cars once the remaining garbage oil gets too hard to extract.  Too bad there's no actual net energy yield from the ethanol-making process.  Ah well, we can't be bothered with pedestrian interests like thermodynamics at this point!  To the moon!!  There's a lot of corn out there that hasn't realized its full potential yet.  Feeding 3rd world Gen Xers is hardly a noble vision when the outliers haven't quite attained their foot-propped Jetson's fantasy of full automation just yet.  Never mind the legions of unemployed that could really use one of those jobs they're still trying to automate.  They control the unemployment statistics, so it's not actually a problem.  On the upside, there'll be plenty of corn liquor to take our minds off things, available via nothing more complicated than a decent gas tank siphon, once we've fracked the last of the drinking-quality water into oblivion.  [I joke here, but the truly sad part is that another generation of water flushing toilet users would be all it takes to finish off that pesky fresh water business.  No, seriously.  Attention, Outlier grandparents, be sure to finish what you started!  Teach those grandkids how to waste precious resources appropriately!  We don't want future generations getting all uppity, thinking they can be Outliers too...]  I didn't actually get into the real crazy of the outliers' anomalous food traditions, but it's probably worth an entire post of its own anyway...

Whew.  OK.  We've covered the extreme anomalies of outlier existence in the realms of energy and natural resources, and water and food.  How about medicine?  Why not.  I'm an herbalist, like 99 out of 100 humans who came before me, and who will come after me, after the influence of the outlier generation has lost its luster.  Or feasibility.  Or mesmerizing effects.  Or corporate sponsorship.  However you want to look at it.  Look, we KNOW that using "silver bullet" medicine creates a favorable environment for microbial resistance to evolve rapidly.  Plant medicine does not.  We KNOW that dozens of diseases and infirmities are rampant today that were hardly a passing concern before the outlier generation.  Things like diabetes, especially Type II, cancer, heart disease, auto-immune dysfunction, autism, ADHD, BSE, AIDS, MRSA.  On and on and on.  Plant medicine didn't create these problems.  But plant medicine will eventually come to the rescue.  It's the only approach that can.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, and the outliers are as crazy as they come.  They attempt to fix the problems of technology with more technology.  They attempt to ameliorate the modern world's mountain of medical problems with the same medicine that created them.  They generally assume that hard limits are a problem for shallow minds, and that simplicity can be bought and sold, and isn't it a cute fad?  And why not?  They've been able to buy any other solution they wanted.  It makes sense.  And it's not really their fault.  Winning the lottery at every turn has surprisingly predictable results.  Probably doesn't help their attitude to call them predictable, but hey, there it is.  They're very different from the rest of us.  They're outliers, by nurture, not by some flaw in their nature.  They lived during the most anomalous age in human history; they're bound to be different.  Unfortunately, they control the world's political machinery, its news media, its guns, and the lion's share of its property and money.  They can be whoever they want to be, through force and coercion.  

But they aren't completely resigned to their fate.  There are plenty of boomers out there who recognize the predicament of our age, who are hell-bent on being a real part of the solution, instead of perpetuating the problem that they had a big part in creating.  But those real solutions don't reside in Congress or the White House.  They don't respond to throwing good money after bad.  They don't come out of research universities.  They come from using less.  They come from slowing down and being still, not from traveling to poor countries to hand out medicine, or visit indigenous shamans.  They come from recognizing that business as usual is suicidal, homicidal really, considering that most of them will be dead and gone before the stuff really makes contact with the fan.  They came, they saw, they used it all up, and now they're doing their level best to figure out how to keep the carousel spinning.  And of course they did, and are.  We would have, and would be too, given the same circumstances.  But that wasn't our lot, and the rest of us will be left with the task of sorting through the rubble of the industrial age and trying to figure out what works and what doesn't.  

Most of what the Outliers think is normal will fall into the latter category.  I actually pity them.

Tripp out.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Composting Toilet - I Know, But You Have To...

I've used one for so long now that I dislike using the "standard" water- and fertility-wasting version that Americans everywhere use.  But it wasn't that long ago that I too found the idea, well, dirty.  Bring up the subject among the uninitiated and before the dialogue goes very far at all you'd better be prepared to field wrinkled faces, upturned noses, and 5 year old arguments, like,


Yep, that's the standard logic.  You do what??  Compost our wastes, yes, you heard me.  And not just kitchen scraps, leaves, and livestock poo, either.  Our own human wastes.  Number 1 and number 2.

"You mean, kind of like a kitty litter box?"

Yeah, sort of, except that we don't scratch around in it once it's been used, it gets dumped the second  it's full, and it doesn't stink to high heavens.  Doesn't stink at all actually.  And it's much cuter.

And here's the thing.  It's dang near impossible for me to come up with one single easier change you could make in your life that would have a more positive impact on the planet's health (or the persistence of humanity).

Think about it.  Fresh water is both a finite commodity on this planet - the only planet we'll ever live on, by the way - and the single most important resource in our lives, excepting perhaps oxygen.  And how do we treat it with standard flush toilets?  Like shit.  Literally.  It's like pulling down your pants and taking a dump on your mother.  We take a gallon and a half of this most precious substance - drinking quality water - and flush it down the toilet every time we wish to rid our homes of a pint of piss.  Piss that, I might add, is loaded with nitrogen, phosphorus, and trace minerals.  Dilute it, at least 10:1,  and you have an excellent liquid fertilizer (that also repels deer).

Ever heard of peak phosphorus?  If not, it's time you did.  See, industrial agriculture relies heavily on rock phosphate to fertilize our major food crops, and when you do anything on the scale that industrial agriculture does things, you need a pretty large amount of pretty high quality material to fit your production scheme.  And, as with all finite resources on finite planets, both the quantity and, more importantly, the quality decline with use over time.  Rock phosphate supplies have already peaked and are in decline.  There is no debate raging over the subject.  High quality rock phosphate supplies are on their way out for good.  And get this: we also make herbicides out of the stuff!  That's right, we take a major nutrient, vital for plant growth, whose supplies are in terminal decline, and warp and twist it into chemicals that KILL plants!  Oh, sweet irony...

But wait, there's an upside, too.  Peak phosphorus and declining rock phosphate quantity and quality only matter if you get your food from the industrial food supply that relies on it!  It isn't a problem for all of us who grow our food organically, at home, and recycle all of our bodily wastes back into the soil.  So you're all set, right?  I thought so.  There are a dozen ways to collect phosphorus from your surroundings, every day, and composting toilets are right up there at the top of the list.  Easy peasy.

So now that you've started using a composting toilet, you're NOT wasting tens of thousands of gallons of drinking quality water every year, water that won't find its way back into your aquifer within your or your grandchildren's lifetime, nor are you flushing away vital nutrients, nutrients that are in increasingly short supply globally every year, in such a cavalier way, as if the nutrient fairy will just show up with a fresh supply when you run low.

And no, there is no danger from pathogens.  Gut microbes like E. coli live in very specialized, temperature controlled environments, like, well, your gut, and compost piles are a very hostile place for them.  They don't stand a chance in there.  That objection you're waving your hand about right now is simply part of your cultural programming (the 5 year old part).  Cultural programming that, I might add, is currently destroying humankind's ability to continue enjoying this fine little planet we call home.  But don't worry about it too much, I'm sure another planet will show up when we need one.  Or the Rapture.  Or the Singularity.  Or the...

Welcome to the composting toilet club...one day...when you grow up.

Tripp out.