With winter arriving last weekend, and the majority of our outside chores and responsibilities being put on hold for a few months, I find myself with a bit more time to write, think, and dream. When I was younger I was always dreaming, whether it was all the possibilities life held for me, or all the ways that the world could be a better place, dreams and optimistic visions were a daily occurrence.
It is only with adulthood, and the responsibilities of being a good husband and father, that I have become more rooted in reality and the present. In all truth, I do not think this is an entirely bad thing. As beautiful and necessary as dreams are for me, these last 10 years
of raising children, improving our homestead, growing fruits and veggies, and putting down roots for my family has been the best adventure in my life. Though small in the scheme of things, the past 10 years has seen some of those dreams of a young Anarcho – punk rocker come to fruition. While some of the details have turned out significantly different from how I envisioned them, there is no other place or time I’d rather be a part of than right here and right now.
We find ourselves at a crossroads in this world of ours. Accelerating climate change caused by the hands of man, massive animal and plant die offs not seen for over 65 million years, the ongoing destruction of the remaining rain forests and other unique habitats, world wide economic and political upheaval, resource depletion, and a disconnect and isolation of the human spirit are all adding to the uncertainty of human survival on this planet.
While it seems like we have the cards stacked against us by so many compounding factors, I want to step outside of reality for a bit, and dream. I want to imagine what might be possible if we stopped devoting all of our time, money, and remaining resources to the destruction of our planet and the human spirit. I want to imagine what might be possible in a world based on mutual aid and respect. And finally, I want to paint a picture of what that world might look like – not in some “pie in the sky” utopian way, but a realistic rendering of how humans may be able to continue occupying this changing planet.
Food – Food is one of the precious things all people have in common. The industrial food system as we know it is one of the main factors contributing to resource depletion and waste, habitat loss, and an increasing unhealthy human population. Agro giants like Monsanto, Bayer, Cargill, and many others control almost all aspects of the modern food chain. From seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, harvesting, and distribution, these multi nationals have enslaved millions of farmers, destroyed local communities and ultimately have raped and pillaged a tradition that belongs to all people. So what can be done to help ensure food security for all?
First, we need to abandon the industrial food model. We need to give farming back to the farmers, which means pulling the plug on all the multi nationals. We need to rely less on petroleum products, and bring back a more hands on, animal based agriculture. We need more bio diversity within the farm – not just a monoculture of corn or soybeans. Open pollinated seeds and perennial crops such as fruit and nut trees are part of the solution along with better crop and animal rotations. We need to stop exporting carbon off of farms, and start rebuilding our top soil. Second, we need more farmers. Up until the Green Revolution, the majority of the world’s population resided in rural setting with farming as the top occupation. We need to head back in that direction, and start to reclaim as much of suburbia as we can and begin the process of healing the land. And since the cities will not be going anywhere, anytime soon, we need to heed the advice of David Holmgren, and create an environment that is friendly to backyard agriculture, or what Toby Hemenway calls a Horticulture society.
As the modern Urban Homesteading movement is evidence of, it is possible to grow and raise massive amounts of food in residential yards and community gardens. Along with the cultivation of nutrient dense fruits and veggies, we need to relax modern zoning ordinances and encourage flocks of backyard rabbits, chickens, ducks and geese. Not only can these animals turn kitchen scraps, weeds, and insects into protein, they also add huge amounts of nitrogen back into our soil. With honey bees finding themselves in so much trouble lately, we need to educate people about the importance that the honey bee plays in food production, and encourage more people to get involved with these little critters.
Along with more animals in the city, I would like to see more boulevard orchards of fruit and nut trees with under stories of brambles and berries, flowering plants, and carbon accumulators. I want to see more roof top gardens, aquaponic systems, and season extending greenhouses and coldframes. Coppice yards for fuel and light building materials, and a general attempt to make our cities more verdant, and productive – places that don’t just take, but also give.
Community – We cannot talk about Urban Farming or human resilience without talking about the community that makes it possible. Like many others who have said before me, we have to start making neighborhoods more walkable again. We need to bring back the local businesses that Wal-Mart has done such a good job of running out of town. We cannot have thriving neighborhoods and communities without a butcher or a general store or a local meeting spot. We need to bring back trades of all different kinds and start making real products again. Not only will this bring the production back to our communities, it will also provide meaningful work that is so lacking in today’s world.
When neighborhoods and communities have a degree of self sufficiency and resilience, they are better able to survive natural disasters and other troubles with more success. When you and your neighbors are no longer relying on supply chains that span the globe for the basic necessities of life, events that can knock out power or roads can be dealt with using common sense responses and local solutions. We have done it in the past, we can do it again.
Energy & Technology – Whether we like it or not, the world has already entered into an energy descent scenario. Peak Oil was most likely reached back in 2005, and that has caused repercussions throughout the world economy. Oil is literally in everything from our food to our gas tanks. It powers every modern convenience, and breaking this habit is proving to be very hard indeed. What would a world with a lot less oil look like? A lot slower and bigger. In a world where we no longer have energy slaves doing the hard work for us we will be more involved with every aspect of our lives. From transportation to keeping ourselves warm in the winter, every aspect of our lives will be based on how much work we are willing to put in, whether that is on the individual or a community level. We will have to learn to be happy with less “stuff” and less convenience. Traveling will take much longer, and for most of us who are working to feed ourselves and our families, traveling will be severely limited if not obsolete except for those who are involved in the shipping of goods from one point to another .
In the picture I am painting of this world that faces so many challenges, technology still plays an important role. First and foremost, is the question of nuclear power? While we still have the time and resources available to us, every nuclear reactor needs to be decommissioned and shut down. More importantly, we need to figure out a long term and reliable solution to the spent fuel and nuclear waste that already exists. What these solutions may be I can only guess, but if we stopped wasting all our brain power, time, and resources on the space program and other scientific vanity, I think we could figure this out. As a quick side note, in no way am I against science, or all the positive things it has contributed to our society. In fact, I love the idea of going to the stars, but the implications of nuclear technology and what can go wrong with it are well known and too important to not be dealt with – look at Chernobyl and Fukushima!
In regards to other hi- tech, modern gadgetry we can only produce so many of these trinkets before other “Peak” resource issues come to the fore front. Computers, smart phones, and all the other “toys” out there rely on rare Earth metals, which in turn rely on oil. It is an unsustainable equation that is bound to fail. It is my hope though, that we can salvage some sort of world wide web of communication. The internet, even in its most basic forms, is a great way of gathering information, staying in touch, and organizing events and campaigns. Its bottom up approach appeals to my anarchist sensibilities and a
lot of things can be accomplished through its wide range of communication options. Whether the internet can be salvaged, scaled down and run off a whole lot less energy is anybody’s guess?
A giant misconception among liberals and weekend environmentalists is the idea that green technology – solar PV panels, wind turbines, and hydrogen fuel cells can be readily swapped out to replace our dependence on oil. This false notion is one of the largest reasons we cannot move forward on issues like energy descent and climate change and have a realistic discussion about moving forward. While these technologies (at least solar and wind) will play an important role in transitioning into a post carbon world, it is technology from the past that will see us into the future. The appropriate technology movement of the late 1970s started this journey, we need to follow in their foot steps. Water catchments, composting toilets, passive solar water heaters, alternative building design and construction, rocket stoves and rocket mass heaters, low input greenhouses, methane digesters, aquaponics, solar ovens, and grey water systems are all relatively simple ideas that can be custom designed and built with the materials on hand and in any community. While none of these technologies are fancy or sexy, they can help to keep us fed, warm, and clean – sounds like a decent way to live to me!
Culture – To some folks, especially those unfamiliar with energy descent scenarios, the world I am trying to describe may seem like a bleak place to reside. It is completely within the realm of possibility that in the near future, the main focus and concern for the world’s population will be keeping their families fed. Does this mean that there will be no place or time left for art, or music, or poetry? Absolutely not! Just like so many other products and services available today, current mainstream art and music comes prepackaged from anorexic, air brushed tricksters of the “Wal-Mart” culture. There is nothing real or moving that you will find from these people on TV or in a magazine. As the world starts its transition into a slower reality, today’s fast paced entertainment will cease to be.
Just like food, we will start to see a re-localization of art. Songs, poems, and story telling will begin to take on regional and cultural traits. Painting, sculpture, and other visual arts will also display this cultural and regional diversity, and will start to be created with many more locally sourced materials. It is songs and poems and pictures that bind a community together. It is these art forms that give a community roots, and ultimately what truly nourishes our souls.
One last point of interest that needs to be addressed is the cultural heritage of knowledge. We have learned so much throughout history that it would be a shame to loose it all just because of a transitioning society. The accumulated knowledge of human history is a treasure, and should be treated as such. Hopefully we can figure out ways to keep libraries funded and functional, our population literate, and continue to add to our living history. Peak Oil, energy descent and the societal change that will follow are but a chapter in this book of human history – let’s keep writing ( but on acid free paper)!
All of this is a lot to digest, but it is our story and where we are headed. This idea of societal change based on resource depletion and climate change is not unique to the modern world – plenty of cultures throughout history have over shot their carrying capacity and have had to adjust to local, climatic changes. This time around though, it is on a global scale. So where does this leave us? Obviously food needs to be our number one concern, followed by the question of nuclear power and waste. After that, every community and bioregion will have their own set of unique problems, answers and solutions on how to move forward and deal with these challenges that we are faced with. Humans and the communities we live in are resilient and always have been, it is just that we have forgotten that in today’s fast paced, co-dependent world. I am optimistic that we can do this, and once again live in a world where all our roots run deep! Peace & Cheers!