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Posts Tagged ‘Collapse’

The great oval of the design represents the egg of life; that quantity of life which cannot be created or destroyed, but from within which all things that live are expressed. Within the egg is coiled the rainbow snake, the Earth-shaper of Australian & American aboriginal peoples..........Within the body of the Rainbow Serpent is contained the Tree of Life, which itself expresses the general pattern of life forms, as further elaborated in the chapter on pattern in this book. Its roots are in earth, & its crown in rain sunlight & wind. Elemental forces & flows shown external to the oval represent the physical environment, the sun & the matter from which life on earth is formed. The whole cycle & form is dedicated, as is this book, to the complexity of life on Earth.

The great oval of the design represents the egg of life; that quantity of life which cannot be created or destroyed, but from within which all things that live are expressed. Within the egg is coiled the rainbow snake, the Earth-shaper of Australian & American aboriginal peoples……….
Within the body of the Rainbow Serpent is contained the Tree of Life, which itself expresses the general pattern of life forms, as further elaborated in the chapter on pattern in this book. Its roots are in earth, & its crown in rain sunlight & wind. Elemental forces & flows shown external to the oval represent the physical environment, the sun & the matter from which life on earth is formed. The whole cycle & form is dedicated, as is this book, to the complexity of life on Earth.
http://www.users.on.net/~arachne/logo.html

Eight years ago when Peak Oil became a part of my life, and my DIY spirit kicked into high gear, I had no idea about the journey I was about to embark on.  From the beginning, food security and providing for my family had always been my main concern.  While it is true that the effects of Peak Oil will be far reaching, long term, and in some instances painful, nothing is more important than food and water security, with shelter coming in a close second.  Unlike food, clean water, and a dry place to live, we can survive without cars, iPods, high fructose corn syrup, industrial agriculture and so many other modern luxuries that people take for granted and think they need.  Admittedly, I love being comfortable.  I like staying warm on cold winter nights, and eating food when I am hungry.  I love hot showers and cold beer, and I like knowing that by washing my hands and having good hygiene I will not die prematurely from a preventable disease.

But what I dislike, or even to be so bold and say HATE, is the way humans have squandered our natural wealth and resources.  I hate that for one rich person to be luxuriously comfortable, thousands of others live in squalor and go to sleep at night hungry.  I hate how a person can be morbidly obese in a food desert, and I hate Monsanto and Bayer Corp for murdering honey bees and enslaving farmers!  That is a whole lot of hate, and though it is genuine and aimed at the right targets – that hate, anger, and negativity does nothing good for me.  I learned early on as a radical environmental activist that it is damn near impossible to change this corrupt and destructive system.

So after “retiring” from trying to stop highway construction and timber cuts, I was left with an empty feeling, a disenchantment with life, and a sense of powerlessness.  It was a dark place, and it wasn’t until I met my wife and we planted our first garden together that I was able to start seeing the light again.  Those first years and gardens were full of mistakes and missteps, but we kept at it and those gardens and our love have only grown and flourished.

It was at the same time as when Peak Oil entered my vocabulary that I started to hear about an idea called Permaculture (Permanent Agri/Culture).  Already having a few good gardening seasons behind me, and starting to crawl out of that dark hole I had found myself in, Permaculture began to fill in some of those blanks left over from my days as an Eco-Warrior.  Not only does Permaculture question and confront the path modern civilization has gone down, it also offers a whole interconnected web of ideas and solutions that coalesce perfectly with the converging crisis of Peak Oil and climate change.  And while I am glad to know that there are still people out there putting their bodies in front of bulldozers and chainsaws to stop the destruction of the wild, Permaculture gives us the tools to create and live in the world we want, and to help heal the one being murdered.

Like many other people, when I first encountered Permaculture I thought it was just about gardening – incorporating fruit, nut trees and other edibles into your landscape, using mulch, and composting.  And yes it is true that all these are a part of Permaculture, it is also so much more!  Permaculture is an ecological design system that helps to connect all aspects of our lives.  From the food we eat, the water we use, or the fuel that keeps us warm, Permaculture can help us obtain the necessities for life in ways that work with the Earth and promote the long term health of the planet.

The techniques and solutions offered by Permaculture are as diverse and unique as all the ecosystems and landscapes that surround us.  What works in one place may fail in another, but despite the differences, it is Permaculture’s  bottom-up approach and adaptability that allow it to be used the world over.  The challenges we face from Peak Oil and climate change are epic in scale.  In the case of Peak Oil everything about  our modern, fast paced lifestyles rely on abundant supplies of cheap oil.  Cars, plastic, hamburgers, industrial agriculture – you name it, are all either made up from or use huge inputs of oil.  If the tap gets turned off because of economic or social turmoil, or the price skyrockets and makes petrol unaffordable – kiss convenience and disposable culture goodbye and say hello to hard times!

Climate change is a different monster all together.  Where Peak Oil has some predictable outcomes, climate change, whether human influenced (a most likely scenario) or part of some cyclical system that the Earth goes through every couple of million years (which has happened many times throughout the Earth’s 4 billion year long life), we are headed for territory where no modern person has ever been.  100 year floods happening every few years, wildfires of epic proportions,  drastic temperature swings and repeated seasons of severe drought are just the beginning.  While there are plenty of climate models and predictions, how the long term effects of climate change will actually impact the Earth are unknown.  What we do know is this – the planet is warming, atmospheric carbon is on the rise, polar ice caps and ancient glaciers are melting, aquifers are being depleted faster than they can be replenished, forests are still being cut down at unprecedented rates, and we lose more topsoil each year.  All of these add up to a potent cocktail that is sure to leave us with one hell of a hangover when we decide to wake up from this binge!

This is an overwhelming list of of problems we face as a planet.  Dealing with energy descent alone will be difficult enough, but when you throw climate change into the mix, it almost seems hopeless.  It is an uphill battle we face, and one that we could quite possibly lose as a species if we stay the present course, but Permaculture offers solutions to this predicament.  It is getting late in the game, but humans are resilient and have proven in historic times of hardship that it is possible to pull through and adapt to new circumstances.

An idea I have had recently is that “All roads lead to Permaculture”, and in this sense of the word – Permaculture is the destination we need to aim for if we want any chance of surviving and moving human culture into the future.  The largest challenge we face is going to be scaling down every system, industry, and all the other myriad endeavors we participate in to a human scale.  What does this mean?  It means we need to stop relying on fossilized solar power (oil, natural gas, and coal) to do the work for us.  We need to design simpler, smaller and more diverse and efficient systems of agriculture, industry, commerce, city planning, living arrangements, community and civic dynamics, waste management, and all the other aspects that contribute to the human project.

Permaculture gives us the tools we need to accomplish this task.  As mentioned earlier, solutions will manifest themselves in different ways for different locations and different cultures, but the underlying ethics of Permaculture are universal and will form the foundation for a world transitioning into energy descent and a changing climate.  Many of the ideas, solutions, and principles offered by Permaculture are not new to human culture, and find their inspirations and origins in traditional and indigenous cultures that date back to before the agricultural revolution that started 10,000 years ago.

A good example of this is the idea of polyculture, or growing more than one crop in any given location.  Nature doesn’t grow just one plant (especially in straight rows) in an ecosystem, but a mix of many different plants that all play different roles within that one ecosystem. Before the dawn of modern agriculture, native people across the globe relied on and, in many instances, participated in these diverse landscapes. They were as much a part of them as the plants and other animals.  There is strong evidence that suggests that the continent of North America, prior to European invasion and conquest, was a highly managed and diverse ecosystem that contained thousands of edible fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, greens, and animals that the First Nations people tended, cared for and influenced through their actions and choices.

This idea of polyculture in todays world does not differ too much from the example above, and when it does, it is only in a matter of scale.  While it would be foolish to think that we could go back to the world of pre-European North America (at least anytime soon), there are things that we can do right now to add more resiliency and diversity to the way we are growing our food.  A good example of this is happening in Wisconsin.  Mark Shepard is a Permaculturist who is attacking conventional agriculture in the heart of Corn Country.  On his New Forest Farm, that only 18 years ago was a dying corn field, he is now growing chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, apples, currants, gooseberries, cane fruits, pigs, cattle and many more edibles in healthy polycultures that work with the land, rather than against it.  Through the use of keyline land design, he has created ponds that retain massive amounts of water which in turn have increased the amount of wildlife and vegetation, has begun to rebuild the soil, and has also started to recharge the aquifers that are underfoot.

Rather than relying on a rotation of corn and soybeans (and enslavement to Monsanto and the other BIG PHARMA corporations) for his income, he now has multiple sources of revenue because of his diverse selection of perennial crops and meat animals, he is producing real food that can actually nourish the human body, and is helping to heal the land.  He has coined his idea and way of growing food “Restoration Agriculture”.  He is taking Permaculture to the next step, and showing how it can be done on a large scale and be a viable option that can compete with conventional agriculture and help to feed the world’s population.  Mark Shepard is doing something few rural farmers even consider as an option – he is trying to insure a livable planet for the generations to come by leaving the land in better shape than when he started.  We can all learn something from the projects he has going, and adapt them to our own scenarios.

While Mark Shepard is a rebel farmer surrounded by monoculture rotations of corn and soybeans, where does that leave the rest of us?  How do those of us in cities and suburbs utilize the tools of Permaculture to the benefit of our families, communities and ultimately the planet?  How do we design systems and landscapes that start to heal our suburbs and cities and leave them in better shape for our children?  These are big questions, and rarely are they answered honestly or comprehensively.

I recently had the pleasure to see Mark Shepard speak in person, and he addressed this very issue, among many others.  Urban sustainability is a hot topic right now (as it should be), but it is all too easy to come up with responses to the challenges we face that make us feel good, but have very little real life impact on improving the conditions we find ourselves in.  The first step we can take is to stop candy coating the hard realities we face.  Human culture and the planet are on the brink of major change.  I am hesitant to say extinction, but it is within the realm of possibility that we may not be here in a few generations if things continue on with business as usual.  Our planet is a finite one, ruled by limits of resources, populations, and physical land.  When the balance of these limits are thrown off by reckless consumption, overpopulation on a given landbase, and depleting resources, some form of collapse is unavoidable.  This is where we are headed if we do not radically change the way we inhabit this Good Earth.

The above example of Restoration Agriculture is not only needed in the countryside, but in the city as well.  We need to start taking the basic principles of Permaculture more seriously and applying them to everyday life, in real settings.  We need to stop shitting in our drinking water, we need to figure out better ways of heating our homes, and we need to shorten the supply chain of the food we eat.  We need to realize that the economy cannot grow for ever, and that the true economy is the household economy – real products made by and for real people.

We need to do the unthinkable – rather than the continual encroachment of civilization into wild areas, we need to start ripping up parking lots and building garden walls with them.  We need to start dismantling the Mcmansions and expansive suburbs and replanting the land in orchards, food forests, prairies, and unmanaged wilderness.  Every lawn needs to be made over into diverse gardens of annuals, perennials, medicinal herbs and forage for livestock,  and we need to get over the phobia of keeping livestock in the city.  We have the knowledge and the resources to turn all forms of (hu)manure into a resource for our gardens, let’s do it!  Rain barrels are great, but they won’t change the world.  We need to rethink how we catch and retain water in urban (and rural!) settings.  We can take keyline design, along with grey water systems and  scale them appropriately to fit into smaller settings and start to rebuild our watersheds and wetlands on a micro scale.   We need to revive the age old craft of tree coppicing (and planting), there by adding an element of energy resilience to our home heating bill with a renewable source of fuel, light building materials, and ultimately the reforestation (and sequestration of carbon) of our planet.

All this, and so much more has to be done to insure a livable planet for the generations that are to come.  As it stands, we are not leaving much of a legacy to them. It is us, those who have the chance right now to start the healing process, who will be held accountable for the fate of the planet and human culture.

We have a long row to hoe if we decide to take on the challenges of energy descent and climate change.  It will be the hardest task we as a collective human culture have ever been faced with.  It will require patience, open ears, and the ability to work through our differences.  It will require cooperation on a scale never imagined, and it will be EPIC!!  It is truly hard to imagine what the world could be like if we succeed.  It will NOT be utopia!  It will NOT be perfect!  It will NOT be easy! But it could be infinitely livable, sustaining us with all the basics we need to live comfortably in communities that have roots.  It could restore what it is to be human, and give meaning back to our lives that seem to be lacking so much in today’s world.

Permaculture, a place where we use the examples of nature to shape, guide, influence, and design the ways we live on this Earth, is the destination.  It is the place, the idea, the action, and the inspiration that we need to successfully heal our planet.  Permaculture is restoration and stewardship of the natural systems that support all life on Earth, and the acceptance that we are part of these systems, not their masters.

Permaculture is the hope and dream that someday in the future, our grandchildren’s’, grandchildren can look back and know what we did was not for us, but for them.  That they can look up at a forest of giant chestnut trees and know that we loved them!  That they can drink the water because we loved them!  That they can breathe the air because we loved them!  That there is a planet to live on because we love them …. Peace & Cheers

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Homesteaders Unite!!

Homesteaders Unite!!

When my journey of urban homesteading began in earnest, predicated on the (now proven) theory of Peak Oil and a feeling that Western civilization may crumble rapidly as a result – I was scared.  My first child was still in-utero, we had barely started gardening, had no fruit trees planted, and had virtually no DIY skill sets to work with.  Not only was I scared, but I was depressed and also angry!  How was I going to take care of my new, little baby and my family in a Mad Max, apocalyptic world that was sure to show up on my doorstep any day?

What I did was this – I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.  I read everything I could find about energy descent, gardening, orchard care, permaculture, chickens and bees, and house repair and maintenance.  I got my hands dirty and built up my confidence in my ability to tackle problems and come up with solutions.

8 years on we are now growing enough food to not only supplement our families’ diet 4 seasons out of the year, but we are also growing enough fruits and vegetables to help feed 3 other families through our micro – CSA!  Each season we add more fruiting shrubs and trees to our landscape – apples, cherries, plums, sorbus, cornus mas, raspberries, blue berries, haskaps, gooseberries, and currants all make up and contribute to the first food forest and orchard planted in WSP, Minnesota in at least 50 years!

We have continued adding “tools”, both literally and figuratively to our DIY tool box of skills.  We have re-roofed our house, updated the plumbing, re-modeled our bathroom, built a deck out back, and many other projects that have not only improved the quality of our lives, but have also helped us grow as people who can make and fix things!

When Peak Oil became such a motivating factor in my life, I thought I was going to have to survive this crisis on my own.  In those early years when the learning curve was still pretty high, I found myself turning into a prepper.  Every time we went grocery shopping I would insist on buying tins of meat and canned beans.  The idea of arming myself weighed heavily upon my conscience, and my thoughts were constantly tuned to “what if’s” – What if the gas really does run out over night? – What if there are roving and rioting bands of starving people in every major city? And what if, what if – you get the idea!

Luckily though, as the years moved on and our gardens grew fertile, fruit trees got planted, and our skills starting to blossom, my philosophy concerning Peak Oil and its implications on the world and society started to evolve.  In no small part to great thinkers like John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg, and Jared Diamond and groups like the Post Carbon Institute – rationality was reinstated, and I was able to put my anxiety and nervousness about the future in check.  Jared Diamond’s book Collapse and John Michael Greer’s The Long Descent, together weave a narrative of the rise and fall of human civilizations throughout history.  So while the narratives are separated by time, space, and culture, they all share one common theme that facilitated their failure and ultimate collapse – the overshoot of their carrying capacity and resource base.

Whether the limiting resource is timber, water, or carbon dense fossil fuels, all civilizations answer to these constraints and limits.  Ours is no different.  Just because modern, western civilization has dominated the globe for the last 300 years or so, does not make us immune to natures reality check.  100 years ago when industrial civilization received its first injection of energy dense petroleum, it gained the ability to exponentially expand over the planet’s landscape.  We hit that drug and have been hooked ever since.

While stuck in this petrol fueled binge, we have managed to clear cut, mine, and pollute our planet all in the name of continual economic growth and technological progress without thinking about what the long term consequences may be.  With a population of 7 billion people (and growing) who all rely on agriculture, transportation, and infrastructure systems that are dependent on abundant supplies of cheap fossil fuel energy, you can start to see the problem we face as a global population.

When these abundant supplies of fossil fuel energy start to be less abundant and of lower quality (think tar sands), prices rise to the point of causing global economic disruptions, the first of which we saw back in 2008.  What Diamond and Greer talk about in their respective books is what is happening right now.  Our civilization and the systems that support it have overshot their carrying capacity and resource base and are now in the first stages of collapse.  What history shows us though, is that these collapse scenarios, whether it was the Greenland Vikings, or the great Mayan civilizations, do not happen over night.  They are long, drawn out, and even interspersed with periods of relative calm and prosperity, but eventually they fail.

Because societal collapse happens so slowly, the people living through it may not even realize what is happening.  Only through historical hind sight, do we ever see the whole picture.  This is the one difference we have with past societal collapse scenarios.  We have the option to not only acknowledge our current predicament, but also act to change it, and that is what I will spend the rest of the article discussing.

If we look at the facts, and acknowledge the predicament that we find ourselves in – depleting resources, habitat loss, and climate change, where does that leave us?  Do we head for the hills loaded up with guns, ammo, and cans of beans and hunker down in our doomsteads until the crisis has passed us by?  If we adopt the mentalities of extreme preppers and lone survivalists does that truly insure our survival?  My simple response to these questions are no.  There is no amount of guns, ammo, and beans that will insure the long term survival of you or your family.

I recently came across the story about the Lykov family.  While this story is old and a bit extreme, it illustrates rather well what TEOTWAWKI survival situations can do to people and their families.  The Lykovs were a Russian family who were persecuted for their religious beliefs during the Bolshevik revolution.  To escape almost certain death, they fled deep into the Russian wilderness known as the taiga, and remained there alone for nearly forty years.  Upon being “rediscovered”, they were near starvation, barely clothed, and severely under socialized.  Being that humans are social animals and thrive in groups (clans, communities, neighborhoods, etc…), it can be said that yes, the Lykovs were surviving (barely), but not thriving.  I feel this is one of the biggest misconceptions concerning the idea of self sufficiency on an individual or small group level.

Throughout all of human history, it has been the group or the community that has allowed us to succeed as a species and efficiently exploit ideas and resources to the further evolution of the project we call human civilization.  For good or evil, the group is the reason why we find ourselves in the situation we are in, and it is the group that will see the survival of our species into the future.

The pressing issue at hand is what kinds of groups and communities we decide to make, reinvent, and heal as the globalized, industrial system faces its own collapse.  Are we going to form groups and communities that are resilient and can come together in times of need and crisis; or are we going to keep going about business as usual and go it alone?  I for one, not only want to survive these challenging times we face, but also thrive!

When I was describing at the beginning of the article on how far we have come as Urban Homesteaders, all that progress is not just for our family.  It is for our friends, neighbors, and extended community as well.  It is true that we are not “farmers” in the traditional sense of the word, but it is no longer a traditional world we live in either.  One of the biggest steps we can take to build community and resilience is by transforming our homesteads into places that don’t just consume resources, but also produce them for sale, barter, or even gifts.  When we can start to take back the autonomy we so easily gave up for a little bit of fossil fueled convenience, we start the healing process that makes up a thriving community.

In the article Roots Run Deep Here, I sketched out many ideas and possibilities on how we can move forward and deal with the converging crisis of energy descent and climate change.  I will not repeat myself here except for this – if we want to survive and thrive in these challenging times, we need to start taking responsibility for some of these problems ourselves.  I am done looking to governments and talking heads for answers.  People are creative, and when we work together we can change the world, we just have to want too!  Plant a garden if you have the space, talk with your neighbors even if you don’t share common interests, catch and save rainwater, go for a hike and enjoy nature, and plant some trees that will provide your grand children with food!  Peace & Cheers!

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rootsWith 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!

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Painted Faces

Sitting between technology and primitive laziness
Trampled dirt – A dancing ring – Shaman Ecstasy – And a Computer Screen
War paint and feathers prepare for battle
Insurrection against the Babylon Mind
Mingled feelings, Being pulled both ways
One towards the Paleolithic Renaissance
The other towards the genetically perfect future
Babies built not created – Sperm and Egg
Traded for the perfect Test Tube fetus
My mind swings on vines
Remembrance of the past
Running in the clothes that confine
Let us paint our faces and Revolt

EF!

One of my favorite Earth First! pictures ….

This is one of my poems. A poem written well over 15 years ago. I found myself flipping through one of my old journals recently, and happened upon this gem. This was written when I was doing a lot of work with Earth First! I probably had just read an article about genetic engineering, and being the romantic punk rocker that I was, I let my feelings flow out!

Reading this brings me back to a youthful idealism that is so much harder for me to find these days. Anything was possible when I was 19. The world could be changed, and Damn It, I was going to be a part of it! Well, the world has changed, and you know what – I have been a part of it, just not how I imagined it was going to play out. I thought we were going to stop genetic engineering, and timber cuts, and highways. I thought we were going to be able to stop the climate from changing and save the polar bear from going extinct. I thought we had a chance to make the world better!

How wrong I was! The forests are still being clear cut, Monsanto rules supreme, and the climate is changing faster than ever. I am no longer an activist, and I no longer believe that we can change society as a whole. Does this mean I have given up – HELL NO!! While I am no longer out on the front lines, I feel that I am doing more now than I ever have. My life is now dedicated to my family, my humble ½ acre homestead, and a number of parks and wild places that I hold dear to my heart. Wendell Berry once said something along the lines of “ If you can’t take care of your own backyard, how can you take care of the world?” So this is where my energy now lies – at home, in my yard, and in my community.

I have recently come across, and subsequently been inspired, to have a bit more fun with what I publish here on Autonomy Acres. The Dark Mountain Project originated in the UK, and has now started to spread across the globe. It is a perfect match for my Anarchist, Earth centered life, and my energy for being a positive influence and role model! I forgot the world is still full of good poetry and art, and that these things can be a vehicle for change! Another good blog is Chris Condello’s. It is a good mix of Permaculture and Urban Farming, along with art and poetry- Thanks Chris! So what does the future hold for Autonomy Acres? Everything that you, my dear readers have come to expect plus more. I hope to share more poems and maybe some stories. I will always focus on Urban Farming, but there is so much more out there to talk about, we will see where inspiration takes me! Until next time – Peace & Cheers!

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“I have been called a pioneer.  In my book a pioneer is a man who comes to virgin country, traps off all the fur, kills off all the meat, cuts down all the trees, grazes off all the grass, plows up the roots and strings ten million miles of wire.  A pioneer destroys things and calls it civilization.” – Charles Marion Russell – Cowboy Painter

How often do we think about garbage? What is being thrown away? How much of it and why is it being discarded, and where is it going to end up? It is easy to overlook these aspects of garbage for many reasons. Things like , “Garbage isn’t sexy” or “I am too busy to think about garbage” may come into our minds. But the real culprit to why we try and ignore the questions of garbage is that we have been conditioned to. This conditioning is a manifestation and direct result of our reliance on seemingly endless supplies of cheap fossil fuels.

It is these supplies of non – renewable fossil fuels that have formed the foundation for our hyper – capitalist, unlimited growth, disposable culture. It is the very nature of this system to produce, consume, throw away, and repeat. This process started in earnest with the dawn of the industrial revolution and the harnessing of the energy locked within coal – it only gained speed with the advent of oil!

Prior to the industrial revolution, and even in its earliest stages, goods for sale and trade were manufactured by artisans, craftspeople, farmers, and wives in their homes, kitchens, and workshops. With common hand tools and in some instances a selection of simple machines, most anything that one would need could be made or repaired in almost any community using a majority of local raw materials.

The blacksmith, the cobbler, and the cooper were all trades that were an indispensable part of the local economy that was based in towns and villages. Because so many of these pre-industrial goods could not be mass produced, most were built extremely well, and could be repaired when the time came. As an example, when someone bought a pair of boots, it is quite possible that those boots could last throughout their entire adult life. With the proper care (polishing and oiling), and the occasional re-soling of those boots, the idea of throwing them out would have seemed ludicrous to the owner of that pair of boots.

Another distinct difference between the pre -industrial economy and today’s disposable economy, is the role that people play. It is true that history is ripe with examples of human rights abuses and economic injustice, but we don’t have to look too far in today’s world to see these same traits as well. The life of a pre – industrial human was by no means glamorous, easy, or convenient. On average, people tended to die a bit younger, and because they did not have fossil fuel energy slaves doing the “heavy lifting”, much of the work was more physically demanding. But it is my contention that the blacksmith, cooper, or farmer from 300 years ago had more meaningful work than we do today and probably a better understanding of what it means to be human.

Today’s fast paced, “throw away” culture has stripped us of our humanity, and has reduced us to interchangeable and disposable cogs in a machine, and numbers on a spreadsheet. In a world of super computers and robots, very few physical skills, talents, or trades are needed anymore. Only the ability to follow directions and push a few buttons will see you through your 8 hour shift. Not only is this an insult to our humanity, it is also a waste of our inherit abilities and talents as sentient beings. From the time people started climbing down from trees and walking on two legs, we have been creators. Cave paintings and tools, fire, story telling, agriculture and religion – all of these are human inventions. Some good, some bad, some indifferent – but only in today’s world are any of these things disposable.

It is a sad reality where we find ourselves. Disposable people dying in a disposable, dying world. So little remains of what once made us human, and what made the Earth sacred. We have disposed of our great forests and endless grasslands. Spoiled the oceans and the sky. We have traded what it means to be human for “progress” and “convenience”, and now find ourselves lost, looking for something that can once again give us meaning in our lives.

Here is the lumber I dumpstered!!

Here is the lumber I dumpstered!!

The inspiration for this article came to me this last week. While it has taken on it’s own narrative, and has gone places I had not originally intended to go, I feel it does a good job of summing up the tragedy of a disposable culture. Last weekend while running errands, and picking up supplies for a project at home, I came across a dumpster at a doctor’s office that was being remodeled. What caught my eye as I was driving by was a 2×4 sticking out into the sky. Being a sucker for free lumber, I pulled up, climbed on in to the dumpster, and could not believe my eyes. As far as dumpster diving standards go, I just jumped into a gold mine. By the time I was done sorting through all I could, I ended up with 8 – 8ft. 2x4s, 6 – 6ft. 2x4s, 5 – 12ft. 2x8s, 1 – 4ft.x8ft. sheet of plywood, 4 – 2ft.x8ft. sheets of plywood, a brand new gallon bucket of joint compound for drywall, ½ inch finishing trim (lots), and a brand new plastic garbage can. There was even more stuff in the dumpster – industrial wooden doors, more plywood that I couldn’t get to, metal drywall corners, acoustical sealant (never opened), an old computer, and probably other things I didn’t even see.

This dumpster exemplifies our disposable culture. So much gets wasted that still has value. So much could be saved if we changed our habits and opened up our minds. So much needs to change if we hope to continue inhabiting this planet. Now, I know I am not alone when it comes to dumpster diving and salvaging old/new building materials and other useable items. There are plenty more of you out there who aren‘t afraid to jump into that dumpster, and I raise my beer to you. I realize dumpster diving is not going to save the world, but it is a start. And now I have enough brand new 2x4s to frame out a new wall in a home remodeling project, and enough plywood for making bottom boards and covers for beehives. It is truly awesome saving things from the waste stream, and giving them a new life! Peace & Cheers!!

I started this article out with a saddening quote from the great American painter, Charles Russell, I will finish with a video my friend Little John made about a free store in Washington state that is keeping useful things from going to the land fill!!

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It has been awhile since I have touched on peak oil and energy descent, and truthfully I don’t have much new to add right now except for this. I guess if we choose to re-elect President Obama or make a “radical” change and bring in Mit Romney to run the country, either way America will be energy independent in the near future. So it appears that WE win with whichever candidate wins the upcoming election! We can keep on driving, we can keep growing suburbia, we can keep on ignoring that our food is poison, and most of all we can all keep pretending that the climate and weather is not changing. This is such great news! I was starting to get worried that I might have to change the way I live a little bit and take responsibility for mine and my families welfare. But because of this great news, I am actually going to start replanting some of the grass that I turned into a food garden back in’08 and I am cutting down all the fruit trees that I have planted because all that fruit is going to do is crap up my nice new lawn and make more work for me cleaning it up!!!

Alright, so I am a little jaded right now with politics and the complete disregard for facts. There are so many talking heads, politicians, pundits, experts and corporate insiders telling us things are going to be okay, that when someone like John Michael Greer or Richard Heinberg or James Howard Kunstler puts forth a truthful, but unpopular idea they are called crazy! Yes, America and Canada are sucking more oil and gas out of the ground right now than they have in a long time, but the numbers do not add up to energy independence. If Romney thinks that drilling off the east coast for oil, and hydraulic fracking is going to make up the difference for what we get from Mexico, Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia, think again. And if you think Obama’s plan to switch to a green, renewable energy driven economy is the solution to unemployment and curing climate change, get ready for a bunch of green smoke to get blown up your ass!

I make no apologies, neither of these dudes is going to get my vote in November. They are essentially the same person, standing on the same platform. Anyone who is “Peak” aware knows we are headed for a challenging future. It won’t be easy, and most likely it will be painful on many levels, but humans are resilient. We adapt, and we can change to what the situation requires. It would be nice to have a politician who could stand on truth and speak clearly about the problems and predicaments that we face as a people. One can dream right!! Peace and Cheers!!

PS – I just figured out how to embed videos onto the blog, so here it goes!!!

This is a great, animated intro to peak oil and energy decent.

Thanks to my friend Gabe for turning me onto Corb Lund, if ever there was a Peak Oil anthem, this might be it!!

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Owen and Freya at the pumpkin patch this autumn.

Welcome, all my dear and loyal readers. After an unplanned, and too long of a hiatus, Autonomy Acres is back! I am glad this blog is not one of my kids, I would be arrested for neglect and punished properly! However, I do not live a life of regrets and will not apologize too much for not posting for the last four months or so. Life has been busy, with some unexpected road bumps and hurdles, ups and downs, and tears and laughter. Life is amazing in the fact that nothing is guaranteed, nothing is written in stone, and the most unexpected things can happen. An example – this last fall, our son was suppose to start kindergarten. We were excited and nervous at the same time, Owen is a challenging kid who is very stubborn and strong willed, smarter beyond his years, and is the bane of any authority figure. We walked him up to the bus stop, said good bye holding back tears, and drove to the school to meet him and make the transition easier for him. We walked him to his classroom, said hi to the teacher (whom we had already met), made sure he was ready, and then said goodbye. We drove home with the expectation of seeing him in a few hours at the bus stop, but our plans were thwarted. We received a phone call in less than an hour telling us to come pick up our son. They couldn’t get him to go to the kindergarten rally and he had proceeded to shut himself in his locker. Without going into every little detail about what else happened, I will just leave it at this: The school fucked up in a bad way – the proper steps were not taken to help our son in adjusting to his new environment. Without the advice and consultation of trained social workers, we were told he needed to see a doctor if we wanted him to come back. We were told he had disturbing behavior and all this was said in front of him by the PRINCIPAL!! Needless to say we pulled him out of school and decided that day to start home schooling. It was not a decision we made blindly, it was something we had already been talking about, but we just weren’t sure if we were ready to commit to such an endeavor – well our mind was made up for us. After a period of extreme anger (at the principal and the school district) and mourning, we are the proud parents and teachers, of an awesome six year old! It hasn’t been easy, and some days it can be very frustrating, but we are figuring it out as a family. One aspect of home schooling that is hard for us is finding cool people to connect with. The majority of home school families do fit a stereotype – strict religious zealots that don’t want their kids taught evolution, want prayer in school, etc, etc… Here at Autonomy Acres we are atheist leaning agnostics, so it makes it hard to find like minded people to do home schooling projects/field trips/events with. But we are figuring it out as we continue moving forward. That is one of the main reasons I have not been posting lately, my brain has still been coping with, and trying to adjust to our new situation. Moving on…..

The sacred cow of Anarchy!

World events lately have been both inspiring and incredibly scary at the same time. Some days it seems like we are teetering on the brink of world wide revolution. The middle east and its’ Arab spring, the uprisings in Greece, the Occupy movement that has been sweeping the U.S. and other western countries. A general feeling that people know something is wrong with business as usual, and that something has to change. It is awesome to see so many people getting active – people coming together and marching and having their voices heard, people taking control of where their food comes from, having real conversations with their families, friends, and neighbors. When people start living – when they wake up from their TV shows, and their designer drugs, their Franken food, and their shitty jobs and long commutes, real change can happen and it is!! We don’t need talking heads to tell us that the economy is still in shambles, it is on the face and minds of everyone who has decided to wake up. The economy is not getting better, and most likely never will. This is the hard reality, we blew our load and now we got a huge mess on our hands. The answers don’t lie with more bailouts or a new president. Look what our congress is capable of – NOTHING. If congress had their heads up their collective ass, they would not be able to even agree upon that. This system is finished and I think we all kind of know it; it is just a matter of what comes next. This is where I get scared; I am not one for conspiracy theories, but there are a lot of powerful corporations and ruthless people out there who are still making a ton of money off of the sweat of the 99%. They don’t want this power and control to go away and are doing things to ensure they keep it. I truly believe they are scared by the potential power, we the people have if we can just stop fighting amongst ourselves and start creating the world we want to live in. This is where our power lies. It is in our refusal to keep playing their games, and by following their rules that gives us the power to change the world. Our power is in boycotting where ever we can the giant corporations that control our food, our communities, our abilities to think for ourselves, and our personal lives. Our power is in the DIY ethic – experts are overrated and we are all capable of so much more than what we have been told by all the “experts”. Our power is the realization that the bosses, the 1% need us, we do not need them. We are capable of changing this world on our own terms into a place that is based on mutual aid, respect for the natural world and its’ resources, a place that people are well fed and have access to real food. I don’t think this is too much to ask, in fact I believe it to be the only option if we are to move forward as a human race. Facing these challenges head on with all of our own unique talents is not an easy task to accomplish, but at least it is real. It is time to unplug the TV and get our hands dirty.

So, enough of the soap boxing. Yeah, we have a lot of challenges ahead of us – social, economic, and environmental/climate change issues are all demons lurking in our closets and hanging out underneath our beds. This brings it back to one of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place; to share my ideas about what I do in my personal life to confront these issues. I have some projects in the works that I hope to discuss in upcoming posts. Beehive construction, our plans on starting up a CSA, possible greenhouse/hoop house plans and designs, some more on DIY home brewing, basics on making your own soap, more From the Garden to the Table recipes and stories, and other topics that will be familiar to all you homesteaders out there. It is great to be back! ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!! Cheers!!

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