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Posts Tagged ‘Crash’

In the Beginning

 

era-timelineThe Earth is an old place.  Roughly 4 and a half billion years old is the date agreed upon by scientist. Starting out as an orbiting cloud of dust, rocks, and ice that eventually came together with the help of the gravitational pull of our sun, the Earth has had many makeovers and changes throughout the long eons.

 

Volcanic activity, tectonic shifts, comet and meteor strikes, erosion causing weather patterns, the forces of water and rain, climate change, and biological protagonists like fungi, plants, animals, and humans have all played a role in the constant evolution of our planet.  From the rise of mountain ranges, the carving of river valleys, the spread of deserts, the birth of a forest, or the extinction of a species, the Earth has had many stories to tell.  Each eon a chapter with its own characters, settings, and plots.

 

About 2 and a half billion years ago the first life forms began to appear in the fossil record.  Starting as single celled organisms, life progressed throughout the millennia changing and adapting with the earth.  Slowly but surely, life forms grew more complex.  Starting with bacteria and simple fungi that could break down inorganic rocks and minerals (and eventually organic materials like plants), other life forms figured out how to create their own food using the power of the sun (photosynthesis in plants and certain types of bacteria), and yet other life forms (animals and insects) learned how to survive by consuming plants, fungi, bacteria, and other animals!  The cycle of life was well under way.

 

This dance of evolution has spanned the ages with the different characters (bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals) trading places of importance countless times over, always with the sole intent of filling open niches and reaching some kind of habitable equilibrium.  Often times this equilibrium was achieved and sustained for long periods of time (sometimes for hundreds of millions of years), but eventually some disruption or imbalance occurred signalling the end of one age, and the dawning of another.  Geological events and mass extinctions have often been the benchmarks for defining these different ages of the earth.

 

Some of these times are more well known than others.  Some are downright popular, such as the Jurassic period of the Mesozoic era (the age of reptiles),  when the dinosaurs ruled the earth.  The Jurassic period lasted for more than 50 million years, and that only constituted a portion of the whole Mesozoic era.  It is a great illustration of how old the earth actually is, how slow time can move, and how young of a species we humans actually are.

 

The fossil record puts the age of modern humans at around 200,000 years old.  A long line of monkeys, apes, and gorillas share our direct evolutionary path.  But somewhere around 40,000 years ago, humans ruled supreme, beating out the last of our closest relatives, the neanderthals, who had walked the earth for close to a million years previous to us humans. Since then, it’s all history as they like to say!

 

In that time, humans have risen to the position as the number one, global apex predator that has been shaping, transforming, and dominating the Earth, its landscapes, and all of its other inhabitants for at least the last 10,000 years.  When humans mastered the skills of both language and fire, we ceased being just another primate amongst the natural world, and instead went on to create cave paintings, songs, religions, government, and so many other visible and invisible structures that are now inseparable from the human experience.

 

Since those early days, we have gone on many adventures and have built legacies that have lasted millenia.  Cultures come and go, but their footsteps make up our history, and the biggest and easiest trail we can follow is the one that has shaped the earth and humans the most, agriculture.

 

The First Green Revolution

 

pack_of_harvesters

Around the close of the last ice age, 10-12,000 years ago, a radical experiment began to take place in how humans inhabited their landscape.  The earth entered an interglacial state and the climate slowly began to change and warm, thus giving us different options on how we could live with the land.  Agriculture did not happen overnight, but rather it played out over seasons and centuries, adapting and refining itself, and taking us and the land with it.

 

Those who lived through those early days of agriculture could not have known how the world was about to change.  In those 10,000 years since the first horticultural societies gave way to an agricultural revolution that changed the world, humans have shaped and molded the planet in almost all aspects.  Our tinkering is evident almost anywhere you look, whether with the naked eye or with a microscope.

 

We have logged the planet of almost all its old growth forest and lost billions of tons of precious topsoil to the wind and rain.  Along with the loss of the trees and our soils, comes a release of millennia’s worth of stored carbon that now finds itself freely traveling through the atmosphere. Our air and waters have been polluted from erosion and industry, we divert rivers, move mountains, and change the lay of the land in unprecedented ways.  Our oceans have been overfished, our prairies overturned.  Our fingerprints are everywhere.

 

There are millions of tons of plastic floating in the ocean.  There are thousands of active landfills in America today, and over 10,000 retired ones, all evidence of mans presence, our modern day midden piles.  Every disposable product, every plastic trinket, every outdated or broken do-dad has a traceable path to a real place somewhere on the Earth.

 

All these creations, whether a paper napkin or a pickup truck starts in a place where a natural resource can be found.  Trees and other natural fibers, minerals, metal ores, fossil fuels, water, and agricultural products can all be found in any number of these common everyday products and goods that are used throughout the world.

 

People and animals are displaced from their native lands and habitats to make way for the logging, mining, growing, and processing of these materials that are needed for all these industrial products.  There are now very few places left on our Earth that have not felt the impact of man, and the “progress” that is left in our wake.  But the journey of those first farmers and city builders is still our story.  It is a story that is always looking to grow bigger and wealthier.  It has cast humans as the main characters, and everything else, whether an old growth tree or a northern white rhino is a disposable extra.  This is life in the anthropocene!

 

Life in the Anthropocene

 

dotanthropocenesign-jumboThe anthropocene as defined by wikipedia as “an informal geologic chronological term for the proposed epoch that began when human activities had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.”  The term was coined by scientist Paul Crutzen in the year 2000 and has been gaining acceptance throughout the scientific community ever since.

 

Until Crutzen proposed the idea of the anthropocene, the world had been living in (and still technically is) what is known as the holocene, the geological age starting at the end of the last ice age.  While this distinction is still being debated, for the purpose of this essay I will follow Crutzen’s thinking and accept the anthropocene as the new geological age defined by man and his impacts on the natural world. Whether it is mining, logging, agriculture, pollution, or any of the other myriad activities that bear the fingerprints of man, these are all defining characteristics of the anthropocene.

 

So where does that leave us?  If the anthropocene is our legacy, one that first started because of fire, language, and religion and continued with the domestication of the living landscape, and climaxing in industrial (agri)culture, resource extraction, suburban sprawl and biological extinction, than it is a legacy based on death.  The Anthropocene by its own definition requires the disruption of the earth’s ecosystems for modern man to survive.

 

If our time on this good Earth is being defined by the natural wealth we have plundered, the pollution and garbage we have created, and all of the land we have stolen and destroyed, than it is not only a legacy of death, but also one to be ashamed of as well.  What do we have to carry forward?  What stories will be told about us?  What will we ultimately be remembered for?

 

If the anthropocene is the defined theme of our collective narrative, are we subject to a self created demise?  If we stay on the same path that we are currently on, are humans to expect a rough road ahead?  For all of our technological advances and mastering of the Earth, the fact remains that we still live on a finite planet that is ruled by limits to how much we can take and how much we can pollute before global ecosystems, weather patterns, and biodiversity begin to change and ultimately collapse, thus affecting the project we call civilization.

 

If humans are to move into the future, a future that still includes the basic tenets of modernity for all who want them and need them, then we need to radically shift the way we inhabit our landscapes and redefine what it means to be a human civilization in the 21st century.  That redefinition will be less of a revolution, and more of a complete paradigm shift.  If the anthropocene has been based on theft, destruction, and the ill intentioned manipulation of the natural landscape and its inhabitants for an ever growing economy, than this paradigm shift will have to include principles, ethics, and actions that are the antithesis of those that are symptomatic of the anthropocene.

 

For too long our mark(s) on the land and ecosystems of the earth have been those of a selfish landlord, and not those of a humble steward preserving our historical and cultural commons.  Until we can begin to move away from these most basic and underlying habits of greed and dominion over others, we are doomed to keep repeating the cycle of destruction for profit that we are stuck in.

 

Until we as a society can divorce ourselves from the greed and savagery that is used to grow the profits that keep the wheels of “progress” moving, we will forever remain under those wheels, being ground up and used as fertilizer for growing the economy.  At some point we must face the truth that the planet does not care about any economy other than the economy of nature, the flow of energy that is the living earth.

 

While it may seem that I am advocating for the dismantling of modern civilization, nothing is farther from the truth. It has taken me many years to arrive at this conclusion, but I do think it is possible for humans to coexist, and most importantly, care for this planet at the same time.  Part of the solution lies in the way we view life and our time we have here.  At some point in our story we no longer gave thought to the generations that are to follow in our footsteps, and focused solely on the now.  It was no longer required of us to think about how our actions could affect life generations from present day.  We were now accountable for nothing but our own personal desires and instant gratifications.

 

But when we begin to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, it is possible to see how we can impact the future.  If in every decision we leave room for the future to have its say, than it is less likely that we would continue to clear cut forests, move mountains, and knowingly pollute our drinking water just for a quick buck or a desperate energy fix.

 

When we consider our grandkids’ grandkids in the decisions we make now, we begin to realize that every aspect of how we live needs to change.  We can no longer be short term takers, but instead we have to become the guardians and caretakers of our land bases so that there is something of abundance, substance and beauty available for those who follow in our footsteps.

 

We are at a place in history where we have never been before.  We have more accumulated knowledge and proven, appropriate science and technology available to us than any other humans to come before us.  We have the ability to keep people warm when it is cold, dry when it is wet, and fed when they are hungry.  We have the resources to educate people and the social safety nets to insure a basic level of comfort for all those on the planet.  We also have a history and a shared story that defines what it is to be a human.  It is this last point that is most important.  If we can reconnect with what it means to be a fully mature human, we will see that we have an important place in nature.

 

Towards the Permacene

 

cartoon_permaculture_futureThis is the paradigm shift I propose.  It is a shift and a transition to a new geologic age, where with each passing generation we reduce our footprint. The amount of evidence of our existence is carried forward not by the trash and destruction we leave behind in our wake, but in the books we continue to write, the songs we continue to sing, the communities we continue to build, and land that we help to heal.  This journey is underway, and has been slowly since the beginning, but we are at a critical point in human history.

 

Moving into the future as a unified species will only continue if we face our history.  Human history is filled with tragic abuses and genocides of peoples, animals, plants, and landscapes.  Our cultural and biological diversity has been decimated by the fossil fuel enhanced advancement of industrial civilization.  Countless characters of nature have been swallowed by the pit of extinction, and many more are on the edge of falling in.  If we turn our backs on what has been lost and forget those stories, than we cannot move forward.  It is the ones that are already gone that must be a reminder to us as we move into the future that we must move forward with as much cultural diversity and biodiversity preserved, protected, and regenerated as possible.

 

Our roles as stewards must extend to as many humans that calls this planet home.  When people have a real physical connection to a land base and a community of friends and families to share it with, than our jobs as earth stewards becomes easy because we are all working towards the same goal.  While the role and duties of earth stewards will vary from landbase to landbase and one community to another, the underlying ethics and principles that guide this endeavor are universal and are intrinsic in the transformation from just being a private citizen to a steward of the commons!

 

As we begin to renounce our citizenship to the anthropocene and begin embracing our role as stewards of the Earth, all aspects of our lives will begin to change.  When we are rooted in strong communities and land bases, using technology appropriately, and asking ourselves how our actions will impact future generations, the foundations of greed and domination that rule the world will begin to crumble.  As we begin to regenerate landscapes and communities, the corporate overlords and bureaucrats will find themselves unwelcome in more and more places and eventually cease to be.  But this will only happen where communities are united, diverse, and have a physical connection to a landbase that they can call home.  These communities, interconnected by their diverse patchwork of skills and trades, seasonal celebrations, trade and migration routes, spiritual beliefs, and the passing of information will have to find a human commonality that celebrates our diversity and uses that as a unifying force!

 

As history shows, we are a young species.  We are a species that is full of flaws and destructive selfishness.  But we are also adaptive and creative and occasionally compassionate, three traits that have made possible our evolutionary advances.  So while we have perfected war and hatred and the wholesale destruction of our living planet, we also write poetry and songs, celebrate with family and friends, and have a love so deep that somehow, we still find we have roots that are just waiting to find a place to dig into, a place to call home!

 

So here we are at a cross roads.  We have a choice to keep doing what we are used to, and most likely end up in a bleak and poor world.  One that is gutted of all but humans and the strongest and most noxious of weeds.  Or we can bravely step into the future planting trees and building communities and carrying on this great project we started well over 200,000 years ago.  We can take the next step in our evolution, a step towards the Permacene.  Peace and Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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thefuture

This is our future, and we can choose which one becomes reality!

A few nights ago I had a dream that would fall under the category of post apocalyptic.  It took place in the present day, at my house, on what appeared to be a bright sunny summer day.  My son and I were out back by the garage getting trailers hooked up to our bikes, collecting baseball bats and machetes, cans of food, and other supplies that have now left my memory.  What the cause of our hasty retreat was I also can’t recall, but I knew we had to get going fast.

 

Throughout the dream I was also worried as to where my wife and daughter were.  Maybe we were off to meet them, or worse yet to rescue them from some unseen and unknown antagonist.  Either way, I missed the rest of my family very much, and I knew it was my job to keep my son safe.

 

Before awakening, the last thing I remember doing in the dream was getting the two dogs into the trailers, tying down the rest of our supplies, and then having to say goodbye to our two cats Charlie and Brown.  It broke my heart to have to leave these two little guys behind.  But even in the dreamtime, I realized that they would be fine without us and could fend for themselves living the rest of their days happily eating songbirds and mice.

 

I love dreams, but I usually cannot recall them as well as I can this one.  And most of the time they are not nearly as involved or as intense.  I have plenty of anxiety work dreams, and random fantastical ones with a rotating cast of familiar characters, but rarely do I have a dream that is so realistic and that is set in a familiar, yet somehow mystical and alternative apocalyptic world.

madmax

I couldn’t help but tell my son about this dream, and from that a great conversation was sparked.  He was curious as to what a post apocalyptic world meant.  Having just recently watched Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome for the first time with him, I told him to think back to that movie, but try to imagine it not quite so barren or destroyed.  I think he understood what I was getting at and then proceeded to say something along the lines of “like what happens to you after war comes to your country”.  I was amazed by the depth of his understanding and realized he had a good grasp of the idea. I responded with a “yeah, something like that…”

 

It was then that he asked me what else we would take with us.  He automatically assumed I would take my Chromebook with us.  And in hindsight I probably would take it if I knew it could be recharged and could access the internet!  But I said “no, we wouldn’t take the Chromebook because what good would it do us if there were no power.”  We could agree on this.

 

The conversation stayed on books.  I took a quick look at our bookshelf, and pulled down an old, tattered copy of the Tao Te Ching that I have had for well over 20 years.  I showed it to him, and he wondered why I would take a book like that, and not one of our foraging field guides or a wilderness survival book.  The question was a good one, and now I had something else to explain to an inquisitive 8 year old.

While I am not an overly mystical person, the Tao has been one of those books that I found fairly early on in my journey. It has always been there for me, ready to be picked up, dusted off, and reread over and over again throughout the years.  The 81 passages contained within the Tao Te Ching are a manual of sorts that has helped me to walk lightly upon this Good Earth.  It is not a book filled with answers, or a God, or a map to a final destination. But more of a signpost.  A compass.  A star chart to the infinite.  The book of the way.

 

So that is why I would grab that book if I found myself living in my recent dream.  To help keep me centered and focused, but also fluid like water.  But my son had a good point.  If we were fleeing, not knowing when we would find safety,  I would also pack my favorite field guides and survival manuals.  I can identify many plants and fungi, but I don’t know a whole lot when it comes to cleaning an animal or making a splint for a broken leg.

 

In reality though, I try very hard to keep the post apocalyptic narrative from playing too big of a role in my day to day life.  If I let it dominate my thoughts, it is hard to be productive or a positive role model.  While it is a possible outcome for our world, especially if we stay our present course, I find it more helpful to focus on the present and how we can create a more fulfilling future for ourselves.

 

So even though post apocalyptic stories are my favorite ones to read and watch, it is the story of the Tao and a life lived in accordance with nature that I want to play a role in.  When we take the time to observe our surroundings, draw our conclusions based on evidence, and implement solutions that are balanced and inspired by nature, that is when we can move forward and create a truly wonderful, and self sustaining world.

 

#80

If a country is governed wisely,

its inhabitants will be content.

They enjoy the labor of their hands

and don’t waste time inventing labor saving machines.

Since they dearly love their homes,

they aren’t interested in travel.

There may be a few wagons and boats,

but these don’t go anywhere.

There may be an arsenal of weapons,

but nobody ever uses them.

People enjoy their food,

take pleasure in being with their families,

spend weekends working in their gardens,

delight in the doings of the neighborhood.

And even though the next country is so close

that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,

they are content to die of old age

without ever having gone to see it.

 

 

 

 

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Long before the rise of annual grain based industrial agriculture, and the dismantling of our food and cultural traditions, humans lived in ways much closer to the earth.  In some places hunting and gathering remained a viable option (even up to the present day), and in other places this relationship with the earth manifested itself through horticulture and various forms of animal husbandry.  In many places it was a mix of these two ways of procuring food that shaped and defined a culture and/or a region.

For untold millennia (until relatively recently), humans had been able to provide for their basic needs through a combination of these two actions:  Hunting/Fishing/Shepherding/Husbanding and the cultivation/gathering of plants for all of their dietary needs.  These ways of life are not mutually exclusive, but rather a complementary set of skills and traditions that have formed the long and diverse history of humans, the food we eat, and how we inhabit, impact, and transform our landscapes.

The transition from hunter/gatherers to industrial agricultural farmers did not happen overnight.  It has been a long drawn out story that has seen countless empires and kingdoms rise and fall, climate and weather patterns change, landscapes transformed, and cultural practices (some good, and some bad) that have led up to the present day.  The part of this story that really interests me, and what this essay is going to explore, are some of the horticultural practices that came between the gulf of the hunting and gathering lifestyle and the transition to the industrial agricultural paradigm, and how the ultimate survival of the human species rests in reconnecting with these horticultural traditions.

For the last ten thousand years humans have undergone a transformation that has slowly eroded our abilities to be self reliant as communities.  Year by year, and season by season unseen and unnoticed by most of those living through these changes, we have become more dependent on others to grow, raise, and process our food for us.  But even as this has occurred, and continues to happen to this day, there are examples of resistance to the transition of mass produced food that is based on annual grain agriculture.

The kitchen garden, which in many regards is the original resistor to monocrop agriculture, is the heart of any homestead.  They provide us with an abundance of fruits and vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, flowers, forage, liquid gold from honey bees, fodder for livestock and pollinators, beauty, a sense of well being, and a bit of self reliance.  The kitchen garden, whether it is covering thousands of square feet as part of a rural homestead, or is an intensively managed set of raised beds in an urban neighborhood, has traditionally provided us with a majority of our essential vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that we need each day to remain healthy.

The kitchen garden has been the difference of merely surviving on a subsistence diet of staple grains or other forms of cheap industrial grown carbs, and thriving because of a diet consisting of healthy leafy greens, fruits, berries, legumes, stems, nuts, tubers, roots, and different forms of animal protein.  It is the kitchen gardens, allotments, community gardens, urban farms, and small scale polycultural farms found throughout the world and its history that have helped to feed the civilian population in times of war and peace, economic prosperity and downturns, and periods of climate change and stability.

As far back as ancient Rome, before it was an empire dominated by politicians and imperial armies, citizen farmers worked the land as families.  Their farms were small, diverse operations worked by hand that provided all the food a family needed to survive.  David R. Montgomery, the author of Dirt – The Erosion of Civilisations, sums up early Roman horticultural practices in this passage –

“Early Roman farms were intensively worked operations where diversified fields were hoed and weeded manually and carefully manured.  The earliest Roman farmers planted a multistory canopy of olives, grapes, cereals, and fodder crops referred to as cultura promiscua.  Interplanting of understory and overstory crops smothered weeds, saved labor, and prevented erosion by shielding the ground all year.  Roots of each crop reached to different depths and did not compete with each other.  Instead, the multicrop system raised soil temperatures and extended the growing season.  In the early republic, a Roman family could feed itself working the typical plot of land by hand.  (And such labor – intensive farming is best practiced on a small scale.)  Using an ox and plow saved labor but required twice as much land to feed a family.  As plowing became standard practice, the demand for land increased faster than the population.”

romanfarmers2

Farmers from ancient Rome.

This passage highlights a few points that are well worth looking at in more detail.  First, the description of the crops grown illustrates the importance of genetic diversity.  While the Romans did not have the word Permaculture, the fact that their horticultural choices included tree crops, vines, ground covers and annuals shows that they understood the importance of genetic variation within their farmsteads.  Genetic diversity within a particular crop selection almost always insures a harvest of some kind, and by designing this resilient feature into our farms, we can avoid complete famine in a bad year.

Second, these early Roman farmers knew the importance of a healthy, living soil even if the finer details of microorganisms and soil life were not fully understood.  By returning manure and organic matter back to the fields, and growing a diverse selection of perennial food crops (along with some annuals), the soil health was maintained and continually improved upon. But gradually throughout the empire the Roman family farm began to be replaced with annual grain production that depended on the tilling and plowing of the fields to support an elite urban empire.  Once this occurred the resilience of these small horticultural farms was lost to the history books.

At this point in Roman history, absentee land ownership took over, soil was lost to water and wind erosion, and farm labor moved in the direction of slavery.  These are all signs, still seen today to some extent, of what happens when our horticultural traditions are replaced with annual monocrop grain production to feed the cities.  This transition does not happen overnight, and is almost invisible to those living through it.  Only in hindsight and with an accurate historical narrative can we see the effects of what annual mono-crop based agriculture does to a once thriving, self reliant culture.

Moving on to another example of a multi species, horticultural society, we find ourselves in pre-industrial China.  While China has suffered many famines, environmental degradations, and massive amounts of soil loss due to poor farming practices and land stewardship, not everything in this ancient culture’s history is doom and gloom.  Focusing solely on southern China, there is a roughly 10,000 year old agricultural tradition of growing rice along with fish and ducks.

Chinese rice farmer, Seven Stars and Moon viewpoint, Dragon's Ba

This farmer is carrying on a tradition that is millenia old.

This polyculture of rice, fish, and ducks provided a substantial part of southern China’s diet on land that was marginal at best.  Through intensive land management of irrigation ditches and rice paddies, and the continual addition of human and animal manures to these areas, the pre-industrial Chinese farmers were able to work these same lands for millennia without degrading the soil.  This technique of multi-species farming was so successful that the population would balloon in times of prosperity and occasionally overshoot the carrying capacity of the landbase, leading to isolated periods of collapse, famine, and death.

In addition to the rice, fish, and ducks, Chinese farmers also raised chickens and pigs, and cultivated amaranth, asian beans, barley, brassicas, leeks, melons, millet, turnips, and many other old world annual vegetables that added richness to their cuisine and health.  Fungi and herbs that have traditionally been used in Chinese medicine have now gained notoriety throughout the world, and as far as perennial contributions from their horticultural traditions, apricots, apples, bamboo shoots, citrus, lotus roots, and peaches also played large roles in feeding the pre-industrial farmers of China.

Like the example of the Romans, as ancient China grew and added more and more urban areas, the population increased and demanded more from the land.  As this happens, shortcuts are taken and eventually people start to change the way they grow their food.  Demand dictates efficiencies, so rather than keeping age old methods of growing and raising food for small communities using proven sustainable methods, new ways are invented to grow and export more food to the ever growing urban areas.  As this happens land stewardship ceases to matter, and as a consequence soil is lost, and civilizations fail.

potatoes

An example of genetic diversity within the indiginous crop of the Andes mountains – potatoes!

Moving along to one last pre-industrial horticultural society, we find ourselves across the two great oceans in pre-European North, Central, and South America.  While this land mass is huge and contained many diverse cultures, there was a shared, underlying similarity displayed by many of these first nations of the Americas.  While it is true that the Americas’ had its own agricultural revolutions with crops like maize and potatoes (and flourishing kingdoms and urban centers that were supported by these crops), the pre European Americas were highly managed landscapes overflowing with an abundance of useful plants and animals despite what the first Europeans thought was an untouched, virgin wilderness.

One major difference that set the Americas apart from Europe and Asia is that there were no domesticated animals aside from the dog that were a part of their horticultural systems.  While it could be argued that the guinea pig and possibly the turkey were partially domesticated, there were no beasts of burden prior to the arrival of the Europeans (and the animals they brought with them) that aided in the transformation of the landscape, thus giving it its wild appearance.

This fact alone sets the stage for the reasons that the original inhabitants of the Americas managed the land the way they did.  With no domesticated animals to keep track of or feed, there were no fences or pastures in the landscape.  Therefore all meat and animal products were procured from undomesticated sources.  The work of clearing fields was done first with semi controlled fires, and then using wood and bone hand tools to finish removing charred stumps and other debris, fields were then planted in any number of indigenous crops.  The same way manure adds nutrients and minerals to the soil, so too does fire from the (semi)annual burnings.

Fire not only cleared out fields where they grew the Three Sisters (maize, beans, and squash – Roughly  Mexico north through Minnesota ), potatoes in the central and southern American highlands, and manioc root in the tropics, but fire was also used to keep undergrowth in the forests (continents wide) from getting out of control.  The great savannas in the Eastern and Central United States, described by Lewis and Clark in their journals that contained American Chestnuts, oaks, maples, and many other trees were not wild tracts of land, but highly managed food forests that provided a variety of nuts, fruits, greens, medicinal herbs, and meat protein from the animals that also called these forests home.

Variations on this theme of the food forest could be found throughout the Americas.  From the northern climes all the way down to the tropics and beyond; each region had its own diverse set of species that flourished with the help of the native populations and the fire they used to shape the land.  Even the tropics and the great Amazonian rainforests are now thought to have been food forests and gardens that were managed by the local populations whose numbers are now believed to have been much larger than first thought.  The evidence of terra preta, a mixture of charcoal, fired clay, manure, and other organic matter that is highly fertile that is found throughout huge swaths of Amazonian soil, is now thought to be evidence of a very hands on approach to the management of land that was once considered to be virgin wilderness.

With the arrival of the Europeans to the Americas, the world changed forever.  Disease spread like wildfire and decimated native and imperial populations alike (this included non human species as well).  Plants and animals from all corners of the globe began their international migrations.  Maize, potatoes, and tomatoes from the Americas, wheat and barley from Europe and the Middle East, and apples, citrus, melons, and rice from Asia all became global crops.   Honey bees, horses, cows, chickens, and pigs all became global animals and farming practices around the globe began to radically change, which in turn affected how communities prospered or failed, and how landscapes were altered.  So while it can be said that monocrop grain agriculture started well over 10,000 years ago, it was with the advent of the Columbian exchange that it took on a new global approach that has altered our planet radically.

Today our kitchen gardens and small scale farms are made up of global plant immigrants.  Whether you are in Africa, America, or Australia, the joy of a garden fresh cucumber, tomato, or onion is now a shared experience.  And while the globalization of plants and animals has had downsides such as the spread of pests, disease, and “invasive” species, it has also provided us with many new opportunities to help feed ourselves and heal the land after so much abuse and mismanagement at the hands of modern civilization and the agriculture that has made it possible.

Having this plethora of plants (and animals) at hand to work with can now be considered an asset and another tool for us to use as we adapt to our new living arrangements.  As Bill Mckibben has so eloquently wrote about (see his book Eaarth), we no longer live on the planet that we grew up on.  The realities of climate change are real, and when combined with peak oil, habitat loss, and nuclear contamination humans have been backed into a corner that will be hard to get out of alive.

The horticultural traditions from the global past may now be our best shot for the survival of the human race along with all the good parts of our collective culture – i.e. – music, art, poetry, community, family, etc.  When we can all become producers again, rather than just blindly consuming, we begin to occupy one of our historical roles as land stewards.  Since so few of us have any connection with the Earth anymore, we no longer know what it needs or how to care for it.  When we no longer live with the Earth, we no longer know its rhythms and fall out of balance with our evolutionary roles as caretakers.  Every year more soil is lost to erosion, aquifers are drained and contaminated, wild habitat is plowed under for field crops and development, and human culture moves further away from our evolutionary roots.  This has been our fate, but now is the time to free ourselves from the shackles of civilization and move onto the next stage of evolution.

Our shared horticultural traditions, whether that be from the terraced slopes of China to the food forests of pre-Columbian America are examples of what is possible.  While we may never be able to recreate some of these systems as they once were, the lessons they have to teach us are timeless and offer real solutions for our journey into the future.  The ecological design science of Permaculture gives us an opportunity to take all of these diverse traditions and blend them into a new, adaptable way for us to inhabit the Earth.  As we begin this journey, we will see that modern, industrial grain based agriculture is incompatible will our ultimate survival on this planet.  Only when we begin to think long term and include future generations into our plans will we be able to affect real, positive change.

So while planting biodiverse gardens with fruit and nut trees in and of itself is not the answer to all of the problems we face, it is a big part of the solution.  The challenges we are up against are compounded by so many factors, but food is one of the underlying commonalities that ties everything together.  When we begin to rethink how we grow our food and look to the past for examples, that is when we can truly move forward and begin the healing process of ourselves and our one planet.  I leave you with one final thought, a favorite quote of mine that sums up our journey thus far.  “Societies grow great when old men plant trees  whose shade they  know they will never sit in.”  It is not too late for us, lets do something epic and grow old together as one human culture!  Peace and 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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