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Posts Tagged ‘National Security’

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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Here are my two helpers.  We spent a morning picking apples off of a tree that we found a few years ago on a public boulevard.  The apples are almost perfect, and nearly blemish free.  They are large, slightly sweet and great fresh eating!

Here are my two helpers. We spent a morning picking apples off of a tree that we found a few years ago on a public boulevard. The apples are almost perfect, and nearly blemish free. They are large, slightly sweet and great fresh eating!

As happens this time every year, I have hit a lull in my writing.  Not that there hasn’t been plenty to write about, I just haven’t had the energy to sit down in front of the computer screen and pull all my thoughts together and put them into written words.  The summer of 2013 has seen our backyard bees doing great,  my wife just picked our first real harvest of Haralson apples, and it has been a very bountiful year for us on our urban foraging adventures which yielded us more than a dozen pints of mulberry jam and close to forty pounds of really great apples gleaned from an old neighborhood tree.

One reason for the lack of activity here at Autonomy Acres is that I am now working two jobs, and neither of them are the one that I have spent the last 10 years of my life working at.  Back at the end of May I called it quits at the adult beverage factory where I had worked and took the summer off to rediscover what it means to be human.  I was burnt out and depressed by the endless daily routine of factory life and knew I had to make some positive changes in the way I live and walk on this Earth.

Having a couple months off to gather my thoughts, and to let my body heal was the right medicine at the right time.  When I decided to take my life back, it was one of the most empowering moments I have ever felt, and the energy and self knowledge that I gained from that choice has changed my life.  I have realized that all the “Things” that society tells us are important and that matter are meaningless.  No longer will I let a “job” define who I am as a person.  The accumulation of money and “Toys” is not a measurement of happiness nor are they milestones that should be enshrined in our personal stories. Finally, it was reinforced in my mind that nothing is more important than our relationships with our families, friends, and the Earth.

While I wish I could say that I am now a gentleman of leisure, relaxing in a hammock sipping cold beer and reading Edward Abbey novels, sadly, I am still just a common worker!  I find myself back in my old haunts though – line cooking!  I worked restaurants for many years and truly enjoyed the kitchen work, but not the hours.  But I got lucky and I am now  slinging hash and eggs, cooking up real stocks and soups, and working with a terrific crew of Food Service Pirates at a local music college in the early morning, Monday through Friday.  It is nice to be appreciated for my talents and skills, and to also work for decent folks who treat me like a human being, and not a machine; a big change from where I previously worked.

I am also pulling a few shifts a week at a “Hip” national grocery store chain.  And while I do enjoy this as a part time gig, the pay is horseshit, and the health care benefits I was hoping to get through them just got put through the guillotine because of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which translated means – the big bosses saw this as an opportunity to make a shitload of money.  At least I still get a small discount on groceries!

It is interesting though to see a new side of the food industry that I was previously only a spectator and consumer in.  While I have written extensively about the global food supply chain and how it affects farmers and communities, and how it is ultimately not based on sustainable and local means and resources, seeing this first hand has been very educational.

freshly picked Haralsons!  These are an example of what can be grown in your own yard - No semi-truck needed!

freshly picked Haralsons! These are an example of what can be grown in your own yard – No semi-truck needed!

It is easy to use Wal-Mart as the poster child for the just-in-time, warehouse on wheels delivery model, but it is everywhere, whether that be a grocery store or a local brewery.  Anyone who has spent time researching food, how it is grown, and then how it is shipped to all parts of the world has seen the figures that say if a natural disaster or collapse of some kind disrupts the supply chain, grocery store shelves would be empty in 3 days.  Seeing how a grocery store runs, is managed, and is stocked I completely believe this.

Our food supply chain is balanced ever so gently on a global house of cards that when it does fall, it will fall fast.  It could happen because of the loss of honeybees that is now in the news almost everyday, or it could happen from a natural disaster or escalating climate change, or in a worse case scenario could be triggered by a terrorist attack or a war that shuts down the supply chain.  Whichever way you slice it, this scenario is all the evidence anyone should need to dig up that lawn and get growin’ as much of their own food that they can and begin adding a bit of resilience into their lives!

To echo past essays here at Autonomy Acres and other sources that touch on these issues, this predicament of global climate change, energy descent and food security that we find ourselves in, need to be looked at as an opportunity to move the human race forward into the future.  While it may seem like a futile prospect to think we can take on, and ultimately overcome these challenges, the words of Permaculture Pioneer Geoff Lawton come to mind -”All the worlds problem can be solved with a garden”!

It may seem like an idealistic statement, but I truly think that there is a lot of truth and wisdom from such a simple idea as planting a garden.  If everyone who has access to a bit of land, whether that be in the city or out in the country began to grow a portion of their own food, we would realize the abundance that this Earth can provide for us.  And a garden is more than just growing food.  Once you make the leap to becoming a producer and not just a consumer, many other wonderful things follow in the footsteps of a garden.

Compost is one of them.  Food scraps, garden waste, animal manures, leaves and other plant debris can all be composted and be used to start healing our soils.  When our soils are healthy and filled with organic matter, not only can we grow lots of great food, the soil also becomes a living ecosystem, a sponge for holding water, and most importantly a place that can capture and store carbon.

When we start to tend the Earth as stewards rather than rulers, and begin to see how humans can have a positive impact on our surroundings, beautiful things begin to spring forth.  Where once there were manicured lawns that were maintained by a regiment of poisons and pointless labor, now there can be gardens packed full of both annuals and perennials providing food for humans, habitat and forage for wildlife, and many other products that range from fibers, fuel, and pharmaceuticals.

Where once there were boulevards and roadsides, those pieces of land that are cut off from each, now there can be fruit and nut trees, fruiting shrubs, and forage for all the pollinators.  These pieces of land can be reclaimed and planted with species that need little to no human maintenance that once again help to feed us, provide us with fuel, store carbon, and heal the soil.

My futue looks sweet!  We took one frame of honey this year from our strongest hive.  It is a dark, sweet honey, most likely foraged from local goldenrod.

My futue looks sweet! We took one frame of honey this year from our strongest hive. It is a dark, sweet honey, most likely foraged from local goldenrod.

The future is full of possibilities.  If we continue down the road we are on now, then there will not be a future for the human race.  Turning the ship around is not enough – we have run out of time to do that, we need to jump overboard and start anew.  It will not be easy, but for the sake of the generations that follow, and all the other critters and plants that call this planet home it is what we must do.

Starting over will require participation from everyone.  It will not happen because a government or a corporation tells us too.  It will happen organically, and from the bottom up.  When the people demand an end to the destruction of the planet and are ready to start the healing process, governments and corporations will have no choice but to listen, and eventually cease to be.

It is possible, and it is starting.  It is happening everywhere that there are gardens being planted, where land is being reclaimed, and where communities are being built.  It happens when people band together and stand against the machine of oppression.  It happens when people realize that everything we have been taught is an illusion, and that when we change our lives, we have the power to change the world!  Peace & Cheer

A great video about living a simple life …

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Purple cone flowers and sunflowers in our back garden.  Both are great pollen sources for pollinators and also add beauty to our landscapes.

Purple cone flowers and sunflowers in our back garden. Both are great pollen sources for pollinators and also add beauty to our landscapes.

It is a beautiful afternoon here in West St. Paul, Minnesota.  There are a few clouds in the sky and a light breeze keeping this early August day at a nice temperature.  I am enjoying the modern luxuries of a few cold beers and a laptop in my backyard, a pork roast and chicken breasts being slowly smoked on the grill, and looking out over a garden filled with apple trees, sunflowers, and all other kinds of plants that the bees, birds, and butterflies are loving!

 

There are a few monarchs flying about and perching on the purple coneflowers, presumably enjoying the sun just like I am, and aside from the honey bees, there are also bumblebees, solitary bees, mason bees, and many other types of pollinators that I do not know the names of.  Some are wasp like insects that are all black with a blue sheen and long abdomens, others appear to be half  honey bee half fly, some look like apis mellifera, but are just different enough to be their own species.

 

But one thing all of these little critters have in common is their love of a healthy place to live.  All of our gardens, but especially the backyard garden that I am writing this next too, is a fairly overgrown collection of native and non-native perennials, self seeding flowering annuals, fruit trees, cooking herbs, and an assortment of other “weeds” that call this piece of ground home.

 

A wild cousin of apis mellifera.  I have no idea what this little critters name is, but it sure is pretty...

A wild cousin of apis mellifera. I have no idea what this little critters name is, but it sure is pretty…

For at least the last ten years there have been no pesticides or herbicides used on my property.  While I can not say the same of some of my neighbors, most of the yards around here have a bit of a wild side on parts of them.  Our neighborhood is one of the older ones in this part of town with some of the oldest  houses dating back to the late 1800’s.  Due to this, the demographics around here tend to lean towards the lower-middle class end of the spectrum, and many people that surround us (but not all of them) do not bother with heavy chemical lawn and pest treatments, which, as far as the bees and other pollinators are concerned, is a good thing.

 

As a result there are catnip plants, thistles, burdock, wild lettuces, purple loose strife and all other sorts of flowering weeds along the forgotten edges and property lines throughout the neighborhood.  You do not have to look hard or far to find fall asters, lambs quarter or dandelions, and there is a perennial ground cover of Creeping Charlie and white clover in many of the yards around our hood.

 

While this may not be aesthetically pleasing to the city council, or the folks who tend to their lawns with a devotion that is on par to religious fanaticism, this is a good thing for the honey bees.  These overlooked edges, and backyard weed orgies may be the honey bees (and their wild cousins) best hope for their ultimate survival.  It could be argued that urban neighborhoods like mine, with all the traffic and smog of city living, may be cleaner places to live and provide a more complete, and diverse diet if you are a honey bee.

 

A bumblebee and another wild cousin foraging on wild lettuce flowers.

A bumblebee and another wild cousin foraging on wild lettuce flowers.

While I am not typically a doomer, and try to stay rooted in reality, the honey bees are in a bad place right now.  You do not have to look far in the world of online or print media before you come across a piece about the plight of the honey bees.  Millions of bees dead in Canada, CCD getting worse, and struggles to get crops pollinated are all making headlines on a daily basis.  Are these headlines exaggerations?  I do not think so at all.  While I do not think the honey bee is going to go extinct anytime soon, I do believe that the food production system (which is based almost solely on honey bee pollination) that we have built over the last 100 years or so and rely on for almost all of our food is in great danger of collapse.  Mainly for the simple reasons that it is too big, too polluted, too dependent on fossil fuels, and no less damaging to the planet and her inhabitants when compared to things like clear cutting, mountaintop removal, tar sands, or hydraulic fracturing.

 

It is almost a catch 22.  If it weren’t for the honey bee, we would never have been able to start growing our food the way we have over the last 100 years.  But now it is this same mode of food production, the megalith of industrial agriculture that would not be possible without apis mellifera,  that is killing off the honey bee.  Because we have plowed up so much land, or in the words of Earl Butz – “Fencerow to Fencerow”, and have replaced it with monocrops of  GMO corn and soybeans, almonds and other regional crops that are all dependent on huge inputs of fertilizers, fuel, herbicides, and pesticides; we have basically created food deserts for all of the pollinators and other wild critters that use to called these areas home.

 

So is it possible that urban and semi urban (especially those in lower income) areas could be the honey bees saving grace?  I think it may be so.  Acre for acre, more poison that is harmful to insect and plant life (and all life in general) is being applied to rural land, especially in the areas that are growing corn and soybeans.  Glyphosate and Neonicotinoids make up the majority of the chemicals being used in modern agriculture and are being implicated with each new study as one of  the main causes in Colony Collapse Disorder.  Add to that fungicides, loss of habitat, varroa mites, and an artificial diet of high fructose corn syrup that is being fed to the bees to replace their stolen honey and lost forage of flowering “weeds”, and you have a perfect man made storm that is wiping out the bee population around the world.

 

Now that we have a fairly clear picture of the situation that the bees and other pollinators are facing, we can start to act in ways that can benefit and promote their survival.  As far as our broad scale agriculture is concerned, it ultimately may not be salvageable, at least in a form that is recognizable to most privileged humans if we want to insure the continuation of pollinator genetics.

 

Bee hives in an almond orchard.

Bee hives in an almond orchard.

Looking at the almond orchards of California as an example gives us a perspective of how large and complicated modern industrial agriculture has become. These orchards, which bloom once a year and cover an area of around 800,000 acres (or roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island), leave nothing else for bees to forage from after the spring bloom is done.  The orchards require close to one million of America’s honey bee colonies for adequate pollination each year, for about a three to four week period early in the spring.  Once the almond trees are done blooming, the migrating beekeepers pack up their bees by the semi load and move on to the next stop in their annual travels.  It may be fruit orchards in the Pacific Northwest, or tomatoes and melons in Florida, or fields of alfalfa and clover in the Dakotas, but the constant movement of the bees to one pollination center to another is also weakening them by exposing them to disease due to the high population density of bees from around the country.

 

If these orchards could move away from the monocrop mentality by reducing the amount of chemicals being used and provide other forage (perennial weeds, polycultural alley cropping, etc…) for the bees throughout the year, less bees would have to be shipped in each spring, and little to no high fructose corn syrup would need to be fed back to the bees, and we would start to reduce the demands that we have put onto a large segment of the bee population.

 

Will this happen?  Probably not anytime soon.  The almond business in California, the largest area in the world where almonds are grown, is a multi-billion dollar industry for California.  To question this industry or any other giant agricultural venture and it’s impact on the bees is bad business, and one of the reasons that our food system is balanced on a precipice overlooking collapse.  When we value money and profit over the health of ecosystems and all their inhabitants, we are no longer stewards of the land, but slaves to the almighty dollar.  Almonds, just like corn or soybeans (these two are not directly dependent on bees though), have gotten so large and complicated, that they are bound to eventually collapse underneath their own weight and hubris.

 

This is where the small scale farmers, urban homesteaders, permaculturists,  guerilla and backyard gardeners, environmentalist, and nature lovers can all play a huge role in supporting honey bee health, and ultimately their continuation on this planet.  It is true that it will take a massive paradigm shift to change agriculture as we know it, but we forget how powerful individuals, communities, and backyards can be.

 

This is a polyculture of wild majoram, borage, winter savory, comfrey, apple trees, and creeping charlie.  This area has been covered in pollinators for the last month and a half, providing nectar and pollen.

This is a polyculture of wild majoram, borage, winter savory, comfrey, apple trees, and creeping charlie. This area has been covered in pollinators for the last month and a half, providing nectar and pollen.

Let’s start in the backyard and boulevards of Everywhere America.  The first and most effective step an individual or family can take is to stop treating our lawns like it is royalty.  The lawn was a creation of the rich upper class in the 1700’s in western Europe, and was a symbol of wealth by showing you no longer had to devote your land holdings to food production.  This has continued on into the present and has only gained momentum.  There are whole sections of hardware stores and Wal-Marts devoted to this weekend pastime and all of the “Toys” you need to maintain a perfect Victorian lawn.

 

Lawn Boys and Yard Man mowers, leaf blowers, home scaled amounts of broadleaf herbicides to keep the dandelions (and other bee forage) at bay, and a whole universe of different sprinklers, fertilizers, and ornaments that tell your neighbors that you have succeeded in life!  All of these to some degree play a role in pollinator habitat destruction.  So the first simple step is to ditch all of these inputs and the traditional lawn and start planting bee friendly habitat.

 

While it has become my goal to eventually have no more “lawn”, I do still have areas for the kids to play on and the dog to roll around in.  However these areas are packed with creeping charlie and dandelions in the spring, and white clover throughout the summer, all forage for the bees.  I will never completely get rid of our lawn because my lawn is an ecosystem, filled with flowering groundcovers and nutrient accumulators that provide pollen and nectar for the bees. It is also a self fertilizing closed loop system that stays green most years with no water except for that which it receives from the rain.

 

One of our girls foraging on a catnip plant.

One of our girls foraging on a catnip plant.

Lets now take a quick look at boulevards, those small strips of land between the sidewalks and the streets and are typically planted with grass.  Not only are these once again useless lawn spaces that require watering, fertilizing, and fuel for excessive mowing, they also shed water in huge amounts.  If we made it a national effort to start planting our boulevards into rain gardens that were filled with bee friendly natives, perennials, fruiting and flowering trees and self seeding annuals we could increase total acreage of habitat by thousands, if not millions of acres.  This is huge when you think about how easy it is to convert a boulevard (or a whole lawn for that matter) to a no-mow, low maintenance landscape that can provide pollinators with forage and retain water in our drying landscapes.

 

And briefly, let us discuss park lands, roadsides, and other forgotten parcels that can also aid the bees in their quest for survival.  In my essay Guerilla Forest Gardens I talked about taking guerilla gardening to a new level by starting and tending clandestine orchards and food forests using edible woody perennials, shrubs and groundcovers.  This same principle can also be applied when it comes to planting habitat for honey bees, and many of the trees and shrubs that may be used in a Guerilla Forest Garden also provide great forage for bees.

 

Focusing on trees, there are many different kinds that also provide great forage for our pollinating friends year after year.  Here in Minnesota great trees to have around for the bees are Basswood, Black Locust, Autumn and Russian Olive, Poplars (bees use resin from these trees to make propolis), Mountain Ash, and any of the common fruit trees that are found in backyards.  Even though trees like these only bloom once a year, they can provide so much pollen and nectar at such a crucial time in the season that the more of these trees that are around, the larger the population of bees that can be sustained and thrive in any one region or neighborhood.

 

Trees that thrive here in Minnesota are obviously going to be different than ones that thrive in other parts of the country, so find your local and regional equivalents and get your cities and counties to plant more of them!  And if you are so inclined to plant trees yourselves (whether on your own land or in a Guerilla Forest Garden), many extension and county services have tree sales each spring where you can pick up bundles of trees like these for wholesale prices.

 

So aside from making our own yards and farms, local city parks, boulevards, and highway roadsides friendly to bees, what else can we do to aid the honey bees?  Ultimately it comes down to education.  First and foremost is educating the next generation about honey bees specifically, but nature and biology in general.  There has been such a disconnect over that last few decades involving our youth and the natural world that first needs to be addressed.  This trajectory follows the bulldozing of what was once rural, agricultural and wild lands, and the rise of the ever present and sterile, cookie cutter suburbs.

 

Most kids no longer have the luxury of getting lost in the local woods, or having adventures around a small creek; mainly for the reason that places like this hardly exist anymore.  So not only do our kids suffer from growing up in artificial environments mediated by a TV, an Xbox, and junk food, but these same woods and stream banks that once fueled a childs imagination and play time can no longer feed and house our pollinators.  So if there is any hope for the ultimate survival of the bees specifically, and a diverse ecosystem to support them, it lays in the hands of the next generation of young people and adults.  People who are not scared of the outdoors or bugs, people who can appreciate simple pleasures, and people who care for the natural world are what we and the bees need to successfully move into the future.

 

And second we need to help educate our families, friends, neighbors, and communities about honey bees and what they need to live healthy, productive pollinating lives.  The good news is that everyday, more people are becoming aware about this issue, and all the implications and connections that can be made to habitat loss, GMOs, and pesticide use.  The bad news is getting people to act on this new awareness that they now have.

 

A bumblebee on a comfrey flower.

A bumblebee on a comfrey flower.

Not everyone needs to run out and become beekeepers.  Some people just aren’t suited for it, and that is okay.  But something everyone can do, and quite possibly more important, is help to create the habitat and healthy environments that the bees need.  Tear up your lawns and start planting food for yourself and the bees!  Plant your boulevards in rain gardens that provide forage for the bees throughout the seasons.  Quit using the pesticides and herbicides that are killing the bees.  Contact your local and state governments about these issues and advocate for ordinances and zoning laws that are friendly to beekeepers and bee friendly habitat.

 

On the local level we can change things, even if it is one small yard or park at a time. True change, no matter how small, starts at home and with ourselves. When our lives and our actions are put out there to be positive examples to others, we can start to change the world.  Have the conversations with people who are ready to hear about these issues.  Take a class at a local nature center and learn more about the bees.  Write letters to your state representatives, boycott and protest Monsanto, go to city council meeting and make your voice heard, volunteer to help out a local beekeeper for a day, read books and watch movies about the bees, and always keep educating yourself.  And if you are moved by these little critters to the point of becoming a beekeeper, go for it and find the joy in getting stung a few times (it is really not so bad)!

 

The problems that face the bees are huge and are bigger than any one person or homestead.  But just like a colony of bees, when we do our individual jobs along with what everyone elses contributes, cooperation helps us to reach our goals.  We all have a part to play, and if we can succeed and overcome these problems together, the world may just end up a sweeter place to live upon.  Peace & Cheers

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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