Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Four R Communities

So how do The Four Rs (see my previous post) work in practice?  How does this translate into community building, for example?

Here is my take on where various communities belong with regard to the four Rs:

Restorative Communities: Most true ecovillages go beyond sustainable to restorative.  For example, Dancing Rabbit in northeastern Missouri (see my posts First Week at Dancing Rabbit,5/28/13, Land Use Planning, 5/31/13, and Thoughts as I Leave Dancing Rabbit,6/14/13) has been trying to restore the prairie land that they're on as well as planting trees everywhere (which I mention in my post on Land Use Planning).  Communities like Earthaven and Red Earth Farms (see my post Red Earth Farms, 6/4/13) function in similar ways.

Regenerative Communities: I think that the 'deeper green' communities are the ones trying to figure out how to be regenerative.  In essence, these communities (for example Living Energy Farm--which I wrote about in a post on 12/8/12--and The Possibility Alliance--which I wrote about 6/11/13) are trying to live off the grid and without using any fossil fuels, the way I and they suspect we'll all need to be living in the future, only they're doing it now.  In some ways they are recreating civilization as well as the landscape.  And besides regenerating the land, communities often generate new communities: Red Earth Farm came from a dispute at Dancing Rabbit (they now work closely together and with Sandhill, also in Rutledge), East Wind and Acorn (see below) were off-shoots of Twin Oaks, and the two new communities in Louisa, Living Energy Farm and Sapling, came from Twin Oaks and Acorn.

Robust Communities: Twin Oaks (which I've written quite a bit about, see especially my posts Real Models 1:Twin Oaks, 9/30/10, and Update 6: Life at Twin Oaks, 12/4/12) has been around since 1967--closing in on fifty years--has nearly a hundred people and has a waiting list to get in.  There are certainly other communities that have been around nearly that long (for example, The Farm in Tennessee, founded in 1971--although with a major restructuring in 1983, Findhorn  in Scotland, which evolved from people who settled there in 1962 but became a proto-ecovillage in 1982, East Wind Community, founded in 1973, and Sandhill Farm, founded in 1974--which I wrote about in a post 6/8/13) but Twin Oaks has existed without major changes (although it has slowly evolved, there are no major change points the way it happened with The Farm and Findhorn) and with a fairly sizable population (unlike Sandhill which has never had more than twelve adult members and had six when I visited them a year and a half ago).  East Wind has also simply evolved slowly, to about 60 adults--but it's probably not an accident that the folks who started it came from Twin Oaks.  And, actually, I see all these communities as robust--and proof that the communes didn't disappear when the sixties and seventies were over.

Resilient Communities: There are probably lots of examples of this--Twin Oaks and East Wind have survived fires and deaths and other things, and, as noted above, The Farm has survived a major restructuring, but if I had to choose one major example of a resilient community, I'd choose Acorn. (For more on Acorn, see my posts Update 2: The Acorn Community, 9/14/12, and Update 3: Life on the Farm, 9/23/12.)  I was told that in their early history, Acorn was at one point down to six members and at another down to two.  More recently, last year Acorn had two major fires. (I talk a little about them in my posts on Snow, Darkness, and Fire, 3/13/13, and Issues in Community: Recruitment, 11/11/13.)  When I visited Acorn last March (see Acorn Again, 3/28/14), they were doing fairly well.  What leads a community to do so well in spite of such setbacks?  I asked one person in an early visit how Acorn got through periods when membership was so low.  His reply was that he thought it was two things--one very committed member and the nearby presence of Twin Oaks.  And that was true with the fires as well.  I was at Twin Oaks when the first one happened and people were quickly organizing to help Acorn out.  One of the reasons for the recovery from the second was also that a crew from East Wind (not nearby at all!) drove out from Missouri to help out.  I think one major source for resilience in Virginia and Missouri is when there are groups of communities that can depend on one another. (See my post on Communities of Communities, 6/9/12, and what I wrote about the Federation of Egalitarian Communities in my posts on Egalitarian Communities, 10/22/08, and Acorn Again, 3/28/14.) To my mind what's happening in Louisa County in VA and Rutledge, MO, would be more amazing if it happened even more places. (Twin Oaks' and Acorn's presence in Louisa County, for example has spun off Living Energy Farm and now, a fourth, brand new egalitarian community called Sapling--see what I wrote above under Regeneration.) In fact, regeneration of communities is a major factor in the resilience of communities.

So how to build more of these communities?  And, especially, how to build them in the city?  That's the subject of my next post.

Quote of the Day: "We are building a zero fossil fuel ... community that demonstrates that it is possible to live a healthy joyful life without the use of any fossil fuel. ... The most powerful sustainable “technology” we employ is cooperative housing in an income-sharing community. ... We have strong support and involvement from members of existing communities in the central Virginia area, and will continue to network with these groups." -- from the Living Energy Farm website

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Four Rs

As we think about social change, what are kind of change are we aiming for?

One term that many folks use--and I've used it a lot in the past (for 87 posts according to Bloggers label tally)--is sustainability.  (An early post I wrote on this is Sustainability, 10/14/08.)  At this point, I no longer believe that simple sustainability can be the objective.  While it's better to have things sustainable than not, being sustainable is the least we can do.  As one activist put it, "If you have a new relationship and someone asks you how it's going, how does it sound to answer, 'It's sustainable'?  Certainly not very enthusiastic."

What lies beyond sustainable?

1) Restorative.  The world is already degraded.  Do we want to sustain it in its present, debilitated state? Our first goal should be to return the planet back to healthy, thriving ecosystems.  Imagine streams cleared up, soil built back, forests and farmland restored.  One of the keys to restoring the planet is having more plants.  Plants take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, put more oxygen into the atmosphere, and provide food for animals and fungi.  (See my post on The Most Important Chemical Equations, 11/14/14)  Things like planting trees, growing food, and using green roofs all involve the use of plants and can help restore the air and build back ecosystems.

2) Regenerative.  Here we are going beyond restoring systems to creating systems that are renewing and revitalizing. We are keeping the momentum going, working toward a world that models the way ecosystems work and grow, and keep growing and keep creating new life. Compost is one way to do this. (See my post, Thinking in Circles, 1/6/13) It's important to note that we are talking about growth that's in balance, growing life within systems, not the kind of unrestrained growth of cancer or capitalism.  We're talking about new life, not just more of the same.

3) Robust.  Strong, sturdy, healthy, vigorous.  Not only renewing and regenerative, but capable of dealing with adverse conditions.  If we're talking about going beyond sustainable, we're definitely talking about creating things that are strong.  How do we protect fragile ecosystems?  How do we build systems that not only survive, but thrive?

4) Resilient.  Beyond even robust.   Able to withstand trauma and bounce back quickly from problems.  Here we create things that can be thriving and sustainable even when things get rough.  And, as we know, no matter what kind of world we work for and create, there will always be difficulties. Here we are building to last, and last in a way that supports dynamic, flourishing systems.  While nothing is invulnerable, things that are robust and resilient can take a lot of wear and tear.

Imagine creating a world that's restorative, regenerative, robust, and resilient.  Imagine something that's thriving and flourishing.  Doesn't that sound much better than sustainable?

Next, 4R communities.

Quote of the Day: "Resilience is true security." - Starhawk

Monday, November 17, 2014

Is Everything Connected?

Last year, when I thought that I was going to be moving to a Lyme-ridden area of New York state, I started reading everything I could find on ticks and Lyme disease.  When I found that the library had a book on the ecology of Lyme, I knew I had to read it.  And it was a pretty good book, covering aspects of the disease I hadn't found in other places.  But one statement in the book, a little section about ecology rather than Lyme, irked me.  Here's part of the passage:

"Just as I began my research on the ecology of Lyme disease in 1991, I read what to me was an astonishing statement by leading scientists about ecological systems.  The statement was published in Science magazine as a part of what was called the 'Top 20 Greatest Hits of Science'.  This was a list of the 20 most important, fundamental, and enduring generalities, or 'laws,' in all of the sciences...  The science of ecology was represented by one entry, listed as number 20: 'All life is connected.'
"Of course, this statement  in no way represents a universal law of ecology and does not belong on a list intended to foster scientific literacy.  The main reason is that it's too vague to interpret unequivocally or to evaluate rigorously.  ... 'All life is connected' is either a false statement (think about trying to detect the effect of an oak tree falling in Delaware on a blue whale in the South Pacific) or utterly untestable."

(Richard S. Ostfeld, Lyme Disease: The Ecology of a Complex System, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp 5-7)

As someone who does believe that 'All life is connected', I was bothered by this statement.  I suppose from a strictly scientific view, this is an untestable proposition.  He later quotes John Muir: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."  He says that this "is lovely poetry, but it is not science."  Well, poetry or science or faith, I do believe that everything on earth is connected.  And, personally, I feel like Richard Ostfeld had thrown down the gauntlet when he talked about "the effect of an oak tree falling in Delaware on a blue whale in the South Pacific."  Is there an effect?  What is it?  Can we show it?

I do believe that I can show the effect of that tree falling on the whale that's so far away.  But before I try to demonstrate, I'm going to ask you, my unseen reader, to take a moment to see if you can figure out what effects the tree might have on the whale.  It's a puzzle, if you will.  I saw an answer rather quickly.  What do you think?

(These images are here to give you a chance to stop and take a bit of time to see what you can figure out.)

Okay.  Here's my thinking:

I think that the oak tree falling would have an effect on the blue whale but it's so small that it would be hard to detect.  For purposes of this thought experiment, let's amp it up--instead of one tree falling in Delaware, what would happen if all of them fell?  Let's clear-cut the state.  (This isn't so preposterous as it seems.  A lot more timber than that gets cut down yearly in the Amazon and the estimates I've seen would make the amount of forest lost around the world in a year about 25 times the size of Delaware.)  One of the immediate effects of this tree loss would be a significant lessening of oxygen in the air and an corresponding increase in carbon dioxide.  (See my last post on The Most Important Chemical Equations for more on this.)  But the whale is in the ocean.  How does the change in atmosphere effect her?

The increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a large contributing factor to ocean acidification.  The more CO2 in the air, the more acid the oceans.  And, of course, the increase in carbon dioxide is contributing to global warming and particularly the rising ocean temperature. I doubt that the whale would enjoy either the warming temperatures or the more acid waters.

So, yes, a single oak tree falling in Delaware would have an effect (very small) on a blue whale in the South Pacific--and clear-cutting the state would have an even bigger effect on the whale.

Okay,  so once again, I still believe that everything is connected--and especially all life on earth.

Quote of the Day: "We are all together in this, we are all together in this single living ecosystem called planet earth." - Sylvia Earle

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Most Important Chemical Equations

I've become a chemistry geek in my old age.  It's surprising because I hated chemistry in college.  These days I'm busy memorizing the first few lines of the periodic table.

I certainly don't expect most people to share my love for chemistry, but there are two equations that I wish that everyone knew, because all human life and almost all life on earth depends on them.  I have written about the equations before (in posts on Biology 101: Photosynthesis, 5/17/12, and Biology 101: Cellular Respiration, 5/10/12) but this is important, and it's been a while, and I'm hoping this post will tie some of this together.  I also hope to build on this in upcoming posts.

The first equation is the one for photosynthesis: 6 CO2 + 6 H2O (+ sunlight) → C6H12O6 + 6 O2

This means that a plant uses six molecules of carbon dioxide and six molecules of water as well as the energy of the sun to create a molecule of sugar (glucose--C6H12O6) and six molecules of oxygen.  It's an elegant equation.  You can count the carbons (C), hydrogens (H), and oxygens (O) and there's the same number on each side of the arrow.

Basically plants suck carbon dioxide out of the air and (along with water) use it to build sugars--and from there build themselves (plant walls are made of cellulose which is made from long chains of glucose strung together).  When you look at a towering tree, you are looking at something built mostly out of carbon dioxide and water.  On a planet facing climate disruption because there is too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, more plants and more trees are a big part of the answer.

There is a second, equally important equation that explains why we and most life exists.  It's the equation for cellular respiration, which is the process that cells (including our cells) use to function, and therefore it's the process that keeps us alive.  And it's exactly the reverse of the equation for photosynthesis:
C6H12O6 + 6 O2 → 6 CO2 + 6 H2O (+ energy)

What this says is that, in order for our cells to get the energy they need to survive, they use oxygen and food (broken back down into glucose).  This is why we need to breathe and eat.  And the process of cellular respiration gives off carbon dioxide and water (which we exhale and pee out of us).

Notice that plants (during the day) give off oxygen and store sugar which is what we need to survive, and we give off carbon dioxide and water, which is what the plants need for photosynthesis.  It's a perfect circle.  And all of us are totally dependant on plants for oxygen (plants are the reason for the oxygen in the atmosphere) and the sugars (etc) we need for energy.

All the carbon in our bodies comes from plants--directly or indirectly.  Even an extreme carnivore who eats nothing but carnivores is dependent on plants (someone somewhere along that food chain eats an herbivore that eats plants), because almost all animals (and fungi, for that matter) can't photosynthesize and need to get their carbon from plants which can.

So study these equations and thank a plant for your life.  Plants are what make the world sustainable.

Quote of the Day: "We cannot cheat on DNA. We cannot get round photosynthesis. We cannot say I am not going to give a damn about phytoplankton. All these tiny mechanisms provide the preconditions of our planetary life." - Barbara Ward