Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I've blogged a bit on Permaculture (7/22/08) and Permaculture Principles (12/24/09). It's amazingly useful stuff.

I was recently reading Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay's book, Introduction to Permaculture, which begins with a chapter on 'Permaculture Principles'. The principles were all familiar to me (in one form or another) and all listed at the beginning of the chapter--except two, which are snuck in at the end. These are referred to as 'Attitudinal Principles'. The authors go on to say that the principles that they've outlined so far "...deal with the site, or the environment, or the actual design. The following are people-oriented principles, and deal with the principles of attitude." (Italics in the original.)

The first 'attitudinal principle' is "Everything Works Both Ways". According to them, "Every resource is either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the use made of it. ... Disadvantages can be viewed as 'problems' and we can take an energy-expensive approach to 'get rid of the problem', or we can think of everything as being a positive resource: it is up to us to work out just how we can make use of it."

If you are having trouble imagining how you might use some things, that may in itself be the problem. Their second principle is "Permaculture is Information and Imagination-Intensive". The authors say that "Permaculture is not energy- or capital-intensive... It is the quality of the thought and information we use that determines the yield, not the size or quality of the site. We are using not only our physical resources, but our ability to access information and to process it."

Of course, these principles (like much in permaculture) are not limited to agriculture or growing things. Some of this reminds me of Stephen Covey's ideas, especially 'Think Win/Win' (see my post on Win/Win, 7/30/10) and a habit I haven't really delved into yet, that he simply calls 'Synergize' (or Creative Cooperation). A lot of this is simply saying that the most useful tool we have is creativity (or what Richard Heinberg terms, 'ingenuity' and 'artistry'--see my posts on Peak Everything, 7/20/08, and Scarcity and Abundance, 8/11/10). Seeing everything as a possible solution and using our imagination and all the information we can gather, means there is a lot more possible than we may think at first. It's all in our attitude.

Quote of the Day: "Information is the most portable and flexible investment we can make in our lives; it represents the knowledge, experience, ideas, and experimentation of thousands of people before us. If we take the time to read, observe, discuss, and contemplate, we begin to think in terms of multidisciplines, and to design systems which save energy and give us yields.
"... The only limit on the number of uses of a resource possible within a system, is in the limit of the information and imagination of the designer." - Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Green Wizardry

I've written about John Michael Greer a number of times, most recently in my post about Collapse, 7/5/10. His blog, The Archdruid Report has been a major influence on me and this blog. (I wrote a review of The Archdruid Report on 8/5/08 and another post on some of his ideas, entitled A Magical Way of Thinking, on 8/3/08.) He is usually up to something interesting in his blog, and I think that his current explorations are a very different, fascinating way of looking at some of the things I've been writing about. He is quite deliberately repackaging them (and I am talking about ecosystem thinking, appropriate technology from the seventies, scientific theories about matter, energy, and information, composting, mulching, and, in his latest installment, Two Agricultures, Not One, the difference between extensive farming and intensive gardening) as a training program for 'Green Wizards'.

Beginning with his 6/30/10 post Merlin's Time, Greer outlines a curriculum for modern day wizards. He admits that he wants "to have a certain amount of fun with the wizard archetype in the posts to come. Still, that’s an example of what the Renaissance alchemist Michael Maier called a lusus serius, a game played in earnest, a dead serious joke." He talks about creating a 'grimoire', a 'book of ancient and forgotten lore'. Playing with the work of horror/fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft, who makes frequent references to a book he calls the Necronomicon, Greer proposes to call his grimoire the Gaianomicon, a book “concerning the laws of Gaia”. He suggests that his readers study it "with the same total intensity your average twelve-year-old Twilight fan lavishes on sparkly vampires." He also suggests they "obsess about the way an old-fashioned computer geek obsesses about obscure programming languages."

In some ways, I feel that he is trying to appeal to gamers and fantasy folks as well as the eco-types. And why not? We need to pull new people into the endeavor of social change, and these are bright folks who are willing to put a lot of effort into things. I hung out with the Trekkers at one point and almost got sucked into putting on a costume and pretending I was on a starship. Why not get them to use the energy they put into pretend earth saving into real earth saving? If you can devote your life to acting out space battles or magical quests, why not devote it to something that will make a real difference?

Some people may object and say that he is making light of a very serious situation, one where people are talking about the possibility of starvation and 'die-offs'. I think this is brilliant, a great way of coping with something that could be awful, without getting sunk in it. It reminds me of stories that I've heard about the Holocaust where parents who tried to flee the Nazis with their young children would try to make a game of it. "Now see how quiet you can be as we walk through here. Remember, you don't want to get caught."

I do think that the times ahead are going to be difficult and I also think a light touch may be just what we need. If the Archdruid can recruit a bunch of 'green wizards', (and he might, considering Blogger claims he has 1140 followers,) and can teach them a whole lot of practical skills under the guise of wizardry, then I am all for it. Goodness knows we are going to need all the help we can get.

Quote of the Day: "What’s needed ... is a Gaianomicon... if you will, a manual of the theory and practice of applied human ecology. Like Lovecraft’s tome, the Gaianomicon exists only in fragments, and your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to gather enough of those fragments to make a start on your education as a green wizard." - John Michael Greer

Monday, August 23, 2010

What If?

I have a cartoon that someone sent to a mailing list I'm on. It shows a 'Climate Summit' where the speaker is pointing out the benefits of change: "Energy independence, preserving rainforests, sustainability, green jobs, livable cities, renewables, clean water, clean air, healthy children, etc, etc" and some guy stands up and says, "What if it's a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?"

This pretty much sums up the way that I feel about climate change and peak oil and all those controversial things. I mostly believe in them, but I also think that it doesn't matter whether they are right or wrong. What if climate change doesn't happen? What if peak oil is fifty or a hundred years off, or doesn't happen at all? What if we create a simple, sustainable world filled with equality and community and peak oil and climate change turn out to be myths? So what? I'm not supporting social change because I'm worried about climate change. I'm not pushing sustainability just because I think peak oil is coming. Whether peak oil happens or climate change happens, I know we need to change how we are living. As far as I am concerned, a lot of the way that we are living now is just plain wrong, and I truly believe that a better world is possible.

Of course, if we make those changes and we lessen climate change and are prepared for peak oil, so much the better. But I'm not going to worry about all the big questions of the future. I'd rather make the changes out of hope for making a better world than fear of things getting worse. I am well aware that fear will motivate some people to change, and I am okay with that. I don't care why you make the changes, I just want to see us moving in a positive direction.

I know I'm going to keep working for the world that I want to see no matter what. What motivates you to make changes? What if climate change was a myth? What if peak oil never happens? Are you still going to want to change?

Quote of the Day: "When you have your vision, that's one step; as you go through one, it'll go to the next step. And if you follow it, nothing gonna be unturned; everything will work in place." - Rachel Edna Bagby

Friday, August 20, 2010

Compost Happens!

For my birthday this year I taught a workshop on composting. Well, almost. It was actually my birthday (although no one but me knew it) and I was asked to give a workshop on composting but warned (because it's the summer) no one might show up. As it turned out, a few people did show up and we had an informal and meandering discussion on compost (among other things). I did have a handout which I gave out and that's the material below. Most of it has been taken from other handouts I've gotten. (I've also talked some about composting in my post about Waste, 5/25/09.)

Yard waste and food scraps make up almost a third of our household waste. Composting turns them into rich, earthy organic material that improves the soil and nurtures plants. It also stops organic stuff from going into landfills where it gives off methane, which is a lot more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide!

There are many different ways of composting, but the most important thing to know, is that it's not hard. Whatever you do, compost will happen. Organic stuff is just going to decay. There are things you can do to make it faster, and less smelly and messy, but it's going to turn into compost whatever you do.

Of course, you don't want your compost to smell bad. To make certain that it isn't going to be smelly or messy, you want to be sure that what you are composting gets plenty of fresh air, and that you mix things with a lot of nitrogen (often called 'greens' or wet stuff) with things that have a lot of carbon (often called 'browns' or dry stuff—however, some brown stuff, like manure, is actually high in nitrogen). Food scraps are high in nitrogen so it's good to mix them with dry leaves, or saw dust, or wood chips, or paper towels, or cardboard, or shredded newspaper. A good mix isn't too wet or dry, and can get some air, doesn't smell bad, and will eventually create 'humus', which is a moist brown material that looks and smells like good soil.

Two main ways of composting are using compost bins and using worm bins.

Compost bins are big outdoor bins that will take lots of materials. If you only put yard waste in it, you don't need much covering but if you add food scraps you need to make sure animals can't get in it. Because you don't want to attract animals, don't put meat, bones, and oily, fatty stuff (cheese, dairy, etc) in urban composts.

Check your compost now and then. It shouldn't smell, it should be moist (like a wrung out sponge), and it should have plenty of life in it. You may see earthworms and all sorts of bugs in your bin (don't be surprised to see pillbugs, sowbugs, springtails, or millipedes scampering around), but there is lots of microscopic life in there as well that's busy breaking things down. All this vibrant life is good! They do the actual work of creating finished compost.

Your compost is done when there aren't many bits of things and it just looks like a rich earthy dirt. If there are still bits of stuff in it (eggshells, sticks, corncobs, avocado skins, etc), you can sift it with a screen and get very fine humus.

Composts can be 'cold' or 'hot'. A cold compost takes a long time (as much as two years), requires little work (just a layer of 'greens' and a layer of 'browns'), and little or no turning. A hot compost can be done in months, maybe even weeks, depending on how much work you are willing to do (constant turning, cutting scraps up before composting, paying a lot of attention to the carbon:nitrogen ratio and the moisture level, etc.) A hot compost can get very hot—you can get temperatures of up to 150 degrees in the center, hot enough to burn your hand.

Big 'industrial' composts run very hot and can breakdown meat and bones, as well as 'compostable' plasticware and chip bags, that will not compost in your backyard compost bin.

Worm bins (also known as vermicomposting) are small, shallow bins that you can keep in your house. The worms in these bins are usually red wigglers, which are different from earthworms. (Don't dump these worms in the soil when you are done—red wigglers are actually an invasive species.) Make sure that the bin has holes (and cover with screen to keep out flies). Fill with shredded newspaper, moisten and fluff. Add worms. Feed them food scraps (vegetable and fruit scraps—no meat or dairy—and they also don't like onions, garlic, peppers, citrus fruits, avocado or eggplant skins, spicy foods, or anything fermented or moldy). These worms like a temperature between 40 and 80 degrees and their 'bedding' should be kept slightly damp. When everything looks like compost, harvest the 'worm castings', put in fresh newspaper strips and food scraps and start over.

You can put your finished compost on top of the soil around your plants and let the nutrients wash down, or you can mix it with regular soil before you plant. Either way your plants will thrive on the rich soil that the compost will create.

Happy composting!

Quote of the Day: "I hesitate to use 'home vermiculture system' exclusively because the term itself might frighten away some who would feel more comfortable with 'worm bin'. It sounds a lot less intimidating to just build a wooden box with holes in the bottom, add moistened bedding and worms, bury garbage, harvest worms, and set up bedding as necessary." - Mary Appelhof

Monday, August 16, 2010


I've spent much of the day cleaning the house and I still have a bunch of cleaning to do. I really like cleaning.

What does this have to do with social change, spirituality, personal growth, permaculture, or peak oil?

A friend just read me a passage from Jack Kornfield's book, After The Ecstacy, The Laundry. While I appreciated what she read me, I also appreciated the title of the book. I remember a Doonesbury comic from many years back (probably the seventies) where one of the characters in the collective was asked to do the dishes and she muttered something about "After the revolution..." The other character replied, "After the revolution, the dishes will still need to be done." (Or something like that; it's been a long time.)

Come peak experiences or peak oil, when it's over, even when the Transformation or The Great Turning happens, we will still need to do the dishes and the laundry, and we will still need to clean.

And there is something very satisfying about cleaning. Unlike the messiness of personal or social change, you can see progress as you clean. You make the world a little better and you can see it as you do it. Too often, while working with changing people or society, it feels like nothing will ever change. Maybe then it's time to do a little cleaning, where you can see what you have accomplished.

Quote of the Day: "I long to accomplish a great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker." - Helen Keller

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Scarcity and Abundance

In my last post (Win/Win), I wrote about needing an Abundance Mentality and quoted Stephen Covey on the difference between 'the Scarcity Mentality' and 'the Abundance Mentality'. Yet I was aware as I wrote it that six posts earlier I wrote about impending collapse. (See Collapse, 7/5/10, for more on this.) How can I talk about having an Abundance Mentality when I've just said that affluence is over, we've passed not only 'peak oil' but 'peak everything' (for more on this, see my posts on Peak Oil, 7/18/08, and Peak Everything, 7/20/08), and the economy is slowly collapsing?

I think that the big question is what kind of 'abundance' and what kind of 'scarcity' are we talking about? In my post on Peak Everything I mentioned that Richard Heinberg sees declines in not only oil, and coal, and uranium, but "population, grain production, arable land, wild fish harvests, fresh water, climate stability, and yearly extraction of copper, zinc, platinum, silver, and gold". But he also points out that there are things that aren't going to peak, such as "community, cooperation, ingenuity, artistry, ... intergenerational solidarity, personal autonomy, leisure time, happiness..." In fact, some of these things may increase, if having less material goods means we decide spend less time trying to accumulate stuff and social status, and more time building relationships. What I referred to as 'the Four Gardeners of the Great Turning' (Love, Compassion, Joy, and Serenity) and 'Their Four Offspring' (Patience, Forgiveness, Generosity, and Healing) will not be affected by peak oil, climate change, or economic crisis. (See my posts The Four Gardeners, 2/14/10, and And Their Four Offspring, 2/24/10.) An Abundance Mentality sees all these things as overflowing.

And why not? In some ways these are more important than many material things and we really won't run out of them.

This is not to say that there aren't material things that we do need. I spent months last year trying to enumerate our real needs. (See my series of posts on Needs, beginning with Looking at Needs, 5/4/09, and ending with Our Needs: One Last Look, 9/19/09.) Take food for example. Many writers see food shortages coming as the oil that fuels our transportation system (not to mention the fertilizers, pesticides, and tractors many farmers use to grow the food) begins getting more and more expensive. Yet we could prioritize growing food and there are lots of possible ways we could make sure everyone gets fed. (See for example my posts on Feeding Ourselves in the Future, 7/24/08, Food (Soil and Seeds), 5/13/09, and Biointensive, 2/10/10.)

Gandhi claimed that, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.” And this may be the real point. Having an Abundance Mentality isn't the same as trying to get more, more, more. Having an Abundance Mentality is really more about being satisfied with what we have and what we really need, and working to make sure that everybody gets what they need. Love isn't going to run out--in fact, as Malvina Reynolds puts it: "Love is something if you give it away, You end up having more." And we can have an abundance of material things as well, if we make our needs few and we are willing to share. And much of what is going to become scarce is things we don't really need anyway: McMansions, SUVs, giant screen TVs and home entertainment centers, etc.

I think that cultivating an Abundance Mentality begins when you realize what real abundance is.

Quote of the Day: "Our terrible affluence is at the root of your current crisis. Somehow most people in the rich world have gotten the impression that we're not here to care about others or do good work but to get 'ahead' and accumulate stuff. Most of our energy use goes to make us a bit more comfortable, not to meet essential needs. Perhaps the most important work we can do is to distinguish between wants and needs, and to find something besides consumption to value and put at the center of our lives. My suggestion is that we put our hope for the future there, and begin to live our lives as though we hold the world--and our particular piece of it--in trust for future generations." - Sharon Astyk