Wednesday, August 21, 2013

play your hand

Well, the man wants speed, let's just give it to him. Cram it in and break it out. Yeah. Go hard. Yeah. -Cool Hand Luke

[something from 2007 i never got around to posting]

A one man revolution won’t accomplish much.  A one woman  revolution will accomplish the same.  A social, cultural or memetic revolution by definition is the changing of the ideas of many with respect towards the attitudes, beliefs and actions of the group that is itself changing.  Equally though, the change of revolution, the idea of rising up as a group to affect necessary change, can not wholly be made through group intent or action alone.  In fact it must first take place in the hearts and in the minds and in the actions of individuals before it can be shared among a larger number of people looking to make a similar change.  You need a spark to light a fire.  The spark (or with any luck the sparks) begin the burn which in turn lights another and another until the blaze is bright and noticeable, picking up speed and beginning to give off heat.  It is with a certain amount of radiant momentum that the fire then becomes a revolution.  We plan to start one.  Are you feeling sparky?

There’s a great scene in the classic 1967 Paul Newman film _Cool Hand Luke_ where the inmates are out on work detail paving a road.  The slow pace of this toilsome work is predictable.  The prisoners are unhurriedly prodding along, putting down paving, obviously not in a rush.  Their labor is forced and they have neither a pay check nor a beer at the end of the work day to look forward to- only a return to the prison yard- so they work at an expectedly slow speed.  Despite the despondency of the situation, Paul Newman’s character Luke, begins to pick up the pace.  To the dismay of his fellow prisoners, Luke starts to work faster and faster.  At first the others discourage him, but gradually they join in finding that together they can accomplish quite a lot in a very short period of time.  In fact they finish out the road building supplies long before the day is done.  The guards are aggravated but amused.  Luke gains great favor with his comrades who seem to revel in this show of strength by the prisoner group. 

Earlier in the day, the other inmates were not in favor of such a change in their normal manner of operation, especially in light of the fact that Luke was working more briskly to accomplish the goal.  The other inmates though, quickly adopted the challenge and achieved unprecedented results not so much because of their increased work speed (they finished much sooner and therefore probably did much less labor physically speaking) but more accurately because of their willingness to make a sweeping change in the way they worked. 

There are a number of grand issues facing us as a nation and as a species.  After less than two centuries of industrialization, we‘ve polluted large areas of the land on which we live.  We’ve washed away much of the topsoil responsible for growing our food, down streams and rivers, along with vast quantities of nitrogen fertilizers and countless varieties of pesticides, creating ecological disaster sites like the dead zone of uninhabitable ocean just beyond the mouth of the Mississippi river.  In the process we’ve polluted much of the small amount of fresh water on Earth capable of supporting human life.   Our air has become the depository of harmful byproducts of an industrial way of life.  In countless other ways we’ve ravaged the stable ecosystems that long supported the intricate web of life reponsisble for the varied plant and animal life that inhabits our planet.  The devastation of myriad symbiotic relationships destroyed by careless actions of human being out of touch with their environment will without doubt come back to haunt our us. 

Several specific problems look set to arrive in the early part of the 21st century.  Much of the industrialization responsible for the all of our pollution was made possible by the unprecedented energy available in nonrenewable fossil fuel resources, namely coal, oil and natural gas.  The most useful of these has been has been the liquid form, oil or petroleum.  It appears certain that during the first decade of this century conventional  crude oil production peaked worldwide and enter a permanent decline in availability.  Likewise natural gas will experience a peak although the difficulties associate with transporting a gas means that regional shortages of NG will be felt long before the global extraction peak is experienced; to say nothing of the effects of fracking.  Coal too will be harder to obtain with mines digging deeper into the Earth to try and postpone inevitable day when all fossil fuels are decreasing as a useable source of energy to our modern society predicated on its use.  The effects of this loss of stored sunlight will necessitate a return to more traditional ways of harnessing the sun’s energy or doing without so much of it in the first place.  The world as we know it is accustom to ever increasing energy availability and the shift to a paradigm of decreasing energy accessibility will be very bumpy indeed. 

The burning of fossil fuels has released an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide, and other forms of greenhouse gasses that continue to trap an unordinary amount of solar radiation as heat, warming the surface of our planet.  We are experiencing the result as an unprecedented increase in overall global temperature.  The consequences of this increase are widespread changes in climate.  Instead of only a slight, steady increase in daily temperatures, we are likely to experience sharp and sudden changes in our weather patterns.  Unpredictable in weather, both long and short term will become the norm.  Storms are likely to be stronger and more frequent.  Great discrepancies in local weather conditions will likely see some parts of the globe much hotter or wetter than usual while others receive exceptionally cold conditions or possibly droughts that last for decades. 

Our age is one of empire.  The US has seen extraordinary expansion both militarily and economically throughout the globe during the last one hundred years.  Widespread cultural exportation of the expansionist goals of western culture as a way to exploit others to create wealth at previously unattainable levels seems to be the legacy most likely to be left by America. 

The result is wide spread discrepancy in wealth and the access to resources available to the poor and the wealthy in disproportionate amounts.  This has fueled a backlash by those who feel they’ve been robbed or cheated out of wealth or damage or desecrated in the name of wealth accumulation.  These people are fighting back by leveraging the power of industrial age weapons and supporting insurgent activities including terrorism.  It should serve as no surprise that Middle Eastern men, angry that their vast resource reserves are being gobbled up by countries on the other side of the planet, are fighting back.  This is by no means meant as a pardon for the behavior of terrorists. There is no justification for the murder of other human beings, especially innocent civilians, but the shock with which most Americans view Middle Eastern hostility towards the United States of America reveals a people almost entirely unaware of the full implications of their energy-intensive lifestyles. 

To understand our way of life and all its ripples is to view a turbulent pond.  The effects of our wasteful use of energy and other resources coupled with the pollutions produced by our modern, western lifestyles is becoming painfully evident to all who care to turn off the TV and take notice.  The day is approaching when the effects will be felt in a much more painful way if we do not take action now. 

There are other less directly dire reasons to consider a change in the way we live our lives.  As a community we find ourselves fragmented and disconnected from the world around us, even alienated from our neighbors next door.  Physically, mentally, emotionally and socially we are at a low point in America.  Despite spending more the two times as much money as any other nation on Earth, Americans die at an earlier age than the average citizen of at least 20 other countries.  We have an infant mortality rate on par with other third world nations.  Our rate of obesity, and obesity related disease like Type II diabetes is incredibly high- 50% of Americans will be diabetic by 2050.  Mentally and emotionally we seem less happy than those people in other nations with much less material wealth.  In the past decade more than 55% of our population report having used antidepressants.  More than half of us are so unhappy that we take medication to try and relieve the problems.  Socially we live in one of the most violent industrialized nations on the planet.  With all the stress of living in what could accurately be described as a fairy tale, it’s no wonder that many Americans are recognizing the American dream as a fabrication that doesn’t reflect reality.  The truth is we are disconnect, malnourished, poison-filled, scared, anxious, unhappy and emotional unstable human beings waiting to be told what to do next. 

Far from hoping to fulfill the desire to be told what to do and how to do, I’d like to use this opportunity to describe not only what is wrong but also what is not right. Much of the last century has been about doing away with the previous activities and actions that formed a stable, healthy and happy society.  In a maddened sugar rush of growth and expansionism, both in scientific and geographic terms, we threw out the baby with the bathwater.  It is only now becoming painfully obvious to a growing number of people that much of what we have forgotten is worth remembering.  How to remember.  What would that revolution look like if sparked?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

the truth of fiction

"Optical devices certainly don't paint pictures.  Let me say now that the use of them diminishes no great artist." -david hockney

Is it more important to improve human nature or improve the human condition? - ran prieur

My recent trip to Kansas City included many interesting events.  I was there under the guise of presenting at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference.  In actuality (which is very different from reality) I was there to was there to see as much KC cool local food stuff as I could possibly squeeze in.  Despite the timing- mid winter- I had plenty to see and eat.  And the locals were kind and generous with their time.

On the recommendation of the newest local foods-focused grocery store owner in Concord NC (more on that if I ever get around to writing it) I visited the The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art while I was in town.  They have a varied collection with a great view for such a flat place.  And I enjoyed the conversation as a friend and I wandered around the place.

Outside of one of the gallery rooms we could see a large Monet serving as the focal point for a class conversation regarding painting, photography and the history of art.  We weren't hearing anything new in the instructor's explanation of how impressionism was the painters' response to the camera, a device that was rapidly replacing the need for realists.  But it (Impressionism) was more than simply a strategy for staying relevant.  It expanded the always ongoing conversation about the purpose and the place of art in human society.  Art, some argued, was about much more than just capturing reality exactly as it appeared to the human eye.  It was about encapsulating something more.  This particular instructor gave what I thought was a well articulated version of this arguement and was continuing to do so when we wandered off.

Earlier in my KC trip I found myself in a dive bar with NC people.  We had a strange and interesting conversation made more strange and interesting by the following question posed: Is anyone making any money at small scale farming?  The question came from a small scale farmer whose off-farm job is trying to help small-scale farmers make money.  Incidentally his wife is deeply involved in helping Organic growers become better Organic growers.  And here I was in a foreign land surrounded by people from back home visiting KC in order to be even more helpful to small scale farmers and yet questioning why in the world we were even here and doing all of this.  And, incidentally, questioning why a small dive bar would need nine urinals in its men's restroom. 

That question still nags me, not the urinals one but the underlying question about making money, which is WHY ARE WE GROWING FOOD DIFFERENTLY?  It still does actually as does another question about why I even care to try to make things better.  And wouldn't it be lovely if I could just answer them by sitting down and typing it out. The truth is I don't have resolution on this.  Resolution seems to be in short supply for me lately but that is probably best.  I have gone far too long without developing the ability to just chill. 

My answer to my friend from NC who was also in KC goes something like this.  Food, some argue, is about much more than just consuming calories.  And then I went back to asking questions similar to the Ran quote from above.  Are we small scale farming in order to change the system or in order to change ourselves?  Are we small scale farming to make money or change lives?  Whose lives- the lives of those who eat our food- better tasting and fresher?  Or are we small scale farming to change our own lives?  I think we are doing it as a response to an out-of-control industrial food system that sucks.  But are we trying to feed other people something better or are we trying to growing something better to feed ourselves and our souls with real food and real effort at meaningful production.  I am what I do right? 

This all used to be very academic for me.  I co authored a book even to share my thoughts on the food system and an alternative from the 30,000 ft perspective.  And now it is so real and so day-to-day that I hardly have a chance to sit and write about it because there are (and these are real examples) tomatoes to be transplanted, chicks to be picked up from the elementary school, local foods-focused grocery store lease agreement letters of intent to edit, beef to transfer, etc.  Local food system restoration has become my life in a very real way.  And I am doing this work because it feeds me in many ways beyond the dinner table.  I can't imagine doing anything else, which is as close as I can come to knowing that who ever sent me here can't help but be pleased.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

household energy

Stuart Staniford recently published this image of EIA data regarding average household energy use.

It inspired me to update our household energy numbers.  Maybe one day I'll convert these into BTUs but not this particular day.  First natural gas, which we use for heating water and most cooking.

Next electricity.


Our overall trend is definitely downward.  In addition to conservation measures, we are burning wood in a high efficiency wood stove which accounts for a significant portion of the NG reduction.  We're in the market for a front loading washer and new dryer (yes we line dry but not every time) and we will have a new compressor for the AC system within a month which will likely lower this summer's numbers.

Back to the first chart (colour emphasis added is mine).  Two things in particular struck me. 

The Midwest uses nearly 3 times as much energy to heat the average home as does the South; the Northeast 3 1/2 times as much- almost as much energy for heating as the South uses for all home energy use combine.

Keeping cool in the South will certainly get harder in a world with ever increasing energy constraints.  But I'm wondering what Kunstler would say about these numbers.  As I read them it looks like keeping warm in the NE might be more of a problem than keeping cool in the South. 

The other is the amount of energy spent on heating water, particularly in the South.

Talk about some low hanging fruit!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm

Part of my day job is to manage the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm, a teaching facility where Cooperative Extension trains new farmers.  But no need to read a boring description of the project when you can watch the news video below. 


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

heart attackj

thank you garobattersby.

Monday, February 27, 2012

on up

In regards to the current conversation about the recent rise in price at the pump and what we can do about it James Howard Kunstler says,
In any case, all this wishing and lying is about to collide with price volatility to make the American voting public absolutely batshit crazy with dread and anger. That, of course, will only prompt more lying, whopper-spinning, and grievance-flogging in the political arena. It will be nearly impossible for the public to evaluate reality.
I was going to start with a bit about oil and gasoline but, Stuart Staniford has done a great job over at Early Warning so I’m just going to let you go and have a look.  I will reproduce a couple of his excellent images here and quote him as saying, “You can see that there's a very strong relationship over time. Technically, 97% of the variance of the price of gas is explained by the price of oil.”

Speaking of oil, the noise about Iran continues to ramp up.  In response to the new economic sanctions,
Iran has stopped selling crude to British and French companies, the oil ministry said on Sunday, in a retaliatory measure against fresh EU sanctions on the Islamic state’s lifeblood, oil.
“Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped … we will sell our oil to new customers,” spokesman Alireza Nikzad was quoted as saying by the ministry of petroleum website.    More… 
And then there’s the less reported planned Iranian action surrounding oil trades in something other than the US dollar.

"Last week, the Tehran Times noted that the Iranian oil bourse will start trading oil in currencies other than the dollar from March 20. This long-planned move is part of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vision of economic war with the west."  - source  Will that really happen?  Will it be allowed to happen? 

Not surprising to see the cost of oil up at above $108/barrel in late February 2012.  Which means higher gas prices if you read above.  Of course if we’ll just elect Newt then he’ll bring the cost of gas down to $2.50/gallon.  ;-)

And with the price of oil/gas going up and fear of economic catastrophe pulsing through the American psyche the price of gold has also jumped.  Warren B has this to say,
"Today the world’s gold stock is about 170,000 metric tons. If all of this gold were melded together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet per side. (Picture it fitting comfortably within a baseball infield.) At $1,750 per ounce – gold’s price as I write this – its value would be $9.6 trillion. Call this cube pile A.
Let’s now create a pile B costing an equal amount. For that, we could buy all U.S. cropland (400 million acres with output of about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (the world’s most profitable company, one earning more than $40 billion annually). After these purchases, we would have about $1 trillion left over for walking-around money (no sense feeling strapped after this buying binge). Can you imagine an investor with $9.6 trillion selecting pile A over pile B? 
Admittedly, when people a century from now are fearful, it’s likely many will still rush to gold. I’m confident, however, that the $9.6 trillion current valuation of pile A will compound over the century at a rate far inferior to that achieved by pile B." (pdf warning)

On a not complete unrelated note my boss just walked into my office and asked me where to buy a cow; not beef but a live cow for her to raise and later process for food.  Which leads us into funnier territory with this excellent video.

Lastly something a little personal.  Two weeks ago I crashed my bike, my first real cycling accident.

Fortunately that image makes the whole thing look way worse than it really was.  After the crashI walked 100 yards home with only a few bruises.  My 1979 steel frame Trek is quite beat up however and so it was with great anticipation that I ordered my first ever brand new road bike!  I have a great commuter and a mountain bike slash long haul set up but this will be my first new road bike ever.  It's being built this week by my LBS.

I’m competing in a race in May and between the crash and the race now seems like the time to invest in this Giant Defy 2.  It’s an entry level road bike but quite fancy by my standards.  Report forthcoming.   


Friday, February 10, 2012

household energy update

It's been a few months since I updated our household energy use.  The first chart if natural gas which we use for domestic hot water, cooking and sometimes heating our home.  We're entering into our forth calender year of tracking this data.  You'll see January is down considerably from last year which was down remarkable from the year before.  In Jan 2012 we had 4 extra days in our billing cycle compared to the previous year but the average local temperature was 9 degrees warmer.  Still I was impressed because we are primarily heating our home with wood so the outdoor temperature shouldn't have had that big of an effect in terms of reduced NG use. 

Here's our electricity use.  After using slightly more in October 2011 than in October of 2010 we saw decreases in November, December and January.  December reduction was probably primarily due to my wife's more judicious use of Christmas tree lights.  Hopefully by June, July and August- our three high use months- we'll have our new HVAC system in place.  Also we will likely have a new clothes dryer by then.  We dried clothes much more out on the line last year than in the past and that will continue but we will continue to sometimes dry inside and we have quite an old machine.