Wednesday, December 27, 2006

another sunny spot

Until last weekend I had never met the woman who lives across the street from me. That is embarrassing to say as I’ve lived in my home for more than four years now. I know many of the families who live on my short street but I had never met Jean until last Sunday. She is an elderly lady with bright eyes who is not afraid of silence.

We didn’t talk about peak oil or the tragic loss of top soil in our country. But she did say she’d seen my chickens one day when they ventured into my front yard. She told me about how living in our small, southern town used to include keeping backyard poultry and sometimes even larger livestock. She lamented the fact that folks no longer garden; that people aren’t as neighborly and don’t get together to share as often. We both apologized for not having met sooner. I brought up the idea of me gardening in her backyard. She is no longer able to do the physical work of growing food and was happy to hear the idea of me using her former garden to do so. We both agreed that sharing the food, not only between our two households but also with some of our other neighbors, would be a good idea. One such neighbor has since offered to help and has begun to deposit fallen leaves in a pile we’ll use for compost and for mulch.

The full version of this story about a holiday expansion of my neighborhood gardening efforts appears HERE as part of Groovy Green's 13 Days of Joy series.

Monday, December 25, 2006

merry christmas

Amish deer tongue lettuce in the cold frame.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

clover cover

A warm Decemeber means my mistake of waiting too late to put out a cover crop isn't as much of a problem.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

i spy

garlic growing up through my strawberries.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

buried treasure

While cleaning out the garden I discovered a small watermelon tucked up underneath a rosemary bush. After spending all autumn outside it wasn't especially yummy-looking to me but the chickens loved it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

a picture speaks

I have a lot to do and a lot to say. What I really mean is that I have a lot to write- the sooner the better. So for the time being, I will be posting only images with maybe brief descriptions at this location. I am also hoping to jot down quick notes here about what I plant in the garden and when. Other than that, I'll be doing any posting of Do-It-Yourself-How-To's Here and spending serious time on this project.

Hopefully I'll be back with a big ole world changing suggestion in a few months. Here's to making change because this is just tragic...

Friday, December 15, 2006

opec media circus

If you need any amusement this holiday season aside from outdoor Christmas decorations gone mad, you’re welcome to review this week’s OPEC circus sponsored by corporate media. For the second time in nine months the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries got together and decided to cut production; this time by 500,000 barrels per day.

Funny Monkey Number One: The price of oil is dangerously low. Say what? OPEC decided to cut production by 1.2 million bpd back in October to, “halt a 10-week, 25 percent price decline.” Remember this graph?

Oil at anything other than about $20 a barrel is historically high. And yet they claim to be “stopping the price slide” or that they have “determination to manage the market and prop up prices.” I know we’ll never see $20 per barrel oil prices again. But I also know the real reason why. So how come the corporate media of our oil importing countries just sits there stupid and eats up this nonsense? Perhaps they actually buy this…

Funny Monkey Number Two: There are seasons of high demand for oil. In Juneau, Alaska it rains more than 250 days a year. I once bought a t-shirt there that read, “Juneau Rain Festival: May1, 1994 – May 1, 1995. The point is that it’s almost always raining. The same is mostly true when it comes to our demand for oil. Those nice folks over at OPEC delayed the latest cuts until February 1, 2007 so as not to negatively affect our energy needs during “winter heating season”; which ends at least 8 full weeks before we enter “summer driving season”. Still we hear this corporate media nonsense year after year, “By postponing a further reduction until peak demand has passed, OPEC is acknowledging consumer countries' concerns that a cut now would drive prices higher and hurt their economies.” Blahblahblah. We’ll hear the same thing in April only it'll be about summer driving. OPEC perpetuates the myth that during the majority of the year we Americans are using relatively little energy and that we just need a bit more oil during certain seasons, and our corporate media is happy to help them do so. Does the media do this because they're funded by advertising dollars from big oil and big car companies and a host of other corporations dependant on cheap energy to keep us consuming? Well maybe, but I also think they just do not get the fact that…

Not So Funny Monkey Number Three: OPEC is peaking in oil production.

Now I ask you, if you were one of the countries that was responsible for the continuation of The Western World’s Great Big Fossil Fuel Party (admission by invite only) what would you do when you reached the peak of your production capacity? Would you come right out and say, “Sorry guys, the keg’s dry.” Or would you, in a market of sustained high oil prices, decide to voluntarily cut production? Think about it. What they’re doing would be like Starbucks saying, "Now that we have everyone addicted to $2 per cup caffeinated beverages we're going to be closing some stores." OPEC had this to say in a press release about the circus this week, “The Conference further reiterated the Organization’s determination to take all measures deemed necessary to keep market stability through the maintenance of supply and demand in balance, for the benefit of producers and consumers alike." Hello dummy media organizations, in case you really aren’t getting the hint OPEC is trying to tell you it has peaked. They're ready to give Richard Heinberg a call. Remember this is the same organization that once reported its oil reserves did this.

This group is interested in stability for as long as it can hold together a market for its product. But make no mistake, it is has never been interested in being forthcoming about the truth. And here sits the corporate media like three little monkeys.

So there you have it. To bad the truth isn’t as fun as a circus. Happy Holidays.

NewZ Coverage, NewZ Coverage, A Stupid Press Release & The Real Deal

Some of the above charts from a responsible independent media resource, The Oil Drum.

Monday, December 11, 2006

winds of change

Almost every day I believe in my ability to make great change- in the ability of ordinary citizens to affect the change that will avert the great calamity that is beginning to bear down on us. Today though I am hung-over from a weekend of too much reading about all the madness in the world. I am more depressed about our situation than I have been in a while. I know this feeling will pass. It always does but today I feel like part of the virus club (6.5 billion members and growing) eating away at this planet. I wonder if influenza ever feels remorse.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the Luffa phenomenon is also affecting me. My most recent post to this site was an essay of ideas about how we as a people must make change in ourselves (among other rambling thoughts). It was thoughtful (I thought) and took a bit of thinking and writing to complete. It has received very little attention. On the other hand, a few weeks ago I published a 20 sentence explanation on “How to Grow a Luffa Sponge” that took 15 minutes to create. It received tens of thousands of visitors in less than a week. I guess I should accept the fact that people are more interested in learning how to grow their own shower sponge and less interested in listening to the sprawling thoughts of a peak oil aware 30-something. That might not be such a bad thing. It points to the fact that people everywhere are interested in doing and growing things for themselves. It might mean folks have this wonderful new source of communication in the Internet and they are using it to search out ways of being more self sufficient and ways of living in a more sustainable manner. Perhaps the rejection by omission of my most recent essay should serve as an aide memoire of something my wife is fond of foretelling; as peak energy unfolds people will want to read about simple changes they can make in response to the problems of the world. Actually she just says, “Keep it simple stupid”. So that’s what I’ll do. I will write about a simple way to fix the problems associated with peak oil, climate change, national insecurity and wide spread social injustice. Now let’s see... what simple, elegant solution could address so many problems?


I got it. How about adding 100 million new farmers in America? Sounds crazy you say. “100 million farmers, that’s wild!” I’m sure the questions are already beginning to bubble up in your brain. Who will they be? How will we create them? Where will they farm? What does it take to fuel a revolution? Hint: The answer isn’t oil. A return to production as a rejection of pointless consumption is a fabulous path to travel. A return to small scale organic agriculture would go a long way towards healing ourselves and our land physically, mentally and emotionally. It would reconnect us with the natural world we ultimately depend on for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s where we came from as an idea for democracy or so thought Thomas Jefferson. And it’s where we’re going again whether we like it or not. In 'The Great Turning', David Korten writes,

"some critics will surely complain that 'Korten wants to change everything'. They miss the point. Everything is going to change. The question is whether we let the changes play out in increasingly destructive ways or embrace the deepening crisis as our time of opportunity … it is the greatest creative challenge the species has ever faced"

Why fight it? The simplest way to make lemonade from our citrus circumstance is to find a clever, uncomplicated way to turn the world around. What better approach than through food. Not to mention the process of building soil sequesters a good bit of carbon from out of the atmosphere but now I’m giving away too many ideas. Why would Oprah buy the book if she could just read it all right here? Plus I’m going to need some help with this one. I’d better first talk to Sharon Astyk and see if she’d like to lend a hand. The truth is this project was Sharon’s idea and I imagine we’ll get help from plenty of the other really smart people already working to make this world ready for a change.

OK. 100 million new farmers as a way to heal our world.

Can we do it? Of course we can.

We have to.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


The following essay is a colletion of thoughts orginally published at Groovy Green.

Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around. -Thoreau

So I sent out a few letters post midterm election 2006, to get a response from those who are peak oil aware. The Democrats took control of the United States House of Representatives, a name that many in my generation find facetious. They also appear to have taken control of the Senate and while I don’t have a readymade joke for that body of Congress, please don’t assume I think them any more capable of addressing the issues of energy and environment currently facing the American dream. We are about to awaken from our slumber to the cold realities of recently dismissed phenomenon like physical limits and laws of nature. When I sent out my impromptu poll I was curious as to whether any of those concerned about the converging calamities associated with a consumer-based society believe that the recent swing of the political pendulum will have any effect on the readiness of America to weather the coming storm. The results were all but unanimous.

Let me stop and say that I am not by manner a pessimist. This might seem like a lie if you know me only through my shared thoughts of essay but in truth I am an optimist. Not out of belief but out of practice. I have been told time and again what was and was not in the cards concerning my future. Sometimes I wanted more than others thought was possible and on many occasions I have been pleasantly pleased at my ability to transcend their expectations. So grew an idea about ability that exceeds human anticipation without forgetting that there are reasonable limits to achievement. In other words I find human beings often underestimate their own abilities while simultaneously overestimating the aptitudes of technology. We are at once ready to believe that we are doomed because we can’t personally change and prepared to be saved by some unknown outside force. Sounds like a new religion.

Those whom I polled saw little hope that reasonable action would be taken in the United States concerning the coming global peak in oil production and the following energy decent- from a governmental standpoint that is. This point emerged: Do not count on the American Democrats to save the day. I could not help but have expected such an answer. U.S. Baby Boomers might turn out to be the most destructive generation in all of human history, but their failure to properly govern democratically, that is their susceptibility to big business as a corruptive influence, has my generation turning up its nose at even an unexpected Democratic victory in the shadow of Hubbert’s Peak. And who can blame them? However, that does not entitle us to adopt an attitude of defeat.

Many traditional environmentalists work from a place of anger. They are angry that others have dirtied their air and their water. They are angry that the government has allowed this to happen. There are a dramatic number of cases of childhood asthma attributed to power plant emissions. Our drinking water is full of toxins and hormones known to harm the health of countless Americans each year. The specific issue that most recently jangled my anger was mercury levels in big fish so strong that my pregnant wife was advised not to eat tuna. Industrial America has made it unsafe for her to do so. Yes, that’s enough to make anyone angry. From all of this anger comes an offensive to stop the pollution through active means. I’ve just read Derrick Jensen’s, Endgame Vol. I The Problem with Civilization. Mr. Jensen is an author and activist who goes further than most and calls for the active dismantling of industrial civilization. His arguments about fighting back and forcefully creating change are an easy sell to those who believe their clean air and fresh water have been taken from them. Many Americans are awake enough to see the extreme degradation of our environment as a direct consequence of our consumptive way of life. Even if they stop short of working to bring down civilization, these concerned individuals are willing and ready to fight back on behalf of Mother Nature. But I argue that strategy will never work. It over looks one simple fact. No one can force anyone to do anything. Sure someone could hold a gun to your head and force you to recycle but as soon as the gun is removed so is the incentive to recycle. The end result of such an exchange will probably establish in you a resentment of recycling and a reluctance to do so; the opposite of the intended effect. People can not be forced to believe in something. And unless they believe in something, they can’t change their behavior.

I am calling for a new way of imagining our relationship with the environment. Most people view their lives as their turn on the dance floor. They see themselves as having inherited the Earth from their parents and feel free to do with it as they please. I argue the opposite, that we are borrowing the Earth from our children. What we do they will have to deal with. This change in perspective separates the takers from the leavers. Daniel Quinn in his monumental work Ishmael, describes the human race as being made up of two groups; those who take what they can and those who leave as much as possible. Obviously those who are actively involved in polluting our planet are in the former group. They see themselves as free to do as they please and to take what they want regardless of the consequences left for future generations. I argue though that they are human and as such can not be forced to do anything otherwise.

Corporate America lobbies heavily against environmental legislation. When these laws are past, they are often later repealed or altered so as to make them less effective. Sometimes they are simply ignored. If all of these efforts fail, big business is usually ready to fight in court with well funded lawyers. When activists attempt to physically shut down caustic practices like nuclear power generation they are sometimes even met with violence, state sanctioned or otherwise. Even with righteousness on your side you can’t effectively force anyone to be environmentally responsible. It just won’t work in the long run.

The focus must first be on us. After all, we are the ones using the electricity created by Industrial Power Plants. Each of us is responsible for the products and services we buy and use. Our support of the system is to blame for the destructive nature of We the People (lately read We the Consumers). I agree with those who say that corporations have used psychological strategies to convince Americans to adopt consumptive lifestyles. The odd reality is though that even after we awake up from the spell of such strategies most of us continue to consume and in doing so prop up a system of destruction and pollution. I am not advocating that those of us who understand how horribly damaging our way of life has become should run off into the woods and abandon all we have come to know. Such a cold turkey response to the habit of industrial civilization will probably not last and will most certainly alienate us from friends and family. I am advocating though for a change in focus for those of us lucky enough to understand the great poisoning that has taken place and who want to beat it back.

We must change ourselves. We must change our habits. We must slowly drop out of consumer culture. We must remove our support of corporate monsters and return our support of local businesses. Forcing others to change won’t work but making real change happen in our own lives will. If you don’t support the production of nuclear waste and your electricity comes from a nuclear power plant, find a way to change that; not by protesting in front of the plant but by making your own power or, as my friend Sharon is doing in her kitchen, do away with your need for electrical power. “Wow” you say, “That’s crazy”, but the truth is it’s not. It’s the easiest, most effective way to make a difference. You won’t change the nuclear power plant people. You could dedicate countless hours of time to legal battles with those folks and would probably wind up with little to show for your efforts. Or you could walk away from their toxic waste and take your financial support for their power with you.

At this point I might be losing you because some obvious, classic questions arise from this direction of action. Sticking with the nuclear power plant example, the question is, “How do you make your own power or do away with the need for electricity?” There isn’t just one answer to this question. Start with evaluating how much electricity you use. Next work to reduce that amount. Don’t give into the idea that the change must be instant. The lack of perfection is an oft given excuse for a lack of effort. It might take years to achieve your goals in their entirety but that journey could start today. Perhaps you can provide your own solar or wind generated electricity. Before you scoff at the cost, do some investigation. Check into price, review government programs that offer financial incentives. Look into grants, build our own wind turbine, build a gigantic hamster wheel for your over active dog- my point is that in these efforts you will find, if you work hard enough, the solution to your problem. It lies within you, not as blame to be placed on others. I will guess that as you free yourself from the yoke of the nuclear power plant that others will be eager to learn more about what you did. There will be others who want this change as well and your efforts will help them to make change, not by storming the gates of the power plant but by removing your dependence on it and then helping others to do the same.

Perhaps your thinking that there are those who will never change. I understand your concern and I agree that there are those who will resist change with great force. The vast majority of people however will not. Most people are in the habit of following the lead of others. It’s not necessary for those of us trying to make change to convince everyone we’re right. We only have to become a small force of change, maybe 12% of the population. That number of people doing things differently, making a difference not on the picket lines but in our own lives, will be enough to help fuel a revolution of change across our country. Not a change in political parties but a true change in the attitudes and actions of Americans.

When discussing change there seems to be two typical responses concerning how and why change happens. The first is that the government mandates it and the second is that the invisible hand of Adam Smith makes it economically more attractive. Most people will use these responses as the only reasons for why things do or do not change. These people fail to recognize how defeatist this attitude is. These people have given up their own freedom of choice and the freedom of others in their society. Of course there are other reasons for making or not making change. In fact for most of the really important decisions we make in our lives, we don't require the permission of Congress or rely on rational financial sense. We don't get married to a certain someone for either of those reasons, we don't have children for those reasons, we don’t eat healthy foods for those reasons and I am going to assume that my friends don’t associate with me because President Bush asked them to or because they gain economic benefit from me.

Have we completely lost the ability to make our own decisions as a society about what is best without the help of the government or the market? Societies have historically made decisions about common items for the benefit of community and not because of the government or economics. Yes our society is fractured and in bad health so we all look like greedy bastards only interested in grilling out on the back porch but that is not at the heart of who we are as human beings. I reject the idea that reasonable responses to problems are possible only if it's affordable or if we're told we legally have to. I'll go further and say that I am a freer man than anyone who would argue otherwise.

We have great power over those who derive their wealth through the complex systems that force us into dependent relationships. If we step out of their systems of enslavement we can again do for ourselves what they want to charge us for. It’s been said before that growing your own food is one of the most radically rebellious acts you can perform. As I learn to grow my own food I see how true this really is. I am becoming less dependant on Archer Daniels Midland and other such agrobizcorporations. ADM is at the heart of industrial agriculture; a practice that is stripping away topsoil that took millions of years to create. It is using non-renewable resources to pesticide poison our foods and creates oceanic kill zones where sea life can’t live. It is irresponsible and destructive and every time I plant a potato I am supporting less of this legacy, this terrible bequest we are leaving to our children. I’m not going to protest at the front doors of ADM, I’m just going to quietly flip them the bird while I work in my garden. Already my neighbors are interested.

There are other simple ways in which we can once again take command of our own needs. Harvesting and recycling water, building clever homes from local, renewable materials. Harnessing the energy of the sun in direct ways; all of these are techniques that have fallen out of favor because of briefly available fossil fuel energy. These behaviors seem strange because during the last four or five decades citizens of the United States have been living in a manner that disregards ecological consciousness. Cyclic systems were abandoned for linear ones in which oil and other fossil fuels were put in at the beginning, products were used in the middle and in the end the waste was buried in the ground. Our recent lives haven’t been dependant on natural cycles so we haven’t paid them any attention. What a long winded way of saying that these aren’t radical new ideas, they’re the wisdom of our mothers and fathers; the ways of doing things that worked well for thousands of years.

Sankofa is an African word that means to go back and retrieve wisdom and use it to move forward. In it lies the key to our future. With it we can step out of corporate dependence and without throwing a punch or filing a lawsuit we can whisper to those who would destroy my daughter’s planet, “Go away, we don’t need you.”

I can’t say I’m not pleased that the Republican stranglehold on our federal system of checks and balances has come to an end. It is the result I was hoping for. A sense of anxiety in me has receded following Election Day. But almost instantly that anxiety was replaced with a sense of fear. What if this legislative body doesn’t do any better? It’s time to stop placing our bets on others and recognize in ourselves the possibility of something those fools can’t conceive- a society of just rule and inclusion; a system of operation that allows human beings to carry on with an experiment that hopefully becomes more benign, more compassionate and more responsive to the ecological systems that hold ultimate veto over our existence.