Saturday, February 24, 2007

report of change

Human beings will continue to invest in and conform to the laws of large scale hierarchical systems despite the growing obviousness that such systems do damage both to individuals and our society as a whole. That is, we will continue doing what we're doing until one of three things happens:

a. The rules of the natural world are fully enforced by the strictest of madams, Ms. Mother Nature.

b. Human beings are able to fully utilize consciousness and the extraordinary amount of information currently available to us to respond appropriately with change in advance of the coming culmination of problems that have been set in motion.

c. Something I can not foresee will happen.

What surprises me is that so many people want to talk about c. Not many people want to consider the first thought, that a large-scale die-off is possible post petroleum where many or even most human beings perish. I admit it's a scary thought and I like to think it is only a very remote possibility, but mass extinction events are not out of the ordinary, historically speaking. It seems like few people want to consider the second possibility either, that we have the tools and the talents to work together to mitigate the ill effects of industrialization, including but not limited to: our addiction to fossil fuels that are about to enter into declining availability, large scale pollution of our air and water, massive losses and degradation of soils, climate change as a result of global warming, world hunger and widespread social injustice. It seems like we just want to close our eyes and hope it will be alright.

So the gloom and doomers have no hope and the green gadget people are overly optimistic, just waiting to buy the next product that will save the day. It seems to me that the work of people who don't fall into these categories, who are worried and fearful about what's coming 'round the corner but not ready to write off all human future existence, their work is to share a message of appropriate action. To spread the idea that each one of us is part of a larger group of the citizenship of our respective nations and humanity as a whole and that individual changes added up could have an incredible effect on our lives and the lives of those who are to come after us. Truth be told, one of the most effective ways you personally can help make positive change happen is to just reduce the amount of things you consume, especially things from far away. But because actions like this one are different, because they aren't being praised by main stream media, because some of them run contrary to popularly held beliefs and because many are unintuitively simple, the work of sharing this message isn't easy. How to share this message then?

It seems like inspiration followed by information is a fairly effective method. It's great because the inspiration you offer to others can come from changes you're making yourself. You can simultaneously make your own change and use it to inspire others to follow the path. Also the information you gather and process as you make personal change can be shared with those who become inspired by you. Action and sharing, a cycle of change.

Regardless of what the future looks like exactly, we're going to need an alternative to the behemoth of a hierarchical structure we have in place right now and it would be quite helpful if such a system were at very least in existence and at very best already in minds and actions of those who will be challenged. By this I mean that I think it's possible to use this cycle of change, this idea of action followed by sharing to create a system that runs parallel to the top down structure already in place. That way as it fails we'll have a head start on rebuilding community and helping others to respond to event failures like those witnessed in New Orleans during Katrina. This isn’t going to be a slow, steady decline. It is likely to be gradual when viewed over a long period of time, but in reality it will probably be punctuated by failure events like the (lack of) response to Hurricane Katrina. Event failures like this though are also opportunities to advance the incubated alternative ideas that we’ve been working on in the anticipation of coming change. It going to be a rollercoaster so let’s be prepared to roll out solutions when things get hairy.

Lately I've been reading about and thinking about the informal economy currently being discussed in some of the Internet circles I frequent. It seems very likely that if you were to add up all the labors done outside of the cash and credit economy you'd likely find more work being done than that used to calculate the gross domestic product. Most estimates include domestic labor, as well as bartering and trading. There are also volunteer efforts to consider. Such a peer to peer system for sharing goods and services in a more face to face manner seems like an excellent idea when one considers peak oil, resource depletion, climate change and even currency crash as a result of any of the previous three. I think it's inevitable that our world will relocalize at least in the manner in which we meet our physical needs and wants. Perhaps a loosely organized system similar to the one Jeff Vail describes by using the term rhizomes, could serve as a network of inspiration and information as it's being built and could, once it’s fully formed, serve to share resources and meet needs between semi self sufficient households and communities. Maybe it has already begun.

By the way all of this is a long winded means of sharing some news. I have negotiated a new schedule with my employer. I do not work on Fridays any more so I can stay home with my wife & daughter, grow more food, and write. I have decided not to continue my life as this society expects me to but I am also not running off to live in the woods. I am choosing a slow motion drop out as my option because as Ran Prieur points out, "In reality, between the extremes there's a whole dropout universe, and no need to hurry." Of course as a household we have already been taking steps to change the ways we live. But something about reducing the numbers of days per week I devote to the earning money to be used for interactions with the old system and increasing the number of days I will spend working in the informal economy of the new system is very exciting. I am sharing what I hope will be an inspiring story. I only work 4 days a week now. I am making change to address a future different from the one I expected until relatively recently.

As for sharing information, I'll let you know as I go along. This morning, as I more closely considered the results of my decreased bread-winning efforts, made more acutely tangible by Friday's inaugural holiday, I found a jar of peanut butter in our pantry. It is one of jars with a lot number that begins 2111. It is one of the jars of peanut butter that has been recalled because of salmonella contamination and I realized all at once that I had made the right decision. Next Friday I’ll make peanut butter and this summer I’ll probably grow my own.

How to make your own peanut butter:

1. Crack open the shells and remove the peanuts. Measure out about one cup.

2. Remove the red skin from the peanuts.

3. If you want chunky peanut butter, put the peanuts in a food processor or grinder and run the chopped mixture through three or more times until the peanut butter is the consistency that you like. For creamy style peanut butter, chop up the peanuts in a blender.

4. Add about one to two tablespoons of cooking oil in small amounts and regrind or blend the mixture until the peanut butter is the familiar paste consistency. Homemade peanut butter contains no preservatives or other additives.

Grow your own peanuts

last call for older leadership

Green gadget people get very excited about the idea of being able to have cake and eat it too. They are easily sold on ideas like the prezident's state of the union idea to increase ethanol production to save the automobiles.

The plan he proposes would use subsides (taxpayer’s money) to put into production another Kansas and another Iowa sized parcel of land solely to produce corn, requiring massive amounts of natural gas to produce nitrogen fertilizer, so we can produce enough fuel to offset only 15% of U.S. gasoline consumption while continuing to put upward pressure on the price of staple food items like the cost of tortillas in Mexico?

That is insane. But ask many of the green gadget people and they'll say, "Don't worry about limited oil availability, they'll think of something- like ethanol for example!" The only thing *they'll* think of is something else to sell us. But we'll continue to hear about corn-based ethanol just as long the road to the white house starts off in Iowa. ;) Is there a presidential candidate with the guts to tell the American people the truth, that corn based ethanol will not solve our energy problem? Or is the system of electoral politics in this country so perverted as to make that impossible?

Message to the aging baby boomers: we the younger generations are losing faith in your ability to lead. Those of us who already understand the problems just cresting the horizon understand that they were created and sped on their way by previous generations, especially yours. If you are unwilling to address these problems then we will do it. And if it is your intent is to cling to powers that are dependent on consumerism, corporate dominance and perverted politics then eventually, as the rest of the younguns wake up to the realty you’ve hatched, we will sweep you away. You have destroyed our faith in this system and now, free from allegiance to it, we will create an alternative. Don’t be surprised if you are not invited to participate.

The choice is still yours. Perhaps there is someone from your older generation who is willing and able to right this ship. We could use all the help we could get. But if that does not happen soon, then expect uninvited change away from the interests of the baby boomers.

Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the earth
Better to be poor than a fat man in the eye of a needle
And as these words were spoken I swore I hear
The old man laughing
'What good is a used up world and how could it be
Worth having' - Gordon Matthew Sumner

Supplement: When I speak of the failures of past and current leadership, I speak of the failures of government and corporate leadership. There are plenty of older Americans who've been working hard at the grassroots level on these issues for years. I mean those folks no disrespect. It already appears likely though that there will be no presidential candidate in 2008, Democrat or Republican who is going to address these issues directly. With the exception of Roscoe Bartlett and a handful of others, tough talk about these issues is non existent in D.C.

Having said that, do not be surprised Mr. and Mrs. Baby Boomer when calls for us to go credit card shopping to prop up your retirement investments meets with a laugh and rejection.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

corn cobbing college

The land grant colleges - which are the colleges throughout the country that have a mission to breed plants for the public good - have slowly been marginalized. Land grants now are reduced to performing the desires of the multinational corporations that are now the only people who provide funding.

The same phenomenon can be seen spreading across campuses of higher learning all over our country. The affordable, educational opportunities made available to students at public universities and the broader benefits to the citizens of our nation are being paved over in support of for-profit corporations. Privatize the profits and socialize the costs- Big Bizness is out to rule the world. Perhaps we should begin to move away from the commodification of life being fashioned at our universities by corporations who are using colleges to make money while making our food supply less secure? Maybe we should take control of our own sources of sustenance.

You can read about and listen to more of the above story here.

And you can catch more audio clips on related topics at:

radio for your belly The Politics of Food