Monday, December 20, 2010

dreams of the present

In high school I took a Civics class that started each morning with a round of current events. The intention was to get the students in the class pay more attention to the news and to share what they were learning at the beginning of class each day. At the time however I was too terrified to participate because of the special relationship I had with my alarm clock. It was an ordinary sort of alarm clock, the kind that obediently woke me up each morning in time to get ready for school but before I really wanted to get up. It would perform its service daily by switching on a local radio station at the time I had designated. The particular station to which the alarm clock was tuned played primarily classic rock but offered news at the top of the hour right at about the time my alarm would begin to beep. The result was that most mornings I woke up to the voice of an announcer describing the news of the day.

The trouble with this situation was that I was often still dreaming and my fantasies there in tended to blend with the news producing fanciful reports. I would find myself in Civics class fairly certain that dragons had indeed not participated in the original Gulf War invasion despite my remembrance. I was afraid to raise my hand though and offer any of the other items I knew/thought to be part of the day’s news sure that what I might offer would be a mix of dreams and reality based on my early morning hours of radio-enhanced dreaming.

Now it's happening again.

I don't wake up to the radio any more. I set an alarm that beeps but I have had trouble sleeping lately. I’ve been waking up regularly, at least for brief periods each night, between the hours of 2 and 4am. It is during these early morning hours- either as I wake up or as I try to get back to sleep- that my dreams have again tended to mix with reality. I arrive at work in the morning, not considering the use of dragons in US military strategy, but slightly unable to remember just whether or not the state of the world is as I remember it, my thoughts on the future mixing with current events of the present.

This time though my confusion is magnified because of the reality we’re experiencing. Times are just weird.

I have recently read several essays decrying the US as a third world nation or at least well on our way to that destination, which probably sounds utterly ridiculous to anyone who has a well-paying job and lives within the gates of a suburban neighborhood. A quick trip to Wal-Mart however (peopleofwalmart.com) will strengthen the argument. I'm not so much picking on people who live in third world countries as I am criticizing the fact that an alarming number of Americans now shop at Wal-Mart in their pajamas. That’s right, it’s increasingly difficult for many US citizens to even bother with the task of getting dressed before going out in public.
Television offers more proof of the decline of our culture.

The popularity of “Reality Television” is just creepy. Instead of watching fictional dramas play out on the TV screen Americans now watch real people doing real things; as if they themselves are too tired or out of shape or too dull to do anything real themselves. Plus doing so would require getting dressed. As a citizenry we have become unreal, not actually interacting with world but simply observing it.

This detachment plays out on a range of other screens as well where real human beings “interact” with other human beings by poking them on Facebook or texting them with their phones. This isn’t real interaction of course but some sort of cheap substitute for a sit down conversation which is increasingly impossible because of how busy we are racing around from one place to another; usually by ourselves, often in our cars.

So to recap, here in America we currently spend a lot of time physically alone in our cars, our offices or our homes, sending each other transcribed messages or watching other people actually do stuff on TV and when we do bother to go out and buy shit from China- shit we don’t even bother to make for ourselves anymore- we wear our jammies. It is happening again. Reality is mixing with my perception of reality and the result is an untrustworthy perception of what is really going on.

Joe Bageant calls it the hologram, the current state of the United States as perceived by most of its citizens. For me there is currently a huge disconnect between what the media talks about and the actual reality of our situation. I am having a difficult time talking with others about current events. Isn’t it obvious I tell myself? Resource depletion, energy descent and the financial implosion of growth-based capitalism means its increasing difficulty to sustain our current lifestyle. Are other people in fact visiting the real world places and seeing and smelling the situation I can sense? Are they concerned about out future? Or are they living in an alternate reality as seen on TV where everything is and will be fine? Just a little turbulence here, nothing structurally wrong. It's as if there are two United States, one described by people in positions of authority- experienced by those who continue to believe them- and the real one lived in by the rest of us facing a frightening future.

And I know all this academically but now these two realities are commingling in my brain in the early hours of the morning and the result is that I’m not quite sure “where we’re at” to borrow an expression used regularly in my region. I know we’re facing the decline of our empire. I can read it in the facts of our situation, I can see it in the tattoos of our times and I can feel it like a cold wind blowing in a winter storm. But I also experience the faux reality- the white bread and paper circus of our time. It’s a cheap substitute for the richness of culture in which people care about things; about other people, about the way they treat themselves and the way they take care to perform tasks in a thoughtful manner.

There is no going back though. Perhaps as the facade of prosperity falls away, more attention will be paid to those aspects that make up a society worth living in. Maybe over time we will be transformed into a people who care; or maybe at least pockets of such a mindset will develop. I guess some of them already have. But as the artifice is revealed, for those fully engaged in the fiction of prosperity it will become increasingly hard to hold fast to their sanity. That aspect of our situation is likely to only get stranger, making the disconnect between what we’re facing and what we’re told even greater.

Aaron

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

cfsa sustainable agriculture conference :: winston-salem nc


I'll be at Barnhill's Books, Wine, Art & Gifts in Winston-Salem, NC this Thursday evening, December 1st from 5:30 until 7:30pm. Join me for a conversation about food and farming and I'll be signing books. Click here for directions.

I'll be in town for the 25th annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference hosted by Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Friday afternoon I'll be part of a panel discussion and breakout session regarding food policy and security. Click here for more information on that session.

Or click here for the conference program. (PDF)

It really is an excellent line up of all things sustainable ag. Hope to see you there.

Aaron

Monday, November 22, 2010

pluck your own

The holiday bird is in the fridge. Hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving.





Tuesday, November 02, 2010

fat, vulgar and ugly


I have long thought that the United States had a hole in its center where its soul once was. I'm not old enough to have experienced more than a quarter of the last century but I have lived in this country long enough to experience many of the major life events typical in our culture. During that time I developed a nagging suspicion that we were a society in decline. Nothing confirms such a suspicion like traveling abroad.

I am just back from almost two weeks during which I traveled throughout Switzerland and Italy and had a fabulous time at Terra Madre and Salone Del Gusto with my wife. What struck me, upon returning, like an openhanded slap across my mouth was just how fat, vulgar and ugly America really has become. I didn't include loud did I? Yes siting in the Newark airport, wishing we could take a European train back to North Carolina instead of another cramped, uncomfortable flight sure to come complete with absurd security pat downs (I swear to god next time I fly I'm showing up at the airport in a Speedo) my wife and I couldn't help but notice that the Dick Clark/American Bandstand-themed, in-airport burger shack in which we ate was inhabited by exactly 5 other people. Four of them were on there cell phones yakking away loudly. All four of them were overweight, eating shitty food sure to make that problem even worse. The fifth woman, svelte and eating sans cell phone turnout to be French. Sigh. Welcome home.

I'm sure at least one person reading this will think, "Well if you think Europe is so great you should move there. Love it or leave it pal!" Being American I know how to appropriately respond. "F#@! you," I say, "I can do whatever I want!" After all, being a way for a few weeks, I didn't forget how to talk like an American. Wink.

I know other cultures, including the Swiss and the Italians have their warts. Some of them were on display during our travels. It was just so striking to take in after a few weeks out of the U.S. to come home- blinding really- like walking outside after having your eyes dilated and suddenly being that much more aware of the sun.

We are uber thankful that we are a household without broadcast or cable television and therefore didn't have to return to what I understand are a whole new species of negative campaign ads in the run up to a mostly meaningless election in which we will, "throw the bums out," the latest set of bums hardly indistinguishable from the last set. Thank you Supreme Court for confirming that corporations are in fact as important- possibly more important- than people in our culture. At least we can be legally honest about what we've come to believe. Thank you mass media for covering this election cycle with an absurd attention that confirms its stupidity and reinforces my intuition that it is in fact meaningless. The Circus aspect of our 'Bread and Circus' circumstance is blatantly on display. Double Sigh.

It is clear that the United States has a hole in its center where its soul once was. It's a collective hole to which we all contribute with the missing part of each of us that would historically be filled by a daily pattern of living that didn't focus on trading away our time on useless tasks for money to purchase stuff with which to try to fill in the hole. Noticeably absent are the regular interactions with other people in coordination with daily activities given meaning by attention and thoughtful participation.

I hope I haven't talked any of you out of traveling to Europe, just be sure to wear your special glasses for a few weeks upon return. We had a fabulous time complete with a trip-extending passport pickpocketing event! The food really was great and the people were interesting. The spaces, the urban fabric of the countries we visited was fun to experience. At Terra Madre there were people from 188 other countries, all engaged in local food efforts simultaneously similar and yet somewhat different from each other. A special thank you to Riccardo for your hospitality.

The thing is, my wife won't move. It's not at all an unreasonable position given our stage in life (two small children). Our families are here in the place where we grew up and where we have some friends, not to mention knowing where everything is and understanding the language. She concedes we can never have Papa John's shitty pizza again, but frankly that change should have been formalized a long time ago. She will never eat a pizza as good as the one in that hole-in-the-wall in Milan and so I can hold out hope.

Personally I could convince myself to move, to stop trying so hard to make changes in my particular sphere of influence (the local food system) in a country whose culture has degraded so significantly that regular menu items include sandwiches consisting of chicken breasts for bread and bacon not only dangerous to eat but with so much less flavor than possible had it just been crafted by someone who cared.

Maybe that is what bothers me so much about our culture- that none of us give a shit about it, that it has become a culture not worth caring about because of how we spend our time. I include myself as I too am often unable to devote attention to important everyday tasks because of the background noise that stands in for real relationships with our people, our places and our work.

I am obviously in a pessimistic mood. No need to send hopeful comments or cards. Que sara sara. Perhaps our current dose of madness will inspire change. I feel certain it won't happen all across America though. In fact I'm guessing we're in for far worse as continued economic decline leads to increased political and social instability. How's that for ending on a happy note! I guess today the best I can do is suggest that other Americans find ways of ripping back their time from the machine of a culture that has stolen it and then spend some of it with me.

Aaron

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

local food, fiber, fuel & fun :: joel salatin in star, nc


Joel Salatin will be the keynote speaker at the STARworks Annual Gathering on October 28th in Star, North Carolina at 2pm.

The afternoon will include two panel discussions focused on building local food systems. I'll be there with others from Cabarrus County to talk about the projects and policies we're putting in place to build our local food system.


In the evening the amazing Eric Henry will be there to talk about his T Shirts made from a supply chain completely within the state of North Carolina- from "Dirt to Shirt" in 750 miles! Cotton of the Carolinas.


Then later experience the very first STARworks iron pour. Local food, beverages and a band will liven up the night. Registration is required so hit the link.

http://www.centralparknc.org/about-us/annual-gathering.html

See you there.

Aaron

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ted smart meter

UPDATE 4 15 2011:

This is a graph that represents the amount of electricity my family used from September 20o9 until March 2010 vs the amount used one year later after installing the TED smart meter.

It represents an average reduction of 44% over a 6 month period totaling 2112 kWh saved. At an average cost of $0.10/kWh that is $211 dollars. The smart meter costs $240.



END UPDATE.

I did it, I purchased a smart meter. I recently spent $240 on a device that monitors the electricity we use in our home. Several people have pointed out that we could have saved our money and purchased a Kill O Watt device for considerably less. This is true. We actually have a Kill O Watt which reads the electrical usage of individual appliances so as to give us a better idea of how we're using electricity in our home. It does not however help us understand the electrical usage of 220v appliances or our home heating and air conditioning system. So, after considering it for quite some time I made the purchase and I'm glad I did.

First the technical aspects of the device and it's installation. It was easy. My brother-in-law is an electrician so I invited him to help but in retrospect I could have done it myself in about 15 minutes. Still it felt comforting to have some helping who is familiar with electrons. Two clamps were installed in the electrical panel. A cord was plugged into a wall socket and my computer. And lastly a display monitor was plugged into an additional outlet.

The result is real time reporting of just how many watts we are using. It also calculates the amount of money being spent in real time on electricity and projects monthly usage and cost. It is suppose to keep up with 5 appliances using the most electricty but either the software sucks or I suck at figuring it out. Regardless it's one thing to know your clothes dryer uses a lot of energy. It's quite another thing to watch your household usage spike from 300 watts to 5300 watts when you start the dryer. This is where the device has proved most useful.

I have certainly become more aware of what is using electricity in my house at any given moment. I can't help but glance at the monitor as I walk past an wonder, "What is pulling an extra 300 watts?" It has made my wife just as curious. A few stories and then back to her experience.

When we first installed the smart meter we turned off everything. With no appliances running we were at 75 watts. ? We figured out the computer/printer/speakers were pulling 50 watts even when they were turned off. We refashioned the surge protector so that we could easily turn it off when the computer was not in use. This means 50 less watts being used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Now our base load was 25 watts. This powers digital clocks and the display of the smart meter itself. When the chest freezer is running that adds an additional 200 watts. When the refrigerator is running that adds about 100 watts. This means if nothing else is on our electrical usage shouldn't be more than 325 watts. We can check before leaving the house or going to bed and know in an instant if anything is running that needs to be turned off.

The other day I looked before leaving and saw 525 watts. I was confused because I thought all appliances and lights were was off. A quick investigation found that someone left on the attic lights- two 100 watt bulbs burning away that might have stayed on for who knows how long until someone noticed the switch or ventured back into the attic.

Also we identified appliances we will not be using or will use sparingly in the future. Those upright lights we were using to make certain rooms brighter? Yeah we'll be using stronger compact florescent bulbs in the overhead fixtures in stead of the uprights lights after seeing how much juice those suckers use.

The overall process has made my wife more conscious of the amount of electricity being used at any given time. Again it's one thing to know acedemically that drying clothes with electricity uses energy wastefully. It's another to see just how much energy is actually in use in real time. it makes hanging clothes on the line seems like that much smarter of an idea.

The software provided by the system lets you see the historic hourly usage during any given month. This will help us to better understand our habits and change them. It will also help by giving us monthly goals. The plan is to decrease usage during any given month based on that same month one year ago. Our electrical provider does give us monthly meter readings on which our bill is based but the information is confusing because of the time lag and our new smart meter works in real time with fairly accurate monthly predictions. It's a much better tool for helping to create changes in usage and behavior.

Lastly our smart meter has helped my family realize that a Photovoltaic system for generating electricity is in fact a reasonable investment. Before we understood our electrical usage we thought we need a large system capable of providing quantities of electricity to power our needs. In reality though we are using 350 watts or less 90% of the time. Four 85 watt panels and a plug in invert will cost us less than $2000 to install and will meet most of our electical needs. When the dryer is on we will be pulling from the grid and when it's not we're likely to be putting electricity back in. No huge system is really necessary.

Mostly though the installation of this smart meter has helped my family to identify just how much electricity we use, which of our behaviors are most in need of adjustment and has turned energy conservation in to a real and tangible change.

Aaron

Sunday, October 10, 2010

yummy hopey change


Love me some Tom Philpott. From Grist,
Earlier this month, Congress approved Obama's nomination of Catherine Woteki, the USDA's undersecretary for research, education, and economics. The appointment drew little attention in the press, including the sustainable-food blogosphere. That's surprising, because Woteki comes to her new position after a five-year stint as global director of scientific affairs for Mars, Inc., the multinational junk-food giant.

In her new role, Woteki will direct the U.S. government's entire agricultural research budget. That means she will supervise Roger Beachy, head of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, who oversees the USDA's billion-dollar-a-year competitive grants program. Beachy is a genetic scientist with strong ties to GM seed giant Monsanto; he is openly hostile to organic agriculture. At a time when U.S. farms desperately need to move toward more sustainable methods, federally supported agriculture research has fallen into the hands of a Monsanto man answering to a junk-food exec.

Somewhere in the East Wing, Michelle Obama must be fuming. The first lady has labored hard to fight the rising tide of diet-related maladies among children -- and her husband has now handed the nation's agricultural research agenda to someone who recently owed her living to robust sales of stuff like Milky Way, M&M's, Twix, Skittles, Wrigley's gum, and Snickers bars, all heavily marketed to kids.
One of the comments below Tom's article suggests he is being, "snide and sneering." At this point though what's left? More hope for change?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

a staycation from blogging


As any of you who are still checking this site have no doubt discovered I haven't been posting for a while. Part of the reason is a new position I've accept aimed at helping county government coordinated the regeneration of a local food system in my community. More importantly though I just haven't felt particularly interested in participating in the online conversation regarding resource depletion, energy descent, the collapse of the grow-based global economy and all the other stuff so hotly discussed over the past few years online.

This morning I read a post by Nate Hagens that much better describes why I haven't been writing (or reading) as much online lately. From Nate,
The continued expansion of the internet has brought with it a surge in information, analysis, opinion and insight. At the same time the vast mental and social freedom in cyberspace has manifested an exponentially growing forum for self-expression – which ends up serving as virtual playgrounds for the human ego. This complex cyber landscape exists concurrently with accelerating real crises in energy, the economy, and the environment. Thus at the same time that the overall fabric of our social arrangement is shifting, the internet has become an odd melting pot for scientists and preachers, altruists and hucksters, knights and clowns alike. Perhaps I've been slow to notice it, but it seems to me that as time passes, on the discussion topics that really matter, the clowns are starting to dominate. Of course, as the goings on in our country more and more resemble a circus, it is no wonder that clowns are rising to the top of many discussions. More...
This is not to say that there aren't really smart people still writing really smart and useful stuff and posting it online. It's just that most of what I want to share has, A) already been shared online B) isn't especially relevant to people who don't live near me or C) takes time away from real hands-on work I should be doing with my family and in my community.

I plan to eventually share more on this blog regarding what my community is doing to regenerate a local food system. And as always I reserve the write to use this blog for it's originally intended purpose, as a therapeutic outlet for my thoughts and concerns in an era of change and upheaval. Just thought I'd give anyone still reading an update.

Best Wishes,

Aaron

Sunday, June 20, 2010

cabarrus county, north carolina :: creating a local food system


These are just the highlights from a pretty good article about my community's attempt to create a local food system. I emphasize the key components near the end. I'll be writing more about this in the future.

From Emily Ford at the Salisbury Post,

CONCORD — In a bold attempt to reconnect people who eat food with people who grow it, Cabarrus County has launched several agriculture programs, including plans to build the state's first publicly owned slaughter facility.

Cabarrus leads the state in establishing a local food economy, officials say.

"They are certainly a role model for North Carolina," said Dr. Nancy Creamer, N.C. State University horticulture professor and director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

Three years ago, Cabarrus began implementing a strategy to build a local food system. That's an economy that includes all the processes involved in feeding people — growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, distributing, marketing, consuming, disposing and recycling.

County Manager John Day and County Extension Director Debbie Bost are spearheading the effort, with support from county commissioners.

"We want to build an economy here that doesn't go away on the whim of a CEO," said Aaron Newton, recently hired as the county's first local food program coordinator.

A local food economy aims to create new income opportunities for farmers and promote sustainable agriculture practices that can be used year after year, generation after generation.

People are too far removed from their food, said Newton, co-author of "A Nation of Farmers."

"The overall goal is to develop a more resilient, self-reliant economy in the county," Day said, "one that is not subject to the sorts of global disruptions that we've seen recently."

Day and Bost mapped out the county's local food strategy in 2007 after Day heard an official touting the local food system in Madison, Wisc.

The county hosted a town hall meeting for farmers and food producers. More than 200 people came, including all five county commissioners, to discuss preserving agriculture.

Bost wrote a concept paper and submitted it to county commissioners, who embraced her five-pronged strategy:

- The top recommendation from farmers to the county: build a local slaughterhouse, or "harvesting facility," as Bost calls it.

- At the incubator farm, participants pay a small fee to lease one acre of land and learn everything from planting to business planning.

- The Food Policy Council will identify and develop ways to bolster the local food economy, pulling together technical and financial resources. The council will deal with issues as broad as hunger, public health and the environment.

- [A] county food assessment, a yearlong effort costing about $30,000, will determine what local food people eat and where they buy it. The county will survey institutions and households.

- A marketing strategy will promote local foods and products. Restaurants that use local ingredients will have a special designation. The county will approach schools, hospitals, even jails about using local foods.

Read the entire article…

Thursday, June 17, 2010

change ain't sexy

The past few weeks have been very busy for me. In addition to my normal activities- work, family life, harvesting the bagged leaves of my neighborhood- I attend a one day soil regeneration seminar and a 2 day ULI seminar on sustainable community design. Both of these events were remarkably informative and I'd go so far as to say inspirational. I love to learn and synthesis seemingly unrelated bits of information into programs that facilitate change. You might even call it a hobby. But one particular event of recent weeks has been much more rewarding. We had our house reinsulated. It would probably be more accurate to say we had it insulated as much of it had no insulation at all.

Now you might think that's pretty strange, that someone convinced we're embarking on worldwide energy descent would have, up until now, lived in a poorly insulated house. To which I would respond that it's been on the list to do, but the list is long and the budget is far from unlimited. The real deal though is that my wife and I have been planning to build our own home for several years. Since day one of my architectural education at university I've dreamed of building my own home. In recent years I study alternative construction methods and fell in love with strawbale building. I read books, took classes and even worked on a few such structures. My wife and I were investigating a land purchase and organizing a few folks to help with the permitting process. But the situation has changed. The peak in global oil production is imminent and the effects of climate change are more rapidly headed our way. I've become convinced that with more than 90 million homes already in existence here in America, what we need is less building new and more making due. Several people have tried to convince me that I could be more useful to my fellow citizens by offering an example of effective strategies for 'Sheltering In Place,' and I'm starting to believe them.

But there's an equally compelling reason. My wife is expecting our second child in March and our daughter is almost 2 years old. At such a young age she can already pick up a hammer and swing it quite effectively but hasn't yet learn that hammers are not meant for the destruction of anything with reach. The idea of my family building a new home during the next 12 months could very well be the uproarious inspiration for a new TV reality show. I'm not sure if we'd find it funny though.

I have not yet thrown out the idea of building our own home. I think using straw for home construction makes sense for lots of reasons and I think we need more people using it to serve as examples. I'd like to be one of them in the future. But for now it looks like we are staying put and that means more closely examining our current conditions and making reasonable adjustments. Sounds prudent right? Well here's the thing, it's not at all sexy.

Over the past two weeks I've spent three days with a crew who are adding insulation to our home. When they first arrived they hooked up a blower door to our home and pressurized the whole structure to get a sense of how air tight our home was. The answer was not very. That part was fun to watch but then came hours of action like caulking and sealing and weather stripping. The real work took a long time and was not my idea of fun. Another contractor used an infrared camera to find out where the big heat leaks were located. This too was pretty neat. But then it was back to the grindstone. The flooring in the attic had to be removed and then insulation was blown up there. The crawlspace below our home had to be cleaned, plastic sheeting laid below and insulation strapped to the underside of the floor joists. The best part, I say with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, was when the crew cut 2" holes in all our exterior walls ever 20" or so and blew insulation into each cavity. It was necessary. It will make for a much more energy efficient home. We are doing our part! And yet the work itself was mundane. Some of it was boring and some of it was uncomfortable. 3 days of regular old work. And the mess!

In contrast my time spent at the soil seminar was great as was my sustainable community design seminar. But neither of those actually accomplished anything tangible. They were useful experiences. The knowledge I came away with will certainly come in handy, but neither accomplished as much actual change as did my 3 days of insulation. Part of what I've been sensing in the community of people who are interested in issues of energy and the environment is that many are ready to move on from the arena of talk into the arena of action. It's fine and good to talk about peak oil and climate change and track the progress of these occurrences. That is important work for some to do. But for most of us, responding to the converging calamities of the 21st century should be more about getting dirty and less about talking about getting dirty.

Having said that, I did film the whole transformation of my home- about 5 hours of raw footage which will be edited into a video and uploaded onto the Internet some time early next year. Hopefully it will help inspire other people to begin making similar changes. There's no reason to stop sharing our progress with other people. In fact I think we have an obligation to do so. But as much as possible I think we need to get to work; not online but in our own homes and in our own communities. There is much to actually do.

Friday, May 28, 2010

can we stay in the suburbs?

A reworked rerun for the holiday weekend. Enjoy.

There is little doubt that during that last 60 years we here in America have transformed our manmade landscape in a way that is fundamentally different from any form of human habitation ever known. While many have flocked to this new way of organizing the spaces in which we live, critics have noticed the shortcomings and have loudly pointed them out. It’s been suggested that the development of the suburbs here in the U.S. was a really bad idea. Author James Kunstler describes suburbia as, “the greatest misallocation of wealth in human history.” The ability of most citizens to own and cheaply operate an automobile means we’ve had access to a level of mobility never before experienced. The outgrowth of which has been a sprawling pattern of living that changed the rules about how and where we live, work, and play and how we get there and back. We are now more spread out than ever before, mostly getting back and forth from one place to another by driving alone in our cars. This could turn out to be a really bad thing.

As the cost of fueling those cars increases, it’s becoming obvious we’ve foolishly put too many of our eggs into one basket. And as America wakes up to the realities of a changing climate, it’s also painfully obvious that soloing around in a huge fleet of carbon emitters isn’t the most thoughtful way to transport ourselves from one side of suburbia to the other. The question is, as the expansive nature of suburban life becomes too expensive, both economically and ecologically, what will we do with this great “misallocation” of wealth?

Will we, as some suggest, simply abandon this experiment? The likelihood of moving everyone out of suburbia and into mixed use, walkable communities is quite remote. Likewise moving everyone from the suburbs out into the countryside and onto farms is unlikely. To be sure many, many people will move. Some people are already choosing to move to places where they can safely walk and bike to meet more of their daily needs. Others are choosing to reruralize, but completely depopulating suburban America is a project we have neither the fiscal resources nor the fossil fuel energy necessary to accomplish. It seems reasonable to assume that lots of people are going to continue to live in the suburban communities we’ve created all over this country during the last 60 years.

Will these places simply devolve into slums with roving bands of thieves stripping building materials and other valuables from abandoned homes and formerly homeless drug addicts burning them down while trying to keep warm? They’ll probably be some of that especially if the housing crisis worseness (and it will) and the government continues to address it largely by bailing out banks. From a recent article in The Atlantic,

At Windy Ridge, a recently built starter-home development seven miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community’s 132 small, vinyl-sided houses were in foreclosure as of late last year. Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped the copper wire from vacant houses; drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in. In December, after a stray bullet blasted through her son’s bedroom and into her own, Laurie Talbot, who’d moved to Windy Ridge from New York in 2005, told The Charlotte Observer, “I thought I’d bought a home in Pleasantville. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that stuff like this would happen.”

That is to say, this is already a problem. And with more people defaulting on their mortgages and losing their jobs as the economy slumps we’re likely to see this scenario play out repeatedly. But it’s important to take a moment and assess the possibilities presented by the problem. That is, if we’re going to do anything other than whistle while a large number of the communities in this country turn into the slums of the 21st century, we’re going to have to comprehensively address the problem and that means starting with an assessment of not only the disadvantages of suburban America but the advantages we might have in this arrangement of living. Could the problem actually turn out to be the solution?

One of the results of a declining in the availability of oil and other fossil fuel resources will undoubtedly be a rise in the cost of food or even outright shortages of certain types of calories we’ve grown accustom to acquiring quite easily. Lots of people have written about this. It’s seems increasingly obvious that we’re going to have to grow food differently if we have any chance of adapting to a low energy lifestyle with any semblance of grace. Growing food means using land for some sort of agriculture. Exactly what land we use is entirely up to us. It’s worth noting that while David Pimentel et al have suggested that it takes 1.8 acres of land to feed each of us now. That number could be reduced to 1.2 acres per person while still meeting the nutritional needs of the average American. But by 2050 we are likely to have only 0.6 acres person both because of the rise in global population and the loss of land due to desertification, salinization and soil depletion. In the very near future we’re not going to have enough land to feed ourselves in the manner in which we’ve been doing so. Where will more “new” land come from?

The suburbs were born out of an idea that each man could have his own cottage in the forest, his own unmolested paradise outside of the nastys of the industrializing cities and still go to work in those cities each day. (Just how many of the problems we’re facing today are born out of us wanting to both have and eat our cake?) The idea was that a man could still earn a living in the dirty city but return to his pristine piece of land where his wife and children could be free from pollution, crime, brown people, noise and traffic. It never quite worked out that way, which is to say it has, since the beginning, failed to achieve what this experiment set out to accomplish; to say nothing of the negative aspects of this way of developing our countryside. But nevertheless, the end result is that a lot of people live on small amounts of land in communities that aren’t completely paved over with asphalt and concrete. Many of us here in this country have access to land albeit in small amounts. This provides us with the most important resource needed to address the rising cost of food- soil.

In other words, the fact that we’ve chopped up much of the existing farmland that once surrounded major metropolitan areas in this country and parceled it out in fairly small sizes to many more people ultimately may or may not prove to have been a really bad idea. But, not only is it the hand we have now been dealt, it might turn out to have been a fairly nifty way of developing and maintaining a moderately democratic land ownership policy here in America. We still have, albeit in another form and with a reduction in the quantity and quality of soil ready for food production, a reasonable amount of land for growing food.

Arthur C. Nelson, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, has looked carefully at trends in American demographics, construction, house prices, and consumer preferences. In 2006, using recent consumer research, housing supply data, and population growth rates, he modeled future demand for various types of housing. The results were bracing: Nelson forecasts a likely surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (houses built on a sixth of an acre or more) by 2025—that's roughly 40 percent of the large-lot homes in existence today.

What do you do with a surplus of more than 22 million large lot homes during a period of failing industrial agriculture and rising food costs? You establish new microfarms of course. Those people who do continue to live in the suburbs either because they can not move or because they don’t want to, could feed themselves by using this land to grow food for themselves and their neighbors. The food could be grown largely free from fossil fuel inputs and would be produced very close to the people who will eventually eat it. This solves two of the really big problems associated with the industrial model of agriculture. It provides a ready land base not for the reinstitution of plantation style farming whereby wealthy landowners who profited from energy descent reintroduce a horrible form of feudalism that enslaves the former paper pushing population of America who are likely to lose their jobs as the American economy continues to decline. No, this land has already been subdivided into manageable parcels that could serve as the basis for a revolution in agriculture.

Mention this idea to an ordinary citizen unaware of the prospects we face in the near future and you’re likely to get a host of responses about how unlikely or unreasonable such a solution might be. It’s likely we haven’t reached the pain threshed necessary to get the real attention of average Americans, but one response certainly will be that we can’t grow very much food by just tearing out our lawns. This of course isn’t true at all.

Several recent studies suggest that small scale, sustainable agriculture is actually more productive per unit of land than industrial farming. We’ve come to think of farming efficiency in terms of human labor, with the adoption of the idea that the fewer people doing it the better. But in terms of what the land can yield, we’re better off farming it intensely on smaller plots of land and the math is there to back up that claim. Yields can be substantial even on such small plots as would be available to the average suburbanite.

The Dervaes family of Path to Freedom provides an excellent example of what is possible in our front and backyards. They live on an urban lot of about 1/5th of an acre. They cultivate about 1/10th of an acre or about 4,400 square feet. That’s 210 feet X 210 feet. In other words, that’s not much land and yet they consistently produce more than 6,000 lbs of vegetables annually. The four adults living there eat about 85% of their vegetarian diet from the yard during the summer months and are still able to get more than half of what they eat out of their gardens in the winter. This and they sell some produce to nearby restaurants. It should be noted that they live in southern California where the weather is extremely generous to those who growing food (and have access to water), but Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch point out in Four-Seasons Harvest: Organic Vegetables from You Home Garden All Year Long, even people living in Maine are capable of growing a tremendous amount and variety of nutritional, tasty food regardless of where they live.

And let us not forget all those paper pushers I just hand pink slips to earlier in this post. Our government and a lot of well meaning business-as-usual types are going to put together all sorts of plans to try and reemploy all the people who lose their jobs in the post carbon economy. There is already talk of a kind of “Green Works Project Administration” like the WPA seen during the New Deal era. At one time the WPA was the largest employee base in the country and was designed as a way to build up American infrastructure while reemploying those negatively affected by the Great Depression. Such an effort now could get much needed projects up and run in terms of new forms of energy that aren’t fossil fuel based. To say nothing of conservation and energy efficiency projects such as home insulation that needs to be done on a national scale. But this or any other response that doesn’t include a large measure of self sufficiency for the average American would be missing out on a great opportunity to redemocratize America. It is painfully obvious that we are at our greatest disadvantage when we are in debt to others for the basics we need in order to survive. Growing more of our own food in our own personal gardens, parks, school yards and community gardens is a great way to address this problem while providing for the nutritional shortfall likely to be experienced in the wake of the decline of industrial agriculture.

Luckily the sun is still shining and even those of us who live in heavily wooded neighborhoods have the option of modifying the canopy of those trees to gain access to sunlight. The soil is still under our feet and we can use it going forward to meet more of our food needs. The suburbs also offer a certain amount of impervious surfaces or surfaces that shed water. This is often a problem in many communities. The idea is that if too many roofs tops and too many roadways shed too much water during a rainstorm. The result is a high volume of water after a storm that has to be diverted out of these neighborhoods before rushing into our creeks, streams and rivers. This often leads to flooding and/or substantial amounts of soil runoff, the number one water pollution problem in many communities. I find it annoyingly amusing that while my county has storm water problems to such an extent that we are under EPA mandate to address this problem, we are simultaneously experiencing water restrictions due to the drought in southeastern America. In other words, we have two water problems where I live, too much water and not enough. It is too simple to suggest that we collect some of what we get where it falls and use it?

The point is that the structures of suburbia- specifically rooftops and roadways- could be used to gather the water we would need to grow food for ourselves. This could be especially important going forward as global climate changes throws weather curveball after curveball at us. The solution is to designing simple, elegant ways to collect this water for use during times between rain storms. 600 gallons of water can be collected from 1,000 square feet of rooftop in just a 1” rainstorm. Many McMansions are much larger and as such have the capacity to gather much more rain. It’s worth noting that 65% of the water we use in our homes each day goes to irrigation, toilet flushing and laundry. Rainwater could be used to do all three with simple filtration. Doing this could go a long way towards restoring the health of our waterways.

In his paper Garden Agriculture: A revolution in efficient water use, David Holmgren notes that “Australian suburbs are no more densely populated than the world’s most densely populated agricultural regions.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that American suburbs are populated in roughly the same way. This suggests to me that it is at least within the realm of possibility that the suburbs could be transformed in a way that helps us: A) take advantage of new soil for growing food, B) foster a redemocratization of America by offering a reasonable amount of food self sufficiency for families during the coming era of change and volatility and C) capture the rain water necessary to address the deepening water crisis being experienced worldwide. We may find that in a time in which we are unable to build out grand new responses to peak oil and climate change, agriculturally at least, we may not have to. We might do best to just stay put.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

drilling for offshore oil.


My original post from Sept 2008 is all the way at the bottom. Just above it is an update regarding President Obama's announcement of more offshore oil exploration. Then the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burned and sank. Most recent updates regarding this, the worst oil spill in US history, start at the top.

Update 7.19.2010 Swimming in oil. Go on in, the water is fine...



7. 14. 2010 This isn't an update on the BP Gulf of Mexico spill but I do think it is telling.
On 1 May this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in the state of Akwa Ibom [Nigeria] spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company but say they were attacked by security guards. Community leaders are now demanding $1bn in compensation for the illness and loss of livelihood they suffered. Few expect they will succeed. In the meantime, thick balls of tar are being washed up along the coast.

In fact, more oil is spilled from the [Niger] delta's network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP's Deepwater Horizon rig last month. Read more
Update 6.27.2010

Insert your own expletives. I'm telling you, this is USAChernobyl.
A mysterious "disease" has caused widespread damage to plants from weeds to farmed organic and conventionally grown crops. There is very strong suspicion that ocean winds have blown Corexit aerosol plumes or droplets and that [oil]dispersants have caused the unexplained widespread damage or "disease". Read More...

Update 6.23.2010



Update 6.19.2010
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection authorized the Coast Guard to burn oil offshore, and the county is warning people of potential health issues. Read More.


Update 6.8.2010
Deepwater Horizon installation manager Jimmy Harrell, a top employee of rig owner Transocean, was speaking with someone in Houston via satellite phone. Buzbee told Mother Jones that, according to this witness account, Harrell was screaming, “Are you #@% ing happy? Are you #@%!ing happy? The rig’s on fire! I told you this was gonna happen.” Read More.
Update 6.8.2010
The chief executive of BP sold £1.4 million of his shares in the fuel giant weeks before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill caused its value to collapse. Read More. He's not the only one...
Update 5.28.2010

Matt Simmons was an energy adviser to President George W. Bush, is an adviser to the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, and is a member of the National Petroleum Council and the Council on Foreign Relations. Simmon is chairman and CEO of Simmons & Company International, an investment bank catering to oil companies.

Simmons told Dylan Ratigan that "there's another leak, much bigger, 5 to 6 miles away" from the leaking riser and blowout preventer which we've all been watching on the underwater cameras...




Update 5.27.2010

I stopped updating because most of what you wanted to know was being reported in the newz. Even the more accurate estimates of flow leak (+100,000 barrels a day) were being published in the media. These two however don't seem to be making the newz.

Transocean, according to the letter, also says it will make a $270 million profit on the insurance policy for the rig. And the senators claim the rig was insured for more than it was worth. Read More.
Talk about shorting yourself! Can you believe how much money people are making by betting against the continuation of the America as is? Also,

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, partly owned by BP, shut down on Tuesday after spilling several thousand barrels of crude oil into backup containers, drastically cutting supply down the main artery between refineries and Alaska's oilfields. Read More
Update 5.3.2010

A confidential government report on the unfolding spill disaster in the Gulf makes clear the Coast Guard now fears the well could become an unchecked gusher shooting millions of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf.

"Two additional release points were found today in the tangled riser. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought."

In this case, an order of magnitude higher would mean the volume of oil coming from the well could be 10 times higher than the 5,000 barrels a day coming out now. That would mean 50,000 barrels a day, or 2.1 million gallons a day. It appears the new leaks mentioned in the Wednesday release are the leaks reported to the public late Wednesday night. read more
Update 5.2.2010

The Gulf Coast spill will have eclipsed the Exxon Valdez in terms of total gallons of oil before the weekend is over -- making it the largest oil spill in U.S. history -- according to calculations made by oceanographer Ian MacDonald after studying aerial Coast Guard photos taken earlier in the week. read more
Update 4.29.2010

It looks like the damage was underestimated. I for one am shocked!

Five times more oil a day than previously believed is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from a blown-out well of a sunken drilling rig, the Coast Guard said Wednesday, an estimate the oil company trying to contain the massive spill disputes. A new leak was discovered in the pipes a mile below the ocean's surface... read more
Update 4.28.2010:


The Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster will develop into one of the worst spills in US history if the well is not sealed, the coast guard officer leading the response warned.... But BP officials say the relief wells will take up to three months to drill, and with oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 42,000 gallons a day... read more

Update 4.23.2010:


This ought to put a damper on the offshore drilling debate.

A blazing oil rig sank Thursday into the Gulf of Mexico sparking fears of an environmental disaster almost two days after a massive blast that left 11 workers missing.
But don't worry...

The 396-by-256-foot (121-by-78-meter) platform, owned by Transocean, Ltd. and under contract to BP, was still ablaze but officials said environmental damage appeared to be minimal because the fire was burning much of the spilt fuel.
End Deep Water Horizon Updates

Obama announcement of more offshore oil exploration...

What follows is something I posted in September of 2008. The US presidential campaign was building up steam and I was sick and tired of hearing 'Drill Baby Drill.' It made me ill because of the stupidity of the entire argument. I wrote,

Even when production is pumping at full capacity, additional offshore drilling facilities would amount to about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd). The US currently uses 21 million bpd. This does not take into account the increase in oil consumption necessary to continue to grow our economy[during the time it would take to get the drills up and drilling]. The bottom line is that additional offshore drilling will provide 1.2% of the oil we use every day if we don't increase consumption and we're willing to wait 20 years.
So now Obama has opened up most of the east coast among other areas for oil exploration.

The Democrats are pretending to have been betrayed, the Republicans are saying he didn't go far enough and the environmentalists are mad as hell.

The truth is that this was a beautiful political move. President Obama gave his Democratic base ammunition for the upcoming election and took steps towards soothing the sting of those opposed to "health care" reform on the right. Sure there are factions within the Democratic party who are oppose to more offshore drilling but fewer than five Democrats will actually vote against their Democratic candidates this November because the President opened up more offshore areas for oil exploration. Instead those candidates will be able to say, "Look, we're trying to become more energy independent by opening up areas previously off limits and the Republicans aren't going along with us. We're willing to try what the Republicans have been asking us for years." I'm not sure if those political bullets will hit their targets but hey, it's something.

The real genius of this move lies in the fact that the Republicans have been saying for ever and ever that we could solve this energy problem if those wacky environmentally conservative Democrats would just open up more offshore areas for drilling. It's total bullshit of course, as you'll read below but they've gotten away with it because average Americans don't know the facts. Obama has now taken that sound bite away from them. And as an added bonus if the Republicans do speak out against this they will be branded even more deeply as the Party of No.

I'm guessing the environmentalists who are upset about this don't understand the facts. Little if any of the oil in these new areas will ever be pumped out of the seafloor. It's too costly. We won't be able to afford it. There is no real threat to the environment here because it's highly unlikely that any substantial new drilling in these areas will ever take place.

This is political theater, nothing more. Grab a bag of popcorn and be amused.

Original post from September 2008...

I won't go so far as to say I'm against lifting the ban on drilling for oil off the east coast of the United States of America. I say that because the only reason the idea is being bandied about is that the last two Republican presidents were oil tycoons and that party is desperate to reframe the rise in the price of gasoline as the fault of the Democrats. Perhaps Democrats should agree to lift the ban and when the price of gas doesn't go down, Republicans will be left without that political punch to throw.

Having said that, I am not in favor of lifting the offshore drilling ban because drilling for oil off the east coast of the U.S. is stupid. Here's why.

The USGS says there are 17.8 billion barrels of undiscovered recoverable resources(read Unproven Reserves) in waters currently off limits to exploration. The EIA says production couldn't really get started until 2017 and wouldn't be fully ramped up for another 15 years until about 2030.Remember the U.S. uses more than 7 billion barrels a year.Great, there might be two and a half more years worth of oil.Even if we could start pumping at full capacity today when my daughter is 2 ½, she'll be 5 when all that oil is used up.Even when production is pumping at full capacity, additional offshore drilling facilities would amount to about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd). The US currently uses 21 million bpd. This does not take into account the increase in oil consumption necessary to continue to grow our economy. The bottom line is that additional offshore drilling will provide 1.2% of the oil we use every day if we don't increase consumption and we're willing to wait 20 years.


Oh and if the oil companies don't sell that oil to other countries. Remember, we currently export about 1.5 million barrels of oil from the US every day. There is no guarantee that big oil will even keep this measly 200,000 bpd in the US.


And don't forget the hurricanes.


Notice I didn't even mention the possible environmental catastrophes or the hit tourism might take if lounging at the beach starts to include a beautiful view of the flare from a drilling rig.


Offshore oil is politicians playing the blame game and that's all it is. The sad part is that a majority of Americans are falling for it while their leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, continue to refuse to act appropriately.
If you want a quick test of whether or not a politican understands energy issues ask her if she'd like to see the cost of gasoline go down. If she says yes,

she doesn't know what the hell she's talking about.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Good Work is launching Sustainable Vocations – North Carolina


Here is an excerpt from the more extensive description below of the Good Work Sustainable Vocations Program.
During this time of economic transition and environmental challenges, people are re-thinking old habits and imagining new futures. The Sustainable Vocations program gives participants skills and direction to move forward positively in ways that support a more sustainable and abundant future.

In response to the growing demand for life-skills and vocational training that offers practical guidance for becoming more self-reliant, environmentally conscious and entrepreneurial, our highly qualified and skilled team has designed a three-week intensive program for North Carolina that connects young people to nature, local entrepreneurs, and green job opportunities.

Sustainable Vocations - North Carolina is a residential and experiential training for young people, ages 15-24, who come from diverse backgrounds and share a common desire to align their livelihoods with their ethics and beliefs that we should live well and do good for the environment and our communities. We will provide personal mentoring, classroom time, workshops with local entrepreneurs, field trips, and experiential training in sustainable development, both on an individual and community level.
For more information see the images below or go to:

http://www.goodwork.org/sustainablevocations-nc

Friday, April 23, 2010

fight breast cancer with fried chicken


Every once in a while I run across something that is so twisted and bizarre as to stop me in my tracks and force me to consciously make the decision as to whether I should laugh or cry. Falling into this category is a recent Washington Post article about Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC as their marketing department would rather you refer to them. Why you ask, cause fried chicken "sounds" bad for you. But that's not stopping Susan G. Komen for the Cure from partnering with Kentucky Fried Chicken to raise money to fight breast cancer. Yup, you read that right.

Breast cancer is a terrible disease that shortens the lives of tens of thousands of American women each year. But then the Washington Post article says that,
". . .studies have shown that an increased risk of developing colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancer is associated with high intakes of well-done, fried, or barbequed meats."
This is what just sat me straight up in my chair and shocked me. No not all or even most women who develop breast cancer will do so because they ate to much KFC chicken. It is true though that our eating habits in America are the single greatest contributor to our incredibly bad health (2/3 of Americans obese, 1 in 3 born after 2000 will develop diabetes, highest rate of chronic disease except for Australia in the overdeveloped world, etc., etc.)

What floored me was the idea that anyone could think to link unhealthy food with the drive for a cure for cancer; or that average Americans would think, "Huh, yeah I'll buy a bucket of food that is not good for my health because hey, it's going to help cure cancer."

I'm still kind of in shock. Maybe tomorrow I'll find out this was all a joke or perhaps I'll read about how I can help fight lung cancer buy purchasing cigarettes.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup/2010/04/is_that_right_kfc_helps_fight.html

Aaron

Saturday, April 17, 2010

pew charitable trust ad :: yuck


This went out over the North Carolina local food listserv today. I'm reprinting it here because I think it is important.
I heard a very disappointing ad sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust on a major radio station in Charlotte, WBT today.

The ad urged listeners to call their Senators to support S 510, the food safety bill. The Pew Charitable Trust ad played off the tragic loss of a family of their 2 year old child who died from an E Coli O157:H7 originating in the Spinach contamination outbreak in 2006. The ad urges support of S 510 because the ad states that passage of S 510 would prevent children from dying from food borne illnesses. Apparently, Pew has made a major ad buy in many markets around the country to put this message out.

This ad is disgusting propaganda. The Pew Charitable Trust is no friend of the local food movement or small farmers. If there is someone with connection to the Pew Charitable Trust that is a member of this list, or if a list member has a contact at Pew, I would like to hear someone at Pew defend this ad and explain the logic of this major ad buy.
This will sound very harsh but if you know the person who grows your spinach you are *much* less likely to lose a child to E Coli. You are better off growing it yourself. It's really not that hard to grow good spinach. But real food safety isn't about about more regulations. It is about better relationships with local people growing good, healthy food.

I'd like to add that the effectiveness of federal and state government is likely to wane in the future due to budgetary constraints. Tying our hopes for a safe food system to the increased regulations of the federal government is akin to donning a millstone necklace.

Aaron

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

us military warns of global oil production peak


I do not spend much time these days following petroleum production numbers. I have found other ways to keep myself occupied. Matt Simmons says we peaked in global oil production year on year in 2007 and who am I to argue with him?

In July 2008 the world produced more oil than any month since. How much of that is supply driven and how much of it is demand driven? Are we talking light sweet crude, total liquids or do those numbers include unconventional sources like the tar sands? Have we definitively peaked in global oil production? Not having time to closely follow the debate I can't say for certain.

Writing a report for the US Department of Energy Robert Hirsch said, "Without mitigation, the peaking of world oil production will cause major economic upheaval." By mitigation the report suggests 20 years or more of "accelerated effort." It seems clear to me that we're not going to have 20 years to prepare but I have been waiting for some "official" organization to recognize that we are in fact standing on top of the oil age and in some trouble.

For that reason the article below caught my eye. I wasn't exactly waiting for the media or the US government to report on peak oil before it becomes a clear image in our collective rear view mirror but I figured at some point some significant organization by cough up the truth of the situation. In fact it was the US military. The Guardian recently reported the following.

The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.

The energy crisis outlined in a Joint Operating Environment report from the US Joint Forces Command, comes as the price of petrol in Britain reaches record levels and the cost of crude is predicted to soon top $100 a barrel.

"By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day," says the report, which has a foreword by a senior commander, General James N Mattis.

It adds: "While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/apr/11/peak-oil-production-supply

It is the job of the US military to accurately identify threats. Sure they've used psyops in the past but if this were propaganda aimed at the US population I could have read about it in a mainstream US publication or seen it on the nightly newz. Instead I had to go to a British website.

This should not have been a total surprise to me. In a 2005 report entitled, Energy Trends and Implications for U.S. Army Installations, the US Army Corps of Engineers said, "Peak oil is at hand with low availability growth for the next 5 to 10 years... World oil production is at or near its peak and current world demand exceeds the supply." It follows that five years later the US military might issue a warning suggesting they were right.

So for what it's worth here is an important organization, regularly tasked with identifying threats, reporting that the world is about to experience a serious oil output shortfall.

what's in your meat?


Beef containing harmful pesticides, veterinary antibiotics and heavy metals is being sold to the public because federal agencies have failed to set limits for the contaminants or adequately test for them, a federal audit finds.

A program set up to test beef for chemical residues "is not accomplishing its mission of monitoring the food supply for … dangerous substances, which has resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce," says the audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General.

The health effects on people who eat such meat are a "growing concern," the audit adds.
You can read the rest of the article here.

Or you can read the actual audit report here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

a large farm in small pieces

There is one obvious mistake with this plan. Extra credit for anyone who points it out.

OK let's take a look at an existing parcel of land and do a bit of planning with the end goal of a working homestead that produces not only most of what the residents need and want but also produces extra to generate income. This particular parcel is made up of open land that was formerly farmed shown in yellow-green and areas of existing forest shown in dark green. You can see the existing residence and detached garage at the end of the driveway that connects them to the road.


Moving forward I've removed the colour that indicates which area is open space and which are is existing forest but I've left the outline of the forest so we can keep an eye on it during the planning process.

There are several locations that lend themselves to becoming ponds for water cleansing and storage as well as a place to raise fish, frogs and other protein sources and to serve as habitat for all the animals living on this and the surrounding properties. Pond and stream construction will be a major undertaking so it's best to locate these early in the process and to do this work as soon as possible.

Next I've highlighted areas to remain as existing forest areas. These will serve as habitat for animals and plants and also as a sustainable fuel source for home heating and cooking. They can also be sustainably foraged. One area at the northern edge of the parcel is shown as a reforestation project.


The next image shows tree replacement in several previously forested locations in the form of two different types of orchards. Near the residence you can see row orchards with fruit trees. These will also have cover crops grown under that trees and will serve as a place to pasture poultry. The mixed orchards shown further from the residence will contain a more varied selection of trees including maples for syrup, oaks for acorns, fruit and nut trees and hardwoods for lumber. This mixed orchard will be more intensively managed than the areas left as existing forest but will not be clear cut and replanted all at once. Old trees will be cut for lumber for construction projects on the property and for fuel and new trees will be phased in. The end goal is a managed forest that is not as natural as the native mature forests of this part of the country but not as non-natural as the row orchards.


Certain areas are fenced in and will serves as rotating pastures for cows, sheep, goats, poultry and llamas. I have always wanted llamas.


Row crops will be grown between the main residence and several new residences and out buildings shown below. The main circulation paths are also shown below. Notice how most of the row crops, new structures and pasture areas are outside the outline of the existing forest.


The final plan tries to consider the needs of those humans who inhabit the site as well as the other plants and animals that share this parcel of land. It has a diversity of ecosystems making it a more flexible, adaptable homestead.