Albert Bates

Mount Pleasant

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Published on Peak Surfer on February 19, 2017

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"The problem is not our understanding of the science or the efficacy of our potential solutions. The problem is human willingness to do the right thing before its too late."

 

 

  We first latched onto the notion of catastrophic climate change back around 1980 when we were a young attorney taking quixotic cases involving impossible-to-rectify injustices like cancers among atomic veterans, trespass of sacred sites or nuclear waste disposal, and shoving those insults under the noses of attorneys-general, judges and justices to try to get a reaction.

Occasionally we would finesse a surprising win and that helped attract donations to keep the enterprise running and the entertainment value high, attracting more donors, and so it went.

One such case was against the deepwell injection of toxic effluent from the manufacture of pesticides and herbicides by agrochemical companies in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. The effluent in question had been extracted from an aquifer and tested by State laboratories where was quickly ranked as the most concentrated poison they had ever pulled from the wild. A single green fluorescent drop killed all the fish in the tank. There were 6 billion gallons injected under Middle Tennessee from 1967 to 1980. It made Love Canal look like the kiddie pool.

As we mustered our arguments to go before state regulators and appellate judges, we were compelled to counter some rather absurd arguments being advanced by the mop-up squads of high-priced attorneys for the companies. They said, “Heckfire, Tennessee has plenty of water,” meaning there was no good reason to protect the nonpotable (mineral-rich) waters of the Knox Aquifer a mile down.

Apart from the fact that the Knox is an artesian source of water for area industries and thereby already protected from “contaminants” whether toxic or not by the federal Safe Drinking Water act, we advanced two principal lines of argument, bringing in expert witnesses and entering scientific studies into the record.

Our first line was population growth. Tennessee was growing and what may seem like a lot of water in 1980 may not be nearly enough in 2080. The second line was climate change.

We argued that global warming was advancing, just as scientists had been consistently predicting for the past hundred or more years, and that it would put pressure on water supplies not just in Tennessee, but across the continent.

At that time science suggested warming in the 20th century of about half a degree Celsius. Those were the good old days. Nonetheless, persuading a country judge that global warming was real and something to be concerned about was no mean feat.

 

 

 

 

We had to pull out the big guns. We went to our local congressman and got his assistance to troll the federal agencies for useful studies. We holed up in Vanderbilt science library poring over journals and books on climatology. We spoke to some key figures in the field at that time — Stephen Schneider, Susan Solomon, Kerry Emanuel, Edward A. Martell, Mario Molina — and we assembled that advice into legal briefs and memoranda.

All in all, we scared the bejesus out of ourselves.

The case lingered on for a number of years but by 1985 had been largely resolved by gutsy State regulators, who wrote new rules that essentially prohibited hydrofracking. The companies shut down the injection wells, closed their factories soon after (the phosphate ores that had attracted them in the first place having long since played out and the costs of hauling in by train making the location uneconomical) and moved on. The litigation cost meter ceased running and the death threats stopped. But we were still beset by unshakable malaise.

We had seen the future, and it was different than we had previously imagined. It was not our father’s future.

The materials gathered over the course of ten years were published in our book, Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do. The book came out on the heels of two other fine 1989 books that said essentially the same thing: Stephen Schneider’s Global Warming and Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, all to resounding popular disinterest.

Fast forward a quarter century and we were still very much in a funk about what the future holds. When our granddaughter was born in 2005 we felt very sad for her.

We were still tracking the literature, still going to conferences, still speaking with experts, but until the International Permaculture Conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil in June, 2007 we had not found much to call hope.

Biochar

It was at the Ecocentro do Cerrado that year that we caught a first fleeting glimpse. Andre Soares and his partners were conducting experiments in recreating terra preta do indio – the Amazonian Dark Earths. They were, not coincidentally, massively sequestering carbon while growing wholesome food.

Just over a year later, in September 2008, the Permaculture International Journal sent us to Newcastle, England to report on "Biochar, Sustainability and Security in a Changing Climate,” the 2d International Conference of the International Biochar Initiative, with over 225 attendees from 31 different countries and over 70 presentations. That, and some intervening trips back to Brazil to visit the archaeological sites near Manaus, provided the source material for our 2010 book, The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change.

For those readers who might be new to biochar, the Virgin Energy Challenge offers this quick synopsis:

 

 

 

Biochar is a relatively low-tech approach inspired by the terra preta soils found in the Amazon basin. These black, fertile soils were created in pre-Columbian times by indigenous farming cultures. They mixed wood char, crushed bone, and manure into the otherwise relatively infertile Amazonian soil to build crop beds. The wood char, though not a fertilizer per se, served to buffer nutrients from the bone meal and manure. It apparently served as a soil analog of a coral reef. Its porous structure and nutrient buffering surface area created a favorable microenvironment for communities of soil fungi and other organisms that aided soil fertility.

Terra preta soils, once well established, appear to be self-sustaining. So long as crop cover protects them from wind and water erosion, they maintain their high level of soil carbon and productivity long after additions of the materials that built them have stopped. In fact they gradually increase in depth as new material composts. In the Amazon basin, thick terra preta soil beds built as far back as 450 BCE remain productive and highly valued by local farmers to this day.

Terra preta soils were initially thought to be peculiar to the warm, wet environment of the Amazon basin. Research has shown, however, that similar results can be obtained in temperate regions by amending soils with formulations of biochar and other ingredients tailored to local soil and crop conditions. The amount of carbon that can potentially be stored in this manner is huge; the amount currently stored as soil carbon has been estimated as 2,300 GT, nearly three times the 800 GT of carbon now present in the atmosphere. If soil carbon could be increased globally by an average of just 10%, it would sequester enough carbon to return atmospheric CO₂ to pre-industrial levels.

The issue with biochar then is not the amount of carbon it could ultimately sequester in the soil; it’s (surprise!) economics. There’s little doubt that a well designed program of soil building, incorporating use of biochar as an element, would be an effective way to sequester carbon while providing long term economic value to farmers. It would boost crop yields while reducing the amount of fertilizer needed. It would also reduce water runoff and nutrient leaching while improving drought resistance. On the other hand, biochar is costly to produce and distribute in the amounts needed, and it may take decades for the considerable investment in soil quality to pay off financially.

The key to success for biochar will come down to technology for producing it from local resources, and dissemination of knowledge for how to employ in in a broader program of soil building. A sense of the complexities can be found in a document from the International Biochar Initiative: Guidelines on Practical Aspects of Biochar Application to Field Soil in Various Soil Management Systems. The three VEC finalists developing biochar display the diversity of product and business strategies possible for addressing these complexities.

There are a few errors in that account, but they are trifling. Biochar is not a “relatively low-tech” approach, it is about as low-tech as you can get. Some Amazonian deposits, similar to those “as far back as 450 BCE,” are ten times older than that. Most estimates put soil carbon at 2500-2700 PgC, not 2300 PgC. You don’t need to increase carbon content to 10 percent globally, 5 percent would probably do it, but remember: we were at 20-plus % soil carbon before the age of agriculture and most soils are hungry to get that back. Building it back with biochar makes a more permanent repair, not just moving the furniture around, as other Virgin Challenge competitors — BECCS (Biomass Energy Carbon Capture and Storage), direct air capture and holistic grazing — do.

Biochar gave us hope, but it did not, in and of itself, solve the climate crisis.  We asked that question at the close of our book — “Can it scale quickly enough?” The answer, from what we have seen at the recent UN climate conferences and the lack of early adoption as the dominant farming paradigm, is — “Probably not.”

The rapid rise of global temperature that began about 1975 continues at a mean rate of about 0.18°C/decade, with the current annual temperature exceeding +1.25°C relative to 1880-1920 and +1.9°C relative to 1780-1880. Dampening effects by the deep oceans and polar ice slow the effects of this change but global temperature has now crossed the mean range of the prior interglacial (Eemian) period, when sea level was several meters above present. The longer temperature remains elevated the more amplifying feedbacks will lead to significantly greater consequences.

While global anthropogenic emissions actually declined in the past decade, there is a lag time for consequences. The rate of climate forcing due to previous human-caused greenhouse gases increased over 20% in the past decade, mainly due to a surge in methane, making it increasingly difficult to achieve targets such as limiting global warming to 1.5°C or reducing atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppm. While a rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions must still be accomplished, the Paris Agreement targets now require “negative emissions”, i.e.: extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The first rule of holes is, when you find yourself in one, stop digging. We, the two legged hairless apes, are still digging.

In a recent Soil Day paper presented to the American Geophysical Society and the Society for Ecological Restoration, Harvard professor Thomas Goreau wrote:

 

 

 

“Already we have overshot the safe level of CO2 for current temperature and sea level by about 40%, and CO2 needs to be reduced rapidly from today’s dangerous levels of 400 parts per million (ppm) to pre-industrial levels of around 260 ppm.”

Goreau, citing the work of John D. Liu and ourselves, provided his prescriptions:

 

 

 

"Current rates of carbon farming at typical current levels would take thousands of years to draw down the dangerous excess CO2, but state of the art methods of soil carbon sequestration could draw it down in as little as decades if the percentage of long lived carbon is raised to as little as about 10%."

Here we note that Dr. Goreau’s arithmetic is much better than the 4 pour 1000 or Holistic Management calculations we criticized last week. Goreau has distinguished labile carbon from “long lived carbon” and not limited land area just to existing farms. He advocates 10 percent rather than 4 tenths of a percent. He continues:

 

 

 

While all soils can, and must, be managed to greatly increase soil carbon there are two critical soil leverage points that will be the most effective to reverse global climate change, namely increasing the two most carbon-rich soils of all, Terra Preta, and wetlands. These are the most effective carbon sinks for very different reasons, Terra Preta because it is 10-50% carbon by weight, composed of biochar, which can last millions of years in the soil. Wetland soils can be up to pure organic matter, because lack of oxygen prevents organic matter decomposition. Wetlands contain half of all soil carbon, and half of that is in marine wetlands, which occupy only about 1% of the Earth’s surface but deposit about half of all the organic matter in the entire ocean. Yet they are often ignored in both terrestrial and marine carbon accounting. Marine wetland soils have more carbon than the atmosphere, but are being rapidly destroyed in the misguided name of “economic development.”

Biochar is what soil scientists call “recalcitrant carbon,” meaning that it does not readily combine with other elements unless high temperature heat or some other catalyst is present. Consequently, as much carbon as can be gleaned from the normal “labile” carbon cycle and turned into recalcitrant carbon can be kept from the atmosphere. We know from the experience of the terra preta soils that it doesn’t just stay out of the atmosphere for a few seasons, it traps carbon in the soils for thousands of years.

Switching to renewable energy will not arrest climate change. None of the schemes that involve planting trees can succeed unless they also include biochar. None of the claims of Allan Savory, Joel Salatin or the Holistic Management movement for mob grazing, or any of the claims related to organic, no-till, animal-drawn carbon farming by Eric Toensmeier, Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva and others pencil out to reverse climate change unless you include biochar. Even then, the area required for biochar-augmented conversion of land-use, farming and forestry is massive — something like 7-10 Spains per year, and maybe more. Anything less than that and the ship goes down.

 

 

 

When we first grasped this in Brazil in August 2006, it provided our first “ah ha!” moment. But then we concluded it likely can’t scale fast enough, by gradual adoption through word of mouth or a few good books, to prevent Near Term Human Extinction. In October 2007 we called that our "Houston Moment," not in the sense that "Houston we have a problem" but because we were in Houston at an ASPO meeting when it dawned on us — it may already be blown. The death sentence for our species — in the next century if not this one — could have been handed down even before we were born.

The problem is not the science or the efficacy of the solution. The problem is human willingness to change. There also seems to be something called profit that always complicates matters. We will tackle that, and offer some possible ways forward, in our coming posts.

 

Hot Rockin’

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Published on Peak Surfer on August 7, 2016

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"All that is necessary to open up unlimited resources of power throughout the world is to find some economic and speedy way of sinking deep shafts." — Nikola Tesla, Our Future Motive Power, 1931
 

 

 

Like many in the Peak Everything/Age of Limits psychographic, we find ourselves rolling our eyes whenever we hear techno-utopians describing AI implants, self-driving Teslas and longevity DNA-splices. We know all too well that each Google search uses enough energy to boil a cup of water, and that the average cellphone adds one ton of carbon to the atmosphere each year – roughly 3 jet passenger trips back and forth between New York and Cancun.

The insularity of Silicon Valley leads to confirmation bias, to the point where someone like Kevin Kelly, in a recent Long Now talk, can describe the diversification of Artificial Smartness as "alien intelligences" without grasping that we have, right now living amongst us, vastly diverse typologies of intelligence in the biological world, but that our overconsuming, polluting technosphere is killing them off in the Sixth Mass Extinction before we even grok their quantum entanglement.

In Kelly's view we will soon be tapping into artificial, alien intellect like we do electricity or wifi. We will become cyber-centaurs — co-dependent humans and AIs. All of us will need to perpetually upgrade just to stay in the game. And power-up too.

Groan. The digital divide on steroids.

We've opined in many posts here that we thought a rubber-road interface would soon be upon this kind of techonarcissism. Limits will be in the driver's seat again. But oddly enough, it might not be the energy shortfall that pitches all that Teslarati into the ditch.

There is no shortage of energy and there never has been.

Take it back an Ice Age or two. So we discovered fire. Get over it! Being stupid apes, we have become completely obsessed with fire. So now we are burning down the house.

All around us there are much more abundant forms of energy than fire. Consider the gravitational pull of the moon that raises oceans. Consider the spin of the Earth, or the latent heat within its slowly cooling core. Who needs dilithium crystals? We travel through space aboard a dynamo.
 

Nicola Tesla

In the eight years since the post below was originally published in the summer of 2008, it has received a grand total of 68 page views, many of which were doubtless our own. Not wanting to see such gems disappear into the akashic records without at least a few more reads, we're republishing in this summer re-run series.

Bear in mind that Nicola Tesla was a steampunk. In Iceland we can see steam and hydrogen being generated by geothermal heat, but the Teslovian technology being applied — pumped water and steam — is inefficient and self-defeating. It sets up a depletion curve — years to decades — because it cools the magma. Apply today's dielectric alloys instead of steam and you can imagine live current from the temperature differential without cooling the Earth below. But have a look.

Hot Rockin'

Drill, Drill, Drill say the Republicans
Drill, Drill, Drill say the Democrats
Drill, Drill, Drill says McCain
Drill, Drill, Drill says Obama
It polls well.
And, meanwhile, the climate just goes to Hell.

It is interesting to see the major oil companies take on a really tough challenge, like drilling deep continental or deep ocean sites. In order to drill the Bakken formation, where gigatons of carbon deposits are entombed beneath the wheat fields of North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, they are going to have to go very deep, into very hard and hot rock.

Even tougher challenges await Chevron's mega-well, Jack 2 in the Gulf of Mexico, or Petrobras' Saudi-scale Tupi or Carioca fields in the equatorial Atlantic off Brazil. Individual wells in those fields are expected to run $180 million to $200 million each, assuming Big Oil can even solve the impressive technical issues.

Engineers are estimating three decades will be needed to develop alloys for drills and pipes that can withstand the heat 2 to 6 miles down, with 18,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, and temperatures above 500° Fahrenheit (260°C).

Two years ago, Exxon Mobil and Chevron saw diamond-crusted drill bits disintegrate and steel pipes crumple when they attempted to tap deep deposits in the outer continental shelf. Anadarko Petroleum is successfully extracting natural gas under a mere 8,960 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, where pressure measures 3,069 pounds per square inch, but it costs a lot to keep replacing imploded joints and ruptured seals.

Pumping oil from the Brazilian fields, parts of which are 32,000 feet (10,000 m) below the surface, will require drilling more than three times the depth of the Anadarko wells and almost twice the world’s deepest Gulf wells, in the Tahiti lease, which cost Chevron $4.7 billion to produce.

But here is the irony. At those depths, the heat is a constant. In energy output worldwide, it measures in the exoWatt range. It could power everything. And you don’t have to sail halfway across the Gulf of Mexico, down into the South Atlantic, or up to the North Pole to find it. Wherever you are on Earth, it is right below you.

We’ve known about this energy source, deep geothermal, for centuries, and we have known how to go about harnessing it, big time, for decades. In 1932, Nicola Tesla wrote in The New York Times, “It is noteworthy that …  in 1852 Lord Kelvin called attention to natural heat as a source of power available to Man. But, contrary to his habit of going to the bottom of every subject of his investigations, he contented himself with the mere suggestion.”

Tesla went on, “The arrangement of one of the great terrestrial-heat power plants of the future (illustration). Water is circulated to the bottom of the shaft, returning as steam to drive the turbine, and then returned to liquid form in the condenser, in an unending cycle…. The internal heat of the earth is great and practically inexhaustible….”

Karl Grossman produced a piece on it for WVVH-TV in Long Island. You can see that on YouTube. An MIT study in 2007 estimated you could produce 100 GWe (the equivalent of 1000 coal plants) for less than the cost of a single coal plant.

So why can’t we see the forest for the trees?

Emergency Planetary Technician: Permaculture Realized, Part I

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Published on Peak Surfer on February 21, 2016

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"If you've ever tried to change money when you're high on acid it's like, ‘what am I doing? What are these pictures of dead presidents doing in my pocket?"

The following transcript, from an interview conducted earlier this month, has been lightly edited for corrections and readability.

Welcome to the Permaculture Realized podcast where we're exploring the paradigm shift that's required to get us through humanity's greatest challenge, climate change. This is Levi broadcasting from our Realized Homestead, February 2, 2016.

Albert Bates is a long-time, influential figure in environmental activism and the ecovillage and permaculture movements. He's a lawyer, an author, and a teacher who's been the Director of the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee since 1994.

He recently attended the COP21 Climate Conference in Paris and he published a book about what happened there, called The Paris Agreement. This interview is packed full of great info so I'm going to just get right into it. I started by asking Albert about his back-story:

AB: The back-story – I went through conventional USAnian, middle class upbringing in rich, white bread suburbia, in my case on the out skirts of New York City in suburban Connecticut although at that time in the early 50s it was a kind of combination of tentative sprawl and farmland. Connecticut at that time was kind of nice and if you've ever watched the television series, “Mad Men,” you can get the idea of what my life as a child growing up was because my father was a mad man. He went to work on Madison Avenue. He worked in public relations and created ad campaigns. That's what he did and he took the New Haven railroad to get into work in New York City every day and came back at night to the little petit mansion and the country life.

As for me, I grew up in Wilton, Connecticut, went to Syracuse University, got a degree in political science, went on to law school, got a degree in law and at that point I had a major shift in my focus in life because I was offered all kinds of jobs in New York. I could have become a New York lawyer and followed the trajectory my parents had set for me or I could break with that meta-programming. I was reading John Lilly at the time and he was writing about the mind of the dolphin, LSD, isolation tanks, and re-programming the human biocomputer so I broke with my whole meta-program. When I graduated law school, instead of sticking around, I went on the Appalachian Trail and a thru-hike from north to south in the course of a summer.

I got down to Tennessee and had heard about The Farm and decided that as long as I was in Tennessee I would go visit it. This was an experimental community which had come out of an exodus of hippies from San Francisco following the Summer of Love. They had started a commune and had found that prices in Marin County and Humboldt County and all those areas were way too expensive so they found some cheap land – $70/acre – in Tennessee and set up shop there for an intentional community on what had been a cattle ranch, replacing 70 cows with 400 hippies.

I joined and became a member in 1972. I fell in love with the place at first glance and ended up staying a month instead overnight and then three months and there I was – the rest of my life. That became a base for me. It was an interesting experiment in many ways. Not only was it a complete detachment from the trajectory that I had been on, but also it was an experiment in living which involved giving up any notion of job, any notion of money. We didn't use money within The Farm, it was a communal society. It wasn't like we were socialist or communist or anti-capitalist — we eschewed isms. It was more like, we just didn't believe in money.

If you go back to the acid days of Haight Ashbury you can kind of understand the etiology of that process. If you've ever tried to change money when you're high on acid it's like, ‘what am I doing? What are these pictures of dead presidents doing in my pocket? Why am I putting so much value on these pieces of metal and pieces of paper? Why am I orienting my entire life on accumulating these things?’ Getting rid of money was really a big step. It was one of the biggest steps we made and it changed everything. When you joined The Farm essentially you gave up everything you ever owned or ever expected to inherit, anything that would distinguish you from someone else.

One of the other tenets of our faith was no social position. We didn't believe in social position. Many people have particular gifts or talents, their heritage, their inclinations, their bliss in life. They follow particular paths and develop their particular talents which is fine, that's all appreciated but it doesn't give you social position. People who are developmentally challenged were on equal footing with people who had Ph.D’s. From that standpoint it was a social experiment which was absolutely one of the most marvelous things I've ever participated in and I'm grateful to this day for the thirteen or fourteen years that we had as a communal, collective society.
 

image:  Gaspar Tringale for Vanity Fair

We ran into problems with scale. We really were inexperienced teenagers and young people just setting up shop, marrying, having babies and we didn't have the skill sets to do design. Permaculture hadn't been invented at that point. So what we did was sort of ad hoc, take it as it came and, without a design process, we fell into error. That's not bad. Error is a good thing. It's a learning experience but it can also make things harder in many ways. It can waste whatever small amounts you have accumulated. It can destroy valuable assets and things like that. It also makes it very slow and people get impatient.

The problem that we found was not dissimilar to many managed economies: at the age of 30-something we were still queued-up for diapers because we couldn't afford for people to have too many, and tennis shoes, and things like that. And people became generally dissatisfied. They wanted more control over their own lives. At some point we decided to de-collectivize and go back into a system which was similar to what we had come from, a money-exchanging system – but there were also things like a land trust and a cooperative form of self-governance which were much more transparent, consensus-based, using tools and skills which we had developed over that thirteen or fourteen year period.

the author, 1981


For me, I was able to apply my education and my law degree and make living doing useful work. That had started during our collective period because somewhere around the mid- to late seventies nuclear power plants were coming near us. The Tennessee Valley Authority, since it was a Federal utility, was directed by the government under various Republican administrations to make more nuclear power so they were building twenty nuclear power plants and a plutonium breeder. So I dusted off the old law degree, got my license in Tennessee, and went after them and we were able to stop them. We were able to halt that expansion. [This story is told in two books: Honicker vs. Hendrie – A Lawsuit to End Atomic Power; and Shutdown! Nuclear Power on Trial. The Supreme Court brief is here.]

I took on the chemical industry after that – Monsanto, Stauffer Chemical, and AstraZenica, over agrochem pollution – they manufactured pesticides and herbicides using deepwell injection — and got deepwell injection banned in the State of Tennessee which, until recently, included fracking.

I created a non-profit, public interest law project which raised money by donations and we had a small staff of law students and volunteer clerks and went up against the chemical industry and the nuclear power industry. We had the largest portfolio of cases for atomic veterans at the VA. We fought the MX missile and various nuclear weapon systems and programs. We worked for Native American rights.

One of our major areas on The Farm was helping various indigenous peoples’ struggles around the world, beginning in Guatemala and extending to other places. In 1980 I was part of the board of Plenty International when it won the Right Livelihood Award for its work in preserving indigenous cultures. My work also focused on that – saving sacred sites in the Black Hills, preventing uranium exploration in those places, and so forth.

So I was in that field — international, environmental and human rights law — and at some point, I guess in the late '80s, early 90s, I started to get the sense that I was in the same kind of rut I had been in when I was in college or law school, holding a job, doing charitable pro bono stuff, and getting a degree at the same time; that I was a type-A individual and thriving on stress. I have never developed ‘the talent for idleness,’ as Hermann Hesse said. I was getting high blood pressure, my marriage was falling to pieces, and I had too many balls in the air that I was trying to juggle.

So, it was like 'why am I in this mode?’ I decided to retire from the practice of law and get rid of all that and begin to work more in the area of environmental education. But first I became a mushroom farmer. In 1991 I ran a company in Tennessee called the Mushroompeople. We were selling commercial spawn for shiitake, maitake, enokitake — all the Japanese forest mushrooms — as well as selling supplies to farmers and giving courses and workshops in mushroom growing, with Paul Stamets and others.

That led me to create what eventually became the Ecovillage Training Center. I took a permaculture course in '95 with Peter Bane and Chuck Marsh and became an instructor there at our training center. I got involved with the early ecovillage movement. We started a newsletter called The Design Exchange for the Ecovillage Network of the Americas in the 90s and then I was invited to conferences in Scotland, Denmark, and Russia and became part of the founding group for the Global Ecovillage Network which eventually spread to 20,000 villages around the world with over 2 million residents today.

I was president and chairman of the board for a few years and I am still one of their United Nations representatives. What I do with the United Nations is to attend meetings of the Committee for Sustainable Development, the Climate Change Convention, the Desertification Convention, the Biodiversity Convention, and the Human Rights Convention. The tools that I bring to my work at the United Nations deal with permaculture. That's the methodology that I apply in the design of this stage of my life, the pattern of our strategic work, and ultimately, the re-design of the built environment of the planet — how we two-leggeds intend to inhabit our rapidly changing ecological niche.

So you could call me an emergency planetary technician. I'm going to the pressure points where I can stop the bleeding and to places where, if we really apply ourselves, we can change the paradigm. And I have actually witnessed that on a number of occasions, most recently in December in Paris where we were actually able to change the paradigm, or perhaps it was just being present at the moment when the world suddenly shifted, like the hundredth monkey who learns the skill and suddenly every monkey all over the world has that skill. That kind of historic moment.

Levi Meeuwenberg: Since the Paris agreement just took place and I think that a lot of people are curious about that, and hopeful, can you tell us what you witnessed there? What happened?

Continued next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musings from the Age of Limits

Off the keyboard of Harry J Lerwill

Published on the Doomstead Diner May 24, 2013

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Age of Limits 2013 Website

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Forgive any typos or autocorrect fun, I’m writing on an iPad in the middle of a forest…

We took a long drive from Pittsburgh to the age of limits conference in Pennsylvania, down winding roads and through verdant green forests, a stark contrast to the dry, arid California weather we left behind. The humidity is a surprise after the dry air of home, not the best foreshadowing of restful evenings, particularly for those camping for the first time – like my wife, Barbra.

To be fair I have been ambiguous when she’s asked about our destination.  Her idea of camping is anything short of a three-star hotel.  I would have been traveling alone, had I uttered any of the hot-button words, such as “humanure”, “camping” or “off the grid”.

We stopped at a store to pick up an air mattress, pump and bedding, items too bulky to transport as carry-on from home.  I find it crazy that it cost us less to buy the items new, then donate them when we leave, than to bring our own with us.  The occasional glance from the drivers seat made me think that the game might soon be up.

A brace of ducks welcomes us to the sustainable community we will be staying at these next four days, relaxing outside the door to the main farm building.  I approached cautiously, not wanting to startle them but they seemed very comfortable with them.  I was still deciding to go left or right around when a lady came out of the building and welcomed us.

We left with directions to the camping site and a “car camping” pass on the windscreen and gently grove the minivan to the designated spot.  As I inflated the air mattress and placed it in the back, the wife called out daughter back in California.  Snippets of her side of the conversation were carried on the breeze.

“I don’t know where we are, somewhere in the woods in Pennsylvania,” she told a laughing teenager back in warm and sunny California.  We’d taken her on a very different road trip the weekend before, four days in Las Vegas, experiencing the excesses that we are here to escape.

The sleeping arrangements completed, we wandered down to the “starvin’ artist” – the catering for the event, situated in a beautiful pavilion built from local materials by the members of the community.  A hot meal was just what we needed and we sat down with a number of other earlier arrivals, although it was soon interrupted by the arrival of a thunderstorm, the driving rain coming in almost horizontally; a flurry of activity ensured as water was swept off the end of the deck multiple times, an Herculean task the two lads threw themselves into with enthusiasm.

The only speaker present at the meal was Guy McPherson, my first chance to meet the gentleman. One interesting anecdote, Guy did not coin the term “NTE” and is not that fond of acronyms.  If he had to give it a label, he’d have called it “near term human extinction”,  a phrase he sees as having less hubris.

After a brief pause to write, we head back down for the meet and greet. On the way I ran into the founder, and arranged to interview him over his experiences setting up four quarters, the challenges he’s faced, and the long journey to where they find themselves today.

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Meet and Greet your Fellow Doomers

 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thursday night was colder than expected, the novel experience of camping in a car did not impress the wife much, but she is resolved to be a good sport.  It’s a sobering experience to live in a car for a couple days, an eye-opener to the collapse that is happening to hundreds of people each week. A long discussion on how we would cope should this happen ensued.  This is definitely an experience to bring a significant other along for.  If it survives this, it’s a good sign for sticking together through what lies ahead.

Not only are there “real” flushing toilets at the camp, the showers are hot, real hot! Coffee came first though, provided free by the wonderful volunteers.  A quick conversation with other early risers and I got ready for breakfast.  For a “small” setup the breakfast was wonderful, sausage, eggs, potatoes, and plenty of orange juice, with more wonderful conversation.

The event started with Oren covering some practical matters, followed by his experiences setting up the four quarters interfaith sanctuary over 18years ago.  4Q was originally an attempt to set up an ecological camp ground that would appeal to the more ecologically minded.  Pennsylvania was chosen over Maryland due to the differences in planning and zoning regulations, an aspect of doomstead~location that has been in the forefront of many people looking to escape the oncoming collapse.

The questions were excellent, covering topics as diverse as property ownership and health care; it’s a sobering thought that personal collapse comes with consequences, when we get sick in a post-collapse world, death is the likely outcome.  Questions of ethics were also raised, such as what would happen post-collapse if people turned up at their lifeboat. Many questions that we’ve asked ourselves and our forum friends.  I encourage people who are looking at setting up communities to listen to both the talk and the question and answer session.

John Michael Greer was the second speaker, with a talk on the future, what we though we would get and what we’re actually getting, and how that disconnect happened.  For readers of the archdruid report the topics were familiar, yet his light-hearted delivery takes the edge off the description of a very uncertain future.

The concept of near term human extinction inevitably came up and John Michael’s response surprised many who think his view of post-collapse is incompatible with that of Guy McPherson.  Greer sees a massive die-off in humanity’s future, just on a different time scale, along with a faith that nature will get through the bottleneck we are creating in the ecosystems. He also pointed out that the theory McPherson has may gain wider acceptance than his own theories of collapse, for reasons he’s covered in his blog many times: we will do anything to avoid having to make changes in our own lives.

Albert Bates was the next up, with a lecture on the top of the Unibomber.  I was very surprised to learn that the Unibomber was not only a Harvard student at fifteen, he was also recruited by the MK-ultra program and the abuses he was subjected to at the hands of the experimenters may have played a part in his radicalization. After the background information on Ted, the presentation moved onto the famous manifesto; a document well worth reading from a collapse and resource depletion standpoint. I many ways the bomber was right on target with the problem of technology, although no amount of hindsight on his motives can justify the murders this terrorist perpetrated on innocent people.

Another fine meal followed, roast beast and vegetables, and even finer conversation around the table.  A quick break while I tried to upload the audio files of the talks so far, with no success. I such a rural location the signal is really weak, so readers are going to have to wait a little longer before they an listen to them.

Carolyn baker was the last presentation of the day; drumming, a story from Korea, and a number of relationship exercises that unfortunately do not translate well to an audio format.  When I get home I will separate out the story and upload it, but the rest of the audio file will not do justice to the presentation.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

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Doomers huddle around the Campfire

The temperature on Friday night dropped to around thirty four degrees, making me very grateful the wife had driven down to Cumberland earlier to pick up extra bedding, and we spent the night snuggled up together while a full moon shone through the windows.  I woke up feeling much more refreshed than the previous morning, and thankful to attribute the aches and pains of the prior morning to jet lag instead of middle age.

The first talk was by Albert Bates on the global ecological village movement, and it was by far the most useful talk for me so far.  Most of the topics covered by the other speakers I was familiar with, but the size and scope of the Eco village movement surprised me.  He shared a considerable amount of information The Farm, it’s successes, it[s failures, it’s struggles and and the struggles they have helped others overcome, from earthquake relief to bringing fresh water to villages in South America.  I am looking forward to following the leads his presentation has opened up.

Again, I found myself reassured that the questions we are asking on the Diner, the solutions we are proposing are not new, there is a Wealth of experience from those who have done this already.  While we may feel isolated and apart with only our digital connection at present, it is comforting to know that we are not the first pioneers to walk in this direction, desiring to walk away from empire, as McPherson’s lecture later in the day was titled.

Gail Tverberg, or Gail the Actuary, as she is often known, spoke next, a recap of the evidence of collapse which most readers here will be familiar with. I slipped out and left the iPad with my wife and spent some time catching up with JMG and getting to know a few of the attendees better.

Orlov was the next speaker up, with a digression from his usual talk of the five stages of collapse, instead venturing into the realm of experiencing collapse as we are now going thought it.  While little of the presentation was new to me, Dmitry’s delivery was excellent and his humorous viewpoint was a stark contrast to the next talk after dinner.

Guy McPherson’s talk was on walking away from empire, a process he started a number of years ago, with his leaving academia to pursue self-sufficiency in the property he calls the mud hut.  His experiences going off grid –with no experience at constructing a straw bail house or dealing with ducks, goats or pocket gophers –was encouraging to those who, like Guy, do not know a screwdriver from a zucchini.

I was surprised that Guy sees his experiment of walking away from empire as a failure, for reasons he outlined.  Empire is still here, it still surrounds him,and after entertaining over six hundred guests at the mud hut over the last few years, very, very few have followed his example, much to his apparent despair.  Even walking away from the modern, energy wasting world left him with an ecological footprint that would translate to more than four earths required to support seven billion living off grid.  Why?  Because we, living in America, are still responsible for the footprint of the US military which consumes more energy than many sovereign nations.  A sobering thought.

Guy is a fantastic and humorous speaker, and offers to pay half of any travel costs to come and speak, asking only his needs are met.  He practices rather than preaches a gift economy, giving away copies of his DVD and asking nothing in return, although he accepts donations.  I’ve heard accusations on other websites that he promotes himself, that he runs his message as a business, that he promotes his ideas to make money. That is more a reflection of the society we live in and the expectations we have.  While I am not convinced of his interpretation of the climate change data (tomorrow’s talk) I have no doubts of his sincerity.

The last event was Carolyn Baker, a ritual on grief that the wife and I chose not to attend, since for us grief is a personal thing, even though it is a common theme this weekend.

Still no luck getting the data uploaded, although I will walk to a higher point try again later tonight, although I have to accept that when collapse comes to my door then these difficulties may seem pretty quaint and minor.

A few people attending will be dropping by, apparently I’m not the only one seeking online forums and places where the focus is on practical responses, rather than a running commentary on the collapse.

This is Haniel, Doomstead Diner News, signing off for the night!

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Guy McPherson presents Uber Doom under the Big Top

Sunday, May 26, 2012

Walking down to the shower and toilet block this morning, I realized something odd.  As I listened to the birds sing and enjoyed the warmth on my back, I realized for the fist time in as long as I could remember, I saw smiling before my first cup of coffee. Or perhaps it was the fact that that the land so resembles the place I grew up in South Wales. I have given up on ever returning there to live, the climate data indicates it’s not going to be pleasant there.

Another excellent breakfast preceded the first talk of the day, Dmitry Orlov on communities that abide.  Using examples of communities like the anabaptists, the kibbutz movement in Israel and others, he outlined the key aspects of one communities that have withstood the test of time.  One point I found key was a common ideology that all agree on, such as the religion of monastic communities, a common rejection of technology, or some other aspect that is largely unquestioned.  He covered the way many communities establish commonality via dress or practice, as well as the social strategies they use to survive in a sometimes hostile world.  One thing intentional communities have in common is they have often been persecuted.

The next speaker was Gail Tverberg, with a fantastic presentation on the financial aspects of the collapse clearly underway around us. I’m trying to figure out how to take her presentation –available inside the Doomstead Diner –with the audioo recording to make a narrated video presentation of the data. Follow the Gail Tverburg thread inside the diner to keep up to date on that project.  I’m not promising anything for reason I’ll get to at the end.

McPherson was up next.  This was one of the talks I was very interested in hearing.  Back last January, the interpretations of the data regarding climate change took a more serious turn, and Guy McPherson was raising alarm bells regarding the latest climate data.  I said at the time that I would reserve judgment until after this Age of Limits conference, since there’s been significant chatter in the blogsphere about the subject.

There’s no doubt, the data is frightening.  In the audience was a climate scientist who travels all over the planet gather data and doing the actual research, not just interpreting data.  He was very clear, the scientific community has no doubts the planet is warming and we’re the primary cause.  There’s no doubt we’re heading to an ice-free Arctic by the end of the decade and possibly in only a few years.

There are some negative feedback loops being triggered, which Guy does not touch upon, but nowhere near the number of positive feedback loops which are already underway.

I still believe that the interpretation of the data is overly pessimistic, but only on scale, not direction.  One thing I feel is important is the term: Near Term Extinction – it’s a phrase that Guy did not invent and does not particularly like, he prefers “Near Term Human Extinction; I don’t think he’s that impressed with our ability to wipe our species.  I agree with him on this, let’s write out “Near Term Human Extinction” every time in full, as a reminder to ourselves that this is not a catchy f***ing phrase, the survival of our children are at stake.  The survival of my cat’s grand-kittens are at stake.  The survival of the trees, whose shade I appreciated over the trip, is at stake.

A few of the flaws I believe exists in the data have already been highlighted here; the conflation of hydrates and clathates, the heat island effect in the plant flowering data in the Boston area, and land based methane out gassing sizes compared to ocean-based out gassing which diffuse though the water column and are thus reaching a kilometer across when it gets to the surface.  However, we’re arguing about if we’re executing two hundred species a day with shotgun or a fifty caliber machine gun, I don’t think nature really cares which one we abusing it with.

While I may disagree with the interpretation of the data and believe that humanity will face a bottleneck rather than complete extinction, I have no doubt of Guy’s sincerity, or his compassion for both humanity and the rest of the planet we are destroying.

McPherson see’s his experiment of walking away from empire a failure, and that is something I do disagree with intensely. While our wonderful American military squanders the equivalent of four earths (if all the world all lived like we do, that’s how many planet’s we’d need to support the military alone) and thus we can never truly be free of empire, if his message means that one day soon, we’ll only wipe out a hundred and ninety nine species a day, his efforts are worth it.

One disturbing trend I found out about is that McPherson is often asked to speak, but those invites are withdrawn when the seriousness of his conclusions are realized.  People, particularly people in power, do not want this message getting out.  The climate scientist present, who’s worked for NASA on the data Guy is interpreting, was very clear – the government is suppressing the data and using all the techniques pioneered by the tobacco industry, to sow doubt where none should exist.

If you have the opportunity to invite McPherson to come and address a group, be it local doomers you know, a transition town group, or any other bunch of people who are willing to pull their head out of the sand long enough to look around, I encourage you to do so.  He is an engaging speaker, he puts an element of mirth into his presentation which makes the very bitter pill a little easier to swallow, and if only one person changes his or her lifestyle as a result, it will be worth your time to organize.

Lodge notes.

Companion President, Mr. J.M. Greer, opened the Artemis Lodge #1 of the Order of the Long Descent in due form at 6pm.  The following officers were appointed:  A charming lady by the name of Kelly took the Vice President’s station.  Haniel Was appointed Warder. His beautiful wife (I’m biased) was appointed Conductor.

Following the opening, companion President (Greer) proceeded to lecture the assembled companions on the role and structure of lodges and how they may be of benefit.  While Masons, Oddfellows, Grangers and members of pretty much any fraternity would have recognized elements of the ritual, the main sources of inspiration was Order of Washington and the Women’s International Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Streetcar, Electric Railway, and Motor
Coach Employees.

JMG explained how corporations, the way they were originally set up in the US before the supreme court gave them more powers than you or I could ever hope for, are still a valid way of funding an operation and as the government’s ability to help gives way to communities learning to help themselves, still has a purpose.  There’s nothing wrong in issuing shares to start an intentional community, just remember to retire them appropriately and not view them as a ticket to the rentier class.  Churches regularly used share issues to fund a new building, and the parishioners regularly dropped those shares in the collection plate, effectively destroying that debt.

A lively question and answer session followed, using the format used in lodges of all types, the speaker addressed the chair, was recognized, and took their turn speaking their mind or asking a question. A number of members of other types of lodges, including some masons, added their thoughts and experiences.

The lodge was closed in due form at 7:30pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Harry J. Lerwill,
Warder, Artemis Lodge #1 of The Order of the Long Descent.

 

Harry J. Lerwill was raised in a poor mining village in the South Wales Valleys, where family values, the joys of home-grown and home-cooked meals, and a deep community spirit far outweighed the bleak prospects of life with collapsed fos-sil fuel industry: coal mining. Three decades later, he is an I.T. Manager in California, choosing to walk, rather than fall, down the far side of Hubbert’s peak, and looking forward to those same benefits as we rediscover the joys of a slower lifestyle. His first short story, “Caravan of Hopes” is published in the anthology, “After Oil: SF Visions Of A Post Petroleum Future”.  Harry’s blog is Post Peak Local Search on Blogspot.

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