Sustainability

Diary of the Sunrise

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Published on The Doomstead Diner & SUN4Lving on October 9, 2016SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Discuss this article at the SUN Table inside the Diner

 

For those of you Diners who don't follow the Diner Forum and are mystified as to where I have been and what I have been doing over the past weeks and why I have been so scarce, the last month we have been getting the SUN Project launched in Inman, South Carolina.  The trip actually began though in Norfolk, Va and then travelled through Morgantown, WV and along with Inman in SC, we also rented a Lake House in Saluda, NC. I will be writing further over the next few weeks and months with our plans to follow up developing the SUN Project in this neighborhood.

If you are interested in helping us with the project, please visit the SUN website at SUN4Living.com and join the Forum there for discussion of sustainability topics.

RE

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I'm going to need a Bigger Suitcase…
« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2016, 06:58:58 AM »

I started my packing yesterday with the intention of using my fairly large rolling duffel as my one FREE  :icon_sunny: checked bag you get sometimes get these days on the airlines, or at most $25.  This is not gonna happen.

First off, when ordering all the stuff for the SUN☼Vocation, I did pretty good and got all the stuff sent to LD & GM directly.  Unfortunately either me or the shirt company screwed up on the shipping and sent all the Logo Polo Shirts to me, and I have to bring them.  By themselves they fill half the duffel.  Then there are some nice Yellow Windbreakers I saw at Walmart ON SALE, along with Yellow Alaska Ballcaps.  Then there are tools and toys like my FRS Walkie Talkies I thought might come in handy. (BTW, if you have a set of FRS Walkie Talkies and can fit them in your luggage, additional ones might help)  In the end here using the duffel, I got no room for clothes for 2 weeks.

So I am now in the process of shifting everything from the duffel to my largest suitcase, to see how that fits.  I have an even larger trunk that everything certainly fits into, but this is somewhat unwieldy to move around.  Also, I would have to empty it of all the preps currently stored in that trunk.  Tht is not a project I really want to undertake.

Hopefully, the big suitcase does the trick. ::)

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Re: Here Comes the SUN: The long journey begins.
« Reply #15 on: September 16, 2016, 05:06:25 AM »

Made It to Ted Stevens airport.   Cab was an hour late.  Fortunately I gave a huge buffer in case of something like that occurring.   Right now I am stuck outside security because Delta doesn't have anyone working the baggage check desk. Probably won't open for another couple of hours.

RE

Through baggage check and security!


My bag was over weight by 3 pounds costing me an additional $100.  I gotta get a scale at home.

Security was a breeze,  I got pre cleared and didn't have to take off my shoes or belt or take out my laptop.  No pat down or xray jusr had to walk through the metal detector.

They're supposed to call me. to board first and I should get transportation between . terminal gates  at Seattle and Atlanta.

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Re: Here Comes the SUN: The long journey begins.
« Reply #16 on: September 16, 2016, 07:26:29 AM »

In the air!   I bought a day pass for gogo $20.

Flight is jam packed and I am in a middle seat. No way to pull out the laptop so I have to work on the phone.

At least the people sitting to either side of me aren't fatties.

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Re: Here Comes the SUN: The long journey begins.
« Reply #18 on: September 16, 2016, 10:40:34 AM »

Safely touched in Seattle.  swallowed my pride and took my first wheelchair ride around an airport. Good thing I did too because SeaTac very big and the terminals were far apart. airport is jam packed. I am sitting right across the women bathroom and the line is about 20 people long to get in. men's room does not look like it has a line. gotta be ready to make that run for the bathroom. LOL.

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Re: Here Comes the SUN: The long journey begins.
« Reply #19 on: September 16, 2016, 06:28:42 PM »

Am now safely esconced at the last gate in the journey, in Atlanta waiting for the plane to Norfolk, which appears to be on time.   So far the trip has gone flawlessly, even though the cab driver was an hour late.  OK, being 3 pounds over on my suitcase and getting charged $100 for that was annoying, but it didn't mess up the schedule.

I finally got Nature's Call on the last leg, and I was fortunate my seat position was in the far back and there was an open bathroom.  So the tragic disaster was avoided for this trip.  ;D

I am amazed now how many people are in wheelchairs nowadays.  Every airport has a HUGE number of wheelchair jockeys to push all these folks around.  It never was like this when I was a kid.

Two basic reasons for this.  First is the aging demographic and the fact such a large percentage of the travelers are OLD.  They're the main ones who can afford to be flying around, visiting grandkids etc.

The other aspect is of course the large number of fat people nowadays.  So they need a lot of wheelchairs.  This is good newz for immigrants and underclass black folks, that is who is doing the work.  In Seattle it was immigrants from Ethiopia and the Philipines, here it's the black folks.

So far, the airlines don't charge you anything extra for this service, but it definitely makes it more expensive to move around disabled people.

It's also an ideal job to automate with electric scooters and robotic guidance systems.  I think we'll see that pretty soon.
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Here Comes the SUN: The Norfolk Leg Begins
« Reply #20 on: September 17, 2016, 04:42:50 AM »

I arrived in Norfolk on the stroke of midnite, 5 minutes early despite the fact we left 20 minutes late.

I got another nice ride around the Norfolk airport from what appeared to be a Malaysian Wheelchair Jockey, and Surly was waiting out by the baggage check.  The overpriced 53 lb suitcase came up pretty quick on the carousel, and we headed for Surly's McHovel, with a stopoff for beer & smokes at 7/11.  Surly thought you could buy beer anytime in VA at a 7/11, I wasn't too sure on that.  Few states allow Beer sales after midnite.  Turns out I was right, the beer fridges were locked, 11:45 PM is the latest for beer sales here.  good news is the cancerettes are CHEAP!  Half AK prices.  I will need to buy a few cartons.  Other good newz, Surly had some vodka at home so I picked up a bottle of OJ to make screwdrivers.

After we got back to the McHovel we stayed up shooting the breeze with Contrary for another hour, then hit the sack for a big day of exploring Norfolk today and planning the road trip until Monsta hopefully has as much luck as I did and arrives on time tonight at 9PM, then more Norfolk exploring on Sunday and then ont he road to WV to visit the Scooter Factory.

The Big Worry now is not so much the weather as it is GAS Shortages in SC.  The pipeline rupture has completely disrupted gas distribution logistics in the south east, and as of this weekend it is still not fixed.  LD says many stations have  no gas, and if they do there are long lines.  I'm hoping by midweek they will get alternate logistics in place and truck in the Go Juice to that neighborhood.

We'll buy some Jerry Cans with extra gas as a prep for the trip.

Kind of ironic this would occur right on the weekend we are presenting what will happen when the oil flow stops.  :o

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Here Comes the SUN: Monsta Chronicles
« Reply #24 on: September 18, 2016, 04:19:42 AM »

We had our first Big Glitch in the Plans last night.

Monsta was due to arrive here in Norfolk at 9:30 PM last night after flying in from the UK.  Unfortunately and not totally unexpectedly, he was held up so long by Customs & Immigration that he missed his flight to Norfolk, and has had to stay overnight in JFK airport, in one of those situations where it is too short a time to go get a hotel room but way too long and exhausting staying overnight in an airport where you can't really get any sleep.

He was due to get on a 6:30 AM flight and arrive here at 10:30 this morning, a little over 3 hours from now.  I asked him to call me again prior to boarding this flight to make sure he got aboard safely, but I haven't heard from him and am concerned again that he has been further delayed.

I will update again on this issue later in the day.

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Here Comes the SUN: Road Trip Begins!
« Reply #27 on: September 19, 2016, 01:45:19 AM »

 

 

We picked up Monsta and took the scenic route back to Surly's McHovel so Monsta could at least get a quick overview of Norfolk, since we are going to leave for WV later today.  When he returns with Surly & Contrary next Monday, they will basically be driving straight from the Lake House in Saluda to the Norfolk Airport for his flight back to the UK, so he won't have time to see much of Norfolk then either.

After getting his stuff settled in we shot the Collapse Breeze for a couple of hours, then we headed out to a house in VA Beach that friends of Contrary are selling as they are retiring and heading to Iowa, original home of of the husband of the couple for retirement.  After selling this place, they will get even more luxury in Iowa, given the difference in RE prices.  This place was already quite luxurious though, with a nice salt water pool and plenty of toys like Fooz Ball and Air Hockey to play.  Contrary decribes them as a couple of overgrown kids who never grew up or had kids of their own.  LOL.

On the way back we stopped to pick up a Chicken Dinner to take home from a local take out chicken shop which is supposed to be the bet in Norfolk.  While waiting outside for the order to be ready, we were approached by a very nice and polite Homeless Person who was looking for money for food.  We all gave him some so he had enough to buy a real nice dinner and also breakfast the next day.  His current home is a bench across the street from the chicken shop.  The chicken was very good.

This morning after Surly wakes up we will go SHOPPING for some of the food for the BBQ, I found a nice shop that sells Organic humanely raised meats from CSA farms around here, and then we will fill out with organic foods from Cosco. Then buy some locally brewed beers for the Beer Tasting event. After that we will go pick up a rental minivan for the road trip.  Surly's car isn't big enough for everybody's luggage, 4 people and the two coolers.

We should be leaving for WV some time in the early afternoon and get most of the drive done before finding a Bates Motel for the night, then visit the Scooter Factory on Tue morning.  Then onto LD & GMs place on Wednesday to do assembly of the Dome and various grills and smoker for the BBQ.

The Road Trip Begins! :icon_mrgreen:

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From Surly:

Re: Here Comes the SUN: Road Trip Begins!
« Reply #29 on: September 19, 2016, 04:07:13 AM »

You know how  there is always a certain amount of anticipation when you meet someone after corresponding with them for years? Well, it was thus on meeting RE. He is completely as advertised, bristling with opinions and ideas. And he does not bear them quietly. We've already had long conversations on my side porch (the favorite room in the house) with Contrary. (To whom I must give a big shout-out for allowing us to impinge on her notion of domestic tranquillity.) It has been a great pleasure to get to know my fellow reprobate in person. It is not as if we don't know what the other person thinks…

We collected Monsta yesterday. If you've formed an opinion of him in these pages, you would be pleased to have it ratified in person, as he is even more pleasant, thoughtful and well-spoken in person. M was a trouper yesterday, holding up under the day's events even though having had almost no sleep (aside from that which can be collected sitting in terminals or sitting on planes) for two days. Such is the strength and grace of youth.

The only bad thing that happened yesterday is that Contrary slipped on a wet tile floor in the kitchen of her friends' house and landed right on her knee. When I came in she was icing it, and it looked like someone had inserted an orange under her skin. As I write this she is still dozing, so it remains to be seen what sort of shape she'll be in. If she walks with a limp, she'll fit right in with RE and me. The Gimp Family Singers.

Getting ready for the day's events. RE is keen on visiting this scooter factory, which entails a trip west into northern WV. We'll be spending an awful lot of time in a small metal box. But it will be an adventure. Can Wally World be far behind?

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Re: Here Comes the SUN: Road Trip begins!
« Reply #32 on: September 19, 2016, 07:41:18 PM »

Day 1 of the Road Trip went pretty much like clockwork according to plan.

We got rolling early to go food shopping for Organic Meats first, then headed for the airport to pick up a rental minivan for the trip.  However, at the desk Alamo offered an upgrade to a Suburban at 50% off, and with the amount of luggage and food we are bringing, it seemed a wise idea to take the upgrade.  Second bonus to renting this behemoth is I won't have to also rent a truck for moving all the materials around between LD & GMs place, the Festival & the Lake House.  Together with LD's Hemi and the trailer, this should be plenty to move all the shit around.

We headed back to the McHovel to park Surly's car and load all the luggage into the Suburban, then got on the road for  WV.  Unfortunately we forgot we had one more stop to make at another organic butcher and didn't realize it until we were too far past to go back.  So I busied myself looking for another one somewhere along the route while Surly did the driving.

When we left Norfolk it was mostly sunny, but as soon as we passed through the Hampton Birdge-Tunnel, We ran into a massive line of powerful thunderstorms.  Water coming down in BUCKETS, virtually no visibility.  This lasted a good 30 minutes at least of white knuckle driving for Surly.  It finally let up to a light drizzle and then finally disappeared altogether once we passed through the front.

Looking at how far we might make it, and after calling the Scooter Factory to confirm the appointment tomorrow, Cumberland seemed like a plausible destination.  Surly suggested a stop in Fredricksburg for dinner.  I also found an organic Butcher in FB, so we headed off the interstate there to go find the meat and get some eats.  Got spme cool flavored sausages then we found a REALLY good Italian Restaraunt for Dinner and got back on the road.

Made it as far as Hagerstown and now we are esconced in a Bates Motel (actually a Comfort Inn, and it's quite nice), and tomorrow we'll start out early for the visit at the Scooter Factory.  Darus the owner says he has some units for me to test drive and it's the slow part of the season so he will have plenty of time to talk.

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Here Comes the SUN: Ewz Scooter Day!
« Reply #33 on: September 20, 2016, 10:30:55 PM »

 

Very LONG day of driving here on Day 2, but now we are in Striking Distance of SC for tomorrow.

We made the stopoff at the Scooter Factory and I had good discussions with the owner and his son on building interest in these devices in our community.  As I had hoped, the scooters are contstructed with fabulous technology, very efficient units and state of the art.  Although I was fairly convinced by the photos and literature and my email exchanges with the owner and chief engineer, I had to see them in person to verify this stuff before continuiong on.  It was well worth the extra miles, time and money on this trip to do this.  There are numerous different types of these vehicles on the market, and finding the really good ones at value price is not too. EZ.

Besides the scooter expedition, another QUEST on this journey that has evolved for Surly and me was to find Lumbar Support back rests for our seats in the SUV.  My spine issues are well known, Surly has his own as well although they are just appearing recently.  After Day 1 of driving, his back was feeling none too good, and we improvised lumbar supports utilizing my Neck Pillow and by rolling up a Jacket to stuff behind the lower back for added support, but this is rather a Kludge in both cases.  As an ex-OTR Trucker, I know what kind of back pain you get without good lumbar support when sitting in these seats 8-10 hours a day.

I also KNOW there are specific Memory Foam supports which do a great job of resolving this issue, usually available at the biggest chain truckstops of Petro, The Flying J and Truckstops of AmeriKa (aka TA).  Unfortunately on this route we didn't pass by these particular establishments while on the Quest, except for one Flying J but we blew by that exit before I realized there was one there.

We took a few detours off the interstate to smaller independent Truckstops looking for these devices, but they generally are poorly stocked overall, few independents have all the toys and necessities for Road Warriors.  We even tried the automotive dept at Walmart and they didn't have them either!  I was beginning to think they no longer are manufactured, but FINALLY  we hit a TA at our final stop of the day, and lo and behold they had exactly 2 of them, and I bought them both.  :icon_sunny:We'll test them out on the final leg of the Road Trip tomorrow to South Carolina.

At the same exit we parked it for the night in another Comfort Bates Motel, this time a "Comfort Suties" instead of a "Comfort Inn".  This design in their chain has a slightly bigger room arrangement, but basically the same design.  By sheer COINKIDINK, we also got EXACTLY the same room number on both nights, 108.  Bet this number for Collapse, it will occur on October 8th.  Of what year I do not know though. LOL.

We finished with dinner at a local bar, shared some beers and collapse speculation, and retired back in Comfort for the night to recharge for the adventures of tomorrow, which includes getting the damn Geodesic Dome assembled for the Festival as well as finishing off the drive.

There was one other Adventure today where RE nearly DIED, but it will remain a TOP SECRET amongst the Three Musketeers on this Road Trip.  Some things it is better NOT to tell EVERYONE about.  ::)

Road-Trip-Dinnr

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Re: Here Comes the SUN
« Reply #40 on: September 22, 2016, 07:18:03 PM »

Another long but productive day doing some final revisions on the presentation booklet for printing tomorrow.  We also have to pick up the helium tank and tables and chairs and do quite a bit more food shopping.

We also are now esconced in the Lake House which is as advertized, quite beautiful.  It is way out in the Boonies though and not a lot of services around, so you need to make sure you have all your stufff.  Last minute Beer Runs are out of the question.  lol.

Final preps for the weekend and big meeting tomorrow night.

RE

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Here Comes the SUN: Festival & BBQ wrap up
« Reply #41 on: September 26, 2016, 09:52:25 AM »

Miss me?   :icon_mrgreen:

For the first time since the last convocation more than 2 years ago I missed a couple of days of posting up to the Diner Forum.  I also missed getting up a Sunday Brunch article on the blog this week.  I have an article written but no graphics in it and I was too exhausted on both Sat & Sun to spruce it up for publication.

The last 3 days since Friday were non-stop work from dawn to dusk, actually pre-dawn on Saturday since we had to get up at 4:30 AM to get to the Festival site at 6AM for set-up, and then with the take down afterwards we didn't get back to the Lake House until 7PM.

JD arrived on Friday afternoon while we were visiting at LD & GMs house, and then he followed us out to the Lake House.  Eddie & Wife arrived on Friday Night.  Surly, Monsta & me met up with LD & GM for setup on Sat morning, unloading the trailers and getting the tents set up.  We dispensed with setting up the geodesic dome (too much work) and substituted Bamboo Tripods to hold up the hanging plants.

Getting ready for the BBQ on Sunday I had to get up early again to go into Hendersonville to pick up fresh bagels to go with the Alaska Nova Lox I brought with me, Eddie did the driving for that trip and Surly got the opportunity to sleep in a bit.  Even so, prepping up for the BBQ was non-stop work until the appointed time of 1PM, when we were just about ready for arrivals.

The musicians were the first to arrive, and then everyone else was fashionably late coming in after 2PM.  As a result I eliminated the sit-down dinner, since the buffet we set up by itself was more than enough food.  I seriously overbought food for this shindig! lol.  We now have several pounds of various kinds of gourmet sausages, and more pounds of organic chicken breasts.  LD & GM are the beneficiaries here of an enormous amount of leftover foods and booze and soft drink beverages also.

The BBQ presentation went very well, GM opened up discussing domes and a community center and storm shelter for Inman as the beginning project for SUN☼, then I followed with a history of how the SUN☼ evolved and the need to prepare for a lower per capita energy future and re-develop local production of the many things we take for granted brought to you from halfway around the globe through JIT delivery.  After the presentation we did an open Q & A session and the attendees showed a lot of interest in getting this off the ground.  We had a representative from Trey Goudy there as well as the head of the City Council and the city administrator.  Numerous people from local businesses and volunteer organizations also were attending.

The BBQ ended around 6PM and then we did cleanup followed by a post BBQ Party for the SUN☼ people staying at the Lake House.  A few intrepid adventurers went for a swim in the "Lake" which is really just an artificially created Duck Pond and only maybe 4' deep at its deepest point.  You could just about walk across it.  The party didn't run all that late, we were all pretty exhausted plus Eddie & Wife had to get up early for their flight back to Texas.  It's about a 2.5 hour drive from here to Charlotte and their flight was for 11AM.  Surly and Monsta also took off for the drive back to Norfolk, and Monsta flies back to the UK tomorrow.

All in all, the kickoff week for SUN☼ went very well, and now next week I will be meeting with Real Estate people to look at land, and also with the main commercial property owner in Inman to see about office space in town for SUN☼ Offices until we can build the first Monolithic Dome.  I will be flying back to the Last Great Frontier on Sunday.

The amount of work that went into this thing was enormous and without all the help from the Diners who showed for the convocation we never could have pulled it off.  Everyone contributed mightily, from the moving of equipment, to food preparation, to all the driving and shopping that had to be done.  Special Thanks to Surly who got the thankless job of "Driving Miss Daisy" around for most of the adventure from Norfolk to here in South Carolina.

I'll be compiling a full article with many of the pics recapping the adventure over the next couple of weeks, to publish for Sunday Brunch on Oct 9th probably, although it might take more time and go up the 16th.

GM & LD will be taking off in a little while to return the Helium tank for the balloons and the rented tables and chairs.  I have the Lake House for one more night and will stay here and relax, then tomorrow LD will return to pick me up as well as the vast quantities of food and booze left over that wouldn't all fit in his pickup and trailer on one trip.

Pretty much the whole adventure went like Clockwork and according to plan, and we had fabulous weather for almost the whole trip and particularly fabulous was the weather for the Festival and BBQ, although a tad too hot for me.  So while it was a big bite to chew here,it wasn't TOO BIG, although it took everyone who showed up working non-stop to make it happen.

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From Eddie:

Re: Here Comes the SUN
« Reply #47 on: September 27, 2016, 06:38:11 AM »

Based on my experience, the expertise of the SUN foundation leans toward the ability to cater future fund raising events.

The party we threw for the town fathers and interested citizens of Inman, SC, was a real humdinger. From RE's hand-made bagel h'ordeurves  and smoked ribs, to Surly's meatballs, to JDWheeler's gourmet burgers, to my organic salads and Gypsy Mama's deviled eggs (prepped with the assistance of Mrs. Eddie), we closely resembled a seasoned team of catering professionals.

The hired musicians were a hit with the crowd. The house RE found on Lake Hosea was a really lovely remodeled 60's era vacation home from the height of  Industrial Civilization.

Tables, chairs, displays, rapidly assembled by Lucid Dreams and Monsta, and just as rapidly taken down and returned to LD's lowboy trailer for the trip back to wherever they rented them.

Props to all those who manned the booth at the Inman Festival (it was really hot, and I managed to completely dodge that assignment). But next year we should sell food. We are the Foodmeisters of Doom!

Late Sunday evening, after it was all said and done, it is reputed that several Diners descended the steep gravel roads down the hill and jumped into the small mountain lake. Even though they were not quite as quiet as they promised themselves they would be, no police showed up, and no one was arrested.

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Re: Here Comes the SUN
« Reply #49 on: September 27, 2016, 03:42:13 PM »

As far as the festivals are concerned, Food sales are the way to go.  Nobody buys anything at those festivals except food.  It's a good place to get yourself known and recognized in the area as far as Brand Name goes, but in terms of making any money, you can only do it selling food.

Doing food this year was out of the question because we need to get insurance for that and get licensed as a food vendor  Next year however this is a priority, and part of the reason I bought all the portable cooking gear to begin to assemble what will go in the Food Truck.

Besides food preparation, we intend to be using as much of our own organically grown produce as possible, and also acquire meats from the local CSAs around Inman.

Considering the very short amount of time we had for food prep on this occassion, what came out was very good, and pretty much everything was completely consumed except the Salad.

About the only minor disaster is I got a message from the house owner saying they are missing a Salt and Pepper grinder and one of the Large Knives.  We did find the salt grinder but neither of the other items.  To maintain a good relationship with the owners I will buy replacements but besides the salt grinder I am sure we didn't take the pepper grinder or knife.

In other newz, the owner of the Feed Mill met with me today about using his land behind his Feed Store and Tire Store to put up a SUN☼ Dome.  It's in a great location on the Asheville Highway and he has a very large plot of commercial property of around 8 Acres.  If we can work out a deal he would get a tax deduction for donating the use of his land and we would get it for free, except of course the cost of the dome.  Bonus, there is already a stand of Bamboo on this property which LD can hopefully cultivate for Bamboo Shoots.

Tomorrow I meet with the head of the City Council and the main commercial property owner in Inman to see about getting some Office Space donated.  Really about the only thing missing now is a sufficient size grant to cover operating expenses and dome construction.    :icon_sunny:

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Here Comes the SUN: RE Crashes the Ewz and Fries in the SUN☼!
« Reply #53 on: September 28, 2016, 09:18:27 AM »

After most of the Diners left on Monday morning, LD & GM decided to stay for a day of rest and relaxation with me at the Lake House rather than going back right away to the normal life of School & Work.

In the afternoon we decided to go down to the lake for them to take the boys out on the lake in the pedal boat and do some swimming, and I went cruising around the lake ring road on the scooter.  On my first pass around I forgot about the Speed Bump at the end of the road and I was going over the speed limit of 10mph for this gravel road at about 25 mph. The bump twisted the handlebars and DOWN GOES RE!  LOL.

Fortunately I did not get too injured, just hurt the right wrist and elbow a bit breaking the fall.  Nothing broken and no blood though.  :icon_sunny:  I was able to get back up and on the Ewzz to finish the loop around the lake, and once they realized I wasn't mangled enough for a hospital trip, LD & GM found the whole thing hilarious.  :icon_mrgreen:  GM got most of it on video.

Worse than the Scooter Crash right now is the Sunburn I got on my arms at the Festival.  I never sit out in the SUN☼ so long and I always wear long sleeves these days so my skin is totally pale white.  I actually got 2nd Degree burns with Blistering on my arms.

RE-Sunburn

Interestingly, it is more itchy than painful, which might be an artifact of my CNS problems.  I put on some of GMs Skin care oil for her exzema and Vitamin E oil as well to try to help it heal up.  In the future I must remember to put on sunblock whenever I am outside in situations like this.  ::)

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Here Comes the SUN☼: Musicians at the BBQ
« Reply #54 on: September 28, 2016, 09:26:00 AM »

Here's a clip of the musicians we had playing during the BBQ which GM just put up on the SUN☼ YouTube Channel.

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From Gypsy Mama:

Re: Here Comes the SUN
« Reply #55 on: September 28, 2016, 11:06:31 AM »


Late Sunday evening, after it was all said and done, it is reputed that several Diners descended the steep gravel roads down the hill and jumped into the small mountain lake. Even though they were not quite as quiet as they promised themselves they would be, no police showed up, and no one was arrested.


Lake NINJAS!!!!!!  Life Experience.  That was a great end to the night– and celebration from the stress and planning of the weekend.

P.S.– Eddie is the DUDE!!!!

The food was excellent.

I have eaten about four Eddie salads so far. 

JD Wheeler– I made chili from your leftover burgers.  I didn't have much of an appetite during the BBQ, unfortunately.  Too much nervous stomach churning, I suppose.  I froze a few of them for later. :)

The boys had a great time.  They were drinking ginger Ale out of the bottle.  LOL.  uh oh.

Anne and I had a great hot tub discussion.  We are going to form a strong women club.

The house was beautifully decorated and very comfortable.  RE really did a great job booking that place.  I'm glad we got to experience a rain while there (Monday evening)– as the house had a metal roof.  That's such a comforting sound.

I have had a few phone conversations with people who were at the BBQ already.  People were very impressed with us.  One lady, Zylphia (Blonde in the lace dress), has shared a few great ideas of ways to help us.  She has began talking about fundraising opportunities….

A local business owner has offered for us to use his land to build a dome.  He also has our flyers displayed in his store. (Carl from the Feed store).

Many people came up to me after the event and told us how happy they were to have been our guest.  There were also many heads shaking (the up and down, good direction) during our speeches and square yellow table discussion.

I feel great about our future.  THANK YOU to all who came and helped with this. I think we are going to see many more great things ahead for SUN :)

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By sheer chance and serendipity, the SUN☼ Booth was right in front of a local Inman Bizness called "Everything Under the Sun"  :icon_sunny:

Here's LD doing more Bamboo Promotion to interested community members.  :)
 


Finger of God at work again!

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Re: Here Comes the SUN☼: LD Splits Bamboo
« Reply #52 on: September 28, 2016, 08:13:42 AM »

Here's a shot of LD splitting Bamboo for the crowd.  :icon_sunny:
 


We changed the Booth setup later in the morning to put the Bamboo Table out front.

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From Gypsy Mama:

Re: Here Comes the SUN
« Reply #55 on: September 28, 2016, 11:06:31 AM »


Late Sunday evening, after it was all said and done, it is reputed that several Diners descended the steep gravel roads down the hill and jumped into the small mountain lake. Even though they were not quite as quiet as they promised themselves they would be, no police showed up, and no one was arrested.

 


Lake NINJAS!!!!!!  Life Experience.  That was a great end to the night– and celebration from the stress and planning of the weekend.

P.S.– Eddie is the DUDE!!!!

The food was excellent.

I have eaten about four Eddie salads so far. 

JD Wheeler– I made chili from your leftover burgers.  I didn't have much of an appetite during the BBQ, unfortunately.  Too much nervous stomach churning, I suppose.  I froze a few of them for later. :)

The boys had a great time.  They were drinking ginger Ale out of the bottle.  LOL.  uh oh.

Anne and I had a great hot tub discussion.  We are going to form a strong women club.

The house was beautifully decorated and very comfortable.  RE really did a great job booking that place.  I'm glad we got to experience a rain while there (Monday evening)– as the house had a metal roof.  That's such a comforting sound.

I have had a few phone conversations with people who were at the BBQ already.  People were very impressed with us.  One lady, Zylphia (Blonde in the lace dress), has shared a few great ideas of ways to help us.  She has began talking about fundraising opportunities….

A local business owner has offered for us to use his land to build a dome.  He also has our flyers displayed in his store. (Carl from the Feed store).

Many people came up to me after the event and told us how happy they were to have been our guest.  There were also many heads shaking (the up and down, good direction) during our speeches and square yellow table discussion.

I feel great about our future.  THANK YOU to all who came and helped with this. I think we are going to see many more great things ahead for SUN :)

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From Gypsy Mama:

Re: Here Comes the SUN
« Reply #56 on: September 28, 2016, 11:21:30 AM »

Here's a video I came across on the web– shot from a drone over the Inman Harvest Day Festival :)

https://vimeo.com/184138499/bfd7700bba

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BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME!

Inman couple seeks backing for eco-village

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Published on GOUPstate on October 1, 2016

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Wendy and Aaron McCarty of Inman believe the lifestyle many of us enjoy today could be completely upended if a major disruption ever occurred in the energy grid.

They dream of building a self-sustaining eco-village, complete with energy-efficient geodome structures, vegetable gardens and bamboo stands, and self-made clothing and goods.

They hope to partner with local schools to teach students the dying trades of blacksmithing, candlemaking, looming and more, she said.

“We’re hoping this will bring in tourism — breathe new life into the community, and jobs,” said Wendy McCarty, an artist and photographer.

The couple has sought the support of local leaders, and needs about $1 million and a 100-acre property with a running stream to get the sustainability park project off the ground.

They’ve gotten moral support. Now comes the hard part — raising the funds and finding the right piece of property.

“It would be great to have this in Inman,” said Tom Plemmons of the Inman Area Chamber of Commerce. “I am proud they have tentatively selected Inman as a host site. I hope to help them turn this into a reality. The hard thing is turning from paper to reality. It takes a lot of hard work.”

The McCartys hosted a barbecue last week in Saluda, N.C., which was attended by local officials as well as the president of SUN (Sustaining Universal Needs) Foundation, the nonprofit that is working with the McCartys.

SUN’s mission is “to assist people and the society in general in transitioning off the fossil-fuel based economy that currently is winding down around us,” according to John Litter, president.

Wendy and Aaron McCarty of Inman believe the lifestyle many of us enjoy today could be completely upended if a major disruption ever occurred in the energy grid.

They dream of building a self-sustaining eco-village, complete with energy-efficient geodome structures, vegetable gardens and bamboo stands, and self-made clothing and goods.They hope to partner with local schools to teach students the dying trades of blacksmithing, candlemaking, looming and more, she said.

“We’re hoping this will bring in tourism — breathe new life into the community, and jobs,” said Wendy McCarty, an artist and photographer.

The couple has sought the support of local leaders, and needs about $1 million and a 100-acre property with a running stream to get the sustainability park project off the ground.

They’ve gotten moral support. Now comes the hard part — raising the funds and finding the right piece of property.

“It would be great to have this in Inman,” said Tom Plemmons of the Inman Area Chamber of Commerce. “I am proud they have tentatively selected Inman as a host site. I hope to help them turn this into a reality. The hard thing is turning from paper to reality. It takes a lot of hard work.”

The McCartys hosted a barbecue last week in Saluda, N.C., which was attended by local officials as well as the president of SUN (Sustaining Universal Needs) Foundation, the nonprofit that is working with the McCartys.

SUN’s mission is “to assist people and the society in general in transitioning off the fossil-fuel based economy that currently is winding down around us,” according to John Litter, president.

The gathering was attended by Inman council members Ray Rogers and Ginger Morrow McGuire and chamber members Plemmons, Bessie Fisher and Cliff Newmark. Also attending was Missy House, a representative with U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg.

Litter estimated it will cost $1 million to get the eco-village up and running, with more funding needed later as it grows.

Fisher, an experienced grant writer for Inman, said she could help by exploring grant funds.

Rogers said he was impressed by the proposal Wendy McCarty delivered to council earlier this summer, and he’s found a real estate agent to help her look for available land.

“I’m amazed they selected Inman as a prototype,” he said. “I’m glad she selected Inman to do it.”

Newmark said he believes the McCartys could succeed in drawing more business and tourism to Inman. “I’m certainly open to ideas,” said Newmark. “I’m excited because Wendy is so excited. Her enthusiasm is so infectious. I want to learn more.”

The McCartys think communities should start becoming self-sufficient — free of fossil fuels and powered by the sun, wind and water, and able to grow their own food and make their own goods.

“We aren’t preppers,” said Aaron, a professional landscaper, referring to doomsday survivalists who build underground shelters stocked with canned food and guns. “And we’re not hippies.”

Residents would produce their own food, including meat and vegetables, cider, bread, cheese and butter. They could even generate income by producing enough to sell.

“It will be as self-sustaining as possible,” he said.

The farm would not be totally devoid of modern conveniences. It will have electricity — generated by sun, wind and water — and plumbing.

In fact, the inside of a geodome home can be built with all the amenities found in any other new house.

“Even the Amish are dependent on many industrially produced farm implements and tools, as well as industrially produced milled lumber,” Wendy McCarty said.

Plemmons said the idea of a self-sufficient community isn’t new to Inman. In the years before automobiles, residents had to be self-sufficient, he said.

 

 

 

A Buddhist Farm Pictorial Essay

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Published on Open Mind on April 16, 2016

Photographs in this collection have been produced by Alison Lowrie, Heather Do, Liz Dolinar, and Adriana Haro at request of Michael Ashley for the UC Berkeley Anthropology 136e class, Spring 2011. The purpose was to digitally document the cultural heritage of Green Gulch Zen Center with the objective of gaining better insight into the Zen Center's cultural history through the use of photographic technology. Green Gulch Farm Zen Center (Latitude 37.86657, Longitude -122.56528), also known as the Green Dragon Temple, is located in Marin County, CA, in an idyllic valley overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Green Gulch is located on 115 acres within a large region of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, approximately 10 miles north of San Francisco. Green Gulch is one of three locations constituting the San Francisco Zen Center, founded by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi[1]. In 1972, Green Gulch was purchased from George Wheelwright, co-founder of Polaroid, as a part of SuzukiÕs vision to establish a farm near San Francisco where a community of Zen Buddhist practitioners could live and together practice their faith[2][3]. Green Gulch now serves as a Buddhist center in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition, focused on awakening the Bodhisattva spirit of kindness and realistic helpfulness within the people residing, working, and visiting the center[1]. Green Gulch is comprised of a temple (called the Zendo), organic farm and garden, guesthouse, and conference center. The center offers training and practice in Zen mediation through workshops, retreats, and apprenticeships emphasizing meditation practice, Buddhist teachings, and organic gardening and farming methods[4]. Photographs in this collection were captured on Sunday April 24, 2011, between 11:30 AM and 2:15 PM Pacific Time, under sunny conditions. Nixon D80 and two-Canon XSI cameras were used. A tripod was used for HDR shots. The photos were post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3.  Description written by Adriana Haro, foll

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One of our regular Diners Knarf recently started a Blog for his Buddhist Monastery called Open Mind.  He shared with us on the Diner Forum some of the pictures taken on their farm, which are quite beautiful and I asked him if I could share them with the Diner Readers.  He was cool with this, so here you have a photo essay of the farm of a bunch of Buddhist Monks currently operating down in the Lower 48.


A wonderful vision of a more peaceful life working together with nature, which really you do not need to be a Buddhist to enjoy.  You do howeer need to learn cooperatively and in peace with others if you are to do so. -RE

Here are some pics of our farm.

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Homestead hogs in portable pens till a garden plot.

 

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Handmade footbridge over intermittent stream.

 

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Three-point farm implements.

 

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This garage was used as a filling station in the 1920s.

 

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Reversible garden frames to keep critters from disturbing seedlings.

 

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Yellow groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata).

 

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Farm cat rests in the shade.

 

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Compost pile.

 

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A green insect we thought might be an emerald ash borer.  It isn’t.

 

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This tree isn’t doing well.

 

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Layer pullets and guinea keets.

 

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Grown laying hens.

 

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Barred rock rooster.

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American guinea hog gilt, Binkie.

 

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Preparing for winter.

 

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Homegrown sunflower seeds.

 

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Newborn Kinder goats Eliza and Alexa.

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Binkie, shortly before farrowing.

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Binkie vs The Great Pumpkin.

 

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Dipped candles are clipped to a pasta rack.

 

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Kinder goat herd.  (disregard date)

 

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Banker, Binkie and their first litter, preparing ground for sowing red clover and alfalfa.

 

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Piglets grazing on wheat grass.

 

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Corn thrives, thanks to liberal application of composted, manure-rich hog bedding. (disregard date)

 

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Eggs collected daily are dated in pencil to ensure first-in, first-out rotation.

 

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An aggressive but non-venomous little snake.

 

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Flash flooding takes a toll on the footbridge.

 

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A home-butchered 18-month-old American guinea hog boar, ready to be wrapped in freezer paper.

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Hogs rooting up the field again.

 

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The creek on a snowy day.

 

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An oven-ready wild gooseberry pie.

 

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The homestead blanketed in snow.

 

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‘Nuf said.

 

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Livestock guardian dog Snowball studies her new charges.

 

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Chicken coop and footbridge.

 

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Starter trio of Kinder does — left to right, Lori, Lacy and Harriet.

 

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Guinea hog pork, ready to serve.

 

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Years after discontinuing its use, we sometimes find scraps of this landscape fabric in our vegetable garden.  Ugh.

 

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The footbridge and the back of the chicken coop, as seen from the other side of the creek.

 

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Boosin the cat took the raccoon bait.

 

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We found Snowball offered for free on Craigslist.

 

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Black walnut logs for the wood stove.

 

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Apple trees in bloom.

 

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A snapping turtle on the marshy forest floor.

 

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A morel mushroom in the leaf litter.

 

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Expect the unexpected.

 

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Bass from a nearby farm pond.

 

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Sunflowers.

Tiny House: Maximizing Solar Collection

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 1, 2016

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The ongoing Tiny House Design Chronicles: Maximising solar energy collection

 

Further thoughts about using the Header Tank as a source of thermal mass:

Here is a brief commentary expanding on the previously mentioned idea of using the water in the indoor header tank as thermal mass and how it can be optimally configured to collect solar heat. Further considerations:

  1. As the header tank is located high within the house, any air that this tank heats up will stay high and will not heat the lower level, unless active mixing of the indoor air is enforced. This is simply done by turning on the ceiling fan.

  2. Proper flow of air passing through the house is best achieved not by the fan, but by opening a low window (eg in the kitchen), to let cool air in; and by opening a high window (eg in the loft above the head of the bed), to let hot air out. On a hot summer day these windows (and others) will be kept wide open, but on a cold winter night all windows are likely to remain closed and the hot air in the loft can be allowed to accumulate for comfortable sleep. It is essential that the wood stove extracts oxygen from outside air and not from the air within the house.

  3. For an optimal pressure head, the header tank should be positioned as high up as possible. The highest internal location for the tank will be up flush against the ceiling. In this configuration, the obvious location for the (double glazed) window to receive the sun's rays will be on the roof directly over the header tank*. Whereas at first glance this may seem like a good idea, it is actually not (see Figure 1). A roof window/skylight will optimally receive heat from an (almost) overhead sun, which will occur in summer. However the skylight will be inefficient at receiving the oblique rays from a winter sun. Accordingly this configuration may tend to overheat the house in summer and be poor at gathering solar heat in the winter. Hence my suggestion for optimal collection of solar heat for the header tank is shown in Figure 2 where an optimally angled reflective sill reflects light into the side window (North** facing) against which the tank is positioned.

Figures1&2Materials for the reflective sill: the most efficient reflective surface is of course a mirror, however glass can shatter with hail impact and mirrors are heavy, with sharp edges. A better and cheaper option may be mylar film glued onto (waterproofed) marine plywood.

 

*The considerations described in Figure 1 relate to a roof with a flat north-south axis or a skillion roof sloping down towards the sun-facing aspect and do not apply to a skillion roof sloping away from the sun. In the latter case the configuration in Figure 2 is the only sensible arrangement.

**South facing if you are in the Northern hemisphere

 

Maximising other solar energy collection systems:

Figures3,3a&4The logical extrapolation of the idea of a reflective sill described above, can be extended to a reflective surface placed in front of your solar PV panels or solar evacuated tube array. This is relevant for steeply angled arrays optimised for the winter sun in high latitude locations (see Figures 3, 3a, 4 and 5) but does not apply to flush roof mounted arrays.

It is possible to estimate the extra solar energy collected by calculation, however the best method is to simply try these out using various different angles and measure the extra power output (either displayed on your battery charging monitor or measured with an ammeter).

 

Figure5Super duper ultimate solar energy collection:

Those with OCD may adopt the "frilled lizard" approach, emulating the reflective panels surrounding the front of solar ovens, to try to harvest even the weakest oblique rays of the rising and setting sun. For my part I think the configurations in Figures 2, 3 and 4 may be worth adopting but those in Figures 3a or 5 are impractical.

 

Conclusion:

Simply placing a (more or less) horizontal reflective surface in front of your header tank, solar PV panels or solar evacuated tube array can significantly augment your solar energy collection. This may not be relevant for warm, high insolation locations such as Queensland, Australia or Southern California or Arizona in the USA. However for those living at high latitudes, it can be important for harvesting the oblique rays of the sun during short winter days. Such a strategy may accrue (wild guess) perhaps 20% extra energy, using the dirt cheap accessory of mylar film on plywood. It will certainly be much simpler and cheaper than purchasing a 20% larger solar PV or solar evacuated tube array.

As mentioned in previous articles, "stick on" mylar film and plywood can be used to construct solar ovens, sea-water distillation boxes and "greenhouse" composting chambers (to accelerate the composting of toilet waste). Hence off-grid wannabes should think about putting aside a store of mylar film and marine ply for future use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribute to the City

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 24, 2016

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The vernal equinox has come and passed and with it the official start of spring is here in the northern hemisphere. Across the countryside Jane Magnolia trees have awoken. Their hundreds of fingers each cupping rose colored blooms like candles, as if they were so many tiny lavender hands offering up communion to the sun. Daffodils peer out of the hillside clearings like periscopes or perhaps yellow gramophones all playing a song of rebirth to call back the songbirds and honeybees. The energy sequestered in the root-balls and mycelium mats as the land went to sleep the last few months has begun surging upward, and it is hard to not feel it flowing through me as I walk my land taking stock of which fruit trees and berry bushes are producing buds. A good friend of mine, and mentor, once told me that I am doing well if I can establish two fruit trees per year. Looking at my spread of apple trees, it looks like I am on track to have done well in that regard. My partner does all of the work to care for our bee hive, and after donning her protective veil for a spring inspection, she reported to me that the hive is in great condition. I have heard it said that bees surviving the winter is what converts one from a bee-haver into a bee-keeper.

Our garden calls for much attention, and each week I spread a truck load of wood chips on the walking paths, which were first covered with flattened cardboard. Hopefully this effort will buy me a few years of relatively weed free walkways. Mint is returning with a vigor, and the strawberry leaves are vibrantly green. Kale, spinach, beets, and parsnips have been seeded, and I am keeping a keen eye for the first asparagus shoots. This year I have to grow significantly more food than I have in the past, as my partner is returning to work full time and I will be staying home during the week days with our daughter. In the short term we will have less money, but I will have more time to attend to tasks around the homestead. Walking through the garden brings me such a deep sense of calm as I talk to the plants and lose myself in my many tasks. Starting seeds is a great way to practice slowing oneself down, especially small seeds that tend to stick together like those of tomatoes and carrots.

I find myself happy as the sun tans my shoulders and a red tailed hawk cries from its nest somewhere high up in the trees behind me.

February was the warmest month in recorded history. The record it broke for such crowning glory had been set in December. February temperatures saw the Earth cross the two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial average barrier that has been established as a hard danger zone by climate scientists. It was an anomaly, for now, but one that is likely to rear itself again and again. The most dramatic warming has been in the Arctic, which bodes ill for jet stream patterns as well as summer sea ice coverage. Time will tell if we see our first ice free Arctic this summer. Somehow the magnitude of the crisis of climate change still seems to evade most general discourse despite the pomp and show of the electoral season now in bloom in the US. There are lots of grand promises being hurled at the public about bringing manufacturing jobs back stateside. If that is not the dictionary definition of cognitive dissonance then I do not know what is. Industrialism long ago set us on a crash course with calamity, and now that the calamity has begun to rain down upon the world in the form of mega droughts, fires, famines, and super-storms, those angling for positions of power are promising more industrialism.

Of course, it is not even a job in a factory per se that most Americans dwelling in the rust belt actually want, it is a secure living situation. They want their basic needs met in a way that does not leave them uncertain and wrecked by stress month after month. It is a culture of production organized and operated through the machinations of capitalism that requires that people work a job in order to have these needs met in such a satisfactory way. When politicians say “Jobs!” it has become a Pavlovian response for the middle, and formerly middle, classes to come salivating like starving dogs to desperately pull a lever in their favor. They forget that first the food, and the land, and the ability to provide for oneself had to be taken away before they could be forced to work jobs for these things. A great deprivation preceded the creation of job economies whereby everyone was made to punch a clock and become the automaton of some civilized production scheme in order to have enough to eat and a place to sleep at night. This deprivation now long forgotten, people have no memory of themselves as anything but workers, and so they beg for work.

Neo-liberal capitalism may be the dominant platform by which this scheme is globally enacted, but it is merely the software that operates on the hardware of the civilized model of human organization. It is key to recall that ecological decimation was the order of the day long before the advent of capitalism. Forests had been clear cut from the Levant, through Greece and across Europe and the UK as civilization marched across the ancient world, slashing and burning its path to conquest and dominion over greater and greater expanses of the Earth. This pattern was repeated globally where ever civilizations formed. The Maya deforested the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula long before Europeans brought their particular version of civilization to the continent and eventually ran head first into the consequences of such short sighted actions. The Aztecs, who may have created one of the more arguably “sustainable” cities in Tenochtitlan, did so on the backbone of war, expansion, tribute, slavery, and human sacrifice. Sure, they recycled their human excrement for crop fertilizer in their Chinampas, but they also relied on the growth of the territory that they dominated through blood shed. Food, firewood, and other material goods flowed into the city from outlying tribute towns where common people had to work to not only provide for themselves, but to pay a quarterly tribute to the city center of the empire.

Such is the way with cities. Goods and raw materials flow in and waste flows out. Cities harvest the natural wealth of outlying areas, and this model is now global, with powerful nations harvesting the material wealth of poor nations. No matter how desperately people may want to believe in the idea of the “sustainable city,” it is a contradiction of terms. Austin, Texas proclaims itself “America’s most sustainable city,” yet every day truckloads of food make deliveries while truck loads of garbage and waste are removed. The city depends on dammed lakes off the lower Colorado river for water which will one day fail to support the city’s growing population, and which in the present deprive down stream communities. According to 2010 data, households in Austin spent the most money on gasoline relative to other American cities. And Austin continues to grow, to cover more of the land in concrete preventing the recharging of the Edward’s Aquifer and demanding more energy for cooling as the city can have over one-hundred days in a year that breach one-hundred degrees fahrenheit.

A recent study calculated how much food the city of Seattle could produce based on how much solar radiation falls on its potentially farmable locations, including parks, rooftops, and yards. Even selecting crops that grow well in Seattle’s climate conditions the study’s authors determined that the city could provide only one percent of its food needs. If the streets and sidewalks were ripped up, the number could rise to two or three percent, but the city would lose functionality. After all, even if day to day travel was carried out on foot or on bicycle, deliveries with diesel powered semi-trucks would still be necessary for everything the city’s inhabitants required, from clothes, to air conditioners, to building materials, and of course, the other ninety-eight percent of the food they could not produce for themselves.

Sustainable living and cities are not compatible. This is not a matter of ideology. This is a matter of hard material reality, and suggestions that somehow 3D printing or vertical farms or a population fed a steady diet of algae shakes will be just the miracle we need to upend hard material constraints are at best, petulant whimpers of those who have become accustomed the vast wealth of selection that living in a first-world city provides, or at worst, Kubler-Ross stage three bargaining, hoping that somehow, by some stretch of compromise we can sustain the unsustainable.

But we can’t. Not without expansion. Not without tribute. Not without an exploitative power dynamic and flows of violence that may or may not be visible from the comfortable confines.

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Hot coffee is a miracle, or damn near one. Every morning millions of Americans have a cup or two of hot coffee, the beans of which were grown in Columbia, or Ethiopia, or Hawaii. Maybe those Americans have tea grown in India or a banana grown in Peru. They pull on shoes made in Vietnam and perhaps ride their bicycle made with bauxite mined in Australia on a road paved with bitumen from Alberta. Perhaps these Americans stop off at a local food co-op or farmer’s market where they purchase some locally grown kale. They take pictures of the fresh eggs at the market with their iPhone which has a slew of globally sourced components buried within it, and they post this photo online with the help of a network of satellites and tag it with some cute caption about sustainability.

When the average American city dweller thinks about urban living, they likely think of the comedy clubs, the used book stores, the fusion restaurants, or the bars. They fail to think about the global hegemony of the United States military and how a worldwide network of bases has laid the foundation for dollar dominance. Most of the American or European or Australian or Canadian city dwellers who stammer on about generating green, sustainable cities are not picturing the mega-cities of the world like Dakha or Rio de Janeiro. Millions of children living in the squalor of slums and favelas, tin roofed shacks and human waste littering the streets and waterways are not what the white first worlders are picturing in their minds when they declare the supremacy of urban existence. Even the relatively lucky people in Hong Kong or Manila live in crammed, small apartments set inside concrete towers that resemble prisons more than anything else.

The wealth extracted from around the planet by western powers over the course of centuries, a process which went into overdrive in the twentieth century, has absolutely skewed the perceptions of those average citizens who reside within these conquistador nations. Like Tenochtitlan, the US and its neo-liberal capitalist crony nations exact tribute from the global poor. We may not adorn ourselves in exotic feathers and obsidian jewelry, but our sneakers and our jeans and our lattes and our cellphones will never be sustainably sourced and manufactured within the footprint of our home city limits. It is just not possible. We can have civilization, or we can have a livable planet, but we cannot have both.

Phosphorous leaches from agricultural and manufacturing sources into water ways. Eventually it alters the chemistry of these waterways creating the conditions that support toxic algae blooms. Power plants are often built along waterways. Coal fired plants have been using rivers such as the Ohio as a waste dump for decades. Radioactive tritium has been leaching into the groundwater from the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York, and the leak is getting worse. The Turkey Point nuclear power facility is leaking waste into Biscayne Bay just outside of Miami.

Often when I discuss the destruction wrought by civilized existence, the first critique hurled in my direction is that, “We cannot go back.” On this point, I agree. We cannot go back because civilization has greatly destroyed the ability of so many natural systems to harbor life. Industrial civilization will decay and fracture in the coming decades and centuries. I do not know how this process will play out or how long it will take to complete, but I feel that I could safely suggest that several generations from now the people who are making new ways of living will curse the stupidity and greed of those who poisoned the water. They will wonder what demons possessed our hearts with such a dark poison that we could so callously wipe out the other living beings who we rely on for survival.

In the dry wastes a young girl will dig for tubers amongst a backdrop of drought ravaged trees and the charcoal remains of those that burned in the previous season. Seeking a nourishing root she finds the bric a brac of our brain dead culture; a plastic fork, a beer can, rubber testicles that once swung from a pick-up truck’s trailer hitch. Yee haw.

Her family boils caught rainwater unaware that it contains heavy metals which will be responsible for some of their eventual deaths. They will laugh, as people do, and they will tell cautionary tales about a long ago world in which people set the sky on fire.

Whatever gods there may be forgive us. We were drunk on oil and pictures of ourselves. We really wanted good jobs.

Ultimate Tiny House Design

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on March 16, 2016

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PENULTIMATE AND ULTIMATE PASSIVE SOLAR AND PLUMBING DESIGNS FOR THE TINY HOUSE

 

Figure0ventingfromHWCERRATUM:

Please note the last diagram in the addendum of this article http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/blog/2016/02/20/tiny-house-electrics/ was incorrect and the correct diagram should be this one:

 

INTRODUCTION:

The latest internal configurations shown here represent what I describe as the penultimate and ultimate passive solar and plumbing designs for a tiny house on wheels. If in the future I am able to tweak things to achieve additional improvements, I reserve the right to describe later revisions as the "super ultimate version" or "superduper ultimate version" etc, etc, outrageous ironic hubris intended.

In all versions I have always located the LPG stove and wood stove side by side (and the sink next to the LPG stove) so that a single rangehood can extract vapour from either stove, and to facilitate quick transfer of hot pots and pans from either stove to the nearby sink.

As mentioned in previous articles, passive solar heating requires broadside orientation of the dwelling to the sun, expansive double (or triple) glazed glass windows/doors on the sun-facing aspect, thick insulation of floor/walls/roof and a source of thermal mass. For a tiny house on wheels, concrete is not appropriate thermal mass, it is dead weight on the chassis. Water however has a high specific heat capacity and, weight for weight, offers superior thermal mass to concrete. Water tanks can be emptied when the tiny house is transported.

My initial intent was to locate internal water tanks(s) under the lounge seats to provide thermal mass, however solar heat transfer would be inefficient in that configuration and it would represent a great deal of dead weight on the chassis. I subsequently decided, for reasons previously explained, that a header tank for the cold water system will be an important component, however combined with the hot water cylinder and under-seat tank(s), the all up weight just for these water filled components will be excessive, around 700kg. It would represent an adverse long term load on the chassis. Hence I have now decided to eliminate the under-seat water tank(s) which alone would contain 400 to 500 litres of water and thus weigh more than 400 to 500kg.

 

THE PENULTIMATE PLUMBING DESIGN

The steel header tank, if uninsulated and painted matt black, despite its smaller size (150 litres), could still confer good thermal mass, in addition to its primary function of providing the pressure head. However, is there a way to make this thermal mass even more efficient? My advisers from the Tiny House Company http://www.tinyhousecompany.com.au/ (Lara Nobel, Andrew Carter and Greg Thornton) suggested that a mid point stair configuration will be more space efficient than my original design with stairs at the west end. This new configuration in fact offers a number of improvements. As the header tank can now be located almost directly above the wood stove, it makes sense to take advantage of this arrangement to design a gravity/thermosiphoning circuit between the backboiler tank of the mini wood stove and the header tank.

Figure1Penultimate

This will effectively harvest heat from the wood stove, for later slow release of heat from the header tank after the fire is out. One danger of this arrangement may be overheating of the water in the header tank, however this can be avoided by always ensuring the tank is full of cold water before firing up the stove and by not running the stove for extended periods eg more than two hours. The intent here is to utilise the header tank water as thermal mass, and NOT to turn the (uninsulated) header tank into a hot water cylinder (the header tank will not and cannot replace a proper, dedicated hot water cylinder supplying the taps).

 

THE ULTIMATE PLUMBING DESIGN

The next natural question is whether it may be feasible to harvest heat from the wood stove to supply the hot water cylinder, while also using the same cylinder to gather heat from the solar thermal array, all by means of gravity thermosiphoning which, not requiring pumps or sensors, will be the most reliable and robust system possible. The answer is yes, however it will require particular design of the hotwater cylinder according to custom specifications. If you live in an area prone to frost, the heat transfer from the external solar thermal array into the cylinder must be indirect, via copper coils containing a glycol solution. Heat transfer from the backboiler tank of the wood stove to the cylinder can however be direct. Hence the hot water cylinder design should be as shown in Figure 2

Figure2CustomCylinderWithDualHeatSources

For adequate thermolayer separation within the cylinder, a tall vertical cylinder is best (rather than a squat horizontal cylinder).

 

It is essential to consider the requirements for effective gravity thermosiphoning which are:

  1. To drive a circulating convection current, the heat source(s) must be below the hot water storage cylinder, and the hot pipe must be relatively higher than the cold(er) pipe.

  2. Adequate flow requires minimum resistance within the circuit, which requires that the calibre of pipes be large (at least 28mm), that there are few or no right angle bends (gentle curves/bends in the pipes are allowable) and that the pipes should be relatively short (which requires close proximity between heat source(s) and hot water cylinder). Short pipes also minimise heat loss in transit (which is inevitable even with good pipe insulation).

  3. The higher the temperature gradient between hot and cold pipes, the stronger the convection current. Hence the intense heat from the backboiler of the wood stove will still enable effective thermosiphoning through a long circuit, whereas the less hot solar thermal array should have a shorter circuit to function effectively.

 

As such, my ultimate iteration based on these plumbing considerations is as shown:

Figure3Ultimate

Solar heating of water

In the "ultimate" version, there is no connection between the (cold water) header tank and the wood stove. For thermal mass purposes, the most efficient way to transfer solar heat to the header tank will be for this uninsulated matt black steel tank to sit directly against a double glazed window on the sun-facing aspect of the house. Obviously this surface area for solar heat gathering will be tiny compared to the volume of water in the header tank. Nevertheless, a modest five degree rise in water temperature within the header tank (eg 15degC to 20degC) will be excellent for thermal mass purposes. However 20degC will be completely inadequate as a source of hot water for the taps. The uninsulated header tank cannot and will not replace an insulated hot water cylinder as the supply for the hot water taps.

A dedicated solar thermal array feeding a dedicated insulated hot water cylinder is necessary for the latter purpose. This outdoor solar thermal array, if located directly in front of the hot water cylinder, could potentially suffer from shadowing from the timber deck (and its overhead awning) in the morning, hence the array may be better located toward the west end, despite the slightly longer pipes required (which of course must be heavily insulated).

 

Passive Solar Heating of the composting toilet:

Proper composting of faeces to kill pathogens requires high temperatures and adequate duration of composting. High temperatures can be naturally achieved by exothermic reactions within a large mass of decomposing waste, however the volume within the bin of the composting toilet is way too small to achieve this. Hence to speed up the initial decomposition of such a small volume, it makes sense to enlist passive solar heating. It is therefore important to locate the composting toilet on the sun facing aspect of the house, immediately adjacent to double glazed frosted windows. Indeed, now being located at the north western corner, the toilet will receive heat from the evening sun as well. Obviously when one is using the toilet, the frosted windows will be blocked off by pull down modesty screens.

Full time use of the Nature's Head composting toilet by a couple may require that it be emptied once per month. Minimal composting will have taken place by then (indeed no decomposition of freshly deposited waste will have occurred). Odour is actually eliminated during active use of the toilet primarily by means of dehydration (continuous ventilation) and coverage with sawdust/wood ash. Fresh compost within the full bin (now removed from the toilet) will be sprinkled with fresh water, because additional moisture will be required for further aerobic decomposition. The bin will then be transferred to an outdoor "solar storage" greenhouse chamber where it will undergo further passive solar heating for a month, by which time the waste will be truly innocuous. Further composting will need to be conducted by emptying this bin onto a larger composting mass the size of, say, a rubbish skip (with a rainproof lid). The month old compost will deposited on the top of the larger, older mass of compost. The oldest compost (perhaps two years old) can be harvested from a cutaway opening at the very bottom of the skip. This biologically safe compost can now be scattered at the base of trees.

 

General comments:

  1. Uneven weight distribution in tiny house: there is significantly more weight from the header tank and HWC on the sun-facing side of the dwelling despite the fridge and washing machine being on the opposite side. This should not be an issue if the weight (when parked) is not borne by the tires but by jackstands or footings (important to locate jackstands or footings not only at the corners but also under the mid point of the chassis, thus directly bearing the weight of the header tank). This uneven weight will not be an issue during transportation when the water tanks are empty.

  2. Standard mains pressure in domestic taps is around 3 metres of water height. The same pressure can be achieved by locating the header tank outdoors, on top of the roof, which will however eliminate the possibility of greenhouse heating of this header tank. The pressure head will be lower if the header tank is located indoors on the loft floor, but lower flow rates can be overcome by using wider calibre pipes to the taps (perhaps twice the standard bore).

  3. Water overflow from the header tank should be directed to the exterior, proud and clear of the wall of the house, by means of a gargoyle poised above the kitchen window. Figure 4. This overflow will be visible through the window from inside the house, signifying that the header tank is full and that pumping of water up to the header tank must cease.

     

Comments on the "penultimate" design:

  1. In this configuration where there is connection between the woodstove backboiler tank and the stainless steel header tank via copper pipes, electrolytic corrosion of both tanks can be prevented by the simple application of a magnesium anode in the header tank. The advantage of this configuration is that it confers residual heating to the house after the fire from the wood stove is out. The disadvantage is that it does not heat water for the hot water system. However it will be easy enough to just boil a kettle and mix that with cold water in a bucket to obtain tepid washwater.

  2. If the header tank has a loose lid (and hence the water in the header tank is connected with the atmosphere of the house), and if this water is warmed excessively, it could result in copious condensation on the inside walls and windows of the house overnight. The way to prevent this is to construct the header tank to be airtight, however it will need to have a wide bore venting/overflow port near the top, which must be vented to the exterior, which will also allow the moist air to escape outside, via the gargoyle,

    Figure4gargoyle

    Comments on the "ultimate" design

  1. The vendor I sought who makes custom hot water cylinders, Trevor, specialises in copper cylinders. I am uncertain if the copper hot water cylinder and copper pipes connected to the steel backboiler tank will in the long term lead to electrolytic corrosion of the backboiler tank. Mark of Salamander stoves was unable to advise me about this, apart from saying that after five years of use (with copper pipes) he has personally not detected any problem in his backboiler tank.

  2. When the wood stove is fired up, water in the HW cylinder can easily become scalding hot, hence adequate care must be taken to dilute hot with cold water when operating the taps. Rather than depend on complex electronic sensors (which regulate the water temperatures in modern domestic systems), the philosophy in this design is to depend on simple common sense.

 

CONCLUSION:

In view of the above considerations, I am actually partial to the "penultimate" design rather than "ultimate" design at this time.

 

G. Chia March 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antifragile Food Systems

permaculturegc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 10, 2016

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"The alpha person at a gathering of "high status" persons is usually the waiter. "

 

  In the film, No Escape, Owen Wilson and Lake Bell's characters play a stereotypical USAnian couple, Jack and Annie Dwyer, cast abroad like fishes out of water. He is a corporate engineer in charge of putting a water plant into a fictional Southeast Asian country. She is the dutiful wife, bringing along to the temporary assignment two young children and their favorite kitchen appliances.

 

 

 

When civil war suddenly erupts before they have even gotten past jet-lag and they find themselves in an urban killing field, hunted by machete-wielding guerillas who are really angry about the way Jack's corporation has stolen and monetized their water rights, they must run for their lives, which they do for the next hour or more of screen time.

 

 

 

That's the plot, but the film is less about why the couple got into their predicament or why this small country has decided to murder all its foreign tourists than how Jack and Annie and their children absorb the changed circumstances, adapt to their precarious situation, and do what it takes to survive. Theater audiences are rooting for them, despite their complete lack of preparation.

 

 

 

In Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb distinguishes antifragile from words like robust or resilient by saying that when something is antifragile, it benefits when things go bad. Taleb is a recovering Wall Street quant trader. He understands hedges and shorts, and indeed, wrote the textbook on dynamic hedging in 1997. His subsequent books, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001) and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007) redefined at how traders look at risk and how people should think about risk in life choices.

 

 

 

If Jack and Annie had read either Fooled by Randomness or The Black Swan, they would not have been thrown into such profound stupor when the country they had landed in suddenly dissolved into anarchy and savage brutality. These things, or equally unpredictable things, are to be expected, even predicted.

 

 

 

Antifragile goes a step beyond and asks how one can be prepared to benefit from Black Swan events. Taleb gives the example of biological and economic systems. Efficiency and optimization are the final stages of succession — a mature ecology. They are also fragile. Inefficient redundancy is robust. Degeneracy is antifragile. The early sere following some disturbance is filled with fast-growing, thick-stemmed "weeds" that require few soil nutrients or supporting microbial diversity. If there is not much sun, too much wind or rain, poorly suited pioneers will fall aside and those better selected will dominate.

 

 

 

Fragile systems hate mistakes. Antifragile systems love them. Postmodern thinking, almost completely divorced from nature, is built on a scaffold of prior delusions. Medieval Europe, grounded in a theological storyline that is unwavering (like hard-core Evangelical Christianity or Sunni Islam) is more robust. But the pre-European Mediterranean seafaring cultures — pantheistic, surrounded by random dangers and ubiquitous risk (pirates, police states, conscription, volcanoes) and utterly free enterprise, was antifragile. People in that time exchanged rites and gods the way we do ethnic foods. Like Silicon Valley, ideas and gods failed fast, failed often, but occasionally winners emerged.

 

 

 

Taleb casts this into mathematical metaphors: the fewer the gods the greater the dogma and higher the risk of conflict and loss. For atheists n=0; Sunni purists n=1; monophysites n=1-2; Greek Orthodoxy n=3-12; pagans, wiccans and most native peoples n=infinite. Whose religion is more fragile and likely to occasion bad things happening?

 

 

 

Jack and Annie Dwyer are in the fragile, corporate employment class. They are pampered. They did well in school. They don't need to know a word of the language of the country they have been sent to. They complain if there is no a/c in the room or the limo doesn't arrive on time. They are intellectual tourists. Their antifragile counterpart is a slacker — fläneur is the word Taleb uses — the creative loafer with a large library or an X-box. Taleb says the alpha person at a gathering of "high status" persons is usually the waiter.

 

 

 

Engineering and corporate middle management are fragile professions. Financially robust professions in the run-up to ponzicollapse would be dentists, dermatologists, or minimum wage niche workers. Antifragile jobs in the overtopping and onset of decline are payday check cashing tellers, taxi drivers and nomadic fishermen. The Roma, living parasitically at the urban edges of European cities, are antifragile, but have vulnerability to travel restrictions. When Sweden closed its border crossings and started doing screening of incoming migrants, Denmark had to follow or risk being swamped with migrants denied entry to Sweden. Holland, Germany and France did the same. This is not a good thing for gypsies, but they are resilient enough to make do with one country at a time and antifragile enough to exploit weaknesses in border security and even turn that into new opportunities and enterprises.

 

 

 

What is an antifragile food system? This becomes especially important as we enter an era of rapid climate change and civil disintegration. A decade ago in "From Foraging to Farming, Explaining the Neolithic Revolution" (J Econ. Surveys 19:4:561-586, 2005), Jacob Weisdorf at the University of Copenhagen reviewed the main theories about the prehistoric shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture. The transition, also known as the Neolithic Revolution, was necessary precursor for capitalism, industrialization and the monotheistic religion of economic growth. Hunting and foraging societies were egalitarian and communal. Farming and herding societies are vested, competitive and hierarchical.

 

 

 

The Neolithic Revolution augured slavery, which began as agricultural serfdom and abides today as the "jobs" system. Taleb opines that in the days of Suetonius, 60 percent of prominent educators (grammarians) were slaves. Today the ratio is 97.1 percent and growing.

 

 

 

Charles Darwin in The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868) said:

 

The savage inhabitants of each land, having found out by many and hard trials what plants where useful … would after a time take the first step in cultivation by planting them near their usual abodes…. The next step in cultivation, and this would require but little forethought, would be to sow the seeds of useful plants.

 

 

 

Did it really take several million years for our upright hominid ancestors to get the idea they could domesticate plants and animals, or had they known that much longer and invariably decided it was a bad idea?

 

 

 

One hypothesis is that the extinction of large herding animals by Paleolithic hunters led to farming. This is discounted by the fact that the loss of the former did not coincide with the gain of the latter, either geographically or chronologically. Another theory is that we were forced into farming by population pressure, but that is countered by the fact that the first domestications took place in resource-abundant societies. Moreover, dietary stress would have marked the skeletons of foragers and studies have failed to show any nutritional stress immediately prior to plant domestication.

 

 

 

Another theory is that the rise of agriculture came from ‘competitive feasting;’ the idea that culinary diversity conferred social status and therefore resulted in competition to create delicacies. Let's call this gourmetgenesis. Unfortunately for foodie anthropologists, it appears that early domestication unambiguously consisted of a small number of important staples rather than appetizers, pastries and confections.

 

 

 

Those who study the evolution of consciousness suggest that the shift may have occurred, with or without sacred plant intervention, about 10 millennia ago when the brain had a hundredth monkey moment and, like Kubrick's apes before the shiny monolith, transformed bone shillelaghs into plows and space stations.

 

 

 

More recent work suggests that climate shifts not only contributed to the Paleolithic large mammal extinctions and may have caused psychedelic mushrooms, vines and cacti to extend their ranges and abundancies, but also permitted more reliable predictions about weather, which allowed crops to be grown more consistently.

 

 

 

Some ancient Greeks thought that this process was cyclical, and that eventually good weather would lapse and we would return to hunting and foraging. Medieval Christianity embedded the meme that the process is linear, an inexorable progression of human civilization from brutality to refinement.

 

 

 

Weisdorf notes:

 

Farming [is] still assumed to have been clearly preferable to foraging. But, in the 1960s, this perception was to be turned upside down. Evidence started to appear which suggested that early agriculture had cost farmers more trouble than it saved. Studies of present-day primitive societies indicated that farming was in fact backbreaking, time consuming, and labor intensive.

 

 

 

In the 1960s, "a picture began to emerge that showed that foraging communities were able to remain in equilibrium at carrying capacity when undisturbed." Where the ratio of population to productive land area is favorable, foraging generally provides greater return on labor invested than tilling and herding. Once the ratio becomes unfavorable, tilling and herding are not only more effective, but necessary. To any foraging society, therefore, two disciplines are required. They must regenerate land resource and restrain population growth. Soil fertility sí, human fertility no.

 

 

 

In Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems in a Changing Climate (New Society 2015), Laura Lengnick gives her take on the progression from foraging to pastoralism to agriculture:

 

Foraging and the early farming systems that followed it propose very different solutions to the same basic question facing all animals: How best to allocate the available time and resources to acquire food? All things being equal, animals (including humans) tend to solve this effort-allocation problem by maximizing the capture of calories, protein and other desired foods in a way that yields the most return with the greatest certainty in the least time for the least effort. Moderate, reliable returns are usually preferred over fluctuating high returns. It turns out that, for a long time, foraging was a good solution to the effort-allocation problem facing early humans. But climate change changed everything.

 

Lengnick, Resilience Design Criteria for Agroecosystems
Lengnick describes the strategies employed by native peoples of North America. They foraged and hunted, sustainably used irrigation, amended with fish scraps and animal manures as fertilizers, rotated grain and legume crops and selected and improved their seeds. She looks at the Mohawk, Cherokee, Mandan and Hohokam as representative of the North American Northeast, Southeast, Northern Great Plains and Southwest. She then turns to the practices brought by European colonists, before and after the arrival of petroleum, modern machines and chemicals. Regional specialization continues today, based more on industrial infrastructure than soils or suitability, but climate has thrown in a monkey wrench, much the way it did 8-12,000 years ago.
 
From the summer of 2013 through late winter 2014, Lengnick interviewed 25 award-winning sustainable producers from across the United States. All had been farming in the same location for at least 20 years, many for 30 and some for 40 years or more. Many expressed concerns about the path the food system has taken over the last 50 years and their frustrations with scientific, economic and regulatory policy. Listening to their stories is like sitting around a campfire with two dozen Joel Salatins.

 

At the Happy Cow Creamery, artisanal dairyman Tom Trantham told Lengnick,

 

Really, we see some drought and hot temperatures every year. This year (2013) is the first year that we haven’t really had a drought. This year it has been really wet. We had the rain, but we also didn’t have the sun, so we had two big problems. I’m 72 years old, and I’ve never seen as much rain in a year in my life, anywhere. It really affected my crops. Our hay was 9 percent protein. It would normally have been 18 or 20. Like I say, never in my life have I endured that much rain.

 

 

 

Lengnick, Resilience Design Criteria for Agroecosystems
Lengnick's distillation of their advice is sage. Produce food as part of an ecosystem. Adapt by going back to letting nature do what nature does best. Lengnick calls this "adaptive management," but what she is speaking of is what the UN has been calling "eco-agriculture, and it contains a suite of tools and practices that not only provide greater food security but can, scaled quickly enough, undo the worst of the Fossil Age's climate karma.

 

 

 

For Lengnick,

 

Functional diversity and response diversity describe the capacity of the agroecosystem to maintain healthy function of the four farming system processes (energy, water, mineral, community dynamics) and other ecosystem services. Functional diversity describes the number of different species or assemblages of species that participate in agroecosystem processes to produce ecosystem services. Response diversity describes the diversity of responses to changing conditions among the group of species or species assemblages that contribute to the same ecosystem function. Agroecosystems designed with high functional and response diversity have the capacity to produce ecosystem services over a wide range of environmental conditions.

 

 

 

Like Taleb, Lengnick identifies the fragility of monocultural, industrial farming practices:

 

 

 

Appropriately connected agroecosystems will build relationships that enhance functional and response diversity. Many weak (i.e., not critical to function) connections are favored over a few strong (i.e., critical to function) connections. Agroecosystems that rely on a few strong connections for critical resources reduce their resilience to events that disrupt those connections; in contrast, many weak connections enhance response capacity.

 

 

 

In permaculture, we speak of harmony and stress and some see those as opposites, but in a more tantric Buddhist interpretation they can be viewed as a symbiotic pair. Stress is the bending of a system away from its natural pattern, making it fragile. Harmony is the restoration of balance and connections, inherently antifragile. Natural succession is a cycle of disturbance, experimentation, and equilibrium. There is no steady state, there is only the constancy of change.

 

 

 

In another month we leave for Belize to teach the 11th annual Permaculture Design Course at Maya Mountain Research Farm (seats still available here). Personally, it will be our 50th time instructing the standard 72-hour Design Course. We often say, when we teach in such places, it is not the people that are the instructors there, it is the land. In this case it is land that has been refined, articulated, complexed and restored to if not the Paleolithic model, then to a Neolithic transitional stage, where both domestic and wild systems co-exist in a riot of cascading productivity.

 

 

 

If the Dwyer family had taken this workshop, or read Lengnick's book, they would not have been caught by surprise when their world of modern illusions suddenly dissolved. They would probably never have gotten into that situation to begin with.

 

 

 

 

How Sustainable Can Cities be When They Can’t Even Deal With Their Own Shit?

Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on August 11, 2015

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A sewage treatment plant in Hamburg, Germany: The shit never looked so pretty (photo by
Mark Michaelis)
 
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The Dr. Pooper Papers, Issue #3:

Just this past week the City of Toronto was informed by the Ministry of the Environment that it must now notify the public whenever water treatment plants are bypassed and raw sewage is sent into Lake Ontario. These occurrences are said to be due to heavy rains taking their toll on Toronto's "old sewer system," something that is said to occur about three times a month, year round.

According to Mark Mattson, director of the charity Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Toronto's streets and harbours were inundated with more than a billion litres of sewage in July 2013, when more than 90mm of rain fell on the city in just two hours. This, however, doesn't seem to be a freak occurrence, as New York State similarly enacted laws this summer requiring public notification within four hours of raw sewage being sent into its watersheds.

"I think there's a real demand for this information," said Mattson, a point that's hard to refute since the "boaters, paddlers and hikers on many of the rivers and trails" that Mattson mentions likely don't want to come across invasions of floaters on their Saturday afternoon strolls.

But where Mattson gets it wrong, I think, is in his assessment of the problem. As he puts it, "people don't really realize that in Toronto we've got these 70-year-old pipes based on a totally antiquated understanding of how the city works." And as the Toronto Star article further explains, "the current sewers were built with different demands in mind, and… the aging infrastructure is failing to keep pace." In other words, Mattson (and perhaps even the Toronto Star) don't really grasp how cities "work," nor realize what are at the heart of the demands of "current sewers."

 

Could industrial civilization soon be shitting bricks?

 

First off, the gross expansion of cities, exemplified by London, England in the early 1800s following the enclosure of the commons, was invariably made possible by copious inputs to feed and supply the masses, inputs delivered via coal-powered rail transport. However, the massive amount of human effluent created by the massively accruing populations had to be dealt with somehow, and the only way to do that was by creating sewer systems – sewer systems that back in the day required millions of bricks for their construction. And to create those bricks required a corollary massive amount of heat to fire them. Short of completing the razing of England's forests, that would never have been possible were it not for the recently tapped into fossil fuel supply of coal. In other words, fossil fuels are required to create the physical conduits for sewage systems (the bricks, and now concrete and metal pipes), never mind all the energy necessary to bury (and maintain) those systems, as well as to operate the centralized treatment plants. (Prior to fossil-fuelled treatment plants, and in some cases continuing to this day, raw sewage was simply dumped into oceans and other large bodies of water.)

But here's the rub: supposing that the City of Toronto (or whichever other city) has the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to revamp its aging sewage infrastructure, there's not a chance it's going to have the resources to do so again in the 70 years or so when its infrastructure once again becomes aged. Why is this?

 

Windmills and solar panels won't be able to power this (photo by Washington State Dept of Transportation)

 

The world is now on the cusp of peak oil, meaning that in 70 years or so it will very likely be impossible to do a do-over upon a large city's sewer system. We will be long past Hubbert's peak, and there simply won't be the required energy to power all the machinery to do all the heavy work, nor to maintain it all. As just one example, in 2008 a crack was discovered in one of Toronto's sewage tunnels, a problem which could have foreseeably seen the effluent of 750,000 Torontonians escape into the nearby Don River. Although three years of delays ensued, the repairs were finally completed, and below its $40 million budget. Nonetheless, since such occurrences are destined to occur in the future, it's worth wondering about how long such repairs will be energetically viable for.

This then begs the question: If the underlying infrastructure of industrialism's major metropolitan cities (as well as its smaller cities) is based on a system necessitating copious amounts of fossil fuels, how are they going to manage when that energy subsidy starts to shrink away? In other words, forget about all that feel-good local food stuff for a moment and ponder this: since the modern city and its packed-like-sardines populace (which produces obscene amounts of human effluent in historically unheard of concentrations) is dependent on fossil-fuelled porcelain goddesses to whoosh away its effluents (with potable water!), how do our megalopolis' (and even smaller cities) deal with all that effluent when the superstructure becomes less and less serviceable? Upon taking energy supplies into account, it should be readily apparent that myopic concerns over Saturday afternoon floaters is the wrong way to be looking at things. But while the situation in Toronto highlights a particular aspect of the systemic problem we face, oddly enough, Toronto also provides us with a hint towards the direction we should be taking here – but unfortunately only a hint.

 

Cob in the Park (photo by A Great Capture)

 

Just down the street from where I used to live, at Dufferin Grove Park, a community project was put together called Cob in the Park. It consisted of a beautiful cob structure, as well as a compost toilet for use by children using the nearby playground and wading pool. So I one day took a stroll over to the park to check out the loo. But after endless and fruitless searching I later discovered that although the project had the full backing of the local city councillor, the composting toilet aspect of it was nixed thanks to a tiny minority of nearby residents who claimed that the loo would (supposedly) not be properly maintained and so pose a health hazard. As a result, an excellent opportunity for Torontonians to learn about the ecological cycles of their own effluent was lost.

But since we can now readily see that our industrial approach to dealing with our effluent cannot be indefinitely maintained, it should be obvious that the problem isn't about straw-man arguments over compost toilets which (supposedly) won't be maintained, but that the true problem is that the status quo industrial system can't be maintained. In other words, instead of deferring to buttons, levers and other engineered advancements ("progress"), we're literally going to have to learn how to deal with our own shit, and methods are going to have to be devised to return the nutrients within that shit to the land.

To help us make the transition, it might be helpful for us to make note of how we got here in the first place. The reasons behind all this are of course wide and varied, perhaps beginning with our tapping into fossil fuels of which made the large-scale approach to human effluent possible in the first place. Couple this with bureaucrats and engineers who often have a penchant for applying techno approaches to every problem (and even non-problems!), and you get the centralized system we currently have, a literal mess waiting to happen (and now happening!).

To single out bureaucrats and engineers is a bit unfair though, since there also exists a widespread Victorian priggishness amongst the general population: the stuff that goes in the top end is endlessly glossed over by self-important sophisticates and the like, while what comes out the other end is quickly whisked away with the flick of a lever, out of sight, out of mind.

To see all this in action, one only needs to look at the tool which has very much helped us get to where we are today, which is our language. As already mentioned, there exists a fair amount of awareness about the need to protect our watersheds, and amongst foodies and the like, a concern (be it superficial or not) about our foodsheds. However, the trifecta is not complete, and our language thus lacks the necessary structure to fully comprehend the issue. This need to ultimately deal with our own effluent in an ecologically sensitive manner therefore begs the suggestion:

The next time you find yourself at a dinner soirée or cocktail party and the conversation turns rather dry, don't be afraid to turn to your neighbour, and with the utmost glee, excitedly ask, "So. Would you like to hear about my shitshed!?"

Snatching Defeat

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on August 9, 2015

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner


Last week we concluded our post on climate change with a quote from James Hansen, "the matter is urgent and calls for emergency cooperation among nations." All this year we have been leading up to our collective fin de seicle moment in December, the grand denouement of the Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol in Paris. At this late date, we are frankly pessimistic for the outcome there.

It isn't that we expect the parchment won’t get inked, but rather that the document won’t actually accomplish its task even if the conference is a complete success. After more than two decades of negotiating for every paragraph, the Paris Treaty will be two decades out of date and strategically misdirected.

In those 20 years the goalposts have moved. They are not farther away now. They are closer.

The United Nations, Eleanor Roosevelt's singular passion, is showing signs of age, architecturally symbolized by its under-maintained (owing to deadbeat nations who never pay their dues, nudge to the ribs of USAnians) 1950s rusting steel and chipped glass edifice fronting the East River on the New York skyline.

 
Instead of peering through the mists into a bright but challenging future, the building peers out across the river to Roosevelt Island and back in time to a Rooseveltian utopia with strong labor unions and a chicken in every pot. Actually, a-chicken-in-every-pot was the 1928 campaign slogan of Herbert Hoover, a Republican president who presided over the Crash of ‘29. Hoover advocated "kinder, gentler" capitalism. He said, "We want to see a nation built of homeowners and farm owners. We want to see more and more of them insured against death and accident, unemployment and old age." It would become the mantra of future candidates of both parties, a code for enslaving the working class through health and home insurance, college and mortgage loans while feathering the nest of banks and insurance companies.


This is oddly where we find the United Nations now, making impossible promises to lure the gullible while holding a finger on the scales of justice.

Like a military bureaucracy busily arming with the obsolete weapons of the last war, the United Nations is stuck in the past century, driving a pink Cadillac to the Mall. Here, for instance, is a chart of its projections for world population, which it derives from fertility, life expectancy and demographic trends over the past decades:

Those dash-dotted blue lines at the margins are the range that would be accomplished if there were half-a-child more or fewer births per woman than at present. Half-a-child smaller families is all it would take to move planetary stress out of the red zone.

Another way would be for the entire globe to follow the example of Greece and depopulate immediately, just by starving pensioners and slashing budgets for hospitals, fire departments and other vital services.

One problem is that projecting the past into the future is always a fool's errand. Consider the UN's projections for low-lying island nations:


By 2100, if not 2050, most of these low-lying chains will be under the ocean. Are these projected people, still worth counting, presumed to be in refugee camps, waiting at border crossings in places like Calais, or in submarine cities?

Which brings us back to stranded expectations.

Our friend Joe Brewer, a linguist who, with George Lakoff and others developed the concept of "framing," wrote a thoughtful piece on the language of the UN's sustainable development goals, now scheduled for ratification in September. Just take a moment, though, to consider the embodied ignorance of a term like "sustainable development."

What is it, exactly, that we wish to sustain? Development? What kind? Do we want Donald Trump to build condos for billionaires in Namibia? Or maybe we want more jobs for Namibians assembling smart phones in Chinese factories while former Chinese factory slaves spend their renminbi vacationing in Dubai?

Last month the long laboring UN Open Working Group announced it had formalized 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 169 associated targets and deemed them “integrated and indivisible.” It submitted a lengthy report for ratification by the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly in September. Beaming with pride at its accomplishment, it bragged:

Never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavour across such a broad and universal policy agenda. We are setting out together on the path towards sustainable development, devoting ourselves collectively to the pursuit of global development and of “win-win” cooperation which can bring huge gains to all countries and all parts of the world.

And then, in the next breath, it snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

We reiterate that every state has, and shall freely exercise, full permanent sovereignty over its wealth and natural resources.

We will implement the Agenda for the full benefit of all, for today’s generation and for future generations. In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to international law and emphasize that the Agenda is to be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of states under international law, taking into account different national circumstances, capacities and priorities.


With these caveats, the UN essentially emasculated its own achievement. It was kind of like saying, “From now on, no-one shall be allowed to shoot heroin or smoke crack. We will accomplish this through voluntary self-regulation by all would-be addicts.”

The simile is not that far-fetched. Neurobiologists and psychologists that have studied the problem of addiction have a much more nuanced picture of crime and punishment than do lawmakers or the public. They know what can reduce addiction — supportive community ties and self-respect, among other factors — and what elevates it — punishment, isolation and disgrace – but they have been unable to make that scientific case in public debate without getting shouted down, and so the criminal justice system stereotypes and victimizes addicts.

How the UN plans to discipline unfettered growth addicts is by loving them. Not tough love. Friendly advice kind of love. A forgive but not forget kind of love.

The UN plan continues:

The new Goals and targets will come into effect on 1 January 2016 and will guide the decisions we take over the next fifteen years. All of us will work to implement the Agenda within our own countries and at the regional and global levels. We will at the same time take into account different national realities, including capacities and levels of development, and culture. We will respect national policies and priorities and policy space for economic growth, in particular for developing states, while remaining consistent with relevant international rules and commitments. We acknowledge also the importance of the regional and sub-regional dimensions, regional economic integration and interconnectivity in sustainable development. Regional and sub-regional frameworks can facilitate the effective translation of sustainable development policies into concrete action at national level.

Brewer says:

The frame of national sovereignty conceals the much more nuanced picture of networked financial assets that are coordinated through a nested shell system of corporate structures—enabling things like the tax haven system and cross-cultural propaganda efforts that shape social norms at scales of regional markets.

The Committee on Sustainable Development:

We are committed to ending poverty in all its forms,including extreme poverty, by 2030. All people must enjoy a basic standard of living, including through social protection systems. We are also determined to end hunger and malnutrition and to achieve food security as a matter of priority. We will devote resources to developing rural areas and supporting small farmers, especially women farmers, herders and fishers.

We will seek to build strong economic foundations for all our countries. Sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth is essential for prosperity. This will only be possible if wealth is shared and income inequality is addressed. We will work to build dynamic, sustainable, innovative and people-centred economies, promoting youth employment and women’s economic empowerment, in particular,and decent work for all. We will eradicate forced labour and human trafficking and eliminate all the worst forms of child labour. All countries stand to benefit from having a healthy and well-educated workforce with the knowledge and skills needed for productive and fulfilling work and full participation in society. We will adopt policies which increase productive capacities, productivity and productive employment; financial inclusion; sustainable agriculture, pastoralist and fisheries development; sustainable industrial development; universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy services; sustainable transport systems; and resilient infrastructure.

Lately we have been trying to purge our vocabulary of the word "sustainable" (as offensive to polar bears) in much the way we purged our vocabulary of "rule of thumb" 20 years ago (as offensive to women, even though the origin was a parody, not an actual law, that husbands could beat wives with canes no wider than a thumb).

What we must ask is what we intend to sustain when we speak of sustainability? Is it, as Iowa Congressman Paul Simon famously proclaimed, our God-given right to the American way of life? Is it exponential growth of resource consumption on a finite planet? Is it a sustained rate of whale kill, coal burning, or forest-clearing? What are we talking about sustaining once fossil fuels no longer can give us all those billions of energy slaves?

As one commenter on our post last week said:

The Hansen approach – concentrating on CC [carbon capture] from a 'we obviously want to continue western civilisation, that's not the question' perspective, can be seen as a form of denial.

Joe Brewer, looking at the Sustainable Development Goals, unpacked four foundational weaknesses revealed by their language:

Insight #1: The entire effort rests on a mis-framing of poverty. The SDG documents consistently frame poverty as a disease, which, in contrast to their own promise to eradicate it by 2030, evokes the logic that it should be expected and managed, but cannot go away. When they conceptualize poverty this way, they misunderstand what it is and overlook the essential list of structural causes that must be addressed for any transition to a sustainable world. They fail to say how poverty is created. 

Insight #2: The language obscures “development as usual”. It ignores this topic entirely and fails to articulate that it is based on a particular, specifically neoliberal and corporatist conception of how the world economy does and should work. Also noteworthy, there is no reference to corporations—the most powerful institutions on the planet, whose influence in development spaces has been growing considerably in recent years, including via this process—an omission that prompts suspicion that an unpopular agenda may sneak through under the radar. This has the effect of neutralizing analysis on the core elements of the development model, and any consideration for the role of power politics or financial influence in development outcomes.

Insight #3: The poison pill is growth; specifically undifferentiated, perpetual growth as represented by GDP as a measure of progress. An awareness is acknowledged of the deep problems and contradictions when relying on GDP growth to tackle poverty. It is then deliberately kicked into the long grass and left as the prime operative of economic development. Indeed, the only thing the SDG framework has to offer on this is that it has nothing meaningful to offer; instead it passes this challenge to future generations.

Insight #4: The language is self-contradictory and conflicted on the relationship between nature and the economy. There is a clear and laudable intent to connect development and the environment—indeed, calling themselves the Sustainable Development Goals they could not make a bigger signal about needing development to be sustainable—but then the logic repeatedly demonstrates a confused and contradictory understanding of whether the economy is something linked with or separate from nature; there to dominate or work within. No credible use of the word sustainable would perform this way.

These insights lead to a simple antidote that can heal the SDG process and move us closer to real sustainability—tell the story of poverty creation that reveals systemic and structural causes of “development as usual.”

Brewer’s key point is that poverty is not a disease, something you catch by being born in the wrong place or choosing to be a slacker. Poverty is institutionally created.

The rules of the system are set up to extract wealth from the economy and hoard it in the hands of the few who control the money supply. This is done through unfair trade agreements, regressive tax structures and tax evasion, structural debt relations, land grabs, privatization of public utilities, and other widely used business practices. When the SDG framework conceptualizes poverty as a disease, it misunderstands what it is and overlooks this essential list of structural causes that must be addressed for any transition to a sustainable world.

Part of the problem, Brewer suspects, is that we like to break large, unmanageable problems down into smaller, more manageable pieces. In this case, the UN is putting different issues — rights of women and children, indigenous peoples, unsustainable agriculture, deforestation and desertification, energy costs and climate change — into issue silos, rather than treating them as part of a larger pattern of our human relationship to nature. Brewer says the two competing systems — environment and development –

“are treated as separate and distinct, which artificially divides humans from nature—an untenable position that ignores the foundational knowledge of physics and biology for living systems.”

He points out that mischaracterizing poverty as a disease leads to a complete disconnect when wealthy countries are confronted with the need to scale back or pay reparations –

Those countries that are “less developed” could be reframed as “more pillaged” and those that are “more developed” are countries that have “reaped the benefits of pillage.” – and also when under developing countries are told they should no longer try to imitate the West and think that some day they will be able to consume and hoard on a comparable scale.

What enabled the wealthy nations to pillage was the presence of natural wealth – human, plant and mineral – that could be brought under the sword or cross and systematically extracted. Where now do emerging economies like China, Brazil, India and South Korea turn to find such wealth? How does the aristocracy of the overdeveloped world keep its high-entropy investments secure without finding somewhere new to recharge them?

The UN working group is silent on these points because it has accepted without challenge a Neoliberal world view and ignored the over-consumption, financial destabilization, and enlarging inequality that demands.

Australian rancher Darren Doherty is fond of saying that sustainability is a weak ambition to begin with. “You are treading water. Is that all you want to do, tread water?”

Regeneration is a much more hopeful and ambitious term: Civilization 2.0. The goal is not to sustain high entropy habitation and extend it to 7 billlion or 12 billion people, but to redesign habitation to be low-entropy and biodiverse, letting nature heal, and to gradually bring human numbers down to something that is more (watch out, almost said sustainable) manageable within ecosystemic limits.

A couple years ago the UN Commission on Human Rights issued a report to address the subject of whether provision of minimum food support is a human right. The only practical way that could be achieved without overexploiting all the available arable land, the report said, was by transition to what they termed "eco-agriculture" but was really permaculture – primarily tree-crops and perennial grasses with some aquaculture. As we described here last week, this approach is also much more adaptive and mitigating in the climate change context, as our ancestors discovered several thousand years ago.

We are training ourselves to use "resilience" and "regenerative" in place of "sustainable" wherever possible. We particularly loathe "sustainable living" which always brings images of zombies to our mind. Ultimately nothing sustains, and any attempt to attain that end will fail. If sustainability is treading water, resilience is swimming forward against the current. And actually, once you get the hang of it, the current shifts and flows with you. 

Survey: The WORST City to be living in is…

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on August 4, 2015

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survey-says

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Trying to figure out exactly where you want to GO to hole up in the face of Collapse is tough, but knowing where you DO NOT want to be is a little less tough.

Big Shities!

http://www.worldchangecafe.com/wp-content/themes/currents/functions/thumb.php?src=wp-content/uploads/2014/11/collapse.jpg&w=800&h=365&zc=1&q=90

http://www.ssn.tv/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/NYC-1.jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Kibera,_Nairobi_May_2007.jpg

http://www.ttcollege.edu.sa/img/Marketing/MKT%20/558244.jpg

http://www.pulsamerica.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/favela.jpg

Deathtraps waiting to happen, all of them.  They all require copious energy to run their water pumping and sewage treatment plants; they all require huge power plants run by Coal, NG or Nukes; they all require daily shipments of food grown often thouands of miles away on a daily basis, aka they are ALL utterly unsustainable in the not too distant future. Besides that, they are all jam packed full of people who generally HATE each other.  So you really don't want to be living in any of them.  They are unlikely to be nice to each other and helpful when the food runs out.

http://blog.bitovi.com/images/zombie-apocolypse/zombies.png

However, there are gradations from Bad to Worse to Horrible and Horrendous, some will go down first and others will take longer to be emptied of Homo Saps, one way or the other.

I am sure to get complaints over Shities that I did NOT include in this survey, and there are many.  However, it is already a tough ranking job here to do, and I'm not sure many Diners will have patience to even try it with this list.  I'm not sure *I* have patience for this!  They are ALL FUCKED!  Eventually anyhow.  Still, worthwhile to figure which one are fucked soonest and hardest.

So, in this week's Doomstead Diner SurveyTM, you have the opportunity to rank which Big Shity is the positive WORST one to be living in, and which ones are a little less worse than that.

I think if we get a decent sample size, some of the intermediary Shity Rankings will be interesting.  For instance, how do Berlin and Paris rank against each other?  Beijing vs NY?  Etc.

Definitely I am curious as to which Big Shity is ranked WORST. since there are a lot of REALLY BAD ones on the list. LOL.

Results up next week on the Diner Blog.

TAKE THE SURVEY HERE

RE

Confidence Scheming New York City-Styles or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Climate Change’s Upcoming Floods

Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on August 3, 2015

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Yeah I said it

 

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
 

Following the Pope's climate change Encyclical by about two months, last week one of the world's most respected climate researchers, former NASA scientist James Hansen, laid down the gauntlet with 16 other scientists and released his latest climate change findings. As should be expected by now, the news is that climate change continues to accelerate unabated.

To be honest I only read the paper's abstract, partly because I don't see much point in paying too much attention to climate change prognostications anymore, and partly because I'm much more interested and concerned about peak oil, financial collapse, and their roles in the greater collapse of industrial civilization (which climate change will play an increasing role in as time goes on). As much as I tend to take long-term views on things, in the short term, it appears that encroaching oceans are the least of our worries, overshadowed by the emerging collapses of the energy extraction business and the monetary system.

And as RE of the Doomstead Diner explained in a recent post of his,

Hansen doesn't address the corollary problem, which is that if you quit burning fossil fuels on a dime, even if it were possible to flick it off like a light switch, precisely how would we run all the systems that depend on this energy these days, like your electric lights, the sewage treatment plants in the Big Shities, etc?

To be fair, I don't think that Hansen et. al. expect us to ditch fossil fuels on a dime, but for climate change "alarmists" to point out what they do without stating that we've got to ditch industrial civilization is pretty much the equivalent. In other words, it'd be quite fair to say that since climate change pontificators generally touch on little else but climate change, the modus operandi is to effectively live in cordoned-off worlds of climate change myopia. (I attended the inaugural, opening-night talk given by Naomi Klein for her climate change book This Changes Everything at the Toronto Public Library. Being the fourth – and last – person to ask a question in the Q&A session, I asked Klein how her book related to the Limits to Growth – it appeared to be a rather sophisticated and polite crowd so I [pathetically] softballed and refrained from saying "peak oil" instead of "Limits to Growth." Not too surprisingly, I got a beach ball in return and was told that what we need is "green growth.")

On top of all that, even if none of the aforementioned crises existed except for climate change, it appears to be utter nonsense to think that we're making even negligible efforts – or that negligible efforts can even be made – towards warding off even the most minor effects of climate change. In other words, I'd say it's about time we bit the bullet and accepted as foregone conclusion that the worst outcomes of climate change, whatever they actually are (which is not to say the self-projecting theories of Guy McPherson, as I presume they are), are pretty much guaranteed to happen.

Although I think hope is worthwhile, I don't see much point in the false hope doled out by most climate change pundits these days. As much as I would like to see it happen, it's getting more and more obvious that we can't expect for much – if any – of the remaining fossil fuels to be wilfully left in the ground unburned. Can we really expect our Chinese brethren, making a more recent ascent from peasantry, to behave any different from us and so forego their turn at the fossil fuel high-life – and just so that us Westerners can have a larger share of what remains so that we can prolong our binge? And even if we do collectively cut back, are those negated fossil fuels to be left in the ground permanently, or burned tomorrow instead? (For the record, I'm not a nihilist and have in fact significantly cut back on my participation in the fossil fuel economy [and am interested in carbon farming (minus the carbon credit shams)], although I presume that I've more than offset any fossil fuel savings I've made with several flights between Canada and Australia/New Zealand.)

Using history as our example, it becomes apparent that the one hope we have of averting the worst of climate change is for an outright fast collapse of the world economy. Because as recent information has shown, and as a study published in Nature a couple of weeks ago explained, it appears that the recent dip in atmospheric carbon levels between 2007 and 2009 occurred thanks to the global recession (see the summaries by Smithsonian or International Business Times if you'd like).

Which brings me to New York City. If there were actually much sincerity (or intelligence) behind the recent People's Climate March and the proceeding United Nations meeting held in Manhattan, then, and as idiotic and juvenile as it is to say so, wouldn't the call have been placed by the United Nations to shut down Wall Street once and for all? For Wall Street is, after all, the mother of all Ponzi schemes. And since the Ponzi permission bestowed upon Wall Street and the private banking system to create the vast majority of our money out of thin air (via fractional reserve banking) requires perpetual growth to maintain the illusion of solvency, this then requires perpetually increasing levels of energy – the burning of fossil fuels – to power the whole thing. How, may I ask, does that sit with climate change?

 

Upon his visit to New York City in September, and in the name of climate change, is the Pope planning on giving Wall Street his blessing, or performing an exorcism and thus turning Wall Street into a ghost town?

 

However, and never minding the utter fossil fuel dependence inherent to industrial civilization and its infrastructure, do New Yorkers actually have any interest in giving up the free lunch bestowed upon them via being the heart of the greatest Ponzi scheme the world has ever seen? Make no mistake, although trickle-down economics is a complete fallacy (it's closer to trickle-up), the conjured wealth of New York City most certainly does trickle down beyond the so-called "1%," in particular to children of the wealthy (as well as a few uppity self-selected folk) who have been stationed (or have artfully stationed themselves) into positions of obedient lapdogs to those in higher echelons than themselves who possess big baggies of biscuits.

To get straight to the point, how else would New York City CEOs, stockbrokers, and all the rest of those involved in the Wall Street confidence scheme, be able to validate their gaudy and vacuous lives without the corollary confidence schemes of entities such as the New York City art world, which sells the goods that enable powerbrokers and such to justify their lives and livelihoods with the silly concept of being "cultured"? And vice versa, how else would the "culture vultures" of New York City be able to afford their restaurant-hopping and otherwise profligate ways of living if they didn't hone their mastery of BS and weasel their own art-world confidence schemes into the wallets of New York City's obese cats? Does New York City's shifty art crowd, as well as other New Yorkers, really want to give up their preferred access to the perks of harlotry?

And not only is it fair to ask whether New Yorkers want to give up the golden teat, but similarly, does the world want New York City to give up being New York City? Is there even anything close to another city in the world whose de facto logo can be seen virtually tattooed on people's foreheads from one end of the planet to the other? In fact, it was only just a few days ago that the Internet brought us photographs by a Moscow-based photographer, displaying a series of shots taken over the past year of Russians wearing New York City emblazoned attire – in these cold war-ish times of ours!

 

Would even the most loco and baddest of badass New York City thugs have the kahunas to sport any kind of Moscow Lokomotiv attire?

 

To reiterate, do any of us – even Russians! – really want New York City to give up being New York City? Do we really want to strike at the heart and teats of the primary source of our collective narcissism, our financial, artistic, and cultural delusion? Since that answer is generally "no," rather than bothering us any more with these grandstanding People's Climate Marches and their false promises that we can avert the worst effects of climate change and encroaching oceans if, for the umpteenth time, we just take action in time (Tim Flannery six years ago: Now or Never!), wouldn't all the narcissism be all the more pleasant for New Yorkers if they just grew a pair (of gills) and learned how to suck it up?

 

People's Climate March, New York City: We, the undersigned narcissists, hereby want to have our planet and eat it too

 

p.s. Just as I was getting ready to upload this post I came across a New York Times piece pointing out that US President Barack Obama was about to unveil some new climate change plan. Something to do with his legacy. Yawn.

Permaculture: The Design Arm of a Paradigm Shift

Off the keyboard of Toby Hemenway

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Published on Pattern Literacy on April 16, 2015

permaculture

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Here’s how it happened to me: Back in 1990 I was playing hooky from my unsatisfying biotech job in Seattle by browsing the homesteading shelves in the public library. I pulled down a thick black book I hadn’t seen before called Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual. As I perused the pages, suddenly my previously fragmented life made sense. I had been fascinated for years with ecology, appropriate technology, economics, gardening, evolution, construction, energy systems, social justice, and a raft of other seemingly disconnected fields. But I didn’t want to specialize in any one of them, and I had been watching with some envy as my friends dropped into successful careers in various niches. Now, finally I knew what was going on. What a relief to find that a whole-systems approach could tie together the many disparate pieces of my life. This is, I know, a familiar and exalting experience for many when they first encounter permaculture.

Another familiar and not-so exalting experience for most of us is trying to explain permaculture to our friends and families, and receiving blank, confused, or condescending looks in response. I’ve explored this problem in the past, as have others. I’ve continued that journey, and want to share some of my latest thoughts on how we can explain permaculture to others and where it fits into a larger picture.

Just as permaculture helps umbrella many seemingly unrelated disciplines and places them into a larger context, we can understand permaculture better by seeing where it lies, in turn, in its own larger context. Much of the difficulty and confusion around permaculture stems from its protean nature: It can be many things to many people. It’s been called a philosophy, a movement, a design approach, a set of techniques, a practice, a worldview, a land use ethic, a science, a pseudoscience, and even a religion.

I’m finding that the most fruitful way for me to think about permaculture is that it is the design arm of a paradigm shift. To be more specific, it’s the design approach for achieving the goals of the sustainability movement. And I mean sustainability in the largest sense, not just environmental sustainability but social and ethical as well.

Permaculture is what we use to put into action our growing understanding that humans must fit into the web-work of the rest of life or we’ll make this planet uninhabitable for us and for countless other species. It gives us tools for social justice and for working together. To use a Buddhist analogy, it tells us how to do the “chop wood and carry water” work that remains after enlightenment; in this case, the enlightenment of gaining a whole-systems perspective. After your world changes, there’s plenty of work to be done. That work is permaculture.

Much of the knowledge that made permaculture possible has been around much longer than permaculture. Seeing that larger context helps us see which problems permaculture is trying to solve—for it is, indeed, a problem-solving toolkit. That context includes the ancient indigenous wisdom that inspired much of Bill Mollison’s vision. It also includes the ecological science that emerged in the late nineteenth century. Important, too, are the whole-systems sciences that first appeared in the 1940s, laid out by people like Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Norbert Wiener, Kenneth Boulding, and Donella Meadows. And there is the outrage and grief over the despoliation of the planet that spawned the environmental and sustainability movements, which found voice in the 1950s with Rachel Carson and many others. These are some of permaculture’s teachers and mentors, and they were each building a worldview much more coherent than the dominant paradigm of reductionist science could ever offer. The entire framework that their work was based in had to arise before permaculture could exist. To give that large framework a single name, I think of it as whole-systems thinking.

This larger context of whole systems into which permaculture fits and plays a role is why I am reluctant to use such grand terms for permaculture as philosophy or movement. Permaculture is a part—and an essential part—of those larger sciences, philosophies, and social movements, but it’s not the whole story. It doesn’t encompass them, it derives from them. And, most importantly, permaculture gives us the tools we need to bring this new understanding of whole systems into the world in physical form and action. Once we have learned to think this new way, permaculture tells us what to do to make it real.

Permaculture, then, is a systematized program for enacting the worldview of the social justice and sustainability movements and for bringing the wisdom of indigenous knowledge into contemporary life. It is whole-systems thinking in action. It’s what we need to do to be living in alignment with the new paradigm, so nicely phrased by Rafter Sass Ferguson, of meeting human needs while retaining and enhancing ecosystem health.

The genius of permaculture is that it is both a tool for enacting the new paradigm of whole-systems thinking and a way to learn how to make that paradigm shift. To use permaculture effectively, we need to have made the transition to the holistic worldview. Until we have done that, permaculture can look like a set of gardening techniques, or at most a set of practices guided by a list of dogmatic principles and three ethics. We can’t get good at it until we have moved beyond the reductionist view that most of us were brought up in. But the beauty is, simply practicing permaculture teaches us to think in whole systems. Sheet mulching, just to take one possible path, helps us see the soil food web, which shows us what creates the conditions for healthy food, which can point us toward food justice, and then this helps us see how human and planetary ecology are interdependent. Permaculture is a tool for working our way toward these larger understandings. And if you’ve already made the paradigm shift, permaculture tells you how to manifest it in the world and in your life. These mutually reinforcing aspects of permaculture are part of its power. That, not incidentally, is how whole systems work: Their interconnections are their strength.

Knowing that permaculture is embedded in a larger movement toward sustainability and in a whole-systems paradigm also constrains us from doing stupid things with it. We won’t use permaculture to try to sustain the unsustainable. Putting a green roof on a pesticide factory can’t be permaculture design. Reducing waste or energy use at a toxics manufacturer isn’t a viable design project because we know that we must take all the system yields into account. A planet-killing process can’t be reformed; it must be eliminated at a higher design level.

This also shows why a set of ethics is naturally embedded in permaculture. When we are thinking in whole systems, we inherently are aware of the consequences of our actions, and we know that there is no such thing as an externality. There is no “away.” In a whole-systems view, pollution and human suffering aren’t incidental by-products of manufacturing so-called wealth but are seen as central yields that highlight bad design. In permaculture, care for the earth and care for people become inherently integrated into the design process. Indeed, those are the ultimate products of our designs; the other yields—money, consumer goods, even food—are the by-products.

The understanding that permaculture is what the sustainability movement uses to manifest its vision helps clear up the thicket that has grown up around describing permaculture. I don’t see permaculture as a philosophy or even a movement in itself, but rather is part of a much larger movement: the great paradigm shift that our species must undergo to be able to remain on this planet. That movement and paradigm are far greater than permaculture. Permaculture, however, plays a central role within that greater movement and that whole-systems philosophy, because it is, so far, the best approach for putting those global visions into practice.

Without the design approach and strategy-building tools of permaculture, the environmental movement could remain mired in protest, negativity, a battlefield mentality, and the compromising and destructive alliances increasingly being made with corporate polluters by The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and other institutionalized environment groups. Permaculture can help them move forward, because it provides the solution set for the problems identified by the environmental and sustainability movements, and does it in ways that allow those communities to break out of the old-paradigm, beholden-to-big-money traps that large non-profits and NGOs are stuck in. In its social structure and design methods, permaculture reflects the local-scale but widespread, distributed-network approach to solution-finding that is one of the hallmarks of whole-systems design. It allows those who use it to escape the fundraising treadmill, the scarcity mentality, and the us-versus-them mindset.

We learn in permaculture that a key question to ask of any design element is, “What is its function; what does it do within its context?” So let’s ask that question of permaculture itself: What function does permaculture perform in the world? And I would answer that it gives us concrete methods to bring our new understanding of whole systems into reality so that we can live regeneratively. It is the set of tools that the social justice and sustainability movements can use to plan and manifest their vision of a better world. Permaculture is the design arm of the paradigm shift.

Interview with Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

logopodcastOff the microphones of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen, RE & Monsta

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on April 17, 2015

Film-Movies-Cinema

Discuss this Interview at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

Today is Film Day here on the Diner!

Besides the Busy as a B-Movie article up by Jason Heppenstall discussing his (slow) road to stardom as an Extra in a film being shot in Cornwall in the UK, we also had a chance to interview Allan Stromfeldt Christensen, who writes the From Filmers to Farmers blog and has begun also the new Nyet-Flix blog.  Unlike Jason who is just stepping into the world of film as another way to earn some scratch, Allan LEFT the world of Film to pursue a life dedicated to sustainability.

In this podcast, we discuss the many conflicts of our current culture and choices you make along the way.

Join the Discussion INSIDE the Diner!

House of the RISING SUN

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on March 22, 2015

http://onemillionwallpapers.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/sunrise_wallpapers_hd.jpg

Discuss this article at the SUN Table inside the Diner

SunWebGraphic3As veteran Diners know, a while back a few of us got together to develop our ideas around building Sustainable Communities in the face of Collapse.  After a few false starts and a few mistakes, last year we chartered a Non-Profit 501c3 Corporation, the Sustaining Universal Needs Foundation, or SUN for short.  It is based in South Carolina, one of the most economically deprived states in the FSoA, in the Bottom Quintile*.

The logistics of getting these sort of things off the ground are immensely difficult, first from getting all the paperwork correct, but then even after that getting everyone to work together to make it a going concern is difficult too.  Then there are all the details, like getting the bank account set up, getting the PayPal account setup, getting it all hooked together, yadda yadda.  If you are currently working, it is kind of hard to find the time to devote yourself to all of this nonsense.

Conveniently or serendipitously however, I just Retired from paid work, and have more time to spend on this project.  I went into the Grants.gov website to look for possible Grants that SUN might be eligible for, and found a very appropriate one offered by the Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, and I am now fully engaged in making an application for one of their Grants, which if successful will get the first SUN Community off the ground.  It is however a daunting task to get this level of Grant Funding from Da Federal Goobermint, there are an enormous number of hoops you need to jump through successfully before they will dish out the Dollars to you to get rolling.

Now, some people might call me a HYPOCRITE, since first off I chartered a CORPORATION, and second off because I am seeking MONEY from DA GOOBERMINT to make this community possible.  My answer to that is first off I have absolutely ZERO problem with being a hypocrite in this regard, you do WTF WORKS!  LOL.  It is PRACTICAL, and it makes CFS.  So hypocrisy worries me not a bit here on this.

Now, the deal on this one is we have just about exactly ONE MONTH to get our Ducks in a Row and file this Application by the Deadline Date.  I have already downloaded 3 Files regarding the rules for applications, how they must be submitted, what should be in them, the application forms themselves etc, well into the hundreds of pages.  Fortunately I read fast, but still this is a ton of material to digest and then produce the appropriate and fully acceptable Application inside a one month window.  I need to put together at least 50 Pages worth of dense material complete with biz plans and economics.  I can write 50 pages in no time, but to make it acceptable here and have all the detail they ask for in the format they require, this is quite another story.

So, if there are any Lurker Diners out there who have experience with writing Grant Proposals and would like to assist us in this task of wresting our fair share of the Debt Money from the Belly of the Beast, PLEASE CONTACT ME SOON!!!!

If you do not have Grant writing experience, but wish to help us Financially in getting off the ground, contact me directly at my ReverseEngineer77 AT Yahoo DOT com email address, and I will give you instructions on how to Donate.  Do NOT use the Diner Donation PayPal Button for them or the SUN4Living PayPal Button for this purpose at this time!!!!  These are not all correctly hooked up yet for this project.

Contributions to the SUN Project are TAX DEDUCTIBLE!!

You can find most of the Basics of the SUN Project at the SUN4Living website, including an early Prospectus we wrote up, but which will undergo extensive Modifications for this Grant.

Briefly though if you do not want to go cruising the SUN4Living Website, the fundamentals are this.

We need to create Local Food Production by the people who are consuming the Food in their own neighborhoods.

We need to build Structures & Systems that can last and are Resilient.

We need to work cooperatively to REVERSE ENGINEER to a more sustainable system of living in harmony with the rest of the ecosphere.

We need to eliminate MONEY and Bankstering as an intermediary for Sustaining Universal Needs.

We welcome all suggestions and ideas on how to move off the fossil fuel economy and into the world of a low per capita Energy future, we welcome all who will help in any way in this most important directive.

Only through Cooperation and Sharing can we successfully traverse the Zero Point.   Only by working together can sustainability be accomplished.  Now is the time to work together.  There is NO TOMORROW otherwise.

RE

Rank State Poverty Rate
(by Household Income)
People in Poverty
by Household Income
(in thousands)
2014 Poverty Rates
(includes unrelated children)
Supplemental Poverty Measure (2010-2014 average)
(Geographically Adjusted)
United States 12.6% 45,950 16.0%
01 New Hampshire 5.6% 73 7.9% 10.3%
02 New Jersey 6.8% 592 9.5% 15.5%
03 Vermont 7.6% 47 9.6% 10.1%
04 Minnesota 8.1% 412 12.1% 9.7%
05 Hawaii 8.6% 110 12.6% 17.3%
06 Delaware 9.2% 78 12.4% 13.9%
07 Utah 9.2% 231 9.8% 11.6%
08 Virginia 9.2% 684 10.8% 13.3%
09 Nebraska 9.5% 167 10.0% 9.8%
10 Connecticut 9.7% 326 8.6% 12.5%
11 Maryland 9.7% 542 9.7% 13.4%
12 Idaho 9.9% 143 13.9% 11.6%
13 Alaska 10.0% 66 12.1% 12.5%
14 Massachusetts 10.1% 641 10.9% 13.8%
15 Washington 10.2% 636 11.9% 12.2%
16 Wisconsin 10.2% 553 11.1% 10.8%
17 Nevada 10.6% 260 13.1% 19.8%
18 Wyoming 10.6% 54 9.3% 9.2%
19 Florida 11.1% 2,250 14.6% 19.5%
20 North Dakota 11.2% 70 11.0% 9.2%
21 Pennsylvania 11.2% 1,372 11.2% 12.6%
22 Iowa 11.3% 327 10.9% 8.6%
23 Colorado 11.4% 530 12.4% 13.7%
24 Illinois 11.5% 1,441 13.3% 15.2%
25 Missouri 11.6% 659 15.6% 12.4%
26 South Dakota 11.8% 90 14.3% 10.6%
27 Michigan 12.0% 1,196 27.6% 13.5%
28 Oregon 12.0% 436 13.7% 13.9%
29 Rhode Island 12.1% 127 13.2% 13.6%
30 Ohio 12.3% 1,392 13.5% 13.2%
31 Kansas 12.5% 337 13.9% 11.5%
32 Indiana 12.6% 774 16.4% 14.2%
33 Maine 12.6% 166 11.6% 11.2%
34 North Carolina 13.1% 1,115 17.0% 14.2%
35 California 13.2% 4,716 15.5% 23.8%
36 Montana 13.8% 128 13.5% 12.1%
37 Georgia 14.4% 1,298 18.5% 18.2%
38 New York 14.5% 2,760 15.9% 18.1%
39 Kentucky 14.8% 599 17.1% 13.6%
40 Tennessee 15.0% 872 16.7% 15.5%
41 South Carolina 15.0% 626 13.8% 15.8%
42 Arizona 15.2% 917 21.3% 18.8%
43 West Virginia 15.4% 276 16.0% 12.9%
44 Oklahoma 15.6% 543 13.0% 13.4%
45 Arkansas 15.9% 509 19.1% 16.5%
46 Texas 16.2% 3,681 17.4% 16.4%
47 Alabama 16.7% 750 16.8% 13.5%
48 New Mexico 17.9% 347 19.6% 16.1%
49 Louisiana 18.3% 748 14.3% 18.5%
50 Mississippi 20.1% 571 23.2% 16.1%
51 District of Columbia 20.7% 15 18.0% 22.7%

Boomer Doomers

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on March 1, 2015

end_is_nigh

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http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120313041703/creepypasta/images/b/bd/The_end_is_nigh_(1).jpgBack when I first discovered the world of oncoming Doom back in 2008 in the Aftermath of the Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers collapses, I had no idea about Peak Oil, and my only knowledge or recollection of Doomers were what I had thought of as “psychos” at the time, the folks back in the 70s who walked around with placards declaring “The End is Nigh”.  Turns out here they weren’t wrong or psycho, just way ahead of their time.

DDlogoMy first internet communications and discussion on Doom concepts came on the Peak Oil Forum in 2008-2009, and there I ran into the whole panoply of Doomer Archetypes, Survivalists, Nazi Eugenecists, Permaculturists and of course the Doomsteaders, which is where the Doomstead Diner title for this Blog comes from.

What is a Doomsteader?

Doomsteaders are people who have sort of exited the regular economy and moved out into the boonies on a patch of property they are trying to make resilient and survivable when the final crash of the industrial economy arrives.  There are quite a few variations on the theme, depending on how much the Doomsteader wants to keep things like Electricity running and how much money they actually have to set the place up.

Some will fit out with Solar Panels, Generators that will run on a variety of fuel inputs, Battery Banks for storing the juice, Charge Controllers, the works here.  They have hydraulic log splitters too, and tractors they plan to run with biodiesel to keep the whole operation running after TSHTF.  Others try a more 18th Century model, trying to fit out with Wood Stoves, Candles and Horse drawn plows, in the Amish model.

Here’s a short Bio for some of the Doomsteaders I have run into since the Peak Oil Forum days.  By no means is this complete, there were many more, but this is a basic cross section.

Duke

Duke was a Peak Oil commenter who was very full of himself and liked to brag about all his preps, which included every techno gimmick he could buy to make his Doomstead resilient.  Besides having the hydraulic log splitters and all the rest, Duke ALSO had an Armory the National Guard would be proud of, with automatic weapons, night scopes, rpgs, the WORKS here.  The only thing he did not claim to own was a Tactical Nuke.  Insofar as I could tell though, this Doomstead was only occupied by the Duke and Duchess, and it was hard to imagine he had any friends who would join him there since he was insufferable even online.  LOL.  So I never figured out exactly how Duke was going to defend this place from the hordes of Zombies he himself projected as coming out of the wood work once TSHTF.

Pops

Pops was a Peak Oil Forum moderator (I think he still is) who caught on pretty early to the Peak Oil problem, and presciently sold out of his California home prior to the crash in 2008, and used the proceeds from this to buy himself around a 20 acre Doomstead in Missouri, not all that far from where my sister lives in Springfield.  As a result, during one of my vacations visiting the relatives down there in the Lower 48 before mom died, I had a chance to drive out and meet up with Pops IRL.  His farmhouse was quite nice, but the place is not that removed from the population at large, and unlike Duke, Pops was not collecting an Armory to try to defend it with.  So this place also assumes a kind of BAU will take place after TSHTF.

BC2K

BC’s Doomstead is somewhere in Maine, and he is EXTREMELY careful about revealing its actual location to anyone. Careful is being polite here, really he’s totally PARANOID about this. LOL. Unlike some of the more recent Doomers, he has been a Doomer himself and building on this location since the 1970s.  he’s very conversant with all the techniques talked about in the permaculture community, and in fact teaches on it when he ventures off the Doomstead periodically.  His security plan is to be hidden and far enough off the beaten path that the Zombies won’t find the place.  The problem with that is that it is probably not Zombies he has to worry about, but local Cops and National Guard, all of whom know exactly where his place is.  Even I was able to deduce where the place is, and I don’t have all the tricks available that the military and police do, just good deductive ability and a knowledge of how the internet works.  This freaked out BC2K so much that he dropped off the internet entirely, but I am sure he still has his phone operational, so there is no real way to hide here and still participate in some manner in the economy.

Doug Casey & Simon Black

These two Doomers fit another category, the Uber Rich Doomers who aren’t just setting up a subsistence farm somewhere in Amerika, they have enough money to build and develop entire compounds which they are selling Condo style to other rich folks, sprinkled around the Globe from Argentina to Chile.  South and Central America seem to be the locations of choice for this bunch of Doomsteaders, which includes the Bush family which has its Doomstead in Panama.  Things are so bad here in the FSoA in terms of Taxation and accelerating Fascism that these folks figure to escape to these much SAFER and MORE FRIENDLY  locations.  Except one kind of has to wonder exactly how Safe or Friendly such places will be when the economic system TANKS and the impoverished Argentinians surrounding the compound decide to come for a visit, and knock down the compound walls?

There are many more examples of various types of Doomsteaders, Albert Bates who was a founding member of The Farm in TN fits the category, so does Orren Whiddon who is founder of the 4 Quarters Interfaith Doomstead in Pennsylvania.  Running a somewhat different idea and paradigm is Ray Jason, the ex-Street Juggler who runs the Sea Gypsy Philosopher Blog.  Ray’s concept is to remain Mobile, and to use small sailboats as the ticket to Freedom & Sustainability.  Problem with this is that most all sailboats are chock full of technology, they are terrifically insecure when moored anywhere, and you just can’t carry all that much on them unless they are quite large.  So this paradigm has its own set of problems.

What do ALL of these Doomsteaders have in common though?  They are all BOOMERS, aka the demographic of people pursuing this paradigm generally is from around 50 years old to 70 years old.  There are some older ones than that as well, but once into the 80s they tend to stop discussing their Doomerism with others on the net.  LOL.  Have a look at a photo from the Age of Limits conference where for the last 3 years  Doomers gathered to discuss oncoming Doom

http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/IMG_20130523_212744.jpg

Now, there are a few younger folks sprinkled in there, but the preponderance of this crowd is Gray Hairs.  I can tell you also that the general demographic of Diner readers are Gray Hairs also, though we do have sprinkled in at least 1 20-something in Monsta, 2 30-somethings in Lucid Dreams and Gypsy Mama and a 40-something in WHD.

Why is the Doom Community so overwhelmingly OLD?  More than a few reasons for this.

The first one is Economics.  Just about everyone who sets up a Doomstead has to have pretty substantial money to do this to start with, and then to be able to live on it without having a job in the regular economy (since even the close in ones are in areas where there is not much employment to be found), they have to have an Income coming from Investments, Pensions and Social Security, etc.  VERY few people who have Doomsteads grow or raise 100% of their own food, and they still have taxes and other expenses to keep the place running.  You can cut down the amount of outgoing FRNs you need with a subsistence farm to pretty small numbers, but you can’t cut it out entirely.  Nor can you usually entirely feed yourself and family on what such a subsistence farm can produce each year.

http://narural-energy.com/wp-content/uploads/solar-power-for-off-grid-homes.jpgMoreover, if your Doomstead relies on things like Solar PV Cells and Batteries, pumping motors and the like to bring up water from wells or run Hydroponic Systems, most of this stuff will start to fail on you within 5-10 years, its not sustainable outside of a supporting Industrial Economy.

Most 30-somethings do not have money enough to even get GOING on one of these Individual Doomsteads, much less make it work to raise a family on it.  So they are shut out of this economically, and being so shut out you don’t even want to think about or consider what you will do when TSHTF, because there is nothing realistic you CAN do.  At best, you become as Self-Reliant as possible and learn as many skills as you can, but otherwise to dwell on Doom is pretty counter-productive.  Much as you might WANT to move out to a Doomstead in the Boonies, it is out of reach economically, and it’s somewhat depressing I think for people who are so shut out to read about how some retiree is building a Windmill on his property to pump water to his Raised Beds.  You would like to do that too, but you can’t.  It costs MONEY you don’t have to set up a Doomstead, even the El Cheapo variety.

Other major reasons are Experience and Psychology.  If you have been around 50 or more years, you have had a chance to observe what is really a long ongoing downspin, and to extrapolate out from there where we are headed is not too hard.  You are also quite a bit closer to your own personal trip to the Great Beyond no matter what occurs, so it’s a bit easier as a result to accept that everyone is Doomed.  If you are 30 years old with some young children, you definitely do not want to believe everybody is Doomed, and will resist this idea as long as you can.  Even if it is not Everybody but just MOST people you do not want to accept this idea, since because you cannot afford your own Doomstead to try and ride it out, you are probably one of the ones who gets a Ticket to the Great Beyond TM.  Your kids too.

What is the outcome of this dynamic?  Well, it seems that the vast preponderance of people who are in some way prepared for an oncoming collapse are all the OLD FOLKS! Great Doomsteads with all the preps to keep them going for another 20 years, but THEN what?  If they do have kids, the kids think they are Nutty Doomers and they don’t spend time on the Farm learning how to care for the pigs and chickens and harvest the heirloom seeds to keep growing the squash from one season to the next.  In fact, probably 90% of the people who have subsistence farms don’t save their own seeds, they just buy new ones each year from some heirloom seed distributor on the internet!

The bottom line on this is that this type of Doomsteading is itself Doomed, you are not going to get a sustainable culture from mostly Gray Hairs past reproductive age who are running small “sustainable” Doomsteads.  These Doomsteads are not sustainable because THE FOLKS INHABITING THEM are not Sustainable!  20 years from now, they are gonna be DEAD no matter WHAT, or best case drooling octogenarians who can’t even find the switch to turn on the Solar PV system.  LOL.

http://blog.newscom.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/farmer-milking-cow-in-field.jpgThe very people you really NEED to make a sustainable system here are precisely the people who are SHUT OUT from making it happen, the 20-40 year olds who still are fit and of reproductive age!  Even if you ARE an Aging Boomer Doomer, the likelihood is that your kids do NOT want to join you on the Doomstead to milk the cows, their psychology hopes things will get better and they will eventually get a better job than working as a Starbucks Barrista.  Even worse if they are currently successful Doctors and Lawyers, are they gonna give that up to go cow milking on your Doomstead?  Highly Unlikely.

How does this paradigm play out after TS actually DOES HTF?  The Old Fogeys with the Doomsteads can’t keep operating them, and the Young Whippersnappers who should have been out there learning how to milk cows and save seeds and keep a Doomstead running have no knowledge of how to do that, so even if they drop in and dispatch the Old Folks and take over, the system fails because they don’t have knowledge enough to keep it running!

Besides that is the fact the vast preponderance of these well-outfitted Doomsteads are built with plumbing systems that can go awry, roofs covered with tar paper that need to be replaced or resurfaced every 5 years or so, septic systems that need to be pumped out periodically, not to mention of course the possibility of various types of weather related damage from Tornadoes to Hurricanes to Snowstorms to Flooding to Wildfires to just your own Personal Fire from the Wood Stove malfunctioning.  OOOPS!  Bye, Bye, Doomstead!  lol.

My favorite unsustainable system is water pumping from deep wells.  OK, you have off grid power from your Chinese manufactured Solar PV cells guaranteed by Kwai Chang Solar Industries for 20 years, but what do you do to get the water up from 200′ under ground when the impeller gives out on your pump?  Hope you have several back up pumps and parts in your Barn/Warehouse!  Home Depot has been Outta Biz for 5 years by now.  Even if your well is shallow enough to use a Hand Pump from above, the gaskets on these things wear out too!  If you can’t operate your well with a rope and bucket arrangement, you are SOL in this location.

http://i2.cdn.turner.com/money/dam/assets/130301162811-t-solarcity-home-depot-honda-00014515-620xa.jpg

Given that these “sustainable” Doomsteads are supposed to be living arrangements for the post-SHTF world, exactly where in that world are you going to get replacement plumbing parts, new roofing materials, new batteries for your Off Grid Solar PV setup, etc?  Even if some of these things are available to Scavenge from abandoned McMansions, how are you going to get them from the now vacated suburbs to your Doomstead in the Appalachian Mountains?  You’re going to hitch up the horses to your Wagon and mosey along the decaying roads to the Alexandria VA suburbs, strip some McMansions of plumbing and then with your now loaded wagon have your trusty team of horses Nellie and Betsy pull the load back to the Doomstead?  Remember here, by this time you are around 70-80 years old!  lol.  This is Magical Thinking at work.

Basically, the whole notion of individual Doomsteads run by age 50+ Doomers is totally ludicrous, and it’s only slightly more realistic if they have their children and grandchildren on board to help them, which few do these days.

Is there a SOLUTION to this?  There is, but insofar as I can see at this moment, it is not being undertaken anywhere.  You can’t set up Individual Doomsteads and make them Sustainable, particularly not if you are 50+ years old.  What needs to be done is to develop entire COMMUNITIES with a full range of demographics from children to old folks, and these communities and their living arrangements cannot be dependent on the various types of plumbing and electrical systems that we take for granted today.

http://i.c-b.co/is/image/Crate/CastIron12InchSkillet/$web_zoom$&/1308302308/lodge-cast-iron-round-skillet.jpgPeople need to re-learn how to live in very simple housing, use outhouses for bathrooms, make clothing from hemp fibers etc.  It doesn’t need to be complete Stone Age for quite some time, since many things like Cast Iron Cookware made today will likely last another Century.  There isn’t much that can Fail in a Cast Iron Skillet.  Similarly, quality Damascus Steel Axe Heads and Knives also have a good long lifespan if well maintained, oiled or greased daily to slow rusting etc.

This is not to say that if you do set up such a community TODAY, it can’t or shouldn’t have Off Grid Solar, Indoor Plumbing etc.  If you can afford all that stuff in setting the community up, GO FOR IT! Keep the creature comforts of the Age of Oil as long as you can, but set up the BACKUP systems that work without any of the fine manufactured parts that will disappear as the industries that produce them shut down.  Do NOT set up your Sustainable Community in a location where the only water available is 200′ (or even 100′) under the ground.  That is NOT SUSTAINABLE!

What the Boomer Doomer is doing in setting up one of these Doomsteads is not developing a sustainable living paradigm, they simply are trying to finish out their lives in as close to the comfort they had during the Age of Oil as might be reasonably possible if collapse is fairly slow , and the next 20 years just sees gradual diminshing of services and products, but still the core elements of society keep functioning to one extent or another.  The main core there is Law & Order & Property Rights of course, since once those fail few Boomer Doomers could Protect & Defend their Doomsteads from either roving gangs of Zombies OR the local Sheriff or National Guard commander turned Warlord.   However, really these things do not have to fail completely for the paradigm to fail, all that has to fail is the Impeller Pump on your well.

The question for all of us is how to join together to build sustainable communities, not how to go out and buy your own little Dream Retirement Home and die in peace out in the boonies of Appalachia while the World Burns.  That is the question we have to answer here on the Diner, and with the SUN project.

SunWebGraphic3

Degrowth

Off the keyboard of Brian Davey

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Published on December 18, 2014 on FEASTA

Degrowth_Panel

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Degrowth – A Vocabulary for a New Era: Review

Degrowth. A Vocabulary for a New Era, just published by Routledge, is quite a slim volume of 220 pages and 51 short chapters.

Before anything else it seems important to say that there are lots of chapters in this book that I think are quite excellent as short pithy descriptions of the key concepts of degrowth. If in this review I have not mentioned many of these chapters it is usually because I have no quarrel with the choice of the word or phrase, the way that is elucidated, the way that it is related to the other words and combined with a short reading list. An attempt has been made by the editors and by the individual authors to relate the words in the vocabulary together so that they are not isolated chapters about stand alone ideas. This puts the idea of “Degrowth” on the intellectual map as a wide ranging discourse, a movement of thinkers about the future of society that needs to be taken seriously…and yet….

…because it is supposed to be a “vocabulary” of degrowth my inclination has been to try to get an idea of which words and concepts relating to degrowth the authors consider to be important enough to be given explanatory chapters, and then to compare this choice of concepts with the vocabularies used by other analysts. Do the words that have been chosen for inclusion cover the constellation of concepts which match the range and types of degrowth ideas that there are and the degrowth idea as I have understood it?

In fact there is only a partial overlap with my own ideas. In this review I will try to explain some of the differences.

No chapter on climate change

http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/01/140122_FT_Degrowth.png.CROP.original-original.pngOn this first point the most striking absence is that there is no specific chapter for climate change. Although climate change is mentioned throughout there is no chapter for the topic as such.

In their introduction to the book the editors write that one of the “foundational degrowth claims” is “the inevitability of disastrous climate change if growth is to continue”. One would think that, if this is such a central issue, it requires proper elucidation. Perhaps the editors thought people would already know about climate change and there was no need to cover it. However this is not really what I am getting at. I am not stating a case for a thumbnail sketch of elementary climate science; I am arguing for an exploration of how the climate crisis contextualises the way one perceives degrowth. For example, given the policy failure of the growth enthusiasts to mitigate climate change at the rate and scale required is “degrowth” now, in any case, too late? If degrowth ideas are not too late, then how much time is left to implement them? Exactly how desperate is the situation that the degrowth agenda is supposed to address? A related question is “how quickly must degrowth proceed, how deep must it be and how could it possibly be delivered?”

It is now widely recognised by people involved in climate politics that only with a level of CO2 in the atmosphere of under 350 parts per million, perhaps much less, will the planet be safe from runaway climate change. Since the actual level of CO2 in the atmosphere is nearly 396 parts per million we are already well on the way to a catastrophe in the absence of emergency action. I have always assumed that a core rationale for degrowth was to be found here.

Degrowth could be driven by climate policy

http://blogs.worldwatch.org/sustainableprosperity/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/degrowthVsGrowth-Desazkundea.jpgNot only that – in my own vision for degrowth, and I guess for others associated with Feasta, degrowth would actually be ‘driven’ by an adequate climate policy. Many chapters in this book draw attention to the role of energy as central to the metabolism of the economy. Most of that energy is currently derived from fossil fuels so if there is a mechanism to screw down the available fossil energy entering the economy it should be possible to force an amount of degrowth on the economy appropriate to averting catastrophe.

To use an metaphor – we need a climate policy regime that is akin to the process of turning down the tap through which carbon fuels enter the economy until no more carbon energy is available to be burned. Were the political will there, and the general political support for degrowth, this would be easy to administer. One would simply require all companies that extract fossil fuel to have permits for the tonnage of carbon in the fuel that they extract before they are allowed to sell this tonnage. Some agency would limit the tonnage of carbon permitted out of the ground each year and would only make available for sale a rapidly reducing number of permits. The money that the fossil fuel companies paid to buy the permits would be distributed on an equitable basis to the general population. That’s called “cap and share” and if I had edited a book on degrowth then ‘cap and share’ and/or similar climate policies would have a chapter as the driver of any voluntary degrowth process.

Voluntary and involuntary degrowth

I write “voluntary degrowth process” because there is an argument that I think ought to have been explored in this book that degrowth will mainly be an involuntary process. Let me try and explain what I see as being the difference.

http://clubfordegrowth.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/450px-Degrowth_strategies.jpgBy “voluntary degrowth” I mean a vision for the future that is promoted because it is regarded as preferable to a growth economy. It is preferable, for example, because it encompasses a number of proposals for change that get no attention in the growth economy where more output is seen as the solution for all problems. An example would be Ivan Illiich’s tools for conviviality – creating the kind of tools that would make possible “space for relationships, recognition, pleasure and generally living well, and thereby, reducing the dependence on an industrial and consumerist system” as Marco Deriu explains in his chapter. Thus what I might term “voluntary degrowth” is a mainly French idea that is sometimes termed “décroissance conviviale”, a cultural and social critique of society – an alternative “imaginary” of how society might be.

By “involuntary degrowth” I mean a view of the future that the production economy will contract anyway, whether we like it or not, perhaps in a chaotic fashion, perhaps through collapse, so that the task of the degrowth movement is to prepare for, and ameliorate, that contraction as best as we can. It is not so much communities and societies making a choice against growth – but communities finding means to cope with difficulties that they will inevitably face when the economy contracts anyway. For example the Transition Movement (that is barely mentioned in this book) has had an idea that “energy descent” is going to happen in the near future and that it is an urgent task to prepare communities so that they will be able to cope.

Now in trying to cope with this process that people like me think will happen anyway the Transition Movement have had a strong idea of making the most of the situation. They have wanted to “make a virtue out of necessity” and to look for the silver linings around the storm clouds. There is the suggestion that people might be surprised to find that the quality of life might actually be better. The Transition Movement thus works towards the revival of community, relationships and different kinds of creativity too. The kinds of projects advocated for – like urban gardening – are the same as for décroissance conviviale. However, the starting point is not a choice for a different kind of society compared with the growth economy – so much as making the best of what will happen in the difficult conditions associated with future contraction.

To my mind it is a weakness of this book that it does not draw out and emphasise these distinctions enough. In fact different kinds of future are possible. Thus we can consider the possibility that involuntary degrowth happens (in the sense of a contraction of material production) but not quickly enough to reduce carbon emissions at an adequate pace. In this situation cap and share to drive a faster pace of emissions reduction – and a process of voluntary degrowth of material production would still be needed to speed up the involuntary contraction.

Reducing the allowable extraction of fossil fuels in order to leave most fuels in the ground would degrow the economy. However, on its own this is unlikely to be enough to avert runaway climate change. That’s because CO2 is already over the limit and any more will add to the danger. So a lot of CO2 will have to be taken out of the atmosphere. This is another urgent future task. However, any draw-down of CO2 will probably only be possible, if at all, by extensive land reclamation and re-vegetation, locking up the CO2 in biomass – using ecological design methods (like permaculture). In my view draw-down or sequestration ought to be another idea with a chapter. It isn’t. There is no consideration of enhancing carbon sinks.

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Overshoot and collapse – some more missing words

https://panosz.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/degrowth.jpgOf course academics at the University of Barcelona, who have played a leading role bringing this book together cannot be expected to know everything but the failure to address these urgent practical issues is serious. Or that is my point of view anyway. We need to remind ourselves that the original authors of the 1972 Club of Rome sponsored study “Limits to Growth” worked with a model in which growth could continue for some time beyond the carrying capacity of the planet in a phase that they termed “overshoot”. Overshoot was analogous to living beyond ones personal means by running down the family savings or running up debts. It can be thought of as a delay in adaptation to ecological realities which would mean that eventual adjustment, when it comes, will be that much more of a shock. An overshoot that goes on too long eventually leads to collapse – a chaotic reduction in complexity likely to involve a great deal of insecurity. You can think of collapse as involuntary degrowth and it is much more serious than stagnation, recession or even depression. That’s because it is a much longer and irreversible process of transformation in humanity’s relationship with the planet likely to be associated with rising death rates and falling populations. Unfortunately words like “overshoot”, “collapse” or “involuntary degrowth” are not part of the vocabulary either. To my perception this “vocabulary” lacks a continuity with the “Limits to Growth” thinkers of 1972. It is a southern European and French choice of words even though the book is written in English.

Many of the actions and policies that are proposed under the heading of “degrowth” might conceivably help in a collapse – but one feels that most of the authors in this book do not conceive their proposals for action as emergency measures. They are not being proposed as survival arrangements; they are still being proposed in an alternative paradigm in a future which is rather like the present. They are being framed on the assumption that “developed economies” are entering “a period of systemic stagnation” in which “an abandonment of growth will revive politics and nourish democracy, rather than animate catastrophic passions” as it says in the introduction. I find this framing to be rather too complacent.

Not all of the contributors share the same ideas. Christian Kerschner has written the chapter on peak oil (and other resource peaks). He thinks “Economic degrowth is no longer an option but a reality”. For him it is starting to happen involuntarily.

Another author not on the editors’ wavelength is Alevguel Sorman who has written the chapter on ‘Societal Metabolism’. Sorman concludes “ The biophysical view of social metabolism warns about the limitations of degrowth strategies based on voluntarily consuming fewer resources, less energy or less capital. These will not suffice on their own”. In particular Sorman warns against the assumptions of many thinkers that worksharing will enable a trade of income in exchange for more free time because “In a future scarce in energy we will have to work more, not less”.

There is also an indirect and partial consideration of collapse in a chapter by Serge Latouche titled the “Pedagogy of Disaster”. This is a discussion about whether future disasters will allow a sociopathic elite to exploit the vulnerability of shocked, disorientated and frightened people ( ‘disaster capitalism’) or whether the coming shocks will shake people free of their complacency so that they wake up in time to forestall an even worse future. Latouche concludes that both are possible, depending on context.

An version of degrowth flawed by optimism bias?

http://theoverthinker.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/lemmings.jpgOne way of summarising these points is to say that the editors have drawn together a mainly optimistic version of degrowth. It is not a view that I share. I find it is interesting to contrast the approach of the editors with the attitude of Dennis Meadows, a surviving member of the ‘Limits to Growth’ study of 1972. Meadows stopped believing that humanity would be able to adequately respond to the limits to growth crisis in the 1990s and feels that a collapse is now inevitable.

“In 1972 there were two possible options provided for going forward — overshoot or sustainable development. Despite myriad conferences and commissions on sustainable development since then, the world opted for overshoot. The two-leggeds hairless apes did what they always have done. They dominated and subdued Earth. Faced with unequivocable evidence of an approaching existential threat, they equivocated and then attempted to muddle through.

Global civilization will only be the first of many casualties of the climate the Mother Nature now has coming our way at a rate of change exceeding any comparable shift in the past 3 million years, save perhaps the meteors or super volcanoes that scattered our ancestors into barely enough breeding pairs to be able to revive. This change will be longer lived and more profound than many of those phenomena. We have fundamentally altered the nitrogen, carbon and potassium cycles of the planet. It may never go back to an ecosystem in which bipedal mammals with bicameral brains were possible. Or, not for millions of years”.

Graham Turner, an Australian academic has now done 30 and a 40 year follow-ups to see how the business as usual predictions of the 1972 ‘Limits to Growth’ computer model compare with what actually happened. He concludes that they are pretty much on target – and that the turning point will occur in 2015.

“With significant capital subsequently going into resource extraction, there is insufficient available to fully replace degrading capital within the industrial sector itself. Consequently, despite heightened industrial activity attempting to satisfy multiple demands from all sectors and the population, actual industrial output per capita begins to fall precipitously, from about 2015, while pollution from the industrial activity continues to grow. The reduction of inputs to agriculture from industry, combined with pollution impacts on agricultural land, leads to a fall in agricultural yields and food produced per capita. Similarly, services (e.g., health and education) are not maintained due to insufficient capital and inputs.

“Diminishing per capita supply of services and food cause a rise in the death rate from about 2020 (and somewhat lower rise in the birth rate, due to reduced birth control options). The global population therefore falls, at about half a billion per decade, starting at about 2030. Following the collapse, the output of the World3 model for the standard run shows that average living standards for the aggregate population (material wealth, food and services per capita) resemble those of the early 20th century.[1]

The distinction between voluntary and involuntary transitions matters. Without a transition that is at least partly involuntary it is highly unlikely that sufficient people will voluntarily adjust their lifestyles in the directions that degrowthers see as vital. At the same time what we are describing an unpleasant historical epoch in which death rates will be rising.

Risk aversion, prospect theory and the collapse of lifestyle packages

http://thetyee.cachefly.net/Life/2010/05/04/Degrowth.jpgIn order to understand the inertia in current systems and peoples reluctance to change their lives towards degrowth the work of Daniel Kahnemann is helpful.

Kahnemann’s “prospect theory” is another idea absent from this book. It shows that people organise their lives around ‘reference points’ and are very “risk averse” when it comes to retreating away from those reference points. A reference point might be something like the income level to which one has grown accustomed and therefore the amount that one spends in day to day life, the expenditure associated with a lifestyle that is more or less adjusted to the income. My interpretation of this is that a fall in income is not welcome not only because one has less but because the organisation, the management of life’s details, must be adjusted so as to create an adjusted expenditure pattern and this requires thought and attention. One spends less money but spends more time thinking about what one spends money on. This is unwelcome extra mental effort. For a significant change one must adjust a whole pattern of hourly, daily and weekly purchases with possible consequences for habitat, relationships, routine transport arrangements etc.

It is all very well to write, as the editors do in their epilogue, that scarcity is social, and that society can produce more than enough for our basic needs – but that does not address the main issue that people worry about when they manage their day to day lives. This is how to maintain their “lifestyle package” in sufficient balance so that their lives are not at risk of descending into chaos. Most individuals whose lives are in balance will be living in a set of circumstances where their income is more or less appropriate to match their habitat needs, which must match their relationships (accommodation suitable to living with their partner and dependents). These must match their job with its income – and with its time and travel commitments. These must match their job skills and domestic commitments. There is mental and emotional work involved in balancing one’s life and it is scary if it seems like unravelling.

The biggest fear is of a generalised life crisis in which all of these things unravel together. For example because they lose their job a person might find that they cannot service their debts (mortgage) or pay the rent and thus lose their accommodation. During the stress and practical chaos of this their relationships might break apart. During the last crash many ended up homeless living in tents or cars on their own. Many people also lost their minds – i.e. became totally disorientated, extremely emotional and unable to function.[2]

The practical projects as “lifeboat arrangements”

https://jaqastan.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/adeptes-de-la-decroissance1.jpgThe point about a generalised crisis is that large numbers of people could find themselves in situations like these – and thus need the urban farms, the food co-ops, the repair and maintenance workshops, the back to the land projects, the alternative currencies as “lifeboat” arrangements to keep them afloat. They will need these kind of projecsts to give them new social relationships and enable them to begin again, to regain confidence, to “recycle their lives”. It seems implausible to me that most people will join these projects and organise their lives around them as a choice of rejection of the growth economy – although some will. It is however not implausible that if and when the growth economy is breaking down that people will join these projects. (I have seen how valuable a community garden can be for people who have mental health problems.)

Until a generalised breakdown occurs most people will remain too tightly tied into the economic mainstream. When a breakdown does occur however the times will be very dangerous and the projects must be there ready to include and support people. This is because it is when all their options seem bad that people lose their risk aversion and are prepared to take gambles – like for example betting what little they have left or, in a more fundamental sense, gambling with their life by joining a criminal gang or an extremist movement.

Resilience – another missing word

The word to describe this set of issues is “resilience”. Unfortunately resilience is another missing concept in this book. Resilience is about how much stress an individual’s ‘lifestyle package’ or a community or a society can take and still function before it breaks down catastrophically. It is about the tipping points or thresholds within systems that reflect their levels of complexity and interdependence.

This ought to have been clear from the chapter by Sergio Ulgiati on “Entropy” which is about what role low entropy energy has in the maintenance of systems. The availability of low entropy energy in economic and social systems is not just in order to be able to produce enough “stuff”. The conversion of energy in “hub interdependencies” – in transport systems, transactions and financial systems, computer controlled production systems and global supply networks is used to maintain the continued functionality of an immensely complex set of organisational structures. If the energy is not there then the complexity degrades – systems cease to function – the organisation falls to bits.

The crucial issue here is how resilient are these interrelated structures to disruptions in hub interdependencies brought about by energy and resource supply shocks? Systems can cope with reductions in inputs of energy and other resources up to a point but beyond that point they may break down completely. When organisational arrangements break down altogether nothing at all may get produced because workers are unemployed, production systems stand idle, banks are bust, nothing moves. There would not be stone age levels of production but no production at all. Gar nicht. Rien du tout. Res en absolute.

Here’s a quote from a colleague in Feasta, David Korowicz, which reveals the issue at stake:

“In September 2000 truckers in the United Kingdom, angry at rising diesel duties, blockaded refineries and fuel distribution outlets. The petrol stations reliance on Just-In-Time re-supply meant the impact was rapid. Within 2 days of the blockade starting approximately half of the UK’s petrol stations had run out of fuel and supplies to industry and utilities had begun to be severely affected. The initial impact was on transport – people couldn’t get to work and businesses could not be re-supplied. This then began to have a systemic impact.

The protest finished after 5 days at which point: supermarkets had begun to empty of stock, large parts of the manufacturing sector were about to shut down, hospitals had begun to offer emergency only’ care; automatic cash machines could not be re-supplied and the postal service was severely affected. There was panic buying at supermarkets and petrol stations. It was estimated that after the first day an average 10% of national output was lost. Surprisingly, at the height of the disruption, commercial truck traffic on the UK road network was only 10-12% below average values.”[3]

It will be noted here that 10 to 12 % less commercial truck traffic and British society was about to fall to bits. It is easy to imagine particular kinds of emergency where the “life style package” of a lot of people would disintegrate.
Climate change, climate policy, overshoot, involuntary degrowth, collapse, risk aversion, inertia, resilience…here are a whole series of concepts and words that in my view ought to have appeared in the vocabulary but did not. As I said at the beginning of this review the constellation of concepts or the words in this vocabulary do not cover the issues to my point of view.

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A French book written in English?

The Degrowth book is a collection of 51 very short essays, almost all of which are by academic authors – 16 of whom are at the University of Barcelona. Although it is claimed to be the first comprehensive collection about degrowth in English it is very much a southern European academic view of what degrowth means. This is reflected in the choice of topics by the editors who have clearly been very influenced by thinkers on the French left. Thus, to my mind, many chapters sit uneasily alongside the chapters by some of the English and American authors some of whom have started from a different pre-analytical framework. I have no problem with a book whose authors start from different points but it places a particular responsibility on the editors to give the reader some orientation to the differences. It makes me wonder what the English and American authors have made of the parts of the book that they had no hand in writing.

In a footnote early in the book the editors explain why some words have not been translated into English:

“In this entry we leave the original titles in French, not only for reasons of language pluralism or practicality but also because many of the words involved sound more inspiring in French!”.[4]

My response to this is that it is not always practical not to translate. It is not practical for readers when it makes it more difficult for them to understand the meaning. Indeed if one does not understand what a word is supposed to mean then I for one don’t find that word inspiring. This is particularly the case with words that do not translate easily because they come out of a different intellectual tradition, background and patterns of thought.

An adjective used as a noun – “the imaginary”

http://foreignpolicyblogs.com/wp-content/uploads/polyp-org-uk-No-Economic-Growth-cartoon-e1298661998815.jpgThroughout the book many authors write out of a left wing French intellectual tradition about the “social imaginary”. The use of the adjective “imaginary” as a noun, as “the imaginary”, I have now learned has a long intellectual tradition in France. Novelists like Gide, philosophers like Sartre and Castoriadis and psychoanalysts like Lacan all used “L’Imaginaire” in different contexts. The idea seems to be that the words and symbols used in human communication, as well as in our thinking, do not necessarily match or correspond to actually existing realities.

The words and symbols that we use may have an invented component that corresponds to nothing ‘out there’ in the world. In fact the imagination is necessary to thought. Our ability to shape patterns of words, images and symbols in creative writing or painting is not merely an ability we have to create fictitious realities. The mind has to have this capacity to imagine if it is to be able to think at all. How else can a scientist theorise except by imagining what might be the explanatory causes for some phenomena? The imagination can later be tested and found to be true or false but the initial act of making a hypothesis is an ability to construct what might be, to imagine.

Furthermore it is through our ability to imagine the way in things might be otherwise arranged that our freedom to act in the world lies. Our imagination can create visions of how future social, economic and political realities might be constructed differently. We can use our imagination to invent things. This is why, according to Cornelius Castoriadis, history cannot be analysed in a determinist way. A significant role in the historical process originates from the creative imagination of people in societies. Thus, once we surrender to the idea that “there is no alternative” (e.g. to neo-liberal economics) we have not only got a failure of the imagination but have allowed our freedom to disappear. We are, to use the concept of one of the other chapters, relinquishing our autonomy – our ability to set rules and laws for ourselves in co-operative and hopefully convivial arrangements with other people. Hence the case made by Serge Latouche in this book for the need to “decolonise” our “imaginaries” from the ideas of market economics.

Unfortunately one meaning of “imaginary” in the English language is “existing only in the imagination”. (Oxford English Dictionary) That’s why I don’t personally like the adoption of “the imaginary” as a noun. It is too ambiguous. In the context it also reads like a word that has suddenly become fashionable among intellectuals.

I can imagine that I can raise a bag of ten apples one metre into the air with one joule of energy but that is “an imaginary” that only exists in my imagination. (An apple of an average weight takes one joule to raise one metre). While some imaginaries have some connection to reality, some imaginaries, on closer inspection, appear to be too-off-the wall and rather more in the nature of fantasies. Some imaginaries are nice to look at in a surrealist painting but non functional and some imaginaries are not only crazy but criminally insane and plain dangerous. As a matter of fact “economic growth” is a mainstream “social imaginary” that is collectively suicidal. Imaginaries have to have some connection to practical possibilities and actual developments in material reality and it’s important to note that current mainstream ‘economic imaginaries’ are delusionary.

Ecological economists have given a lot of thought to this issue by seeking to ground economics in energetics and physics. Cultural critique has to check its groundings otherwise it is waffle.

La depense sociale – what is it actually?

This brings me to one of the words that do appear in this book and one in particular that the editors seem particularly keen on – that word is “dépense”. This concept is discussed more than any other by the editors particularly in their epilogue where the authors break into French slogans in their last two sentences:

“Vive la décroissance conviviale. Pour la sobriete individuelle et la dépense sociale.”

With social dépense so clearly highlighted it is obviously important to understand it. If the idea is to be ‘operationalised’ we need to know how to recognise “dépense” when we see it. In fact I’ve been left feeling that I am unclear what it means.

Part of the problem for me with understanding ‘dépense’ is that it is another word coming out of the French tradition with which I have not been familiar. When the word “dépense” is left in French and not simply translated as “expenditure” then the reader is left assuming that it has a more complex meaning which I need to make some more effort into getting a grip on. My assumption is that I have no choice but to do extra work digging back into the history of that concept to try to capture all its connotations in the intellectual background in which it was created. In this book ideas are introduced in very small chapters that are no longer than 4 pages and that is not long enough to pick up all the nuances and assumptions of the tradition. For that reason I felt compelled to do additional google searches in order to try to understand “dépense”. I also searched around to find some more about George Bataille who originated the idea. It was on my bookshelf that I found the most useful succinct description of Bataille’s ideas in an old edition of the Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy:

“For Bataille, much modern thought and many social and economic structures are modes of denial of the fundamental nature of being as a Dionysian process without stable identity or meaningful direction, an expenditure and squandering of force that is no more than its own end – compare the second law of thermodynamics….”

So this is a crucial idea for degrowth? Digging in other texts to try to understand what kind of idea this is, and what its author was about, I discovered not just an economic theory but a writer of surrealist texts, a particular angle on psychoanalysis and Marxism and a deeply disturbed and traumatised man. I write this at this point not to disqualify the dépense idea but only to point out that I am reluctant to embrace any concept with this amount of baggage before I have carefully examined it because there isn’t enough in the Degrowth book to get a grasp of the idea.

Unfortunately after a lot of work I am still not completely sure that I have understood what the word means. Nor am I sure that I have understood how the dépense chapter author, Onofrio Romano, and the editors want the word to be understood in the context of degrowth – because this is not necessarily identical to the way Bataille understood it. What follows is my attempt to convert the idea into a terminology that would make some sort of sense to me but I am not completely sure that I have got it right.

Underlying the motivational foundations for the ideology of growth is the mainstream economics idea of scarcity. If there can never be enough goods and services to meet human needs it seems to follow that the more we produce the better. Here is the simple case for growth. It would therefore be understandable if advocates of degrowth were drawn to Bataille who turned the scarcity idea on its head – the problem for the economy in his way of thinking is not how to deal with scarcity but how to deal with “excess”.

According Bataille that there is a “superabundance of energy” and more than enough to meet the basic material needs for organisms/humans. That part of work using energy to meet these basic needs which enable us to survive can be regarded as ‘servile’ serving and merely re-creating our animal existence. It is when we are deciding what to do with the surplus which is more than we need for very basic needs that we enter a realm of freedom where we are truly exercising our freedom in “forms of energy beyond the servile”.

For Romano, and for the editors here is a key concept that they want to put at the heart of “degrowth”. Scarcity, the editors assure us, “is social. Since the stone age we have had more than we need for a basic standard of living.”

The problem is that, instead of staying with our basic individual standards of living and democratically organising how we are going to “waste” the surplus together, for non servile purposes that develop our humanity, we have accumulated and invested the surplus in new technologies that expand production even more. We have thereby grown the capacity of “the economy” to produce ever more until it is threatening the eco-system. At the same time we have privatised and individualised the process of waste making of the surplus. “Given the individualisation of society, single individuals take on the burden of waste through small trade offs: from perverse sexuality to alcoholism, gambling and flashy consumption”. [5]

The alternative then is guaranteeing a modest living for all individuals and socialising “dépense”, the non productive use of society’s surplus.

This is a superficially attractive idea could perhaps alternatively be expressed like this. If we want to stop growing we must stop accumulating productive capital. (Creating more technical devices and infrastructures that convert energy while turning more throughputs into what eventually become larger waste streams). With a modest income most individuals would not have enough to save and any surplus would go to democratic institutions to dispense – though not on anything productive that would grow the economy. According to the editors:

“Our message to the frugal ecologists is that it is better to waste resources in gold decorations in a public building or drink them in a big feast, than put them to good use, accelerating even more the extraction of new resources and the degradation of the environment. It is the only way to escape Jevon’s Paradox. Accumulation drives growth, not waste. Even in a society of frugal subjects with a downscaled metabolism, there will still be a surplus that would have to be dispensed, if growth is not to be reactivated.”

I think that I get the main drift of the argument here but I am not absolutely sure I have understood it fully. This is partly because I am not sure that is meant by the word “energy” – is it the same energy that is actually becoming scarce because of peak oil or is there a looser use of the word? I am also not sure that I have understood partly because there is an implicit psychology under the analysis that I don’t get either. For example, Romano argues that “individualised dépense” does not happen on an adequate scale.

“A large amount of energy remains unused, it continues to circulate and to stress human beings. Lacking tools of deliberate and symbolic catastrophe (i.e. the ritual collective dépense) the inhabitants of growth societies begin to dream them and to desire a ‘real’ catastrophe.”

What is this supposed to mean? Is it supposed to be the same idea as “catharsis”? I don’t understand what this ‘energy’ is that is stressing people and how it is stressing them. However I have tried to guess at what the author means in a conceptual framework that makes sense to me so, once again, here goes with my attempted ‘translation’:

Is this trying to describe a situation where, while people have time on their hands and a wish to do things, they are stressed and frustrated because they don’t actually know what to do with their time and ‘energy’? Is this because they don’t have purposes to give structure and meaning to their lives and to use their personal ‘energy’ on (like the sacred)? Is this what frustrates them? Does it mean that they are frustrated because they have spare time on their hands and they are bored because they don’t have a meaningful “game” to play with their lives? Is this what it is supposed to mean? Does it mean that people need to be able to collectively express the negative feelings that arise out of their bored purposeless – feelings like anger and destructiveness? Does it mean that without collective rituals of destructiveness to which resources must be devoted that they will end up wishing for real catastrophes? Is this, for example, about angry young men (and women) needing rituals like football matches with punch-ups thrown in – because otherwise they will sign up to go and fight for causes and go to war?

What seems to be being said here is not only that dépense is a means to dissipate resources so that they are not accumulated economically but also that dépense has a function in the management of mass emotion. If I have got that right then what is being described here is what therapists call “catharsis” – the release, and therefore relief from, strong emotions which would otherwise be channelled into real destruction.

How do you administer the dépense idea? How do you operationalise it?

If I have understood these ideas correctly then what opens up for me is a huge number of questions. For example how is the social depense to be organised/administered? How is it to be decided, and by whom, what is an acceptable level of basic provision and what is to be destroyed as “excess”? How is “excess” to be identified and then “socialised” prior to its “waste” in a useless fashion? I suppose that by guaranteeing a basic income and a maximum income and then taxing all the rest away that one could say that that rest was “excess” but would the authors really want to spend this excess without any investment whatsoever? For example all buildings as well as other forms of public infrastructure would be depreciating as they always do – should provision be set aside to maintain their upkeep and replacement? “Growth” can happen because when equipment needs replacing and the replacements are “upgrades”. Where does that fit into dépense?

Further to that, what exactly is “dépense sociale”? On the last page the editors give a list of examples – collective feasts, Olympic Games, idle ecosystems, military expenditures and voyages to space and they refer to pressure on democratic and deliberative institutions choosing between these.

I will put aside at this point the question of what an “idle ecosystem” is and raise some other points instead. The implicit faith in the ability of “democratic and deliberative institutions” to be able to stand up to the military industrial complex and prevent it claiming the surplus surprises me. Given the pre-existing power structures it would be very surprising if the idea of individual sobriety and social depense did not to turn into the latest version of bread and circuses. The masses would have, at best, a very basic standard of living while the political elite would organise banquets in honour of the latest head of state, rope everyone into large scale theatrical events with everyone wearing a uniform and carrying torches while they listen to rants from their betters. Alternatively resources could be “wasted” in jolly festivals in which ‘civil people’ (who are obedient) are entertained while those who are disobedient and uncivil, and thus ‘obviously’ the cause of all the problems in society, are put in the centre of ampitheatres and torn apart by lions. This would be wonderfully effective in channelling and managing mass emotions and getting rid of the surplus too. Wouldn’t these qualify as social dépense? They appear to have done in the thinking of George Bataille for whom socialised dépense also included human sacrifices organised by the state in the Aztec empire.

http://image.slidesharecdn.com/happydegrowth1-140122071546-phpapp02/95/happy-degrowth-1-14-638.jpg?cb=1390396617

In conclusion

In conclusion, it seems important to me to know whether Degrowth is a voluntary or an involuntary process and to build that distinction into the vocabulary about it. If it is a voluntary process then certain things follow – like the need to know how it is going to be driven/motivated and administered, at what pace and in what manner, in order to respond to the climate crisis. It is also possible here that even if degrowth is involuntary, because of energy descent, that if it is not fast enough then, once again certain things follow from that about climate policy. As I have argued degrowth could be driven by climate policy by reducing the amount of fossil fuels allowed out of the ground.

To the extent that degrowth is an involuntary process then another set of issues arise – will the society and economy withstand the process without catastrophic breakdowns and what can the many kinds of projects and policies described in this book do to make energy descent a survivable process for the population? A great many people will be finding that their lifestyle packages are severely stressed and breaking apart and this will generate a great deal of fear and ‘negative’ emotions.

Notions like “dépense” are useful for drawing attention to fact that “surplus resources” can be ‘invested’ in things that have consequences for mass emotions and therefore for social stability or conflict. However, one must ask how much “surplus” or excess there will be on the way down given that energy descent is likely to take society through a variety of thresholds and tipping points and be an exceedingly bumpy ride. It is true that to “invest” resources in “capital accumulation” might in theory start the economy growing again – but only if new energy sources were found.

Growth is unlikely in a society where energy inputs are rapidly shrinking. Instead what is needed for the resources that are there is investment in the community level projects and activities which help people cope – an investment directly in the lifeboat projects as I have called them. There is a danger that the rather vague call for “socialised dépense” can be interpreted as a support for state centralisation of the remaining surplus – for the maintenance of remaining resources in the hands of the military, the state bureaucracy and privileged insiders whose claim to maintain “order” in difficult times is also buttressed by the use of resources to display their power and add theatrical embellishment to their authority. I don’t think this would be a very good idea…..

Read the response to this review by Giorgos Kallis, one of the book’s editors

Endnotes

[1] Turner, G. M. (2012). On the Cusp of Collapse. Updated Comparison of the Limits of Growth with historical data. GAIA 21/2 , 116-124.
[2] See my paper produced for Economic De-Growth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Paris, 18/19th April 2008 at http://events.it-sudparis.eu/degrowthconference/en/themes/ I did not attend this conference because, not being an academic, I could not afford to.
[3] http://www.feasta.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Catastrophic-shock-pandemic2.pdf
[4] footnote on page 5
[5] Onofrio Romano p 88

Featured image: community garden in Denver, Colorado. Author: emerson12. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2007_community_garden_DenverCO_787214962.jpg

The World’s Most Sustainable Country: What? Cuba?

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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 By 2006, when this picture was taken, urban farms such as this converted soccer field in the middle of Havana were supplying the city with 90% of its produce while using virtually no petroleum products. (Photo by Dave Williams/Flickr)
By 2006, when this picture was taken, urban farms such as this converted soccer field in the middle of Havana were supplying the city with 90% of its produce while using virtually no petroleum products. (Photo by Dave Williams/Flickr)

First published at The Daily Impact  February 9, 2014

After 50 years of pretending that Cuba is not there, the United States government this year admitted that, well, it is still there (even  Fidel Castro is still there) and we may as well deal with it. This is seen in some quarters as progress. But it is widely assumed that American business will swoop in there and upgrade them from their 1967 DeSoto cars, re-mechanize their agriculture, build fast-food restaurants, and stamp out Communism. It’s what we do.

What we should do is recognize that Cuba confronted in 1991 precisely the kind of Apocalypse that looms before us today — the sudden loss of external inputs to the economy — things such as oil, heavy equipment, cars, and did we mention oil? — and handled it. We have more to learn from them than there is likely time to learn before we are in the soup, but we should do the best we can, because there is no better example in the world for meeting and besting such a crisis.

The World Wildlife Fund in its 2006 Sustainability Index Report cited Cuba as the only sustainable country in the world.

To comprehend the magnitude of that achievement, and its significance for our world today, we need to go back to 1990. Cuba then was the very model of industrial agriculture, turning most of its land over to vast monocultures of sugar cane, applying oceans of imported oil to till it, spray it (Cuba at the time used more pesticides than the United States), harvest it and ship it to the Soviet Union in return for oil and food. Most of what was grown in Cuba was exported; most of what was eaten in Cuba was imported. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba, under embargo by the United States, had no market for its agricultural products and no way to pay for imported oil or food.

An industrial country wakes up one morning to no more oil. Just like that.

Motivated now by survival, not by profit, Cubans did what smart people have been telling us all to do for decades now. They stopped wresting cash from their punished land and started to heal it in order to have enough food to live. It was tough, starting from scratch, with the crisis already upon them. In the decade that followed the average Cuban adult lost 20 pounds.

They brought in experts in Permaculture from Australia and launched a national drive toward diversified, organic, polycultural, restorative agriculture. They did not do this because they wanted to save “the environment,” they did it because they wanted to save themselves. And that is why they succeeded. By the end of that first decade the average Cuban was getting 2600 calories and more than 68 grams of protein, an amount considered “sufficient” by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. By 2006 average caloric intake was up to 3356 calories.

A lot of this food was produced not in the countryside (requiring transport to the cities) but in urban gardens, where food was grown and consumed in the same neighborhood. By 2002, 35,000 acres of urban gardens produced 3.4 million tons of food. In Havana, 90% of the city’s fresh produce came from local urban farms and gardens, all organic. In 2003, more than 200,000 Cubans were employed in urban agriculture. In 2003, Cuba had reduced its use of Diesel fuel by more than 50%, synthetic fertilizers by 90%, and chemical insecticides by 83%.

Cuba’s achievements, in the face of exactly the kind of test we will soon face, are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Our obvious course, now that we are resuming a normal relationship, would be to commend them on what they have done and to invite teachers and consultants to come here to America and show our farmers how to stop destroying the earth and start feeding our people sustainably.

So that’s what we’re going to do, right?

Right?

 

***

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

Mainstream Money Mess

Off the keyboard of Graham Barnes

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Published on FEASTA on February 2, 2015

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The Mainstream Money Mess – three aspects… and what they mean for new money-forms

Background

This article looks at three of the most poisonous aspects of Mainstream Money from the perspective of a currency designer exploring new money-forms:

i) the interest on debt – 97% of money issued is created as interest bearing debt with horrendous consequences
ii) capital misallocation – most of that credit is allocated away from the real economy, and with no strategic guidance on priorities
iii) the monetisation of everything – the implicit narrative that anything that cannot be expressed in quantitative (monetary) terms has no worth

Many books and articles have been written about these three factors, and they are thankfully receiving increasing amounts of mainstream media coverage. This article attempts to briefly summarise the state of play in each area, from a particular perspective – that of the currency designer envisioning new currencies that might avoid the excoriating societal, economic and ecological impacts of such built-in dysfunction on future generations.

The Problem with Interest

Interest can be seen as capital-rent. Funds flow from a lender with more money than they curently need to a borrower with less money than they need. By definition the interest flow is from the poorer to the richer. So rather than the ‘trickle-down’ effect once postulated, we have a ‘trickle-up’ effect. In previous ages the power imbalance in the borrower-lender relationship has been partially addressed via debt forgiveness (jubilees) and through bankruptcy law. The current neoliberal-designed narrative emphasises the primacy of the debt – the ‘free will’ of the borrower and the unfairness of any write-downs to the lender. Thereby all lenders have licence to be predatory.

Now if the lender is a hard working self-made person, simply ‘parking’ money for a period of time until it is needed, then there is perhaps some rationale for capital-rent. At a guess, such loans might account for perhaps 0.1% of credit. Typically 99.9% of loans will come from two source-types – the smaller portion from inherited wealth pools where the initial accumulation of wealth is a result of historical serendipity, the smart commerce of previous generations or malfeasance (or a combination thereof), and where wealth-possession implies no merit for the current holder whatsoever; and the larger portion from private banks who create the credit out of thin air [1].

This latter category is the subject of monetary reform proposals which would see the state reclaim (at least partially) the right to issue money [2] – a right it has outsourced to the commercial banks as part of an undocumented and opaque ‘bargain’. The bargain appears to be based on two foundations – the banking sector’s ‘agreement’ to operate payment and settlement systems (which could in fact be handled via a neutral third party); and the political attraction of the state being able to wash its hands of difficult strategic decision making and leave all investment decisions to the ‘market’ (or the banks as a proxy for the market) – which is the subject of the following section. (I say ‘appears’ because to my knowledge the exact nature of this bargain has never been formally described.) It has been estimated that in the UK alone GBP 192 million is paid by the nation to the banks in interest every day [3]. This ongoing seignorage represents a wealth transfer into the pockets of the high priests and gatekeepers of finance – a key factor in the creation of a terminally divisive society. And a factor which is relegating the real economy to a smaller and smaller corner of the casino.

For chapter and verse on the truly horrific effects of debt+interest, the reader is referred to the writings of Tarek el Diwani[4] and the late Margrit Kennedy [5].

Kennedy has debunked one particular myth about interest – that it only affects those who borrow. Her work calculated the embedded interest accumulated in the supply chain of various goods and services and showed that it is quite common for 50% of a price to be due to interest costs.

At this point we will resist the temptation to disentangle the idea that the cost of money – i.e. the interest rate – is related to the level of risk involved for the lender. Suffice to say its complete b******s. Interest rates are more a measure of insider-status than of forensically-assessed-risk.

Interest in Currency Design

The two functions of means of exchange and store of value should be clearly separated when it comes to the design of new money-forms. For a ‘pure’ exchange currency the primary interest-related issue is the question of whether to implement a negative interest (demurrage) regime (or to design-in alternative treatment of relatively inactive currency units).

The underlying assumption to this line of thinking is that increased ‘local-GDP’ is good. (Note: ‘Local’ here needn’t necessarily mean local-geographic – more Preferenced-Domain [6] specific). In other words more trade is good, so the velocity (frequency of exchange) of money-forms needs attending to. But we know all about the Growth Illusion [7], the impossibility of infinite growth and the disconnect between GDP type measures and well-being. So it can be argued that buying in to this underlying assumption is itself to take on board some of the neoliberal ideology we are aiming to dump. However if a new currency is predicated on preferencing real world ‘core’ transactions (food, shelter, energy, society) then perhaps growth in currency turnover could be a meaningful metric. With this proviso, we can explore further.

The basic premise of demurrage, as anticipated by Gesell [8] and others, is that if carrying money incurs a cost it incentivises spending. As I see it there are three potential problems, (other than the spending=always good axiom) :
i) The approach implies that all purchases are equal (this can be addressed via the definition of the Preferenced Domain)
ii) There may be (especially in the early stages of a new currency) nothing that the holder wants to purchase available. Thus incorporation of demurrage in immature currencies is probably ill-advised.
iii) It can be gamed. Especially with digital currencies, trade ‘cycles’ ( e.g. A->B B->C C->A ) can be used to generate fictitious trades to avoid demurrage. (Note: An embedded transaction fee could mitigate against this. Further discussion below.)

Given these issues, plus the danger of succumbing to growth fetishism (or the ‘ideology of the cancer cell'[9] as it has been described), caution is advised. Successful use of demurrage has been reported by the German Chiemgauer currency but this appears to be measured in terms of velocity – three times that of the Euro as reported in 2009 [10]. However, it is possible that the currency is being used for local transactions that would have taken place otherwise in euros, so that the overall velocity of exchange in the local economy is in fact unchanged.

Proving real ‘additionality’ looks to be tricky. But then maybe it’s not necessary to do so. The demurrage creates a small revenue stream that can be partially diverted (as with the Chiemgauer), to non-profits. And with the recent conversion of the previously dismissive European Central bankers to the idea of negative interest, maybe Gesell was ahead of his time.

In a store-of-value context, interest can be used as a mechanism for incentivising the setting-aside of money – as an asset class in its own right. But the money thus set aside is then further invested (by someone) in other asset classes, so in currency design terms I prefer to see store-of-value currencies backed by something tangible and of enduring use-value, ideally energy.

Lastly, all currencies will need working capital at some point. For digital currencies this is best achieved via the transaction fee mechanism. Interestingly this mechanism is part of the smart incentive design of Bitcoin. At present mining incentives are the major reward, but as the currency matures, transaction fees will gradually overtake them in importance. Creating a separate store-of-value companion currency for a designed exchange currency might well be an interesting direction, but not with interest as its key value enhancement device.

Misallocation of Capital

As noted above, the lion’s share of issued money appears in the form of credit allocated by private banks. It may be harsh to say these funds are allocated on a whim, but there is certainly a herd-mentality, and the idea that there is a competitive money-rental market mediated by independent minded banks via the interest rate charged is an illusion. The end result is that insufficient funds are made available to the real economy. Most goes to the financial sector and to secured personal loans, largely mortgages. In theory this allocation is guided by a risk-weighting process underpinned by the Basel agreements. Different weightings are defined for different generic asset categories – government bonds being the ‘safest’.

Click to enlarge

The key point here is that there is no strategic guidance on capital allocation. Governments therefore are showing an implicit blind faith in the ability of markets (or banks as their proxy) to determine what is best for us and for following generations. This ‘social experiment’ has lasted now for around 45 years and in the words of Wren’s epitaph at St Pauls ‘si monumentum requiris circumspice’ [11].

Thanks to the reforming efforts of Positive Money and other pressure groups, the case for so-called ‘sovereign money’ is reaching a wider audience but the inertia of entrenched vested interest and the political expediency of being able to delegate national investment strategy to the ‘markets’ represent enormous obstacles to change. We must hope that this market supremacist phase of capital is temporary.

Capital Allocation in new currencies

As noted above all new money-forms will have need of capital at some point for development. If at this stage they are forced to return to fiat currency markets to borrow, they immediately become dependent on a competitor. Whether this dependency prevents the new money-form from achieving its objectives will depend on those objectives, but it is likely to act as a constraining influence.

The gradual accumulation of capital via embedded transaction fees is preferred but this means that the hard yards have to be put in to achieving critical mass in an old-fashioned save-and-invest sort of way; and that unless goods and services can be sourced via payments in the new currency, they are not acquired. Development is postponed. In this context smart strategies for bootstrapping a currency into sustainable existence are clearly needed.

When sufficient capital has been accumulated, the focus then turns to governance. New currencies must design-in governance mechanisms that are transparent and fit for purpose.

The ‘Proxy Pounds’ or Transition Currencies are backed by fiat – that is the Brixton/ Bristol pounds are issued in exchange for sterling. The sterling received is then ‘banked’ and a proportion can be loaned out to local borrowers. But unless interest is charged on those loans, the lending risk cannot be covered and scheme costs (which are generally payable in sterling) cannot be met. The interest ‘problem’ is linked to the capital accumulation ‘problem’.

The Monetisation of Everything (TMOE)

The TMOE mindset is related to the 1980s consulting mantra that ‘if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it’. Both display a complete disregard for the ineffable. It is difficult to argue a case for the complete abolition of metrics, but it is a rare metric that is widely accepted as an unambiguous measure of something that matters. Putting a numeric value to an entity can lead to unintended and unpredictable side-effects as experience (for example with the NHS) has shown. Numbers can also be gamed by insiders with a vested interest in specific outcomes.

Money’s function as a unit of account – as a yardstick – a measure of comparative economic value – shares some of these challenges. Perhaps the two main money-related metrics are personal-wealth and GDP. The first has become a fetishised proxy for personal-worth; the second is widely accepted to be unrelated to happiness/ well-being. War and car crashes are good for GDP. Attempts to identify a more meaningful index have led to work on the ISEW [12], GPI and the German NWI [13]. This process normally involves putting a numeric value (in money terms) on social and ecological parameters.

The dominance of money-measures in the shaping of economic policy has led to this ‘quantification’ approach being applied to many aspects of life not heretofore addressed by economics – to the ‘price’ of carbon, to the ‘value’ of housework and so on. Commentators talk glibly about natural capital, social capital, human capital. The quantification juggernaut is a key facet of the extension of markets into areas not previously treated as such. The market economy has become the market society. The classic neoliberal response to a failed market is to create a new market to address the failure, and money-metrics are central to this process.

The idea of the perfectly functioning market is a deeply attractive one. The invisible hand ensures that goods and services are traded at the right price, and, like the subcontracting of money-issue to the private banks, absolves the politicians from having to trouble their tiny minds on strategic human priorities. Unpopular outcomes can be attributed to the mysterious workings of the ‘deus-ex-machina’ of the market. This cloak of machine-like impersonality in turn can be used to obscure the influence of the puppet-masters. In the process we all adopt the language of the market and its prevailing narrative without realising it. It’s a shame such a market does not exist.

Quantification is also an important ingredient for the agnotology [14] central to neoliberalism – the spreading of doubt and uncertainty in order to paralyse meaningful citizen action while strings are pulled and neoliberal ducks lined up. There’s nothing better to argue over than numbers, their meaning and consequences.

Quantification in currency design

Exchange currencies – beyond the gift economy and simple barter – need a unit of account. So, whatever that is, there is a numerical representation of an account balance. As long as the rules concerning the exchange of these units are clearly set out; that non-trade uses for the currency (e.g. exchange with other currencies, fees) are transparently understood, and the underlying payment system is secure, then this particular metric is fine.

Over and above the individual transaction, however, there is an ongoing process of development of the community-of-users of the currency. This process involves the reciprocal assessment of various soft factors, of which the most important is probably trust.

We have recently seen some hyperbolic claims that Bitcoin does away with trust, and articles on trusting vs trustless schemas. But Bitcoin has not done away with the need for trust – it has moved the trust boundary. The blockchain manipulation algorithms allow the emergence of consensus as to whether or not payment has been made. Further development of cryptocurrencies – for example the determination of embedded contract conditions – will probably move the trust boundary further out. But they will not do away with it entirely.

Some of the existing ecommerce platforms address the matter of trust via a reputation metric. Reputation can be seen as a qualifying parameter. There may be people with the goods/ services you need (or the requisite units of currency) that you choose not to do business with. The reason is usually related to some facet of reputation. I hope to cover this more fully in a later article. But when reputation is expressed via a metric, it can be gamed.

The last family of ‘gameable’ currency-related metrics relates to the use of incentives in currency design. In other articles I have suggested that one aspect of behaviour-change-via-currency is the identification of various pro-currency behaviours [15] or achievements and their reward via new currency issue. Some of these triggers might be one-off events (e.g. recruiting a new member, recommending a new local source), but much of the thinking in this area has been around increasing activity levels. This type of reward can be gamed via fictional circular trading. And we also find ourselves back at square one if we incentivise the local-GDP of the currency irrespective of transaction ‘quality’ – its correspondence with the Preferenced Domain [6].

Summary

There are a number of ‘ways-in’ to the design of new money-forms. Identifying problem areas of mainstream money and then seeking to avoid them by design is but one.

Interest payable on credit is associated with never ending growth. New currencies will need to be more attuned to stability and ‘right-sizing’ than to the ideology of the cancer cell. So different ways of accumulating capital, allocating it productively and dividing the value-added are needed. Embedding transaction fees seems a promising way of achieving this, together with fair and transparent governance that can adapt to changing circumstances. But steady incremental organic growth (or indeed degrowth) requires patience and doggedness and is culturally alien to the dominant wham-bam entrepreneur-lionising value-set.

Convertability with mainstream money can ease a start-up but it creates a dependent relationship that is difficult to break. The new money-form child never leaves home. The road less travelled will involve a purposeful separation from mainstream money with consequent challenges for building critical mass and, when maturing, some form of capital controls to isolate or at least moderate harmful interactions.

Lastly, while metrics can perform a useful input to developmental discussions, an awareness that many of the important things in life cannot be expressed numerically will be useful. Judgement must be applied – in a transparent and pre-agreed way by a community of users. We cannot, using digital technology or otherwise, create an adequate money-form that is 100% algorithmically self-managing.

References

[1]: http://www.positivemoney.org/how-money-works/how-banks-create-money/
[2]: http://www.positivemoney.org/our-proposals/sovereign-money-creation/
[3]: http://www.positivemoney.org/2014/12/change-money-change-world-talk-ben-dyson-video/
[4]: http://www.kreatoczest.com/kz_publishing_ourtitles-pwi.htm
[5]: http://kennedy-bibliothek.info/data/bibo/media/GeldbuchEnglisch.pdf
[6]: http://www.feasta.org/2013/11/19/designer-currencies-and-the-preferenced-domain/
[7]: http://www.aislingmagazine.com/aislingmagazine/articles/TAM24/Sustainable.html
[8]: http://www.utopie.it/pubblicazioni/gesell.htm
[9]: Edward Abbey, The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West
[10: CHIEMGAUER REGIOMONEY:THEORY AND PRACTICE OF A LOCAL CURRENCY Christian Gelleri
https://ijccr.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/ijccrvol132009pp61-75gelleri.pdf
[11]: If you seek [its] monument [handiwork], look around yourself
[12]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_of_Sustainable_Economic_Welfare
[13]: http://www.wikiprogress.org/index.php/German_National_Welfare_Index
[14]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnotology
[15}: http://www.feasta.org/2013/07/26/designer-currencies-and-behaviour-change/

Featured image: Measuring tape. Author: Colin Broug. Source: http://www.freeimages.com/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1432929

The Cairncrest Farm Project

Off the keyboard of Edmund Brown

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Published on the Cairncrest Blog on January 29, 2015

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On Cairncest Farm, two brothers, Edmund and Garth, eat only what they raise/grow/forage/hunt themselves for an entire year. Join them as they blog about taking the local food movement to its logical and absurd conclusion.

Welcome to our year-long project. Over the coming year my brother and I are going to take the local food movement to its logical and absurd endpoint, and we’re going to blog about it. We’re going to grow all our own food for an entire year*. We’re kicking it off today with the onset of 2015. Several times a week we’re going to write about food, animals, vegetables, and other homestead related things. Obviously we did not decide to do this on a whim since we’re starting in the heart of winter and live in central New York. We began preparing for real last spring when we planted out our whole garden. We also co-own a farm and we have our own grass-fed beef. We have a small flock of chickens. We have some live pigs, but have never butchered one so we don’t have pork… yet.

I am the only member of my nuclear family engaged to live off hyper local food for a year, but as with any strict dietary proscriptions there are impositions on those closest to the ‘dieter’. I want to acknowledge my wife, Normandy, wonderful woman that she is. She is supportive of my harebrained scheme despite the burdens it entails.

From Garth:

A Lack of Surplus

For breakfast I ate (what else?) rutabagas with ground beef and sage. I find it interesting that I am still able to enjoy these simple ingredients so much even entering week five. True, I’ve turned on turnips, but they were on thin ice at the outset. Generally, I find each meal I eat immensely satisfying, and I haven’t been exceptionally hungry since the first week. The more difficult aspect is the prospect of my diet continuing in this vein, and perhaps even growing more limited, for months to come.

Which is to say, it’s still a huge stretch for me to imagine what it would be like if I was actually relying on the land in a life-or-death sort of way. It’s easier to focus on what I don’t have (I write as my wife grinds her coffee) than to imagine how deeply grateful I’d be for every last carrot if I was truly limited to my current stores. But I still try to imagine, as much as possible, what it would be like if the stakes were higher.

Knowing that I can go to the store if my health is actually in danger of being compromised has allowed me to be comfortable with a small margin of error. If the beets all rot next month I won’t starve. One certainty is that, if I was really living off the land, I would make a point of growing a lot more food. This excess would primarily serve as a buffer against any one particular crop having a low yield or even failing outright, but it could be fed to pigs to contribute to the year’s meat supply.  After all, one wonderful quality of a pig is its ability to store surplus perishables for later, delicious use.

Even if I consciously know that I have unlimited food potentially available, I’m not certain my body has gotten the memo. I haven’t lost any weight, but my basal metabolism does seem to have slowed way down. I’m wearing more layers inside just to stay comfortable, and my hands get cold when I go outside much faster than I’m used to. I’m not lethargic in that I have plenty of energy to go do chores and everything, but I do feel like I could sleep a couple hours most afternoons if I wanted to. Ed reports similar symptoms.

I’m curious as to the cause. My best guess is that, even though I’m now eating three meals a day where I used to eat two, my total caloric intake has nevertheless dropped. Onions, turnips, rutabagas, and even beets are not particularly concentrated sources of calories (less than two hundred calories in a pound, which is a large serving). This is good news for anyone who’s counting carbs, but it’s not so good if, like me, you generally eat noticeably more in the colder months and only feel capable of putting away so much tallow in a sitting. Potatoes are calorically dense, but, as I’ll write about soon, the crop this year was not what I’d hoped for.

Having an excess of food available has been such a fundamental part of life that I had hardly considered it in any but the most abstract terms. In truth, I still do have an excess, it’s just a much more limited one. So this is another reason that, if I was growing all my food year in and year out, I would grow extra and grow as wide a variety as possible – it would be nice to not have to work quite so hard to eat enough, and it would be a comfort to have more variety.

-Garth

Image Credit: Amy Gray

 

Tiny Houses

Off the keyboard of Dr. Geoffrey Chia

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on February 2, 2015

Tiny_Home

Discuss this article at the Doomsteading Table inside the Diner

DESIGN FOR AN OFF-GRID, PASSIVE-SOLAR, TINY HOUSE ON WHEELS

(includes a blueprint for a low consumption lifestyle and a proposal for a robust community)

G. Chia, Brisbane, Australia, February 2015

BACKGROUND

The tiny house movement arose in the USA after many people lost their houses in the wake of the subprime mortgage scam. My motivation for designing an off-grid passive-solar tiny house on wheels arose from various frustrating delays and impediments experienced when trying to obtain council approval for a cottage, particularly with respect to the composting toilet system. Other reasons people may choose a tiny house may be affordability, short build duration and transportability. Personal involvement with the build enables future ease of maintenance by the owner whether it be electrical (which anyone can perform with a low voltage DC system1), plumbing or structural repairs. Gas connections however must be done by certified gas fitters.

This particular design arose from my views regarding the drawbacks of living aboard a boat or a standard caravan, while also adopting some of the space saving innovations of such mobile dwellings. Internet research was also immensely valuable, especially viewing the numerous video clips of tiny houses on the web.

Dimensional constraints of the road legal tiny house are outlined within the regulations of each country, in Australia the width being <2.5 metres and total height <4.3 metres. Allowable length of the trailer is apparently up to 12.5 metres, however that is far longer than is needed in practice, a trailer base length of less than 8 metres being sufficient for most folks2. Any longer may result in a heavy structure exceeding the towing capacity of the most powerful 4WD/SUV ie. 8 metres (or even 7 metres, depending on materials used for construction) may be the longest practical trailer base, without having to resort to a Mack truck. Although personally opposed to the purchase of a 4WD for trivial commuting (eg one person driving10km to buy one litre of milk), I acknowledge the necessity for the one-off rental of a 4WD (or towing cab) for the single journey of the tiny house from the site of construction to the permanent destination.

Note: Australian regulations require at least one door be located on the left hand side or at the rear of the mobile home, presumably to allow safe ingress/egress when stopped by the side of the road. For countries with traffic on the right, presumably their regulation will require at least one door on the right hand side or at the rear of the structure.

This is not just an article about a type of house. It is an article about a change in lifestyle. It describes the special components which make up the house and the (trivial) lifestyle modifications required to drastically reduce one’s ecofootprint. For those who purchase the building materials (rather than salvage offcuts from building sites) the upfront cost may seem a little high, however never having to pay utility bills will result in huge lifetime savings3. More importantly, if and when the central utilities fail, you will be living comfortably while others are suffering.

Freedom from a mortgage. Freedom from utility bills. Freedom from the disruptions of grid failure. Freedom of movement. Ethical living without sacrificing comfort. This article promotes ongoing use of (low energy) electronic gadgets and electrical appliances for as long as we are able. It is not about reverting to the stone age and wearing sack cloth. It is not about deprivation.

BASIC PRINCIPLES:

The key to minimising your ecofootprint is to reduce consumption by increasing efficiency and turning waste into a resource (granting that high safety and health standards must be maintained). If everyone in the rich world had vigorously pursued this principle twenty years ago (combined with reducing the rate of human reproduction) we would not be headed for global catastrophe now4. However voluntary mass reduction of consumption was never likely to happen, being in direct opposition to the “infinite growth on a finite planet” agenda of the psychopaths who control the establishment.

Nevertheless, the principle of making a little go a long way is also of prime importance when devising a lifestyle which will enable one to survive, even thrive, through the upcoming collapse of industrial civilisation and the die-off of the majority of humanity.

The major objection by the endless growth ideologues to the principle of reducing consumption, was their claim it would compromise the quality of one’s life, even lead to impoverishment (the same argument they used against reducing carbon emissions). Utter rubbish. It does involve some degree of lifestyle modification, however as will be shown, there need be no reduction in your quality of life, particularly as we are now able to access brilliant technology such as high output LED lights, photovoltaic panels (which have markedly fallen in price) and evacuated tube solar hot water heaters. Furthermore living in a small space is immensely liberating because it forces you to dispose of all non-essential crap in your life so you are no longer a slave to your possessions. Having said that, storage space in the tiny house is limited, hence it is expected you should also have a large external community lockup shed (at least the size of a triple garage) which may also serve as a workshop, a meeting place, a place out of the rain for your clotheslines and a storage place for boxed items (winter bedding, valued books, long term food stores, gardening tools etc). The large shed roof will be essential for additional rainwater collection. This shed, being a very basic structure, can be rapidly approved by council (building application submitted as a shed or a garage) and quickly and affordably built from a kit by a contractor to your specifications eg able to withstand 200km/h winds.

The tiny house diagrams are displayed just after this paragraph. You may wish to intermittently refer back to them as you continue reading, to better understand the ideas being described. The original scale was 1:50 which is not the case with these reduced pictures:

TinyHome_Chia

TinyHome_Chia2

 

TinyHome_Chia3

TinyHome_Chia4

 

FEATURES OF THIS TINY HOUSE:

Disclosures and disclaimers: I mention certain brands and models of items in this article because I have personal experience with them and know that they work, however I have no pecuniary interest in any of those companies. I have invented none of the items described here but have merely put things together in a package I deem most logical, efficient and suitable for my purposes. Readers are welcome to adopt any or all the ideas here for their personal use for free, but obviously need to conduct their own research and due diligence. Implementation will be at their own risk. They are not to use my design for commercial gain. This article can be freely copied and distributed ad infinitum for private use.

The first and most important key component of the offgrid tiny house in my view is this one:

The urine separating composting toilet:

There is a “yuck” factor among the uninitiated who imagine that a composting toilet located within a tiny house will result in terrible smells permeating the entire dwelling. This is completely untrue with regard to the modern well designed urine separating composting toilet. The “Nature’s Head” model designed for boats and caravans works very well. Other brands/models with similar features may work just as well. The “major” lifestyle modification required? Males must sit down when they pee. Get over it guys.

Top priority is the sanitary processing of human waste. The standard centralised flush sewage system has been immensely successful in this regard and any transition to a different method must be at least as hygienic, to ensure health safety.

Features of this composting toilet:

  1. Separation of liquid from solid waste is key. Old designs which mix urine and faeces in one chamber generate foul smelling pathogenic anaerobic bacteria, due to decomposition in an unaerated, liquid medium with a low carbon and high nitrogen mix (this can be useful if the intent is to harvest methane in a biodigester, but that is beyond the scope of this article). The simple act of diverting the urine away is revolutionary. Faeces and toilet paper are deposited in a “solids” bin, previously activated by peat moss or coconut coir. Immediately after deposition, the mixture is churned by a turning handle, then sawdust or wood shavings (preferably mixed with wood ash to reduce clumping and to aid smell neutralisation) are sprinkled on top, to seal off smells and increase the carbon content. A high carbon to nitrogen content promotes aerobic over anaerobic organisms. Continuous exhaust ventilation by an ultralow energy (computer type) fan promotes aeration and expulsion of odour to the exterior. A double lid system further ensures no smells escape into the toilet cubicle at all. If tiny fruit/vinegar flies inadvertently enter the system they can be controlled by adding diatomaceous earth.
  2. Urine may be collected in a bottle or drained away. On the rare occasion odour occurs, this can be abolished by sprinkling sugar in the bottle. When the tiny house is permanently sited, the urine tube can be connected directly to the gray water piping for immediate drainage to the exterior, perhaps to a gravel bed. Ideally however gray water should be biologically processed in a reed bed then used to irrigate plants. Urine, being nitrogen and phosphate rich, is an immensely valuable fertiliser and should not be wasted.
  3. High volume use is not a problem. Even though the solids bin looks small it has ample capacity for continous use by a couple, especially because no liquid is stored within and the faeces compacts down as it decomposes. After 2-3 months as the “active” solids bin (bin 1) fills, it is replaced by an empty bin (bin 2). Bin 1 is covered by a lid with a vent and is put aside (outside the tiny house, say, in the shed) to quietly continue composting,. If bin 2 fills up after a couple of months but bin 1 has not completed its composting duration (at least a year) then waste from bin 1 (now quite innocous with an earthy consistency and odour), is tranfered to a heavy duty rip-proof waterproof bag and allowed to continue composting. Bin 1 and bin 2 are then swapped. Composted waste more than a year old can be used to fertilise plants eg fruit trees but never applied directly to edible crops eg the veggie patch. The only limitation to the volume of usage is the number of heavy duty bags available (high quality bags must be obtained which can be reused).
  4. Being a non-flush toilet, fresh water savings are immense. Standard “water saving” flush toilets use up to 6 litres for a half flush and around 9 litres for a full flush, valuable high quality fresh water being discarded down the sewer. In the case of a urine separating composting toilet, if flecks of faeces fall on the rim of the solids aperture, they are easily dispatched by a spray of fresh water with a water pistol, no more than 100ml per use. Some amount of fresh water in the solids bin is helpful to enable a slightly moist environment for biodegradation.
  5. Warming the solids bin. This last point is one I am personally addressing by a method not mentioned by the toilet manufacturers nor councils as far as I am aware. Aerobic decomposition of faeces proceeeds much faster at higher temperatures. Some systems (eg certain SunMar models) use electrical heating elements which may consume 100 Watts, a huge drain on one’s precious electrical resource and completely unviable for the offgrid low energy system. Substantial heat is generated by the decomposition process itself and the slightly insulating sawdust/wood ash layer sprinkled on top helps retain some heat. Nevertheless the process may be impaired in a cold climate especially in winter. One way to overcome this is to configure your toilet cubicle such that the solids bin is directly heated by the sun’s rays through a large double glazed window. Configuring your toilet cubicle as a greenhouse, so to speak5. This mandates that the cubicle be sited on the North side of your tiny house in the Southern hemisphere (South side if you live in the Northern hemisphere). Obviously you will install a retractable opaque screen inside the window, deployed during toilet use.

Solar principles:

It is expected the house will be moved very rarely and will be stationary almost all the time. When parked long term, weight should be taken off the tyres by placing multiple jackstands under the chassis. If the wheels are removed, Council will regard it as a fixed dwelling, subject to all Council regulations and approvals, hence leave the wheels on. Footings can be concreted into the ground near the corners, with anchor points to chain the chassis down and render the structure cyclone resistant.

Sited on a fixed location, the design can and should incorporate solar principles. Orientation of the broadside of the house toward the sun is key, North facing if you live in the Southern hemisphere and South facing if you live in the Northern hemisphere. Hence my design will have to be laterally inverted for Northerners (unless you like the evening rather than morning sun in your lounge).

It is important to have a tree free margin around the home for many reasons. Shading will defeat the aims of passive solar heating6 and reduce insolation for your PV panels and evacuated tube array. Overhanging branches can pose a risk of deadfall damage. Birds perched on the branches may leave droppings which enter your rainwater system. Leaves falling on your roof and sliding into your gutter may clog your rainwater collection system and promote bacterial contamination. Perhaps most crucial of all in the Australian context, nearby trees may pose a high risk of bushfire damage in the summer.

The three main aspects of passive solar heating are high insulation, large double glazed windows and thermal mass within the house. Extreme passive solar house designs in Scandinavia and Canada demand near airtight sealing to prevent hot air escaping and cold air entering – which will result in suffocation unless there is also heat recovery ventilation (which requires energy). Annoying condensation also occurs without adequate ventilation. We will not delve into such an extreme design here.

Traditional passive solar houses have depended on concrete floor slabs for thermal mass, which is obviously not feasible for a mobile house on a chassis with limited weight capacity. Furthermore, copious use of concrete, with its high embodied energy and carbon emissions during manufacture, may be anathema to the readers of this article. The thermal mass used in this design takes the form of water contained within the internal tanks of the house. Any of you who have a greenhouse with a huge tub of water sitting in the centre will appreciate this feature. Optimally the water tanks will be made of stainless steel (rather than, say, fibreglass) and painted matt black to facilitate rapid transfer of heat to and from the air of the cabin. The lounge seats will be located over the tanks but no weight will be borne on top of the tanks. The lounge base will consist of upright posts supporting the seats, but this base will have no side panelling, to allow direct contact between the walls of the steel tanks and the atmosphere of the house.

Obviously when the house is towed, the tanks should be empty.

Electrical system:

A 24V DC system is the most efficient for this size of dwelling and avoids excessive complexity. It is best to source as many appliances as possible which run directly off 24V DC, in particular the fridge/freezer which ideally should use an ultra efficient Danfoss type compressor. The market for such appliances is however much smaller than the mains voltage AC appliance market and you will still need a pure sine wave inverter (rated at, say, 3kW) to intermittently power certain other appliances eg washing machine, home theatre system etc. Use of portable electronic devices (smart phone, tablet and laptop computer – which, with a USB tuner can double as a TV) is encouraged as they consume little energy. Adapters to convert 24V DC to the charging voltages of these mobile devices are readily available.

These days, very few new home occupants bother with fixed telephone lines because mobile phones adequately meet their communication needs and the declining cost of mobile broadband internet access enables most web based needs to be met.

Some may advocate a 12V DC system because more 12V DC appliances are available on the market than those that run on 24V DC, however for a 12V DC system, heat energy losses in wires longer than the length of a car will be excessive unless you resort to expensive and unwieldly thick cables.

Some may advocate a system where all appliances are run off mains voltage AC, fed from a central inverter which is in turn fed from the batteries, a DC source. Even though inverters these days are fairly reliable with good longevity, the central inverter powering everything does represent a single point of weakness in the system, failure of which will render the entire household paralysed. Furthermore there is continuous drain of power from the inverter in the form of heat loss, even when all other appliances are off. Additionally, AC appliances themselves tend to be ultimately DC powered (AC power goes into the device, eg an LED light, then is rectified to DC, which then powers the light). The rectifier is another source of energy loss (as heat) and another layer for potential failure (if it fails, the whole appliance fails, even if the LED is still perfectly functional).

Power sources and batteries:

By far the most important source of power will be photovoltaic panels which may be placed on the roof or ground (higher risk of shading if located on the ground but easier to clean, adjust and if necessary fold and pack away should a storm threaten).

My preferred specifications are:

PV panels: 1kW in total (perhaps four 250W@24V panels)

Deep cycle7 lead acid batteries: 520Ah@24V in total (two separate sets of two 260Ah@12V batteries connected in series). AGM is preferable if you can afford it.8

The lead-acid capacities cited above are around 3 to 4 times that of most sailboat electrical systems. Standard caravans tend to have only one 100Ah@12V battery (less than one tenth of this system) as they are meant to be continuously recharged by the electrical system of the towing vehicle or a mains supply. The system specified here should suit the needs of any cautious users, apart from those enduring the prolonged darkness of winter at very high latitudes. The only devices with continuous drain are the fridge/freezer (however there will be minimal electrical drain in deep winter, especially if the fridge is relocated outdoors under cover) and the composting toilet fan (the latter consuming next to nothing). The washing machine will consume the greatest power intermittently. However if only used once or twice per week and only during sunny days, it should not significantly deplete the batteries. Obviously you should choose a front loading machine with the best energy and water savings ratings.

Rooftop PV panels can be angled during the Spring equinox to suit the summer sun and during the Autumn equinox to suit the winter sun. Angling them more frequently may not be worth the hassle unless they are ground based. MPPT voltage regulators/chargers are about 25% more efficient than PWM chargers but significantly costlier. I intend to use 40Amp smart MPPT chargers, one for each battery bank and have personally used the “Tracer” brand which has also been described in ReNew magazine. I used it for a 12V system although it can “autosense” if the system is 12V or 24V. Some chargers are falsely advertised as MPPT but are actually PWM. Try to find reviews on the web of the brand and model that you intend to purchase, buyer beware.

Ideally the negative terminals of each battery bank should be grounded.

Low voltage cutoff devices between the batteries and the central battery switchboard/bus will help prevent inadvertent overdischarge damage of the batteries.

Top-up charging after several overcast days may require use of a diesel or petrol generator (hopefully only on very rare occasions) however if a marine type 24V DC microwind turbine is incorporated into the system9, it is very unlikely top-up charging using fossil fuels will ever be needed, unless your location is devoid of wind.

Shallow cyclic draining of your battery system should extend its life well beyond ten years. Abuse will kill it within two years.

If one has access to a a stream which never runs dry, then a microhydro system providing a continuous electrical supply will be more than sufficient to run your space heating, electric hot water heating, a microwave oven, electric toaster, electric kettle and induction cooktop10. In the absence of this rare luxury however, it seldom makes sense to convert precious electrical energy to heat. Becoming dependent on microhydropower can be a problem though. Such a mechanical system is less robust and less dependable than PV panels. Breakdown of the microhydrosystem will be much more disruptive to the lifestyle of the inhabitant who is used to a surfeit of continuous power.

Fresh water usage:

Only one raingutter at the low edge of the roof is needed as the longitudinal ridges and troughs of the corrugated roof will direct rainwater flow accordingly. The “first flush” system will eliminate gross contaminants. The area of the roof and the size of the internal watertanks may or may not provide sufficient fresh water for the inhabitants, depending on how the water is consumed and the amount of local rainfall. An additional 2000 litre external rainwater tank will be useful and any alternative backup sources of fresh water eg dam, streams, springs, bore water etc will always be welcome. Your external shed (which should have a much larger roof area, being a communal building) should also have the largest feasible rainwater tanks attached, perhaps 40,000 litres, which will be needed for permaculture purposes. Australian council regulations specify that for offgrid properties at least 10,000 litres must be preserved for firefighting in a separate tank. In some council areas the 10,000 litres can be preserved at the bottom of the drinking water tank by having the off take for drinking above the preservation level.

The first principle must be to reduce consumption. Huge water saving (compared with a standard dwelling) will already have been accrued by adoption of the non-flush composting toilet.

More water conservation can be achieved by one’s method of washing. Lazing for half an hour under the shower is obviously not an option. Ever since the severe drought affecting Brisbane some years ago, I have adopted a method which uses less than 3 litres for a complete, thorough hair and body wash. The key item is a wash cloth about a fifth the size of a bath towel. The hair is wet first, then thoroughly scrubbed with soap or shampoo, then rinsed, the soapy water from the hair now wetting the entire body. The wash cloth is now wet and impregnated with soap and the whole body is thoroughly scrubbed with this cloth. The cloth is wet with fresh water again and the body is scrubbed again. This can be done a third time with further dilution of the soap. Final rinse from the shower over the hair and whole body eliminates any soapy residue. Less than 3 litres in total easily!

What if the first flow of water from the shower is uncomfortably cold? Simply collect the first flow cold water in a bucket while the tap is in “full hot” position till the water becomes warm, then turn the tap to the warm setting for your body wash. Put the initial cold water in the bucket aside to use for washing dishes later. Due to the close proximity of the hot water cylinder to the shower compartment in this design, there will be very little time lag till you receive hot shower water anyway, so this may not actually be an issue.

Drinking water: generations of rural Australians have lived healthy lives drinking unfiltered water directly from their rainwater tanks, however I personally prefer to filter tank water before drinking. Some ceramic filter systems are designed to last many years, the filter being “recharged” by scraping material off the ceramic filter every so often. Some may wish to boil their drinking water if there is concern of contamination from the roof or tank. I have personally used diluted bleach to “disinfect” water tanks previously, which kills most but not all microorganisms.

Gray water: Effluent from the kitchen, bathroom (including urine) and washing machine cannot be stored in a tank without rapidly turning manky and should be immediately drained externally. During initial setup of your tiny house, the gray water can be drained into a gravel pit but ideally in the long term, the waste water “experts”11 recommend draining gray water to an open reed bed for bioprocessing, then sent onwards to irrigate plants in a permaculture enclosure or greenhouse. Gray water is a valuable resource which should not be wasted. Low phosphate detergents and soaps with no additional chemicals (eg perfumes) should be chosen.

Solar hot water (evacuated tube) system:

In high latitudes in winter, the evacuated tube system is more efficient than a flat panel system and can cope with frost levels down to minus 20 degrees C. This will obviously only be deployed after the house has been transported to its permanent destination as the tubes are fragile and easily broken during transportation. Rather than locate the heavy hot water cylinder atop the tube array, which may require rooftop reinforcement, it is best to keep all heavy items low in the house, to ensure a low centre of gravity and improve stablility, which is important when encountering strong winds.

The tubes are best permanently angled steeply to suit the winter sun to prevent them overheating in summer. In locations with excessive insolation eg the outback or desert, tubes can overheat and explode and a flat panel system may be more suited there. With exponential global warming, living in the outback or desert, even if you have a borehole with limitless water, is probablly inadvisable. Even if you can survive the heatwaves by retreating to a hole in the ground, those heatwaves will devastate your crops and livestock.

Circulation of the water may be best achieved by a pump system that I have personal experience with (albeit a flat panel system: the “Heliatos”): A small 10W photovoltaic panel is mounted adjacent to the evacuated tube array. This PV panel is dedicated to run a small electric pump which is active only when the sun shines sufficiently. Water is pumped from the cold water tanks to the evacuated tube array then to the hot water cylinder. When the latter is full, the water keeps circulating between tubes and cylinder. When the sun goes down the pump stops and hot water remains stored in the cylinder. I am unaware if a thermosiphon system which does not require an electric pump has been invented (and proven to be reliable). If so, that would be a great option.

I have no plans for a “boost” system with supplementary LPG, because evacuated tubes work well even on semi-overcast days and the idea is to reduce complexity and reduce use of fossil fuels. Furthermore extra hot water can always be prepared atop the wood stove if there have been extremely overcast days.

LPG stove and wood stove/heater:

Even if/when the global economy collapses down to a tenth of its present state, in between episodes of turmoil we should still be able to obtain LPG or CNG cylinders for the next 15 years or so. Conventional gas (not shale gas or coal seam gas) is the least CO2 emitting of the fossil fuels. An LPG cooking system is therefore included in this design. However there is an important space adjacent to the LPG stove dedicated to a mini wood stove, which will be used to keep the cabin warm on winter evenings if the “greenhouse” heat from the water tanks has depleted after an overcast day. Just as greenhouse solar heat can be transferred to the water tanks in the day, heat from the wood stove can also be transferred to the water tanks at night and enable residual cabin warmth after the fire is out.

Safety considerations are vital. Apart from designing the setup such that heat from the stove can never ignite anything indoors (eg heatproof tiles under and around the stove, safety sleeve around flue as it passes through the roof etc), it is essential to ensure there is never any risk of oxygen depletion or CO2 poisoning within the cabin. External intake of air into the combustion chamber will prevent the former and an airtight vertical flue will prevent the latter. If there is risk the flue may serve as a lightning conductor, it is simple to ground it externally by means of a broad copper strip. Alternatively you may wish to install a dedicated lightning rod, especially if you also have a TV aerial which may attract lightning as well.

Of particular interest is the “rocket” wood stove/heater. This was originally designed to benefit people in the third world by reducing harmful smoke emissions and increasing combustion efficiency (it uses less than a quarter the amount of wood of a conventional fire). This brilliant device can help save our lungs and our forests. Unfortunately at this time no rocket stove model is certified for indoor use by councils or the EPA and can only be adopted at individual risk.

The multipurpose lounge/dining/study/entertainment area:

TinyHome_Chia5

The plan views of the lounge shown above are self explanatory. The standard cushion sizes are based on a particular “Ikea” outdoor cushion type and extra cushion covers are therefore easily and affordably obtainable, however the reader will obviously have their own cushion preferences. The back cushions, being vertical, do not allow for lumbar curves, hence scatter cushions will be necessary which, with fresh covers, can double as pillows for the guest(s).

The table, with folding side flaps and detachable legs, has to be custom made and will have two heights:

  • long table legs for dining table height allowing ample clearance above knees, when used for dining or study purposes
  • short table legs, where the table surface is below that of the seats such that when cushions are placed on the table top, their surface is flush with the seat cushions and a double bed is created.

The lounge can be converted into a home theatre by appropriate placing of retractable projection screen, LED projector, bluray player (or laptop computer) and speaker system.

Other design comments

Windows and doors:

The reader may have noted my obsession for numerous windows and transparent doors. Effective ways to prevent claustraphobia in a tiny dwelling are:

  • to ensure that you can enjoy external panoramic views through many large windows
  • to ensure that plenty of light streams in during the day and
  • to use light coloured walls

Excessive direct sunlight through the North facing windows can be controlled by external awnings and/or by internal pulldown blockout screens (the former being much more effective). Abundant opening windows allow for cross ventilation on hot days.

Full-width staircase along end wall (rather than ladder) to access loft:

This is a unique configuration as far as I am aware (although I have seen designs with staircases along the long wall of the tiny house, or transversely half-width across the mid section). To me, the novelty of a ladder wears thin after a couple of uses and I much prefer the convenience of simply walking up broad steps. The substantial area under the steps must not be wasted and is used to house the washing machine, hot water cylinder and shelving for pantry items. To maximise under-stair space, some of the steps are supported by vertical posts suspended from a horizontal structural beam (the vertical posts double as safety rails).

Slots for kitchen waste (for composting) and other waste (for recycling or burning):

Here is a simple system adapted from a boat:

TinyHome_Chia6

Al fresco enjoyment:

A timber deck can be built on the sun facing side, under a retractable awning.

Construction materials:

Construction materials used must be the choice of the owner (who may leave it up to the builder, if they are not the same person). Needless to say, quality components must be chosen for longevity, durability, strength and the structural flexibility to cope with road journeys. Optimal strength to weight ratio must be considered, both for the sake of towing the tiny house, as well as avoiding excessive long term load on the chassis, even when stationary. Caravan windows tend to be double layered acrylic rather than double glazed glass, for good reasons. It may be advisable to build the house to basic lockup stage only, then transport it to the final destination as an empty shell, where it will be properly fitted out (heavy batteries, washing machine, fridge etc only installed at final location).

Those of you who may know house builders may have access to the excess offcuts from their building sites. Such high quality, brand new but “surplus” offcuts may be sufficient to construct even two or three tiny houses, material which would otherwise be discarded.

The tiny house community:

Below is one possible layout for a tiny house community:

TinyHome_Chia7

Residents will come together frequently for many reasons: to grow crops and care for livestock in the common permaculture enclosure, to provide mutual help for maintenance and repairs, to meet and decide on community matters, for entertainment, companionship and for celebratory meals. It is helpful however for participants to have their own private dwellings that they can retreat to in the evenings, rather than be in everyone’s “hair” 24/7 if they all lived in a single large communal dwelling. Furthermore separate dwellings ensure that residents take responsibility for their own resource consumption and will face the consequences of their own profligacy and carelessness. For example if one irresponsible individual in a large communal household depletes the cooking gas, depletes the batteries by leaving appliances on, or depletes the water supply, this affects everyone and could lead to disaster and major conflict. Separate tiny houses enable resilience and if one household inadvertently faces a problem such as water depletion from a ruptured pipe, the other households will remain completely unaffected and can help with repairs and support the household facing difficulty.

Potential criticisms:

I am not a technocornucopian. I view centrally controlled utilities (particularly “big” electricity eg nuclear fission or coal) as doomed in the long term (possibly even short term). On the other hand I can imagine some criticisms from “hard core hairshirt collapsitarians” who may object to my advocacy of low energy, distributed technologies. Whereas I do view the eventual collapse of industrial society as inevitable, the process is likely to be stuttering (short of global nuclear war). As long as we are able to utilise LED lights, fridges and washing machines etc with minimal carbon emissions, it will be foolish not to do so. Going cold turkey is always more painful and may be potentially fatal, compared with gently weaning ourselves off our industrial/fossil fuel addiction and I advocate the latter. Survival is certainly more likely with a soft landing than a hard one.

Geoffrey Chia, February 2015

Acknowledgements:

Many thanks to the Architects: Will Gray for drafting the beautiful architectural diagrams (I made some crude alterations, also the ugly cartoonish diagrams are mine), Lara Nobel who has patiently and generously offered immense help over the past couple of years with regard to passive-solar off-grid cottage and tiny house concepts and designs (as well as physical help carrying materials and installing composting toilet and solar battery systems) and Andrew Carter for thoughtful ideas and practical help.

Also thanks to Dr Doone Wyborn, Geologist, Engineer and energy expert and Dr Jane O’Sullivan, Agricultural Scientist, for their helpful critiques and corrections regarding this article.

All remaining errors in this article are the sole responsibility of the author.

Footnotes:

  1. No risk of electrocution with low voltage DC, however there is always a risk of short circuits and fires, hence robust connections and abundant safety fuses are always required.
  2. An 8.0m long and 4.3m high (throughout the entire length) tiny house with double loft design can comfortably accommodate a couple with two children (or two couples). Access to the second loft will have to be by ladder rather than a second set of space consuming stairs. A larger family (a couple with up to six children) can build two tiny houses which will still cost far less then half of a standard small house, even using the best quality materials.
  3. Mass adoption of tiny houses will result in the councils and local utilities going bankrupt from lack of revenue, which is why in the near future governments may outlaw or over-regulate them. Hence it is best to get in now under the radar.

  4. Some may cite Jevon’s paradox as an argument, to which I reply: Jevon’s paradox is not applicable to those of us determined to reduce consumption. It is not some inviolable natural law but a historical observation about the behaviour of certain people, behaviour which can and will inevitably change. Jevon himself was obsessed with the idea that economic cycles coincided with sunspot cycles and when this was disproved, he insisted that the astronomers had got their data wrong. If reality did not conform to his view then he insisted that reality must be wrong. He was a pioneer of trying to quantify economics mathematically, assuming perfectly free markets, perfectly free information and rational participants. History has proven such assumptions to be complete bunkum. Nevertheless many neoclassical economists still try to promote their field as a science, which it most certainly is not and continue to teach such rubbish in universities.
  5. Paraphrased question from Dr Jane O’Sullivan: Why turn the entire toilet cubicle, rather than the solids bin itself, into a “greenhouse”? Wouldn’t it be better just to have black coloured thermal mass on the outside of the bin? Or just insulate the bin, to preserve the heat it generates itself? My answer: On another project where the solids bin is located in a separate chamber under the toilet cubicle, I am indeed turning that chamber alone (which has thermal mass within the black coloured chamber walls) into a minigreenhouse. Due to the design of the caravan model of the Nature’s Head toilet, this is not possible for the tiny house project. Insulating the bin won’t work because the ventilating fan ensures that air in the bin is constantly changed, which will rapidly dissipate any heat buildup in the bin. However, if the air of the toilet cubicle is heated up and that is drawn into the bin for ventilation (then expelled to the exterior), that should keep the composting temperature several degrees higher than it would otherwise be (compared with if external cold air is drawn in the bin then expelled).
  6. The exception being if you live in a high latitude and have a deciduous trees in front of your sun-facing windows, hence providing shade in summer. These trees will shed their leaves in autumn and allow the winter sunlight in, enabling passive solar heating.

  7. Ordinary car/truck engine starting lead-acid batteries are not suitable, make sure they are deep cycle batteries.

  8. Lithium iron phosphate batteries are continuing to reduce in price and may be the best option soon. It is important to only shallowly discharge lead-acid batteries for the sake of longevity (discharge by not more than 30% on most days, occasionally discharge by 50%, where the 24 volt system will show 24 volts at rest). Lithium iron phosphate batteries can cope with 90% discharge every day. Thus smaller amp hour storage is required. “LiFe” batteries are much lighter and great for mobile dwellings where weight may be an issue eg catamarans. However they require an electronic battery management system to ensure proper voltage balance between batteries, which is an additional layer of complexity.
  9. Even if the wind turbine produces high voltage alternating current at source, which is then rectified to DC after the dump load resistor, I have been advised that these AC turbines are specifically designed to ultimately feed either only 24V or 12V DC systems and the two types of turbine are mutually exclusive and not interchangeable. The advantage of high voltage AC being produced at the turbine means that thin cables can be led long distances from the wind tower to the point of use without significant energy loss before being rectified to low voltage DC.
  10. My tiny house kitchen will not include any of these heat producing electrical appliances as I have no access to microhydro.
  11. At any rate, the “experts” approved by the Council I have been dealing with. On the other hand I have been informed that nitrates denature quickly and rapid application to crops is preferable.

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