Sunday, October 29, 2017


"We need to get to above-the-line climate solutions with the same urgency as beach communities spying an approaching tsunami."

When we were young our parents made a bargain with us. If you will not drink or smoke until you are 21, they said, we will buy you the car of your choice on your 21st birthday. Both of them were recovering alcoholics and we could well appreciate their intentions. And so, at age 13, we took the deal. In our wild adolescence, through High School prom nights and fraternity football weekends, we were always the designated driver.

When the long-awaited birthday arrived, in 1968, our choice was a 1953 MG TD open-seated roadster. It was built on the famous Morris MG-Y green oak chassis so you could actually feel the car bend around curves or from the torque as you went quickly through the gears. It had high-ratio rack-and-pinion steering, not introduced in American cars until the 1974 Mustang. The interior furnishing and finish, the tuck and roll leather, the door panels framed in burr walnut, the instrument panel set in book-matched veneer, all amazing for a $1000 used car. 

There were no fuel or oil pressure gauges, but it came with a crank starter in case the battery died. It had a top speed of 77 mph (we know because we blew a piston when we ran it up to 100 on the interstate between Albany and Syracuse) and did 0–60 in 18.2 seconds. It was not exactly a Tesla, but at that time, with the ragtop and windscreen down, goggles and silk scarf on, being pushed back into the leather seat as it accelerated was ineluctable.

We remember one other acceleration experience that thrilling — the time we got up bareback on Blue, a King Ranch quarter horse kept for stud by one of The Farm’s neighbors, Dennis Whitwell. Comfortably seated, and with the horse antsy to get going, we wheeled and stomped the gas. We nearly went off over his hindquarters.

It is all about acceleration. Sometimes you experience it so powerfully that you never forget.

We are preparing now for next month’s conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP-23 in Bonn, Germany. The Global Ecovillage Network, buoyed by a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, will be there in the Bula zone with its meticulously well-organized program. Our niche falls at the nexus between carbon drawdown and sustainable development.

Sustainable development has become something of an oxymoron, we acknowledge. It needn’t be. It is unfortunate how the terminology gets used these days. By sustainable development, the UN implies unlimited capacity for physical growth using an extractive economy. It should instead imply directed de-growth of that economy while simultaneously developing harmonious relationships with nature and each other in a sustainable spiral of endless improvement in the quality of life. Better, not more.

These sorts of things should really not be being negotiated by government leaders because that is already limiting discussion to the viewpoints of people who are only looking to their next election cycle or succession to the throne. “Development” means to them anything that can be promised to their people — whether delivered or not — to assure they, personally, remain in power.

The sense of acceleration that excites us now is how serious the discussion is getting. No doubt getting slammed by successive category 5 storms, unprecedented flooding and mudslides, city-leveling wildfires, heat waves and droughts has something to do with focusing the attention. Mother Nature is seriously angry now.

Lately we have been attending the free webinars provided by the US National Academy of Sciences, UK’s Tyndall Centre, and others, bringing together various experts to look at our options in the climate arena, without all the b.s. or fairy dust (i.e.: clean coal, nuclear energy, BECCS, and geoengineering).

We could say there is a hierarchy of realistic survival choices now, in roughly this order:

The first three (above the line) are actual drawdown methods that would, if widely applied, pull carbon out of the atmosphere and return us to the Holocene from which we evolved and a climate suitable to sustain civilization.

The second three (below the line) are the “low-hanging fruit” that are the primary focus of international treaty negotiations and national or regional initiatives.

The below-the-line options take us towards zero. The above-the-line options take us beyond. At this late hour, we need to go well beyond to even matter.

from Pete Smith, Global potential and impacts of terrestrial carbon sequestration measures (2017)

Griscom’s team, which included 32 research scholars from the USA, Scotland, Brazil, Australia, Sweden, and The Netherlands, looked at the way Earth naturally heals when its atmosphere is damaged, and asked whether that healing process could be accelerated, whether it would be enough, and what it would take in terms of land area and money.

They eliminated from consideration monoculture plantations, untried “fairy dust” technologies, and anything destructive of indigenous cultures or to biodiversity. All pathways require conservation and restoration of existing agricultural fields and natural forests. Any improved land management practices must include safeguards for food, fiber, and habitat. They adopt Land Degradation Neutrality, Sustainable Development Goal 15.3.
"We allow no reduction in existing cropland area, but we assume grazing lands in forested ecoregions can be reforested, consistent with agricultural intensification and diet change scenarios. This maximum value is also constrained by excluding activities that would either negatively impact biodiversity (e.g., replacing native nonforest ecosystems with forests) or have carbon benefits that are offset by net biophysical warming (e.g., albedo effects from expansion of boreal forests). We avoid double-counting among pathways."

Books like Paul Hawken’s Drawdown or Bruce King’s The New Carbon Architecture are primarily concerned with below-the-line options. There is scant information available on what lies above.
For this reason, many people, including some climate scientists, brush off the above-the-line natural climate solutions (NCS) options, such as trees in pastures and biochar, as unproven speculation. That is a mistake. Griscom’s paper has gone a long way to correct misconceptions and mischaracterizations.

Contrary to some of the critics of world efforts to reverse climate change, NCS shows that it can be accomplished quickly without fairy dust, and at negative cost. But lets look at some of that technology going on sale now.

Number one is direct removal. “DAC” is now associated with what we previously derided as “artificial trees;” a closed chemical loop, powered by fossil fuels (likely fracked gas) that continuously captures CO2 from ambient air using amide solutions and not-insignificant amounts of energy. The biggest obstacle is not even the energy, since these calorie leeches could be mounted on existing power stations or solar powered, but what to do with the captured carbon? Most storage schemes lose up to 75 per cent of carbon to leakage.

The DAC process starts with a “wet scrubbing” air contactor which uses a strong hydroxide solution to capture CO2 and convert it into carbonate. This occurs within an air contactor structure modelled on industrial cooling tower design, which effectively contains the liquid hydroxide solution. Our second step is called a “pellet reactor” which precipitates small pellets of calcium carbonate from the aqueous carbonate solution. This calcium carbonate, once dried, is then processed in our third step, a circulating fluid bed calciner, which heats it to decomposition temperature, breaking it apart into CO2 and residual calcium oxide. The calcium oxide is hydrated with our make-up water stream in our fourth step, called a slaker, and is returned into the pellet reactor to precipitate calcium carbonate, and close the chemical loop.

In our baseline design, our calciner is heated by oxy-fired natural gas, so that the calciner contains CO2 originally captured from air and liberated by the pellets, CO2 from natural gas combustion, and water vapour. This gas stream is sent for clean up, compression, and water knock-out, in order to produce a stream of pure CO2. This configuration avoids emission of CO2 from natural gas usage, and we also have technical variants that reduce or eliminate natural gas requirements by substituting biogas or clean electricity.

Instead of artificial trees, what about using real trees? As the Griscom study shows, Natural Climate Solutions make economic sense at $10 per ton of Carbon (either emitted — payors ; or sequestered — payees) and shift into top gear at $100 per ton. DAC needs at least ten times that market peg to make its business case.

Also currently under exploration are a variety of carbon-absorbing biocretes and biocomposites that go beyond merely entraining photosynthesized carbon the way biochar, forests and kelp do, and actually suck GHG from the atmosphere.

We are not talking about materials that sequester carbon in their manufacture, like Novacem, Calera, Sriya or hemp fiber blocks. Its nice to think of offices and homes that can be built to endure without the huge carbon footprint that cement usually creates. That’s below the line technology. But what about concrete substitutes that draw more carbon from the atmosphere into their structure passively, year after year?

These would be cements that react with carbon, either in the ambient air or in a marine environment, to form carbonate structures within the concrete itself.


Pozzolanic reaction of volcanic ash with hydrated lime is thought to dominate the cementing fabric and durability of 2000-year-old Roman harbor concrete. Pliny the Elder, however, in first century CE emphasized rock-like cementitious processes involving volcanic ash (pulvis) “that as soon as it comes into contact with the waves of the sea and is submerged becomes a single stone mass (fierem unum lapidem), impregnable to the waves and every day stronger” (Naturalis Historia 35.166). Pozzolanic crystallization of Al-tobermorite, a rare, hydrothermal, calcium-silicate-hydrate mineral with cation exchange capabilities, has been previously recognized in relict lime clasts of the concrete. Synchrotron-based X-ray microdiffraction maps of cementitious microstructures in Baianus Sinus and Portus Neronis submarine breakwaters and a Portus Cosanus subaerial pier now reveal that Al-tobermorite also occurs in the leached perimeters of feldspar fragments, zeolitized pumice vesicles, and in situ phillipsite fabrics in relict pores. Production of alkaline pore fluids through dissolution-precipitation, cation-exchange and/or carbonation reactions with Campi Flegrei ash components, similar to processes in altered trachytic and basaltic tuffs, created multiple pathways to post-pozzolanic phillipsite and Al-tobermorite crystallization at ambient seawater and surface temperatures. Long-term chemical resilience of the concrete evidently relied on water-rock interactions, as Pliny the Elder inferred. Raman spectroscopic analyses of Baianus Sinus Al-tobermorite in diverse microstructural environments indicate a cross-linked structure with Al3+ substitution for Si4+ in Q3 tetrahedral sites, and suggest coupled [Al3++Na+] substitution and potential for cation exchange. The mineral fabrics provide a geoarchaeological prototype for developing cementitious processes through low-temperature rock-fluid interactions, subsequent to an initial phase of reaction with lime that defines the activity of natural pozzolans. These processes have relevance to carbonation reactions in storage reservoirs for CO2 in pyroclastic rocks, production of alkali-activated mineral cements in maritime concretes, and regenerative cementitious resilience in waste encapsulations using natural volcanic pozzolans.

Deer Lake peroditite with traces of magnetite
Direct removal can also be accomplished by minerals that soak up carbon from the air, such as peridotite, essentially turning air into stone. There is enough peridotite in Oman and the neighboring United Arab Emirates to absorb 33 trillion tons of CO2, equivalent to 1,000 years of present-day emission rates.

The smart money is covering that wager. Can exchange-traded peroditite futures be far off?
After direct air capture is Biomass Energy with Biochar (BEBCS). We have described field and forest soil carbon capture systems here often, and other natural means might include wetlands, such as chinampas and mangroves, and what Project Drawdown refers to as “marine permaculture,” or what we have described as kelp forestry, potentially in combination with food-fuel-and-biochar production systems that cascade yields for enterprises, beyond the trophic cascades that benefit biomes.

Woolf et al, 2010, Nature Communications 1, 56
BEBCS (Biomass Energy Biochar Capture & Storage) is a personal favorite, transforming the snake oil of BECCS (Biomass Energy Carbon Capture and Storage) by solving the dual BECCS dilemmas of how to pay for it and what to do with the captured carbon. 

You could call this “sky mining” but one company has already staked out that claim and destroyed the meaning. Quorum IP of Stockholm, dba SkyMining AB, takes the steps that are required — supergrasses that soak up CO2, pelletizer, pyrolizer, and biochar that could withhold the carbon for millennia — but then add a final step that completely defeats their purpose. They burn the biochar in retired coal plants to make electricity.
We use a commercially viable process of rapid carbonization to convert biomass into a copy of fossil fuels; in a process that mimics natural processes — but “measured in minutes instead of millions of years”. The technology has been tested on industrial scale and the proven process is ready for global deployment.
BEBCS employs waste biomass — in plentiful supply everywhere in the world — to make cascades of food, fuels, fibers, biocomposites and electricity before ending as biochar-based biofertilizers to restore degraded soils. The amended soils become resilient to weather extremes (droughts, floods, locusts, etc). The BEBCS process, which we elsewhere call our Cool Lab, profitably employs people at all stages, and can scale without taxpayer subsidy.

"The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming"
Of the hundred solutions to climate change put forward in Drawdown, a handful of them are outright frauds — ecomodernists parading as the Green Man. In that category we place nuclear fission and fusion, autonomous vehicles and hyperloop. Of the remaining 96, 71 are below-the-line solutions. Only 25 of Drawdown’s 100 best practices actually pull carbon from the atmosphere and oceans and store it safely away, although the storage is still problematic for more than half of those. 

Drawdown misses completely on carbon-absorbing biocretes and biocomposites and gives short shrift (with a healthy dollop of factual error) to biomass (ranked #34) and biochar (ranked #72).
Right now the world is focused on the below-the-line section: windmills, electric cars and solar. Climate scientists are screaming that won’t do it — we need to get to above-the-line climate solutions with the same urgency as beach communities spying an approaching tsunami.

We are in just the first stage of a learning curve. The acceleration promises to be memorable if we don’t kill ourselves going over the back of the horse.

Albert Bates is an Emergency Planetary Technician, founder of Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology (, and Chief Permaculture Officer for eCO2, a COOL DESIGN services company focusing on climate recovery strategies with high returns on investment.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Greening Apocalypse California

"At some point the marble will fall into a warmer domain of equilibrium."

This is one of those essays that if read 100 years from now will be seen as either amazingly prophetic or yet another example of the misguided apocalyptic literature emerging in the early 21st century — the way flying cars and armies of rocketmen did in the same part of the 20th.
Our thesis is simple. What is occurred in October 2017 in California and the Iberian Peninsula of Europe was a process of reshaping continental climates as we left behind the late Holocene and passed into the early Anthropocene.

This H-A boundary condition may last not centuries or millennia like the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary (~22000 years) or the Permian–Triassic boundary (10 million years) but could be bridged in decades owing to the magnitude, scope and speed of the triggering mechanisms.

Courtesy of California Department of Water Resources — Florence Low
Inveterate party-goers, we two-legged naked apes heedlessly withdrew 250 million years of fossil sunlight from Earth’s savings account and binged like mice in a corn silo. Then we vomited all that carbon into the atmosphere. It will take a very long time to clean up, even after the mice have long gone.

Climatologist Johan Rockstrom, among others, has used the trough-and-ball analogy to explain how climates shift domain less by gradual invasion than by sudden jumps.

This is also referred to as the tipping points diagram. If you have played the marble race game where you move a steel ball through a maze of holes you know how it works. Raising the incline slowly does not immediately move the marble. Only when the static equilibrium of the marble is overcome as elevation passes through an invisible threshold does the marble suddenly start to roll. Its forward motion is then not easily arrested, demonstrating Newton’s laws about objects at rest and objects in motion. Rockstrom said that global climate may have several equilibrium states, and when you disturb the resting state, it will put climate into motion — several degrees warmer, for instance. At some point the marble will fall into a warmer domain of equilibrium — let say 5 degrees. Everything in nature then retools to conform to that domain.

What seems to us plausible is that at somewhere between 350 and 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, average global climate left its cozy warm resting state and began to roam. As we keep raising greenhouse gas concentrations — now close to 410 ppm and likely to reach 425 in 5 years and 450 seven to ten years thereafter, the marble remains in motion, and picking up speed.
“In a warming world, higher temperatures could combine with and amplify severe precipitation deficits. If temperatures continue to rise as they have, the U.S. Southwest could be facing “megadroughts” — worse than any droughts in the region since medieval times — by the second half of the 21st century.” 
— National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Assessing the U.S. Climate in September 2017

At the next hiatus — an equilibrium of greater warmth — the Sonoran desert of Mexico could extend to within a few hundred miles of the Mississippi at its eastern extent and beyond the Canadian border in places at its northern extent. Reverting to an interglacial past will be the Sandhills region of Nebraska, aided by the Trump/Pence Administration's lifting of restrictions to the route of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline. California and the American Southwest would be populated by shifting dunes, scorpions and sidewinders. In Europe, the Sahara desert may cross the Mediterranean and extend to the foothills of the Pyrenees, Apennines, Alps and Balkans.

At this, the earliest stage of the H-A boundary, we are witnessing removal of forests to make way for those future deserts. They will not regrow. The soil will be too warm for seed germination. Droughts and fires will continue to periodically sweep away any vegetation that emerges. Eventually the topsoils will erode and the subsoil will turn to fine, wind-borne sand. Anyone foolish enough to build a home in these places will sooner or later watch it burn or blow away.

It’s like President Trump telling a pregnant widow, ”He knew what he signed up for but when it happens it hurts.” When you spend $3.4 trillion tax dollars each year to boost the failing fortunes of companies like Peabody, Exxon and TransCanada, you have to know what you are signing up for.

There is, in all this, a tiny ray of hope. Out there at the edge of the Portuguese high plains, with a faint odor of smoke from a distant fire line, there stand a small group of youth. They are gathered on a farm in the northwest of Quinta do Vale da Lama. They have come from around the world to make a stand.

On November 13 they will host a training session: Campo de Regeneração do Ecossistema — Ecosystem Regen Camp. They are regenerating the mediterranean landscape with mixed dry-fruit orchards, native reforestation projects and transition zones of vegetative swales and hugelkultur, crossing it with approaches that worked for settlers in Nebraska’s Sandhills a century ago, holistic rotational grazing systems, rainwater harvesting, keyline planning, biofertilizers and teas, permanent pastures, living fences, forage banks, and agroforestry edge systems. It’s Permaculture 101, without the college credit.

It may seem Quixotic, given the pent-up anger on Mother Nature’s side, but let us remember that Franklin Delano Roosevelt almost single-handedly halted the Great American Dust Bowl.
FDR established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) within his first 100 days in office and the Soil Erosion Service (later the Soil Conservation Service and now the Natural Resources Conservation Service) shortly thereafter.
Fires in Portugal, 2017
The establishment of the Soil Erosion Service marks the first major federal commitment to the preservation of natural resources in private hands. Even more significantly, in 1935, FDR initiated the Prairie States Forestry Project to create a “shelter belt” from the Texas Panhandle to the Canadian border. Over the course of the next seven years, the U.S Forestry Service, working in conjunction with the CCC, the newly established Works Progress Administration (WPA), and local farmers, planted nearly 220 million trees, creating over 18,000 miles of windbreaks on some 30,000 farms. The scale of this effort boggles the imagination. It literally changed the face of America and most importantly — along with the introduction of new farming techniques also initiated by the New Deal — stopped the dust storms dead in their tracks.

It bears footnoting that FDR’s shelter belt was also the design of his Agriculture Secretary (later Commerce Secretary and Vice -President) Henry A. Wallace, who might have become the 33rd President of the United States (instead of Harry Truman) had his progressive agenda (universal single payer health insurance, an end to the incipient Cold War and red-baiting, and abolition of segregation) not been opposed by his own party.
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, 1936
Volunteer foot-soldiers are now rushing to the Iberian salient. Perhaps an Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the USA?. To enlist in the Portuguese workshop register here. The first 30 applicants received will be confirmed (the rest will have to be wait-listed).

If you can afford 10 euros per Month to support this grassroots effort you can join a growing community and become a founding member of the Ecosystem Restoration Camps Foundation. If you don’t have the resources to support but wish to learn about regenerative agriculture and large-scale ecosystem restoration more camps are being built to make this possible, join here.

The movement’s vanguard camp in Altiplano Spain held its first public open day on October 16. The campfires have been lit.
Alone the scale of the problems we face can be overwhelming but together we are a powerful force that can change the world. Lets go camping and restore a little bit of paradise every day.
— John D. Liu

Albert Bates is an Emergency Planetary Technician, founder of Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology (, and Chief Permaculture Officer for eCO2, a COOL DESIGN services company focusing on climate recovery strategies with high returns on investment.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Giving Ethical Murder Its Due

"Trying to sell scenarios based on degrowth or frugal living is like trying to sell your Elvis collection of 8-track tapes."

In The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond ticks off all the great things about modern society — things like vaccines, ambulances, labor-saving kitchen appliances, electric light, air conditioning and refrigeration that most of us take for granted now. Most teens would find it hard to do without WiFi or Wikipedia. Diamond says few of us would care to go back to an era before any of that.
When something happens to revert a society to suddenly far more primitive, such as currently being experienced in Puerto Rico or Dominica following Hurricane Maria, we can barely conceive how it is possible to live like that. And actually, given present population density and generalized lack of survival skills, it may not be.

For those toiling at the fringe trying to design a future that would be even conceivably sustainable in the face of climate change and peak everything, the prospect of trying to sell scenarios based on degrowth or frugal living is like trying to sell your Elvis collection of 8-track tapes.

It is even more risqué when we begin to talk about the benefits of infanticide, genital mutilation and wife strangling.

Diamond told NPR:
“[There’s] an island near Bougainville called New Britain, where among the Kaulong people it was customary that if a man died, his widow was strangled, and not against her will. She expected it.
“She would call out to her brothers to strangle her. If the brothers were not around, she would call out to her son to strangle her, because she had seen this happen to other women, and now she expected it for herself.
“To us it sounds horrible, and I have to say I don’t see any benefit to it. It again underscores the point that there are wonderful things we can learn from traditional societies, and there are also things where we can say, thank God we’re past that.”
Diamond says he sees no benefit from wife strangling. We do. Moreover, human civilization may not be past the need to have it.

Thomas Malthus did the math in 1798. While he is often derided because he could not possibly foresee the Green Revolution or nuclear power, his theory remains essentially correct.

The Green Revolution and nuclear power turned out to be hooey.

In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), Malthus decreed that population is necessarily limited by means of subsistence. Because population invariably increases, the means of subsistence must keep pace. Unless prevented by some very powerful and obvious checks (abortion, infanticide, prostitution, war, gay marriage, gender switching, plague, famine, and disease, for instance), humans will be on a treadmill to produce more food, fuel and humans, whether by expansion into neighboring lands, enslavement and starvation of other humans, or other means. Artificial foods, artificial livelihoods, artificial energy supplies (hydrogen, fusion, fracking) and other long-sought salvations are just what the name suggests: artifice. The requirement, meanwhile, is absolute.

Malthus said that the worst that could befall us would be what we generally think of as the best case scenario: all people everywhere provided with sufficient subsistence, all checks on growth removed — war, water supply, food supply, land degradation, political or social oppression and the rest — banished to the history books. Witness: the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Prescription filled, the relief would be very short lived.

In those conditions, the increase of marriages and birth would soon produce human population far in excess of food supply. The ability of the Earth to absorb pollution and many other natural boundaries would be traversed. The inevitable result would be a population crash with — given the degree of systemic erosion — a strong likelihood for human extinction.

Our great powers of fecundity were a survival strategy. We’re not that different from rabbits or house flies. We didn’t need hundreds of offspring, a few would do, but if each female were to be repeatedly fertilized, allowed to bear, and the offspring nurtured until it could fend for itself, our upright naked ape population would soon outgrow its hunting range.

Sure, we could get knocked back by conflict, famine, natural disaster, or epidemics of disease, but we would always rebound because in any given generation, grandparents would live to see their seed quadruple and possibly even multiply 20-fold or 40-fold. 

The arithmetic is inexorable. Albert Bartlett said the greatest failing of the human species was its inability to understand this exponential function. Wars and plagues barely make a dent. A few years pass and the growth curve is as shiny as new, picking right up where it left off.

Unlike Diamond, we see the clear benefit of wife-strangling. We imagine Bartlett does too, even though he denies it. Hunter-gatherer societies are acutely aware of the importance of placing limits on their fecundity. They know that they can work one area of a forest for game only so long, and then either the game will catch on and go away, or they will deplete the easy catches and wild plants and get trapped by EROI — burning more calories to gather their food than the food they can gather provides.

Well before that happens they move to a new camp, but what if their population was larger? The effort and frequency of those moves increases. The rate at which hunting grounds deplete accelerates. The need for more hunting areas over greater distances rises. Sooner or later there is a point of diminishing returns.

One way to cope with this is to adhere to the underlying biological drive to reproduce by adopting agriculture, and all that entails. The other way would be to go against genetic predisposition and self-limit your population.
Among the San speakers of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia and Botswana, 60–80% of the diet came from non-meat sources, especially nuts and roots. Since women provided most of the vegetable foods, they were responsible for the majority of the calories that were consumed. Men mostly provided the most desirable food, which was meat. The San way of life was remarkably efficient. While they had few days that were free of subsistence activities, the ratio of labor expenditure to production was low. The ethnographer Richard Lee discovered that adult San spent only about 2½ days of 6 hours each week hunting and gathering. Young people did not fully join the workforce until around 20 years old. The 60% of the society that were healthy adults provided the food for everyone by working only 15 hours a week. Foragers have rightly been referred to by Richard Lee as the most leisured people. In the United States today, less than 1% of the population produces all of the food for the entire society. Given this remarkable efficiency, it is worth asking why the rest of us work 40–50 hours a week, often with considerable psychological stress.
— Dennis O’Neil, Foraging 

The lifestyles of foraging societies should not be quickly dismissed in our quest for creature comforts.
Diamond says: 
For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania. One Bushman, when asked why he hadn’t emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, “Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?”
While farmers concentrate on high-carbohydrate crops like rice and potatoes, the mix of wild plants and animals in the diets of surviving hunter-gatherers provides more protein and a better balance of other nutrients. In one study, the Bushmen’s average daily food intake (during a month when food was plentiful) was 2,140 calories and 93 grams of protein, considerably greater than the recommended daily allowance for people of their size. It’s almost inconceivable that Bushmen, who eat 75 or so wild plants, could die of starvation the way hundreds of thousands of Irish farmers and their families did during the potato famine of the 1840s.
One straightforward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5' 9'’ for men, 5' 5'’ for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5' 3'’ for men, 5' for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors.
Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming population could a healthy, non-producing elite set itself above the disease-ridden masses. Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae c. 1500 B. C. suggest that royals enjoyed a better diet than commoners, since the royal skeletons were two or three inches taller and had better teeth (on the average, one instead of six cavities or missing teeth). Among Chilean mummies from c. A. D. 1000, the elite were distinguished not only by ornaments and gold hair clips but also by a fourfold lower rate of bone lesions caused by disease.
We have explored here previously how humanity could restore the carbon balance of atmosphere and oceans by developing a new form of silvoculture and silvopasture we call climate ecoforesty, but how best should we limit our population size to sustain a shift of that type? Clearly we are going to hit a wall at 9 billion that will be every bit as catastrophic as the wall that comes down at 2 degrees. The wall we hit at 7 billion and 1 degree is already catastrophic.

Why do we recoil at the traditional ways for addressing this? In parts of eighteenth-century Japan, couples raised only two or three children. Those who killed their babies saw themselves as responsible parents.

Until brought under the sway of modern laws, the Inuit practiced infanticide as well as the killing of elders. The males within the tribes also had a higher mortality rate because of occupational hazards as hunters and ice fishers. Female-biased infanticide kept equilibrium by balancing sex ratios, keeping daughters when the local sex-ratio is male biased and killing them when girls were overabundant.

These traditional practices did not say that Inuit have less compassion for their children, nor less respect for human life; it says they had come to grips with a hard truth — that murder is sometimes needed to ensure that the whole tribe, and now the species, does not become extinct.

Of course, it is less anguishing just to get vasectomies. Then you can kick back and listen to 8-tracks and not have to feel guilty.

Albert Bates is an Emergency Planetary Technician, founder of Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology (, and Chief Permaculture Officer for eCO2, a COOL DESIGN services company focusing on climate recovery strategies with high returns on investment.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Open Door

It was two years ago, in the bookstore at Pleasant Hill Shaker Village, that we came across Carol Medlicott’s book, Issachar Bates. Wondering at the title, we turned to the index and discovered many entries for Artemas, an uncommon name that appears more than once in our Bates family tree.

We asked the author if we might be related to the early Shaker Issachar Bates and she hastened to lower our expectations, reminding us that it is rare to be descended from the Shakers because they were celibate. She promised to research it.

Some weeks later she gave us her verdict. We were directly descended because he fathered a son, Artemas, before joining the order and the son never joined. The ironies compound when you think about Issachar, crossing the Appalachians on foot, through thick bramble and swamp, and arriving in the “West” — then the Ohio Valley — in the late 18th Century, there to found a utopian experiment that grew to 1000 people on 2000 acres. He was a hippy forebearer.

In 1972 we through-hiked the Appalachian Trail and landed at a utopian experiment called The Farm. It was 1000 people on 2000 acres.

Driving through those Kentucky hills today we could swear we could still feel the presence of the Shakers. The tidy farms, the well mended fences and stone walls, the deep fertility of the soils and richness of the pastures, even in Fall, seem to echo a Shaker melody— an epigenetic legacy of microRNA drifting with colored leaves on the autumn breeze.

Deacon’s House, Pleasant Hill Shaker Village
Two years ago the quarried limestone Deacon’s House had minimally been restored to its original form when we visited. Grandfather Issachar, a founder and later Deacon of Pleasant Hill, was likely given this home in his elder years when the families within relocated to a newer, much larger communal dwelling. The small stone house had been one of the first permanent buildings in the colony, erected in 1809 as Center House. The two and a half story, 30 x 40-foot structure could have housed up to 5 families, although the sleeping arrangements would have been separate for men and women, divided either by sides or floors.

At one time, historian Timothy Miller reminds us, the economy of this continent was 100 percent communal, even after the arrival of the first Europeans. Both Jamestown and Plymouth colonies were shared purse social contracts.

Recent remodeling has made the Deacon’s House suitable for modern guests by including an en-suite bath in what had once been a hallway closet, and a nook for a coffeemaker and minifridge. Issachar would have had to walk to an outdoor privy, even in the winter snow, and the dining hall was still farther. Refrigeration would have been the snow, or the spring house, a considerable trek down the mountain.

We are at this moment attending the annual meeting of the Communal Studies Association in Zoar, Ohio. Making the drive up from Tennessee we decided to put in the first night at Pleasant Hill, renting the house where great great great great Grandfather lived two hundred years ago.

The Shakers were part of an evangelical, “manifest destiny” migration of hominids out of soil-depleted and war-torn Europe into North America. If the locals did not abide by that, well, they were ethnically cleansed and are remembered today only as sports team mascots — Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, etc.

We read reports from the Washington Post and The New York Times that killing 59 people and injuring 527 in Las Vegas October 2 was “the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history,” surpassing the 49 people slain by a gunman in Orlando in June 2016. 

“Modern” did not appear in the early editions. They had to be reminded of the murder of 2700 Native Americans by Hernan deSoto in 1539–1540; the 200 citizens of Tiguex mowed down while fleeing Coronado and 50 survivors who were raped and then burned at the stake in 1541; the 800 killed by Oñate at Ocoma at 1599; the 900 Tompiro killed at Sandia in 1601; the 250 Powhatan lured to Pamunkey Peace Talks and poisoned in 1623; the Mystic Massacre of 1637 where English colonists burned the inhabitants in their homes and killed all survivors, for total fatalities of about 600–700; the extermination of the Staten Island Raritans in 1640; John Underhill, hired by the Dutch, attacking and burning the sleeping village of Lenape, killing about 500 in 1644; the Great Swamp Massacre in 1647 where 300 women, children and elderly were burnt in their Rhode Island village; the murders of 34 men and 192 women and children by Bacon, Turner and Talcott in 1676; the killing of 600 at Zia Pueblo in 1689; the massacre of 1000 Apalachees in Florida in 1704; killing around 1,000 Fox Indians men, women and children in a five-day massacre near the head of the Detroit River in 1712; the 200 Tuscaroras burned to death in their village and 900–1000 others subsequently killed or enslaved in 1739; the massacre of about 500 Fox Indians (including 300 women and children) as they tried to flee their besieged camp in 1730; the slaughter of 111 Utes on the Chama River in 1747; Spanish Peaks in 1774 with 300 dead Indians (men, women and children); David Crockett’s attack on an unsuspecting Creek town in 1813, with an unknown number of women and children killed, some burned in their houses; the Autossee Massacre that same year with some 200 killings; the 140 Comanches (men, women and children) killed in their village on the Colorado in 1840; the Clear Lake Massacre (150 Pomo and Wappo) in 1840; the Sacramento River massacre (120–200 Wintun) in 1846; the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 (60–100 Pomo) which led to a general outbreak of attacks against and mass killing of native people all over Northern California; the Old Shasta Town massacre of 1851 (300 Wintu); the Bridge Gulch Massacre 1852 (150 Wintu); the Yontoket and Achulet Massacres of 1853 (600 Tolowa); the Round Valley massacres 1856–1859 (1000 Yuki); Jarboe’s War (reimbursed by the government) that killed at least 283 Indian men and countless women and children 1859–1860); the Indian Island Massacre of 1860 (250 mostly women, children and Wiyot elders); the Horse Canyon Massacre 1860 (240 Wailaki); the Bear River Massacre of 1863 (280 Shoshone men, women and children); the Oak Run Massacre of 1864 (300 Yana as they gathered for a spiritual ceremony); the Skull Valley, Sand Creek, Mud Lake, Owens Lake, Three Knolls and Grass Valley Massacres of 1865; Custer’s Washita Massacre of 1868 (140 sleeping Cheyenne); the 173 Piegan, mainly women, children and the elderly, killed in 1873 at the Marias Massacre; and between 130 and 250 Sioux men, women and children forced into a low depression and killed by rapid fire weapons from above at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890.

While struck by the beauty of the colorfully forested hills and sturdy stone buildings of Shaker Village, we were at the same time saddened by guilty knowledge of what they had replaced.

Corporate agronomists and town master planners from the Old World, with their inconceivably advanced technologies, systematically obliterated the steady-state, reverent and sustainable societies of the New World. We had to ask ourselves whether our Shaker ancestors, for all their good intentions and faithful husbandry of these lands, were complicit in that atrocity.

Matt Taibbi, writing for Rolling Stone, observed last week:
This is who we’ve always been, a nation of madmen and sociopaths, for whom murder is a line item, kept hidden via a long list of semantic self-deceptions, from “manifest destiny” to “collateral damage.” We’re used to presidents being the soul of probity, kind Dads and struggling Atlases, humbled by the terrible responsibility, proof to ourselves of our goodness. Now, the mask of respectability is gone, and we feel sorry for ourselves, because the sickness is showing.
Not far from Pleasant Hill is the oldest town in Kentucky, Harrodsburg (1774). For the native peoples of this region it is hard to say which was worse — the muzzleloading mountain men or the Bible-thumping missionaries. Ad hoc native attempts to discourage the European invaders from building cabins next to important springs were subdued by disproportionate military campaigns from the east, first by the British, later by State militias. Armistices were short-lived until the Greenville Line was established in 1795, pushing the first nations out of the Eastern Ohio Valley. 

This opened the door to the Shakers, who built their settlements right up to the edge of that line.

It bears recalling that the Shakers and the native peoples had a relationship of mutual respect. Ann Lee was recognized by both as a special person, enveloped in a halo of light. Both groups had prophets and revelators, including our grandfather.

Indian Valley Middle School Assistant Principal Scott Beckley.
In Zoar we found ourselves watching a history play in the Tuscarawas Valley High School which begged the question, who or what were Tuscarawas?

Tuscarawas was the name of the river, where a Lenape chief, Netawatwees (“newcomer”), made the error of inviting Moravian missionary, David Zeisberger to found a mission in 1772. 

Tuscarawas is a Wyandot name but the Wyandot had to migrate Northwest under pressure from the Lenape who were being pushed out of New Jersey and Pennsylvania by the gruesome ethnic cleansing.

Zeisberger, along with five converted Indian families, established another mission at Schoenbrunn (beautiful spring). They built a school house and a church. By August some 250 Indian converts filled out their congregation.

In late summer 1772, the missionaries and their Lenape converts had established another settlement, roughly 10 miles away, called Gnadenhütten (cabins of grace) — today home to the Indian Valley Braves high school football team. In 1776, Chief Netawatwees donated land for a third settlement, Lichtenau (meadow of light), near present-day Coshocton, then the principal Lenape (Delaware) village in the region. Within two years white settlers claimed control over every spring within a 400 square mile area.
The American Revolutionary War brought the demise of these first settlements. The Delawares, who at the time populated much of eastern Ohio, were divided over their loyalties, with many in the west allied with the British out of Fort Detroit and many in the east allied with the Americans out of Fort Pitt. Delawares were involved in skirmishes against both sides, but by 1781 the American sense was that the Delawares were allying with the British. In response, Colonel Daniel Brodhead of the American forces led an expedition out of Fort Pitt and on 19 April 1781 destroyed the settlement of Coshocton. Surviving residents fled to the north. Colonel Brodhead’s forces left the Delawares at the other Moravian mission villages unmolested, but the actions set the stage for raised tensions in the area.
In September 1781, British forces and Indian allies, primarily Wyandot and Delaware, forced the Christian Indians and missionaries from the remaining Moravian villages. The Indian allies took their prisoners further west toward Lake Erie to a new village, called Captive Town, on the Sandusky River. The British took the missionaries David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder under guard back to Fort Detroit, where the two men were tried (but eventually acquitted) on charges of treason against the British Crown.
The Indians at Captive Town were going hungry because of insufficient rations, and in February 1782, more than 100 returned to their old Moravian villages to harvest the crops and collect the stored food they had been forced to leave behind. In early March 1782, 160 Pennsylvania militia led by Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson raided the villages and garrisoned the Indians in the village of Gnadenhütten, accusing them of taking part in raids into Pennsylvania. Although the Delawares denied the charges, the militia held a council and voted to kill them. The next morning on 8 March, the militia tied up the Indians, stunned them with mallet blows to the head, and killed them with fatal scalping cuts. In all, the militia murdered and scalped 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. They piled the bodies in the mission buildings and burned the village down. They also burned the other abandoned Moravian villages in the area.
So much for conversion and assimilation of the natives.

In 1795 the Treaty of Greenville was concluded between the US government and the defeated and decimated Shawnee, Cherokee and Lenape. The Treaty ceded Kentucky and Ohio for white settlement.

That was when the New Lebanon shakers sent our grandfather and two other missionaries west. Carol Medlicott tells us:
As the Shaker missionaries were integrating themselves into the region of southwest Ohio they were acutely aware that Indians were very nearby. The trio kept a journal, in which they noted how close the Turtle Creek community was to the Treaty Line established at the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, the line separating Indian land to the north and west from land available to white settlers.
One early convert to the Shakers was one Calvin Morrell, and his farmland between Dayton and Cincinnati sat nearly bordering the Treaty Line, and it was on this farmland that a major sacramental meeting was held in mid April 1805.
It may be one of the great coincidences of history that the Shawnee in far western Ohio were also in the grip of an unprecedented religious revival, not so very far away from where the Shakers were becoming established in the region. The dramatic conversion of the Shawnee Prophet Tenskwatawa, a younger brother of Tecumseh, from drunkard to religious leader is well known. 
What is less well known is the uncanny timing of his conversion, relative to the arrival of the Shakers.
Lalewethika is believed to have had his conversion experience in late April or early May 1805. While sitting by a fire, he went into a deep trance which lasted for more than a day and people took him for dead. He astonished the community by coming out of the trance and describing a vivid set of visions in which he saw the afterlife and observed two paths, each with people moving along it, one leading to paradise and the other leading into a place of torment. He realized that the way he was then living would lead him to that place of torment, and he determined that not only was he in error, but so were his people. He began to prophesy with extraordinary power that his people needed to rid themselves of wickedness, renounce various superstitious practices, and renounce all influence of white people.
Over the next several months, his image in the Indian community completely transformed, and he gained broad following as a religious leader. He led a movement to establish a new town near the site where the Greenville Treaty had been signed ten years before. This town was simply called the Prophet’s Town, and there the Prophet began gathering with hundreds of followers by the Fall of 1806. There they built an immense timber structure which served as a meeting house for preaching and religious rituals. The Prophet ceased going by his given name of Lalewethika and began going by the new name Tenskwatawa, which meant, “the Open Door,” a name intended as an allusion to his ability to see into the spirit world.
We asked Carol about the mysteries of these connections between the Shakers and the Original People. She said, at least as far as the Prophet is concerned, it was difficult, if not impossible, to establish because, although the Prophet spoke with Issachar and may have attended energetic Shaker revival meetings, he spoke no English.

For reasons we have delved into here before, that does not present an insurmountable barrier. MicroRNA exchange between our grandfather and the brother of Tecumsah could account for, or be explained by, as Carol Medlicott told us, “the spirit alive in the land at the time” As the two men inhaled and exhaled, held hands, and exchanged their “spirits,” the flow of the Zeitgeist and their own microbiomes flicked epigenomic switches on and off.

The Shakers, who believed in following their revelations and honoring those of their indigenous friends, were also believers in what the Haudenosaunee Peacemaker memorialized as the two road wampum. Mother Ann Lee is known to have had contact with the Iroquois Confederacy and to have gained Mohawk followers.

Both Haudenosaunee and Shakers believed that the indigenous inhabitants of Turtle Island were separate but equal —  white and red walked parallel paths.

Mother Lucy Wright, principal authority at the New Lebanon ministry, upon hearing of the Kentucky conversions, instructed her missionaries:
We believe it [preaching to the Indians] ought to be done by some of the young believers, that… have not much gift in relation to white people and then leave them [the Indians] to act for themselves, & by no means gather them, for they are Indians & will remain so, therefore cannot be brought into the order of white people, but must be saved in their own order & Nation, we believe that God is able to raise up them of their own Nation that will be able to lead & protect them, by receiving some council from them that is Set in order, therefore we believe it to be wisdom not to meddle much with them, but [honor] them in their own order.
Actually, as we see plainly from what has transpired over the past two hundred years, the civilization the whites brought is a heat engine — not only unsustainable for itself, but destructive of all other ways of living. It leads to mass extinctions, two-leggeds included. It is Tenskwatawa’s predicted path of torment.

Nomadic cultures that hunt and gather from the abundance of the forest and plain and then move their camps and villages understand that land and human population are inextricably paired. They became a K-sere, the stage of ecological succession that favors efficiency over growth, diversity over competition, and complexity of exchanges, interconnection and symbiosis.

In 1492 that stasis was upset by an invasive R-sere, the arrival of a less poetic and unsophisticated culture based, like weeds, on rapacious overproduction by resource depletion, unlimited growth, and extreme competition that destroys indigenous diversity. Within a few hundred years it erased the social and ecological harmony built over ten millennia. Then it erased the knowledge. What we are left with is false stereotypes; caricatures; mascots.

Those who reverted the seral stage to that infertile ecology called the other “primitive” or “backwards.”

What needs to be conceded is that the vision of Tenskwatawa and our grandfather Issachar was correct. We have before us two roads. One leads to paradise and the other into torment.

A door between paths now opens, but not for long. It is time leave the path with no future. It’s time for each of us to choose.




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