Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Ukrainian Iceberg

Ethnic Division in Ukraine - Red is Russian
We had only just returned from one of the more remote places we go to teach permaculture, the Maya Mountains on the Belize side of Guatemala’s southern border. Passing through airports, we started hearing the media drumbeat and listened to what the rhythms were saying. There were three competing beats — Ukraine, Bridgegate, and the winter weather, including California’s drought. 

It is nice to see climate getting more column inches, even if the analysis is pretty lame. Political corruption in New Jersey, while cinematic, hardly qualifies as news. The Ukraine, however, is an iceberg drifting towards shipping lanes that seemed worth looking at more closely.

CNN-International’s headlines this morning read: Kerry: 'All option are on the table' ; Graham: Obama 'weak, indecisive' ; How Putin carries out power grab; Obama: Russia, stay out.

So, the first thing one must to do is learn what to ignore. Ignore CNN, and Fox, and MSNBC.

Coming to the situation completely cold, within a few minutes of surfing we learned that:

Victoria Nuland
·      Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, made clear in a speech last December and in the leaked recording of her January 28 telephone conversation with the US ambassador in Kiev that Washington spent $5 billion of US taxpayer dollars engineering the coup in Ukraine. We don’t know how much of that was devoted to planning the post-coup golden toilet PR exhibition at the Yanukovych palace.

·      On February 23, moderates in Kiev ceded power, under duress, to neo-nazis who captured Parliament and introduced legislation banning any official use of the Russian language. One of the coup leaders announced that, “Ukraine will not be ruled by Negroes, Jews or Russians.” Gangs of thugs have been roaming the streets painting “Jews live here” on Jewish homes, and a prominent Rabbi has advised Jews to leave Kiev.

·      In the Russian-speaking provinces to the east, citizens took over local governments and appealed to Russia for help, which Russia was quick to offer, moving troops into the historically Russian Crimean peninsula, current site of three Russian military bases, and handing out Russian passports to anyone who wanted one.

Any qualifying Ukrainian would be well advised to take that offer. As Dmitry Orlov points out, both Washington and Brussels, and the media, ignored Putin's suggestion last fall of a bail-out to avoid Ukrainian bankruptcy, and that is now all but assured. Left holding the bag are the EU and Russia, since the US 911’d its assets by shorting Ukraine well before February, and China, which probably reads the State Department wire traffic before Susan Rice does, also cut its exposure in a timely fashion.

“Financial reserves are down to a few days, federal structures are being dismantled throughout the country, regional governors are fleeing, and a default on some €60 billion of Ukrainian bonds, many held by Russian banks, seems likely. Could this be just the kind of financial contagion needed to finally pop the ridiculous US equities bubble?” Orlov asks.

Also at risk are five nuclear power plants — we are interested to see how skinheads will run those — and the winter natural gas supply that crosses Ukraine on its way to Europe.

Andrey Tymofeiuk, a Kiev resident posted to his Facebook page, quoted by Orlov, “The passive population of Kiev is still quietly drinking beer and poking around with social networking apps. They don't understand what's happening yet. But if the unofficial state of emergency (including limitations on access to the city) last a few more days — and food and drink running out — then they will end up in a state of shock more serious than anything they have ever experienced.”

Russian special forces dropped into Sevastopol this weekend to bolster the military bases, especially the Black Sea Fleet’s Crimean base. The Red Army is massing on the border, ready if necessary to defend ethnic Russians and threatened military assets. This move prompted President Obama to make a sudden appearance in the White House press room, rattle his sabre, and warn Putin that the US would not stand for interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs. The irony appeared to go unnoticed.

Division of candidate votes cast in the last presidential election
Another unremarked irony was President Obama’s reference to Ukraine’s “territorial integrity.” US and its NATO allies gave little credence to that when creating an independent Kosovo or by supporting the separation of South Sudan from Sudan, Eritrea from Ethiopia, East Timor from Indonesia, and North and South Vietnam. If you care to go back pre-NATO, the seizure of northern Mexico, the Kingdom of Hawaii, the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel are lingering lessons in the kind of blowback that comes from dividing territory united by history and heritage.

For the past couple of days the US and UK news cycles have been swept up in the Obama talking points being parroted by administration hacks, further obscuring the facts on the ground.

Putin need not rise to NATO’s bait. His options include cutting Ukrainian economic assistance ($15 billion last December, not counting heating fuel discounts); embargoing Ukrainian goods at Russian customs; imposing travel visas; reopening Catherine the Great’s prior claim on Crimea; or mounting his own PR black op to encourage Russian reunification in the eastern and southern provinces.

“Obama’s ‘warning’ to Putin was ill-advised. Whatever slim hope that Moscow might avoid overt military intervention in Ukraine disappeared when Obama in effect threw down a gauntlet and challenged him. This was not just a mistake of political judgment—it was a failure to understand human psychology — unless, of course, he actually wanted a Russian intervention, which is hard for me to believe.”

Robert Gates described the US foreign policy in his new memoir, Duty, tracing a line from Ukraine back to Dick Cheney: “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.

I want to stay out of another war for very practical reasons:
·       War is horrible for our economy
·       “Humanitarian war” is a scam
This isn’t our fight … and the downside of getting involved are gigantic.

It is left to Vladimir Putin now to be the statesman here. There is a void of leadership everywhere else.

That the US and Russia will get into a shooting war in Ukraine seems unlikely, but you can bet that Republicans will challenge Democrats to a sabre-rattling contest nonetheless.

The drift of the iceberg is towards the economy of Europe — another €60 billion default and/or German bailout, assuming the Germans will want anything at all to do with Ukraine’s new leaders.


Thursday, February 27, 2014


"To those who develop LEED standards, we suggest you have a look at the peak oil, climate change and financial collapse literature and rethink the level of urbane complexity being required to sustain LEED certified buildings. "

Firstly, we have to express profound gratitude for all who participated in our winter Indiegogo drive for Youre Inn at The Farm.  This was our debut campaign, and it was not your usual film project or fascinating new electronic device that promises to tie your shoes or walk your dog for you. We just wanted to make mud and use that to build a country inn.

We raised $7600 and change in 90 days, which, by our reckoning, translates to 1000 bales of straw, 100 tons of sand, clay and limestone fines, and enough cash left over to brew a half dozen barrels of slaked lime and biochar dust. With all that material on site, our eager student volunteers, who begin streaming in from all over the world just about a month from now, will have plenty to work with.

We were off teaching our 9th annual residential permaculture course in internet-free rural Belize when the campaign wound up two weeks ago and were unable to make a final push, which spared our friends and relatives dunning messages but probably reduced the total netted in the time allowed. No matter! We can proclaim success and move forward. The campaign is still open to receive donations, if you missed your chance, and be sure to visit Indiegogo or share our Facebook page with your friends.

This week, while working on a book about ecovillages, we happened upon the table of LEED Standards and decided it would be fun to run Youre Inn at The Farm through that checklist. We scored LEED Platinum!

However, as we did that, we have to say, in our humble opinion, LEED standards are considerably skewed toward a 20th Century view of the world, something more suited for a Holocene future, not the more turbulent times that will confront us in the Anthropocene.

So, for instance, in site selection, we scored 12 of a possible 14 points because we were not an urban development (1 point) and did not have any access to public transport (1 point). We completely understand and agree with the logic of choosing brownfield sites for redevelopment over greenfield sites that are likely providing all manner of vital ecological services that should be preserved, but we have to say that both the megalopoli of past decades and their sources of public transport are endangered species likely to go extinct in not very many years. LEED site selection awarded zero points for sustainable water supply, ample soil resource to support inhabitants from on-site gardens, or friendly Amish neighbors with a plentiful heirloom gene pool for breeding horses, oxen, rabbits, hogs and poultry.

We managed to pick up the points for alterative transportation (solar cars), bicycle storage, our alternative refueling station, and parking capacity, and also scored high for reduced site disturbance, stormwater management, minimal light pollution, and reduction of heat island effect.

In the Water Efficiency, Materials and Energy modules we had perfect scores, but we stumbled again when it came to the permanent instrumentation requirements for indoor air quality, ozone monitoring and thermal comfort that complies with ASHRAE 55-1992. No points are awarded for mixing biochar into your plaster to remove mold spores and other sick building infections, but we did pick up a point for having an IAQ Management Plan. We lost points for insufficient daylighting of interiors, but that might be remedied eventually as we explore how best to construct (dimmable) watertight light wells penetrating a living roof. Engineers please comment.

Finally, we gave ourselves only 2 of four points for innovation in design (for C sequestration from biochar, both embodied and in winter heating operation, and for supplemental compost pile central radiant heating in Spring and Fall) because all the Inn’s other green features have been previously demonstrated.

Tallying our score, we received 56 points. To be LEED Certified (besides paying a LEED Accredited Professional and picking up another point for that), you need 26 points. Silver is 33-38 points, gold 39-51, and LEED Platinum is anything over 52.

For those readers whose dollars are making this possible, our profound gratitude. To those who develop LEED standards, we suggest you have a look at the peak oil, climate change and financial collapse literature and rethink the level of urbane complexity being required to sustain LEED certified buildings.

Most LEED buildings, we humbly submit, may not be sustainable when something as simple as electricity, water or debt is no longer available. Should that happen, or rather when that happens, we may well be confronted with the spectre of Zombie LEED buildings, gutted for component parts to build something more immediately useful.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Recharting Collapseniks

"Only a few are willing to risk arrest for the sake of an utopian outcome. Ted 'The Unabomber' Kaczynski obviously occupies the upper right corner. Starhawk, Bill McKibben and David Graeber are not lighting any fuses but at least have what they think are better plans, or maybe just better processes."

Our post of January 14 stirred the hornet’s nest and so we have found it necessary to revisit those star charts and try to probe their signs and portents with renewed care.

First, we have to acknowledge that our scatter chart has no basis in actual data. It is merely a mind map, and as such it has its uses and its limitations. The map is not the territory, as we know, so what is it? Mostly, it is a way to visualize complex relationships and hopefully gain insight that doesn’t just pop out from a photograph, the written word or columns of numbers.

In this case, we were attempting to depict where David Holmgren’s shift in strategy took him within the matrix of climate/peak oil prognosticators. We were using charts to illustrate that he had shifted from advocating passive transformation to urging proactive crash.

The feedback we received was, on the whole, good natured and valuable. Naturally there were many names that readers felt had been left out of the matrix — Dave Cohen, Dave Pollard, David Graeber, Ugo Bardi, Charles Eisenstein, Buckminster Fuller, Larry Korn, Caroline Baker, Sister Sage and Kathy MacMahon, to name a few absent without our readership’s leave.

Michael Ruppert said about this chart: "I am not a product of, or measurable by, Cartesian 3D tools."

Carolyn Baker said, "I'm not even ON the chart, thank God. I stand with Mike. Who needs more quantifying, categorizing, labeling, separating, binary, limiting, left-brain, Cartesian tools? This is precisely why we are living the current nightmare. This chart is only more of industrial civilization's three-dimensional drivel. I'm not on the chart because everything I stand for cannot be charted. In this instance, I love being marginalized!"

Some of the other people who were represented by dots on the map weighed in with their own thoughtful essays. Dmitry Orlov wrote:

If, like Holmgren says, 10% of the population boycotted global finance, and global finance crashed, Brown Tech would probably just shut down, because its activities are very capital-intensive. Now, since our voices—Holmgren's and mine and those of other people who may be consonant with Holmgren's message—are mainly projected through blogs, I can do some math and figure out how many me-equivalents it would take to bring about the required change in global sentiment.

This particular blog gets around 14k unique visitors a month. Let's assume a sky-high conversion rate of 50%, where half of my readers pledge to support Homgren's boycott. That's 7k people. Global population is 7 billion, 10% of that is 700 million. Dividing one into the other, we get our result: it would take on the order of 100,000 me-equivalent activists/bloggers to bring about the required change of consciousness. Next question: how many me-equivalent (give or take) bloggers are there out there?


[O]f the 22 activists/bloggers on Albert's chart, how many might go along with the plan? We already know that Rob Hopkins wants us to count him out. He wrote that Holmgren's Crash on Demand “isn't written for potential allies in local government, trades unions, for the potential broad coalitions of local organisations that Transition groups try to build, for the diversity of political viewpoints...” Yes, I can see why local govenments might take a dim view of a plan to zero out their budgets, and why the trade unions might not be enthused by a plan that would put their entire rank and file on the unemployment line. I guess Hopkins' “potential broad coalitions” will just have to wait for collapse rather than try to bring it about. Potentially, that is.
Not that any of that matters, of course, because, even if we assume that everyone will go along with Homgren's plan, dividing one into the other we still get a 99.98% shortfall in the required number of activists/bloggers. La-de-da. But don't let that stop you from trying because, regardless of results (if any) it's a good thing to be trying to do.

KMO, in his post entitled ‘Dirty Pool,’ dissected the controversy by looking closely at the differences between the positions of David Holmgren and Nicole Foss. “Notice that David and Nicole are advocating the same course of action,” he wrote. 

“They differ on what rationale to present in order to motivate people to divest themselves from the disempowering and dysfunctional system of Brown Tech control, but they both advocate withdrawing support for and engagement with the over-developed, larger-than-human scale systems of techno-industrial civilization and re-investing those energies and resources at the level of the family and the local community. The discussion here is how to frame the situation for the increasing number of people who are starting to realize that the industrial system will not make good on the promises and commitments it made to its subjects in the midst of its expansion.”

This really demonstated for us how delicate and nuanced the distinctions between the collapsenik community were. Moreover, to really represent the available rationales would require a more sophisticated mind map, such as used by Dave Pollard in his review of David Graeber’s book, The Democracy Project. 

Taking another crack at our chart, we decided to try relabeling the axes and shifting some of the positions.

One problem we have is that the lower left is overcrowded while the upper right (civil resistance ecotopians) has only a few willing to risk arrest for the sake of an utopian outcome. Ted “The Unabomber” Kaczynski obviously occupies the upper right corner. Starhawk, Bill McKibben and David Graeber are not lighting any fuses but at least have what they think are better plans, or maybe better processes. Joel Salatin makes it to that quadrant because he is ready to defy the FDA/USDA Gestapo on issues like raw milk and mobile beef harvesters.

Ray Kurzweil anchors the top left because he sees no need to confront authority — it will be carried away in the tsunami of change over which it has almost zero control. Elon Musk  has similar confidence albeit less utopian cultural zeal. More moderate transformers, Michael Shuman, for instance, with his Small-Mart concepts, or Woody Tasch, replacing monolithic banks with local lending circles, and Ellen Brown, making the case for state-owned currencies (and running for Treasurer of California now) are trying to reform, not subvert, which places them to West of illegal and North of collapse.

Another useful addition is Robert Constanza, who can stand in for a long list of new economists that see a potentially very rapid adoption path for a successor metric to GDP — giving the G8 and the Davos Forum a new set of tools that integrate current knowledge of how ecology, economics, psychology and sociology collectively contribute to establishing and measuring sustainable well-being.  We blogged about this in 2010, when we met Bhutan’s Minister of Happiness at the Cancun Climate Summit, and again from Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

Reframing "violence" (that no one seeks) to "resistance" and making the middle line a division between active and passive (or legal and illegal) seems likely to satisfy many of the chart’s critics.

Some insights that the new chart may evoke: some reconstructionists of the top right regard collapseniks on the lower left as lazy while the doomers at bottom right likely consider the activities of the reformers on the upper left to be futile gestures.

Steven Morris suggested a dynamically updated map. The internet could be scanned for all the articles and conversations by our selected group of authors. Then using AI, their position on the map could be adjusted as what they write changes. Kind of like a tag cloud, only more elaborate.

Douglas Anarino suggested a simpler JavaScript app that scored each question on a left/right and up/down axis, moving the dot appropriately. This could also be made interactive to enable a reader to place themselves into the matrix.

Harold P Boushell said if you are going that far, how about allowing nth-points on a circle such as: Peaceful Transformation, Collapse, Singularity, Civil War 2, Space-Asteroids, Nuclear War, Electric-Grid-Failure, Methane-Eco-Collapse, and the Jetsons. This reminded us that we already did this in 2005, using familiar science fiction films.

Here are five slides lifted from slide shows we ran from 2006 and to around 2010. By 2009 we were getting so tired of it we were already making fun of ourselves, calling it “The Baterix.”

We divided up the future into quadrants, using something like the compass Holmgren adopted for his Future Scenarios: How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change (March 2009)


Into this grid we dropped the Jetsons and the Flintstones.

Then we suggested a few more apocalyptic films and urged the audience to think of their own favorites and where they might fit.

Finally, we brought that home into the realm of practical planning — what do you do to prepare, given how much or little weight you place on various scenarios?

Preparations, we pointed out, generally involve building local community, because the idea of going it alone is strictly the stuff of old time Westerns, and bears no connection to the real world. If you want to get a local community to come together, a great way to begin is over a nice homecooked meal. That is why our Post Petroleum Survival Guide was also a cookbook.

Which brings us to some advice Dmitry Orlov included in his Holmgren review. He wrote, “Can kitchen-gardening make a difference at a national scale? Yes it can. It has and it will again. There is just one problem: foodies. They don't want to merely survive by eating a balanced diet of potatoes, turnips, cabbage and rye periodically augmented with guinea pig stew; they want fresh, delicious produce and fancy recipes. I've often thought that a good trifecta for a collapse-related blog to hit would be to incorporate climate change, peak oil and delicious, healthy, organic, local food. There could be three tabs: near-term human extinction got you down? Click on another tab and look at some luscious, mouth-watering tomatoes. But if the foodies can be reigned in, then kitchen-gardening becomes something of survival value.”

Sigh. That trifecta was how we began this blog, and yes, we agree, we have somehow strayed. But its never too late! Herewith our winter recipe, borrowed from the pages of this morning’s The New York Times.

If you go to the Times and read the original piece by Melissa Clark, and watch the demo video of how she makes these cookies, please note the bubbly sound track as the cookie dough goes into the oven (at minute 2.15). Baby Boomers may be carried back to the soundtrack from My Little Margie or Father Knows Best. This, friends, is really New York City in the winter!

Courtesy Andrew Scrivani, The New York Times

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes 

Melissa Clark: “Forget all the bad, soggy oatmeal cookies you’ve ever had in your life. Picture instead a moist-centered, butterscotch-imbued, crisp-edged cookie flecked with nubby oats. Add to this the fragrant nuttiness of toasted coconut. Then subtract any chewy raisins that may have accidentally wandered into the picture, and substitute sweet, soft dates, guaranteed not to stick in your teeth. Now mentally sandwich two of these cookies with a mascarpone-cream cheese filling. And that’s what you’ll find here. An oatmeal cookie with a little something extra, a recipe made for keeping. You can bake the cookies a few days ahead, but they are best filled within a few hours of serving.”

For the cookies
80 grams shredded sweetened coconut flakes (3/4 cup)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
330 grams packed dark brown sugar (1 3/4 cups)
2 tablespoons honey
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
190 grams all-purpose flour (1 1/2 cups)
7 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
3 grams baking powder (1 teaspoon)
8 grams ground cinnamon (4 teaspoons)
260 grams rolled oats (3 cups)
100 grams dates, pitted and chopped (1/2 cup)
65 grams granulated sugar (5 tablespoons)
For the filling
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons mascarpone
25 grams confectioner's sugar (3 tablespoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread coconut flakes on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly colored and fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool. Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees.
2. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light. Beat in brown sugar and honey, then beat until very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and 1 teaspoon (2 grams) cinnamon. With the mixer set on low, beat flour mixture into butter mixture until combined. Beat in oats, dates and toasted coconut.
4. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together granulated sugar and remaining 3 teaspoons (6 grams) cinnamon. Roll heaping tablespoonsful of dough into balls, then roll balls in cinnamon sugar; transfer to baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between dough balls. Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
5. Make the filling: Using the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl. Sandwich about 1 tablespoon of filling between two cookies; repeat with the remaining filling and cookies.

YIELD: About 36 cookies, for 18 sandwiches  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Charting Collapseniks

"Rather than spurning financial system terrorists, Holmgren urges activists to become “terra-ists”; to directly bring down the system by thousands of acts of economic disobedience."

A ferment in the environmental movement, brewing for many years, has now bubbled up into the blogosphere. We are dipping our ladle in here to take a little taste of it, even though we are quite certain it is not done fermenting.

Bill McKibben has been stirring the wort of whether social activism can save us for many years. In Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, as in The End of Nature a quarter century earlier, he poignantly waffled, in elegant prose, between hope and despair. Since launching — “the first political action with a number for a name” — he has urged those of us with any remaining shred of hope for our children’s future, given what we now know about climate change, to step up and lay our lives on the line. Get arrested. Risk lengthy jail terms and even death to stop this atrocity. Do not go gentle into that good night.

Words to this effect we have heard much longer and louder from Derrick Jensen, another eloquent writer, the difference being that McKibben advocates for non-violence in the mold of Gandhi and King, while Jensen has no qualms about advocating violence. Naomi Klein, another stirring writer with an arrest record, calls for acts of resistance large and small. McKibben is tepid about taking on capitalism’s growth imperative, as though it were not a major contributing factor, while neither Holmgren, Klein nor Jensen have any such reservations.

Thus we are tasting many different flavors of leadership, or literary guidance, in the shaping of the nascent climate resistance movement.

Scientists themselves have been growing politically more active and radicalized, as Klein described in her October New Statesman essay. If you go back enough years you’ll find scientists like Dennis Meadows, Howard Odum and James Lovelock, all of whom correctly foresaw the impending collision between consumer civilizations and natural systems. Lovelock made a series of climate-and-society predictions that went unheeded for 20 years but hold up well in retrospect.

Joining the chorus of climate Cassandras with more structured harmonies are the peak-oilers and financial collapsarians. These thoughtful writers straddle a continuum that is both time-sensitive (near-term, middle term, long-term) and outcome ambivalent — they are undecided as to whether the future they foresee will be a good thing, a bad thing, or even survivable.

Guy McPherson has staked out the lonely position for near-term human extinction, which might be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Richard Heinberg, Nicole Foss and Steve Keen all see financial constraints as the leading edge of whatever storm is forming, and are not making predictions about how or when, but are planting gardens and putting up canned goods nonetheless.

Michael Ruppert, James Howard Kunstler and Dmitry Orlov are also decoupling from whatever economic grids they may be attached to, but do not foresee a particularly happy outcome in all this. Social unraveling is not a pretty picture, as Orlov describes in his Five Stages of Collapse.

Still clinging to the possibility of some salvageable human prospect are cultural and technical optimists like Amory Lovins, David Orr and Rob Hopkins. We personally would also favor this idea of an ecotopian future, and have been working to bring it about it for half a century now, but our own position is that collapse is likely unstoppable now, given, as Nicole Foss puts it “the excess claims on underlying real wealth.”

What suddenly bubbled up from the blog vat at the start of 2014 was a white paper authored by David Holmgren, one of the founders of permaculture, reversing a position he had long espoused. Instead of associating himself with peaceful change by calling for restraint on overconsumption and gradual adoption of the degrowth economic paradigm, extending it ever outward until it became the mainstream culture, Holmgren abruptly called for “Crash on Demand
or a strategic decoupling by masses of youth (and elders) from the economic system that is the crashing the planet’s ecological stasis, by simply walking away.

“Rather than spurning financial system terrorists [a.k.a. banksters or the 1/10th-percent],” Holmgren urged activists to become “terra-ists”; to directly bring down the system by thousands of acts of economic disobedience. “The urgency for more radical action to build parallel systems and disconnect from the increasingly centralized destructive mainstream is a logical and ethical necessity whether or not it contributes to a financial collapse,” he wrote provocatively.

This immediately inspired a flurry of thoughtful responses, as might be expected. One of the most impassioned came from one whose positions Holmgren had just abandoned. Writing for Transition Culture January 13, Rob Hopkins responded, “to state that we need to deliberately, and explicitly, crash the global economy feels to me naive and dangerous, especially as nothing in between growth and collapse is explored at all.”

Hopkins main truck with Holmgren is his readiness to toss away all notions of mainstreaming permaculture and transition towns. “I may be naive,” he writes, “but I still think it is possible to mobilise that in a way that, as the Bristol Pound illustrates, gets the support and buy-in of the 'City/State' level, and begins to really put pressure and influence on 'National' thinking.  I may be naive, but it's preferable to economic collapse in my book, and I think we can still do it.”

Concerned that a hard line position would expose social change agents to the full weight of state security as well as to the blame cascading from an angry populace, and that sewing the seeds of civil discord is always dangerous, Nicole Foss wrote on The Automatic Earth January 9 that financial collapse is already well underway and there is no need to expedite the process. “While I understand why Holmgren would open a discussion on this front, given what is at stake, it is indeed dangerous to ‘grasp the third rail’ in this way. This approach has some aspects in common with Deep Green Resistance, which also advocates bringing down the existing system, although in their case in a more overtly destructive manner.”

“Decentralization initiatives already face opposition, but this could become significantly worse if perceived to be even more of a direct threat to the establishment,” Foss concluded.

Having these positions staked out was useful for the discussion of strategy that change agents need to be more engaged with. Klein and McKibben seem to think that if we just have enough “Battles for Seattle,” the economic system of global civilization will be radically restructured. Our own experience in joining dozens of massive marches and actions of civil disobedience but nonetheless failing to end the Vietnam War has perhaps jaundiced our views in this regard. Moreover, Holmgren and Foss make clear that that’s not going to happen.

Even the recently unveiled strategy of fossil fuel divestment, as promising as it is, and as grounded in investment reality of the stranded, overvalued assets unable to ever be burnt, stands little chance of being able to arrest climate tipping points that may have been triggered decades ago.

Foss is not especially concerned for the climate, apparently clinging to the position Holmgren had some years ago, that collapse of energy and economics will augur in a low-carbon future, although she does acknowledge the lurking unknowns from reversed global dimming. “We need to get down to the business of doing the things on the ground that matter, and to look after our own local reality. We can expect considerable opposition from those who have long benefited from the status quo, but if enough people are involved, change can become unstoppable. It won’t solve our problems in the sense of allowing us to continue any kind of business as usual scenario, and it won’t prevent us from having to address the consequences of overshoot, but a goal to move us through the coming bottleneck with a minimum amount of suffering is worth striving for.”

Our own view is that the likelihood that a runaway greenhouse effect is now underway is greater than it has ever been, and to call what is coming a bottleneck is a poor choice of words except perhaps in the sense of the genetic bottleneck experienced 70-80 thousand years ago in connection with a supervolcano that reduced our hereditary lines to fewer than 5000 individuals worldwide. While we understand the concern she raises about unduly politicizing the issue, we’d say that cat has left its bag and keeping silent for fear of numbing the population makes no more sense for climate change than it does for Ponzi economics. Indeed, the parallels between the overdraft on Earth’s atmosphere and the excess claims on fictional central bank assets are striking — neither is going to go away simply by ignoring them. In both cases, the cake already baked.

This prompts us to make a new grid to categorize the range of opinions amongst peakists, collapseniks, politicos and anarchists. It goes something like this, at first drawing, and we welcome corrections, especially from those named.

Holmgren’s change of position can be charted this way:

If we plot the respective positions of other change strategists, they look something like this:

This is revision #7 since our original post

Our own position in this matrix, outlined in two books since 2006, is off to the left and centered on the line, meaning that while we are adamant in our advocacy for peaceful transformation, we are doubtful as to whether ecotopia is possible without collapse. Those seem to us to be a coupled pair. Likewise, McKibben is in favor of a new green economy but stuck vacillating between more peaceful and less peaceful means of getting there, while McPherson is deeply wedded to inevitable collapse without caring any more about social responses.

Not surprising, given what they know, scientists like Lovelock, Ken Anderson, and Howard Odum all fall below the line dividing Ecotopia from Collapse. Odum, we suspect, would have been in favor of peaceful transformation, while the others would like us to push harder and force the issue.

Naturally those most concerned with Holmgren’s shift would be those closest to his former position, including Rob Hopkins. Those closest to him now — Kunstler, Anderson, Hansen and Klein — would be the most likely to approve.

What is missing from Holmgren’s paper are the advances in terrestrial carbon sequestration — as opposed to Ponzi geoengineering — in no small measure reaching fruition by dint of permaculture design. While permaculturists like Rob Hopkins, Declan Kennedy and Max Lindegger pursued innovations in social structures — transition towns, complimentary currencies and ecovillages — other permaculturists — Darren Doherty, Richard Perkins, Joel Salatin and Ethan Roland, to name just some — have pushed the envelope to see how much carbon can actually be returned to the soil. This revolution is the subject of Courtney White’s new book, Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country, scheduled for release in June.

Would we have ever learned that a mere 2% increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100% of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere if we had not been so frightened of climate change by Al Gore and other scaremongers? Speaking as one who wandered deep into Amazonian history to discover this new paradigm, we reply: probably not.

We’ve added some color coding and sector analysis with this third iteration:

This is revision #7 since our original post

Now lets step back and add a whole ‘nother layer to this.

There is a really good cultural transformation going on, with ecovillagers, ecological restorationists, soil remineralizers and post-empire econometricists. Simultaneously, there is a really negative übertrend of banksters and purchased or annointed politicians enriching themselves off oil, nuke and the wealth of nature, then turning all that surplus into the worst kinds of pollution – the kinds that take millennia to degrade and even then impair gene pools for untold generations.

These two conflicting transformations coexist against the backdrop of almost immeasurably immense climatic and biosystemic change that will severely affect, if not drive, our world in the future. We all exist in the context of ecosystems and yet these familiar norms are being utterly destroyed while we write this. The tiny little good ecovillagers, permaculturists and transition towners do pales in comparison to the scale of damage of unrestrained growthaholism that seems almost a genetic imperative of our species — and we are the keystone species in ecosystem Earth. Holmgren has this right, and it is undeniably frightening.

We’re sure there may be more thoughtful readers who can add to this analysis and produce more insights than we have, but as we say, we’re just grateful to be having this kind of discussion. The conversation continues in our next post, Recharting Collapseniks.

After co-teaching a permaculture course in Belize with Nicole Foss next month, we will be vetting this analysis with Dmitry Orlov, Dennis Meadows, John Michael Greer, Gail Tverberg, KMO and others at the Age of Limits conference in Pennsylvania in May. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Surfing into a New Year

"Changing climate and weather patterns will crash through food and energy systems, housing and commerce and social conventions like surf on a sandbar."

We are on an island off Southern Mexico at the moment, preparing our wares for the annual permaculture design course in Belize, and putting in a little beach time. We have a friend who runs the local kitesurf school here and over a Christmas dinner he told us a rather harrowing tale of what had happened to him the night before, on Christmas Eve.

After closing up shop for the day he had grabbed his gear and gone to the Western tip of the island, rigged the kite and stood on the beach for a bit looking up at the sky. It was quite menacing, a strong North wind and dark clouds moving quickly. He had expected there would be other surfers about, and the part of his brain concerned with personal safety told him to not go out alone, but the waves were good and he liked strong winds, so he threw off caution and launched anyway.

He had a good half hour or more in the strong winds and had settled into an area nearly a mile offshore where there is a sandbar with a good surf break. He worked the board on and off the surf line, spinning, leaping, making sharp cuts while controlling his kite. And then it changed.

The wind suddenly shifted direction and the kite fell out of the sky. He sat on his board and tested the air but he could not relaunch because everything was still. There was no wind to carry the kite up. The currents were strong and with the kite extending away from him on the ocean’s surface, he was being swept out to the northwest, in the direction of Cuba, 105 miles away.

He looked around for sharks, whom he knew also favored that sandbar. He could, of course, abandon the expensive kite gear and paddle his surfboard back to shore. Even in the strong current he could make it to the Yucatan coast farther to the North. He was lucky he chose the surfboard that day over the kiteboard, because the surfboard would be much better for such a task.

The rain came, quite strong, and he sat there waiting and drifting, as minutes passed. He still had options. One thing he knew. He could trust nature. It might be unpredictable in its details — the whens and hows — but it was predictable in its patterns — and change was a constant. And he was right, after the rain came more wind, from a new direction. He was able to launch the kite. But he was only up a few seconds when his emergency harness release opened — sitting in the surf for that long must have loosened the clasp — and the kite blew away, dropping him into the water again. Fortunately, he had a thin safety line running from his belt to the kite and was able to recover it again, but now the lines were all snarled, and difficult to untangle in the open ocean and rough seas, and the rain was coming down harder.

The tale ended well or he would not be sitting at Christmas dinner telling us about it. He got the kite untangled, the harness re-attached, was able to relaunch and he surfed all the way home, straight up to the beach in front of his school.

What it left us thinking though, was how much, or how little, trust we can place in nature anymore. In his case, he trusted the familiar pattern of winds and rain. He knew the calm was temporary, despite how long it seemed to take.

In our case, as we leave the comfortable Holocene epoch in which two-leggeds stood upright, learned to speak and write, and sent our kind to the Moon and back, and we step into the unknown Anthropocene, the uncertainty is exponentially greater. Even our most familiar patterns will become unreliable. Changing climate and weather patterns will crash through food and energy systems, housing and commerce and social conventions like surf on a sandbar.

And thus we drift, as Einstein predicted, towards unparalleled catastrophes. Happy New Year!

One last note as 2013 draws to a close. We have launched an Indiegogo campaign to better serve the needs of people wanting to take our sustainability and activism training programs. Its called Youre Inn at The Farm. If you are looking for an excellent tax deductible charity at this time of year, it would really help if you would take this moment to assist ours. Please donate now. Thank you and have a wonderful holiday!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Farm: Where we have come from and our plans for the future

"What is needed is a giant upgrade. We need a visitors’ center that can also serve as an ecohostel. We want to open up The Farm. We are calling our project Youre Inn at The Farm."

As we in the North approach the winter solstice – traditionally a time of slowing down, contemplation, and letting go of the past year — we are filled with gratitude for so much that we have been given, and only barely awakened to the new possibilities these gifts bestow. 

Our small non-profit educational and scientific organization, Global Village is headquartered in an ecovillage in Tennessee, The Farm, and in recent years has kept branch offices in Mexico and Palestine. We have been emergency planetary technicians since 1974, reorganized with tax-exempt status since 1984, and have current active projects on six continents. We have always matched our organizational rhythms to the rhythms of nature. Today we are looking inward, and down to our roots in the ground. Today we are undertaking some long needed repairs.

Our Hippy Heritage

The history of The Farm intentional community has been told in numerous books and films and even appears today in middle school social studies textbooks. We settled in Tennessee in 1971 as an exodus from the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco, constructing, with chipped bricks and straightened nails, a utopian experimental village on a worn-out and abandoned tract of south central Tennessee’s rolling hill country.
Wholeo Dome
One of the community buildings in those early pioneer years was our machine shop, where lathes and presses bent windmill blades, fashioned concentrating photovoltaic arrays, and built some of the world’s first solar-powered automobiles. We tinkers called ourselves “Global Village Technology.” From those humble beginnings came what is today Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology.

Over the years we can point to many successes and more than a few failures. Our early success in prototyping solar cars — daily driven on parade through the Knoxville Worlds Fair in 1981 — led to a multi-million-dollar retreat for the Solar Car Company of Melbourne, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona and Groton, Connecticut a few years later. Like the Tucker, the Solar Car was too early and too radical for its time and was no match for entrenched market and political forces that quickly arrayed against it. 

The early success of our ideas, such as hybrid electrics that got more than 200 mpg or concentrating solar arrays that negated cloud cover and rain as a factor in solar gain, led to their widespread use today. In the early 1980s, we installed solar-powered cellular telephone service all over the remote regions of Brazil. We trained Brazilians at The Farm in ecovillage design, resulting in a vibrant, government sponsored programs, permaculture training centers and hundreds of emerging ecovillages in that country today. We provided similar programs in post-Apartheid South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Colombia, Argentina, and many other locations.

We like to work in areas with high strategic value, typically places just emerging from long eras of war and oppression and showing the spark of creative energy that often ignites a new era of opportunity for a large population.

What is Appropriate?

When we speak of “appropriate” we mean to suggest both an ethical dimension (all technology is not morally neutral) and also what technology is appropriate for the time and place where it is being deployed. We are entering the Age of Limits, and we, as a species, carry an enormous legacy of overdue bills to our biosphere that can only be repaid by devoting time and wealth to ecological and biodiversity restoration, carbon sequestration, and repaying cultural climate debt.
Our Bookstore
Fritz Schumacher spoke of “appropriate technology” being a “middle way,” as in Buddhism, a path of moderation between the very small scale (the home and garden) and the very large scale (industrial cultures). We can also express this as “village scale,” which implies not merely the development of material well-being, but also the invisible architecture of community — holistic wellness.

Global Village works in five specific areas. These are our designated zones of influence.

  1. Scale: the great shift to relocalization through voluntary simplicity and reskilling.
  2. Exchange: the new economics of local currencies, carbon accounting, and wealth revaluation.
  3. Solar Budget: meeting the hierarchy of human needs entirely from our daily income from our sun.
  4. Ecological Restoration: repairing and regenerating resilient natural systems and cycles.
  5. Climate: mitigation and adaptation.
Our strategy, being small but blessed with unusually good insight, is to join with others on parallel paths to magnify our collective efforts. We attend conferences and meetings, contribute to newsletters and journals, and find company among the many who recognize these global needs and are doing something creative and effective to address them. Among our common allies are bioregionalists, intentional communitarians, utopian scholars and ecovillagers, the permaculturists, ecological restorationists, and those NGOs in the United Nations community who focus on climate change and achieving sustainable development within limited means. Small as we are, we could easily spend US$20 million per year per initiative. We would love a 10-year, $100 million commitment up front. But we are realistic. Our track record and our knowledge and insights are not enough. There is a certain amount of luck and good fortune involved in finding like-minded benefactors and volunteers. Our fallback position has always been to keep doing what we do, as effectively as we can, with whatever limited resources we have. Quitting is not in our lexicon.

The Four Strategies

We have found over the past forty years that what works best to accomplish the most tends to fall into four distinct strategies:

Training. Applying our unique whole-systems immersion pedagogy, we seek out emerging young leaders and provide them with serious future-forging skills. We are not the Kennedy School at Harvard, training a future generation of world leaders, although we would if we could. We are rather a sponsor of and inspiration for distributed living and learning centers; co-creating a new curriculum and pedagogy for the coming stages of social evolution. Directly modeled on our Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm (1994) there are today scores of similar training centers in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, Senegal, and many other places. We are awarding B.A. and M.S. degrees through our Gaia University distance learning program. We have an international training cadre, Gaia Education Associates, conducting regular ecovillage design certification programs under the auspices of the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). We have partnerships or associations with David Orr’s community programs at Oberlyn, Wes Jackson’s Land Institute, Amory Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute, Gunter Pauli’s ZERI, the Sarvodaya Shramadana in Sri Lanka, and many Permaculture Institutes and EcoCentros around the world. 

Unity Center
. We have at various times played host to conferences of the North American Bioregional Congress, the National Conference of Alternative Community Schools, the Fellowship for Intentional Community, and many more. We founded the Ecovillage Network of the Americas and were the secretariat office for the Americas of the Global Ecovillage Network for its first 10 years. We serve today as UN liaison office of the Global Ecovillage Network and have consultative status at the UN headquarters in New York as well as regional UN offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Bangkok and elsewhere. Most recently we have become part of the Transition Towns movement and the Regrarians, serving in a leadership role. Our offices in Palestine and Mexico provide outreach along similar lines to the peace and permaculture movements in the Middle East and to climate change, transition and bioregional movements in the Caribbean Basin.

Publications and Web Resources. Our open technology internet library now includes more than 10000 pages and receives millions of views per month. We have authored a number of books and have written for sustainability trade publications, including Worldwatch State of the World, The Permaculture Activist, INFORSE, Communities, and many more. Our goal is to make the meme of green living sticky: to give it appeal and allure. We want sustainability to enchant.

Insulating the Octagon
Research and Development.
We continue to ply our early machine shop training and skills to the challenges that lie ahead. We are actively pursuing small scale microalgae for biofuels, solid state solar energy amplifiers, electricity-producing carbon-negative home heaters and air-conditioners, passive cooling home and business designs, organic no-till carbon farming and gardening, step-harvest re-agroforestation, and new methods of holistic net sequestration we are calling “cool village” technologies. We have research fellowships, internship programs, apprenticeships, and web-based placement networks amongst eCOOLvillages. Beyond the material sciences, we are also pioneers in, and now instructors of, non-violent communication and social change, consensus and conflict transformation, rebirthing and reconnecting with the fundamental forces that shape our culture and daily lives.

We are not doing this work in fits and starts, although it may seem like that as our budget swells and recedes with the winds of fate. We know what works, what doesn’t, and we are prepared to ride out good times and bad. We are in this for the long haul, and our dedicated personnel now span three generations and many, very different cultures.
Specific Institute programs have specific objectives, budgets and deliverables. Typical was a modular training institute proposal that was solicited by Geoff Lawton from us in 2010. At that time Geoff was forming a global support network for permaculture efforts, based in Australia, had some large donors lined up. He asked us to blue sky a $1 million grant. In seven pages, we laid out a 3-year, $1 million budget for the Ecovillage Training Center. We didn’t receive any funding, but that proposal still holds up pretty well as an illustration of what we really should be doing.

2009 Sketch of additions
Twenty years ago we broke ground on our “living and learning” facility at The Farm. With a mere shoestring of funding, mostly small donations and volunteer work, we scratched out the core elements for a useful visitor experience: a rustic dormitory; wooded campsites; examples of strawbale, cob, earthships and geodesic domes; solar showers and organic gardens. That served its purpose, and since the mid-1990s hundreds of students have received permaculture design certificates and learned many other skills with which to construct ecovillages of their own. But under the surface, there are problems. There are too few bathrooms and showers, a weak internet connection, building shambles that date from the early 1970s and are falling apart, and far many more people who want to come and visit than can be housed and fed.

Original building torn down, nail by nail, board by board
What is needed is a giant upgrade. We need a visitors’ center that can also serve as an ecohostel. We want to open up The Farm. We are calling our project Youre Inn at The Farm.

Tennessee’s most famous contemporary eco-architect, Howard Switzer, has designed a new building with dormitories, dining area, carbon-sequestering auditorium and industrial kitchen. With classrooms and workshops built below grade to eliminate the need for air conditioning, this 18000 sq-ft building will be solar powered, straw-, clay-, and biochar-walled, with roundpole post and beam framing, a living roof, bamboo floors, and carbon-minus winter heating.
Constructed wetlands reclaim all liquid wastes, while composting systems and cradle-to-cradle recycling recover all solid wastes. A second, smaller facility will house our biofuel and energy production laboratory. Visitors can relax in the comfort of our Prancing Poet dining hall, share home brews with friends in the Green Dragon Tavern, stroll the grounds of The Farm and explore the trails of our nature preserve.

Plastering the Dragon
We know from personal experience that a project of this scale can be done. We didn’t have any grants or loans and we could not get any mortgages when we started The Farm, but we are still here, hundreds of us hippies, with our own schools, businesses, roads, water systems, and farmland. We still can’t get mortgages or bank loans because The Farm is a conservation land trust, and none of its land holdings could ever be foreclosed, or pledged as collateral. And yet, we started the
Building the below-grade classrooms
Ecovillage Training Center 20 years ago and it has been running programs ever since. We began the Global Ecovillage Network with just 12 communities and now there are more than 20,000 ecovillages worldwide.

All we need are more crazy visionaries like us; people who share a dream of a better world. It is not a world based on avarice and war, but on love and understanding. Ours is a vision of peace with nature, of becoming partners with butterflies, birds, and those with roots in the ground; of living in harmony with all our relations.

What We Need & What You Get

Joining the roof of old building to the new
This campaign is just the first small step in our BIG IDEA. We are asking for $40000 this winter, but we could easily use ten times or a hundred times that, and the project would only become ever better. So this is an open request, and the beginning of a longer conversation. We want your participation, and we invite you to visit and stay a while, but what we really want is to have a larger effect on the world.

We welcome your help, in whatever form that may take.

Please visit our Indiegogo site, like our Facebook cause, follow us on Twitter and share this with as many of your friends as you can. In this holiday season, a place like The Farm would be a great gift to give your grandchildren.

State of construction December 2013

Prancing Poet Auditorium

Prancing Poet Auditorium




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