Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trophic Cascades

"Chinese youth are starting to wish they had not been lured into where they find themselves. It is best for all our sakes to encourage that impulse."

  We were expecting 25 students but got 40, and on some days it even goes up to 50. Initially our hosts wanted to have a Permaculture Design Course but after we told them such an undertaking would require 2 weeks, including 72 hours of classroom time, and multiple co-instructors, they asked instead for a week-long introduction to the Ecological Key, part of the Ecovillage Design one-month curriculum offered by the Global Ecovillage Network and Gaia Education Associates. We helped author that module so we agreed, but then they needed to cut it to 6 days to factor in the national independence holiday and also asked if we could do an introduction to natural building as part of the course.

Reluctantly, we agreed, since it was only introductory workshop in any event, but then we had our expensive Japanese finishing trowel confiscated by airline security and lost our shiitake mushroom plug spawn to agricultural inspection in Beijing. Undeterred, we pushed on, arriving a day early to sleep off jet lag and get oriented to the venue.

An able team of young Xu Ling villagers and volunteers rushed about cleaning up an old hall in the center of town, laying in bulk food for the cooks, re-wiring everything and setting up wifi, a PA system with bluetooth microphones, and a big projection screen.

As we walked the steep stone steps of the village we saw essentially a ghost town. Eighty large family houses stood empty, abandoned to the elements. Skinny dogs picked through the central garbage bins, scattering plastics and bits of foil into the bubbling mountain brooks that wove through and under the ancient stone stairways. Chickens and ducks, apparently the only domestic animals raised for food here, wandered the streets and picked through scraps the dogs missed, or raided the kernels of corn laid out on cement terraces to dry.

The old townspeople looked favorably towards the arrival of young ecovillagers but knew all too well that they were gardening greenhorns, unused to the seasonal ebbs and flows, city kids with city addictions, so they tried not to get too involved with them, not expecting they would last long. How many winter mass starvations had they witnessed in their long and difficult lives?

The students begin to arrive, coming in from all four corners of the Middle Kingdom. We have a Mongolian student who shaves his head and wears the traditional topknot. We have several from the mountainous Southwest, along the Tibetan plateau, and some from North of Beijing where there are ecovillages being born on splendid and historic royal estates and former monastery grounds. The government is committed to assuring their success by giving them some of the best land in that part of China. Among the students are architects, ecovillage designers, professors, gardeners, post-grad ag students, city recycling activists and engineers. They come because either they support this back-to-the-land movement or they are getting serious about joining it.

Here in Xu Ling the land is not bad, just in need of TLC. The elderly farmers descend to their terraces every day and work them over with hoes and sickles. They bare the ground, again and again, a practice that destroys whatever microbiome is close to the surface and that somehow survived the heavy use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, federally subsidized and liberally applied. The health clinic, still bearing slogans from the Cultural Revolution, is shuttered and padlocked and people go to distant hospitals to die so it would be difficult to look at the chemical fallout of this style of agriculture in an epidemiological way.

After a day of introductions and a village tour, we tackle the harder subjects. We don’t have a subtitled version of the late Albert Bartlett’s famous lecture, so we recapitulate with the assist of our able translators. We put up the equations for doubling times on the board and tell the story of the mathematician who introduced the game of chess to the emperor. This tale resonates well with the daytime TV soaps in most parts of China — a mix of KungFu and Mandarin intrigue. The emperor was very pleased with the mathematician and asked what he would like in reward. “Oh nothing much, sire, only a few grains of rice will do. Just place one on the first square of the board, and then two on the next, four on the next, and so on, until you have covered the board.” The emperor thought him a very foolish man, thinking he had been prepared to offer great treasures but instead the man wanted only a few grains of rice.

“Well, just how much rice is that?” Bartlett had asked his college mathematics class. The answer was, once you got to the 64th square, it was more than 400 times the global rice harvest this year, and perhaps more rice than had ever been grown in all of human history.

Our Chinese students ponder this, as we begin to describe the exponential function in terms of various percent growth rates and doubling times. We point to a few commonly understood rates like coal mining or fish catch. Then we introduce the bacteria-in-a-bottle analogy and the point is hammered home. If you have a bacterium in a bottle and it doubles every minute and at the stroke of midnight the bottle is full, then at what point is the bottle half full? Answer: one-minute to midnight. And we ask, as did Bartlett, when the bottle was 7/8 blue sky, “just yearning for development,” how much time was left? Answer: 3 minutes. Did the bacteria realize they had a problem? Probably not. But suppose by the time the bottle was 1/4 full (2 minutes to midnight) they did, and sent out astronauts in search of more bottles, and were extraordinarily lucky and in the final minute those bacteria astronauts came back with three new bottles. How much time would they have now? Answer: 2 minutes. To go another minute they would need 4 more bottles, and so on.

One hardly needs to hammer home this analogy with the pollution problems being experienced throughout China, or the global Ponzinomic pyramid of financial debt from deadbeat creditors that is knocking at their door.

Stoneleigh and Ilargi tell us:
China property prices rose at the fastest pace on record in September, fueling fears of a market bubble in the world’s second-largest economy. Property prices climbed 11.2% on-year in September in 70 major cities while prices were up 2.1% from August, according to Reuters calculations using data from the National Bureau of Statistics. In August, prices rose 9.2% from a year ago. Home prices in the second-tier city of Hefei recorded the largest on-year gain at 46.8%, compared with on-year gains of 40.3% in August. Top August performer Xiamen posted an on-year rise of 46.5% against an increase of 43.8% in August. Prices in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing rose 34.1%, 32.7% and 27.8% on an annual basis respectively, according to Reuters.

Since 7% annual growth gives a 10-year doubling time, property values in Xiamen are currently doubling every 20 months. Want to invest?

We discuss with the class the concept of anti-fragility, as opposed to robust or resilient investments. Anti-fragile investments do well when things go south. Ecovillages are a good example. If you lose your net worth, you still have food security. If you produce a surplus in hard times, the world is your oyster. That leads to a discussion of organic gardening and soils.

After lunch we construct a compost pile near the kitchen. Our host community had been mixing organic wastes with the plastics and other non-renewables and just trucking it all down the mountain to the city landfill. We give our usual talk on epigenetic coevolution and quantum entanglement — we are our microbial selves — much to the consternation of a whole team of translators trying to keep up. We talk about the spiderwebs of biomes, fermentation, sick buildings, and end the day screening a subtitled version of The Man Who Planted Trees.

It was a lot to digest, but these kids are no dummies. They asked tough questions. They sat on the edge of their chairs. They got it.

When we think of the stereotypes of Red China that pass for most USAnians as good reasons to vote Republican, we had best remember that this giant over there is largely our doing now. They are starting to wish they had not been lured into where they find themselves. It is best for all our sakes to encourage that.

The fourth day began with a mixed blessing. Walking back uphill from breakfast — indistinguishable, really, from the other two meals of the day — and pining for a Starbucks double espresso, we heard the shouts of a farmer down in the terraces below. He was pointing up to the village, shouting, and running. We watched in amazement as this man in at least his sixties sprinted up the steep stone steps, his conical bamboo hat bobbing behind his head as he shouted and pointed. Turning our gaze to where he was pointing, we saw the column of black smoke rising from the center of the village while around us other elderly villagers were rushing uphill, some passing by us at a dead run up the steps, carrying empty pails and plastic dish basins.

When we reached the fire, huffing and puffing and feeling pain in our knees, the students were already there, organizing themselves into a long chain to pass buckets from one of the many streams or taps to positions surrounding the building. It was clear that the first building, which had been storing winter firewood, was a lost proposition, as flames extending up through the roof now reached twice the height of the building. The attention of our makeshift fire brigade, led by our young cadre of engineers and architects, shifted focus to the adjacent home, and started dousing the outer walls and roof of that with all the water that could be brought to bear. When the Hangzhou fire department arrived, after about 45 minutes, the students and villagers already had it under control.

This was a blessing in unexpected ways, because it allowed the old resident villagers to feel the strength of our youthful ecovillage spirit. Where they had been running in ones and twos back and forth to the spring, we had set up a bucket brigade and delivered a lot of water where it was needed in a hurry. We responded rapidly and self-organized efficiently. It also let us feel our strength as a group in a pretty profound way, even though most had only met three days earlier. Lastly, it gave a good reality check to city kids accustomed to having things like fire departments they could speed dial on their smart phones.

Rather than jump back into the planned lesson, we chose to take an hour or two and let the adrenaline subside. We went around the circle and let everyone release what they wanted to say. It was a good chance to talk about planning for catastrophe, a standard element in any permaculture curriculum. We looked at how we had responded, what could have been better, and what was missing in the village’s own response.

We closed with a short think and listen in groups of three: what do you fear about the world your grandchildren will inherit? The results were unexpected.

Normally, when we do this virtually anywhere else in the world, the greatest concern is always climate change. Not one of the fourteen or more groups even mentioned that.

We had our work cut out.
Ripe persimmons and chestnuts
leaves starting to fall
summer heat lingers too long

— Xu Ling Village, Zhejiang, October 2, 2016

This is second in a continuing series. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Mountain of Gold

"The Chinese ecovillage movement is mostly retrofuturist, showing deference, if not nostalgia, for lost culture."

  It is Wednesday September 28 and we are sitting on the plane in Nashville waiting to take off for Hangzhou via Detroit and Beijing. This China trip is merely a warm-up for our Fall itinerary that has us traversing four continents in four weeks, including six ocean crossings. It is almost like a presidential campaign whistlestop tour, except they never utter a word about the thermometer in the room and everywhere we land we are making our pitch for reversing climate change by the redesign of the built environment. It is understandable that politicians won’t touch this subject. We are shredding the mystique of the land use patterns, collectively called civilization, that have served humans so poorly for the past eight millennia.

We spent August in Tennessee developing the lesson plans for the introductory workshops that will train a couple dozen soil activists in the People’s Republic and we are feeling pretty good about this stage of the trip now.

Then, in the run-up to blast off, we were tagged teamed by John Dennis Liu and Daniel Wahl, who wrangled us into cancelling scheduled events for late October and going straight from China to London for a meeting to assist British Commonwealth countries to prepare a new plan for COP-22 in Marrakech, one that will raise international ambition and stake out “plausibly impossible” but attainable goals to push the envelope of the Paris Agreement and the UN multilateral process. On October 28-29, a design charette, dubbed Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change, will give us the opportunity to make our elevator pitch to a very receptive audience of big wigs.

Now it is September 29 and we have left Hangzhou airport and driven 3 hours up winding roads into the mountains at night, eventually arriving at the Xu Ling village where our workshops will be held. Quail are singing to each other in the terraces, frogs croak from the creeks, and from the forested mountains there is the sound of a distant owl. Three hundred years before Lao Tsu, this small village was home to a sage named Wu Xixu, later to become the first Premier of the country. The mountain pass above the village is a relatively low one, so for thousands of years the main stone road between Shanghai on the coast and inland Nanjing, capital city for many empires, ran through here. When the pass was blocked in winter, porters would use a cave passage that crossed from Zhejiang to the adjacent province under the mountains.

As we rose the morning of October 1st we jotted a quick Suessian limerick:

There was a young man named Wu
Who came from the village of Xu
They thought him so fair
They made him Premier
This fellow they called Wu from Xu

XuLing village is at 29 North so having 29C days in October is not unusual, kind of like Mississippi or Alabama. They get snow in winter but they also have thatch palm and heliconia trees. The valley is a South-facing parabolic with mountains backing it to the North. The upper slopes of the valley are very steep but varied with different woods and bamboos. There is plenty of water; it flows through stone channels everywhere. Some of the trees we see are more than 1000 years old.

The stonework is of varying age; the oldest being most mostly massive freestack and then smaller, cut freestack, then fine mortared walls, then mud brick and cinderblock. Mud brick is illegal now — an overworked resource that has left ugly scars in many places. Cement brick and block is mandatory. Not even fired brick is permitted unless it is imported.

As we meet some of the villagers and students who have arrived for our workshops we observe that Chinese clothing is very westernized. Shoes are almost always state-of-the-art Nikes, Converses, Adidas and T-shirt slogans are usually in English even if the wearer doesn’t speak a word and may have no idea what it means. But surprisingly, many have done at least a year at a US university. Sometimes the ensemble of hair, glasses, clothes and iPhone 7 is so western you think the kid is USAnian except that when you ask them something they can’t comprehend a word. In contrast, there are kids who’ve learned almost perfect English just by watching internet movies and TV and prefer to affect old-style Chinese dress and hair styles, even the round glasses from a century earlier.

This contrast between the old and the new will be a recurrent theme of our month here. While many Chinese youth are enamored of consumer culture and willing to make great sacrifices to attain it, the Chinese ecovillage movement is mostly retrofuturist, showing deference, if not nostalgia, for lost culture. They seek as much a return to villageness as a breath of cleaner air and sip of cleaner water.

They are bucking a big trend, but lately they have been finding support in unusual quarters. Eleven years ago, the current President of China, then Governor and Party Committee Secretary of Zhejiang, went on a State visit to the rural villages to assess the needs of the people. What he discovered was a brewing catastrophe.

Globalization has been drawing people from the country to the cities for many decades, and until recently government policies encouraged it in order to fill the need for a gargantuan factory labor force. It recognized that this policy meant sacrificing agricultural capacity, but like most developing countries, was willing to make that trade-off because it figured that it could import food with its newly favorable trade balance, and a whole lot more.

What Xi Jinping saw nearly broke his heart. Long a champion of “Chinese values” and the “Chinese Dream,” Xi had hoped to revive Taoist practices of harmony in culture and nature. "He who rules by virtue is like the North Star," he said at a meeting of officials last year, quoting Confucius. "It maintains its place, and the multitude of stars pay homage.”

What he saw in the rural countryside was that all the teenagers, young people and middle-aged had left. There were only the very elderly — the grandparents — and the very young — the grandchildren — being supported by a combination of welfare services and remittances from distant families working in the cities. The terraces, on land too steep to use machinery, were in disrepair, overgrown with weeds and emergent forest. Buildings were crumbling and stray dogs roamed the streets. Food production had plummeted. The old hand tools were rusted and broken. The forests on the hillsides had been raided by timber companies and now mudslides wrecked the streams and threatened the villages.

The villagers said to Xi, “Look what we have lost!” They wanted back the forests and wildlife that made this a good place to live. Thus was born the two mountain theory.

Back in Shanghai, Xi gave a speech calling for two mountains. The first was development, including basic services to make peoples’ lives better. The second he called his “mountain of gold” — return of nature. Pure forests and pure water was what he called the real gold of China.

This was 11 years ago. In 2013 he became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People's Republic of China, and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, the most powerful consolidation of power since before the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

We are told that one reason the Sunshine Ecovillage Network has been successful in winning official support for its plan for rural revitalization in China, with a goal of 100 ecovillages by 2021, is that it chose to launch here in Zhejiang province, where the two mountains were first revealed to Xi Jinping.

This is first in a continuing series. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Giving Thanks is a Revolutionary Act

"We think there’s an outside chance that humans may possess the collective will and presence of mind to do what must be done, and to do it quickly, even if it means radically altering, even abolishing, industrial civilization."


  At The Farm we celebrate Indigenous People’s Day with only slightly more gratitude than other days. We shared a large covered-dish potluck in the Great Hall, part of our still-under-construction EcoHostel. We welcomed back our younger brothers and sisters who were up at Standing Rock helping in whatever way The Farm can. We sent blessings to those who had gone up to take their place.

It is not a little ironic that USAnians take a national holiday to celebrate the lifesaving generosity of indigenous peoples towards the Pilgrims while simultaneously unleashing water cannons, pepper spray and dogs on those same peoples as they try to protect our shared patrimony, in this case a river that affects the lives of 40 million people. We bless the sacred water that makes our life possible, here, as well as there.

Two years have passed since we produced a video mashup for a winter Indiegogo campaign, our last big crowdfunding effort. It was a trifle dour, we admit, but as the Earth tilts its Northern Hemisphere away from the sun and daylight gets scarcer, the plant-world moves underground, and we bundle from the cold, it is easy to fall into thoughts of contraction and decline.

Being overstretched from recent efforts, we could use some serious donations again right now, but we find that there would be no point in trying to revise or update that short video, because it is just as true today as it was then, the US election notwithstanding.



Since we made that mashup, we went to the Paris climate conference and watched as the world finally agreed to take some baby steps in the right direction, which we, after Paul Hawken, now call “drawdown” — as in taking carbon out the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil.

The 4 per 1000 initiative (the French government’s campaign — 4 grams increase of soil carbon per year in every kilogram of farmed earth) remains the best game in town, whether your town is Paris, Marrakech, or in 2017, Bonn. It would, in the French government's theory (supported by IPCC's notion of a "carbon budget" but called into question by the latest report cards from the Tyndall Centre and others) be enough to hold climate change at 1.5 degrees, if universally adopted.

That 2014 COP-20 proposal, “Soil for food security and climate” became part of the “Lima-Paris Action Agenda” and then, two weeks ago at COP-22, the “Global Climate Action Agenda,” but the word 'soil' only made it once into the Marrakech Action Proclamation at the end of COP-22, and that was in reference to the venue being "on African soil." The word 'agriculture' was completely absent.

However, if you read the outcome document liberally to assume the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), or the UN's pledge system, constitutes the action agenda at present, then there may still be some hope.

While the 4 per 1000 initiative gained no new additions to the 37 nations who endorsed in Paris, many NDPs are starting to reflect the realization that putting carbon back in the ground might be a cheap way to meet their goals. This includes the United States, which last May issued a “Climate Smart” agriculture and forestry plan. The word 'biochar' does not appear in that 60-page plan. Pyrolysis is only mentioned in the context of a way to reduce methane from concentrated animal farming wastes. This is the US-DUH, remember?

The influence of heroic biochar researcher Hans Peter Schmidt was evident at the margins of the event, where Swiss biotech company Zaluvida Corporate AG  pitched for venture capital from business leaders to support its natural solution to reduce methane emissions in cows, Mootral(TM). Mootral is a feed supplement made from biochar infused with garlic and citric extract. Just 10 grams a day reduces bovine flatulence 30 percent while increasing weight gain and lactose production. According to the literature handed out by Zaluvida, feeding every cow a daily dose of Mootral would be the same as taking 200 million cars off the road. An antibiotic version is scheduled for release next year after it receives patent approval.

Last Christmas we produced The Paris Agreement: The Best Chance We Have To Save The Only Planet We’ve Got, a short book telling our eyewitness account of the treaty’s creation, including most of the new evidence as of that date, and making for the first time a copy of the actual treaty available on Amazon.com or in any bookstore.

This year we redoubled our efforts in those places where we think we might do the most good. We went to the Dominican Republic to advise a three-village ecodistrict of El Valle that will draw down massive amounts of carbon while raising the standards of living of its rural peoples. The El Valle model shows that environmental enhancement and economic development are not adversaries for limited funds, but co-engines of the new, carbon-smart economy.

In March we taught the tenth annual permaculture course at Maya Mountain Research Farm in Belize. Maya Mountain is significant to us because it has it all: starting with poor soils and hilly terrain that had been in corn and cattle too long, Christopher Nesbitt transformed it into one of the best examples of integrated agroforestry and carbon drawdown on the planet, with aquaponics, biochar and some of the best permaculture design that we can point to. The more students from all over the world we can run through that place every February, the better.

Back at The Farm we provided another season of permaculture courses, apprenticeships and natural building through the Ecovillage Training Center, now in its 22nd year. We hosted the annual Kids to the Country summer camp for city kids. From there we bounced to Mexico to advise a massive 3-ecovillage development called Puertas del Cielo that, like the project in the Dominican Republic transforms the way humans construct their built environment. The master plan is being developed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the Danish architects who designed the new World Trade Center in lower Manhattan and the Google complex in Silicon Valley. This is good news for ecovillage design.

In the fall we put together a team to go after the MacArthur Foundation’s 100 and Change prize. Our proposal is, after the fashion of  El Valle or Puertas, to transform the lives of 100 million farmers with biochar, B-corp cooperatives, and climate ecoforestry.


From there we flew to Corvallis, Oregon and the NorthAmerican Biochar Symposium and a meeting of the U.S. Biochar Initiative. Biochar holds the key to unlocking our climate predicament. Like the first Thanksgiving, it was a gift to us from the landlords, who learned how to make biochar-rich soils 8000 years before the Columbian Encounter, in the process building rich, deep, living soils where none had ever existed.

Then we flew to China and for a month to teach introductory courses in permaculture and natural building in the rural interior. We certified thirty new permaculture teachers. We spoke at first the inauguration of the Asian Biochar Institute in Nanjing and then the Second International Sunshine Ecovillage Forum in Hangzhou. China plans to start 100 ecovillages in the next 5 years. They now have no shortage of permaculture teachers.

After a quick stop at The Farm to change wardrobe, we crossed the ocean again, this time at the invitation of the Secretariat of the British Commonwealth, to join with many esteemed colleagues pulled together to talk about regenerative design strategies for reversing climate change. Some of the speakers who appear in our climate mash video were there with us. The suite of tools we offered should by now be familiar: biochar, agroforestry, permaculture, community stakeholder empowerment; ecovillage; cooperative microenterprise; and a closed-loop, circular economy based on building real security for an uncertain future.

After England we went to Africa, to the Marrakech UN climate summit — COP22 — on which we reported last week. We were present with a delegation of 20 GEN folk: Kosha Joubert and Tom Feeney (Global EcovillageNetwork HQ in Scotland), Sarah Queblatin (Philippines), Joshua Konkankoh and Sonita Mbah (Cameroon), Trinto Mugango (DRC), Ousmane Pame (Senegal), Linda Kabaira (Zimbabwe), Sa’ad Dagher (Palestine), Vita de Waal (Geneva), Macaco Tamerice (Damanhurian Federation), Tim Clarke (UK), Michael Farelly  (Tanzania), Margarita Zethelius (Colombia), Rob Wheeler, Ethan Hirsch Tauber and Marian Zeitlin (USA) and Alfonso Flaquer and Fanny van Hal from GEN Europe.

GEN had a booth in the Blue Zone (where the governments meet) and hosted 4 side events and one Press Conference there along with 6 side events and one workshop, in the Green Zone (area of Civil Society) and a daily webinar. We had a beautiful array of well designed materials to share thanks to Camila, our designer from Colombia, and to Tom, Sarah, Mena, Yael and the HQ team.

We managed to sign an MOU with Morocco for the implementation of government sponsored ecovillages, starting in the most Northern region. We also negotiated MOU’s with Mauritania and Senegal, and ICLEI Africa. We made meaningful links with interested governments in 22 countries and with the Green Belt Movement, African Development Bank and British Commonwealth. We found out about existing ecovillage networks in Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh that were not yet linked to GEN and now can’t wait to connect. Many individual projects present are also now keen to become part of  our network.

We have some friends, Guy McPherson and Pauline Schneider, who are  currently touring New Zealand, speaking about the existential threat posed by climate change and what people should be doing. We always enjoy listening to Guy, and don’t have much to disagree with him about. He is correct that most climate scientists are too silo’ed to see the bigger picture and that there is no getting away from the simple fact that industrial civilization is a heat engine. While any one of the threats — sea level rise, methane outgassing, ice melt, droughts and superstorms — is enough to scare anyone, it is only when you sum them — or multiply them against each other — that they become truly horrific.

Guy has concluded it is too late to do anything now, so lets all just buckle in and enjoy the ride. He puts human extinction at 18 months to ten years. We have that small disagreement.

In our humble opinion something like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle has to be included in the equation. Heisenberg theorized that in all wave-like systems the more you can say about position or some other single attribute the less you can know about momentum or some other attribute simply due to the matter-wave nature of all quantum objects. Applying that to the complex of factors that determine our future, the more we can say about a particular element — the certainty of financial collapse or ecological crisis, for instance — the less we can know about the timing of such things.

Like Kevin Anderson, Thomas Goreau, James Hansen and other scientists who do look at the whole picture, we have concluded that it may not be too late. We think there’s an outside chance that humans may possess the collective will and presence of mind to do what must be done, and to do it quickly, even if it means radically altering, even abolishing, industrial civilization in favor of Civilization 2.0. We had a taste of that when we went to China, and we tasted it again in London. Memory being linked to the olfactory senses, taste is not something one easily forgets.

While the meeting in Marrakech did not produce real progress the way Paris did a year before, Marrakech did what it had been planning to do — the Action Agenda — and did not lose ground. From what we could sense there, there has been a sea change in the international business community, and the political world may follow along for reasons of money or a sufficient supply of food, if for nothing else.

Are we too late? Maybe.

Should we stop trying to make a difference when we see a way to solve this that can actually work? We don’t think so.

That said, we could use some serious financial help about now. It is not like rural Mayan, African or Chinese permaculturists have money to pay for instruction. We have spent everything we have, everything we had saved. Nothing was held back. And now, when we have nothing left with which to keep going, we are depending entirely on the good will of our friends. Perhaps you would like to make us prove what we say, and to actually reverse climate change. Will you dare us to try?

Those viewing this on our web page can use the donation link in the right column. For everyone else, our PayPal account takes tax-deductible donations at ecovillage@thefarm.org, or you can write to us there for further instructions.

This holiday season, our heart is filled with gratitude and as we look around, we are overwhelmed with the opportunity for profound change. We'd get by with a little help from our friends. Thanks!


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Trumproofing


“Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us. And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”

Last week, we recalled the words of Hitler’s social architect Albert Speer, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.” And yet, despite all the entreaties to slay the beast and make sure its dead — from Ralph Nader, Naomi Klein, Joe Brewer, whomever — we have to confess, after Paris and now after Marrakech, the only highway back to the Holocene that can support mammalian life such as ours is being constructed by and for monster corporations like Citibank and Monsanto.

At a side event in the business tent we sat down in a corner to have some local Arabica while we awaited the next session. We struck up a conversation with the elderly gent in the adjoining seat. He was John Scowcroft, Chief Credit Officer and Executive Managing Director at S&P. We showed him The Biochar Solution and the usual conversation followed. Turns out he is leaving S&P to start a CCS group to seize the profit potential in carbon management futures.

Later, at a side event called Beyond Paris: Investor actions to manage climate risk and seize low-carbon opportunities, we were listening attentively to James Close, World Bank; Erick Decker, AXA Group; Michael Eckhart, Citigroup; Pete Grannis, NY State Comptroller’s Office; Anthony Hobley, Carbon Tracker and others, when Rachel Kyte spotted our book, The Paris Agreement, and leaned over to ask, “Is that any good?”

“Fantastic!” we gushed.

A former Vice President of World Bank, she is Ban Ki Moon’s Special Representative to the business community.

Over the course of the two weeks in Morocco we had brief encounters like this too many times to catalogue. We tell you this not to suggest we are anyone special but to say that in this critical time we — you and I — have been given access.

Historically this is the rarest of moments. Crisis makes for strange bedfellows (ask James Comey and Julian Assange). Citibank, with branches in 160 countries, went from financing $12 billion in green project finance in 2013 to $24 billion in 2014 to $48 billion in 2015 and likely $100 billion this year. Deutsche Bank will tally $350 billion in investments aimed at decarbonization in 2016. More importantly, the big banks have dumped $500 billion in fossil asset portfolios since Paris and would have liked to dump much more if they only had a safe place to park it, even interest-free.

The board rooms have Trump-proofed the Paris Agreement and the whole paradigm shift that came with it. There is absolutely no way any clown show is going to hijack these negotiations now. Wall Street, the Illuminati, the Buddhist monasteries, NeoLib Academe, The Vatican, the Royals and the Chinese Triads are all 110 percent committed. They are shoulder to shoulder in the doorway.

For some it is just prudent risk management and upside profit opportunity. For others it is the stark, cold-sweat, can’t-sleep reality: that absolute annihilation leaves no gloaters behind.

Rachel Kyte told the crowd, “Carbon is an investment risk that is not yet priced in.” This situation is not likely to last much longer. We hovered longest in the venues that were looking at drawdown, and we could see that so much of the finance and political world is focused on technological fixes like geoengineering and CCS (carbon capture and storage) that putting a price on carbon and taxing the polluters is coming, Trump or no. It is the only way you can economically justify those uneconomical, harebrained, bait-and-switch schemes.

In a brief, airport encounter, an IPCC working group leader told us $45 per ton would be needed to make the 2-degree limit achievable with sequestered scrubber gas.

Of course, we know better. Putting carbon underground costs nothing and pays handsome returns if you do it by planting mixed species, mixed age, ecosystemically functioning, climate resilient and rainmaking forests and coppice, pollard and patch renew them periodically to derive food, fiber, building material and most importantly, biochar, to create cascades of products and services in a circular economy with no such thing as waste. That does not require a $45/ton price or even 4 cents. It will earn you vastly more. Real wealth.

The best way to raise land value is to increase its beauty with biodiversity, increase the organic matter in its soils, build humus, make biochar and be a contributing member of the local community. Just doing that reverses climate change and generates multiple revenue streams for any poor sod who stumbles into it.

The Secretary General of the British Commonwealth, Hon. Baroness Patricia Scotland, at the closing plenary of the Joint High-level Segment [COP agenda item 18 and CMP agenda item 14 and Item 4 of the provisional CMA agenda] uttered the word “permaculture” for the first time at a United Nations podium:
"Mr. President, I speak for the Commonwealth collectively, a family of 52 member states, among them countries in all continents and oceans that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Our priority is to move from agreement to action. Small islands threatened by rising sea levels and larger states vulnerable to flooding or desertification share the common advantages of a common language, common law, and closely related systems of governance. These similarities enable us to work together without distraction and get straight to the nub of issues.

"High on our agenda for 30 years has been the impact of climate change. This long-standing focus bore fruit a year ago when our Biannual Heads of Government Meeting assembled in Malta. Days before COP21, our member states, in their rich diversity, agreed to set ambition high and paved the way for the Paris Agreement. Our practical and distinctive Commonwealth contribution is technical support, offered by our Climate Finance Access Hub.

"A month ago, we convened a ground breaking and dynamic gathering on Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change. It brought together biologists, ecologists, oceanographers and regenerative development specialists to consider ways of reversing the human impacts of climate change. Our focus was on developing positive action for the living world to restore climate balance, including biomimicry, permaculture, ecological engineering, and circular economies. It is through such pioneering approaches, I believe, that as on so many occasions in the past, the potential for our Commonwealth networks’ meetings will be mobilized to lay the foundations on which progressive global consensus can be built to create a safer and more sustainable future for all."
Contrast this to the buffoonery of the apparently tipsy US Secretary of State, obviously winging it:



While the national commitments, or NDCs, that were pledged at Paris in 2015 bend emissions downward, they are still not on a course correcting trajectory. Our planet is moving out of the Neutral Zone, the one location we know of in this galaxy where you may find life. The UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report, even while understating the risk, says we are headed towards 3.4°C warming by 2100 (we think will likely get there much sooner). To get back to a 2-degree "safe" zone (with 66% certainty) we would need 25% lower emissions in 2030 than there are today. And yet, incredible as it may seem, emissions are still rising.

When you are racing against extinction you cannot afford to fritter away time or forget the first rule of holes. 2016 will be the 15th record-breaking year this century in terms of heat, since measurements began. That is 15 new records in 16 years, a pattern any sports fan should recognize as extraordinary.  Globally we are already up 1.2 degrees, although closer to 5 degrees near the poles. Humans have never lived on a planet with 400 parts per million CO2 in its atmosphere before.

2ºC is a vanished target now. But this isn’t a 2ºC or bust fight. It’s a fight to limit consequences. It’s a fight for every 1/10th of a degree. If we fail to hold to 2ºC, we have to fight for 2.1º; failing that, we battle on for 2.2º. With millennia of impacts at stake, we never get to give up, even if we end up in 4ºC. For future generations, 4º is still better than 4.1º.

It is useful to remember that in 2007 the Met Office produced a four-degree scenario on behalf of HM Government. Climate scientists from other institutions also contributed their most up-to-date research on climate impacts at the time.

As we mull (or bemoan) the average intelligence of Republican presidents, we recall that it was Group Captain James Stagg, also of the  MetOffice, who changed the nail-hard mind of Dwight D. Eisenhower and got him to postpone D-day by 24 hours, despite Operation Neptune being already well underway. The MetOffice is not an outfit whose predictions should be trifled with.

You can view the changes plotted by MetOffice as a four degree interactive map or see it through Google Earth. The MetOffice reports:
  • Heat changes will not be the same everywhere. Mid-continent North America and Europe and parts of Africa will be 6-7 degrees warmer. Most of Russia and Africa will be 8 degrees or above.
  • In densely populated eastern China hottest days of the year are 11°F warmer. In Toronto, Chicago, Ottawa, New York and Washington DC, make that 22°F hotter. Europe is somewhere in between.
  • The permafrost is gone across vast regions of Canada and Russia. Atmospheric methane, 100 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, spikes, inexorably pushing temperatures towards 5 and beyond.
  • Half of the world’s population has inadequate access to water.
  • Half of all Himalayan glaciers are significantly reduced, 70% of the water supply to India and China.
  • In South America, many glaciers disappear completely, taking 75% of Peru’s water with them.
  • Fish populations crash from acidification and coral loss.
  • Forested areas burn, including a large area of the United States, Mexico, South America east of the Andes, Southern and East Africa, the Sahel, eastern and southern Europe and Australia.
  • Maize and wheat yields reduced up to 40% at low latitudes. Soybean yield decreases in all regions. Rice yield declines up to 30% in Asia.
  • Water supplies to rivers drops up to 70% in many regions.
  • The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet contributes 3.3 meters to sea level rise. Greenland ice losses add 7 meters globally.
  • The Netherlands and Southeastern England are inundated. Seychelles, Miami Beach and the Hamptons have disappeared. The San Francisco Bay extends almost to Sacramento. Most of those displaced, however are in India, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia.
So, at four degrees, who would be left to fight for 4.1? What possible good would it do?

Real world tracks scenario RCP 8.5
As we left Marrakech we felt ambivalent about the outcome. Paris had sent the high benchmark and these follow-on COPs are supposed to fit the nuts to the bolts. There was still a very uncomfortable level of pushback amongst the underdeveloping, with India and Indonesia, both big coal users, saying that economic growth had precedence over near-term emissions cuts. Turkey is planning to build 70 new coal plants. These errors assure the already underdeveloping will continue digging a deeper hole for themselves. New Zealand, which talks a good disinvestment game, plans to increase petroleum exports from $3 billion to $30 billion per year by 2025.

All countries’ leaders need to take stock, a point that was made poignantly clear by this slide from the MetOffice:


It shows that the world cannot begin atmospheric carbon drawdown later than 2020 — three years from now — or the two degrees red line will be broken.

Clear next steps emerged from discussions: end fossil fuel subsidies (including fracking); phase out coal and then ban it; cancel all new fossil fuel infrastructure orders (including supertankers, arctic exploration and DAPL); set higher efficiency standards; subsidize agroforestry and renewables (down to zero cost); enforce LDN (Land Degradation Neutrality — no net land loss to sprawl, desertification or deforestation — 102 countries have signed on); and reform agriculture to an organic, no-till standard.

These next steps got no farther than discussions, however, and what emerged from Marrakech was more palliative statements and promises that next year will be better. Tick tock. Clown show. Tick tock. "Time is not on our side." (John Kerry) Tick tock. (Donald Trump) Tick tock.

Tick ...
 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Post-Trumpocalypse

"Social media, reality TV, yellow internet journalism and flash mobs are now in control."


  We have always wanted to get to this town, ever since we were a young hippy hitching through Europe in 1966 and our rides took us along the southern coasts of France, Spain and Italy. Fate did not carry us here then, but perhaps we are making up for lost time now. Honestly, later in life is probably better.

We find ourselves in the company of brilliant people engaged in transforming the world. While nearly the whole of our 7 billion monkey minds seem transfixed by the US election result, a few of us are quietly sneaking around all that to sew the seeds of what comes next, after the Trumpocalypse.

We could say that the Trump victory was not a global disaster but we would be lying. Dmitry Orlov observed that we at least seem to have avoided World War III with Russia. Naomi Klein, Christopher Nesbitt and Richard Heinberg have eloquently pointed out that the Democratic Party neoliberal hegemony has been shattered, and Ugo Bardi reminds us that Italy survived 20 years of Berlusconi, after all. These are all pluses, but they will not prevent disaster if The Donald has an itchy trigger finger after a few scotches late one night and decides to nuke, say, Cuba.

For Cuba, and for any other country that lacks the means to acquire a missile defense shield, we recommend they immediately put a Trump Tower in their capital. Trump Casino Habana could be world class, totally revamping the weatherbeaten but still popular Malecone boardwalk.

We are watching this drama from within the halls of COP22 as it plays out on the plasma screens in the halls and media centers of Bab Ighli. Some may think what we are doing here is now totally irrelevant, but take it from us on faith, if not on our own warped logic, it’s not.

We have written in the past about the rise and fall of many civilizations and most, if not all, of those had their peak moment just before collapse when their capitals became a clown show. Recall, if you can, the Roman Colosseum, the Mayan pyramid sacrifices, or the Nazi extravaganzas choreographed by Albert Speer.

Albert Speer famously said, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.”

While the clown show has been playing out in North America, the 22d UN climate conference has kicked off in Marrakech. It has brought together tens of thousands of NGOs, governments and people from all around the world to respond to the existential crisis of climate change.

Existential crises don’t just disappear because the US holds an election. This one is still gathering momentum. It is coming at us like a bullet train.

Marrakech is the first post-Paris meeting of world leaders. It is an important one because having taken the enormous step of setting hard red lines last year — 2 degrees firm, 1.5 aspirational — countries now have to figure out exactly how those goals can be attained. On the negotiating table are mechanisms for finance, monitoring, increasing ambitions, and drawdown.

We are mainly focused on that last item. Emissions reductions are now a done deal. Fossil fuels, including the Dakota Access Pipeline, are on their way to being legally banned whether largely clueless USAnians understand that or not. (Which is not to say the Standing Rock water protectors are not absolutely right to try to preserve their patrimony in the meantime.) What logically follows is a need to start pulling carbon from the atmosphere and as quickly as possible to return both oceans and air to pre-industrial carbon concentrations. There is a scientifically validated and economical way to do that, using carbon farming, regenerative agroforestry, and waste-biomass-to-biochar energy systems, but the hitch is not science or technology. It’s people.

We need to have a carrier medium for this viral paradigm switch; one that can overcome cultural inertia and provide an inviting path forward — a bandwagon rolling through the clown circus. Hop aboard!


Ecovillages weave together the ecological, economic, social and cultural dimensions of the new circular economy (no such thing as waste) by pioneering innovative solutions that enable towns, districts, regions and nation states to achieve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) is bringing to the table the ‘Pan-African Ecovillage Development Programme’  designed to radically reform current development practices and put communities, ecological generation, and nonmonetary, post-growth wealth creation at the heart of the development process. The full and inclusive participation of communities on the ground from conception to implementation, together with the sharing and transferring of expertise and personally grounded experience, is the key to success.

The results speak for themselves. Africa is home to some of the most innovative ecovillage programs in the world. In Senegal the success of grassroots ecovillage communities has led to the development of a National Ecovillage Agency working to transform 14,000 rural villages into ecovillages. In Egypt the Sekem farm and ecovillage is working with over 800 organic and biodynamic farmers, providing educational programs at the pre-school to university level, and delivering healthcare to more than 40.000 people from 11 surrounding villages. The President of Burkina Faso has declared his intention to implement 2000 ecovillages by 2020. GEN is in process of signing MOU’s with several national governments at COP22.

This success is an example of GEN’s ‘Transition Strategy’ in action - transitioning existing settlements to sustainable settlements and scaling up partnerships with governments, NGOs, and donors to implement policies and solutions at local, regional, and international levels. Building on 20 years of global networking, sustainable development, groundbreaking grassroots work and education, GEN’s intent is to continue to create these types of transformational alliances that grease the skids.

GEN is also using COP22 to announce the launch of the ‘GEN Consultancy,' a highly skilled and diverse network of expert consultants that seek to share some of the world’s best practices in the field of community sustainability and resilience. GEN’s solution is not top-down after the usual UNEP/UNDP model, but empowering the millions of small solutions from people and projects within their own communities.

If the Trump election, Brexit, and the recent anti-peace-deal vote in Colombia show anything, it is that we are across a threshold now where backroom deals, newspaper and politico endorsements, money and even common sense no longer dictate an outcome. Consider the fact that Hillary Clinton could rig the ballots in Honduras and Ukraine or bemoan (in emails) the failure of the State Department to rig the elections in Palestine, but could not rig her own election (though try as she did).

Social media, reality TV, yellow internet journalism and flash mobs are now in control. In this new world, the herd is driven by raw impulses of fear and pleasure-seeking. The ecovillage lure, whether dangled as a prepper redoubt or as a happy eutopia (Lat.: a good place), offers a clear choice. With cool villages that draw down carbon and give us energy, food and water security in exchange, ecovillages offer the right impulse at the perfect historical moment.

Which is why we are in Marrakech.



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