Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Man Who Planted Trees

"Jean Giorno’s fictional character, Elzéard Bouffier, picked up acorns, sorted them and planted oaks. Francis Michael imagined a garden planet."



Eulogy for Frank Michael
Remarks of Albert Bates, The Farm, Sept 30, 2017


Frank often said to me in our quiet moments that coming to The Farm was the best thing in his life. He was devoted to Stephen’s philosophy and the whole concept of a moneyless society where people cared for each other and the only law was love. He was a true hippy. Tie dye ran in his veins.

He took the no money thing seriously, to the end. Frank’s bank account when he died had a balance of $65. Anything that began accumulating he gave away. His personal room in the large barn where he worked was 10x12 feet. A set of shelves for his few clothes, another for his books and movies. A desk, a bed, a laundry hamper, a reading lamp, a simple chair. Next to that room was a bathroom about the same size, and a kitchenette. He had a table where he ate his meals that was 4x4 oak, the kind of table where Elzéard Bouffier counted his acorns. The space was warmed by his handcrafted downdraft gasifier stove, the one he called LuLu, that made biochar while it simmered his beans and cooked his rice.

That floor of the Mushroom Barn was far from small, however. It had been built for The Farm when the population was 1200 and it was designed to store all the community’s root crops for the winter. I know, I was part of the four-man masonry crew that built it in 1974. Half below ground, it was a vast, climate controlled warehouse with thick oak floors and 12-inch, back-filled cement block. Its main floor beams had come from a factory we salvaged and were more than 100 years old.

The building had been abandoned to squirrels when The Farm decollectivized and shrank by 70% in the mid-1980s. It was condemned to a list for tear-downs. But then, in 1988, it was taken over and remodeled by The Second Foundation, an inner-Farm collective. With the help of the Foundation for Gaia we moved Mushroompeople into that space. Our mushroom mail order business, the nation’s oldest and soon-to-be largest, was a collective community enterprise. I was the first shroomiséro to manage it, and I recruited the old Mexican to help me.

 

Family

 

He was born Francis Michael Perniciaro in Bronx, NY on March 13, 1938. His mother, Carmen Recamier Morgado, was Mexican of Spanish-Moroccan, French-Austrian ancestry. His father was Francis Perniciaro, a second generation Sicilian-American. When Frank was three, his dad drove his mom and him to her hometown in Jalisco and left them with her sisters and grandmother. Frank never saw him again.
In 1943, when Frank was 5, a poliovirus entered his body, probably from water he drank, and took up residence in his left leg. He got infantile paralysis and was hospitalized for 52 days. When he was 11 he fell and broke his hip. It left him with a slipped capital femoral epiphysis, which was misdiagnosed as osteomyelitus (bone infection causing swelling) by the doctor in that small town of Tenamaxtlan. He went into a cast for 3 months, which did little for the dislocated femur. He said it never stopped hurting.
“Having nothing to do, I learned to tie fishing flies using feathers coming off my feather pillow onto fishing hooks. I also read the Bible from cover to cover, which didn’t really make me into an atheist, but I became skeptical about the truth or literalness of many parts of the Bible. There were not treasures in there for me. My interest shifted to a large bundle of Popular Mechanics magazines that my stepfather Angus McDonell had collected for me last time he went to the States.”
Finally his mother took charge and got him a new father. Angus McDonell was a Texas cowboy large animal veterinarian who worked for the USDA going around to remote ranches on horseback. The family moved to Texas and Frank’s medical care improved.

So did his education. He was a bright boy and loved to read. He also had a knack for numbers. He graduated from the University of California, Davis, taking a Masters degree in Physics. He married a fellow mathematician, Melba Grace Hiser, in a Christian church in Arlington, Texas. Their honeymoon was paid by the government, who interviewed the couple at Los Alamos National Laboratory, General Dynamics in San Diego and where they eventually wound up, the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Silicon Valley.
I was going to solve the sun for NASA, but couldn’t even calculate exactly the magnetic field of a constant circular current! That’s like saying it’s theoretically impossible to add any numbers bigger than three digits. It was unbelievable. You have to resort to an infinite expansion of some truly ugly functions to approximate the magnetic field of a lousy constant circular current! Then I learned about Godel’s Theorem, the criteria for noncomputability, chaos theory, complexity and catastrophe theory, quantum indeterminacy, the unsolvable three body problem… it was like childhood illusions being popped. The Easter Rabbit. Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy.
From 1964 to 1971 Frank suffered severe allergies and headaches which he thought might have been related to the workspaces he inhabited. He and Melba moved back East, to jobs at NASA’s United Aircraft Research Laboratories in Hartford, working on the space shuttle. Then, after visiting Twin Oaks, they dropped out of aerospace and started the North Mountain intentional community in Lexington, Virginia. By this time his weight had dropped to 126 and he coughed a lot. His leg and hip still bothered him.

In 1973, the family, by then with two infant daughters, visited The Farm.

The Farm

 

Frank writes:
In my 35th year, I found myself dragging my wife and two kids to a commune in middle Tennessee to be voluntary peasants, and live under a vow of poverty.
Why? My life was failing. I was losing my juice at all levels, and here was a vibrant, super-alive bunch of people who smiled constantly almost as a reflex, and seemed sometimes to be trying not to smile, as you gesticulated and justificated yourself to them. And well it should be so, because these folks were the “puritans of the hippies” as Ina May put it.
These folks were light-years in consciousness ahead of me, and I am so thankful they haven’t kicked me out yet. I was a burned-out sometime physicist with a failing marriage, a loss of faith in politics and psychology as vehicles for building a sane society, and an accelerating loss of faith in reason and rationality. I had to find out what this spirit stuff was all about, and why these people were smiling all the time, and why they looked at you straight in the eye and told you the bare truth, like your family and friends never did before.
On that day, a very impressive one-legged Muskogee Indian with long jet-black thick hair (Mark Madrid) was in charge of the Gate. He told me that The Farm is a spiritual community. I said, “Cool, what religion do you-all belong to?”
Mark said, “We don’t call it anything.”
I said “Cool, what’s your concept of God?”
He said, “We believe that God is everything.”
BLAM! That struck me like lightning. I couldn’t think of anything greater than everything! I wanted to stick around and find out the implications, doing the scientist bit, and Mark just sat there looking at me like the ancestral representative mask of all the Native Americans who ever lived, a faint smile on his face, while I sputtered and tried to get my mind back together.
Embarrassing as hell, me struck mute, or blathering, but they let me in provisionally, and have put up with me for 34 years, still provisionally I think. Meanwhile my children grew up, two wives have come and gone, yet the magical land is still here, the creek with its 200-million-year-old bed still flows, and the trees haven’t yet migrated north from global warming. Long may they live!
***
In my spare time I tried to understand other viewpoints, and wondered: Is there a separate universe of physics and atoms and stuff, and another world of spirits, souls, God, angels, crystals, tarot cards, and what have you, or is there somehow only one connected universe? And what is this spirit stuff in scientific terms? An epiphenomenon of consciousness? An illusion? Pre-scientific hypothesizing and anthropomorphizing? Well, on The Farm I felt that assuming that God is everything, whatever that meant, was the beginning of an answer. It took over twenty years of chewing on it like a dog with a dinosaur bone, to find the bridge. Yes that sounds like, this guy needs a real job. Well, meanwhile I took on some of the humbler jobs on the Farm, like carrying water, building outhouses, printing, plumbing, propane and appliance repair, in order to avoid responsibility so I could “be conceptual” and think about solar energy and spirit stuff.
Maybe the answer to this world’s conundrum is to help folks look at things differently, just as that interaction at the Gate did for me. Politicians use religious differences as a cover-up for hidden material reasons to send people out to war. I know that all religions can fit harmoniously into the wondrous reality we share in common. We have all the technologies too, beyond mere survival, to recreate a paradise on earth. All the inequities between nations can be sorted out truthfully and nonviolently. That is my prayer.

A Prayer

Remember!
That there is a universe is a miracle
That there is an Earth is a miracle
That there is life is a miracle
That there is consciousness is a miracle
That there is knowledge is a miracle
That there is intelligence is a miracle
That we begin to understand this huge, beautiful universe is a miracle
That we have been born into this universe is a miracle
That there is compassion, love, happiness, and the sharing of minds is a miracle.
These gifts exceed any complaints you may have by a million orders of magnitude.
Gratitude.
04/22/10 — fm
Frank and daughter Bethany
Frank did more at The Farm than ponder the universe. He bled for it. He was a press man at the Book Publishing Company until he crushed his right index finger in the web press. In 1974 he and Melba moved to the Wisconsin Farm, one of 20 satellites in The Farm’s communal orbit at the time, where, while working on the roof of a factory they were tearing down his leg suddenly gave out and he fell, dislocating his left knee. He returned to Tennessee but noted the right hip becoming increasingly painful, occasionally feeling dislocated, with sensations of crackling cartilage. In the winters he developed chronic pneumonia and bronchitis. Then he was rescued again by his mother.
“When she stopped writing me, I went and found out she had dumped all her possessions including priceless old family photos and checked herself into a hospital’s terminal ward. Basil Campbell and his ambulance crew went to Rolla, Missouri and ‘rescued’ her, and brought her to The Farm under the care of Carl and Angela Carruba at the Farm infirmary. She was so grateful! Said if she’d known how nice we were, she would have come and picked potatoes with us.”
The Carrubas took Carmen to The Farm’s satellite farm in Miami where Carl got a job to pay for the apartment. She caught pneumonia, was hospitalized, had congestive heart failure, went unconscious and was put in assisted life support for over a week.
Following her written directive, the nurse pulled the plug with me and the Carrubas present, I saw a golden light suffusing the room, and an impression of buildings and whole worlds crumbling, and my long-suffering, loving mother died at age ~ 72, in Miami Florida.
Soon after that Frank and Melba divorced, she moved to Florida with the kids, and The Farm decollectivized.
At the Farm Changeover I bought an old Valiant for $50 from Jeffrey, and got a job installing satellite dishes. Got fired from being too honest with customers. Began painting houses, and over the years went to plumbing, then electrical installations, then appliance repair.
I was headed to the Austin Farm to be closer to my kids in Florida. But at a party I met Shelley Freeman, who had chronic severe back pain and no way to stay on the Farm after the changeover, because the large collective households were breaking up and she couldn’t work. She asked to exchange back massages with me. With fear and misgivings (she was 23, I was 46, and the name of her father was also Frank) we exchanged fully-dressed back rubs. She was so beautiful and enlightened, and her hands were magical & healing to me! We fell in love.
By then I had changed my plans to go to Austin. I bought the Cook’s old trailer, built furniture for it, and we moved into separate bedrooms to court. That didn’t last long! I began to cook elaborate meals, and we both began to gain weight.
I kept helping remodel houses with old buddy Roger Kanies and another contractor in Nashville, commuting twice a week and staying at Roger’s warehouse with a crazy Farm truck driver.
Despite his attempt to put a smiley face on it, Frank was having a hard time. He lived in a drafty trailer and could barely make his winter utility bills by long commutes to Nashville or taking odd jobs that involved crawling under buildings and replacing broken pipes or finding shorts in very sloppy and hazardous home wiring systems that had been upgraded from 12 volts to 110. His hair turning white, his weight down to 130, his health declined and he was in nearly constant pain.
He was very grateful when I first asked him if he would help me at Mushroompeople. There he found a warm place to work in the winter, and with the efficiencies of good management, the spare time to pursue his passions in literature, art and science. He stopped coughing and gained weight. His relationship with Shelley blossomed. For me, Frank became a sounding board, a trusted advisor, a meticulously scientific check on my accuracy, and a constant positive reinforcement of my best instincts. In the words of the old Farm, he let me get out.

He and I were a mutual admiration society, each pushing the other to be more than we were, each continually astonishing the other with our insights.

With him to watch the mushroom business, which he loved, I was able to launch the Ecovillage Network of the Americas, and then the Global Ecovillage Network, and our Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm. That has led to my professional career today as an Emergency Planetary Technician. I thank Frank for supporting me in that, all the way from the start. Without his stepping forward at key times and grab the lines on my sails, none of that could have happened.
There is a growing vibrant movement of community led initiatives for climate change and sustainability. It’s happening all over the world.

I was Frank’s connection to that movement. Frank was our brains; our scientific conscience; our human calculator. Frank was part of the Global Village Institute board since its founding in the 1970s, as the Farm’s machine shop, and its later reorganization in the 1990s for appropriate technology research. He oversaw the whole transition, first to promotion of community scale initiatives like ecovillages, transition towns and B-corps, and then to the whole quantum-epigenetic-naturopathic-technology-of-carbon-drawdown phase.

While Frank seemed like a hermit monk sitting in dim light with a quill pen in the bowels of the mushroom barn building experimental solar concentrators and biomass energy stoves, his reach, through Global Village, extended to 1200 transition initiatives in 48 countries, 15,000 ecovillages on six continents, and 3 million permaculture practitioners in 140 countries.

These initiatives are vastly diverse — from shared gardens to local currencies, energy cooperatives and repair cafés — but they have much in common. They share Frank’s world view. They are defiantly ethical, holistic to the inclusion of all sentient beings and the rocks they stand on, place-based just as much, self-organizing after the fashion of Stafford Beers, W. Edwards Demming, or a beehive, and rooted in cyclic, open ended processes of dynamic, interactive and wired epigenetic co-evolution.

Planting Trees

In 2006 I went to Frank to ask him to help me with a simple arithmetic problem. If everyone in the world planted one tree a day, I asked, how long would it take before we could begin to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere enough to matter to climate change?
Frank worked on the problem until the day he died. It was among the last calculations he worked on the night before he went to bed for the last time.

That problem was far from as simple as it seemed to me. To begin with, you had to know how much carbon a tree withdraws to build itself over a lifetime. You had to know how long that life would be. You had to know what happened to the carbon when the tree died. You had to know how much went into the ground through its roots each year, and what happened to it then. There are 25,000 species of trees and they all behave differently. So do their soil biologies.

You had to find the land to put these forests on. There are fortunately many studies that have been done of land use patterns of the world, including projections by the IPCC for afforestation and reforestation. There exist more than 1500 gigahectares of abandoned land that is not desert that would be suitable for forest planting. It’s enough.
You had to factor for the outgassing effect, which varies by latitude, elevation, climate, soil type and so on. Assuming you don’t want monoculture plantations all over the planet, you have to plan for mixed age, mixed species, vibrant and resilient forest ecosystems. Those systems need to be designed to withstand rapid and unprecedented climate change. They need keyline design and holistic management. They need social permaculture.

When you look at how atmospheric carbon exchanges with the oceans, you realize that the oceans have been trying to remove the surplus from fossil fuels by oversaturating themselves with carbon. What happens now, when you must begin to withdraw carbon from the atmosphere, is the oceans exhale again, maintaining that balance. So you don’t just have to take the legacy carbon from the air, you have to remove the excess from the oceans at the same time.

Frank’s calculations, charts and spreadsheets took all that into account. He then went on to calculate how many tree planters, which he broke into 4-person teams in 100-person cooperatives, how many tree nurseries, how they could make biochar at the village scale and add that every time a tree was planted; and eventually, how 100 million people could be profitably employed by a new biochar energy and forest product economy. He included in these projections the idea of ecosystem regeneration youth camps, like the Depression-era CCC camps, and ecovillages, the seed memes needed to deploy vast forests.
In other words, he gave us all a complete solution, scientifically and sociologically supportable, to the problem of how to reverse climate change. He said we could do it within one human lifetime if we started right away. It would cost nothing. To the contrary it would be instantly profitable. And it would provide better lives for billions of people. We would turn the Earth into a garden.

He named his hard drive The Garden.

I published the first of his findings, in interview form, in my book The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change, in 2009. That was just the start. Together we developed a scientific article that put together the extensive technical basis, with online access to supporting tables and charts. The title was Optimized Potentials for Soil Sequestration of Atmospheric Carbon.
The abstract read as follows:
We posit that a reversal of the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is feasible using a socially responsible, economically productive and ecologically restorative agroforestry system we call “Climate Ecoforestry.” This system, if carried to the scale of 200 Mha/yr, could sequester carbon from the atmosphere at the average rate of 3 PgC/yr over the first 3 years of a new rotation, and would reach 14.6 PgC/yr by year 24. If we take into account the oceans’ CO2 outgassing feedback, it would achieve the cumulative storage of 667 PgC required to bring atmospheric CO2 from 457 ppm down to 300 ppm by year 72 from startup. Were nations to collectively reduce fossil fuel emissions, the reduction to 300 ppm CO2 would be achieved in years 45 to 48. Increasing the land area to 300 Mha/yr would bring reduction to atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 300 ppm in years 35 to 37. In all cases, carbon would be stored in the world’s soils and living biomass, and could provide many additional benefits beyond sequestration.
He wanted to publish the research in journals such as Science, Nature or Scientific American. I had to keep explaining to him that one does not just crack into those publications without coming from a university or major research lab. Nonetheless as the quality of his work improved I was able to get the article published as a chapter in a peer reviewed science book for CRC press, Biomass Energy Crops, and once that was out (its due later this year) I knew it would be easier for him to publish in those important journals.

Ours was the first article to put biochar together with reforestation and sustainable development to heal the atmosphere 100% this century without risky geoengineering or fairy dust like DAC or CCS. He was impatient to see that book get past peer review and into print so he could send it to everyone he knew.
Last winter a paper we co-authored was accepted to be presented at the Seventh World Congress of the Society for Ecological Restoration. I told Frank that Global Village Institute would raise the money for the trip and that the two of us would go together to Brazil to make the presentation. He was a bit leery about whether his 79-year-old body could withstand a trip like that, but agreed. He began immediately to apply for a passport.

We cancelled the trip, even after our paper got through peer review and was accepted by the conference, when the US State Dept refused Frank a passport because he was undocumented.

We can let that one sink in while we continue.

You see, even though he was a US citizen, he was undocumented. He spent a lot of this year, 2017, trying to get a birth certificate but had a hard time because his mother was undocumented and his parents had different names than his. In 1964 he had legally shortened his name to Frank Michael, dropping the name of his estranged father.

Before he was denied a passport, Frank and I were accepted to present a second paper and poster in December at the Ecosystem Services Partners’ international conference in Shenzhen. We had been developing a paper called Reversing Climate Change with Ecosystem Services. Now, without Frank to finish the work, or school me in how to present it, that trip is off.
Although he walked like Chester, or for the post-Gunsmoke set, the Penguin, and sometimes wore leg braces like Forrest Gump, the man was an agroforesting powerhouse. He not only calculated how much area of land would need to be reforested to get humanity out of its climate death spiral, he meticulously built a social roadmap to get us to the finish line. There are seminars and conferences happening almost every week now somewhere in the world as governments, businesses, the wealthy and the academically-minded try to come to grips with the existential threat. Frank was years ahead of them all. They need only check out his work.
Jean Giorno’s fictional character, Elzéard Bouffier, picked up acorns, sorted them and planted oaks. Francis Michael imagined a garden planet.
He cannot be replaced. I feel like I have lost a part of my brain. He held much more for me than most people know. We collaborated on world-changing strategies. Once Frank told me, excitedly, that he had mathematically solved the Universal Field Theory and had united spirit and matter. My arithmetic is not even remotely able to grasp what he had done, but I caught another glimpse of that, along with his and my treeplanting scheme and some designs for improved cook stoves, on a chalkboard that he had in his bathroom, facing where you sit. I could look at that board forever and would not be able to grasp the half of it. It was a daily meditation for him, too.

Frank tried to explain it to me this way:
  1. The fundamental constituent of reality is an information matrix. Its simplest configurations include being identical to matter, energy, the fundamental physical fields, and spacetime.
  2. The physicist’s quest for a “theory of everything” is an attempt to discover the nature of this matrix, which would seamlessly unify the two pillars of physics: quantum mechanics and general relativity. In addition, it would predict the mysteriously arbitrary-seeming values of the physical constants: the speed of light, Planck’s constant, the charge of the electron and the quarks, the mass of the fundamental particles, etc. These are likely linked to Mach’s Principle, and so would be different in other universes.
  3. The properties of the fundamental matrix are identical to what is commonly known as spirit: omnipresence, omni-creativity, omni-intelligence, eternity.
  4. We are therefore justified as saying that the fundamental matrix of information/spirit (IS) is all of reality. Using a simpler language, we say that everything is made of spirit, or “everything is spirit.” Saying that “everything has spirit” would be incorrect, though, because it implies that there is a part of anything that is not spirit.
  5. Mental processes are most effective the larger the amount of data they include. However, the informational perceptual and processing speed of living beings is limited. There is a maximum beyond which an increase in input and processing data decreases the mind’s speed and effectiveness. So we speak of sets of “relevant” data or information. There is also a physical effect in quantum mechanics: a “system” can be internally coherent, have a complicated wave function, but also include a boundary outside of which there is decoherence with its internal wave function. The nature of decoherence is still being worked out. I suggest there is a limit to coherence resulting from the uncertainty principle applied to the localization of the smallest quantum wavelengths in the systems wave function of a large enough system that its momentum limits are small.
  6. So we are justified in operationally taking finite subsets of the universal IS as being real, relevant, perceivable, and thinkable entities.
  7. An important class of these subsets of information are those that are to a large degree internally consistent and persistent in spacetime. These could justifiably be called “spirits”.
  8. If, in addition, those entities that are largely consensually reproducible are given a special status as forming consensual reality, the subjects of commonsense and in a more refined form, of science.
As Andreas Weber writes in Enlivenment (translated and published by Chelsea Green as Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology), most scientists have forgotten what it means to be alive. They try to grasp the world as if it were a dead, mechanical process that could be understood through statistical or cybernetic analyses, focused on separating reality and all its parts into discrete building blocks — atoms and algorithms, but anything we touch with the Cartesian method in effect loses its aliveness. Science has erected a metaphysics of the non-living to analyze the most remarkable aspect of our being in the world, our being alive.
Biochar workshop, July 2017
Eminent biological and systems thinkers — James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Janine Benyus and Gregory Bateson to name a few, and more recently brain researchers — opened up a world in which organisms need no longer be seen as machines competing with other machines, but rather as life complexes — a Gaian structure — that “creates” and develops in both material and non-material ways by continuously making and expressing itself in all different forms, on countless different wavelengths.

Being alive is not a case of cause-and-effect, but a complicated interplay of embodied emotions, interests and feelings, and not just our own but those of our extended micro-biome and our collective consciousness.

I knew Frank knew he had a weak heart and could go at any time. I don’t think he thought it would be this soon. He was probably as surprised as I was, because he was in good health and energy and the heart attack happened suddenly and was over immediately.

One of the last things he wrote gives a glimpse into his fine mind, and his intuitive grasp of the quantum entanglement of the material plane, life force, energy and spirit. In a Facebook discussion September 13th he posted this:
“When I was being a Mexican kid and saw the vibes of the few gringos I met, I saw hysterical blindness. Later on, I thought it must be some kind of inherited guilt for stealing this land, killing the natives, and enslaving blacks. Later still, I’m learning about epigenetics, which may or may not be a mechanism for inherited guilt complex. But some folks’ ways of not copping is to shrink from awareness, and if it gets too hot, attack!
“Reading Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief blew my mind. He’s a cell biologist who occasionally goes off the rails, but he pointed out that
1 . the genes are just protein factories
2. the cell surfaces are the actual brain of the cell that responds to stimuli both internal and external, and pass commands to the nucleus for the genes to make this or that protein.
3. the stimuli can be external, ie.: high temperatures, or your body’s reactions to that new shredded straw cereal, or internal, down to the level of your reactions to Trump’s election, or your recent conversion to Zoroastrianism.
“Lipton claims that even your beliefs alter your epigenetic states, and thence your gene expression. Down to changing the likelihood of reduced or increased risk for heart disease, cancer etc etc. 4) Epigenetic states are inheritable. I speculate that after a few aeons, they could become genetic states, which would be a neat answer to people who like the idea of intelligent design as somehow explaining evolution.”
Many of the books on Frank’s shelf dealt with quantum theory. Is it really any wonder he had a complete grasp of quantum entanglement?

This time last year Frank wrote:
Anyway, today I walked to the store and back!! Painlessly, because I was wearing the leg brace.
I need/want/must/will make this a regular practice, otherwise I know I will die from muscular atrophy, bad circulation, and/or heart disease. I can’t indulge in dying. I gotta see this CE [climate ecoforestry] thing through for the sake of the planet, not necessarily for the people (fuck ‘em), but for the plants, the trees and the critters — for Life. And because I think I have finally designed the perfect biochar stove, the bb10, and want to make it.
I need to get 8 hr/night sleep, meditate, and try to reconcile with the human race.
Frank’s last lesson to me was in the manner of his passing. He left his space clean and tidy, his files in order, his business in the black, already beginning what was promising to be another boom season in a rapidly expanding field, deriving protein from agroforestry. Like me, he had tried for several years to train a replacement for himself and pass on the business. Many younger people were tried but none stuck. And so he labored on. We are all very blessed to have spent time on this life orbit with such a fine soul as his.
  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Stirring the Pot

"Are we ready now to admit that by tampering with weather we have been poking the hornets nest, even while breeding, in our hubris, ever larger and more venomous hornets?"



Great storms return us, briefly, to the respect we once held for nature’s power over us. They remind us that we are really very small.
The largest of these shake the earth, change wide boulevards to waterways, behead or topple our buildings, and wail at us as we hide in cave-like shelters, cowering in fear.
After experiencing such a fright do we still imagine that as God’s chosen species we shall soon subdue and tame all this? Do we expect some wise authority figure to step in and just fix it? Or are we ready now to admit that by tampering with weather we have been poking the hornet’s nest, even while breeding, in our hubris, ever larger and more venomous hornets?
Einstein said, in 1950,
“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling separated from the rest, a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Our prison is not the discomfort that we suffer from her, it is our expectation that our world would be happier and better without discomfort. And yet without suffering there can be no real happiness. Without ordeal there cannot be triumph. Without pain there is never relief. 



As we pick up after tragedies and start to rebuild our shattered lives, we are being given a chance to do it differently for the next go-around. Storms cleanse, refresh, renew. This is a moment of reflection, and opportunity.
 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Is Apple Acing Chemistry but Flunking Biology?

"It used to be that half of all heart patients first report their condition to their physician by dropping dead. Today it seems they are reporting it first to Apple."



“If Yeats is right, the next divine influx will be on Oedipus’ side of the balance — the side of full participation in the world, not of withdrawal from it; the side of wholeness, not of perfection; the side of earth, not of heaven. If he’s right, in turn, we face a revaluation of all values considerably more wrenching than the one Nietzsche thought he was proclaiming — a revaluation precisely as wrenching, in fact, as the one that came when Great Pan died and Christ took his place.”
— Frankenstein’s monster to Vanessa Ives in Penny Dreadful

We watched the September 12 Apple Event webcast from the Steve Jobs theater with eager anticipation. We came away both intrigued and concerned.

A year ago we were on a long overnight flight to Hangzhou and unable to sleep in the dark cabin. We were staying up watching a film about Nixon and Elvis when our heart began racing. We knew it had nothing to do with either Nixon or Elvis.

The doctor had by this point given us a prescription for our condition but had not yet instructed us in the vagal maneuver or other ways to arrest the arrhythmia quickly.
An arrhythmia can occur if the electrical signals that control the heartbeat are delayed or blocked. This can happen if the special nerve cells that produce electrical signals don’t work properly. It also can happen if the electrical signals don’t travel normally through the heart. An arrhythmia also can occur if another part of the heart starts to produce electrical signals. This adds to the signals from the special nerve cells and disrupts the normal heartbeat.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
Fortunately, we were wearing our Apple Watch, so we touched the heart icon on the face and it started tracking our heart rate. As we watched, it refreshed its digital display at ten second intervals — 134, 140, 148, 153. We brushed to the stopwatch feature and began the timer.

We had been journaling these episodes to report to the doctor. This particular transient went on for more than 20 minutes, our longest, and somewhere in the middle of it, another passenger came to tell us that what was being observed was not good and that we should call for a doctor. She had been surreptitiously observing the watch display from the opposite aisle seat two rows behind us. We reassured her that we were under a doctor’s care and that the event was not unusual for us, although, in fact, its duration was.

We later reported this, along with other entries in our journal, to the cardiologist in Tennessee and he changed our prescription and instructed us in three techniques we could use to stop such events quickly. He warned us that prolonged transients of this type could bring about a stroke and that the damage a stroke could do would be in many ways “worse than death.”

So it was that we were pleasantly surprised when Jeff Williams, Apple’s COO, let it drop that we were not alone and Apple was listening. While describing the features of his company’s new Series 3 line of watches (Apple is now the number one watch brand in the world, with 97% user satisfaction), Williams said that Apple had received a great many queries about the heart rate monitor from customers who were experiencing precisely what we were — unexpected and unexplained surges in their heart rates (the Apple Watch is also now the number one heart monitor in the world).

It used to be that half of all heart patients first report their condition to their physician by dropping dead. Today it seems they are reporting it first to Apple.

Apple listened. The new line of watches includes an alert to stir its users to take action if abnormal heart rate initiates inexplicably. Apple has teamed with Stanford Medicine and the Food and Drug Administration to mine user data streaming from all those wired pulses around the world and try to piece together an epidemiological picture.

As Williams described it, the new series 3 Apple watches have their own cellular SIM cards, antennae, radio, power amplifier, GPS, barometric altimeter and data plans. Inside is a new dual core processor and a custom W2 wireless chip for WIFI and Bluetooth (the new earbuds, which can relay from watch as easily as phone, are wireless).

“And if you don’t do it right, it gets so big it looks like a house arrest bracelet and you are not going to wear it,” Williams quipped. Thus, the new Series 3 is the same size as Series 2, but with a “two sheets of paper” greater depth (0.25 mm). That packs a lot of radiative power density into a small space, microns from a major artery and a centimeter from rapidly dividing, white-cell-forming bone marrow.
 
All of this is concerning when we contemplate the effect of wireless radiation on the human body and pause to consider whether Stanford’s Apple Heart Study is a dog chasing its own tail.
One must know that the effects of past actions, whence cometh all sorrow, are inevitable.
— W.Y. Evans-Wentz, Tibetian Yoga and Secret Doctrines (1935)

“Very recently new research is suggesting that nearly all the human plagues which emerged in the twentieth century, like common acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children, female breast cancer, malignant melanoma and asthma, can be tied to some facet of our use of electricity. There is an urgent need for governments and individuals to take steps to minimize community and personal EMF exposures.”

Ninety-five percent of USAnians use cell phones daily. Nearly all businesses and most households have WIFI. Schools and medical centers are going ubiquitously wireless. And yet, none of this increased exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) have been shown to be safe for long-term exposure. In fact, the opposite is true, if anyone bothers to read the studies. We know beyond doubt that EMF emitted from common electronic devices causes biological changes in ourselves and other living beings. It can lead to a long list of health concerns — some of which can be pretty serious.



Remember, this new electronic environment is still in its infancy. It might be a hundred steps of Moore’s Law along, but it is still less than one human generation from its inception.

And yet, we have only scratched the surface of the technology still to come. We are being outfitted for wearables. EMF emitters, like EMF itself, are becoming invisible and ubiquitous. Children born today will be exposed to much higher doses of electric smog than those born just 10 years ago.



Dr. Milham tells the story of how he discovered an unsuspected source in the residence of a patient.
With the electric service turned off:
  • Sitting on toilet: feet off ground — 4.1 uA
    * Bare feet on floor — 17.3 UA
    * Hand-touching shower control — 40.5 UA
  • Showering: Hand touching shower control — 55.0 uA
The same pattern repeated in neighboring residences and was traced, eventually, to natural gas service pipes leading to gas meters for the apartment complex. Those currents contacted the cement floor and all metal connected to the concrete slab, such as door frames and plumbing — toilets and showers — had high contact current.

But that’s not all.

Seneff, Why Glyphosate Should be Banned, Globally MIT CSAIL 2017
Last week we watched, and recommend, the 10-part (nearly 30-hour) series, GMOs Revealed. At one point the series interviewed Dr. Stephanie Seneff, Senior Research Scientist at MIT, who mentioned the increase in abnormal heart rate — such as we’ve experienced since becoming an Apple Watch wearer.

Dr. Seneff explained that cardiovascular plaque, which develops with aging, serves to gather sulfates and make cholesterol sulfate, which the heart needs. “Cholesterol is not a problem,” Dr. Seneff said, “it is essential to all of the body’s functions.” The brain has 25% of all the body’s cholesterol with only 2 percent of the body’s mass.

What is a problem is a deficiency of cholesterol sulfate, which can be induced by GMO corn and soy, glyphosate exposure, aluminum and statin drugs, among other culprits.

Some symptoms of glyphosate poisoning, commonly from wheat and soy:
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Respiratory distress sometimes necessitating intubation
  • Dysrrhythmia
  • Renal failure
  • Altered consciousness
  • Shock (very low blood pressure)
  • Blood parameters
    * Acidosis
    * Low serum oxygen
    * High white blood cell count
    * High serum phosphate, potassium; low serum bicarbonate
We are only just starting to learn these things by studies of large groups of patients that look for commonalities that might be associated with causation.

Seneff, Why Glyphosate Should be Banned, Globally MIT CSAIL 2017
But the whole point of epidemiology is that association is not causality. We can say that our glyphosate-contaminated diet is associated with everything from autism and cancer to dementia and asthma, but we can say the same of our electronic environment, or the ionizing radiation loosed by atom bombs and power stations. When you get a cancerous tumor it does not raise a little flag and say “I was caused by radiation,” or “I was caused by Round-Up.” The Anthropocene is less forgiving to human health than was the Holocene from which we evolved.

Maybe the good doctors at Stanford will tell us whether the number one heart monitor in the world is giving us all heart disease. 

Whether a particular individual could then sue for damages from Apple is a different matter, but we suspect the Apple Heart Study is more defensive than public spirited.
Seneff, Why Glyphosate Should be Banned, Globally MIT CSAIL 2017
We could not say whether the racing heart we experienced on that flight to Hangzhou was caused by our Apple Watch, by the glyphosate residues in our gluten-free meal, by the odors of jet fuel while we waited at the gate, or by the increased levels of non-ionizing radiation experienced at that altitude. We just watched our heart race and hoped it would soon return to normal.
The Babylonian starlight is still waiting, with no shortage of fabulous formless darkness to bring in its train. And the new influx? That will come when it wills, not when we choose.
— Frankenstein’s monster to Vanessa Ives in Penny Dreadful

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Irmageddon




"Denial and existential climate threat are a stable pair."


Image courtesy Tatyana Tomsickova

We hesitate to write about the march of hurricanes across the Atlantic as our weekly post because it is social media trending so strongly we probably have little to add to that conversation and besides, we said it all in Climate Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What You Can Do in 1990.

Nothing much has changed since 1990. Industrial civilization, fueled by the consumer culture, has continued its exponential growth in all the metrics; population, urban sprawl, extinctions, pollutants, resource depletion, and the build-up of greenhouse gases.

Exponents have an arc like a child moving forward on a swing — they pass through level, begin to climb, and momentum pushes them towards vertical until they collide with a wall of gravity and fall backwards. The child delights in this and immediately wants to repeat, pushing higher and higher.

There is a reckoning coming. We all know it although some of us are better at denial than others. Timing is always a dicey game. That is how climate scientist Stephen Schneider put it when he lectured Congressional committees in the 1980s — a game of dice. The more you load the dice, the more predictable the outcome.

As we write this the dance of the hurricanes looks like a science fiction film:



But the fantasy/tragedy part of our drama is the human reaction in default world. In case you missed it — 
1) Irma at 190 mph
2) Harvey at 54 “ of rain
3) West ablaze
4) Record California heat
5) Donald Trump speaks at an oil refinery in North Dakota
Trump told several hundred supporters gathered at a Mandan refinery on Wednesday that he understood the devastation the drought has brought. But he noted the damage Hurricane Harvey has done in Texas, and said, “You are better off.”
Charles Tuttle set up a table to sell a range of Trump gear, and said business was good. Tuttle said he had even sold a couple of baseball caps, featuring the presidential seal and Trump signature, despite a hefty $75 price tag.
In 1990 we traced the new shorelines of Florida for our book:



Notice that the caption says the middle view of the State’s contours arrives in the event Greenland drops its ice cover. For reasons we described last week we think Greenland is going to stay cold for a while, because AMOC (the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) is slowing, reducing the flow of warm water from the Equator towards the Arctic.
There are signs in the paleoclimate record that melting ice sheets may have once slowed or stopped the AMOC for decades at a time — triggering massive shifts in monsoon rainfall in Africa and India, changes in hurricane patterns, and even mini ice ages.
Most climate projections assume that the AMOC might weaken, but would still persist even as global temperatures creep steadily upward. But climate scientist Wei Liu at Yale University suspects that these models overestimate the AMOC’s stability, according to a new study recently published in the journal Science Advances.

What is not slowing is the breakup of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet — the right-most concept for Florida mapmakers in our 1990 projection. These changes do not happen gradually. Typically coastal contours respond to major storm events. The tide comes in. It doesn’t go out.

If we had been delusional, we might have imagined in 1990 that merely getting the word out would make a difference. For reasons that have been well articulated now by cognitive scientists, human denial — a DNA-level defense mechanism — goes into overdrive when our survival is placed into jeopardy. Denial and existential climate threat are a stable pair.

Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind The history of science abounds with momentous theories that disrupted conventional wisdom and yet were eventually…smile.amazon.com
“I want all of America to be inspired by what’s happened in North Dakota and the North Dakota example. This state is a reminder of what can happen when we promote American jobs instead of obstructing American jobs.”



We are penning this on a Friday morning and, via You Tube, there is an image CNN’s weathermen created for the audience in Miami. Using Google Earth, they projected what a 5 to 7 foot storm surge on the “dirty side” of the storm will look like for Miami.

UPDATE: As of 5 pm Saturday Irma is tracking more Westward. They are forecasting 9 foot of surge over Naples, Fort Meyer and to 16 miles inland.

 Fare well, Houston. Fare well, Naples. May you hold up a lantern that finally cuts through our collective fog.













We post to The Great Change and Medium on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page. Albert Bates will be traveling and speaking later this year at Web Summit-7 in Lisbon, COP-23 in Bonn, IPC-13 in Hyderabad, and ESP-9 in Shenzhen.
 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Beauty of Biomass

"You probably wouldn’t want to invest in beachfront property at the rate sea level rise and superstorms are accelerating"


Hemp and Cob houses at Cloughjordan Ecovillage
“The solution to our living arrangement problem is not going to be more cars of a different kind, it’s going to be returning to more towns and traditional neighborhoods. The solution to our agriculture problem is not going to be bigger pig farms, its going to be smaller farms distributed more equitably around the parts of the country where you can still do agriculture. The solution to the medical problem is not going to be larger combine corporate hospital chains and so-called provider services, its probably going to be more small local clinics.”
— James Howard Kunstler, Peak Prosperity Podcast with Chris Martenson Aug 27, 2017 

If you are like one of the Burning Man Billionaires who are prepping a doomstead in expectation of Trumpocalypse, you could do worse than to direct your gaze towards Ireland.

Tulum, Ibiza, Marabeque and Bali are soon going to get very hot, and you probably wouldn’t want to invest in beachfront property at the rate sea level rise and superstorms are accelerating. Heat also rules out Sedona, Sante Fe, the 7th District of Budapest, Canal St. Martin, Kathmandu and the French and Italian Rivieras.

Radioactive fallout plumes, by accident, war, powerplant meltdowns, or all of the above, would eliminate any place too close to an Empire outpost, one of the 450 economically foolhardy but heavily subsidized nuclear power plants, or the billion-dollar atomic targets for terrorists — more than 60 of them — still being erected.

By too close we mean a distance of a few hundred miles in the downwind or down-current direction, or more, if you are contemplating an island redoubt in British Columbia, downstream of Fukushima. And remember, North Korea doesn’t have to complete the half-dozen steps The New York Times says are still required before it can deliver a warhead to the mainland US. It just needs Federal Express, or a small plane.
Wild weather will eliminate many more choices, and so will potential hoards of walkers who could take to the roads in the 3 days it takes most major cities to run out of food. You’d want to avoid places with fragile water supplies or potential for catastrophic wildfire. And don’t forget the overdue super-quakes and volcano zones around New Madrid and Yellowstone.

As the Atlantic current continues to slow due to melting ice and permafrost in the Arctic, the warm air and water that once moved North from the Caribbean to moderate the Maritime provinces of Arcadia and the temperate archipelago of the British Isles could stall, allowing those regions to feel the full impact of their latitudes. Edinburgh is at the same latitude as Moscow. In 1812, Napolean was defeated at Moscow by “General Winter” even though French forces numbered 691,501. Winter had merely -40° C. 

Winter of 2009–10 NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz,  
MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.

Changes in air and ocean currents sweeping down out of the Arctic could deliver similar devastation to Ireland and Great Britain, and not only in winter.

This week we are at the Cloughjordan ecovillage in County Tipperary, Ireland, teaching a permaculture course and preparing for the Electric Picnic. 

The ecovillage, just going on 8 years old, is really a marvel. There are houses of cob, hempcrete, straw and timber. Rooftop rainwater is caught and channeled to blackcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries, Rosa Rugosa, plum, pear and cherry trees that line the streets and paths alongside 70 heirloom varieties of Irish apples grafted onto some 600 trees. The village rescued semi-mature oaks from a motorway in Dublin and gave them a new home here, along with 17,000 sweet chestnut, ash, alder, blackthorn, hawthorn, downy Birch, elder and rowan.
The Cloughjordan Community Farm, with 50 household subscribers, is spread over 40 acres. It distributes from an old stone coach house on the main street, near the entrance to the village. Bruce Darrow, a Canadian transplant, harvests a bounty from his “RED” garden allotment each day (“Research, Education and Development” — doing comparative side-by-side trials), and puts his surplus out by the road. Passersby are invited to take what they’d like and pay what they wish. 
Other community enterprises include:

  • WeCreate offers co-working, shared workspaces for local businesses, entrepreneurs and projects and courses for colleges.
  • Among the WeCreate enterprises is the only community-based FabLab in Ireland — established by two ecovillage members. It allows the manufacture of almost anything by scripting or downloading plans and using computers to make the products.
  • Django’s eco-hostel with 34 beds.

  • RiotRye wood-fired bakery and bread school
  • Sheelagh na Gig, a bookshop and coffee shop on Cloughjordan’s main street
  • Walnut Books, an on-line bookshop
  • Cultivate, an NGO for community resilience and permaculture
  • FEASTA, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability
  • Cloughjordan Arts, currently working on the Cloughjordan Community Amphitheatre, a multi-purpose facility with a 300-audience capacity
  • Cloughjordan CoHousing
  • VINE (Village Internet Network Engineering) bringing internet and telephone services to ecovillage residents
What a great thing it is in a cold, damp climate to be able to walk into passive solar, biomass heated homes and businesses, climate controlled and always pleasant, where you turn on the tap and the hot water comes from trees. 

Recognizing that renewable energy may require something more dependable than silicon wafers and neodymium generators, the biomass district heating system occupied a central part of the master plan for the village when it was first laid out in 2003. The two-boiler unit and insulated ground pipe is designed to serve 130 homes and businesses over the 67-acre area, although only 55 houses have been built, so far. The plant sells its surplus heat to the older, less well insulated parts of Cloughjordan to replace imported coal. In 2014 the village was named by the European Commission as one of Europe’s 23 most successful ‘anticipatory experiences’ in the transition to a low-energy society.

Peat, coal, propane and kindling wood sold outside a Tipperary quick stop market.

“BECCS [Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage] sounds great in principle and allows you to remove carbon while producing energy, but it has several challenges. There is a lot of debate on the scale of sustainable bioenergy, with many conflicts in the literature. Most environmental NGOs and many scientists are against large-scale bioenergy.”


If we were to offer a few improvements to the ecovillage’s biomass system, we might recommend they retrofit to gas pyrolysis, improving Btu capture and yielding biochar and wood vinegar — possibly electricity, too. That would significantly elevate carbon sequestration at negative cost.

They might also look at bamboo. In recent years, temperate bamboo species have been introduced in Europe not only as an ornamental plant, but also as energy. To observe adaptation stress of bamboo in the climate of Ireland, daily cycles of chlorophyll fluorescence were measured in Phyllostachys humilis in Ballyboughal, County Dublin [Van Goethem et al, Seasonal, Diurnal and Vertical Variation of Chlorophyll Fluorescence on Phyllostachys humilis in Ireland (2013)]. The damp weather and cloudy skies slowed bamboo’s prodigious photosynthesis only marginally. Bamboo is still the fastest growing of all terrestrial plants and provides more co-products than all the rest. Its the co-products, including food, biodiversity, soil rejuvenation, and building material, that will make biomass energy a better choice for drawdown than non-renewable renewables or geoengineering fantasies.


At nearby Gurteen College we took a site walk with college president Mike Pearson to see the biomass energy cycle all in one location. In 2010 they’d reached the end of the old, oil-fired boiler’s life. That boiler had cost the college a euro per liter for diesel fuel, 100,000 euros per year. For just over twice the annual heating bill (€220,000) they bought two biomass boilers. They planted 10 hectares of willow (€80,000) and built a drying floor into a building next to the heating plant (€80,000). Their heating bill, which included harvesting and drying the willow (250 t/y — €10,000), labor, maintenance, and fertilizing with animal manures (€7,000), and finance charges, took their annual heating bill down to €20,000/y when the rising cost of oil would have risen it to €150,000. They saved the €80,000 — €130,000 difference for other tasks, like new college buildings.


While both the college and the ecovillage use solar photovoltaics to supply electricity, there is no reason why their biomass district heating units could not also be combined heat, power and biochar systems. Having your energy situation solved in such an ecologically and economically sustainable way is true security.

The best part of the Gurteen and Coughjordan stories? The willow. Each year those groves take carbon from the atmosphere and put it back into the soil. With the regular application of animal manures to the stumps after harvest, their soils gain fertility and depth. A freshly harvested grove grows back 3 meters tall the first year. Abiding the light touch of rotational harvests, the forest gives habitat to songbirds and other wildlife. The rotating patch harvest cycle and replenishing nutrient flows can sustain the college and the ecovillage indefinitely, and keep their buildings comfortable and climate controlled all year round, no matter what the North Atlantic current does or doesn’t do.

If you are one of the Burning Man Billionaires you could do worse than to put your doomstead here, in the company of happy villagers on good land.


We post to The Great Change and Medium on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page. Albert Bates will be traveling and speaking later this year at Web Summit-7 in Lisbon, COP-23 in Bonn, IPC-13 in Hyderabad, and ESP-9 in Shenzhen.


 

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