Archive for May, 2008

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Soil & Health

May 24, 2008

I heard of the connection between soil and health along time ago but as usual it’s taken a while for the full impact to sink in. The lack of minerals and nutrients in our soil is probably one of the most important issues we face and undoubtably the major cause of our health problems – I suspect it also has a lot to do with our dental problems since ‘re-minrealisation’ is an important part of tooth natural maintenance but I haven’t yet found someone who will make the whole connection for me.

Anyway, I reccomend this article for a quick overview:

Another major area where mineral deficiency manifests itself, in addition to poor health and immune system support, is obesity. Similar to the cats and dogs one sees eating grass when they instinctively know they are either deficient in vitamins and minerals or need extra ones to combat an illness or infection, I believe that the human body also sends such instinctive signals at times that it is missing vital nutrients, but we no longer recognize what it is our bodies are telling us and where to find what we need to silence the signals.

Such confused signals often lead to cravings, and so we eat and eat to try to satisfy them, but what we really crave is missing nutrition.

The biggest problem that I can see is that converting farmland to organic may not be enough – we may need to be more proactive to get minerals and nutrients back in the ground.

Anyway, the author promises further installments regarding this issue but Dan has mentioned that the rebuilding of soil can be done through a proces called bioremediation.

At the bottom of that article you’ll find a link to this article by the same author which gets even more specific about the problem

…we often hear that certain foods contain a certain amount of vitamins and minerals. This is especially true in fruits, vegetables, and other produce, but very few people understand the truth about this information, which is that most of the published values about this nutritional content are not correct. This is especially true among minerals, and that’s the point of this story.

Most of the produce you buy in a grocery store does not have anything close to the mineral profile it is supposed to have according to nutritional textbooks. This is because minerals are not manufactured by plants, whereas vitamins and phytonutrients are. When plants create such nutrients, they synthesize them through chemical and energetic processes that can only be called miraculous. But as capable as they are, plants do not create minerals. Minerals have to be absorbed through the soil, and if they are not present in the soil, then the plant’s roots cannot take them up

At the end the author suggests we buy concentrated sea water, dilute it and sprinkle it on the garden to replace minreals, but I’m wondering, can’t we just go to the beach with a bucket and get some for free?

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Doom, Gloom and Ka-boom!

May 23, 2008

A few weeks ago I posted a quote from a Bill Mollison interview that included this paragraph:

I can easily teach people to be gardeners, and from them, once they know how to garden, you’ll get a philosopher. But I could never teach people to be philosophers – and if I did, you could never make a gardener out of them.

And now after bemoaning the diet of doom that we get in the peak oil universe I’ve rediscovered this essay by Toby Hemmenway, a permaculturist and philospher who is a great example of what Bill Mollison was talking about.

Toby has this to say about the most common response to a diet of doom:

One of the most common responses to the Peak Oil panic is, “We’re planning on moving to the country with our friends and producing everything we need.” Let me burst that bubble: Back-to-the-landers have been pursuing this dream for 40 years now, and I don’t know of a single homesteader or community that has achieved it.

Toby managed to inspire a bit of hate mail with this series of essay’s, probably as a result of this weird subconsious desire for renewal that exists from one end of our culture to the other.

I’m not a believer in the Peak Oil “end of the world” scenario, where decreasing oil production somehow mutates into the sudden, permanent shutoff of urban water supplies, and contented suburbanites are transformed overnight into looting gangs. Yes, fossil fuels surely will become much more expensive in the next decades, and scarce soon after. I don’t doubt that several tipping points will be broached along the way, with rapid and unexpected changes cascading through society. But civilization won’t end.

I also recently discovered this commennt heading Ran’s Crashwatch page:

When I started this page four years ago, everyone thought that industrial society would keep thriving forever, and I wanted to balance that with evidence that it’s going to crash. Now everyone thinks it’s going to crash, but I’m shocked at how many blows it has taken and how little has changed in daily life

And that’s with a crash that has a decidely engineered look to it. Perhaps then the environment will give us that ultimate catastrophic opportunity for renewal:

I’m no expert on this topic but I am beginning to wonder if we’re getting the real picture on how the environment will cope with it’s own collapse. I’m not a climate change denier in the technology-is-god sense, but any movement that has a member of the elite (Al Gore) leading the charge should immediately be put under the spotlight as far as I’m concerened -and the fact that a person usually gets censured for making such comments in public just makes me want to ask the questions even more.

My trust in our beliefs about the resilience of the planet took another hit when I read this article about jellyfish. I had been lead to believe that nothing could live in these oceanic dead zones that have begun appearing around the planet, (otherwise why call them ‘dead’ zones?), but then I discovered that jellyfish are thriving in them and fisherman who had previously been struggling to make a living are now ‘making easy money’ catching jellyfish for sale in places like Japan.

Naturally there’s plenty in the article that makes for sober reading but when I read about jellyfish thriving in what is referred to as a dead zone I couldn’t help feeling mislead by the information the environmental movement is giving us. What mis-information like this does is give an underlying message about the planet’s ability to cope with change that, logically, must also be wrong but which is slipped in at an almost subconscious level.

So exactly how much is our cultural gravitation toward doom misleading us? I’m certainly not making any predictions of my own but I am wondering if most of the predictions I’m reading are missing an important perspective – a perspective that can only be gained from outside our cultural beliefs about catastrophic endings.

Nothing is certain but I’m fairly confident that it’s the permaculturists who are the most grounded amongst us and that they are the ones, just as Bill Mollison promised, who have the best perspective on our future.

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UPDATE: This is what happens when you don’t do proper research: I originally intended to merely post a link to remind people about Toby Hemmenway’s old essay but then all these other connections started popping up and so I prdocued the longer posting above. What I had forgotten however is that Toby has already written an essay covering this exact topic – in greater detail and with proper resaearch and stuff – it’s called Origins of Peak Oil Doomerism and is a much more thorough attempt to get to the bottom of the issue.

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Suburbia DOA

May 17, 2008

I see a lot of people gleefully predicting the demise of suburbia – dependant as it is on the car for it’s full functioning, but I wonder where do we think all these people are going to go?

If overseas examples are anything to go by the first thing that happens (think Cuba and the Soviet Union) when food gets scare is that people start growing food on their own property. I saw David Holmgren talk a few years ago and he pointed out that the old style quarter-acre section was large enough to feed an entire family. He regretted the fact that most of these sections have since been cut in half and now have two houses where their used to be one, but we need to recognise in our haste to usher in a new future that this doesn’t make them utterly useless.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone will be 100% food self sufficient even if they have enough space. In reality people will grow a proportion of their food at home and buy or barter for the rest. And if there isn’t enough space within the confines of the property there’s going to be a lot of park and road space available for other uses as soon as the local council sees the writing on the wall. Permaculture has already shown us how to grow food in small places, and how to repair dead soil, al we need now is the motivation and that’ll come soon enough.

I’ve also seen the suburbs bemoaned for their lack of community but this is mostly because of the car. As soon as daily car travel is taken out of the picture and as soon as adults are at home for the day, and most likely their children too, the suburbs will be a different place.

The suburbs feel kind of dead now but they’re not going to die – if anything they’re probably going to undergo a kind of rebirth. People will very quickly go back to relying on their neighbours for company and mutual support, they’ll start working from home and who knows – all that space currently used to shift cars around might be put to a better use. Given the (admittedly unlikely) possibility of a sensible local council we’ll might yet see roads given over to some kind of food forest or other commons type of space with council just focus on maintaining the footpaths on either side. Who knows, we may even have markets and other communal events springing up at old intersections. It’s hardly like old-style zoning rules are going to be any use to us.

And YES, I realise this is an idealistic view I’m presenting here but it’s actually a hell of a lot more useful than a months’ worth of doom-blogging. I mean we’re all going to look pretty stupid post-crash when people start asking “so if you knew this was going to happen why did you do nothing except standing there saying ‘I told you so’.

Which is the effect of a lot of the doom – it reduces us to numb spectators. How often do doom-bloggers wonder aloud about why people don’t follow their advice, all the time unware that it’s the constant stream of doom that’s got us in it’s glare.

And YES I realise there is a lot of planning for the future going on already but as I said I still think there is a lot of staring into the headlights of the oncoming train too; “Yes, I think those are the headlights coming into view now. Yep, it’s definitely them, they’re getting pretty bright now – just like I said they would…

WHAM!

James Howard Kunstler is a great writer but my biggest criticism of him is that a lot of his solutions are aimed at the level of local or central government – which, ironically enough is kind of naïve of him. Government is the instrument of the status quo, it’s job is more of the same – not change for the sake of the little people. Should be pretty obvious really.

What our communites are going to need in the future, are a few voices of reason – a few people in each place who have thought about what the future is going to be like and have latched on to the few things that are going to help the people in their street or suburb get through the times ahead. They certainly aren’t going to be need a bunch of peakniks saying I told you so – although the peakniks are going to need a stable community in their area if they really want to increase their chances of survival.

Timing is crucial too – it’s great to have a few bright ideas but pushing them before their time will just lead to burn out. It’s probably too early even now for most other people but the most important thing to remember is that the last people who are going to get this are the ones who our culture typically looks too for leadership.

Crash-aware people are going to have to provide leadership in creative non-institutional ways by doing things like starting up seed-saver and permaculture groups and generally whispering in the ear of people who are ready to listen that we need to support everyone in the community if we want to feel safe.

People have also got to be careful to drop the coercive, bash-them-over-the-head-with-the-news approach that our culture usually produces and provide what I tend to think is genuine leadership – which is to say creating a vision and a direction and waiting for the support to grow in behind it. (This concept of leadership is probably the major area of failure for activists today – but that’s another blog post).

For me this lesson about what community consists of has come courtesy of a fateful shift of house. In our new ‘suburb’ we’ve got friendly neighbours on both sides and over the road – two of whom we knew before we moved in. There are lots more families down the street, also I have a work-mate 4 doors down and a few other faces I recognise beyond that. It’s a marked contrast from our last place where we lived in the usual sought after situation of isolation from our neighbours and a nice view. We’ve moved to a less sought-after area but have ended up with more of what we actually need – it feels like a good place to be.

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We’ll all be driving one soon

May 9, 2008

I notice Ran is enthusiastically predicting the demise of the SUV but I’m not sure I share his faith in this particular prediction. In fact I’m going to leap in and mount a defence for the not-so-humble SUV.

I admit that it feels slightly strange to be doing so but it all started when I drove my uncle’s SUV – which doubled as a farm work vehicle and family car, but was lent to us one week while our old house bus was in for repairs. Because I’d just been driving a bus around the SUV didn’t feel particularly large – even if that is their most obvious feature as far as drivers of other vehicles are concerned. What I did notice though, was that obeying normal conventions like driving only on paved or carefully gravelled surfaces was no longer necessary.

Please don’t get the idea that I blundered round driving over footpaths, picket fences and old ladies’ garden patches. Nothing of the sort happened but there was this sense of freedom driving in an SUV that I didn’t normally experience in a car (and especially not in a bus). Even if I didn’t actually do it, the fact remained that there were now a lot more places that I could drive to, or over, should I want to.

This would be of no real consequence to this blog except for how it coincides with the future that regular readers of doomer, peak-everything blogs are all, by now, expecting.

From a long and interesting series of comments by a resident of Argentina we have this possible future scenario for SUV drivers.

I would have bought a 4×4, even though I live in the city. A 4×4 allows you to dive over the sidewalk or through wasteland, away from roadblocks or riots. I’ve see those that have 4x4s simply go off road, climb over a boulevard and leave while the rest of us poor car owners have to stay.

A 4×4 truck also has more mass and power in case that someone tries to cut you off or rams you with the car. It’s less likely to stop running if you hit someone or several people (in a riot situation) since it’s prepared for cross country use and the engine is much more protected.

And a little more mundane but almost guaranteed to be relevant to your life and mine; the issue of declining road standards, or for that matter driveway standards.

As councils and other road maintenance bodies find their funds drying up I’m sure we’re going to find ourselves driving down roads that consist mostly of pot-hole. Already it only takes a bad winter to make some rural roads nearly impassable to normal cars, how much worse will this be when there aren’t the funds to bring in earth moving machinery to sort it out?

And what about your driveway? If you’ve got concrete your driveway will no doubt outlast your car and you’ll probably end up smashing it to bits at some stage, so that you can enlarge your garden space. There are less permanent driveways though and even if we drive less in the future, cars will still be useful for carting large items about the place for some time – if only we can actually get from A to B.

As a New Zealander though the real clincher is the fact that in this country at least most SUV’s are diesel and almost all cars are not. They sure burn dirty at the moment but they’re going to be really nice running on the various concoctions of bio-fuels that people are going to be trying in them. I’m no expert so don’t quote me but Rudolf Diesel did intend that his engine could run on vegetable oil. I don’t believe that it is so easy to throw any old thing into a petrol vehicle. Feel free to correct me on this though if you have more than my minimal understanding of this situation

Next week; I’m coming to the defence of the suburbia!

And the week after that I’m going into bat for civilisation itself. Maybe.