Do Worry. Be Happy.

SUBHEAD:Get in fighting shape for the coming storms psychologically, economically & environmentally.
By Lisa Chase on 16 April 2009 in ELLE [Editor's note: This is the opening of a long article available through the link above.] Fifteen of us were gathered in the TV room of a house in Larchmont, our New York City suburb, where we were about to watch a documentary about the imminent, anarchic demise of the suburbs. "I assume you’re prepared to be hated by everyone in the room," my boyfriend said as I headed out the door to the screening one bitterly cold night in February. "People do not like to be told that their way of life is coming to an end." image: Aerial photo of Levittown on Long Island, NY circa 1950. The birth of suburbia. From He had a point. For four years, I have been quietly freaking out at the e-mails that arrive daily in my inbox, most of which don’t bode well for civilization. One news report that recently showed up said that as the arctic permafrost melts, it releases not only CO2 into the atmosphere, but also methane, which is 25 times more potent, so that we are, in the words of one scientist, "looking now at a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations." Back in 2005, the documentary The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream sent me into the abyss about global warming and energy depletion. Lately, however, the movie has plucked me out again, because it turns out to be central to a new movement that proposes an eyes-wide-open yet fun (yes, fun) path forward for mainstreamers like me who know we have a serious environmental problem but aren’t willing or able to ditch life in "the great megalopolis smudge," as one grim End of Suburbia wonk describes my living arrangement. What attracted me to Transition, as the movement is called, was the word resilience, with its implications of being skilled, being ready, being confident, and therefore being optimistic about The Day After Tomorrow. The word is all over Transition’s literature, all over its YouTube clips. It seemed such a superior word to green and sustainable and eco—once hot, now almost clichés, and subject to corruption by the market. But resilience, you can’t fake. A resilient person is who I want to be. And if I’m not inherently resilient, can I learn to be? Transition was founded by Rob Hopkins, an adorable-looking English academic with jug ears and a growing mob of admirers. According to the foreword of Hopkins’ engaging new Transition Handbook, he has "found a way for people worried about an environmental collapse to invest their efforts in ongoing collective action that ends up looking more like a party than a protest march." Transition began for Hopkins when he showed his students The End of Suburbia and they all got supremely depressed, before resiliently bouncing back to found Transition! In short, the film is about how in 1956, a geologist named M. King Hubbert, using a bell curve to chart the world’s petroleum reserves, predicted that global oil production would peak sometime around the year 2000 and then decline rapidly. Energy companies, government officials, academics, and environmentalists disagree on whether the peak has happened, or whether it’s five, 10, or 20 years down the pike. It’s impossible to know a precise date, because between half and two thirds of the world’s oil is in the Middle East, and those nations treat information about their reserves as if they were state secrets. However, since 2005, world oil production has not increased, even though global demand continued to rise (until the recession). The descending slope of Hubbert’s bell curve is pretty damn steep, so if oil sources are depleting, the stuff will stop flowing faster than we can kick our addiction. Given that our electricity, our transportation, and most of our goods depend on oil, we’re pretty screwed. This is where Transition taps in. The movement offers a framework for planning an orderly and even a "prosperous way down" the curve, to quote a book well known among Peak Oilers, to a world with less oil. Transition is about communities—in particular "relocalizing" them, and this you probably know something about: eating local and buying local, but also manufacturing local. It’s also about "reskilling"—learning to do the things our great-grandparents knew how to do, such as growing food and building things. Most importantly, Transition is about resiliency, or, as Hopkins says in his book, "a culture based on its ability to function indefinitely and to live within its limits, and to be able to thrive for having done so." What’s a nice girl in the suburban smudge doing in a neurotic place like this? I’m a positive person and I believe in starting things rather than waiting for others to start them for me. But back in 2005, I was a new mother, not working, swimming in a soup of sleep deprivation, vulnerability, a little too much Internet time on my hands, and a growing sense that I should leave behind a planet for my infant son that resembled the one I’d grown up on. The End of Suburbia, and the theory of Peak Oil, made sense to me. Since 1859, when the first well in Pennsylvania pumped oil, we have burned through one trillion barrels of the world’s supply as more countries industrialize and globalization increases international trade. At this rate, how long can it be until we come up dry? Everywhere I looked I began to see oil—in my computer, lipstick, stockings, buttons, pens, mattress, coffee pot, telephone, camera, cotton swabs, Frisbee, Scotch tape, guitar strings, refrigerator shelves, photographs, vitamins, rugs, DVDs, running shoes, sunscreen, eyeglasses. I got a little desperate. I became obsessed with trying to take my house, in the middle of the biggest energy- and oil-dependent matrix in America, off the grid. I briefly considered making bumper stickers that said i ♥ saudi oil and sneaking out after the baby was asleep to stick them on my neighbors’ Explorers and Tacomas. Post–Hurricane Katrina, I’d lost faith that my government would protect me in the event the oil ran out, the food stopped arriving at the store, and the lights went off (as they did in most of the Northeast on August 14, 2003). Convinced that the blackout had been a dress rehearsal for the real thing, I resolved to become a survivalist in the suburbs, a dark manifestation of my positive can-doer. I would grow food in the front yard, dig a geothermal well in the back, buy a wood-burning stove to heat the house, string a clothesline. For a couple of years, I tried to make my home resilient, and was thwarted every step of the way, by economics ($50,000 for the geothermal well) and my boyfriend (vetoed anything but grass in the front yard and the wood stove as "romantic retro low technology"). Even the town was against me: Larchmonters frown upon clotheslines. "Doesn’t anyone understand what’s happening?" I wailed. One day, when I was excitedly explaining Hubbert’s Peak to my friend Stephen, he asked, "Are you becoming one of those people?" Maybe. "The first thing we do to get a Transition initiative going in a town is show The End of Suburbia," said Michael Brownlee, an early U.S. Transition "trainer" and a founder of Transition Boulder County in Colorado. "Two things usually happen. Some people get very upset and say, ‘How could you create all this fear?’ And others say, ‘Thank you, thank you so much!’ " The thank-yous are the definition of resilient: They’re usually intelligent, social, often optimistic, and can hold complex and contrasting ideas in their heads, such as, Global warming and peak oil create an opportunity to build something better. "Resilient people are emotionally nimble—they don’t worry in advance, they let go of emotional baggage quickly. That fact alone leaves them unburdened by mental and emotional preoccupations that can impede action," said Barbara L. Fredrickson, author of the new book Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. It’s probably not a coincidence that psychological resilience and ecological resilience both began to take hold as academic disciplines in the 1970s, during the last big energy and economic crisis. Now that we’re in another one, resilience is on the resurgence. There’s a National Resilience Resource Center at the University of Minnesota that exists to teach psychological resilience and a Resilience Alliance of respected scientists in cross disciplines devoted to studying the resiliency of systems. One of those systems is the financial one, and a Googling of the phrase financial resilience yielded 2,460,000 results. Before my movie screening, Fredrickson, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, sent me the Block and Kremen Ego-Resiliency Scale, a short survey rating answers to statements like, "I like to take different paths to familiar places" and "I get over my anger at someone reasonably quickly." I’d given it to the moviegoers, whom I’d picked because they are, in the words of Transition, "precontemplatives"—people who are worried about the environment already and most easily persuaded to do something about it. Julia and her husband, Greg, own a solar-powered house. Clay is building a house out of environmentally friendly materials. Clarence runs an investment firm that focuses on alternative energy. Lynne took Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth training seminar in Tennessee. Carol cofounded our town environment committee. Gloria and Mike owned the first Prius on my block. Still, none of them was likely getting the kinds of e-mail I get every day. So I packed more wine into my bag. Perhaps it was better to get everyone potted before the lights went down. The problem was, and is, that environmentalism had become a big bummer. In 2004, two young activists, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, published a paper called "The Death of Environmentalism" that asserted just that. The resulting howls from indignant American environmentalists made me think the boys had hit a nerve. The movement, desperate to get us, any of us, focused on global warming, has relied too much on guilt and scare tactics to get us to change. This hasn’t worked well; our carbon emissions continue to rise every year. When Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times, " ‘The Death of Environmentalism’ resonated with me. I was once an environmental groupie…but I’m now skeptical of the movement’s ‘I Have a Nightmare’ speeches," I realized I had started giving "I Have a Nightmare" speeches. And nobody in my vicinity was scared except me. So I stopped trying to get off the grid and stopped talking about global warming, much to the relief of my family and friends. The immensity of inaction around me, coupled with the idea of having to fight this alone, was too much. Meanwhile, I volunteered at the nursery school and signed my kid up for soccer. I found a job at this magazine and sat in meetings at work for our environmental issue, in which we debated which celebrities were "green" and considered countless "sustainable" products, all promising we could have chic and rejuvenating eco-living with no real sacrifices. I thought, They have no idea what’s coming. It was very depressing, and lonely. We were a country of individualists to begin with, but the Internet has made us even more so, to the detriment of another American idea: community. I don’t buy the argument that Facebook (which I do get pleasure from) brings me closer to my friends. Instead I’m "tagged" and "poked" by people I used to call on the phone or meet for a drink. When I try to conjure the times that New York has felt communal to me in the 16 years I’ve lived here, I can think of three. The first was during the weeks after 9/11. The second was during the 2003 blackout, when people fired up their grills and invited their neighbors over to eat candlelit feasts of all the food that was going bad in their refrigerators. The third time was November 4, 2008, when Barack Obama was elected and New Yorkers spilled into the streets cheering and hugging and honking their horns in impromptu parades. It took seismic events to bring us out of our houses and actually act like neighbors. In that sense, I guess I am optimistic that global warming and Peak Oil probably will push us into one another’s arms. It turns out that community, resilience, and optimism are all bound up together, Fredrickson said. "To be doing really well in life is to be handling the hard stuff well and with clear eyes and to find the ability to have positive emotions. What I’ve concluded is that positive emotions are the fuel in a way, the active ingredient that allows people to be resilient and optimistic." Even given global warming and Peak Oil? "People have this solidified view of the way things should be," Fredrickson said, "because of a lack of flexibility or creativity about, ‘So what would we do if we’ve hit Peak Oil and we’re on the downside of that?’ " We would hope that we are optimistic, resilient Thank you, thank you so much! people. But according to her research, shockingly few of us are. "Flourishing mental health is about as rare as depression in this country," she said, estimating that only 20 percent of American adults are flourishing, meaning "feeling good and doing good, making a contribution to society, really feeling integrated with [their] community. There are really good metrics on this, that this has decayed in the last 50 years," she continued. "People used to have vital relationships outside of the family, and now we don’t." If 20 percent of us are flourishing and 20 percent will have a depressive episode in our adult lives, that leaves 60 percent of us "who are just getting by, in between, not really thriving." This is where Transition seems different from environmental movements that have come before: in striking a psycho-eco balance, putting emphasis on the power of relationships and small-scale pragmatic action, rather than on making policy or protests. In some ways we’ve become a culture of what psychologists call "learned helplessness," and as we wait for others to solve our problems, the problems get harder to solve. But resilient people don’t wait; they think that their actions make a difference in the world...

One less Hummer

SUBHEAD: Tourist gets rented Hummer caught in sand and manages to get the vehicle to self-imolate after revving it into flames.  

By Nathan Eagle on 20 April 2009 in The Garden Island News 

Image above: Hummer burns with Princeville background. Photo by Aurora Rosin.

A visitor’s rent-a-Hummer burst into flames late Saturday afternoon at Lumaha‘i Beach after he reportedly got stuck driving in the sand. Hanalei firefighters responded to the “fully involved” vehicle fire and extinguished the blaze with water and foam, county spokesperson Mary Daubert said Sunday. There were no injuries reported.

The scorched Hummer truck, which are known for performing “like nothing else,” spewed thick black smoke into the North Shore sky for over an hour. Local residents reportedly posed with the driver for pictures, flashing “shakas” while the tires melted and interior sizzled.

The metal carcass had been removed from the middle of the otherwise pristine beach by Sunday morning. Further details about the incident — including the identity of the tourist — were unavailable at press time.

Image above: Photo montage by Jonathan Jay.

See also:
Island Breath: TGI#14 Home of the Monsta Truck 9/30/07
Island Breath: The Jet Ski Economy 10/21/07

Hawaii soil nourishment

SUBHEAD: Dust and sea spray from Asia nourish Hawaiian rainforest.  

By Lisa Trei on 17 February 1999 in The Stanford Report -

Image above: Sea spray, from as far as Asia, contains high levels of dissolved substances useful to Hawaiian soil. From National Science Foundation

Dust from Asia and sea spray have been responsible for helping Hawaii sustain its lush rainforests for millions of years, according to a new study published in Nature on Feb. 11. In a paper written by Oliver A. Chadwick from the University of California-Santa Barbara and four colleagues, including Stanford biological sciences Professor Peter M. Vitousek, the researchers explain how the Hawaiian Islands, the most remote archipelago on earth, are closely dependent on natural processes taking place both nearby and thousands of miles away.

 "This shows that no place on earth is really isolated," said Vitousek. "Everywhere is connected to areas that are upwind or upstream of it, even if those connections aren't always apparent." In a wet environment like Hawaii, minerals such as phosphorus, calcium and magnesium get leached out as the soil becomes weathered.

The team of scientists measured this by sampling six sites across the archipelago that were similar except for their ages, which ranged from the 300-year-old rocks on the Big Island to the 4.1-million-year-old soils on Kauai. They analyzed the rocks' and soils' chemical makeup to distinguish soil-derived nutrients from those supplied by sea spray or dust.

The scientists discovered that plants in the youngest sites, mainly the Ohia tree (Metrosideros polymorpha), took nutrients that came from the lava that built the islands. After about 100,000 years, however, salty sea spray carried into the atmosphere became the main source of calcium, magnesium and potassium.

"The conventional way of thinking is that minerals wash out of soils and into streams and eventually go to the ocean where they feed the productivity of ocean organisms in coastal waters," said Vitousek. "But in these systems, we can trace . . . that most of the calcium, magnesium and probably potassium found in forests have come from the ocean."

Phosphorus is lost from soils more slowly than calcium but, after a million years, soils had lost their stocks of this mineral as well. In the oldest soils, plants relied almost entirely on phosphorus in the atmospheric dust blown 6,000 kilometers from arid central Asia. "Scientists in Hawaii have known for a long time that there has been dust from Asia [in Hawaii] because it contains minerals that can't be formed in Hawaiian soils," said Vitousek, a terrestrial ecologist.

"Like rock, dust breaks down chemically and becomes unrecognizable from its minerals after 100,000 years. But there are some tracers in the dust, some elements that are present in different ratios in the Asian continent to those found in the rock in Hawaii. So even though we can't measure all of the dust now, we can see its ghost in the soil."

Vitousek said that the research shows that the atmosphere is more critical to ecosystems than previously thought. "It shows that dust from very distant sources and distant times can be important," he said. The six-year study relied on participation from a range of different scientific disciplines.

"This is the kind of work no individual could do," Vitousek said. In addition to Chadwick, a soil scientist, participants in the study included Lou A. Derry, an isotope geochemist, and Lars O. Hedin, an aquatic ecologist, both from Cornell University; and Barry J. Huebert, an atmospheric chemist from the University of Hawaii.

See also: Island Breath: Hawaii Soil History 4/19/09

Dream Farms

SUBHEAD: Abundantly productive farms with zero input and zero emission.  

By Dr. Mae-Wan Ho on 6 September 2005 for The ISIS -  

Image above: Water color "Farm Yard" of Chinese peasant life by Liu Qunhan, 2005. From

 A fully referenced version of this paper is posted on ISIS members’ website. Details here  

Environmental engineer meets Chinese peasant farmers
Doesn’t it sound like a dream to be able to produce a super-abundance of food with no fertilizers or pesticides and with little or no greenhouse gas emission? Not if you treat your farm wastes properly to mine the rich nutrients that can support the production of fish, crops livestock and more, get biogas energy as by-product, and perhaps most importantly, conserve and release pure potable water back to the aquifers.

That is what Professor George Chan has spent years perfecting; and he refers to it as the Integrated Food and Waste Management System (IFWMS). Chan was born in Mauritius and educated at Imperial College, London University in the United Kingdom, specializing in environmental engineering. He was appointed director of two important US federal programmes of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy in the US Commonweath of the Northern Mariana Islands of the North Pacific.

On his retirement, Chan spent 5 years in China among the Chinese peasants, and confessed he learned just as much there as he did in University. What he learned was a system of farming and living that inspired him and many others including Gunter Pauli, the founder and director of the Zero Emissions Research Initiative (ZERI) ( Chan left China in 1989, and continued to work with Gunter and others in ZERI through consultancy services.

This work has taken him to nearly 80 countries and territories, and contributed to evolving IFWMS into a compelling alternative to conventional farming. The integrated farm typically consists of crops, livestock and fishponds. But the nutrients from farm wastes often spill over into supporting extra production of algae, chickens, earthworms, silkworms, mushrooms, and other valuables that bring additional income and benefits for the farmers and the local communities.

Treating wastes with respect
The secret is in treating wastes to minimize the loss of valuable nutrients that are used as feed to generate further nutrients from algae, fish, etc., that feed a variety of crops and livestock. At the same time, greenhouse gases emitted during the first phase of waste treatment are harvested for use as fuel, while the oxygen required in the second phase of waste treatment - which gets rid of toxins and pollutants - is generated by photosynthetic algae, so fish stocks are not suffocated through lack of dissolved oxygen in the nutrient-rich water entering the ponds.

Livestock wastes are first digested anaerobically (in the absence of air) to produce biogas (mainly methane). The partially digested wastes are then treated aerobically (in the presence of air) in shallow basins that support the growth of green algae. By means of photosynthesis, the algae produce all the oxygen needed to oxidise the wastes to make them safe for fish. This increases the fertilizer and feed value in the fishponds without robbing the fish of dissolved oxygen.

All the extra nutrients, therefore, go to improve productivity. Biogas is used as a clean energy source for cooking, and also enables farmers to process their produce for preservation and added value, reducing spoilage and increasing the overall benefits. IFWMS has revolutionized conventional farming of livestock, aquaculture, horticulture, agro-industry and allied activities in some countries, especially in non-arid tropical and subtropical regions.

It has solved most of the existing economic and ecological problems and provided the means of production such as fuel, fertilizer and feed, increasing productivity many-fold. "It can turn all those existing disastrous farming systems, especially in the poorest countries into economically viable and ecologically balanced systems that not only alleviate but eradicate poverty." Chan says.   

Increasing the recycling of nutrients for greater productivity
The ancient practice of combining livestock and crop had helped farmers almost all over the world. Livestock manure is used as fertilizer, and crop residues are fed back to the livestock.

Chan points out, however, that most of the manure, when exposed to the atmosphere, lost up to half its nitrogen as ammonia and nitrogen oxides, before they can be turned into stable nitrate that plants use as fertilizer (see Box 1).

The more recent integration of fish with livestock and crop has helped to reduce this loss. The important addition of a second production cycle of nutrients from fish wastes has enhanced the integration process, and improved the livelihoods of many small farmers considerably. But too much untreated wastes dumped directly into the fishpond can rob the fish of oxygen, and end up killing the fish.  

How volatile nitrogen is turned into nutrient for plants
Livestock manure contains large amounts of ammonia gas that must be turned back into stable nitrate before it can be absorbed as nutrient by plants. Nitrification is the process in which soil bacteria oxidize ammonia (NH3) sequentially into nitrite (NO2) and then nitrate (NO3). Ammonia is oxidized into nitrite by bacteria belonging mainly to the genus Nitrosomonas, but also Nitrosococcus, Nitrosospira, Nitrosolobus and Nitrosovibrio. Nitrite is then further oxidized into nitrate by bacteria belonging mainly to the genus Nitrobacter, but also by bacteria in other genera such as Nitrospina, Nitrococcus and Nitrospira.

In IFWMS, the anaerobically digested wastes from livestock are treated aerobically before the nutrients are delivered into the fishponds to fertilize the natural plankton that feed the fish without depleting oxygen, thereby increasing fish yield 3- to 4-fold, especially with the polyculture of many kinds of compatible fish feeding at different levels as practiced in China, Thailand, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh.

The fish produce their own wastes that are converted naturally into nutrients for crops growing both on the water surface and on dykes surrounding the ponds. The most significant innovation of IFWMS is thus the two-stage method of treating wastes; the anaerobic digester followed by the shallow aerobic basins containing green algae.

Livestock waste contains very unstable organic matter that decomposes fast, consuming a lot of oxygen. So for any pond, the quantity of livestock wastes that can be added is limited, as any excess will deplete the oxygen and affect the fish population adversely, even killing them. Chan is critical of "erratic proposals" of experts, both local and foreign, to spread livestock wastes on land to let them rot away and hope that the small amount of residual nutrients left after tremendous losses that damage the environment have taken place.

According to the US Environment Protection Agency, up to 70% of nitrous oxide, N2O, a powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential of 280 (i.e., 280 times that of carbon dioxide) comes from conventional agriculture. Nitrous oxide is formed as an intermediate in denitrification, a process in which soil bacteria reduce nitrate ultimately back to nitrogen gas.

Denitrifying bacteria belong to two main genera, Pseudomonas and Bacillus. Animal manure could be responsible for nearly half of the N2O emission in agriculture in Europe, according to some estimates; the remainder coming from inorganic nitrate fertilizer. Thus, anaerobic digestion not only prevents the loss of nutrients, it could also substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Chan further dismisses the practice of composting nutrient-rich livestock wastes, for this ends up with a low-quality fertilizer that has lost ammonia and nitrite. Instead of mixing livestock wastes with household garbage in the compost,

Chan recommends produce high-protein feeds such as earthworms from the garbage, and using worm castings and garbage residues as better soil conditioners. He is also critical of the outmoded practice of putting manure in septic tanks for not much financial or other benefits while the badly treated effluent is just as dangerous as the waste itself. Instead, the livestock waste digested anaerobically followed by oxidation in open shallow basins with natural algae before letting the treated waste effluent flow into the fish pond, can convert almost 100% of the organic nutrients into inorganic nutrients that will not consume any oxygen to deprive the fish.

So, theoretically, the quantity of waste input into the pond can increase 10-fold without the risk of pollution. But, Chan cautions, the nutrients in the waste must be totally used by both fish and crop culture, or the nutrients can create problems of eutrophication – over-enrichment of plankton - that uses up all the oxygen in the pond, thereby lowering productivity.

To close the circle, livestock should be fed with crops and processing residues, not wastes from restaurants and abattoirs. Earthworms, silkworms, fungi, insects and other organisms are also encouraged, as some of them produce high value goods such as silk and mushrooms. The digester can be as simple as a couple of concentric plastic bags of 5m3 capacity or 200-litre drums for a small farm, or a complex reinforced concrete steel structure with an anaerobic sludge blanket to collect the biogas for a big farm or industrial enterprise. As the fresh wastes enter the digester, the waste-eating bacteria transform the unstable ammonia (NH3) and nitrite (NO2) into stable nitrate (NO3), which is ready for use as fertilizer.

As more wastes are added, the digester also produces an abundant and inexhaustible supply of biogas - 2/3 methane (CH4) and 1/3 carbon dioxide (CO2) - a convenient source of free and renewable energy for domestic, farming and industrial uses (see Box 2). Big farms, meat and fish-packing plants, distilleries, and various agro-industries are now self-sufficient in energy, besides having big volumes of nutrient-rich effluent for fertilizing fishponds, and ‘fertigation’ (fertilization and irrigation) of many kinds of crops.

 Formation of biogas 
Certain bacteria naturally present in manure produce a combustible gas (biogas) when they digest organic matter anaerobically (in the absence of oxygen). Biogas typically contains between 60 and 70 percent methane. Anaerobic digestion involves two groups of bacteria. The first group of ordinary bacteria produces organic acids such as acetic acid by fermentation.

The second group of bacteria, the methanogens (methane makers), is special, it breaks down the organic acids and produces methane as a by-product.

Methanogens cannot tolerate oxygen and are killed when exposed to oxygen. Instead, they can use the dead end products of fermentation, carbon dioxide or organic acids such as acetic acid, to generate methane: Methanogens are found wherever oxygen is depleted, such as wetland soils, aquatic sediments and in the digestive tracts of animals.

Methane formation is the final step in the decay of organic matter when carbon dioxide and hydrogen accumulate, and all oxygen and other electron acceptors are used up.  

Proliferating lifecycles for greater productivity
The aerobic treatment in the shallow basins depends on oxygen produced by the green alga Chlorella. Chlorella is very prolific and can be harvested as a high-protein feed for chickens, ducks and geese.

When the effluent from the Chlorella basins reaches the fishpond, little or no organic matter from the livestock waste will remain, and any residual organic matter will be instantly oxidized by some of the dissolved oxygen. The nutrients are now readily available for enhancing the prolific growth of different kinds of natural plankton that feed the polyculture of 5 to 6 species of compatible fish. No artificial feed is necessary, except locally grown grass for any herbivorous fish. The fish waste, naturally treated in the big pond, gives nutrients that are used by crops growing in the pond water and on the dykes.

Fermented rice or other grain, used for producing alcoholic beverages, or silkworms and their wastes, can also be added to the ponds as further nutrients, resulting in higher fish and crop productivity, provided the water quality is not affected. Trials are taking place with special diffusion pipes carrying compressed air from biogas-operated pumps to aerate the bottom part of the pond, to increase plankton and fish yields.

Apart from growing vine-type crops on the edges of the pond and letting them climb on trellises over the dykes and over the water, some countries grow aquatic vegetables floating on the water surfaces in lakes and rivers. Others grow grains, fruits and flowers on bamboo or long-lasting polyurethane floats over nearly half the surface of the fishpond water without interfering with the polyculture in the pond itself.

Such aquaponic cultures have increased the crop yields by using half of the millions of hectares of fishponds and lakes in China. All this is possible because of the excess nutrients from the integrated farming systems. Planting patterns have also improved. For example, rice is now transplanted into modules of 12 identical floats, one every week, and just left to grow in the pond without having to irrigate of fertilize separately, or to do any weeding, while it takes 12 weeks to mature.

On the 13th week, the rice is harvested and the seedlings transplanted again to start a new cycle. It is possible to have 4 rice crops yearly in the warmer parts of the country, with almost total elimination of the back breaking work previously required. Another example is hydroponic cultures of fruits and vegetables in a series of pipes. The final effluent from the hydroponic cultures is polished in earthen drains where plants such as Lemna, Azolla, Pistia and water hyacinth remove all traces of nutrients such as nitrate, phosphate and potassium before the purified water is released back into the aquifer.

Processing for added value and nutrient release 
One big problem with agricultural produce is the drop in prices when farmers harvest the same crops at the same time. This is solved by the abundant supply of biogas energy, which enable simple processing to be done such as smoking, drying, salting, sugaring, and pickling. Finally, the sludge from the anaerobic digester, the algae, macrophytes, crop and processing residues are put into plastic bags, sterilized in steam produced by biogas energy, and then injected with spores for high-priced mushroom culture.

The mushroom enzymes break down the ligno-cellulose to release the nutrients and enrich the residues, making them more digestible and more palatable for livestock. The remaining fibrous residues can still be used for culturing earthworms, which provide special protein feed for chickens. The final residues, including the worm casting, are composted and used for soil conditioning and aeration.

Sustainable development is possible 
There has been a widespread misconception that the only alternative to the dominant model of infinite, unsustainable growth is to have no growth at all. I have heard some critics refer to sustainable development as a contradiction in terms. IFWMS, however, is a marvellous demonstration that sustainable development is possible.

The key is a balanced development and growth that’s achieved by closing the overall production cycle, then using the surplus nutrients and energy to support as many different cycles of activities as possible while maintaining internal balance, rather like a developing organism.

The ‘waste’ from one production activity is resource for another, so productivity is maximised with the minimum of input and little or no waste is exported into the environment. It is possible to have sustainable development after all; the alternative to the dominant model of unlimited, unsustainable growth is balanced growth.  .

Fish, worms and poop

SUBHEAD: An Oahu permaculture dream farm closes the loop.

By Kevin Whitton on 15 April 2009 in Honolulu Weekly -  

Image above: View of pond at Plomana Farns in Waimanalo, on Oahu. From (

Olomana Gardens / Imagine a time some 30 years ago, before cell phones or the Internet, when the word “green” more often than not referred to marijuana and money, and chartreuse was a fashionable color. During that generation, two men, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, put their heads together to outline how they believed it was possible to obtain a sustainable culture by creating living systems without waste. They called it Permaculture, from the words “permanent” and “agriculture,” and introduced it in their book, Permaculture One.

Permaculture is all about reducing waste by designing ecosystems that are self-contained, much like in nature. In 1978, when the book was released, the word sustainability was not in wide use, and Permaculture became the catch phrase for earth-conscious enthusiasts. When Glenn Martinez and his wife Liz opened their farm in Waimänalo over a decade ago, Glenn knew he would farm organically. What he couldn’t have fathomed is how his farm would evolve over that decade, seamlessly aligning with the principles of Permaculture. And not by luck, mind you. Glenn is an articulate, mechanically minded, forward-thinking famer and stands by his convictions of education and hard work.

It’s no accident Olomana Gardens is leading the charge on O‘ahu in aquaponics, one of the smartest and most sustainable ways to farm organically. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take much to become a successful organic aquaponic farmer, just fish, worms, gravity and manure.

Well, that and a ton of creativity and ingenuity. Aquaponics is the art of raising fish to fertilize plants, which clean the water that is re-circulated back to the fish. When the freshwater, perennial spring that runs right through the property was found to contain E. coli, Glenn rushed off to the Big Island and then to Australia to learn from the leading aquaculturists in commercial agriculture.

 In a nutshell, here’s how it all works. The stream feeds his fishpond where he raises tilapia. E. coli is only carried by warm-blooded creatures and since fish are cold blooded, problem solved. Some of the fish were taken and put into large drums at the top of Glenn’s gently sloped, 8,000 square-foot growing area. Nutrient-laden water from the “fish tank” flows by gravity down to a row of four-foot by four-foot, elevated growing bins. The bins are filled with black cinders or rocks and a wide variety of vegetables in each.

A simple valve allows the water to ebb and flow, 24-hours-a-day, watering the plants from the bottom as well as filtering the water. The water flows all the way downhill to a sump pump, which sends it back to the fish tank. Glenn says his veggies are so happy, they fruit within two weeks to a month, yielding over $8,000 in certified organic vegetable a month. But he has a dirty little secret to his success: Perionyx excavatus, AKA Indian Blue worms.

Keeping with his model of permaculture, and reducing waste, Olomana Gardens is not just a vegetable farm, but also a worm farm, as worms are an integral part of the breaking down and reusing of waste products. Like any traditional farm, Glenn raises chickens, goats, rabbits, ducks and keeps horses and dogs. But unlike traditional farms, there are no flies and very little odor in his facilities. Why? Because of the worms.

Glenn farms his Blue worms in his horse stable and under the chicken coops. The manure is processed by the worms and produces the best organic fertilizer. The farm harvests the worm poop, called vermicast, weekly. They form little pellets with the moist, fresh castings and let them dry out, then plant a seed in each pellet. With a little water, the seeds germinate within 48 hours and are planted directly in the aquaponic bins.

As the pellet moistens, worm eggs in the pellet hatch and take up residence in the aquaponic bins, feeding on the fish poop and leaving their own black gold behind. It’s a beautiful system, one that Olomana Gardens is proud to teach to students and interns that help work the organic farm. And of course, just about everything on the farm is for sale: worm poop, fish, chickens, bullfrogs, ducks, eggs, papayas and, oh yeah, handpicked vegetables.

Olomana Gardens 41-1140 Waikupanaha St. Waimänalo, Tours are available to the public daily after 1pm, [], 808-259-0223

Hawaiian soil history

SUBHEAD: Hawaiian soils reveal clues to cultural history  

By Staff on 19 April 2005 in of Science Daily -

Image above: Molokai sweet potatoes that grow in Hawaii. From (

Oliver Chadwick is a doctor of dirt. The soil scientist—or biogeochemist, as he is known in some circles—is helping to shed light on the historical interactions between people and their soils in Hawaii. Chadwick, a professor of geography and environmental science at UC Santa Barbara, has been sponsored in this research by a special National Science Foundation program, "biocomplexity in the environment," linking the social sciences and the natural sciences. The results of his work have been published in two major scientific journals in the past year. 

One of the world leaders in relating soils to ecology and earth system science, Chadwick belongs to a prominent research group in ecosystem studies at UCSB. His research utilizes Hawaii as a model ecosystem to understand changes in the sources of nutrients to rainforests.

Chadwick explains that Hawaii is also an ideal place to study the interaction of humans and the biosphere because it serves as a natural laboratory since it is enclosed and isolated, and because humans arrived there relatively recently, perhaps around 1200 years ago. For these studies, Chadwick and his team—which includes ecologists from Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin—joined with archaeologists at UC Berkeley and the University of Hawaii.

Together they discovered that the emergence of warriors, priests and rulers in Hawaii before the Europeans arrived in 1778 ultimately depended upon the quality of soil available for cultivation. Studies of soil and the history of agriculture in Hawaii tell the story of a human dependence on environmental processes. Chadwick's recent journal articles describe the work in detail.

"Environment, Agriculture, and Settlement Patterns in a Marginal Polynesian Landscape," co-authored with soil scientists and archaeologists and published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS), recounts the study of more than 3,000 archaeological features on the southern flank of Haleakala Volcano in Maui, Hawaii, a wedge-shaped area called Kahikinui.

"Hawaii offers an exemplary opportunity to investigate the environmental constraints on human settlement patterns in an intensive agrarian economy, because of both its rich archaeological and ethnographic records, and its usefulness for understanding ecosystem development in an environmental context," wrote the authors.

 Beginning at approximately 1400 A.D., Polynesian farmers established permanent settlements in Kahikinui based on dryland agriculture with sweet potato as the main crop. These settlements were ultimately devastated by disease after the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778. "Geological and environmental factors are the most important influence on Polynesian farming and settlement practices in an agriculturally marginal landscape," according to the authors.

The Polynesians had to cope with differences in soil quality due to variability in lava flows ranging in age from 3,000 to 226,000 years. It is more difficult to grow crops on the younger, rockier lava flows. There is patchiness in soil quality due to the way that lava misses places as it flows.

Additionally, the high rainfall at higher elevations washes out essential soil nutrients while lower elevations do not get enough rain to grow crops. "In short, indigenous Hawaiian cultivators identified and adapted their agricultural system to an optimal zone for sweet potato cropping within a landscape that was on the marginal limits for tropical root production," wrote the authors. "As subsistence increases, society can produce surplus and afford to have different classes including warriors, priests and rulers," said Chadwick.

"The basis of the hierarchy of groups or classes is the ability to produce a surplus of basic foodstuffs." However, it isn't clear whether the warrior class drove peasants to produce in agriculturally marginal areas, or if the class system developed out of surplus agriculture, he explained. And it is hard to determine what led people to move into marginal areas. It could have been a desire to get out from under an oppressive ruler, or they may have been sent there by the ruler.

Another article, "Soils, Agriculture, and Society in Precontact Hawaii," published in the journal Science, describes the analysis of intensive dryland field system of Kohala. Kohala, located on the northern end of the island of Hawaii, was first farmed around 1200 to 1300 A.D. with the most intensive farming between 1400 to 1800 A.D. "In Kohala we found evidence that the Hawaiians discovered a naturally augmented area of nutrients that had enough rain, a 'sweet spot' with a perfect matching of natural processes to human need," said Chadwick.

One question of interest is whether or not the Hawiians used this land sustainably, or if they depeleted the nutrients over time. To try to find out, the researchers sampled the open field as well as the soil underneath stone walls remaining from that period. "The nutrient status in the field was much less than that under the walls," said Chadwick. "They were depleting the soil; it's the usual result of farming."

The researchers believe that the losses continued over time even with augmentation of the sweet spot. They conclude that the Hawaiians used dryland agriculture on the younger islands of Maui and Hawaii because they could, because they found naturally enriched zones. Since they could not use the depleted soil on the older islands to support the same intensive dryland agriculture, they turned instead to dependence on irrigated valley agriculture.

See also:
Island Breath: Clues to Hawaiian chiefdoms

The End Is Near! (Yay!)

SUBHEAD: Transition Towns phenomena begins spread in the United States By Jon Mooallem on 19 April 2009 in The New York Times Image above: The main drag in Sandpoint, Idaho. Source - The New York Times [Editor's note: This is the opening of a long article available through the link above.] The stage lights went up at the Panida Theater, a classy old movie house in Sandpoint, Idaho, and the M.C. stepped out of the dark with one finger high in the air. There was an uprising of applause and cheering. Then, shouting like a head coach before a bowl game, she said, “Sandpoint, are you ready?” It was a Friday night last November. All around the little town of Sandpoint, beetles were blighting north Idaho’s pine forests. The previous day, the U.N. reported that emissions from automobiles and coal-fired power plants were collecting in brown clouds over 13 Asian and African cities and blocking out the sun. Iceland’s main banks had crumpled, and American auto executives were about to fly to Washington in private jets to plead for a bailout. Off the coast of Africa, Somali pirates were hijacking oil tankers. But the folks at the Panida Theater wouldn’t stop clapping. The Sandpoint Transition Initiative, a new chapter of a growing, worldwide environmental movement, was officially coming to life. The Transition movement was started four years ago by Rob Hopkins, a young British instructor of ecological design. Transition shares certain principles with environmentalism, but its vision is deeper — and more radical — than mere greenness or sustainability. “Sustainability,” Hopkins recently told me, “is about reducing the impacts of what comes out of the tailpipe of industrial society.” But that assumes our industrial society will keep running. By contrast, Hopkins said, Transition is about “building resiliency” — putting new systems in place to make a given community as self-sufficient as possible, bracing it to withstand the shocks that will come as oil grows astronomically expensive, climate change intensifies and, maybe sooner than we think, industrial society frays or collapses entirely. For a generation, the environmental movement has told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. Transition tells us those consequences are now irreversibly switching on; we need to revolutionize our lives if we want to survive. Transition’s approach is adamantly different from that of the survivalists I heard about, scattered in the mountains around Sandpoint in bunkers stocked with gold and guns. The movement may begin from a similarly dystopian idea: that cheap oil has recklessly vaulted humanity to a peak of production and consumption, and no combination of alternative technologies can generate enough energy, or be installed fast enough, to keep us at that height before the oil is gone. (Transition dismisses Al Gore types as “techno-optimists.”) But Transition then takes an almost utopian turn. Hopkins insists that if an entire community faces this stark challenge together, it might be able to design an “elegant descent” from that peak. We can consciously plot a path into a lower-energy life — a life of walkable villages, local food and artisans and greater intimacy with the natural world — which, on balance, could actually be richer and more enjoyable than what we have now. Transition, Hopkins has written, meets our era’s threats with a spirit of “elation, rather than the guilt, anger and horror” behind most environmental activism. “Change is inevitable,” he told me, “but this is a change that could be fantastic.” After developing the rudiments of Transition with a class he was teaching at an Irish college, Hopkins moved to the English town of Totnes, and, in 2005, began mobilizing a campaign to “relocalize” the town. The all-volunteer effort has since been busily planting nut trees, starting its own local currency and offering classes on things like darning socks in order to “facilitate the Great Reskilling.” More than 80 other initiatives across England have followed, including one in Bristol, a city of nearly half a million people. Worldwide, there are now more than 150 official Transition Towns (communities with an active group of citizens), and last winter, trainers from Totnes traveled the globe to run workshops, leaving activists on three continents to begin the relocalization of their own communities — autonomously and with whatever financing they can raise. (The Transition revolution is, loosely speaking, a franchise model.) Sandpoint, Idaho, was the second Transition Town in the United States after Boulder County, Colo. They have been joined by more than 20 others in the last year, including Portland, Maine; Berea, Kentucky; and even Los Angeles. But the American arm of the movement is expanding far faster than it is accomplishing anything, which is why the event in Sandpoint that night was so significant. The Sandpoint Transition Initiative was the first in North America to hold this kind of coming-out party, meant to engage the community in its work. This constituted Step 4 in the 12-step Transition Process laid out in Rob Hopkins’s Transition Handbook, the jargon-filled manual at the center of the movement. The handbook calls this event “A Great Unleashing.” The Transition Handbook reads like an imaginative take on a corporate-management text. It recommends techniques for building consensus, from bureaucratic-sounding protocols like Open Space Technology to an exercise in which people decorate a potato like a superhero. “The Transition model,” the founder of one English Transition Town explained to me, “provides a structure, a foundation for organizing.” And along with Transition’s emphasis on hopefulness over fear, this rigorous playbook seems to set it apart from earlier grass-roots crusades. It is, Transition leaders say, what they hope will allow the movement to bring in the people that conventional activists have failed to reach and, just as important, keep everyone focused through the messiness and disillusionment every community-organizing effort encounters and many do not survive. At the Panida, the keynote speaker was Michael Brownlee, the director of the Transition effort in Boulder and a representative of Transition U.S. — an even newer group that is forming to help the movement spread in America. He was like the Transition equivalent of a middle manager flown in from corporate. Brownlee gave his own variation of the standard PowerPoint presentation distributed at Transition trainings. Up on the screen behind him came a slide showing the three convergent emergencies that Transition aims to help us through: climate change, the unraveling of the global economy and peak oil. The theory of peak oil concludes that the productivity of the earth’s oil wells will soon peak — if it hasn’t already — and, once production falls short of demand, the market for our fundamental resource will rapidly spiral into chaos, potentially pulling much of society down with it. Brownlee spelled out some probable outcomes, quoting peak oil’s pantheon of thinkers: Oil hits $300 a barrel by 2013. Middle Eastern exports cease. Things we take for granted — supermarkets, suburbs — quickly become impossible, and the world sinks into an “unprecedented economic crisis” that will “topple governments, alter national boundaries,” incite wars and “challenge the continuation of civilized life.” Brownlee paused after reading that last quote. He hadn’t even gotten to climate change and the implosion of the American dollar. It was all surprisingly easy to imagine. Lately, an apocalyptic bile has been collecting in the back of America’s throat. Our era has been defined by skyrocketing line graphs, and it’s easy to wonder if we have finally pushed something just a little too far and are now watching everything start to teeter over. Maybe it’s not our dependence on oil, but the carbon we have plugged up the atmosphere with. Or global population. Or credit derivatives. We’re all starting to career down the other side of that hill — which hill, specifically, is up to you. But it’s the shadowy side, and none of us can see the bottom. In Sandpoint, though, people were trying to move the stale chatter of environmental collapse out of the health-food store and into the 21st century — to pull each incongruous part of their community together and make their town, collaboratively, the blessed place they all knew it could be. At a time when so much fuzzy energy for change ricochets through our culture, and even Chevron ads ask us to use less oil and harness “the power of human energy” instead, Transition seemed to offer this sold-out theater in Idaho both a vision and a lucid, 240-page instruction manual with which to give it a try. Would it work? Nobody could say. But as Brownlee finished, and the crowd suddenly re-erupted into applause, even just trying it seemed to feel wonderful. Next, a group of kids raced onto the stage in Sgt. Pepper garb, holding inflatable guitars. Later came a “sustainable performance arts” troupe (they use biofuels when fire dancing) and a woman who sang about rain and peace. By the time the last guitar duo performed “Here Comes the Sun,” everyone in the room was so keyed up — so ready to turn the impending dark age of peak oil and climate change into a renaissance — that no one heard the slightest menace in the line “Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting.” Or if they did, they just kept singing along anyway. For the complete article... see also: Island Breath: Portland Freedom Tribe 2010 9/29/08

Sustainability beyond Peak Oil

SUBHEAD: There is more to sustainability than just renewable energy, transportation and food.

 By Tom Whipple on 16 April 2009 in Falls Church News-Press

Image above: The network of the electric grid requires care and maintenance. From

It does not take much thinking about the implications of peak oil before the concept of sustainability arises. For many centuries now mankind has been using the earth's resources - trees, fertile soils, wildlife, and fossil fuels - at a prodigious rate and they are just about gone. Some of these resources such as trees, fertile soil and fish can be restored in a few decades, or perhaps centuries, with good conservation practices. Others, such as fossil fuels and some minerals are close to being gone -- period. Some of our minerals can be recycled and as time goes more and more probably will. It is the energy that is going to be a problem.

We all know about renewables - solar, moving air, moving water, biofuels, and geothermal heat. The rest of the 21st century or perhaps longer is going to be about shifting life to sustainable sources of energy and phasing out the fossil fuels. Food production is frequently discussed as the key area of human endeavor that will need to become sustainable if we are to continue eating. For the last hundred years agricultural production has boomed as we have dumped vast amounts of petroleum-derived chemicals and pesticides on the world's crops.

Then we have piled the resulting crops into fossil fuel powered trains, planes, ships, and trucks and after much energy intensive processing and packaging have delivered them to consumers 1,000s of miles away. This too will have to be phased out as the energy involved in all this becomes so expensive that we can no longer afford to eat. Many see the return to sustainable agricultural practices in the midst of global warming as by far the biggest challenge our descendents will face.

There is, however, more to the sustainability problem than just renewable energy, transportation and food - and that is our infrastructure. Large agglomerations of people living under reasonable conditions in the 21st simply cannot continue in a healthy, sustainable state without clean water, sewage, electricity, communications, a source of warmth and a transportation network to move life-sustaining supplies about. Most of the infrastructure in use today has been built in the last 150 or so years.

Moreover, much has never been rebuilt. There are 100's of thousands of miles of water, sewer, oil, and natural gas pipelines - most in very hard to reach places that are getting very old. In the next 50 to 100 years most if not all of these vital arteries are going to have to be replaced.

Then there is the electric grid, parts of which have been around for 100 years, and the roads, bridges, and rail lines that need to be maintained on a sustainable basis. If our lifestyles are to continue in any semblance of what the developed countries have known for the last 100 years, massive efforts are going to have to expended on ways to make our infrastructure - buildings, utilities and communications -- sustainable.

This is not impossible, but it is going to take a much larger share of our resources than that to which we have become accustomed. In many places, particularly south Asia, the electric grid that was never built or maintained at North American or European standards is already nearing collapse with power available less than half the time. To the credit of the Obama Administration, it has recognized that the national electric grid will become of increasing importance and has allocated some $40 billion in stimulus funds to begin a overhaul.

Most will have figured out by now that once the oil becomes too expensive, except for some biofuels and draft animals, it is going to be electricity and the human muscle for there will be not much else. Can an electric grid be maintained on a sustainable basis? While electricity can be generated locally, a lot of the best renewable resources are in places where the people aren't.

In the case of the U.S., the southwestern deserts will provide the best source of solar power and the Great Plains, Great Lakes, mountain tops, and sea coasts the best sources of wind generated power. I suspect that our descendants are going to figure out that maintaining and renewing the electric grids are going to be one of the best uses for earth's supply of metal and with good recycling policies can probably be made to last for a very long time.

The underground pipe network is a jumble of systems, ownership and ages. Ownership is a mixture of local governments who usually supply water and sewage, corporations that move natural gas, and in some places electricity, communications, and other liquids below the earth. Making these networks which are dying of old age and making them sustainable is going to be more of a problem than rebuilding the electric grid.

Rather than tackling this piecemeal, one approach would be to design and start building an integrated tunnel system that would be designed to last for a very long time and that would carry all the utilities - water, sewer, gas, electricity, communications, perhaps even heating and cooling fluids or hydrogen. Expensive? Massively! Flexible? Definitely! Sustainable? Perhaps!

We then come to the problem of sustainable roads and buildings. Without cheap, plentiful asphalt, and other petroleum based products, maintaining traditional road nets is going to become difficult. Concrete may do for awhile, but in the long run that will be a problem. Gravel and stone just might make a comeback. Buildings that will last for a very long time are a more interesting problem.

Obviously the energy requirements are going to need to be a small fraction of what is being consumed today if they are to be supplied from renewable sources. Wood can be renewed. Stone and brick are more permanent. Oil-based paint may just become too expensive. High-rises? Possible but there may be better uses for the metal. Maybe our descendants will just move underground.

How civilization will collapse

SUBHEAD: Society will experience a reduction in its complexity.
By John-Paul Flintoff on 16 April 2009 in Times Online - ( Image above: A screenshot of "Sim City" by Electronic Arts. The original game was created in 1984 for the Amiga computer. OK, well that's rather a grand headline, designed to command your attention. I don't actually know how our civilisation will collapse, or when, obviously, but have been picking up some clues in the new book by David Holmgren, co-designer of permaculture.
In Future Scenarios, Holmgren leaves little doubt that the twin threats of climate change and peak oil (in fact, peak energy, because other fossil fuels will run out too) will have a revolutionary effect on the way we live.
And the changes are coming sooner than expected - Holmgren points to a comprehensive study showing that the amounts of energy needed to extract and refine energy are increasing so fast that by as soon as 2014 the net energy yield from gas in Canada (to name just one major producer) will fall to almost nothing.
"The implications are so shocking that the naive and simplistic idea that we are running out of oil and gas (rather than just peaking in production) may be closer to the truth than even the most pessimistic assessments of peak-oil proponents a decade ago."
Officialdom remains, apparently, oblivious. Holmgren points out that the US Department of Agriculture considers an energy return on energy invested (EROEI) of 1.6 for corn ethanol a "good result". But a society based on an energy source of this quality would be constantly investing 62 per cent of its energy back into the energy industry, leaving just 38 per cent for everything else - health, education, culture, food production, leisure and so on. We've been used to fuels with EROEI rates as high as 100.
If this sounds alarming - well, it is. But Holmgren is a profoundly hopeful man, and his book makes the case that, while change is inevitable, our civilization may not collapse altogether like the Mayan but only gradually decline, like the Romans. "The conditions for ordinary people may actually improve when the resources devoted to maintaining societal complexity are freed for meeting more basic needs," he says.
"I don't want to underplay the possibility of a total and relatively fast global collapse of complex societies. I think this is a substantial risk, but the total-collapse scenario tends to lead to fatalistic acceptance, or, alternatively, notions of individual or family survivalist preparations." It's so shocking, it can make people reject even thinking about the future, thus increasing the likelihood of very severe energy descent, if not total collapse.
In the book Holmgren sets out four overlapping descent paths (covering everything from neo-fascist state and corporate control to knit-your-own-yurt) that could play out over a similar time-frame to the industrial ascent era - roughly 250 years. It's up to us to determine which descent path prevails by planning ahead.
"We do not have to believe that a particular scenario is likely before making serious preparations. For example, most people have fire insurance on their homes, not because they expect their primary asset to be destroyed by fire but because they recognize the severity of this unlikely event."
As somebody already convinced that permaculture offers a useful philosophical and practical framework for dealing with our problems - in short, weaning ourselves from systems we can't control and trying to achieve something like sustainable self-sufficiency - I was already inclined to find Holmgren persuasive. But the book proved even better than expected. For several days now, this insight has rattled round my skull:
"'Civilisation triage' refers to conserving technology and culture that could be useful to a future society. The Christian monasteries that saved many elements of the Greco-Roman culture and later provided the foundations for the Renaissance could serve as a model... Like the monks of Lindisfarne, we have to choose what is worthwhile at this great turning point in history - the mixed pieces of myriad broken traditional cultures and the novel and shining bits of unraveling industrial modernity. All of this will end in the dustbin of history. Our task is to choose which pieces will be useful. What is worth saving?"

The end of consumerism

SUBHEAD: You are NOT what you buy. We need to redefine our meaning on earth. By Jules Peck on 16 April 2009 in The Ecologist image above: "The end of consumerism" from Last month my friend Satish Kumar said in Sustained magazine that the happiest people are those who live close to the land and use their hands – craftspeople and farmers. As a naturalist, keen gardener and soon-to-be vegetable-plot devotee, this resonates with me. It also tallies with the evidence from wellbeing studies which show that people who live their lives framed around extrinsic values of self-focus, image, greed and acquisition, and are suffering from ‘affluenza’, are diminishing their own wellbeing as well as those around them. They also tend to have far higher environmental footprints than others. Conversely, those whose lives are focused on intrinsic values such as personal (not economic) growth, emotional intimacy and community involvement, have far higher levels of wellbeing and lower footprints. It’s more complex than saying they are ‘happier’, but they certainly experience far more ‘flow’ in work and play, better relationships and balance – things to which we could all aspire. The philosopher Aristotle had lots to say about wellbeing. In his view, to be a flourishing individual – one who experiences high levels of ‘meaning’ and wellbeing – you should aspire to be an active participant in the flourishing of community. So Thatcher had it all wrong: there really is such a thing as society, and it matters that we are active citizens striving for the good of the wider community, not just in an enlightened self-interest manner but in a deeper manner that respects the lives of all. In, an online e-draft wiki book that I am currently writing with a friend, Robert Phillips, we call for a shift in societal values away from the consumer in us all to citizen values and advocacy for change. In short we are saying you are not what you buy. But it’s hard to get that message heard amid the cacophony of background noise and brainprint of the advertising world. These are things I take as self evident – but don’t just listen to me. Others have said it far more eloquently. Playwright Dennis Potter said in 1994 in Seeing the Blossom: ‘The commercialisation of everything means of course you’re putting a commercial value on everything. And you turn yourself from a citizen into a consumer.’ Booker Prize-winning novelist Ben Okri said in the Times in October 2008: ‘The meltdown in the economy is a harsh metaphor of the meltdown of some of our value systems. Individualism has been raised almost to a religion, appearance made more important than substance. The only hope lies in a fundamental re-examination of the values that we have lived by in the past 30 years.’ Vaclav Havel has stated beautifully the fundamental shift that is needed: ‘What could change the direction of today’s civilization? It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience. It’s not enough to invent new machines, new regulations, new institutions. We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose of our existence on this Earth. Only by making such a fundamental shift will we be able to create new models of behaviour and a new set of values for the planet.’ For Havel, our refreshingly outspoken bishops and many others, the environmental crisis is ultimately a crisis of the spirit. One of my heroes, Aldo Leopold, the father of the land ethic, wrote to a friend that he doubted anything could be done about conservation ‘without creating a new kind of people’, and in the must-read A Sand County Almanac, from 1949, that ‘a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it… it implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such’. And as Professor Tim Jackson says: ‘The transition to a sustainable society cannot hope to proceed without the emergence or re-emergence of some kinds of meaning structures that lie outside the consumer realm’. Brilliant thinkers such as Dr Tom Crompton at WWF are doing crucial work on these questions. We must urgently spread the conversation. Right now there is a terrifying vacuum of values, vision and leadership in our political discourse and from our politicians. And it’s hard for business to do the right thing when it’s designed to make money and little else, and when the market is set up so perversely. Our politicians are (to borrow a phrase from the wonderful Thomas Homer-Dixon) like drunk drivers in the fog. Harvard Professor John Quelch’s 2008 study Too Much Stuff says: ‘The mass consumption of the 1990s is fast fading in the rearview mirror. Now a growing number of people want to declutter their lives and invest in experiences rather than things.’ And Jeremy Paxman has told us that we are witnessing the ‘end of capitalism’. Our current form of corporate-consumer-capitalism has been shown to be what many of us knew it was; a fundamentally flawed system. Luckily just the kind of citizen renaissance we need is beginning with groups like CRAGs and Transition Towns – described by Jeremy Leggett as ‘scalable microcosms of hope’. And online digital democracy is giving individual citizens and collectives a new voice and real power in politics.,,, and are names that if you have not heard of you soon will have. What do I think all this citizen power needs to call for? Well, it’s nothing short of a radical updating of our current operating system – no sticking plaster will do. We urgently need a Green New Deal to act as a transition phase to a steady state, economic development (not growth) paradigm that aims to maximise the wellbeing of people and planet, not the bank balances of the rich. And we must beware the snake-oil salespeople trying to fl og us the dead-ends of green consumerism and cheatneutral ‘offsets’. Those are phoney solutions just as dangerous as what most of our current myopic flock of politicians would sell us. Wake up, get angry (in a positive way), unite and become a citizen. It’s our only hope. Oh, and take a look at my book I would love your feedback.

Reverend Billy's Bailout

SUBHEAD: One street preacher makes the case for propping up community banks. By David Weidner on 16 April 2009 in The Wall Street Journal Confronted with the once-in-a-century opportunity to remake the financial system, the reformers in Washington have a choice: Succumb to the temptation of serving financial supermarkets or lift up community banks and street-level economies. video video above: Reverend Billy's gospel choir sings Changaluya! at the Victoria Theater in 2007 Enter Reverend Billy Talen, the New York-based street preacher, performer and activist who -- along with his flock, the Church of Life After Shopping -- believes government has a moral obligation to support communities before big banks. "I've been trying to drive people out of their institutions," Reverend Billy says. "Their institutions aren't working." It's hard to imagine Timothy Geithner taking advice from an iconoclast dressed in a white suit, clerical collar and Elvis-inspired hair, but the Reverend Billy may be on to something. In place of a system where big banks and corporations enter neighborhoods only to profit from them, Reverend Billy wants to empower small banks and credit unions that hold a stake in the communities they serve by offering incentives and making it harder for big finance to undercut local business. It's hard to argue against the system he envisions. Think for a moment about what community finance could mean for the nation: Neighborhood banks would lend to local businesses. Profits could stay in the community. Simply knowing who your customers are and living near them could bring common sense -- the most basic and sound form of risk management -- back to banking. Sure, it sounds kind of dreamy, but such systems are already in place in the neighborhoods large and small. Small businesses thrive, but they are often at the mercy of big banks who giveth and taketh credit according to shifts in economic cycles. "The Wall Street experience is parallel and equal to the destruction of neighborhoods through chain stores," Reverend Billy says. Basic economics are on the Reverend's side. For every dollar spent at a chain store, studies show only 50 cents stays in that community. By contrast, 90 cents of every dollar spent at a local business remains in the local economy. "It's a little reductive, but people recognize there's a truth in it," Reverend Billy says."Neighborhoods are economic powerhouses." Despite his anticorporate stance, Reverend Billy, whose father is a small-town bank chairman, isn't bashing Wall Street right now. (However, he's previously led some disruptive and amusing protests against corporate retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Walt Disney Co.) The painful fallout of the financial meltdown has led him and his followers to preach centered calm over rage. "There's not a Puritan attitude about it, there's a practical attitude about it," Reverend Billy says. "People want to know what they can do for their friends and for themselves. We're trying to help each other; share money, share energy, share homes." It's unlikely that sharing is on the business plan at Citigroup Inc. or Goldman Sachs Group Inc., companies that Reverend Billy excoriates in his sermons. He says the steel and mirrored-glass buildings that house major banks are designed hide what happens inside. Though colorful, Reverend Billy is no longer a fringe figure. Since he began preaching on the street corners in Times Square a decade ago, Reverend Billy and his anticonsumerism message have gained mainstream attention, thanks in part to his book and a world tour with the church's 40-member choir. "Preaching is the landscape between talking and singing," Reverend Billy says. "It's like finding a saxophone in your chest." His breakthrough came in 2007 with the release of "What Would Jesus Buy?", a documentary about church efforts to promote a shopping-free Christmas. This year, he's running for New York City mayor on the Green Party ticket, campaigning on a community-first platform. Candidate Billy wants to end the city's reliance on what industries susceptible to bubbles and busts: Tourism, Wall Street and real estate. "Neighborhoods vulnerable to the bubble economies are the ones hurting right now," he says. Let's be blunt. Scaling down the financial system and our economic lives is a tall order. And Reverend Billy, as much entertainer as clergyman, is an imperfect messenger. He's not a serious leader in the vein of Al Franken or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reverend Billy knows he faces long odds both in his mayoral run and his effort to change a system built around spending and credit speculation, but there are signs of hope. His audience was growing before the financial crisis, and things have only gained momentum since. Later this month, he'll speak at the Yale Divinity School. "People qualify their report of pain by saying 'we're spending more time with our family and that's changing our lives,'" Reverend Billy says. "'Whatever we do next I'm not going back completely to the way I was doing things before,' they say." The leaders we've chosen to undertake financial reform are threatening to take us back to where we were by propping up banks and companies that nearly brought down the economy and cost taxpayers trillions. It's clear the bailout policies of the current and former administrations that the financial system of the future will closely resemble the one that gambled away our prosperity. Still, the current situation is not without hints of progress -- legislators want to limit banks' ability to raise interest rates, and this week, outcry from consumers and government officials forced Bank of America to ice plans to raise overdraft fees. Maybe someone in Washington is getting religion after all. Island Breath: Reverend Billy in Hanapepe 9/1/07

The World According to Monsanto

SUBHEAD: A feature film documentary on the corporate operations of Monsanto By Juan Wilson on 16 April 2009 for Island Breath - ( We posted links to the film a year ago on Island Breath. It's history on the internet has been spotty. When we first came across the documentary it was on in eight parts. It was quickly removed from YouTube and was then available at Just today I realized that source was no longer up and running. The film is back at YouTube at: Perhaps a more convenient place to watch it is because it is all available at a single link. or at from the documentary film's source at Wide Eyed Cinema says of the film. "On March 11, 2008, a new documentary was aired on French television (ARTE – French-German cultural tv channel) by French journalist and film maker Marie-Monique Robin, The World According to Monsanto - A documentary that you won’t see on American television. The gigantic biotech corporation Monsanto is threatening to destroy the agricultural biodiversity which has served mankind for thousands of years."

Monsanto uprooted!

SOURCE: Jeri DiPietro, SUBHEAD: Germany bans cultivation of GMO corn. By staff at Der Spiegel on 14 April 2009,1518,618913,00.html image above: Greenpeace activists take a sample from a Monsanto test site near Borken in North Rhine-Westphalia. Germany has banned the cultivation of GM corn, claiming that MON 810 is dangerous for the environment. But that argument might not stand up in court and Berlin could face fines totalling millions of euros if American multinational Monsanto decides to challenge the prohibition on its seed. The sowing season may be just around the corner, but this year German farmers will not be planting gentically modified crops: German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner announced Tuesday she was banning the cultivation of GM corn in Germany. Greenpeace activists take a sample from a Monsanto test site near Borken in North Rhine-Westphalia: The GM crop MON 810 has been banned in Germany. Under the new regulations, the cultivation of MON 810, a GM corn produced by the American biotech giant Monsanto, will be prohibited in Germany, as will the sale of its seed. Aigner told reporters Tuesday she had legitimate reasons to believe that MON 810 posed "a danger to the environment," a position which she said the Environment Ministry also supported. In taking the step, Aigner is taking advantage of a clause in EU law which allows individual countries to impose such bans. "Contrary to assertions stating otherwise, my decision is not politically motivated," Aigner said, referring to reports that she had come under pressure to impose a ban from within her party, the conservative Bavaria-based Christian Social Union. She stressed that the ban should be understood as an "individual case" and not as a statement of principle regarding future policy relating to genetic engineering. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) both welcomed the ban. Greenpeace's genetic engineering expert, Stephanie Töwe, said the decision was long overdue, explaining that numerous scientific studies demonstrated that GM corn was a danger to the environment. However the ban could prove costly for the German government. Experts in Aigner's ministry recently told SPIEGEL that it will be hard to prove conclusively that MON 810 damages the environment, which could enable Monsanto to win a court case opposing the ban and potentially expose the government to €6-7 million ($7.9-9.2 million) in damages. Monsanto said Tuesday that it would look into the question of whether it would take legal proceedings as quickly as possible. Andreas Thierfelder, spokesman for Monsanto Germany, said the matter was very urgent as the planting season was just about to start. Aigner has recently come under pressure from Bavaria to ban GM corn. Bavaria's Environment Minister Markus Söder wants to turn Germany into a "GM food-free zone." Environmental groups have long called for a ban on GM crops in Germany, arguing that they pose a danger to plants and animals. However, supporters of genetic engineering argue that a ban could prompt research companies and institutes to pull up stakes and leave Germany. Wolfgang Herrmann, president of Munich's Technical University, has said that a prohibition risks precipitating "an exodus of researchers." The issue has exposed a split between Bavaria's CSU and its larger sister party, Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. Katherina Reiche, deputy chairwoman of the CDU/CSU's parliamentary group, has complained of the "CSU's irresponsible, cheap propaganda," claiming that it could harm German industry. She argued that anti-GM sentiment was one reason a subsidiary of the German chemical giant Bayer decided to moved its facilities for genetic engineering from Potsdam, near Berlin, to Belgium. MON 810 was approved for cultivation in Europe by the European Union in 1998 and is currently the only GM crop which can be grown in Germany. The plant produces a toxin to fight off a certain pest, the voracious larvae of the corn borer moth. The crop was due to be planted this year on a total area of around 3,600 hectares (8,896 acres) in Germany. The cultivation of MON 810 is already banned in five other EU member states, namely Austria, Hungary, Greece, France and Luxembourg. see also: Island Breath: Monsanto crop failure in Africa 3/7/09 Island Breath: Monsanto criminalizes seeds 3/1/09 Island Breath: Monsanto Kauai office for rent 4/4/09