Seed Saver's Exchange Market

SUBHEAD: The latest chapter in the local-foods craze is a grassroots protest against seed ownership. 

By Pamela Cuthbert on 22 October 2009 in Macleans -

Image above: Table at seed exchange market. Photo by Laura Berman

It’s for the birds, right? Saving and spreading seed is what Mother Nature does while we’re not looking. So why is there an increasingly popular grassroots movement of seed swappers, most of them new, urban growers, who are taking matters into their own hands? It’s the latest chapter in the local foods craze that meticulously traces sources: “field to fork” has now become “seed to spoon.”

“There’s a garden revolution going on,” says Vandana Shiva, the world’s leading seed-saving activist, on the phone from her home in Dehra Dun in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Shiva, who earned her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Western Ontario and who is making a rare appearance at the University of Toronto this month, ranks as the grand protector of small-scale farmers and gardeners. In 1987, the pre-eminent powerhouse, author and environmentalist founded the Navdanya association in India that supports farmers with seed banks, educational programs and what she calls the “right to seed.”

Says Shiva, with unblinking conviction, “For every urban gardener who keeps exchanging seed, that’s the highest duty and governments will have to bend to this.” Her organization has also taken on global seed-patent fights. In the past 25 years, commercial seeds for industrial farming have steadily come under copyright law. The patents, now a multi-billion-dollar business, are owned by multinationals such as Bayer and Monsanto.

Navdanya has stopped three seed patents to date. The small-scale seed-sharers aren’t generally dealing in patented goods—a lot of that is genetically modified, which they tend to avoid—but these efforts, tied in with improved access for urban agriculture at schools and community gardens, are part of an increasingly vocal protest against the ownership of seeds. Ian Aley is with FoodShare, a non-profit focused on hunger and food issues in Toronto.

“The reason we do seed saving and include it in our urban agriculture program,” he says, “is because of a broader issue: having autonomy and having control over our own food sources.” These urban farmers are also proving effective guardians of biodiversity, whether that means saving rare plums or out-of-style varieties like yellow corn. The trend is nationwide: “Seedy Saturdays” began in Vancouver 20 years ago as an annual, small-scale get-together run by the grassroots organization Seeds of Diversity Canada. The event is much like a farmers’ market, but the goods are delivered in small packets, not in bushels or baskets. It’s grown to include places like Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Montreal, and Victoria.

In Toronto this spring, attendees “doubled to more than 2,000,” says Rhonda Teitel-Payne, one of the event’s organizers. Asked if these small-scale projects make a difference, Shiva says: “They’re the only thing that can make a difference.” For others in the field, there’s a different kind of reward: not only the pleasure of producing foods for your family table, but, given that many community gardens operate in urban areas inhabited by new immigrant families, the chance to taste foods remembered from one’s homeland or brought from elsewhere.

Len Miranda is the volunteer coordinator of Lorna’s One Love community garden in Scarborough, Ont., which, divided into 32 tiny plots, overlooks a rail line and the concrete apartment block where he lives. Miranda cites two discoveries this season: a squash from his native Jamaica that he’s surprised can thrive in these cool climes, plus an Indian variety of amaranth.

The leafy green, commonly used in the popular stew called callaloo, grows wild as a weed locally, but this variety “produces six times the normal amount one of ours does. So we’ll put some of that seed aside. It could add up to a lot of food.” New alliances are also being forged.

The Toronto-based 14-year-old Afri-Can Food Basket is working to save seeds with a department of the University of Guelph, an institution associated with commercial agriculture. Besides this project, others are springing up: there are seed-saver educators, workshops, even an online world seed map for keeners who want to learn about the origins of seeds. Shiva puts it simply: “Everyone’s swapping seed. It’s our sacred duty on earth.”

There’s one more reason to do it, Shiva says: “Taste. It’s a long-honoured tradition: we save seed for taste, nutrition and health instead of industrial breeds that are made for profit and for yield.”

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai Seed & Plant Exchange 10/4/09

Chickens Feed Me

SUBHEAD: Chickens provide you with fine fertilizer, fresh eggs, and hours of cheerful entertainment.

By Aaron Newton on 29 October 2009 in Powering Down -

Image above: Chickens at Pali Uli Farm in Lawai, Kauai. Photo by Juan Wilson. Nolan & Lavern Bukoski offer advise and sell eggs as well as chicken fertilizer.  

How many of you have always wanted chickens? Maybe those of you who live in urban or suburban areas here in the United States have never really considered keeping a small flock of fowl right on your own property. Stop and ask yourself whether you’ve never considered the idea because you don’t really want anything to do with chickens or because you thought it wasn’t possible where you live? If it’s the latter you can toss out the notion that keeping chickens in town isn’t possible. It is very possible and you can start raising your own poultry as soon as you’d like.

Chickens can provide:
  • Hormone-free and antibiotic-free eggs (a wonderful source of protein) that taste better and are healthier than store bought eggs
  • Fertilizer for the garden in the form of manure from composted kitchen scraps.
  • Pest control of insects and grubs.
  • An excellent source of healthy meat for your table.
  • Wonderful companions. 

For several years I fondly looked forward to the day when I could move to a home outside of the city where I could do all the things I’ve want to do for so long. With more room I could garden, grow fruit trees, start a compost pile and yes, raise chickens. Then one day I discovered something most recently phrased quite eloquently.  
 “Wherever we go, the city, the country, the moon, we take ourselves with us. There is no heaven. I used to fantasize about living in a healthier place, one where I could ride my bike, for example. Then, one day, I started riding my bike. now, without having fled or escaped to anywhere, I live in a place where I can ride my bike.” heretic fig 
And if he likes he can live in a place where he raises his own chickens. Chickens are incredibly easy to care for. I got my inspiration for raising urban chickens from Katy Skinner over at The City Chicken. She has put together a great site that not only answers most of the questions urban citizens might have concerning raising chickens in the city but she’s also got a gallery of chicken tractor photography that’s bound to inspire you to raise your own. This by the way is a chicken tractor, but we’ll get to housing in a bit.

First it’s necessary to understand hens and roosters. Aren’t chickens loud most people ask? The answer is that the boy chickens (Roosters) are loud. They crow, especially early in the morning and are sure to annoy neighbors close by. I would not suggest raising roosters. Many municipalities don’t allow it anyway. Girl chickens (Hens) don’t make much noise. They do coo and occasional squawk when they get excited or are chased but on average they make much less noise than a dog. 

Some municipalities have adopted standardized zoning regulations that don’t allow livestock of any kind to be raised inside of the city limits. There are three approaches to dealing with this fact of location. The first is to lobby for a change in the law. The second is to attempt to acquire a personal variance. The third is to respectfully approach your neighbors with your intentions and if there are no objections quietly set up your chickens. A small flock of 3 or 4 hens will probably go unnoticed even in urban areas. The next question most people ask is about how I get eggs if I don’t have any roosters.

The answer is that chickens lay eggs regardless of whether or not there is a male around to fertilize the egg. The vast majority of the eggs you purchase in at the grocery store are unfertilized. If given some thought most people prefer the idea of eating an unfertilized egg. Housing for your flock can be accomplished by building a chicken tractor (or chicken ark in the UK) a mobile, bottomless cage system that works well for housing your chickens. This will contain and protect your chickens while providing them with a humane and even enjoyable home.

Chickens need a minimum of about 2 square feet of covered area to protect them from the elements. If you want eggs it’s best to provide a nesting box for the chickens to lay eggs in. They will make their own nest in the absence of a box. They may even lay their eggs out in the open but I think they appreciate the box.

Chickens need at least 8 square feet of outdoor area. Technically they can survive completely indoors. This is how they’re raised in commercial operations. But I think you will have happier chickens if they get a little running room. They love to scratch and strut. Even in an urban environment chickens do face threats in the form of predators. Neighborhood dogs, raptors and even raccoons. The chicken tractor helps to ensure their safety. And they come in all shapes and sizes.

They even come in fashionable varieties. Most people don’t realize chickens can fly. If you don’t provide them a home to sleep in at night they will often fly up into the safety of nearby trees. These trees may or may not be on your property. This could cause conflict with neighbors and is another reason to provide your chickens with a home. You can clip their wings to keep them grounded. This is accomplished by spreading one wing and cutting off the ends of the feathers.

You don’t cut back very far so it doesn’t hurt the chicken. It just throws off the balance of flight and causes the chicken to crash if it tries to take to the air. Regardless of how permanent or how mobile you make you chicken housing structure it’s a good idea to provide the chickens their own abode. You will need to provide your flock with a supply of water.

The container will need to be cleaned periodically. A helpful hint is to tie the water container several inches above the ground. This will keep debris from flying into the water as the chickens scratch about. That means you’ll only have to scrub it when you change the water- once a week or so depending on the weather.

I keep an old dish scrub brush next to the outdoor faucet for this purpose. You will also need to supply your chickens with food. Chickens will eat just about anything from your kitchen. They love table scraps and unlike dogs they prefer veggies. I feed them leftovers (they love spaghetti, think worms) and also any sort of grain or fruit I discard.

Chickens are omnivores and will eat meat. I’ve watch them chase and eat crickets. They also love to scratch for grubs and bugs. They’re a great addition to the pest control division of my garden. I do refrain from feeding them leftover chicken. I bet they’d eat it but it just doesn’t seem right. I do mix their table scraps with feed I purchase from a farm supply store especially in the winter. I mix it myself to include chicken pellet feed, scratch grains and a small amount of crushed oyster shells. Sometimes I put it in a food container designed for chickens. Often though I just spread it on the ground in their outdoor area. They seem to enjoy scratching through their food.

All in all, they work well as an excellent way to rapidly compost the organic material coming out of my kitchen. The manure the chickens generate is excellent fertilizer for the garden. Chicken droppings must be composted before they are used in the garden. If not they’ll burn the plants. I accomplish this by using a layer of leaves collected in the fall to line the interior of their structure’s outdoor area or chicken run.

During the fall, winter and early spring I leave the chicken tractor in roughly the same spot. Every so often I rake up all the leaves, chicken poop and loose soil from the chicken run. I pile this material in a sunny spot and let it compost, replacing the layer of leaves in the chicken tractor. By time I’m ready to plant my garden I‘ve got excellent compost. I do let the chickens roam loose in the backyard when I’m around, especially in the warmer months when there’s plenty of grass and insects for them to eat.

During this time of year they mainly feed themselves during their “pasture time”. I do have a fence that encloses most but not all of my property. We do get the occasional animal that wanders into the area but the chickens are quick to run to their home at the first sign of danger and I seldom leave them to wander if I’m not close by. Rarely do I find the chickens venturing more than 100 feet from their home. As it gets dark I don’t even have to round them up. They make their way back to their tractor all on their own. Chickens do need protection in the form of shade from hot summer days.

The amount you provide will depend on your climate. Likewise you will need to provide a heat source in the winter if you live in a cold region of the globe. Chickens do fine down to the freezing point. At that temperature they can experience frost bite. My rule of thumb is to supply heat in the form of a light bulb to ensure the interior of their home never falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The light seems to help promote winter season egg laying. Chickens will begin laying eggs 4 and 8 months after hatching depending on the breed. During the first year of egg laying the chickens will be most prolific, laying almost one egg per day in prime circumstances.

This does depend again on the breed. There are many different types of chickens. Do some investigating to determine which you would like to raise. There are even dwarf chickens or bantams that are smaller and therefore more appropriate for undersized backyards. I must mention the Avian bird flu. It has not shown up in migratory birds here in North America. The virus spreads from wild fowl to domestic birds through interaction and then spreads to humans through direct contact.

IT CAN BE EASILY AVOIDED by not allowing your birds to come into contact with wild, migratory birds. For most urban or suburban dwellers this is easy to do. I have never had a flock of wild geese land in my yard. The chicken tractor would ensure that the already unlikely contact between my birds and wild fowl doesn’t occur.

The second layer of precaution is proper handling of the birds. Recently children in the country Turkey were infected with Avian flu after playing with severed chicken heads. This is not a good idea. In fact it’s smart not to handle your birds very often and to always wash your hands thoroughly after contact with them. The chances of getting sick because you raise chickens are minuscule.

Most of what is covered in the mass media is fear mongering but you probably know that already. I don’t cover the butchering of chickens to provide a meat source because I am a vegetarian and don’t have any experience in the matter. The resources provided at the end of this post will make available that information.

To end on a lighter note I’d like to briefly discuss brooding chicks. This is an exciting experience as you bring home your baby chicks and care for them until they’re ready to live outdoors in the home you provide. Spring is a good time of year to acquire your chicks as they are extra susceptible to cold until they grow fully formed feathers. You can inquire locally at farm supply stores. Some will sell chicks usually around Easter. If not they may know of local sources maybe even local farmers who will sell or trade for chicks.

You can also buy them from hatcheries by mail order. The biggest problems will be the minimum purchase most companies require. Most backyard chicken owners don’t need 30 chickens! Persistence will award you with a reliable source. Many suppliers will be unable to tell you if you are purchasing hens or roosters. If this is the case you should plan on 50% of each.

Make plans ahead of time on how you will humanely handle your roosters if you can not keep them. Often you may find people further out of town willing to adopt your roosters. Try Freecycle for giving them away as well. Before you get your little darlings home you’ll want to have their temporary home set up.

You’ll need to get a container, the large Tupperware type works well. Use newspaper as a lining. This will allow you to clean up droppings easily. Some people have mentioned problems with wet newspaper sticking to the chicks but I haven’t had this problem. Next you’ll need a light bulb that you can adjust so it hangs lower or higher. A stronger bulb works better and have a spare on hand.

You’ll need a container for food and a container for water. You can purchase metal containers for each purpose that screw on to regular mason jars. These work best at keeping the chicks and chick poop out of food and water. You can as always improvise. Special chick food can be purchased from your chick supplier, a feed store or online.

While you’re buying get some chick grit. This will supply the chicks with the small stones they need to aid in digestion. Bring the chicks home as soon as possible if shipped by mail. Adjust the height of the bulb, their heat source. If it’s too low the chicks will get hot and move away from the bulb. If it’s too high the chicks will get cold and cheeep (complain) from underneath the bulb. You should start at 90 degree Fahrenheit and decrease the temperature by 5 degrees each week.

The chicks will let you know (cheeep cheeep!) if you mess up. After about 6 weeks they’ll have most of their feather (depending on breed) and can be moved to an outdoor home depending on the weather and how weatherproof you’ve built their permanent home. A final note, be sure to check the chicks for poop build up on their underside. They can “paste up” and block waste removal. This can cause obvious problems.

Baby Ubie

All in all I think those willing to try raising backyard chickens will be please with the experience. What a wonderful way to provide food for yourself, fertilizer for you garden, pest control for your yard and to enjoy the company of intelligent and amusing creatures. Best of luck.  

See also: 

GMO maize fears in Mexico

SUBHEAD: Mexicans are sensitive about meddling with maize, and mythologize corn as the creator of people. image above: The Mayan Tzolkin calendar which ends on the Winter Solstice in the year 2012. From The classic Mayan civilization was unique and left us a way to incorporate higher dimensional knowledge of time and creation by leaving us the Tzolkin calendar. The present calendar ends on the Winter Solstace in the year 2012. By Sophie Nicholson on 29 October 2009 in Yahoo News -;_ylt=AjEfcaAuO1ciVBMGATI03cRpl88F;_ylu=X3oDMTM4bzdybm83BGFzc2V0A2FmcC8yMDA5MTAyOS9lbnZpcm9ubWVudG1leGljb2Zhcm1iaW90ZWNoY29ybgRwb3MDMzEEc2VjA3luX3BhZ2luYXRlX3N1bW1hcnlfbGlzdARzbGsDdGVzdHNvbnRyZWFz As scientists race the clock to increase food production worldwide, new trials to plant genetically-modified maize have stoked anger in Mexico, the cradle of corn.

Many here are sensitive about meddling with maize, which dates back to pre-Hispanic times, when mythologies held that people were created from corn.

Some fear Mexico could one day lose the wealth of native varieties it still produces, including red and blue, to a few, tough breeds of GM maize, as well the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers.

The government this month granted its first 22 permits to agribusinesses Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer to carry out tests on GM maize on farms in north and west Mexico.

Mexico is the number one producer of white maize, which is used to make its famous flat tortillas, but it imports increasing amounts of yellow maize from the United States, mainly for cattle feed.

The tests are part of efforts to help the country return to maize self-sufficiency and keep food prices down.

The price of maize has more than doubled since 2007, which prompted tens of thousands to protest the price of tortillas in Mexico last year.

"No country should be dependent for its food from other countries," Ariel Alvarez Morales, head of the Bi-Secretarial Commission on Biosecurity of Genetically-Modified Organisms, told AFP.

"We can take advantage of this biodiversity we have in maize, and part of that can also be through this (GM) technology," Morales said.

The United States, China and India are among countries that already grow GM crops, while six European countries have banned them.

GM crops, also including soya and cotton, are highly controversial, with critics underlining potential risks to health and the environment.

Greenpeace has led efforts to protect Mexico's maize after GM traces have turned up in samples of native varieties in the past decade, despite a moratorium on planting GM maize.

The new test permits cover more than 10 hectares (25 acres) in northern border states and the western top corn-producer of Sinaloa, and the government has pledged to prevent them from contaminating native varieties.

But Greenpeace claims they risk polluting 31 of more than 50 native seeds and is filing court motions to withdraw the permits.

"The final goal is not to experiment. It's to open the door for these kind of crops which only benefit the companies, not the producers nor Mexican consumers," Greenpeace campaigner Aleira Lara told AFP.

The government should spend more money helping small farmers and protecting native corn, Lara said.

Of the country's 1.9 million corn farmers, some 85 percent have less than five hectares (12.5 acres) of land, according to government figures.

As the GM debate rages on, much of Mexico's treasured maize diversity is for now protected in a giant seed bank in central Mexico, which keeps tiny grains of different colors and sizes at freezing temperatures, holding 27,000 maize samples from across the Americas.

"It's a repository of potentially useful genes for future breeding and response to problems ... for example in response to climate change," said maize expert Kevin Pixley, at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Texcoco, where the bank lies among fields of maize.

Scientists also cross-breed grains and advise on more efficient farming techniques to help them survive challenges, such as this summer's severe drought.

They say that, in the current climate, Mexican farmers need all the help they can get.

"If conserving diversity in the field actually conserves poverty of the farmers by having them grow varieties that are far inferior to those that are available, then I think it's a debatable issue," Pixley said.

Putting Up Produce

SUBHEAD: This is a time when we may need to become more self-reliant. image above: The equipment for home canning at the kitchen counter. From By Ana Campoy on 15 October 2009 in The Wall Street Journal -

Pots are boiling on every burner and the kitchen counters are covered with a jumble of bowls, measuring cups and jars. Steam fills the house with the scent of vinegar and caramelizing sugar.

We're canning.

This two-century-old technique of preserving food—or "putting up," in canning-speak—is making a big comeback.

The worst recession in decades and a trend toward healthier eating are inspiring many Americans to grow their own food. Now the harvest season is turning many of these gardeners into canners looking to stretch the bounty of the garden into the winter.

Canning statistics are hard to come by, but Elizabeth Andress, project director of the National Center for Home Food Preservation, a government-funded program that advises consumers on how to safely preserve food, says requests for canning classes are flooding in at a rate not seen in many years.

Hundreds of cooks gathered at the end of August in simultaneous countrywide canning fests organized by Canning Across America, a new Web site for canning devotees ( At Jarden Corp.'s Jarden Home Brands—the maker of Kerr and Ball brand jars—sales of canning equipment are up 30% this year through mid-September, over the same period in 2008. And canning classes from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Boise, Idaho, report seeing skyrocketing enrollments this year.

Canning has been around since the dawn of the 19th century, when, at Napoleon's behest, a Frenchman developed a method of sealing food in bottles to prevent spoilage on long military campaigns. The process was later adapted to factory-sealed metal cans, but at home, "canning" is still practiced in thick glass jars.

Lately, canning has found new appeal as a healthier alternative to the chemicals and preservatives found in many prepared foods, says Brenda Schmidt, brand manager at Jarden. By preserving their own fruits and vegetables, people can also customize the amount of sugar or salt used. Canned foods will keep for varying lengths of time, depending on the recipe, but the National Center for Home Food Preservation says that you should can only what you plan to eat within a year.

In the weak economy, others are turning to it as a money saver. A few seeds planted in the spring can yield enough canned produce to last a year. But Ms. Andress, of the canning education program, warns that canning food isn't always cheaper than buying it from the grocery store.

I decided to take a class to find out for myself. I found a teacher through Slow Food Dallas, a chapter of an international organization that promotes traditional ingredients and food. I signed up for a private class with one other student, then bought supplies at my local farmer's market in Dallas, where I paid $8 for four pounds of fresh, firm cucumbers grown in Lipan, Texas, west of Fort Worth.

I bought vinegar, pickling salt, dill seeds and peppercorns at the supermarket and canning jars at the hardware store—all for $25.42. The canning teacher brought a big pot with a rack, which would have set me back another $25. My classmate showed up with $10 worth of peaches, some lemons and a bag of sugar. We were all set for our canning initiation.

I quickly discovered that preserving requires more rigor than my usual haphazard cooking method of tossing vegetables around in a sauté pan.

Our teacher devised an assembly line to process our two products, pickles and peach jam, to make the most of our limited counter space.

Lately, canning has found new appeal as a healthier alternative to the chemicals and preservatives found in many prepared foods, says Brenda Schmidt, brand manager at Jarden. By preserving their own fruits and vegetables, people can also customize the amount of sugar or salt used. Canned foods will keep for varying lengths of time, depending on the recipe, but the National Center for Home Food Preservation says that you should can only what you plan to eat within a year.

In the weak economy, others are turning to it as a money saver. A few seeds planted in the spring can yield enough canned produce to last a year. But Ms. Andress, of the canning education program, warns that canning food isn't always cheaper than buying it from the grocery store.

I decided to take a class to find out for myself. I found a teacher through Slow Food Dallas, a chapter of an international organization that promotes traditional ingredients and food. I signed up for a private class with one other student, then bought supplies at my local farmer's market in Dallas, where I paid $8 for four pounds of fresh, firm cucumbers grown in Lipan, Texas, west of Fort Worth.

I bought vinegar, pickling salt, dill seeds and peppercorns at the supermarket and canning jars at the hardware store—all for $25.42. The canning teacher brought a big pot with a rack, which would have set me back another $25. My classmate showed up with $10 worth of peaches, some lemons and a bag of sugar. We were all set for our canning initiation.

I quickly discovered that preserving requires more rigor than my usual haphazard cooking method of tossing vegetables around in a sauté pan.

Our teacher devised an assembly line to process our two products, pickles and peach jam, to make the most of our limited counter space.

Strict Procedures

Canners must follow strict procedures, sticking to food safety guidelines issued by the U.S. Agriculture Department. The main threat is a microorganism called Clostridium botulinum, found on the surface of most produce. In a low-acid environment with no air, such as a food-filled jar, these bacteria can produce toxins that cause botulism, a deadly form of food poisoning.

One way to prevent that is by using a pressure cooker to heat food to a high temperature. The other is by adding vinegar or lemon juice to the food during canning. We used the latter technique, stuffing our fruit and vegetables into jars and then boiling them in a big pot of water.

First we washed our containers—pint and half-pint Ball brand glass jars, which have been made since 1884—in the dishwasher. Then we made the brine—a mixture of salt, water and vinegar for the pickles—and heated it on the stove. The peaches were blanched and peeled.

At my station, I chopped a mound of cucumbers as best I could. I had already cut my finger by the second or third cucumber, and the slices ranged from fat to skinny. Although their irregularity was not intentional, I liked to think it gave them an artisanal quality.

Meanwhile, my classmate stirred a mixture of sugar and peaches over the stove. Recent heavy rains had forced the grower to pull them early from the tree, so they were as hard as tennis balls and refused to disintegrate. Instead of jam, we decided, we would make chunky peach preserves.

The next stop was the packing station. We squeezed as many cucumbers as we could into the jars, which were piping hot from the dishwasher. (Heating the jars prevents them from shattering when you pour in hot brine and preserves.)

Once the jars were full, we placed round metallic lids on them and held them in place with a separate ring that was screwed on over them. Then we submerged the jars in boiling water in order to destroy any microorganisms and remove oxygen. Slowly, the counter filled with jars that emitted a satisfying popping sound as the lids sealed, ensuring the food will keep without spoiling.

The Verdict: Delicious

Before the last batch was done, we were spooning peach preserves onto pieces of a baguette. The verdict: delicious, sweet, tangy and rich, despite the unripe peaches. The dill pickles had a sharp, full flavor that made store-bought versions seem overly sweet and dull.

In about four hours we produced eight one-pint jars of pickles at a cost of $2.14 each, and seven $2.60 half-pint jars of preserves. Those figures do not include our teacher's $100 fee nor the energy, water and labor we expended, but they do include all our ingredients and the jars. That's less than the $2.43 I paid for dill pickles at the supermarket, and the $3.12 I paid for store-bought preserves.

Although home-canned goods are not exactly a bargain, their taste is dramatically better and, in my view, well worth the labor. I'm not motivated enough to tackle a canning session on my own, but I'm definitely interested in team canning, which was as much fun as a dinner party and more productive.

My next canning project is already in the works. I have a bountiful crop of gypsy peppers and a good recipe for pickled peppers. All I need now are a few fellow canners to put them up.

see also: Ea O Ka Aina: How Secure Are You? 10/13/09 Island Breath: No Refrigeration for 30 Years 6/29/08 Island Breath: Preparing for a Crash 11/26/07 Island Breath: Locovores 100 Mile Diet 4/24/07 The Gobbler: Home Remedies 6/21/93

Japanese & Dolphin Kill

SOURCE: Mark J. Palmer ( Earth Island Institiute SUBHEAD: New York Times confirms Japanese viewers of “The Cove” condemn slaughter of dolphins. image above: Still image from "The Cove" showing dolphin kill in Taiji, Japan. From Press release on 27 October 2009 from Earth Island Institute - A recent story in the New York Times confirms that ordinary Japanese citizens, contrary to claims by the Japanese government and dolphin-killing fishermen, condemn the slaughter of dolphins after viewing the documentary movie The Cove. The story, titled “Film on the Dolphin Hunt Stirs Outrage in Japan”, was published on October 22, 2009. The story can be found at: “We have pushed to get The Cove movie shown in Japan, because I always believed that Japanese citizens, once they know the truth, will object to the annual slaughter of dolphins,” noted Ric O’Barry, Campaign Director of the Save Japan Dolphins Coalition. “Interviews conducted by the New York Times reporters after the first public screening of The Cove in Tokyo leave no doubt that we are on the right track in getting the truth out to the Japanese.” “We strongly believe the Japanese people will oppose their government’s blind policy of accepting the killing of dolphins,” stated David Phillips of Earth Island Institute. “Too often, we have only heard from the government Fisheries Agency or the dolphin-killers. We need to get the Japanese media publishing this story, especially that dolphin meat sold in Japanese stores is poisoned with mercury. The government is suppressing this information.” “We will not stop in our efforts to end the killing of dolphins and whales by Japan,” noted Susan Millward, Executive Director of the Animal Welfare Institute. “We plan to continue our Coalition efforts to screen The Cove in Japan, to work with grassroots and Japanese media to spread the word, and to encourage alternatives like tourism and whale- and dolphin-watching enterprises in Japan to replace the slaughter.” The Cove movie has just opened in European theaters. It was screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival last week to applause from the audience. For further information: The Save Japan Dolphins Coalition consists of Earth Island Institute, Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan, OceanCare, In Defense of Animals, Campaign Whale, and the Animal Welfare Institute. CONTACTS: Mark J. Palmer, Richard O’Barry, Campaign Director Save Japan Dolphins Coalition 786-973-8618 David Phillips, Executive Director Earth Island Institute (510) 859-9145 Susan Millward, Executive Director Animal Welfare Institute (202) 337-2332

Composting Primer

SUBHEAD: Composting is vital to sustainable food production. It is the recycling of soil nutrients. image above: Bin of new compost is part of student project. From By Aaron Newtonon 29 October 2009 in Powering Down -

Do you recycle? For many Americans this means simply separating certain items from the trash they throw away and placing these items in another container for garbage collection. Composting can be just as easy. There are several options for using nutrients that already exist in your daily lives as food for your garden. The key is to break the mindset of linear thinking. Many Americans have come to think in terms of buying what they need, using it and throwing it in the trash. Then the trash collector comes, picks up the waste and takes it to the landfill to be buried in the ground. From the store to the landfill- end of story. The truth is that’s only one option. Recycling is another. Recycling begins to address cyclic patterns that are different from our current linear patterns. You buy and use a product and then return it to be reprocessed and made into a new product. Composting is the recycling of nutrients.
It works the same way only it happens at your home. You buy an item and use it, then compost it on your property. Later you add the compost to your garden to help grow food for yourself. If you can separate your cans and bottles into a recycling container you can compost. The key to successful composting is to make it clean and easy for you and your family. It is necessary to have a separate holding can for the organic materials you use and want to compost. This will reduce the number of trips you make outside to dump your compost material.
What sort of material can you compost? Most kitchen scraps can be included. Any vegetable pieces or skins, leftover pasta, stale bread, coffee grinds, tea leaves, banana peels- almost anything that’s made primarily from plant products can be safely and easily composted. In addition egg shells and shrimp shells can be included. It’s not an especially good idea to compost meats or animal waste as these items can attract unwanted critters to your compost pile. There are ways to safely compost these materials but it’s easiest to start simple. So naturally the next question is about collecting kitchen scraps in your home and how to keep them from smelling. The compost storage system in my home does not smell. Here’s my solution.

This small, stainless steel can sits in front of my general trash can. It includes a removable bucket I carry out to the compost pile. It has a lid that stays closed until I step on the pedal allowing me to dump in my scraps without touching anything. It’s small enough to hold several days’ worth of kitchen scraps and it contains any odors. Even stylish versions are fairly inexpensive. After I dump the contents I use a hose to rinse out any scraps that stick to the bucket and I scrub it out with an old dish brush every few months. Even with this minimal amount of care it doesn’t cause an aroma problem. A simple solution for slight smells is to add a bit of citrus- a squeeze of lemon juice or a few orange peels just after empting the bucket. The acid keeps the anaerobic bacteria from getting established and causing a stink. We want the bacteria to break down our kitchens scraps but they can wait until we get these items outside.

Ok so we’ve solved the problem of temporary indoor storage without obnoxious odors by using our close-top can. The next step is what to do with the material when the bucket fills up? There are two options, simple decomposition and animal processing.

Simple decomposition allows microbial organisms to naturally break down your kitchen scraps into compost. At its easiest, items can be piled up and left for the composting process to begin. Chose a sunny location that’s out of the way so it doesn’t interfere with other outdoor activities.

Regardless of the size of your pile you may want to contain it so the waste items don’t get scattered all about. A simple setup involves acquiring pallets from your local grocery store. Many food items arrive on pallets and you can usually acquire them for free. Other sources such as hardware stores or shipping companies might also help you find cheap pallets. In truth any scrap wood can be used to create a container for your compost.

Your goal is to build a cube roughly 3 feet wide by 3 feet long by 3 feet deep. It should be open on top and it helps to be able to remove one of the sides so as to have access to your compost when it’s finished. A bottom is not necessary. Here’s what your compost container might look like.


Wire mesh looped in a circle also provides an adequate compost container. Make sure the size of the wire openings is appropriate for the small size of your kitchen scrap material.


Some people like to use plastic garbage cans with holes drilled into the sides.


And as usual there are manufactured options.


This particular unit is available from

Remember not to create solid sides because air needs to be able to come in contact with as much of the pile as possible. This will discourage smelly anaerobic bacteria and speed up the process. Anaerobic bacteria thrive only in the absence of oxygen. They tend to produce odors unpleasant to humans, specifically neighbors you don’t want to annoy. Alternatively aerobic bacteria need oxygen to thrive. These bacteria will also break down your kitchen scraps but won’t stink up the place. This means if you want a clean-smelling compost operation you have to let in air. You can also turn your pile or mix it up every so often to encourage air flow. This will also speed up the process.

These microorganisms also need water. Normal rainfall in most areas should take care of this need but you will want to water the pile if it gets dry, especially if you live in an area that receives little rain. You can buy compost starter that will give your pile a beginning boost but it isn’t necessary. The microorganisms you’re looking for will show up without any help. Again it just speeds up the process.

In addition to using kitchen scraps you can compost fallen leaves and grass clippings. These items are often available in large quantities at certain times of the year. They can help you build up a hefty amount of compost in a hurry. The leaves are mostly carbon and the grass clippings and kitchen scraps are mostly nitrogen. Both are necessary to promote a healthy compost pile.

You’re looking for a ratio of about 25 to 1 or twenty-five times as much carbon as nitrogen. It’s easier to think in terms of brown and green. Most compostable material that is brown in color is made up of carbon. Most of the compostable material that is green in color is made up of nitrogen (this also includes kitchen scraps). Think more brown and less green.

Weeds with seeds and large branches are to be avoided however. If your pile isn’t balanced with the above ratio don’t worry, it will still break down it will just take longer. This does mean though that you can turn a whole lot of leaves into wonderful food for your garden with just a little bit of kitchen waste. Don’t worry too much about making mistakes with the simple decompostion of your compost pile. Trial and error are unavoidable and irreplaceable as teaching tools. The important part is to get started! Write me if the stuff doesn’t rot.

There is another option for recycling your food scraps into compost. You can let animals do the work for you. The advantages are faster composting and reduced piles of kitchen scraps lying around. The disadvantage is that you have to take care of these additional members of your family. There are several species ready to assist you.

ImageWorms. You can use worms to eat your leftover food and quickly turn it into worm castings, a wonderful compost for your garden. The practice is called vermiculture.

A system like this can be used indoors or out with almost no odor. You place food scraps in the top and the worms eat them turning the waste into castings that fall through into the lower chamber for your use in the garden. Any extra worms can be added to your garden or used by fishermen. Red worms, European night crawlers or even meal worms can be used to quickly process your compost. By the way, the chickens love meal worms as a treat. Speaking of which…

Chickens. They can also be used to process kitchen scraps. I previously discussed chickens as a way to create compost here. In short you feed the chickens your leftover food and rake up their manure. You must allow the chicken manure to sit or cure for a while or it will burn your plants. The only animal whose manure you can use immediately is… the Rabbit.

Rabbits eat greens and other kitchen scraps and produce round droppings that can but put directly into the garden to nourish your plants. Too many meals of straight greens may cause problems with the digestive tracts of rabbits. It’s not wise to feed them strictly food scraps without also providing them rabbit pellet food. Rabbits are easy to raise and make great pets.

Integrated systems exist for using multiple animals to more completely and quickly process waste food. Often rabbits are fed scraps and then rabbit manure is fed to chickens or to worms for further processing. This sort of discussion however is beyond the scope of this introductory article. For more you can read this discussion.

Whether you’re interested in using worms to compost your waste out of curiosity, looking to close some of the loops of wasteful linear patterns so prevalent in our society or just searching for a way to provide the nutrients your new garden requires, composting is easy. You should give it a try.

North Carolina Composting

Introduction to Composting

Master Composter!

Composting with Children

Composting in Schools

The Composting Association

Composting with Worms from the City Farmer

Donegal County School Composts!

Capitalism - A Love Story

SUBHEAD: The disastrous impact of corporate dominance in our everyday lives. image above: Still from Michael Moore's "Capitalism" from NYT article. By Brad Parsons on 28 October 2009 - Now Playing at Kukui Grove Cinema in Lihue: Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story". Starts Friday Oct 30: One Week Only! Friday through Sunday: 3:25 and 6:00 shows Monday through Thursday: 7:20 (no bargain show) Greed Is Good? He Begs to Differ Review by Manohla Dargis 23 September in New York Times -

Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” is anything but — something you, I and everyone who has ever watched him shamble into action, megaphone to mouth, know from the start. He might have had a crush on capitalism early on, yet anyone who thinks that the two have been on friendly terms for a while hasn’t been paying attention. After years of needling big business in movies like “Roger & Me” (about the auto industry) and “Sicko” (health insurance), and giving voice to the disempowered, he has finally decided to go after the system that, in his words, is dedicated to “taking and giving, mostly taking.”

His timing couldn’t be better, as the headlines and innumerable journalists, politicians, bloggers, tea partiers, talk-show bloviators and millions of unemployed, underemployed, fed-up and freaked-out citizens are making clear. It’s the morning after in America (where one of the big movie hits of the year is titled “The Hangover”), and Captain Mike is here to explain it all or at least crack jokes, milk tears, recycle the news and fan the flames of liberal indignation. Along the way, because his heart is in the right place even if his images aren’t always, he also makes room for other voices, including those of striking workers and members of one family in foreclosure who videotaped the police breaking down the door to evict them.

Nothing if not direct, Mr. Moore cuts right to the point or rather the queasy joke, opening the movie with surveillance shots of citizens partaking of a favorite pastime: robbing banks. He then introduces some wittily culled clips from a movie titled “Life in Ancient Rome,” which looks and sounds like one of those educational flicks you tried to sleep through in school and which he juxtaposes with more recent totems of American power, including the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center draped in the Stars and Stripes. (The New York premiere of the movie on Monday was at Alice Tully Hall, the main site for the New York Film Festival. Mr. Moore isn’t in this year’s lineup, but still grabbed some of its spotlight.)

America, in other words, is headed straight down the historical toilet, along with Nero and his fiddle (or rather Dick Cheney, who’s anointed with a throwaway reference to the “emperor”), a thesis that Mr. Moore continues to advance if not refine with another hour and a half or so of alternatingly entertaining and distracting found footage; some stirring archival images of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; snippets from charming home movies; and assorted weeping, gloating, pontificating and sensible talking heads. Some of those heads are baffling (the actor and author Wallace Shawn, enlisted to explain free enterprise); some of them are sharp, welcome, bracing, provoking, mostly when they’re able to talk without too much interference from the comically mugging, slack-jawed Mr. Moore.

Despite the waggish invocation of ancient Rome, the story in “Capitalism” more truly begins where and when its director did, in Flint, Mich., after the end of World War II. In broad strokes Mr. Moore, who was born in 1954, positions himself as an Everyman whose family reaped all the usual rewards of postwar middle-class prosperity. This collective dream begins to disintegrate rather fuzzily (cue the Vietnam War), coming to a bummer climax in the 1970s (cue an unsmiling Jimmy Carter in a cardigan) and culminating in the ascension of the Smiler in Chief, Ronald Reagan, whom Mr. Moore introduces as a “spokesmodel for president.” Tax cuts, union busting and household debt ensue, as does some protest, notably in the form of “Roger & Me,” Mr. Moore’s first movie.

Mr. Moore doesn’t just refer to “Roger & Me,” which involved his attempts to speak with Roger Smith, the chief executive of the floundering General Motors; he also includes some nominal highlights from that 1989 movie. A lot of performers like to replay their early hits, so it isn’t surprising that Mr. Moore, a practiced showman, recycles images of his younger, slimmer self engaging in one of his trademark moves: trying to enter a building to speak truth to power, only to be turned away by security guards. It was faintly amusing theater then, especially if you didn’t think too hard about the fact that he was hassling working people just trying to do their jobs. It’s less amusing when he repeats the same routine in “Capitalism.”

He’s on far firmer ethical ground when he doesn’t use other human beings as props. Some of the more effective scenes in “Capitalism” involve his straightforward, journalistic interviews with people who have been abused by the greed of their employers. In one segment he visits with a widower whose wife was unknowingly insured by her company — a sleazy practice colloquially known as dead peasant insurance — which earned it a chunk of change when the woman died. (Even after death, your boss can exploit you.) Like many of the stories Mr. Moore pulls together in this movie, dead peasant insurance might not be a revelation to those who follow the news, but it makes for infuriating viewing.

In the end, what is to be done? After watching “Capitalism,” it beats me. Mr. Moore doesn’t have any real answers, either, which tends to be true of most socially minded directors in the commercial mainstream and speaks more to the limits of such filmmaking than to anything else. Like most of his movies, “Capitalism” is a tragedy disguised as a comedy; it’s also an entertainment. This isn’t the story of capitalism as conceived by Karl Marx or Naomi Klein, and it certainly isn’t the story of contemporary American capitalism, which extends across the globe and far beyond Mr. Moore’s sightlines.

Neither is it an effective call to action: Mr. Moore would like us to vote, which suggests a startling faith in the possibilities of social change in the current political system. That faith appears to be due in some part to the election of President Obama.

As it happens, the most galvanizing words in the movie come not from the current president but from Roosevelt, who in 1944 called for a “second bill of rights,” asserting that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” The image of this visibly frail president, who died the next year, appealing to our collective conscience — and mapping out an American future that remains elusive — is moving beyond words. And chilling: “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” It’s a brilliant moment of cinema both for the man delivering the speech and for Mr. Moore, who smartly realized that he’d found one other voice that needed to be as loud as his own.

“Capitalism: A Love Story” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Strong language.

Neoclassical Economic Failure

SUBHEAD: The reinvention of economics will be necessary in an age of hard ecological limits and deindustrial decline.

By John Michael Greer on 28 October 2009 in Archdruid Report - (

[IB Publisher's Note: The opening paragraphs of this article referring to Greer's previous post has been removed]

Image above: A neoclassical economics professor wears no clothes at the blackboard. From (

 Back in 1776, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations popularized the idea that free market exchanges offered a more efficient way of managing economic activity than custom or government regulation.

The popularity of his arguments has waxed and waned over the years; it may come as no surprise that periods of general prosperity have seen the market’s alleged wisdom proclaimed to the skies, while periods of contraction have had the reverse effect. The economic orthodoxy that has been welded in place in the western world since the 1950s, neoclassical economics, made a nuanced version of Smith’s theory central to its theories, arguing that aside from certain exceptions much discussed in the technical literature, people making rational decisions to maximize benefits to themselves will simultaneously maximize the benefits to everyone.

 The neoclassical synthesis has its virtues; you won’t find neoclassical economists claiming, as the free market fundamentalists of the Austrian school so often do, that the market is always right, even when its vagaries cause catastrophic human suffering.

The concept of market failure is part of the neoclassical vocabulary, and some useful work has been done under the neoclassical umbrella to explain how it is that markets can fail to respond to crucial human needs, as they routinely do. Still, the great problem with neoclassical economics is the one has already been discussed in these posts: its models have consistently failed to foresee devastating economic disasters that many people outside the economics profession could readily and accurately predict years in advance.

The implosion of the world economy in 2008 is only the most recent case in point. One writer who surveyed the economics field in the aftermath of the crash noted with some asperity that fewer than two dozen economists anywhere in the world warned in advance of the gargantuan bubble of securitized debt that exploded that year.

 On the contrary, economists by the score lined up during the bubble years to insist that the giddy financial innovations of the previous decade had banished risk from the market and prosperity was assured into the foreseeable future. They were of course quite wrong, and their failure to see disaster as it loomed up in front of them compares very poorly with the large number of people who used historical parallels to recognize what was happening and make uncomfortably precise forecasts of the results. (Keith Brand, who ran the lively HousingPanic blog straight through the bubble, memorably summarized those predictions: “Dear God, this is going to end so badly.”) I have discussed in several earlier posts some of the reasons why the entire economics profession has been so prone to miss the obvious in such cases.

Here, though, I want to focus on a reason for failure that’s specific to neoclassical economicsd. Since most of the economists who provide advice to governments come out of the neoclassical mainstream, this is hardly irrelevant to our prospects for the future, especially – as I intend to show – because the same blind spot that left so many pundits dining on a banquet of crow in recent months applies with even greater force to the crucial fact of our time, the arrival of Peak Oil.

The point I want to make here is a little different from the most common critique of neoclassical economics, though there is a connection. Many social critics have commented on the ease with which the neoclassical synthesis consistently ignores the interface between economic wealth and power. Even when people rationally seek to maximize benefits to themselves, after all, their options for doing so are very often tightly constrained by economic systems that have been manipulated to maximize the benefits going to someone else. This is a pervasive problem in most human societies, and it’s worth noting that those societies that survive over the long term tend to be the ones that work out ways to keep too much wealth from piling up uselessly in the hands of those with more power than others. This is why hunter-gatherers have customary rules for sharing out the meat from a large kill, why chieftains in so many tribal societies maintain their positions of influence by lavish generosity, and why those nations that got through the last Great Depression intact did so by imposing sensible checks and balances on concentrated wealth – though most of those checks and balances in the United States were scrapped several decades ago, with utterly predictable results. By neglecting, and even arguing against these necessary redistributive processes, neoclassical economics has helped feed economic disparities, and these in turn have played a major role in driving cycles of boom and bust.

It’s no accident that the most devastating speculative bubbles happen in places and times when the distribution of wealth is unusually lopsided, as it was in America, for example, in the 1920s and the period from 1990 to 2008.

 The connection here is simple: when wealth is widely distributed, more of it circulates in the productive economy of wages and consumer purchases; when wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, more of it moves into the investment economy where the well-to-do keep their wealth, and a buildup of capital in the investment economy is one of the necessary preconditions for a speculative binge.

 More broadly, concentrations of wealth can be cashed in for political influence, and political influence can be used to limit the economic choices available to others. Individuals can and do rationally choose to maximize the benefits available to them by exercising influence in this way, but the results can impose destructive inefficiencies on the whole economy.

 In effect, political manipulation of the economy by the rich for private gain does an end run around normal economic processes by way of the world of politics; what starts in the economic sphere, as a concentration of wealth, and ends there, as a distortion of the economic opportunities available to others, ducks through the political sphere in between. A similar end run drives speculative bubbles, although here the non-economic sphere involved is that of crowd psychology rather than politics. Very often, the choices made by participants in a bubble are not rational decisions that weigh costs against benefits; it’s not accidental that the first, and still one of the best, analyses of speculative binges and panics is titled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Here again, a speculative bubble starts in the economic sphere, as a buildup of excessive wealth in the hands of investors, which drives the price of some favored class of assets out of its normal relationship with the rest of the economy, and it ends in the economic sphere, with the crater left by the assets in question as their price plunges roughly as far below the mean as it rose above it, dragging the rest of the economy with it. It’s the middle of the trajectory that passes through a particular form of crowd psychology, and since this is outside the economic sphere, neoclassical economics can’t deal with it. This would be no problem if neoclassical economists by and large recognized these limitations. Unfortunately a great many of them do not, and the result is the classic type of myopia in which theory trumps reality. Since neoclassical theory claims that economic decisions are made by individuals acting freely and rationally to maximize the benefits accruing to them, it’s seemingly all too easy for economists to believe that any economic decision, no matter how harshly constrained by political power or wildly distorted by the delusional psychology of a bubble in full roar, must be a free and rational decision that will allow individuals to maximize their own benefits and benefit society as a whole. Now of course, as mentioned in an earlier post, those who practice this sort of purblind thinking often find it very lucrative to do so. Economists who urged more free trade on the Third World at a time when “free trade” distorted by inequalities of power between nations was beggaring the Third World, like economists who urged people to buy houses at a time when houses were preposterously overpriced and facing an imminent price collapse, not uncommonly prospered by giving such appallingly bad advice. Still, it seems unreasonable to claim that all economists are motivated by greed, when the potent force of a fundamentally flawed economic paradigm also pushes them in the same direction. That same pressure, with the same financial incentives to back it up, also drives the equally bad advice so many neoclassical economists are offering governments and businesses about the future of fossil fuels. The geological and thermodynamic limits to energy growth, like political power and the mob psychology of bubbles, lie outside the economic sphere. The interaction of economic processes with energy resources creates another end run: extraction of fossil fuels to run the world’s economies, an economic process, drives the depletion of oil and other fossil fuel reserves, a noneconomic process, and this promises to flow back into the economic sphere in the extended downward spiral of contraction and impoverishment I’ve called the Long Descent. Here again, neoclassical economics is poorly equipped to deal with the reality of noneconomic constraints on economic processes. It thus comes as no surprise that when an economist enters the peak oil debate, it is almost always to claim that there is nothing to worry about, because the market will solve any shortfall that happens to emerge. As shortfalls emerge, expect to hear the claim – already floated by a few economists – that declining production is simply a sign that the demand for fossil fuel energy has decreased. No doubt when people are starving in the streets, we will hear claims that this is simply because the demand for food has dropped. There are promising signs that the grip of neoclassical theory on modern economics is beginning to weaken. A recent conference on biophysical economics – a field which embraces the heretical concept that the laws of nature trump the laws of money – attracted many attendees and, in a shift of nearly seismic proportions, managed to get coverage in the New York Times. Other alternative viewpoints in economics are beginning to be heard, as they usually are in times of financial woe. Still, what’s needed now is something even more sweeping: an economics of whole systems, perhaps modeled on ecology, in which the entire world of non-economic factors that influence economic processes is explicitly included in theories and practical analyses. Until that emerges, the advice governments and businesses receive from their paid economists may well continue to make matters worse rather than better.

Oil Forecasts Are Unrealistic

SUBHEAD: With consumption growth and a fixed amount of total fossil fuel, The Peak Oil downside will be steeper than the upside. image above: Detail of woodblock print of 'The Great Wave" by Katsushika Hokusai in 1831. From By Charles Cresson Wood on 27 October 2009 in Culture Change - [Culture Change Editor note: the author published a version of this article elsewhere online, but revised it for Culture Change. It was originally titled "The Peak Oil Downside Will Be Steeper Than The Upside." - Jan Lundberg]

From many credible and highly placed sources we are today hearing about the dire energy situation that industrialized civilization faces. Industrialized countries have remained dependent on petroleum, and the destructive industrial practices that it fuels, for way too long. As evidence of this consider that fully 50% of the energy consumed in the United States still comes from petroleum. Petroleum is the dominant fuel in the United States, and it was the same story in 1950. The US imports more than 60% of this oil, and between 50% and 60% of that imported oil comes from OPEC countries.

Even though the notion of peak oil is now frequently discussed in newspapers, magazines, TV shows, we the industrialized nations are not moving to new sources of energy, and new simplified low energy lifestyles, fast enough to avoid serious and painful adjustment problems.

Dr. Fatih Birol, chief economist with the International Energy Administration, accurately summed it up when he recently said: "We must leave oil before it leaves us."

Leaving oil will not only involve adopting alternatives such as wind and solar, it will involve dramatically changing our way of life so that we consume considerably less energy. The lifestyle changes that we must go through are dictated because there is no good substitute for petroleum, and because we just don't have the time to alter the petroleum-based energy infrastructure that has been built over the last 150 years.

According to statistics from the United States Energy Information Administration, the worldwide production of conventional oil has been on a plateau for the last several years (about 73 million barrels per day). In spite of a dramatic run up in prices culminating with the price of $147 per barrel in July 2008, producers were unable to bring more oil to market.

This fact defies a widely-held but erroneous belief advanced by traditional economists, that producers will bring more oil to market as the price goes up. That of course makes sense if there is an unlimited supply of oil, but as the worldwide production statistics indicate, we seem to have reached peak worldwide production, and it is only down from this point forward. It's time that the economists started adjusting their theories to incorporate the real world of resource constraints.

Note: CERA is a consulting firm representing industry optimism. date: circa 2006. - ed.

Those readers who have some passing familiarity with the concept of Peak Oil have no doubt seen a picture of the traditional statistical distribution known as a "bell shaped curve." These bell shaped curves make sense to people, because in a world with finite resources, what goes up, must come down. These symmetrical bell shaped curves are however lulling us into an attitude of complacency, leading us to believe that we have decades to move off of oil. This is just not so, and this article discusses five serious reasons why this erroneous perception needs to promptly be abandoned.

FIRST The bell shaped curve customarily applied to peak oil was popularized by the late geophysicist Dr. M. King Hubbert. He predicted the total United States production of oil would peak on or about 1970. His prediction was accurate, and this type of curve did relatively well when it came to describing the total production of oil in the United States.

But total world production of oil does not have another source that it can draw upon when worldwide supplies dwindle, as the United States did back in 1970. Social and economic panic and upheaval were avoided when the United States hit its internal peak oil because it could easily purchase additional supplies from the world marketplace. The social and economic upheaval that worldwide peak oil will bring about will be marked by hoarding, stockpiling, speculators cornering the market, long-term contracts pushing spot market buyers out of the market, government corruption, widespread rationing, and a host of other problems. These maneuvers will rapidly remove oil from the marketplace, and the intensifying competition for the remaining supplies will cause the price to rapidly go up.

SECOND The second reason why the drop off in world oil supplies will be steeper that the increase was involves exports. A very large percentage of the remaining oil supplies, perhaps half, is controlled by countries in the Persian Gulf (Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates).

These countries are rapidly industrializing and in the process, as you might expect, their consumption of oil is rapidly increasing. As their production is declining in the years ahead, an increasing proportion of their production will go to meet domestic needs. This means that a decreasing proportion of their already declining production will be offered for export. At some point, there will be no more exports, as these countries will use all available supplies for internal consumption purposes. Countries such as the United States, that are big importers of oil, stand to be quickly cut off from their oil supplies.

Thus the available exports of oil will come to a much more rapid end than total world production of oil, which in turn will be much more rapidly decreasing than the symmetrical bell shaped curve would lead us to believe.

THIRD The third reason why world supplies of oil will drop off more rapidly than anticipated involves rapidly developing countries, most notably although certainly not limited to India and China. These countries are working hard to be able to support something like an American lifestyle, including high levels of energy consumption. World oil demand has recently been increasing at about 2% per year, but to fuel the recent economic development of these countries, there will be a markedly increasing worldwide demand for oil. For example, Time magazine reports that China's oil imports have doubled over the last five years (about 12% compounded each year).

Thus the world will soon be drawing down remaining oil supplies at a faster rate than we were drawing down supplies in the recent past. This accelerated demand for, and the accelerated consumption of oil means that the downside slope of the peak oil curve is going to be much steeper than we currently anticipate.

FOURTH The fourth reason why world supplies of oil will decline far more rapidly than we anticipate involves modern technology. We are now able to drill for oil in the Artic, more than 10,000 feet below the sea, and in other inhospitable places that we could not economically drill in some fifty years ago. This fact reflects advancements in modern technology, such as computers to model geological deposits of oil. The fact that we have to go to these inhospitable places to get more oil is another indicator that we're running out of it. But this impressive new technology allows us to accelerate our extraction of oil, in an effort to meet the accelerating demand mentioned in the last paragraph. Imagine the bell shaped curve except it is going to be pushed out on the upper right side. In other words, we will be producing slightly below peak levels for a brief while, on a plateau of sorts, and this will be a plateau created by this modern technology.

Using elementary calculus, which assumes that the area under the curve remains the same, in other words assuming we have only so much oil available in the world, we can readily determine that when this area is pushed out, another area must be pushed in to compensate. Since everything to the left of this current peak moment is history, and therefore cannot be changed, the only thing that can be changed is the height of the curve (production) in the future. Said a different way, by sustaining our high-energy consumption lifestyle, we are prematurely consuming the oil that would otherwise be left for future generations. In other words, the bell shaped curve will in reality look more like a wave moving to the right (through time), and the wave is just about to come crashing down.

FIFTH The fifth reason why world oil supplies will decline considerably faster than we now generally believe involves the fact that we produced the least expensive oil first. It is simply common sense, that oil producers would initially focus on the removal from the ground of the oil that was easiest to get to, that was the least expensive to refine, that was the easiest to handle, and that was the least expensive to pump. Reflecting this reality, we now see producers mining the "tar sands" of Canada in an effort to cook the oil out of these sands. Not only is this effort tremendously environmentally destructive, but it consumes a great deal of energy in order to produce oil. Thus the cost of producing each barrel of oil is going up. At the same time, the quality of each barrel thereby produced continues to go down. Combining these two trends, we see that the world will reach a point where it is no longer economical to produce any oil.

Mind you, this occurs considerably before the point where the world runs out of oil, and so the curve of world oil production does NOT reflect the relationship that individuals have with the gas tank in their cars. We can't just keep going until we run out. A lot of oil will be left in the ground because it simply won't make sense to produce it. Certain locations will meet this point sooner than others, but as more and more locations do reach this point, they will remove themselves from the roster of the remaining oil producers. This in turn will hasten the descent of available oil supplies.

CONCLUSION As these five points argue, the day of reckoning is a lot sooner than many of us would like it to be. We do not have decades to transition to alternative energy. It appears as though we have only a few years. We need to get underway with very serious efforts to transition away from petroleum immediately. Government agencies, businesses, non-profit organizations, families, and individuals should all be thinking hard about what their transition to a post-petroleum world looks like, and then promptly get into action with this transition.

[Culture Change Editor's comment: Another reason post-peak supplies will not be conforming to a mirror-image of the ascent of oil extraction and consumption is that when supply constraints hit the wall, from both depletion and market disruption due to supply crisis, the damage to the consumer economy will be massive. After that it will be very hard for oil industry activity to persist as before. The oil industry is not set up for contraction and minimizing itself, even in an orderly fashion assuming society planned an energy descent. More on this is in my coming book Petrocollapse: the Basis of Crash and Culture Change. - Jan Lundberg, former oil-industry analys.]

Charles Cresson Wood, MBA, MSE, CISM, CISSP, CISA, is a technology risk management consultant with Post-Petroleum Transportation in Mendocino, California. He focuses on the strategic planning, risk assessment and contingency planning issues related to peak oil and climate change. His most recent book is entitled "Kicking The Gasoline & Petro-Diesel Habit: A Business Manager's Blueprint For Action" (see Working in the technology risk management field for 30 years, he is the author of over 330 articles and seven other books. His speaking and consulting work with 120+ organizations has taken him to 20 different countries around the world.

Peak Oil – The Risks

SUBHEAD: The planet is staring at an energy problem that’s coming down the tracks like a runaway freight train. image above: Artist rendering of the set for the artic Enco Refinery in 2003 remake of movie "The Thing II". From By Byron King on 27 October 2009 in The Daily Reckoning -

Eighty-five million barrels a day.

That’s the world’s current production of crude oil…and that may very well be close to the world’s PEAK production of crude oil. Although the recession caused a temporary decrease in consumption, demand is already bouncing back toward pre-crisis levels. Too bad production isn’t.

“Can’t we get more than 85 million barrels?” some folks are bound to wonder. Let’s look into that…

A couple weeks ago, I attended the 2009 international conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO), out in Denver. Here’s the long and short of it. We’re in trouble. With a capital “T,” and that rhymes with “P,” and that stands for Peak Oil. By every measure, the world’s output of crude oil peaked between 2005 and 2007.

Yes, the worldwide total output of what we generically call “oil” has risen – slightly – in recent years. But that’s because there are increasing volumes of natural gas liquids (NGLs) in the mix, plus unconventional oil like what the global marketplace obtains from Canada’s oil sands. But the production of oil – actual oil – has peaked already. The future of conventional petroleum output is downhill, even with the future output from the deep-water offshore discoveries.

“There’s no such thing as West Texas Intermediate [WTI] oil anymore,” Peak Oil apologist, Matt Simmons, moaned to the ASPO conference attendees. Instead, the pipeline crossroads like Cushing, Okla., have become little more than “crude oil pharmacies.”

In other words, as the quality of the crude from the traditional US oil patch continues to degrade, oilmen must mix and match their product with “sweeter” forms of crude if they hope to sell it as the premium-priced WTI. Thus, operators at Cushing take whatever oil they can obtain from one place, plus whatever oil they can obtain from another place. They mix and match, and blend it all with synthetic crude from Canada. Maybe they add some imported oil juice and then send it down the line as WTI.

Along these same lines, Venezuelan economist Carlos Rossi stated to ASPO his analysis of oil trends in the US. “You are worried about your foreign oil imports now,” he said. “You in the US import about 65% of your oil today. You don’t like it. But if you follow the clear trends, by 2025, you’ll be importing about 92% of your oil. You’ll like that even less.” No doubt.

The market meltdown and world recession of the past year has bought some time. But the planet is still staring at an energy problem that’s coming down the tracks like a runaway freight train.

Sure, there’s a lot more oil “out there”…as in WAY out there – 150 miles offshore, beneath 8,000 feet of water and 20,000 feet of rock and salt. Yes, that offshore resource is out there, but it’s super hard to extract.

And so what? Aren’t the world’s oil companies busy developing these massive offshore deposits? Yes, but this development will take decades. It’ll take time and capital and expensive cutting-edge technologies, some of which are barely commercially viable.

Future energy supplies have never been more uncertain, according to Simmons. It’s difficult to say with specificity how bad things are, he says, because the data are so poor on a worldwide basis.

“Look at what happened with the bad information we had, or didn’t have, with the financial institutions over the past couple of years,” Simmons said at the recent ASPO Conference. “With our energy data, it’s worse. We’re in for some shocks that will change our lives in ways that’ll rival Pearl Harbor.”

Things could go wrong with energy supplies in any of a dozen places, according to Mr. Simmons. In Venezuela, the output of the state oil company PdVSA is declining at alarming rates due to political interference and underinvestment. In Nigeria, the low-grade civil war could quickly morph into a large-scale civil war. In Iraq, according to Mr. Simmons, “They’re in the dark about how to rebuild their oil industry.”

Closer to home, Simmons expects net oil exports from Mexico to vanish within 24 months or less. This event will play havoc with US refiners on the Gulf Coast. Mexico has simply delayed for too long its effort to explore, drill and rebuild its fast-depleting oil resources. Mexico is going to have to scramble to salvage something from its looming energy disaster.

But even without a supply shock, Simmons believes that the mere inevitability of declining production will cause oil to hit $200 a barrel by the end of next year. Longer term, Mr. Simmons expects to see oil at $500-700 per barrel. “People need to understand how expensive it is to obtain oil,” said Simmons.

Much of the world’s energy infrastructure is old and rusting and will require several trillions of dollars to replace – if it can be replaced. Furthermore, new technology is coming on line slower than most people anticipate. The deeper, more challenging environments are sucking down technology and money, and yielding less than expected in many cases. According to one study, only eight out of 100 major energy projects came in on time, were within budget and yielded the expected volumes of oil and natural gas.

The stark fact is that oil is going to get a lot more expensive and the bull market in oil will be firmly in place for a long time. Smart investors would take advantage of any corrections or dips to get themselves buckled-in for the ride.

see also: Ea O ka Aina: ASPO Peak Oil Conference 10/17/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Oil Headlines 10/18/09