Sunday, August 17, 2008

...and let's not forget climate change

I've been reading Climate Code Red - a new Australian book that looks at the real state of our planet's climate systems - and it's not good. In fact we are seriously in crisis. There is a planetary emergency happening around us but little is being done to address it. But we all know this. We watch the tv, we listen to the radio, we search the internet. The truth is out there. But is it is awfully inconvenient to think about it.

It's all to do with human behaviour.

Climate change is environmental symptom of our dependency on fossil fuel and our bad decisions on land use.

Peak oil is lining up to be the social and ecomomic symptoms of that same dependency.

What are governments doing about it? Very little.

What happening in the community about it? Very little.

Sure, there are plenty of 'events' to become involved in. Plenty of sustainability 'expos' to attend. Plenty of new booklets, magazines, websites to read.

Plenty of new products to buy that's for sure. Just replacing one form of consumerism with another.

If you've been watching the ABC's the Hollowmen, you'll know what I mean.

I've been working very hard on trying to do something on the ground. Trying to change things. Like many others (but not enough) I've been preparing my own home, backyard and trying to reach out into my community to find others like us who want to really act on this, rather than meet and talk about it.

Small, tiny steps. Not enough and certainly not going to save the planet. May not even save ourselves.

So - as I have been doing around the place when and where I can - I'm calling for everyone to step forward and admit this is a planetary crisis and to put the planet and all the species left on it before economics and 'growth'.

Here is an excerpt from the book that I have sent around to the limited circles I'm involved in.

This is an emergency
Excerpt from Climate Code Red

This is an urgent call for immediate, comprehensive and emergency action on climate and energy uncertainty. Today, right now. We have known about climate change and peak oil for decades, very little has happened and the need to act is becoming more and more urgent every day – it must begin now and it must be in earnest if we are to return the planet’s weather systems to a safe level and avoid the civil and social unrest that could come as global oil supplies decline.

Below is a direct transcript from a new Australian book Climate Code Red*. It sums up the level of action believed necessary to address both climate change and peak oil in a way that will avoid the major loss of eco-systems, species and humans. This book is highly recommended to anyone interested in finding out what effects the current agreed political thresholds of global temperature increases will truly mean to the planet.

This is an emergency situation – in fact it is the biggest emergency humankind has ever faced, yet we are continuing to put the economy above all else and there is incomprehensible inaction generally – we must acknowledge the dire situation the planet is in and call for this emergency to be addressed, resourced and managed in a way that matches the seriousness of the situation.

Climate change is the environmental and global symptom of our dependence on fossil fuel. Peak oil is the social and economic symptom of that same dependency.

This excerpt clearly outlines the serious situation we are all in.

[Transcript begins]

On 13 April 1970, some 321,000 kilometres from Earth, the Apollo 13 spacecraft was hit by an explosion that resulted in a loss of oxygen, potable water, and most electrical power. The access panel covering the oxygen tanks and fuel cells, which extended the entire length of the main craft’s body, had been blown off. Apollo commander Jim Lovell’s laconic message, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ signaled a technological failure so great that mission objectives were abandoned. The moon landing was aborted.

The priority of the astronauts onboard the craft was survival at any cost. Life-support systems were at risk, and energy use had to be cut to a minimum, since little power was available. The crew shifted to their tiny lunar module – an emergency procedure that had been simulated during training – and abandoned the main craft, to which the module remained attached. But the lunar module was equipped only to sustain two people for two days; now, with insufficient capacity to keep the air clean or to heat the module to a habitable temperature, it needed to sustain three people for four days. There was no precedent, no manual, and no set of pre-tested solutions, but there was a driving imperative that was reinforced by mission control in Houston; ‘Failure is not an option!’

A sequestration filter was invented on the run while carbon dioxide rose to dangerous levels. With inadequate mechanical control, the astronauts had to negotiate course alterations while engineers on the ground calculated the best way to use auxiliary motors to position the craft for the return journey.

Under this level of pressure, the on-the-run problem solving required ingenuity and intense teamwork. The outcome was in doubt up to the last moment, but the crew made it and survived. This mission was deemed a ‘successful failure’. Careful planning and training (including allowing for the possibility of having to jettison the main craft), strong cooperation between all involved, creative off-the-wall solutions and a great measure of good fortune had combined to save the day.

Today, Earth faces a similar degree of peril, and its message can only be: ‘People of the world, we have a problem.’ Our planet’s health and its capacity to function for the journey through time are new deeply imperiled.

We stand on the brink of climate catastrophe.

Like Apollo 13, we have only one option; to abandon our ‘life-as-normal’ project, hit the emergency button, and plan with all our ingenuity how to survive and build a path for a return to a safe-climate Earth (not just avoiding dangerous climate change as current policy focuses on). We have to act with great speed, determination, and ingenuity. Our life-support systems – food, water, and stable temperatures – are at risk, and our consumption of fossil fuels is unsustainable. Energy use must be cut. The voyage will be perilous, and will require intense and innovative teamwork to find and mobilise technological and social answers to as yet unidentified problems. Putting aside mantras about high costs, our collective actions need to be driven, instead, by the imperative; ‘Failure is not an option!’

If we do not succeed we will lose most of the life on this planet.

Lacking its main motors and with uncertain technological control functions, Apollo 13 had only one chance to position itself in exactly the right trajectory so that the moon’s gravitational force would pull it back to Earth safely. We, too, have only one change to get global warming under control and to guide the planet back to a safe-climate zone. If we do the wrong things, or we set our approach incorrectly and don’t do enough, there will be no time for a second chance.

We have already entered an era of dangerous climate change. If left unchecked, the dynamics and inertia of our social and economic systems will sweep us on to ever more dangerous change and then, most likely within a decade, to an era of catastrophic climate change.

If the response to global warming continues to be contained within the current all-too-narrow parameters, it will guarantee disaster. Given the lessons from the Arctic summer of 2007 – let alone all the other early-warning signs that climate scientists are noting increasingly – allowing warming to reach even 2 degrees, let alone the increasingly advocated 3 degrees is reckless.

This is our emergency.

[Transcript ends]

After working on and researching energy descent full time for the past 18 months I make the following call for immediate and comprehensive action;

For immediate and emergency response to both critical problems of climate change and declining oil supplies. For action NOW. For all levels of government and the entire community to begin working cooperatively toward real changes that will move our planet’s climatic systems to safe levels and move us immediately and equitably from oil dependency to local resilience.

We have some structures in place to do this – Transition Towns and relocalisation groups will play a major part in the community as we build urgent local resilience. Permaculture too has the capacity and experience to quickly train people in self-reliance across a wide range of human needs – food, shelter, water, and soil care for example. Permaculture was developed in the 1970’s following the US oil shocks, and the first page of Permaculture One (published in 1978) clearly states it is a solution to our fast-depleting energy supplies. We have the tools, we have the examples, we have creative ingenuity in the community – the thing we lack is the will to act.

There I've had my say... for anyone still reading

Climate Code Red – the case for emergency action is a new book released by David Spratt & Philip Sutton, both of Victoria.

Comments in the forward by Ian Dunlop – deputy convener of the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas and former oil, gas and coal industry executive;
“If we are to have a reasonable chance of maintaining a habitable planet, placing our efforts on an emergency footing is long overdue. We only play this game once; a trial run is not an option.”

And from Ken Caldeira – Director of the Caldeira Lab of the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution of Washington says;
“Climate Code Red asks us to take stock of the climate and sustainability emergency that is unraveling around us and respond with a large-scale transition to a post-carbon economy. There is no time for slow transitions.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Permaculture Ethics

Permaculture is based on some pretty sound and well-proven foundations. Those foundations are found in the ethics and principles of permaculture.

First ethic of permaculture is
Care of Earth

this is where it all begin for permaculture, rebuilding the natural capital.
Soil building
Increasing organic matter in the soil
Keeping water in the soil
Protecting the soil
Treating soil as a valuable resource
Not degrading it
Not spraying it with chemicals
Not concreting over the top of everything
It extends to care of the landscape and care of the environment.

One of the most interesting things I noticed after I did my Permaculture Design Course (PDC) was the way I viewed the landscape. I could see where to place a swale, where to put a turkey nest dam, prevailing wind directions, how air and water moved across its surface and evidence of what was happening below the surface.

My PDC allowed me to see the landscape through permaculture eyes. It taught me how to read it like a book.

Caring for the soil, the Earth, the environment is crucial. But we all know that, it's just not many of us actually live it.

Next up we have
Care of people
Starting with self, kin and then community.

This reminds us to care for ourselves. Not in some greedy selfish way, but in a way that we honour ourselves as a resource. So many people in permaculture burn out. Volunteerism is rife and often little value is placed on education and teaching. Caring for ourselves means we renew our energies, we take care, we ensure we are resilent and strong for the things that lie ahead for all of us (climate change and peak oil). Then we care for our nearest and dearest, then that spread out into our community. We make connections, we network, we support others. We build community just as we build soil.

Third and final ethic has many names
Fair Share
Reduce consumption
Fair distribution
Redistribution of surplus

It all says the thing - take your fair share, but consider others (see ethics 1 and 2 for clarification on this one!).
We all know how unfairly the world's resources and finances are distributed. We live in a highly inequitable world. A cruel world that uses the poor to support the rich. Ensuring you take responsibility for what you consume and that you take as little as you need ensures you are doing what you can to right this wrong.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

First permaculture groups

Yesterday a group of students from Crystal Waters visited our gardens to take a look through our food production systems and to talk Transition Towns.

They have been at CW for 4 months as part of a residential eco-village course with Max Lindegger.

It was great to catch up with Max and to talk about permaculture and how it has developed over since the 70's.

In 1976 an article was published in a Tasmanian organic gardening and farming magazine which included an interview with Bill Mollison about this new idea "permaculture".

It was probably the very first mention of the concept, this is two years before Permaculture One was published.

Max was in Queensland at the time and contact Bill to invite him up here to do a talk. Max then started Permaculture Nambour - which is most likely the first ever permaculture group.

Max placed an ad in the local paper and held meetings in his home. Geoff Lawton was there (he went on to start Permaculture Noosa which is still going strong - and Geoff continues to promote the formation of pc groups around the world). The idea was to have a permaculture group in every council shire.

The Sunshine Coast has Permaculture Noosa, Permaculture Maroochy and I believe there used to be a Permaculture Caloundra. These reflected the three coast councils - they have now amalgamated into the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, so it's time to look at the formation of Permaculture Sunshine Coast too.

But back to Permaculture Nambour - Nambour is the nearest 'big' town to where I live and I'm planning on relaunching it this spring (sounds like a fashion collection doesn't it?).

Whether its Permaculture Nambour or Transition Town Nambour, I don't know yet. There are a group of people who are interested in being part of it.

It doesn't reflect the council boundaries, but Nambour is set to become somewhat of a sustainability hub in the future, so permaculture certainly has a place there.

I heading up to Crystal Waters in the next week or so to take a look around (haven't been there for a while) and to talk more about permaculture with Max and his group of international students.

It will be interesting to see how this new manifestation of permaculture - in the form of energy descent action planning and transition towns - will unfold for all our futures.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Permaculture One

I was looking through Permaculture One the other day at a friend's house. It was written in 1978 (I think) and was essentially the thesis that came from David Holmgren (student) working with Bill Mollison (mentor/tutor).

It is Permaculture's first book.

In about the second paragraph there is a mention about how this concept is to prepare for our 'fast-depleting energy'.

Way back then, the warnings were there to prepare for a decline in energy production - very few listened.

I'll be interested in seeing how the current oil/energy crisis will affect the popularity of permaculture.

Will we have groups forming everywhere like mushrooms?

Will there be a huge increase in demand for permaculture skills?

Will there be a huge rise in the number of people doing PDCs?

Will we see a weekly tv show called 'Permablitz' where people have their backyards made over into food producing cornucopias?

I'll wait and watch from the vegie patch me thinks!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Catch up

Been a while since the last post and I do apologise. I know how annoying it is to start reading blogs and find they aren't that regular.

But it's been such a busy, busy time. Seems peak oil and climate change are everywhere you turn.

We've just had a big expo on last weekend and that attracted so many people, we have Roberto Perez from Cuba here talking about The Power of Community and Cuba's experience.

Was pleased to see so many people turn up, but it makes it busy.

While it feels like everything - that is the energy descent action planning, the community education, the train the trainer courses, funding - is so far off, but I have to keep positive and keep my eye on the future.

Soon I'm sure it will all turn for the better.

My biggest concern is that we won't have the arms and legs to actually do all this. We need lots of permaculture teachers and practitioners out in the community teaching others and sharing knowledge and resources.

Oh, I saw Morag Gamble's and Evan Raymond's new DVD Think Global Act Local on the relocalisation of our food supply last week.

Fifteen countries in 15 minutes. It's excellent, highly recommended and a great introduction into the ways we can provide food in our communities without the big supermarkets.

Did you know that no peak oil experts or permaculture experts were invited to the Federal Government's 2020 summit??

Sunday, February 24, 2008

New ideas...

I've added a video bar and a latest news feed on the right - all focussed on Permaculture. Now I have broadband I'll actually be able to watch a couple of those You Tube posts.

I've also started another blog - which IS different to this one.

This blog was started to explore the links and connections between Permaculture and Peak Oil.

The new blog is to explore the changes I'm making around my home, my garden, my community and region in regard to peak oil and climate change.

We'll see how it all goes...


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Climate change & Peak oil are not a problem

There is so much media, government and public attention focused on the ‘problem’ of climate change and, to a lesser degree peak oil, but aren’t we all looking at this from the wrong angle?

I see the changes in our climate and our impending energy descent as symptoms, not problems.

The problem is much deeper and much more personal.

The problem is the way we – those of us in developed countries – are living our lives.

It’s the way we consume way beyond what we actually need, it’s about the food we throw away, the culture of consumerism we’ve created and have now become enslaved to.

Try telling someone that they don’t need the latest model car, they don’t need a wardrobe full of clothes they don’t wear, that we don’t actually need shopping malls full of useless ‘crap’ and see how far you get.

Somewhere, somehow, we all started believing we had the right to live the high life. Marketers jumped on the bandwagon – or perhaps kicked it all off – and we were on our way. The latest handbags, boxes and boxes of shoes, the latest in-season fashion. Live like a celebrity!

What’s hot and what’s not? Our passion for fashion (not just clothes of course, but the latest model kitchen appliance, the celebrity style overseas get away …) is directly related to what’s hot that’s for sure. And another thing that’s hot is the climate.

Human behaviour – consumerism, land use, deforestation, fossil fuel burning – has now changed the world’s weather patterns – perhaps irreversibly. Warning after warning, each more dire than the one before and appearing in our newspapers, our nightly news programs yet… where is the revolution?

Yet, we continue on our merry way, worshipping the consumerism of today’s life… very few people have really made any serious effort to change the way they live. Our societies make it hard for those of us who would like to seriously change the way we live – you try living without a car on the Sunshine Coast!

We continue to pump out (the problem) carbon emissions in huge amounts (the symptom) despite knowing it is going to cause extinction of species (note to all – WE are a species!), destruction of the environment, major disruptions to food supply and loss of available land…

As for peak oil, do you think an ant cares that we are running out of oil, or a bird, or an elephant?

We care that we are running out of oil because we’ve built ourselves into a corner. A corner built on oil, lives dependant on oil, economies dependant on oil, employment, housing, food, mobility… all dependant on oil.

We’re running out because we’ve consumed what was available at an alarming rate. We’ve wasted oil on frivolous, meaningless things that have done nothing to really improve our lives. We’re less happy and more stressed than our pre-oil ancestors.

Looking at climate change as an environmental problem is taking us off course and away from where we should be focussing. We are losing valuable time and wasting valuable energy if we look at this as an environmental problem.

Because what happens is councils and other organisations, thinking they are doing the right thing – climate change is about the environment right? – employ environmental scientists to get to work fixing the problem.

But then, the poor person put in that position realises the problem is not the environment, the problem is people - social, economic, psychological, planning, infrastructure, systems, systems, systems.

Yes, climate change is about the environment, but climate change is only a symptom, not the problem. Same with peak oil – if we didn’t use (waste?) so much of this precious fuel and if we hadn’t designed our whole lives to revolve around it – it wouldn’t be reaching it’s peak and if it was, we wouldn’t care.

When I worked in the medical field, often patients would be being treated and hospitalised for their symptoms, not the problem. Our health system is a reflection of our current crisis.

Yes we can treat symptoms, we can mask symptoms – but unless we treat the underlying problem – and in this case it’s human behaviour and abuse of earth’s resources – we are only ever going to have a bandaid effect.

Let’s instead bite the bullet and address the real issues 1) consumption – or more to the point overconsumption and 2) a change away from linear globalised systems – resource in waste out – extraordinary transport miles and carbon emissions attached to everything we buy.

Let’s be brave and
reduce consumption,
produce locally,
build resilient communities
relocalise and
make the transition to our post carbon future with our eyes wide open and looking forward.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Notes from a talk by David Holmgren

In August 2006 David Holmgren spoke at the local university. I went along and took notes... and then took those notes to heart.

They became the blueprint for how we prepared for peak oil.

Here is a copy of the notes I took - it was from his talk "Regional Sustainability in an Energy Descent Future"

One of the things he spoke about at length is the need for relocalisation and how Permaculture fits with that.

He spoke of the need for an ‘Earth stewardship scenario’ post peak oil – where we care for the natural resources of the Earth to ensure there will be enough bio physical resources for future generations. This isn’t some hippy dream – if we don’t have rainfall and living soil, we cannot produce food and the world will starve.

Care of the soil, water, air, plants… it all made so much sense and he presented such a positive scenario for the future, rather than the gloom and doom coming from our pollies, the media and science.

I made some notes and thought I’d add them to this site – they are paraphrased, I don’t do shorthand, but here they are…

The need for what he calls a ‘bottom-up’ movement in response to peak oil. Ideas and action coming from the grassroots in the community, rather than government. This mirrors what Professor Ian Lowe says – he uses the examples of the abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote and the inclusion of indigenous people in the Australian census as actions that have been driven by a groundswell in the community, not politicians.

Community gardens, Permaculture and organic gardening courses, networks, and sites just like this play a very important part in that movement.

A need for ‘connection’ and ‘transfer’ – bartering, knowing your neighbours, building networks within local communities, skills sharing.

He pointed out that rice uses 7459 litres of water per one dollar of value. Fruit and veg bought in the supermarket comes with a price tag of 103 litres of water per dollar value that you buy. He compared this with his own home food production which he has calculated to be about 20 litres of water per dollar value. Growing food at home saves water.

Holmgren also stated that the most energy efficient way to provide food security for the future was to learn how to grow food at home.

He urged us all to “resist the restriction of water use in home food production” – something I feel very strongly about.

Holmgren concluded his talk with an action plan of what we can all do to build more sustainability into our lives and ensure a better future post peak oil.

Network – for information and inspiration – Permaculture groups and community gardens are a great place to start.

Start producing your own (food, goods, services)and support local producers

Know your neighbours – establish bartering systems, LETS, PETS,

Teach children how to grow their own food (this is already well underway on the Sunshine Coast with lots of permaculture gardens in schools)

Reduce consumption – recycle, reduce, repair, reuse.. etc etc.

If you have extra space, take in a lodger, share your place, (also has economic benefits for you)

Share your car – car pool, organise a local group to share driving, make your trips count, do more than one thing on a trip

Work around impediments

Pay off your debts / work from home

Retrofit your home and garden for the post peak oil future, not for the $ value

Although Permaculture is so much more than gardening, Holmgren’s talk focused on food growing in the future as this is one thing that is not being addressed by governments in Australia. Apparently only South Australia’s sustainability planning includes any mention of food growing (then it is only two lines), no other State is preparing for the scenario of how we are going to eat when peak oil forces the price of fertilisers, refrigeration and transportation to affect the cost of food at the supermarket checkout.