Category Archives: 5 Environment

Fossil Free Food

There’s no such thing.

Everyone knows that fuel is used to grow our food and that petrochemicals are used to feed and protect food. But it’s probably worse than we realise. Most food has more fossil fuel energy in it than natural, current energy. It takes about 10 fossil fuel calories to produce and transport each food calorie in the average American diet. That’s about three times as much fossil fuel as we spend on transport.

We’ve been trying to take fossil fuel out of food we grow here for a couple of decades now. If you’re realistic about it, there’s hardly any chance to make fossil free food these days. In the garden here we make a pretty good attempt. There are organic or self-grown seeds, no sprays, no artificial fertiliser, etc. We do use a two-wheel tractor (diesel so can use biodiesel), chainsaws, cutters, mowers etc, but we use a lot of Tommy Power!

There are always fossil fuels involved somewhere. It’s hard to avoid. Starting with me. I eat food that comes in a bag. Paper or plastic that bag was made with energy from fossil fuel. And of course I drove to town to pick it up, and it came to town on a big truck running on fossil fuel. And the food was made almost entirely with fossil fuels – big tractors (possibly with auto-satellite drive), loads of chemical fertiliser, pesticide, herbicide, transport, sorting (by machine) etc etc The saga of our reliance on, our addiction to, fossil fuel continues. But if you want food with less fossil in it, buy local, organic, or grow your own. 😉

Where the rubber hits the road, or the spade hits the soil, we do a pretty good job. We use a lot of physical effort, sowing, weeding, harvesting. Here is a little glimpse of what it’s like to grow natural food avoiding fossil fuel and fossil chemicals.

There are three tools on show here: spade, 3 prong hoe, and swivel hoe (aka hoop/stirrup/oscillating hoe).

The spade, being used to dig and turn between rows of carrots. The ground in the patch is very weedy because it was broken, turned and planted for the first time this year. (The ground above and below has been cultivated for over a decade.) You can see the physical effort and technique employed. You can get an idea of the rate of progress – much slower than a big ol’ tractor! But no fossil fuels are being burned and no chemical sprays are killing the soil.

The 3 pronged hoe is being used to drag away the couch grass, and other weeds turned over by the spade.

The swivel hoe … ahh the swivel hoe. What would we do without the swivel hoe? It was one of the first tools we bought 20 years ago when we started. We have a 175mm (used in the clips) and 125mm. They are still going strong. The blades and handles wear out. We’ve replaced the handle on the 125 but had to use a broom handle replacement. The 175 handle is still original and we like it because it’s long and has a concave taper which enhances its handling. We replaced blades on both. (Check Dunmore Country School for them if you’re in Ireland.)

The clips are an example of light weeding potatoes, weeding tomatoes in the greenhouse and one of heavy weeding along the back wall of the greenhouse.

In 1999 we guessed that we had 20 years to change systems if natural cycles were to be protected from anthropomorphic destruction. Our guess was pretty good – nothing changed and here we are with climate breakdown …

Now we reckon we’ve got 20 years of fossil fuels left. They’ll always be around, but only in small quantities, as was the case before the industrial revolution. Why do we think they’ll run out? Because we passed peak oil some years ago and consumption is increasing. When everyone realises oil is running out, things are going to be very difficult as food supplies will shrink, transport capacity will shrivel and no one has any useful life skills any more – like carpentry, gardening, metallurgy, … Infrastructure will disintegrate as all those little plastic washers, valve, osmotic barriers etc which allow high tech to function will not be available …

So in the meantime, we’re enjoying growing fossil free food and eating and sharing it.

Time to get a swivel hoe?

Justice and Morality vs The Law

A fitting reminder of our past and current failing to live up to the moral code we all profess.  Personally, I know my direct ancestors have been party to self-aggrandising laws and behaviour which was wrong.  As have I …Laurie Embree, having been arrested for protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline, speaking eloquently to the court on 31 July 2018:

Your Honour, I have lived my 70 years abiding by the law. But, if we look back into our history, there have been many times when our laws have supported injustices.

In the 18th century there were laws that supported child labour to the benefit of the Industrialists of the times.

In the 19th century, laws were created to support the ownership of black people to the benefit of Plantation Owners.

In the 20th century, we made laws that allowed us to take native children away from their parents and to place the rest of the family on reserves, to the benefit of Europeans that wanted their land.

And again, laws that suppressed women’s rights, to the benefit of their husbands.
All of those laws were created through the judicial system- that you are a part of, sir – but they were actually designed by influential people behind the scenes that would profit from them.

As much as we think we have come a long way, the mentality behind the Industrialists, the Plantation owners, the European lust for Indigenous land, and the men that wanted their wives to do their bidding, is still very present in our society.

Our judicial system is still being manipulated by rich and powerful people that have the influence to make our legal system work for them.

I truly believe that when we have laws that support injustices, it is the duty of all good men and women to stand up and challenge those laws.

A prominent and recent case in point would be when Director Chatenay of the Canadian Wheat Board was jailed for protesting the Canada Customs Act and its restrictions on grain exports. In his own defence, Mr. Chatenay stated that, “The greatest respect for the law is to change an unjust one.”

Subsequently, on August 10th of 2012, Mr. Chatenay, and others jailed for that protest, were pardoned by then – Prime Minister Harper who, in doing so said, and I quote,

“These people are not criminals. They are our fellow citizens who protested injustice by submitting themselves peacefully to the consequences of challenging injustice.”

I believe the man I just quoted is the person who appointed you to the position you hold today.  This law sir, that you have created, and that I, and many others are peacefully challenging, is unjust.  It supports an industry that is not just harming children, or black people, or women, or Indigenous peoples. Your law, in fact, is supporting an industry that has been scientifically proven to be harming the whole world and every living thing on it.

Drawdown – a comprehensive plan to reverse global warming

Paul Hawken has edited Drawdown,  a comprehensive review and analysis of tangible actions that can mitigate the destruction of the natural environment which is now being precipitated by anthropogenic pollution and is most visible in global warming.  Drawdown is the work of many professionals collaborating to synthesise practical mitigation actions.

Yesterday he collaborated with The Security and Sustainability Forum to present a summary of the book via webinar.  The video is shared below and you can follow through the slides shared by Edward Saltzberg MD of SSF here: https://www.slideshare.net/esaltzberg/drawdown-60-minutes-with-paul-hawken  The slides include summary financial and carbon data of the impact of various remedies.

Drawdown – 60 Minutes with Paul Hawken from Security & Sustainability Forum

Our Suicide is Painless

Yesterday was an unusual day filled with seemingly inane chores that had to be done.  I was arriving back home in the afternoon with groceries for guests and planned to turn the hay.   I drove past a field adjacent to our where a tractor was spraying and turned in to the drive to be greeted by a distasteful, though recognisable, toxic smell.

“Damn!”

Usually I’d just accept that that landowner had to spray to make a living, but I didn’t like the idea that our hay was being contaminated while it was looking so good.  Unusually, I decided to take another angle, dropped the bags on the kitchen floor, said “Hi!” to guests and spun the car around back up to the field.

After working out which row the tractor was in I walked up to the driver, who kindly stopped and helped me get n touch with the landowner.

The driver said the spray  was only to stop “disease”.

The landowner said it was only to stop “disease”.

They both said it was “OK”.

The contractor couldn’t come back on a still day because he had to empty the tanks since the pesticide had been paid for.  The wind might die down so he could wait a bit.  I knew the spray would still be sprayed, and would drift.  Hopefully little would drift, though you could see a 20  metre tail behind the tractor and smell it quarter of a kilometre away.

I asked what it was.  “I dunno.  Let’s have a look.”

So we did. It was Imtrex.

Imtrex – dead fish, dead tree, dead human …

“Wow.  Look at the labels on it! Dead fish.  Dead tree.  Heart attack.  C’mon! This can’t be good.”

It’s weird though.  It’s being sprayed right on the ears of ripening barley, and we’re going to eat it.  There’s poison on it , and we’re going to eat it.  We’re killing ourselves and enjoying it.

We don’t make the connection between our demand for cheap, convenient food and lifestyles and the consequential impairment of diet and lifestyle.  Our monolithic food chain, standardised automated production, controlled by capitalists is withering our soul and costing our health.  Apart from the increased incidence of cancer which only affects a third or so of us, almost everyone is affected by the lower quality of food – processed, refined, packaged with a fraction of the dietary health benefits of real food, but extra poison.

Yet we all buy in to it.  We all live the lie.  The farmer can’t make ends meet if he doesn’t.  (Ironically, I found out since that this “T3” third treatment for “disease” was being applied too late, as the ears were grown, and so wouldn’t improve yield, although the farmer could prove he sprayed the “treatment”.)   We can’t make ends meet f we don’t play the pyramid consumption game.  So we all turn a blind eye to our gradual suicide.  It’s fairly painless anyway.

But it could be different.  It would be different if we all chose differently.  It doesn’t have to be much at first, but even little thoughtful choices make a difference.  And they lead to bigger thoughtful choice.  And when everyone starts choosing differently, the world changes fast.  So whether you’re in the tractor, in the shop, regulating the chemical, making the chemical, or financing the chemical, don’t turn a blind eye.  Think, and choose to change a little.

Because dying can be easy or hard, and withering from poison is not easy.

Time is running out: Behind the curve on SDGs

SustainAblility and Globescan’s recent survey of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is not encouraging.

Progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)
Progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)

Over 500 experts contributed.  The consensus is that progress and attention is lagging the need for change.  If data is restricted to those with a decade or more of experience the picture is worse.

“Poor” progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)
“Poor” progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)

Progress is dominated by social entrepreneurs and NGOs while national governments’ and corporates’ performance is considered poor.

Contribution of organizations to progress on the SDGs (% of experts)
Contribution of organizations to progress on the SDGs (% of experts)

The lack of attention by governments and corporates is underpinned by their “clients” – voters and consumers – so clearly there remains among people generally a lack of awareness of the need and opportunity for system change.  People don’t perceive the dangers of failing commercial and social systems and the disintegration of Earth’s natural environment upon which we rely.

Perhaps this is not surprising.  Except for change agents and social entrepreneurs, people are not engaged with the problems of the world but instead stick to traditional mindsets and routines.  (The SDG’s themselves are fundamentally flawed in their promotion of growth, as opposed to working within natural laws and the capacity of the biosphere.) Continue reading Time is running out: Behind the curve on SDGs

Where the world is going, today.

If you are an expert in your field you have a good idea of what is going on in that area.  That’s how you make a living.  Most of us express views about news and events that are outside our area of expertise especially if we think that they might effect us in some way, like politics and economics.  The Presidency of the United States of America is one of those things.

Everyone will be talking about the new US administration in America today.  Some will be earnest, some dismissive, some joyful, some sad or angry.  Irrespective of your emotions or political leanings, its impact will affect you. Continue reading Where the world is going, today.

Snack Food Slavery: We’re all enjoying it.

What?  Not me.  No way!  Slavery is bad.

Yeah, but … you’re still part of the problem.  We all are.

Here’s a piece of the big picture puzzle:

Soda and chips … sugars and fats … vegetable oil … palm oil … slaves and rain forest exploitation.palmoilslave

That food chain is run by big companies, big banks and rich owners.  (You might be one without even realising it!)

It’s fuelled by people buying foods made with industrially grown vegetable oils.  That means most products on the supermarket shelves, including all the big brands owned by companies like Nestle, Unilever, Pepsico, Heinz, Cargill, CocaCola, Kraft, P&G, …  And the food chain is financed with money from big banks like Citi, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered, Mizuho, Rabobank, …

Continue reading Snack Food Slavery: We’re all enjoying it.

Global perspectives: Technology, Growth, Money, Politics and what to invest in

The Long Termworld-300px

We’re talking 20 years or so here.

In 20  years we’ll be facing Big Stuff.  Climate change, weather volatility, species loss, clean air, clean water, … that whole environment thing will be getting much more serious and everyone will be dealing with it in some way or another.  I’m hoping it’ll make Ireland a bit more like the south of France, and it might, but whatever else, it’s going to make the simple things in life more difficult.  For most of humanity that will include feeding themselves and getting clean water.

So that will make food and land more important.

In 20 years we may well have passed “The Singularity“.  That’s a term coined by futurists, often with a trans-humanist bent, which denotes the inevitable point at which technology development starts happening “by itself”.  This occurs as humanity’s understanding of physics and biology enable the creation of thinking machines (computers) that emulate the brain, and then androids and cyborgs begin to be used in place of people.

Certainly in 20 years technology will have changed our world even more than in the past 20.   Do not imagine The Singularity to be fantasy.  We are close already.  The mobile phone/computer in your pocket is old technology compared with neuro-computers being tested in laboratories.  Robots are already becoming remarkably similar to C-3PO in looks and mobility at least.  Today the consequences are being felt in most professions as AI (artificial intelligence) takes jobs away from humans.  This is what we all wanted – automatic checkout, automatic cashier, automatic accountant, automatic lawyer, automatic vehicle … The challenge now being solved is automatic creativity.

Continue reading Global perspectives: Technology, Growth, Money, Politics and what to invest in

The sun stood still, and it all began again …

Solstice moon at Ballin Temple.
Solstice moon at Ballin Temple.

The solstice passed today at 4 in the morning (UTC).

For most people, it is ignored or unknown, while for a few it is recognised as the event that gives rise to all the other seasonal holidays at this time of year – Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Saturnalia, and the calendar new years like Hogmany and New Year …  I used to be in the former group, but now, living closer to nature, find that recognising the solar cycle helps me stay in touch with the reality of our world.

While you celebrate the traditions of your culture it is fun to recognise the foundation for them.  Solstice, Yule, saturnalia and so on might be labelled pagan, but that is not as bad as it sounds.  It merely means “of the countryside”.  Well, isn’t that just nature?

If you’re fond of Christmas, this year is a good one to recognise our connection to nature because Pope Frank’s encyclical, Laudato Si (Praise be to Him), is all about respecting nature and treating the gift of nature with appropriate Christian humility.  Spare a prayer for nature which is so squashed by humanity that even cynics are now admitting the fact of human induced climate change.  (Even state media reported that 2015 temperatures are 3° above normal and the manager of the largest state nursery is startled by rain intensity he hasn’t experienced in 40 years.)

In nature there is no beginning or end.  At least not practically speaking.  The cycle continues around and around.  When we have the shortest day (today), with the sun directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, our antipodean friends have the longest.  As our days begin to lengthen, theirs begin to shorten.  The date is an illusion but the perspective of the sun on our planet is not.  The sun is the timepiece of nature and one of the signals for plant life to regrow.  Other signals, like cold weather, also tell plants when to regrow, and they are changing, but the solar cycle does not.   The sun stands still (sol stice) and then bounces back in the other direction (of course it is Earth that is tilted as it spins around the sun which is stationary relative to Earth, making one circuit every year).

What does the coming year hold?  The trends of weather volatility and climate change will continue, so now we plan for a different growing cycle, a more Mediterranean one.  The impacts of civilisation continue to increase and the future of current economic, industrial and social systems is limited – they will change by force or choice because there are limits to the capacity of nature to absorb pollution and limits to the capacity of people to be cheated.

People are becoming more thoughtful as social media spreads memes and as access to education grows so the brainwashing of traditional mores becomes less persuasive and the natural curiosity of people to ask “does it have to be like that” is enlivened.  That is evidenced by the popularity of conservative politicians around the world, like Trump, who express people’s dissatisfactions.  (Sadly their solutions are ignorant and ineffective but since more moderate leaders are not supporting enlightened system change, the radical populists are drowning out all others.)

For our part we will continue to explore new, whole systems.  Ways of living that engage body, mind and spirit.  Lifestyles that give us the delights of human culture and the bounties of nature, as one.  It is not always easy to retrain the cynic, but even I have started to do yoga regularly (5 minutes a day) so there is hope even for the most egregious suits among us.

Happy new year to all!