Saturday, February 15, 2014
Saturday, February 08, 2014
"Deep Green Resistance Lower Columbia is proud to host Dr. Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of the University of Arizona. On the 21st of February he will be giving a joint presentation with members of Deep Green Resistance on climate chaos and resistance to ecocide. If you're interested in understanding the sobering facts of climate change and the political resistance necessary to avert catastrophe, please join us!"
Friday February 21
Vancouver Public Library, Vancouver, WA
Facebook event page
Saturday, January 25, 2014
–from the Deep Green Resistance Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy
IntroductionDavid Holmgren, co-originator of permaculture, has a long history of thoughtful and thought-provoking publications, including design books from the original Permaculture One to his 2002 Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability. He's written numerous essays over 35 years, ranging from the specifics of agricultural vs forestry biomass for fuel, to the future of energy decline.
I've long admired and respected Holmgren's thinking, so I looked forward to reading his new "Crash on Demand" (PDF), an update of his 2007 "Future Scenarios" projections for global developments. I felt especially intrigued that he's arrived at conclusions similar to my own, regarding not just the inevitability, but the desirability of a crash of the financial system as soon as possible. But the article disappointed me; I think Holmgren is soft-selling his realizations to make them palatable to a hoped-for mass movement. Interestingly, even this soft-sell is being rejected by the permaculture blogging community.
"For many decades I have felt that a collapse of the global economic system might save humanity and many of our fellow species great suffering by happening sooner rather than later because the stakes keep rising and scale of the impacts are always worse by being postponed." (p 9)
"It seems obvious to me that it is easier to convince a minority that they will be better off disengaging from the system than any efforts to build mass movements demanding impossible outcomes or convincing elites to turn off the system that is currently keeping them in power." (p 14)
"Mass movements to get governments to institute change have been losing efficacy for decades, while a mass movement calling for less seems like a hopeless case. Similarly boycotts of particular goverments, companies and products simply change the consumption problems into new forms." (p 22)Holmgren proposes a possible solution:
"Given the current fragilities of global finance, I believe a radical change in the behaviour of a relatively small proportion of the global middle class could precipitate such a crash. For example a 50% reduction of consumption and 50% conversion of assets into building household and local community resilience by say 10% of the population in affluent countries would show up as 5% reduction in demand in a system built on perpetual growth and a 5% reduction in savings capital available for banks to lend." (p 13)
Where I agreeHolmgren couches his proposal almost rhetorically, apologetically, as if proactively halting the ecocidal system is crazy talk. He need not be so shy about advocating for collapsing the system! It follows very logically if you agree that:
- Industrial civilization is degrading our landbases every day it continues, far faster than we're healing them
- Industrial civilization will collapse sooner or later regardless of what we do
- Industrial civilization will not divert its resources into healing our landbases before it collapses
So I fully agree with crashing the system as soon as possible, and I fully agree with getting as many people as possible to withdraw their dependence on and allegience to the systems and structures of industrial civilization. We desperately need people preparing for crash and building resiliency, in human and in broader ecological communities.
Where I disagreeWe also need a viable strategy to stop the dominant culture in its tracks. We are, and will remain, a tiny minority fighting a system of massive power. Individual lifestyle changes do not affect the larger political systems. People "dropping out" is not enough, is not a solution, is not an effective, leveraged way to crash the system.
I worry about Holmgren's speculative numbers. I assume the elite, who control a hugely disproportionate percentage of income and wealth, will be even harder to convince of voluntary simplicity than the average citizen. The poor generally don't have the option to cut spending by 50%, and have few or no assets to divest from global corporate investments. My rough calculations (based on data here) suggest that in the US, 15% of earners between the 40th and 80th percentile (more or less the middle class) must adopt this economic boycott to slow consumption by 5%, and nearly 50% of the middle class must divest their savings to reduce nationwide investment in the global financial system by 5%.
Even hoping for just 15% of the US middle class, 18 million people would have to embrace substantial short-term sacrifice. (While decreasing consumption 50% and building gardens and other resiliency infrastructure, people must still work the same hours at their jobs. Otherwise they'll simply be replaced by those who want to live the consumptive dream.) This lofty goal seems inconsistent with Holmgren's recognition of the infeasibility of a mass movement.
History throws up more red flags. Again and again, when growth economies have encountered sustainable cultures, people from the growth economies have forced the others off their land, requiring them to integrate into the cash economy. The dominant culture will not gently relinquish access to resources or to consumer markets. It will retaliate with weapons honed over centuries, from taxes and outlawing sustainability to displacement and blatant conquest. On a less dramatic scale, banks can, if divestments sufficiently diminish the cash they've been hoarding for years, adjust fractional reserve rates to compensate. (Though precipitating a fast "run" on the banks could work very nicely to crash the financial system and wipe out faith in fiat money.)
Permaculture activists and thousands of other individuals and groups have for years urged people to consume less. Many good people have adopted voluntary simplicity, dropped out of the global economy, and built regenerative local systems. While this has immense value for the adopting individuals, and often ripples out to benefit the wider community, it hasn't put a dent in the destruction by the larger financial system. New people are born or assimilated into the culture of consumption faster than people are dropping out.
Holmgren advocates more of the same permaculture activism, with little explanation of why it would now convince people in numbers thousands of times greater than in the past. He hopes the ever-more-obvious signs of imminent collapse will prompt a more rapid shift, but given our fleeting window of opportunity to act, we can't bank on that hope.
Another ApproachDeep Green Resistance is a design book of what makes a good resistance movement, a permaculture analysis of influencing power and political systems.1 It arrives at the same conclusion as does Holmgren: we need to prepare for crash by building local resiliency, but the sooner industrial civilization comes down, the better. Its crash will leave the majority of humans better off short-term, as their landbases will no longer be plundered by the rich for resources. Crashing the sytem now will benefit all humans long-term, giving future generations better odds of enjoying liveable landbases on a liveable planet. And crashing the system now will obviously benefit the vast majority of non-humans, currently being poisoned, displaced, and exterminated.
If we truly hold as our goals halting ecocide and slashing greenhouse gas emissions as dramatically as Holmgren suggests, we must devise a realistic plan, based on a realistic assessment of our numbers and strengths, the vulnerabilities of industrial civilization, and how much longer the planet can absorb its blows. Recognizing our tiny numbers and relative weakness compared to the global system, and limited time before our planet is beaten into full ecosystem collapse, we must apply the permaculture principle of making the least change to achieve maximum effect.
The Deep Green Resistance book, as part of its strategy of Decisive Ecological Warfare, examines more than a dozen historic and contemporary militant resistance movements. It concludes that "a small group of intelligent, dedicated, and daring people can be extremely effective, even if they only number one in 1,000, or one in 10,000, or even one in 100,000. But they are effective in large part through an ability to mobilize larger forces, whether those forces are social movements [...] or industrial bottlenecks."
Holmgren notes that it's easier to convince a minority to disengage from the system than to spark a majority mass movement for true sustainability, but his plan relies on 10% of the population making dramatic change. DGR's analysis suggests it's easier yet to convince a tiny minority to take strategic direct action. The rest of the sympathetic population, whether 10% or just 1% of the general public, can provide material support and loyalty with much less immediate sacrifice than in Holmgren's proposal.
The Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta (MEND), with small numbers of people and meager resources, has used militant tactics against oil companies to routinely reduce oil output in Nigeria by 10-30%.
In April 2013, saboteurs in San Jose CA shot out transformers in an electrical substation, causing damage that took weeks to repair. The New York Times explains some of the difficulties involved in replacing transformers, especially if many were to fail in a short period of time.
We have more promising strategies available than hoping we can persuade 10% of the population to adopt voluntary simplicity, and hoping that will crash the financial system.
ConclusionWhile I wholeheartedly agree with Holmgren's analysis of our global predictament, and the desirability of crashing the system, his proposal for doing so seems ineffective. Certainly, we should work to disengage ourselves and neighbors from the global system, but we must combine building alternative structures with actively resisting and strategically sabotaging the dominant system.
Many people will disagree with the necessity of crashing the system, because they don't think conditions are that bad, because they hold vague hopes that God or technology or permaculture will save us, because they fear that fighting back will increase the anger of our abusers, or because they value their own comfort more than the life of the planet. That's fine; we can agree to disagree, though I encourage those people to further explore these ideas with their minds and with their hearts.
Many people do see the destructiveness of this culture, the inevitability of its crash, and the desirability of it crashing sooner than later; but won't want to participate directly in bringing it down for any of many perfectly legimitate reasons. That's fine, too. There's lots of work to do, and a role for everyone. You can work on restoration of your landbase or crash preparation for your community while providing material and ideological support to those on the front lines. We can join together as "terra-ists", with our hands not just in the soil as Holmgren defines the term, but also working with wrenches upon the wheels, the levers, and all the apparatus of industrial civilization.
- Endgame by Derrick Jensen, two volume analysis of the problems of civilization and the solution. Several excerpts available at the website.
- Deep Green Resistance - a book, an organization, and a strategy to save the planet
- Liberal vs Radical video presentation by Lierre Keith, explaining the different approaches of these two different frameworks for perceiving the world.
- For my readers in Portland, check out the DGR Lower Columbia chapter, and consider helping with their riparian habitat restoration on the Washougal River this Sunday, January 26th.
 Thanks to Stella Strega of Integral Permaculture for this observation
Sunday, December 15, 2013
- Replaced half to two-thirds of the zone 1 perennial beds with annual beds
- Removed the double row of failing raspberries near the house and mostly left it open (at least for now?) as a big path
- Ironically, after we removed the herb spiral which didn't work very well and dug a catchment pond, the new owners filled in the pond and made a little herb spiral in its place
- Replaced the dead olive in zone 2 and its perennial understory with annuals
- Replaced a large swath of the former driveway, including a sickly or dead pawpaw circle, with a strawberry mound
- Planted some new trees: figs on west side of house, pawpaw in back yard
- Removed the backyard chicken paddock fences
- Replaced the wood shed in the backyard with a second chicken coop (or run?) next to our original coop
View the album
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Of the small seeds, fennel seed comes the closest to meeting my overall food forest goals, as a perennial insect nurturing weedy multi-use plant, with seeds providing good calorie yield per square foot. However, it misses my goal of being edible in large quantities; I'm eating about 50 calories per day of it, and don't think I would want to increase that beyond 100-200 at most. Read a more detailed write-up.
Good King Henry works well as a perennial, decently yielding low-maintenance seed crop. But it bears seeds even smaller than quinoa, which require processing to get off the chaff. My limited experiment suggested the labor time:calorie yield is good, making it worthwhile to process them if you're serious about growing your own calories, but it does take a while. GKH seed requires the same sort of soaking as does quinoa, but I don't find that at all time consuming or difficult. I find the cooked seeds hearty and delicious, and everyone else who's sampled them has liked them as well.
Sunflower seeds have a lot of potential, though we've had trouble direct seeding due to slug pressure, and we've consistently failed to harvest and/or process the seed heads in the autumn to actually eat them.
Favas and early peas also have a lot of potential for us in winter-rain Mediterranean climates, though again we've had trouble with slug pressure. Our slug problem also means we've yet to successfully grow, let alone overwinter, scarlet runner beans, but I'd love to get that going as a perennial large-seeded legume.
We've been growing evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) as a root, leaf, flower, and seed crop, but I find the seeds pretty much unusable. They're easy enough to harvest, but they're so tiny that I can't run them through our grain grinder or just sprinkle them on food and expect to crush them up in the course of eating. I have to deliberately eat a pinchful at a time and chew them up really well. Sadly, the seeds have no flavor at all; it's like eating tiny crunchy nothingness. I don't enjoy eating tiny crunchy nothingness, so I've given up on these as a seed crop.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
- Most importantly, experiment with ways to integrate small animals such as ducks, chickens, rabbits, and guinea pigs into perennial gardens in such a way that the animals benefit the system, require minimal care, and produce high quality eggs & meat.
- Keep bees for honey for moderate consumption. They'll gather incredible numbers of calories for the space required.
- If you have a pond, try growing fish, even if just goldfish for slow-growing, very occasional eating by yourself or poultry.
- Keep grazers such as geese, sheep, buffalo, and cattle where the land wants to grow grass.
- Keep browsers such as goats where the land wants to grow trees. Manage them carefully to ensure they don't make the land grow dead trees and sad scrub.
- Plant nuts. Chestnuts, acorns, english walnuts, black walnuts, filberts, and ginkgos have all proven themselves as reliable abundant croppers in the PNW.
- Plant fruits & berries. Figure out how much you can realistically eat, and how much is healthy for you.
- Grow olives if you can, for low-PUFA, oil rich food. Our olives failed to grow, but others in the Portland area have had success. We may not have given our plants good enough drainage.
- Use the seed kernels from Prunus and other fruit species as bonus seeds for your own or livestock consumption.
Herbaceous seed crops
- Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus): needs breeding work for increased seed production (larger and/or more seed.) We found it a very low maintenance and tough crop, though we didn't perfect a ground cover situation to eliminate the need for spring weeding. Seed yields never got very high for the land involved - perhaps partly from competition following our neglect in weeding, and partly from inadequate irrigation in the summer.
- Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus): try growing them as perennials. We never succeeded in growing them well even for the first year (slug pressure?), and the few healthy plants didn't overwinter. Someone in my neighborhood grew them as perennials on the west side of his house for summer shade, so maybe giving them a similar warm microclimate and/or heavily mulching would help. Breeding for hardiness may help. Supposedly you can dig up the roots and store them in a root cellar, then replant in spring.
- Experiment with recently developed perennial grains for humans (assuming you can digest them OK) and/or animals.
- Integrate minimal maintenance legumes like overwintered favas and early spring peas (we had minimal success with these - ducks to keep down our slugs may have helped). As with the grains, humans can eat these in moderation if they don't have bad reactions, and/or they can feed livestock.
- Perennial flax (Linum perenne). We grew this on our ecoroof and got a few seeds the first year. We didn't stay long enough to know whether it produces well once fully established. If not, maybe it could benefit from breeding work. Like its annual relative, perennial flax oil is rich in omega-3, highly beneficial for us and for livestock.
- Find other perennial seed crops for minor or major production. For example, we found fennel extremely easy to grow and harvest for ourselves and for the chickens, but we could only eat a small amount of seed each day because of its strong flavor. Perhaps a variety of minor seed crops could add up to useful caloric inputs.
- Breed other perennial legumes for larger or more useful seeds for humans, or just plant them as livestock fodder - Lupinus perennis, Vicia cracca, Vicia americana, black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), pea shrubs (Caragana sp.), and ...?
- Jerusalem artichokes AKA sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus): Fantastic drought tolerant, persistent, low-to-no-labor abundant yielder. Due to high inulin content, these only work well as a staple crop if you can either:
- Digest them OK with minimal cooking (many people ferment them).
- Cook them long enough on a wood stove running in the winter anyway.`
- Skirret (Sium sisarum): breed for increased root production. We found yields quite reasonable at 1/2 pound/year in good conditions, and 1/4 pound/year in shade or poor soil. We experienced enough variation in yields between different plants to warrant selecting for larger and more roots. Skirret also deserves experimentation with different lengths of multi-year growth before harvest to maximize its potential as a perennial; we generally found the roots larger and less woody if we let the plant grow for two or three years, but never quantified this precisely.
- Grow mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum), oca (Oxalis tuberosa), and yacon (Polymnia sonchifolia) as perennials, deep mulching as needed to overwinter them.
- Where conditions allow, try aquatic crops like cattail, water chestnut, and wapato.
- Develop and refine perennial polycultures such as my experiments with skirret/oca/potato and yellow asphodel/oca/lily.
- Cinnamon vine (Dioscorea batatas): great potential as a no-dig staple carb from its aerial bulbils. Set up on a permanent trellis such that you can lay a tarp or sheet under the vines to easily collect lots of bulbils at once.
- Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides): summer available root with mild flavor from an aggressive ground cover. May work well under jerusalem artichoke.
- Yellow asphodel (Asphodeline lutea): summer-available root adapted to summer drought and intercropping well with many other plants. Try to breed it for larger roots (perhaps at the expense of its flowering, which though beautiful and providing tasty nibbles presumably diverts a lot of energy from the roots.)
- Scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica): experiment with how long to leave in the ground without having to dig too deep for the taproot. I tended to dig the top foot or so of the root, but snapped it off and lost it below that point. Experiment with replanting a portion of the tops instead of needing to resow from seed. I have successfully transplanted individuals with 6-12" of root, but suspect you could plant even less, and therefore get to eat more.
- Asiatic lily (Lilium sp): I assume Asian growers bred these over thousands of years to select for larger bulbs from these gourmet crops. Seek out varieties with maximum food yield instead of showiest flower.
- Camas (Camassia sp.): Another inulin rich root, requiring experimentation in a solar cooker to evaluate as a summer staple root. Otherwise it may not be justifiable due to the large amount of fuel required to make it digestible.
- Garlic (Allium sativum): pseudo-staple (since you can only eat so much of it per day.) Super easy to grow and supposedly high in calories per pound, though I wonder whether the high inulin content means we don't actually digest all the calories.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Animal ProductsIdeally, we can convince chickens, bees, and other livestock to spend their copious free time eating food of low value to humans, then eat them and their eggs, meat, milk, and honey. In a well designed system, our critters self-harvest, according to their preferences: small seeds, bugs, grass & other leaves, and pollen & nectar. This maximizes our efficiency, and provides us with some of the healthiest human food possible.
Calories per pound: Eggs - 650, Meat - 525, Milk - 300, Honey - 1400
NutsNut trees can provide easy, reliable oil-rich seeds year after yaer. The fact that it takes a decade to start getting big yields just means we need to plant them *now*. And of course we can underplant developing nut trees with faster growing crops to use the space in the early years. Besides the usual nuts, oaks for acorns should get some attention. Oikos Tree Crops has some interesting naturally dwarfish seedlings which could fit much more easily into urban & suburban yards.
Possible nuts include walnut (black & english), butternut, filbert, chestnut, ginkgo, acorn, almond, pistachio, pecan, hickory, and pine. Many of these can be foraged easily.
Note that paleodiet circles warn against excess consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA); most oil-rich nuts have high levels of PUFAs. I'm still trying to sort through this issue for myself.
Calories per pound: About 900 for chestnuts, 1800 for ginkgo, and 2700-3300 for the more oily nuts.
|Good King Henry seed heads|
Small SeedsThough most of these work best as self-harvested livestock fodder, some may yield abundantly enough and process easily enough to be worth harvesting ourselves. Possible species include good king henry, fennel, Amaranthus sp, Chenepodium sp, perennial grains, dock, perennial flax, sunflower seeds, squash seeds, and various legumes including peas, favas, runner beans, and Carol Deppe's breeds adapted to the Willamette Valley. Not all will be palatable in large enough quantities to truly serve as staple crops: for example, fennel. But we should definitely explore those that do meet all three criteria of good yields, efficient harvest & process, and non-overwhelming flavor.
Calories per pound: around 1600
|Mulberries & Serviceberries|
Fruits & BerriesEveryone loves nature's candy, and the existing permaculture literature does a great job giving species options and describing how to grow them -- perhaps to an excessive extent, to the detriment of other important calorie crops. I found that I could eat about one pound of fruit per day, and half a pound of berries. Though I could probably push myself to eat more, Sébastien Noël of Paleodiet Lifestyle suggests limiting fructose intake to 50g/day, meaning no more than about 1 1/2 pounds of fruit and berries per day assuming no other sugars (including honey.)
Calories per pound: About 300 for fruits, 200 for berries
RootsPerennial, low maintenance root crops provide a moderately dense calorie crop. I found that I could eat about one pound per day, so they only provided a supplement to daily total calorie intake. Greatly increasing this intake may result in too many carbs for a healthy diet.
Root crops, of course, have the inherent ecological and labor drawback of requiring digging, but appropriate polycultures can mitigate some of the disadvantages.
My notes on perennial roots: part 1 and part 2
Calories per pound: around 300
Winter SquashThough annuals, these don't require much soil disturbance considering how much space they take up at maturity, and can self-seed themselves (though we may have undesirable results from uncontrolled crossing.) while summer squash have the calorie density and uses of other vegetables, winter squash occupies a gray zone between calorie crop and vegetable. I can eat a lot of it in one sitting, but it has fewer calories than roots or fruits (but more than most other vegetables). It has more nutrients than many staple crops. It yields abundantly when happy, and stores well into the winter without processing. Unfortunately, its season of availability coincides with the primary availability of the super easy perennial roots, somewhat diminishing its staple crop value. Still, it adds diversity to the winter meal options, and can definitely provide a substantial number of calories.
Calories per pound: around 200
Bonus Seed KernelsWe can eat the seeds from many fruits, giving us a small calorie-dense bonus. Species include all Prunus species (cherry, plum, peach, etc), Elaeagnus sp (goumi, autumn olive, silverberry), Cephalotaxus sp, and grapes. With the exception of almonds, a Prunus, no one grows any of these specifically for the seed kernels, but they're worth utilizing if we have them anyway! I used to eat some myself, and fed some to our chickens.
Calories per pound: guessing 1500-2500
Greens & Other VegetablesThough not calorie crops, these add important nutrients to the diet. I found it very easy to meet our needs of 4 oz/day/person from perennial greens, shoots, stalks, and flowers.
Calories per pound: about 100