Monday, July 30, 2007

Hope the below makes sense its something I have been trying to put together for a week or two now.

Autonomy and Hierachy and Agriculture

Over 12000 years we have gone from semi nomadic bands of a few dozen people to living in citys of millions, this fact alone testifys to the remarkable adaptability of the human brain. I do not think any other primate could adapt to such a large change in social organisation. This shift towards mass society has required that individuals suppress their own autonomy to the greater good.

Pre agriculture humans lived in bands and small tribes, varying in number from 10 – 200 these bands were semi nomadic, had few material possessions and enjoyed a quality of life only surpassed by rich western nations within the past 100 years. In fact in some areas such as working life it is thought that the most affluent of western nations do not have as much leisure as pre agricultural peoples did. With a lot more time to forge social connections and a high level of interdependence amongst small groups of people conflict would probably have been minimised. Also social censure and custom would probably have been a lot more effective at limiting dispute than in our society.

Hierarchy as we know it was limited in hunter gatherer societies. Due to low populations levels and constraints on food an energy supply hierarchy could not emerge on an institutionalised basis. Also limiting the rise of hierarchy was social cooperation required during the hunt, and the benefits of sharing food. If a tyrannical leader did emerge then an option was available that is no longer available to us, they could splinter and groups go there separate ways. As the knowledge of food and medicinal plants was attained at a relatively early age the threat of starvation if you walked out of the area was nowhere near as real as it is for agriculturalists.

As humans made the transition from low intensity methods of cultivation to high intensity forms hierarchy became to emerge for several reasons. The storable surplus generated in agricultural societies provided enough energy to support increasing complex forms of social organisation. Complex social organisation became necessary for projects such as irrigation and the use of hierarchy would have been virtually unavoidable in managing growing numbers of people. In hunter gatherer society food storage was often difficult and food sharing was a key way of ensuring that even if you didn’t catch or find much one day you would still get something to eat. The storable surpluses allowed by agriculture changed this and the huge investment of time and energy in food production made individual or family control over land and food unavoidable.
Whereas social complexity was not beneficial to hunter gatherer societies as it was not necessary to organise people to wander round collecting roots. It became highly rewarding in agricultural societies. If an agricultural community could organise to build an irrigation network or organise to conquer the surrounding area then that community had a significant advantage over lower complexity societies. Hierarchy as a way of managing that complexity would have inevitably emerged.

Specialisation and autonomy

Specialisation is one of the defining features of civilisation someone produces the food, someone else makes the pots and someone else does the hunting. On a day to day scale this is just people doing what they are best at be it hunting birds or climbing trees for honey. However once specialisation becomes occupational it quickly deprives humans of freedom and forces participation in the wider system no matter how destructive that system is.

In our society all land is owned be it by individuals companies or the state, and to get anything helpful to survival one must pay. This payment varies from hunting licenses, rent purchase price etc but the general rule is that to survive one must participate in the economic system. Added to this is a never before seen level of specialisation our society has created. This specialisation is so complete that virtually no one in our society has the skills necessary to survive outside of our technological society. On top of these two material barriers to surviving apart from our industrialised society are psychological and social barriers. We have all to some degree or another internalised the belief that working hard or specialising in some particular field is our ultimate job in life. We have also internalised the belief that surviving in an environment which is not under the control of humans is difficult and painful. Well so what? I believe that understanding why the vast majority of the population continues to participate in such a destructive culture is vital to any attempts to stop the destruction of our own culture.

From birth our free will is systematically broken, if we can be forced to sit in a dull room writing lines instead of playing outside then we will do anything. Now from birth young people are placed in front of screens to entertain them, leaving them bored whenever they are not hyperstimulated by loud colourful images. These efforts to break our free will and to destroy the ability to entertain ourselves means that we do have free time we don’t know what to do with ourselves and instead look for content generated by another. This guarantees that even we are not relying on the system for the basic nessecities of survival we look to it for entertainment and direction. The chances of us spending our free time consciously or unconsciously picking up the ability to live in wild nature because of this lower for our generation than any one before us in history.

Complexity requires specialisation, a dam above a certain size requires egineers, brick makers, scaffoldders etc etc. Everyone could do some of each job but as specialisation increases efficiency when there is enough energy then it makes sense for each person to do one particular job. Because every part of the dam requires all the workers to do their jobs on time nobody is free to choose to do something different. For the dam to be built the workers must suppress their own desires for the good of the wider society. This message of suppressing our own desires is the message which has been drummed into us from birth.

As society increases in scale our individual power over decisions is increasingly limited. So in a village of 50 people with rich terrain surrounding it I may be able to say I don’t want to build the dam due to the effect on the fish in the stream and I might have apretty good chance of getting my way. Not building the dam would be a possibility because population pressure and the resulting need to intensify production of crops would probably not override all other factors. If I lived in a city of 100,000 people with an exploding population to to the need for more and more workers in the fields then my opinion about the fish would be irrelevant. Population pressure would require the intensification in production and my role as an individual would be reduced to that of a cog.

As scale increases the ability of humans to make meaningful choices becomes more and more limited. In our own society no one has the power to stop the endless increases in destruction as to do so would not be in the best interest of the generations now alive. Of course individuals may feel differently, some may go so far as to attempt to block the construction of dams knowing full well the increasing requirements the wider society has for increasing food or power production. If these people put up more than a symbolic protest and the wider society places the perceived need for power production over that of the natural world then whoever in charge will invariably use whatever force is deemed acceptable to get that dam built.

Some of us feel strongly enough about the destruction our society is causing to want to try and abandon it. This is where the obstacles come into play; first of all we need a place to live. For agricultural societies abandoning farms and walking off into the bush when things got tough was a real possibility but for us that is a lot more difficult. We need to pay to live anywhere so we need to buy a place outside of the system. Also none of us have any of the survival skills common amongst pre agricultural peoples so we need to rely on our current society to survive until we acquire those skills. And as has been pointed out before you often have to pay to acquire those very skills from someone who already knows them. And once we have land and the skills we need to survive we need to constantly pay rates or some form of basic tax for the right to exist on the land. meeting all of these conditions is enough of a barrier to ensure that almost everyone no matter how much they hate what our culture is doing will not walk away from it.

A barrier often ignored by permaculturalists and others walking away from the system is the need for community. The chances of finding a dozen or so others who are willing and motivated enough to walk away from civilisation is rather slim and the type of people who most hate this society have social problems which make a healthy functioning community a very hard task. This need for community is a problem which is often ignored and both makes surviving outside civilisation difficult and unattractive for many.

Our society has places for people who are set upon walking away from it as too try and contain everyone would be too much work. Small niches of people exist on the fringes of all societies, hermits, bums, punks, anarchist squats, cults and many other ways of living are allowed because they are not attractive enough to cause large portions of society to quit there jobs and walk away. And these groups do have benefits such as a sense of community which overrides the discomfort these lifestyles entail.

Increasing complexity reduces us to cogs in a global machine and leaves very few with the ability to stop it. I believe that the barriers to abandon society are high enough to contain all but the most determined. Because of this I see a collapse brought on by an inability generate enough food and energy to support our complex way of life as the only way that people will ever leave our current society. Even then the above barriers will still work to keep people clinging to the remnants of civilisation as long as possible.
Food forests Continued

I was looking at a abandoned industrial lot with some tree’s growing overhead and greenery carpeting wherever soil is open and small patches of greenery growing through wherever there are cracks in the pavement and it hit me why the ideal food forest for fruit production is open with heaps of light and heaps of greenery all over the ground. I feel a bit silly for not recognising it earlier but of course its because we are trying to keep a state of interrupted succession at around the 3 – 7year mark from an abandoned field. This is the stage where trees are about 2 – 3meters high bushes and shrubs are growing well whilst there is still quite a bit of herbaceous vegetation growing across the ground. If we were to allow succession to continue we would include timber and other species and create a dark forest type environment not conducive to the fast growing fruiting species we rely upon for food.

Food forests still rely on interrupting and keeping succession at an artificially early stage. This is illustrated if you look at a mature New Zealand mixed podocarp forest which is a dark thick environment completely unsuited to growing fruit trees in. While not as destructive as agriculture which takes succession back to the beginning at least once a year and normally a whole lot of times a year we still inhibit the development of mature forests. This seems to fit some memory’s I have of how the early stages of succession are the most productive.

In some food forest systems such as those practices pre European in some areas of the Amazon forests were allowed to develop over 150 years before the cycle of succession began again through slash and burn techniques.

Anyway it was a good reminder that I should go out and test my ideas by looking at natural ecosystems rather than just looking at books and websites writer by permaculturalists. As most permacultural texts come from Britain which has cold winters or the subtropical environment present in Australia we must be careful to design according to our own landscapes. I also stumbled upon this a very thought provoking article by David Holmgren about the role of “weed” species in Permaculture and land restoration econsynthesis in weed landscapes originally printed in the Permaculture International Journal.

Where we try and keep succession (with more trees)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Food forest class.

Yesterday I delivered a class on food forests as part of Royal Oaks’s Horizon gardens Master Gardener’s series. I started with a quick introduction about the destructiveness of modern agriculture before explaining succession in disturbed landscapes and the productivity of edge areas. We then went outside and sheetmulched an area I have been turning into a food forest with a friend. The area is a grove of tamarillo tree’s which we had cleared of weeds and done our best to rid of wandering dew a plant which is virtually impossible to clear completely. We covered the layer of herbaceous weeds with about 15 layers of newsprint and then a 10 – 15cm thick layer of deadly nightshade and banana palms taken from the area scheduled to be developed in a few short weeks. We then covered the vegetation with a few centimetres of cosmetic hay.

During my research for the class I have come to alter my idea of the Ideal food forest, I’m now thinking that to ensure high production of edible fruit at latitude such as ours the food forest should be fairly open. This does not make the idea of a 7 layer food forest irrelevant but merely modifies it to the low light levels we experience in New Zealand compared to that needed for modern fruit trees. The Unitec food forest which I spent a lot of time working in over 2 years is very thick with almost complete canopy cover and perhaps as a result fruit yields are very poor.

Sheetmulched area

Ornamental banana in food forest

Covering with paper

Covering with vegetation

Applying straw

Friday, July 27, 2007

Plea to gardeners: keep a little patch unclipped to help save bumblebees

from the guardian

Let the neighbours mutter in dismay. Unruly, overgrown gardens have been highlighted as a vital refuge for the nation's dwindling bumblebee population, in a countrywide survey by conservationists.

Patches of garden that are left to run wild have been ranked as one of the richest for nesting bumblebees, offering better shelter and food resources than farmland and wooded areas, the report finds.

More than 700 volunteers took part in the National Bumblebee Nest Survey, with each scouring a garden and at least one other natural habitat to help with the understanding of the insects' favoured nesting sites.

Britain has about 25 native species of bumblebee, although three have been declared nationally extinct. Populations of nine other species are so precarious they have, or are due to be, designated special concerns by the government's Biodiversity Action Plan. In total, 15 species have seen serious contractions in their numbers, a drop that has alarmed conservationists.
The survey, published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology, found that gardens had among the highest densities of bumblebee nests, with an average of 36 nests per hectare.

Farmland fencing was also identified as a rich habitat for the insects, with 37.2 nests per hectare. Other countryside habitats made less suitable nesting grounds, with hedgerows being home to about 30 nests an hectare and woodlands just 11 nests an hectare.

Bumblebees build nests above ground or just beneath and line them with moss and leaves. Slightly neglected gardens are particularly good habitats for the bees because of the abundance of nesting options, such as compost heaps and bird boxes, and additionally the rich variety of flowers over the year that many gardeners cultivate.

"These kinds of gardens really provide a refuge for bumblebees, as long as people don't manage them too carefully," said Juliet Osborne, an ecologist at Rothamsted Research, the agricultural research centre based at Harpenden, Hertfordshire. "If you've got different grass areas, flower beds, compost heaps and hedges, there's a vast variety of habitats for bumblebees," she said.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jesus camp

I just got back from seeing jesus camp, One of the more disturbing films I have seen. The film focuses on one family of evangelical Christians, homeschoolers raising their kids as fundamentalist Christians. The films folows the family to two children’s gatherings where kids are told that they are the most important generation to walk the face of the earth, music and powerful tones of voice bring kids to tears and after guilt tripping them into believing they aren’t good enough the kids end up bawling there eyes out, fitting on the floor and praying in tongues. Seeing a 6 year old arms outstretched with the deranged look of a apocalyptic preacher is seriously disturbing. I think most of the audience was shocked by the film, whilst it was amusing in parts (praying for a cardboard cut out of George Bush springs to mind) overall the film was deeply chilling.

The film was particularly fascinating for me as with due to my Christian upbringing I could identify word for word with much of the film. The purposeful emotional manipulation of children the film captures is breathtaking. The effectiveness with which the Christians are able to work people up and close their minds makes this an absolute must see, particularly for those of us who oppose the right wing patriarchal values Christianity has come to represent.

I think the resurgence of fundamentalist churches in New Zealand and abroad reflects the profound sense of meaninglessness our culture has creates. In religion people are finding the sense of purpose belonging and belief which is absent from consumerism and the split family unit. As we face the threats posed by an energy descent and catabolic collapse I would expect more and more people to turn to the church. When people spend their lives working jobs they hate spending evenings huddled round blue flickering screens its no wonder they turn to fundamentalist beliefs for meaning and the support many other cultures had from birth.

Heres a few clips from Youtube

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Pro Aborigine Protest at Rugby Game

Placards saying "Protect Aboriginal Children From Howard" with an aboriginal flag on the back were distributed to members of the public going into the New Zealand vs Australia rugby game tonight. Hundreds of leaflets comparing New Zealands racist policy's with those of the Howard government were also distributed. Many members of the public were supportive and the dozens of placards we had were distributed well before the game started. Tonights protest was particularly aimed at the land confiscation proposed by the Howard government and the military occupation of aboriginal land. The public were informed that it was once again time to "mix sport and politics" which brought back memories of the springbok tour to many of the people going into the game.

Feel free to use any of these images on websites which support aboriginal rights. To New Zeal and other right wingers please do not use these images.
The full press release for the event is available here

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hydroponic system

I got given a hydroponic system the other day, I'm pretty excited about it. Its a conventional Nutrient Flow Technique system big enough for about 15 tomato plants which is a pretty decent number of tomatoes, peppers whatever. Iv gained some enthusiasm for hydroponics from work and see it on the same level of environmental impact as watching tv riding in a car going shopping etc. Many of the fresh vegies we eat are grown hydroponically and for people with limited space its an option I would recommend considering.

Much cooler would be if I used it as an aquaponics system in conjunction with the pond I'm turning the pool into. This would be much more sustainable an low impact and would be a really cool demonstration unit to the public. Iv read some stuff by the new alchemy institute that makes aquaponics sound workable but have to do some more detailed research.

Peak oil

Peak oil is seeping into popular culture, apparently it was the lead item on the news a few days ago saying that oil would peak in 3 - 5 years. Whether this chatter turns into action is highly unlikely but the more people know the better. Also urban self sufficiency is popping up a lot in garden and current affairs shows, I really think greenies could capture interst rather effectivly if they tried.

Im reading the upside of down at the moment and from what I have read I highly reccomend it. The description of the Roman collapse caused by diminishing returns from agriculture and the complex nature of the Roman civilisation is fascinating and definetly deserves a post.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Urban Scout hits the nail on the head

"I once went to see a speaker at Reed College with a friend who went there, and she said to me, “It really impresses me that you never went to college. It takes a lot of courage and self-direction to do what you do.” I thought about what she said and responded, “I don’t think I have more courage than anyone else. I simply cannot sit in a classroom without wanting to kill myself. I can’t take it psychologically. Perhaps I just have a higher sensitivity than most?” "

"Similarly, I do what I do not because I want to, I don’t martyr myself. I do this because I can’t do the civilization thing without wanting to kill myself. Drugs and entertainment simply cannot take that feeling away."

Taken from here

New Book by Derrick Jensen

So I still have really bad computer access cause my laptop charger is still down but I'm really looking forward to getting the new Derrick Jensen book. The cynicism in the title alone is amazing the amazon page is here

Iv been up to lots of interesting things but am writing on paper now (with these new fangled things called pens its very weird) I also have some good pictures to put up as well, damm internet.

Two of America's most talented activists team up to deliver a bold and hilarious satire of modern environmental policy in this fully illustrated graphic novel. The US government gives robot machines from space permission to eat the earth in exchange for bricks of gold. A one-eyed bunny rescues his friends from a corporate animal testing laboratory. And two little girls figure out the secret to saving the world from both of its enemies (and it isn't by using energy-efficient light bulbs or biodiesel fuel). As the World Burns will inspire you to do whatever it takes to stop ecocide before it's too late

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Just found death of a president the film festival fake doco about George bush's assassination

Great article about the end of cheap food, Im doing a bit of fictional writing but probably wont be posting much for a while, my laptop is still bust.

Hat tip J for the article


Biofuel mania ends days of cheap food

The era of cheap food is over. The price of maize has doubled in a year, and wheat futures are at their highest in a decade. The food price index in India has risen 11 per cent in one year, and in Mexico in January there were riots after the price of corn flour - used in making the staple food of the poor, tortillas - went up fourfold.

Even in the developed countries food prices are going up, and they are not going to come down again. Cheap food lasted for only 50 years.

Before World War II, most families in developed countries spent a third or more of their income on food, as the poor majority in developing countries still do. But after the war, a series of radical changes, from mechanisation to the green revolution, raised agricultural productivity hugely and caused a long, steep fall in the real price of food.

For the global middle class, it was the good old days, with food taking only a tenth of their income.

It will probably be back up to a quarter within a decade. And it may go much higher than that because we are entering a period when three separate factors are converging to drive food prices up.

The first is simply demand. Not only is the global population continuing to grow - about an extra Turkey or Vietnam every year - but as Asian economies race ahead, more people in those populous countries are starting to eat more meat.

Early this month, in its annual assessment of farming trends, the United Nations predicted that by 2016, less than 10 years from now, people in the developing countries will be eating 30 per cent more beef, 50 per cent more pig meat and 25 per cent more poultry.

The animals will need a great deal of grain, and meeting that demand will require shifting huge amounts of grain-growing land from human to animal consumption - so the price of grain and of meat will both go up.

The global poor don't care about the price of meat because they can't afford it even now. But if the price of grain goes up, some of them will starve. And maybe they won't have to wait until 2016, because the mania for bio-fuels is shifting huge amounts of land out of food production.
A sixth of all the grain grown in the United States this year will be "industrial corn" destined to be converted into ethanol and burned in cars, and Europe, Brazil and China are all heading in the same direction.

The attraction of biofuels for politicians is obvious: they can claim that they are doing something useful to combat emissions and global warming - although the claims are deeply suspect - without demanding any sacrifices from business or the voters.
The amount of United States farmland devoted to biofuels grew by 48 per cent in the past year alone, and hardly any new land was brought under the plough to replace the lost food production.

In other big biofuel countries, such as China and Brazil, it's the same straight switch from food to fuel. In fact, the food market and the energy market are becoming closely linked, which is bad news for the poor.

As oil prices rise - and the rapid economic growth in Asia guarantees that they will - they pull up the price of biofuels as well, and it gets even more attractive for farmers to switch from food to fuel.

Nor will politics save the day. As economist Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says: "The stage is now set for direct competition for grain between the 800 million people who own automobiles, and the world's two billion poorest people." Guess who wins.
Soaring Asian demand and biofuels mean expensive food now and in the near future, but then it gets worse.

Global warming hits crop yields, but only recently has anybody quantified how hard. The answer, published in Environmental Research Letters in March by Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution in Stanford, California, and David Lobell of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is quite simple: for every 0.5C hotter, crop yields fall between 3 and 5 per cent.
So 2C hotter, which is the lower end of the range of predicted temperature rise this century, means a 12 to 20 per cent fall in global food production.

This is science, so that answer could be wrong - but it could be wrong by being too conservative. Last year in New Delhi, I interviewed the director of a think tank who had just completed a contract to estimate the impact on Indian food production of a rise of just 2C in global temperature.

The answer, at least for India, was 25 per cent. That would mean mass starvation, for if India were in that situation then every other major food-producing country would be too, and there would be no imports available at any price.

In the early stages of this process, higher food prices will help millions of farmers who have been scraping along on very poor returns for their effort because political power lies in the cities.
But later it gets uglier. The price of food relative to average income is heading for levels that have not been seen since the early 19th century, and it will not come down again in our lifetimes.

Friday, July 06, 2007

My new favourite artist

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Afternoon in Newmarket

I know it comes with the territory but the police response to protest actions seldom fails to impress me. At anti war marches we often have 25 – 30 police officers for several hours at fur demos we often have two or three cop cars and the officers attending our events are often the very highly trained Team Policing Unit (TPU) in Auckland or the Strategic Response Group (SRG) in Wellington. I know occasionally protesters break the law but the police presence, response and arrests seem to far outweigh any behavior from protesters.

Add to high police numbers the omnipresent photographers and videographers and I’m left wondering how much of a threat we really seem. Are our actions so threatening to the public that we must be photographed every time we march for peace? Should we be arrested every time we piss off a business owner or cop?

This Saturday was a particularly stunning of a police overreaction to a fur protest in Auckland. We had 4 cop cars and 6 cops including a detective and a senior officer turn up, a baton was pulled out and one of the officers was wearing Tazer. The chatter on the radios must have been intense as a photographer told us “I was listening to the scanner and I thought you were smashing bank windows or something” he seemed rather bored by our demo.

Our police culture treats every protester as a criminal who is only allowed to walk the streets at the whims of whatever officer happens to be on duty that day. Add to this any new police act or terrorist act and we are well on our way to shutting down any effective public dissent.

Cop with Baton
Pissed off detectiveCop with Tazer

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Kiwi Saver

Today marks the public launch of the Labour party's kiwi saver scheme, the superannuation scheme uses a combination of employer contributions and tax credits to entice New Zealanders to save for retirement. With an ageing population low savings and a current account deficit all of this seems kind of prudent. But the kiwi saver scheme has one fatal flaw, the money put into the scheme is being put into the stock market by investment firms. So along comes a protracted recession triggered by peak oil resource wars or whatever and bang the savings of hundreds of thousands of people disappear over night. The world economy relies on perpetual and increasing growth to continue, any long term recession will cause the stock market to collapse. What are the chances that the world economy can continue to grow for another few decades while facing the costs of climate change, fossil fuel depletion and resource wars?

Its pretty clear the Labour government haven't taken the looming environmental apocalypse into account, but I have :) . As any graph showing long term population trends for the globe makes obvious we are in overshoot, with estimates of the carrying capacity of the world varying between 500 million and 2 billion. The ability to feed the world without synthetic fertilisers and pesticides is probably halve our current production and declining daily. Agriculture destroys soils turning fertile topsoil into desert this process has been carried to completion throughout the former fertile crescent and is well underway across the American Midwest, much of Africa and most of Australia. So how does this relate to kiwisaver? Well if you believe that the worlds population and economy is likely to collapse in the next 10 - 100 years this affects ones savings choices dramatically.

I believe that the best investments one can make at this present time are in this order

1 Permaculture/Gardening/Useful skills

2 Land

3 Gold

So if I was in power this is what I would be encouraging New Zealanders to do in terms of planning for retirement. Coincidentally all of these would encourage a transition to a sustainable economy with skills for interdependence, land to grow food on and restore and local control of the currency all promoting a local interdependent country.

Note This post is only semi serious the author takes no responsibility for the savings of anyone following his advice.