Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hope Fear Debt Paranoia

"Michael Moore: 'The Pope's first miracle.'"

Hope, fear, debt and paranoia have been recurrent themes running through our past month as we traversed the northwest corner of the European continent through Iceland, Britain and Denmark.

Iceland is the country that told the world its bankers are not too big to jail and it will not be blackmailed by London, Bonn, or the European central banks. It is still taken to the woodshed regularly and reminded who is in charge. Icelanders are not free to leave their country or to take money with them if they are allowed to go.

Britain is Europe's bad boy, master of every latest Ponzi scheme and constantly one step ahead of collapse, eking astonishing profits as all about her topple and fall. Denmark is a dreamweaver, whose sheer powers of imagineering seem to emanate an aura that can warp reality. With nothing but fairy dust to back its notes and debts, it is poised to test the durability of its famed social capital when placed in the vice grip of open imigration. Like many former bastions of European liberalism, it has taken a hard swing to the right and is getting set for the clown show that follows.

The United States is far along down the circus trail, having starved its science, educational and social programs for decades while feeding its population a steady diet of numbing pharmaceuticals, mind-rotting television, high fructose corn syrup and GMOs, until they can be readily induced in their coma to vote against their own interests, over and over, producing a government of popular lunacy — clownocracy — a Mad Hatter's Tea Party overseen by Donald Trump, as Queen of Hearts; "a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion - a blind and aimless Fury" (description by Lewis Carroll).

Debt is a theft of the options of future generations. To escape debt and claw their way back from penury people will rape, plunder and pillage every last sacred resource, leaving not an inheritance but a ruin. Cascading debt may sweep much of civilization away, perhaps in Jubilee, but the damage will have been done to foundations — and be visited as ecosystem death. Every dollar that cannot possibly be repaid in sweat and hours becomes a drain on Earth's operating system. We grew giddy wealthy on our energy slaves. Don't look now, but they just left and winter is coming.
Obstruction is an occupational hazard we accept because we are in the business of bringing hope, otherwise labeled permaculture, or ecovillage, but we are frequently obstructed and overpowered by those other three elements — fear, debt and paranoia. From time to time we break through enough to peer over the horizon and see what might yet be.

Fear and paranoia are what drive the security state apparatus we encounter most closely and personally when we stand in long lines at airports and then let some gentleman we have only just met fondle our genitals. Of course, we could avoid having our genitals fondled if we would agree to placing ourselves in front of his death ray for a few milliseconds. We know that a few milliseconds won't kill us on the spot but its like buying a ticket in the cancer lottery, and we go through airports often so if we didn't do this fondling ritual we might soon have a shoebox full of such raffle tickets, and who knows? We might win.

Research suggests that anywhere from six to 100 U.S. airline passengers each year may be getting cancer from the machines.  Still, any time you opt out, some brainwashed TSA officer will try to persuade you that scanners are “safe,” or equal to “less than three minutes of air travel,” glossing over the fact that even the lowest doses of ionizing radiation — the kind beamed directly at the body by the scanners and qualitatively not much different in the non-ionizing radiation of millimeter wave devices — will increase your lifetime risk of cancer and inherited damage to your offspring, increasing your and their susceptibility to hundreds of genetically related diseases and disabilities.

It is refreshing to go through airports in Europe and not have to go through these machines because they are banned in Europe and would have been banned in the United States had the scientific or medical community made the call. As it was, the call was made by apparatchiks who skipped the legally required public comment period before deploying the scanners, and bypassed the Food and Drug Administration by waving their Patriot Act, and then, in defending these cruel devices, relied on a small body of unpublished research to insist the machines were safe, ignoring contrary opinions from U.S. and European authorities that recommended precautions, especially for pregnant women. Rapiscan employed Chertoff Group, founded by Homeland Security Nomenklatura Michael Chertoff, to make sure the government worked for them.

In 2013, under threat of a court order, TSA removed the ProVision, made by defense contractor L-3 Communications, from the most busy US airports but re-installed them in smaller airports, such as ours at Nashville. With the L-3, a passenger enters a chamber that looks like a round phone booth and is scanned with a form of low-energy radio waves which have not yet been shown cause cancer, but only because that kind of epidemiological research can take up to half a century. Nonetheless, the mechanism for DNA disruption is established by research into powerlines and other sources of electromagnetic radiation. Millimeter wave devices like the L-3 re-sequence DNA in dividing cells. Does that sound safe?

A review by the National Academy of Sciences found “no compelling evidence” that there is any level of radiation at which the risk of cancer is zero. Rapiscan and the Chertoff group rake in half-a-billion tax dollars per year because safety advocates, medical community and the FDA cannot get traction against paranoia.

We don't place the rational avoidance of premature death and disability in the category of either fear or paranoia. It is merely good sense. We also know that if even ten percent of people were aware of the risk and acted rationally with regard to those airport scanners and opted for the pat-down as we do, then the whole fake façade of security would come to a grinding halt. TSA might actually re-examine their machine's efficacy and decide to do as they do in Europe: junk them.

Which brings us to the Pope and the U.S. Budget.

John Boehner looking like the cat that swallowed the canary
Watching the Pope speak to Congress from the C-Realm watchtower in Brooklyn we were struck by how uncomfortable the Speaker of the House, Hon. John Boehner, a devout Catholic, seemed during that part of the speech, so passionately phrased and delivered, about not falling into a polarized view of the world. The whole Republican plan for world domination is based on repeating the mantra, “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.” This is how they can get away with not releasing the Senate Committee Report on torture, fight trillion-dollar wars against countries that have not threatened them, dig deeper data mines for blanket surveillance, and why you have to take off your shoes at US airports but not abroad. 

In 2001 “Shoebomber” Richard Reid attempted to detonate explosives packed into his shoes while on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. He just gave himself a hotfoot, no worse, but he is now serving 3 consecutive life terms without parole, plus 110 years, in maximum security prison. There was also an underwear bomber on Christmas Day, 2009, using about the same size device, made of identical plastic explosive, but for some unexplained reason no one asks us to take off our underwear.

There is also no reason to imagine that the plastic explosive used by both the Shoebomber and the Underwearbomber would be detected today any better than it was in 2001 and 2009. It would pass right through x-rays and scanners without looking any different than any other shoes, underwear, belt buckle, book or briefcase. The scanners are useless as detection devices, but useful to keep an entire population frightened, and that is the idea. It is about polarization. Us and the Muslims, the rich and the rabble, survivors and zombies.

The Speaker, seated a few feet behind the Holy Father, was fidgeting and then wiping tears. Right afterwards Republicans voted to drop their usual budget blackmail and avert yet another government shutdown, saving billions in tax waste and fraud, and the next morning after attending mass as he does daily, Boehner, the highest ranking member and third in line to the Presidency, announced he was retiring from politics at the end of October, giving only one month's notice. He said he came to the conclusion after morning prayers that “today's the day I'm going to do this. Simple as that.” 

Michael Moore called this the Pope's first miracle. "God knows what’s next over there,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told her staff members. “Coming from earthquake country, this is a big one.” Boehner "blamed the House’s hard-right members, who he said were unwilling to govern," which was, of course, the Pope's point.

A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Perhaps the Pope gives USAnians too much credit. Still, the line about “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place” has real substance in the context of the Bush/Cheney legacy. Paranoia is in the driver's seat in Washington. It is not a rational fear, based on real enemies. It is an irrational fear based on a perverted sense of entitlement and the perceived but incorrect need to protect your superabundant ill-gotten gains from forceful repossession by their rightful owners.

Ironically, this has been the racket of the Holy See for a couple millennia. What's more to be feared than burning in Hell for all eternity? Is that what John Boehner thought about in his morning prayers?

If he is changing his life now and wants some real hope, we will be offering more permaculture design courses next Spring.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Zombie Patrix Apocalypse

"“We recapitulate the conditions that create our fears, subconsciously wanting to relieve the original stress, but then we make the same bad choices, because of our conditioning, and so it goes, we have to do it again.”"

161: the number of countries in which environmental disasters, most of them due to weather-related events, have caused mass displacement of people since 2008.
27 million: the average number of people displaced by environmental disasters each year between 2008 and 2013.
350,000: migrants seeking entry into the EU in 2014.
200 million: likely migrant number seeking entry into the EU when the full impact of climate change is felt.
The Independent (London) 12 Sep 2015

(c) Marko Djurica/Reuters
Masses of young men in their twenties with beards singing Allahu Akbar across Europe. It’s an invasion that threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and identity, far-right Dutch leader Geert Wilders said this week. As the EU parliamentary council was debating how to react to the refugee crisis and scaling up its quotas, Wilders called the wave of refugees an Islamic invasion of Europe.” 
Up to 800,000 asylum seekers are set to be taken in by Germany by the end of the year. At the same time, Hungarian prisoners were rushed to the Serbian border to construct a massive fence, three meters high and topped with razor wire, to stop refugees from crawling over the previous, lower border fence. Shades of World War Z.

Buchenwald Gate: "To Each His Own."
Dramatic footage from television in Europe shows people at Hungary's main refugee camp being fed like wild animals. Crowds of men, women and children struggle to catch bread thrown out from trucks. RT-TV called it "Hungary's Guantanamo." Meanwhile, refugees who made it into Germany earlier in the year are being housed in the barracks of the former Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald, near Weimar.

On the opposite side of the country, Austria halted train service with Hungary due to 'massive overburdening.' Train services between Denmark and Germany were stopped by the state owned train operator, DSB, because of exceptionally tedious passport checks at the border. In southern Denmark, police shut off a section of highway to stop a march of a large group of migrants chanting "Sweden, Sweden," the Associated Press reported September 9th. Just to the east that day, some 300 refugees, including children, were seen entering Denmark on foot from Germany.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday that since the beginning of 2015 about 500,000 people had come to Europe, mainly Syrians and Libyans. Half are children. He urged EU member states to "compulsorily" accept 160,000 migrants to residency within the EU over the next two years. Talk about band-aid approaches. 
Since 2012 more than 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes — 40% of the country's population. They joined 5 million Palestinians already in exile, and equal numbers of Afghans and Somalis. Last year 435,000 people asked for asylum in the EU and 136,000 were awarded it. The rest were deported or went underground.

Today we have a different category of refugees, they are not desperate, starving, poor and unemployed people. No, they are mostly people with average income who primarily seek peace. They need conditions for work and education and European governments must apply effort to this,” the head of Russia’s Federal Migration Service told journalists. 
In 2013 and 2014, over one million people fled into Russia from southeast Ukraine after the US and its NATO allies engineered the overthrow of government, installed a puppet regime and threw the country into civil war and chaos. As the armed conflict over eastern cities subsided, about 600,000 Ukrainians decided never to return home. Of this number 114,000 took part in the Russian program of resettlement and received material aid and a short track to citizenship.

In mid-June this year the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that in 2014 the influx of Ukrainian citizens seeking refuge put the Russian Federation in first place in the world by number of asylum applications.

In 2013 the number of people who fled their homes across the globe went over 50 million for the first time since World War II, a new UN report says.  Amnesty International blamed the UN for ineffective or delayed responses, but the UN is understaffed and underfunded and can do little more than issue warnings to belligerents that yet more refugees will be produced for every bomb they drop. 
You know, there are 805 million food-insecure people in the world, and we only reach between 80-100 million of them on an annual basis,” Ertharin Cousin, the chief of the UN World Food Programme, told reporters. In total, there were 51.2 million refugees and 33.3 million internally displaced people registered by the UN in 2013. Another 32,200 flee their homes every day. Whenever she is meeting with Obama or Putin, she said, she cannot bring up politics — it would be a waste of her time — she can only attempt to bring to their attention the need for more aid.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “You think migration is a challenge in Europe today because of extremism, wait until you see what happens when there's an absence of water, an absence of food, or one tribe fighting against another for mere survival." 

We may not need to wait long
"Syria was destabilized by 1.5 million migrants from rural communities fleeing a three-year drought that was made more intense and persistent by human-driven climate change, which is steadily making the whole eastern Mediterranean and Middle East region even more arid," says Richard Seager of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, who published a report in March on the role of climate change in the Syrian conflict.

"Syria is not the only country affected by this drying. Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Iraq and Iran are too. However the various social, religious and ethnic wars play out, in the coming years and decades the region will feel the stress of declining water resources."

Seager has also studied the Southwestern United States and what the future holds for that region. Drawing upon nineteen different climate modeling groups around the world, Seager and his colleagues concluded that the California drought is only the start of a new regime. “In the Southwest the levels of aridity seen in the 1950s multiyear drought, or the 1930s Dust Bowl, become the new climatology by mid-century,” they reported.

A recent study from the group, Organising to Advance Solutions in the Sahel, suggested that over the next three to four decades up to 200 million Africans are likely to be without sustainable food supplies. This assumes temperatures in the Horn of Africa and Levant rise only 5°C by 2050 and that population continues to grow from about 100 million now, to 300 million in 2050.

"It would be totally implausible to sustainably accommodate this scale of growth," said the report. 
"Without immediate, large-scale action, death rates from food shortages will rise as crops wither and livestock die, and the largest involuntary migration in history could occur."

The Patrix

“We recapitulate the conditions that create our fears, subconsciously wanting to relieve the original stress, but then we make the same bad choices, because of our conditioning, and so it goes, we have to do it again.”
Andy Langford is explaining The Patrix, his term for our cultural prison. He confesses to being middle class white anglo-saxon male, which means he was born to a certain degree of privilege, although just one generation away from mineworkers and growing up in Devonshire, and has often been back on the endless, deceptive treadmill, required of his social class, to advance out of poverty.

He gives the example of when he was a cigarette smoker and he would find himself wanting to quit but giving into another fag, then realizing he was breaking his vow, thinking of himself as a bad person, a chronic loser, and weak-willed. He mimics the slumped shoulders of a great weight bearing down on him as he lowers his self-esteem. 

“It's the oops moment,” he says, “that has the real power.” It is the point at which you have the first recognition that you are failing, that moment of cogent observation, that is the point at which there is an opportunity for intervention and change. Stub out the cigarette before you take a last drag, or descend into the downward cycle of internalizing your addiction with rationalizations and sublimations. The choice is there. What do you do in that moment?

We are in the Gaia University tent at the 2015 International Permaculture Convergence in England, and Andy is explaining his theory of The Patrix to a couple dozen permaculturists who want to know how it relates to climate change.

“We are very sensitive to being hurt,” he explains. Hurt can be emotional or physical but we are taught as children to put aside the pain and buck up, tough it out, stop wingeing, and grow up. So instead of healing the emotional pain on the spot by nurture, weeping, commiseration and other therapies, we internalize the pain and it festers. “It becomes a veil of distress, which later leads us to perverted behavior, such as requiring our children to fall into the same pattern, or institutionalizing it.” Our society becomes shaped, not by logic but by self-oppression. We take out our unhealed hurts on others. 

Thus the horrors of WWI lead to WWII, which leads to the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Operation Desert Shield, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. 

Andy says that climate change is, in a warped sort of way, the echo of our collective near-extinction experiences following supervolcanoes and meteor impacts. Some part of us still recalls that pain, and so wishes to recreate similar crises in hopes of healing our deep hurt from before. We have known for a hundred years what we are doing to the atmosphere. We have known since Malthus the inexorable math of population growth. We have known since at least the Club of Rome report in 1971 about the limits to natural resources and insufficient capacity of the planet to absorb our wastes. We ignore our knowledge — we become ignorant — in order to draw ourselves closer to another apocalypse.

We are fascinated with zombies. Scenes of mass-migrations rivet our attention.

He reckons that if we were willing, we could probably reverse 80% of this embedded hurt in twenty years. It would take a lot of re-evaluation counseling, and permaculture has a role to play. He invites people to contact him — — if they'd like to join this discussion. Generally speaking, we aren't moving in that direction at present, and so the climate crisis simply grinds away like compound interest on our damaged psyches.

And somewhere on the road to Sweden, another Syrian child whose feet ache and belly growls starts to cry and is told to be brave, to stop crying, to hold it in and move along.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

I eat, therefore I kill

"Why do we think we need to appropriate all of the world's arable land to feed humans?"

Icelandic horses
  We are all what we think of as “individuals” in actuality living communities. Here in Iceland we have permaculture course participants from this country and Germany, the USA, Denmark, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, France, Norway, Sweden, Indonesia, Bulgaria and Costa Rica. Each of us is cross-fertilizing all the others with our microbiome — the spores and microbes we carry from our bioregions and freely pass by contact between skin, air, fluids and various surfaces we touch. Each of us leaves as a new microbiome, slightly altered from and more diverse than the one with which we arrived.

We also pick up and incorporate new microbes from the environment of the place. We may be ingesting bits and pieces that have already passed through the body of an old Viking, or his horse, before being interred in the soil for a time, later to find its way into our food and water and now leaving with us to become part of the soil somewhere else. Ultimately, we all come from stardust and are just continuously recycling.

Permaculture's father, Bill Mollison, liked to tease vegetarians about their dietary choices because he thought each of the arguments for going lower on the food chain to be a bit suspect. “I didn't spend several million years clawing my way to the top just to eat tofu,” he once told us over lunch. We looked down at our tofu, awkwardly.

At the time we were attending a permaculture convergence in Perth, Western Australia, and the kitchen staff had been told to expect mostly meat-eaters. Unfortunately there were three times more vegetarians amongst the permies attending, meaning long lines for the vegie option and meal servers experiencing a bit of crisis from lack of foresight.

Iceland: Grasslands thinly cover fields of broken lava; vast areas are suitable for grazing animals only.
Robyn Francis, who was one of Bill's earliest students and helped compile The Permaculture Designer's Manual in the early 1980s, breaks down some of the common ethical arguments. “Meat is just concentrated chlorophyll on a calcium stick,” she says, borrowing a pithy one-off realization from a former student. 

Rotational grazing by pigs breaks up the sod and deepens the soil profile, making it cultivatable for vegetables and grains.
The hackneyed vegan line about not eating things with eyes or that try to run away may be humorous but as we know from studies of sensory mechanisms and “emotions” in plants, those have feelings too, know fear, seek to preserve their lives, and would rather not be your dinner if offered the choice. Moreover, they each have a microbiome made of lots of tiny animals with eyes that try to get away.

Zoocentrism: the relegation of plants to the bottom of a hierarchy of intelligent life.

Robyn puts up a slide from a study of Australian grain farming that shows how many living things — reptiles, birds, ferrets, field mice — are slaughtered each year per hectare of grain being harvested by combines. In the study area of New South Wales, grain harvesters kill 25 times more animals per hectare than comparable pastures of cows destined for slaughter. Put another way, the eyeball ratio of things that try to get away is approximately 25:1 to the vegan side of the ledger. In another slide, she explains that owning a sheepdog consumes the equivalent resource costs of owning an S.U.V.. Don't even get us started on house cats.

Let's face it. If you are alive you only remain so by killing something else. This is how nutrients cycle between rock, soil, plants, decaying matter, insects, bacteria, fungi and animals. It is a group process, each of us taking a role at some time as predator or prey. We might not like to eat worms but in the end they are more than happy to eat us.

There is, in practice, no such thing as autonomy. Practically, there is only a distinction between responsible and irresponsible dependencies."
— Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace 

Published on Facebook on August 27, this image
has 12,000 likes and 2877 shares, so fa
Consider the larger issue of global food supply. Humans now number 7 billion and will continue to expand; energy, food and water supply permitting. A third of Earth's land mass is suitable for agriculture but only about a third of that is actually farmable for grains, vegetables, fruits or the kinds of things that vegans eat. The other two thirds can't grow vegies and may not have enough water for tree crops but can, with careful stewardship and stocking rates, sustain edible animals. Indeed, if you listen to the mob rotational grassland discussion begun by Alan Savory, you might believe that only large herds of grazing animals, bunched and moving, are capable of ecologically restoring those kinds of damaged lands, re-sequestering the carbon they once held, and restoring the hydrological and climate cycles to pre-Anthropocene — the water and soil regime once built and maintained by buffalos, mammoths, tigers and wolves.

Here is a point of contention we take with that argument, and we welcome discussion. By extension, we can say that if arable land is at a premium, then good land with ample water should be devoted to grains, vegetables, fruits and the kinds of things that vegans eat. Far more people can be fed adequate and high quality proteins, carbohydrates and fats from that land if we eat lower down the food chain because by passing crops through animals we lose nutritional returns by large factors, anywhere from ten to one in the case of poultry to forty to one in the case of cattle. By the logic Robyn used, we should be growing domestic animals exclusively on the marginal lands that cannot support anything else. This eliminates Joel Salatin's farm in Virginia and many of the high yield animal operations in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. No more Kobe beef or German Sauerbraten.

The argument for eating farmed animals assumes we cannot feed the world if we removed commercial animal agriculture and concentrated on plants. We can — on just the portion of prime farmland that has good growing seasons and plenty of water. An acre of organic, no-till, biochar-augmented, nitrogen-fixing, non-GMO soybeans not processed into animal feed or plastics can supply high quality protein equal to forty or more acres of cattle. Eliminate animal agriculture on the best farmland and you won't need to use the other 60% of Earths arable land for food animals.

Why do we think we need to appropriate all of the world's arable land to feed humans?

Producing food for human populations in dry climates or with poor soils by importing it from better land in better climates is a dicey proposition, given that the globalization paradigm is now on life support and built on Ponzi debt that is really a theft from our children. The world is being forced by the inexorability of the physics of fossil energy to relocalize, and quickly. To continue tracking the consumerist exponential curve — of water use, soil loss, oil depletion, fishery extinctions, population, and pollution — is sheer folly. Beyond lies an Olduvai Cliff.

Roasted Icelandic Horse. Horse was the
traditional meat of German Sauerbraten.
In a localized world, absent catastrophically induced decline, we imagine that human population will gradually attrit to something approximating the steady state balance between supply and demand that indigenous peoples mastered. That was the old normal before the last Ice Age, and it will likely go that way again in the Age of Consequence.

Humans in local societies may choose to balance their diets in whatever ways are most efficacious for their climate and customs. Those habits will become, or return, traditions. Some may be vegan, many likely not.





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