Patrick Noble’ Books

For new posts (& old) click on “Archives” to the right

Patrick is the author of a number of books, which are available from both best & worst bookshops, or from the author.  The archive to the right will hold new posts of his writing.  His day job is that of farmer.  http://www.bryncocyn.wordpress.com

Towards the Convivial Economy was published by the Smokehouse Press in March 2017

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It is available from the author, or publisher for £7.50 plus postage & packing, or of course, from any good bookshop.

Patrick’s other books include –

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2014)

A Potent Nostalgia (2013)

The Commons of Soil (2011)

The Lost Coefficient of Time (2011)

Romantic Economics (2010)

Notes from the Old Blair and Bush (2008)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was published by Smokehouse Press in November 2014

“Could we dream of a better world? Do we have the imagination to link happiness to places, people closely to our planet? These are epic times, and Patrick Noble sets out how to explore the routes to conviviality we may have forgotten we desire. Creating greener economies will take remarkable effort. Here, then, are some brave solutions.”  Professor Jules Pretty

“Patrick Noble’s writings preserve the organic movement’s authentic radical spirit” – Dr Philip Conford, author of The Development of the Organic Network.

From the author – 350 pages, £8.50 plus postage & packing

Contact onfo@bryncocynorganic.co.uk

Here’s a paypal link – https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=SLUE2BSRZ4VXG

Or from Smokehouse Press –  http://www.smokehousepress.co.uk/patrick.htm

Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. by Dr Philip Conford, courtesy of the Organic Grower – journal of The Organic Growers’ Alliance –

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The Great Agricultural Re-settlement, or the Next Chapter of the Fall

Here’s my own picture.
I am a farmer and that is where my world begins. What is an agriculture? I say it is a culture of cities, towns and villages, bridges, roads, canals, harbours – of trades’ people and the trades, which have been created by the specialised cultivation of fields. The industrial revolution was a revolution within agriculture – germinated by fossil fuels, so that today, nearly every culture on Earth is an agriculture. The farmer has a lot on her shoulders, because the greatest towering city, and all its goings-on, is utterly dependant on her crops – although in my Utopian picture, trades and pleasures of every kind bear their own egalitarian apportionment of the weight, so that the labours of fields gain new springs to their steps.
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Farms disrupt natural systems. The more husbandries imitate and integrate with natural systems, so the less they disrupt – but still they will disrupt to some degree. Good husbandry reflects our simple minds more than the complexities of nature. Nevertheless, it imitates, as best it can, the cyclic behaviours of organisms. The highest crop yield will be achieved by the closest integration. “You never enjoy the world aright, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars”, meditated Thomas Traherne in the Seventeenth Century. To which the farmer pragmatically adds – and shod with soil fauna, shaded with green leaves, watered by clear springs and fed by the lives we’ve fed in return.
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I must note that true yield is output minus input – massive inputs massively reduce true yield, so that organic methods out-yield all others.
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So, in attempting to do the best we can, we choose the least worst farming techniques. This is important to keep our humility and gratitude intact. It is also an important part of discussions on climate change. There have been outrageous claims of carbon sequestration (so-called negative emissions) by a variety of farming techniques, such as grasslands, or organically-managed lands – or regularly-felled woodland, or coppice. But the most these can achieve is a balance and that balance, given the flawed nature of all human practitioners is unlikely. As weather grows more unpredictable, as climate change accelerates, so that balance will become still more unlikely.
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Yet, we must grow food and timber. That is the dispensation – hunter-gatherers don’t need the dispensation, but we agriculturalists do. Claiming the dispensation, is a heavy responsibility. We should call on it to the smallest degree we can. Some organic lobby groups claim that converting a lifeless cereal prairie to organic techniques will sequester tons of carbon as soil fauna returns. It is an arrogant claim and arrogance is a problem. It is true that soil life will return – redressing a critical harm – but only to an optimum point, when the farmer can only do her best to maintain that near enough balance. Organic, biodynamic, or perma-cultural methods do a fraction of the harm that so-called industrial techniques cause, but still, they disrupt natural systems – still, they create harm. Agriculture had disrupted for thousands of years before artificial fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides existed, but the atmospheric/terrestrial balance remained unaffected. Some ancient cultures have carelessly mined their own good soils to the point where all that would grow were a few twisted olive trees… (That’s another tale of the pillage of empire)
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We gratefully accept the linear gift of sunlight to heal the wounds in our flawed agricultural cycles. We can claim the food/timber dispensation and continue without guilt as we’ve done for several thousand years, but we cannot claim to be reversing climate change We can only claim to be doing less to cause climate change than some others.
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To end our contribution to climate change we must stop burning both fossil mass and living mass (biofuels) and also leave as much as we can of Earth, untouched by agriculture. Climate has been changed by fire. We can heal it only by quenching the fire. Personal sequestration claims, presented to excuse personal fire are despicable. They do real harm. I know of an organic grower who claimed his (enclosed) carbon-rich soils pardoned his twice-annual holiday flights. Pshaw! Such self-help nonsense can be found in popular, monk-pardoner carbon footprint calculators. It was also delusively applied to the convenient projections of the Paris Accord.
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The dispensation for farming is the growing of food. There is no dispensation for fire. Energy opulent ways of life will destroy themselves. Even an imagined and perfectly balanced farming system with a thriving soil fauna will do nothing in itself to mitigate climate change. It will have minimised its agricultural disruption as a contribution to climate change, but it cannot go further – towards negative emissions. We must remove the cause – we must end the burning – for cultivation, processing, transport, electricity generation and heat.
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If you are a farmer or woodsman, would you be happy to shoulder those so-called negative emissions, which are the foundation of the Paris Agreement? That’s what’s expected of us – are you confident enough to accept them, when considering the happiness of your children?
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Perhaps you boast the sequestration power of extensive grasslands? Are you sure? Who told you so? Was it a lobby group for pasture-fed beef, or an organic, consumer lifestyle magazine?
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Farmers and lumberjacks are supposed to recognise bullshit when they see it. The bullshit is everywhere – from green sources too. This is urgent. There is very little time.

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The catalyst of climate change could ferment a new agricultural revolution as we leave those many millions of years of sequestered photosynthesis to lie quietly in their strata. Negative emissions? – there they are. Leave them to sleep. Instead, we can re-learn our parts in nature – a curious, inspiring, daunting, sobering, intoxicating, fearful, delightful, difficult, liberating and hopefully possible journey. Perhaps rage at what we’ve done, combined with humility at what we must do, may propel our first and diffident steps.
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Those first steps are not into the Garden. We remain outside in the Fall. Our steps imprint. Only our hunter/gatherer cousins can walk lightly enough to stay in that original home. All great religions and philosophies in both time and space narrate stories of the Fall and evolve codes to manage the journey – because, it seems, we are never quite at home. Agriculture is never quite at home.
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Although our great agricultural resettlement can only come about by a mass personal change of all we personages, nevertheless we are social beings and need a vision of the greater moral of how and why we change. It is useful to have Utopia as a measure. Of course, in turn, Utopia must have nature as its measure. The flaw in Utopia is myself. What’s more – Utopia is not the garden – It is the best of all settlements of the Fall. As we head towards the Utopian (unattainable) landfall, natural truths will be revealed by our natural mistakes – without the mistakes, we don’t find the truths, or the new methods. In that respect, I can consider my naturally-flawed nature to be useful. We learn because of our flaws.
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Humility is also useful. “Ne never had the apple – the apple taken been – ne never would our lady – have been heaven’s queen – so blessed be the time – the apple taken was – therefor may we sing – Deo gracias.”, people sang as they danced in the Fourteenth Century. Yes. People danced to religious songs then. They were called carols… Of course, we could compose a dancing song for many aspects of the Fall – of passages from the ease of hunter/gathering to the labours of fields. We yearn for life in the Garden. Since that cannot be, we do our best.
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Natural truth will partially escape both myself and my Agricultural Utopia – that’s why scientific hypotheses are always wrong – overturned by new hypotheses. Today’s accepted and peer-reviewed hypotheses will also be wrong. They will have emerged by cracks in our perception that allow new light in. They remain useful and they remain flawed. Deeper commons – inherited moral truths are unchanged from pre-history. The rule of return is one. We cannot take from the soil which feeds us without feeding it in return. Deeper, both inherited and bequeathed commons contain contracts with nature as well as social contracts.
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That’s why as a farmer I can take the sequestration claims of this or that research paper with a pinch of salt. I am outside the Garden. I am in Agriculture and its commons and I struggle to maintain something like a balance. I know it daily. I see it in the deepening or paling green of my crops – the colours reveal the intensity – the rise and fall of the flow of life. They often reveal the flaws in my husbandry.
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There is no perfect agriculture.
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No agriculture – no food, or timber system can achieve “negative emissions”.
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To pull back from catastrophic climate change we must remove the cause – we must remove fire from our culture. The linear gift of sunlight heals some cracks in agricultural cycles, but it can do no more – the flaws are intrinsic to practitioners – to me.

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We love fires. We must quench them. It’s a very tall order, but nevertheless, here ends the industrial revolution. Machines replaced people. Now people can replace machines. That looks arduous, but it also looks liberating. Growers can take it to their hearts.

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More on Burning Biomass and on the Ignorance of Climate Scientists to the Common Knowledge of Generations

It is the oldest moral of the world – we can extract crops from the soil, only by sending tribute in return. The Rule of Return is probably the only absolute law of husbandry and it can also be applied to every scientific discipline – matter and energy always remain in either form – dig a hole in the ground and a heap will appear elsewhere. We cannot claim the heap without acknowledging the hole. With regards to life – the common biomass of every species – it can shrink to nothingness – re-appearing as lifeless mass and energy. It can also join the cycle of life and death. What’s extraordinary is that it has expanded to an optimum mass and energy from a very small beginning, outside human time-scales. The Rule of Return says that it cannot exceed that optimum mass. Human cultures were fortunate to appear on Earth during the benignity of that optimum balancing. The Rule has a built-in forgiveness or dispensation – that is, the linear, non-cyclic contribution of sunlight, which provides a little additional growth to compensate for husbandry mistakes. The trouble is, (as religions tell us of the Fall) human agricultures are so destructive, that we cannot bank on that compensation. We must fail as little as possible, following as best we can, that absolute Rule of Return, while gratefully accepting the linear gift of sunlight to compensate for mistakes.
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There lies the climate scientist’s folly – reliance on the dispensation – on the holy cult, not of life, but of carbon. I say holy, because it is untouched by reason. There’s much that is truly holy – but never in my book, an untested scientific hypothesis.
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How do we conduct an experiment to once and for all discover the vice or virtue of burning biomass for domestic heat, or at the other extreme for large-scale electricity generation? That is, when we turn life into gas, ashes and energy, how does a diminished mass of life regenerate?
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The terrible thing is that no such experiment has been recorded. Rather an untested hypothesis has been accepted as doctrine by IPCC and just about every “climate scientist”. The hypothesis proposes that given unchanged land-use practices, crops can be harvested and without any return of fertility, subsequent crops will provide the same yield – and will also unfold the same leaf area for photosynthesis. The IPCC says, (I think “believes”) that so long as we do not disrupt the soil, the linear radiance of sunlight will be photosynthesised as fast as we can burn the leaves. It goes further – if we collect and store the combustion gases, we can achieve negative emissions (BECCS) and that we can achieve a marvel – a massive source of energy, which also pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
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That outrageous and untested hypothesis has been assumed (by naked consensus) to be true. In short, an untested cult belief underpins the calculations of most (perhaps all?) supposedly rigorous climate scientists.
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It is very strange that farmers have remained silent, since every farmer conducts the experiment to test that hypothesis, every year between one harvest and the next.
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Every farmer knows the weight of her harvest and more or less what has been done to achieve it. Every farmer also knows that if she harvests a crop – that is removes its biomass – while returning nothing to the soil, that she will receive a smaller crop the following season. For the third season she’ll receive an even more depleted crop. Plotted on a graph, it is not a straight line. It is parabolic. It accelerates. Eventually she’ll achieve a desert. That desert will provide no biomass, nor will it photosynthesise. Even without the carbon dioxide released in the burning, carbon (life) in the soil will diminish season by season and atmospheric carbon dioxide will increase to a similar and accelerating degree. Plainly IPCC believe global fertility can be imported from another planet, just as in microcosm, fertiliser is imported to a biofuel field from increasingly empty Tunisian holes in the ground (phosphate), or from coal mines, or “natural” gas, or various electrical energy sources (Nitrogen).
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Plainly, a field or forest, which receives only lifeless minerals in exchange for the burning of its living mass will end up short of life – that is carbon. (that is also the case for all farms which rely exclusively on artificial fertilisers – as declining soil quality shows).
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I propose that biofuels alone could account for the unexpected rapidity of climate change, since it is plain to any practical allotment-holder, or farmer/grower that their greenhouse effect is greater than any fossil fuels. Yet burnt biomass from existing arable areas and from forests has no column for entry in IPCC calculations, or in the projected outcomes of national carbon budgets – It is accounted zero. With carbon capture and storage, it is accounted negative. Those negative emissions are essential to the Paris agreement.
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Who most observes physical and ecological reactions to her tools? – the farmer and gardener – in this respect the scientist should sit at their feet.
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Agricultural research institutes in every country of the world publish thousands of yield figures relative to inputs– why are those institutes silent, since the IPCC biomass assumption is so plainly bogus? Yield equates to both terrestrial biomass and its photosynthetic power.
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It is hard enough for farming techniques to achieve a near enough balance in the growing of food – even when all food wastes and manures are returned to the soil. Civilisations have collapsed by not following the rule. Burning a crop, while returning no waste is a recipe for suicide. The waste from that energy harvest is gas and (if we are lucky) ashes.
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Even though climate respects no borders, separating UK into its regions gives regional variations of personal hope. It does so because communities have particular climatic impacts. I am responsible for my community. The largest source of so-called “renewable” electrical energy generation in England is biomass – mostly timber imported from Canadian and South American forests. 75.5% of English biomass generation is from the three Drax power stations in Yorkshire. In consequence, Yorkshire may well be the most climate destructive region on Earth. UK government relies on Yorkshire to export destruction to the rest of England and to import it from Canada and South America. It also relies on Drax to meet its climate commitments!
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Yet for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, biomass provides a tiny proportion and by far the largest renewable source is wind. (Scotland also has a considerable hydro contribution). It follows that we can feel a little easier using electricity if we live in Wales, Scotland and N Ireland! What’s more, if proud Yorkshire people rise up to close down those three, terrible Drax power stations, they may be hailed as the most effective climate defenders of these islands.
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“Renewable” Energy Generation – England – (GWh) Wind 19,456 (35.6%), Solar PV 8466.7, Hydro 100.2, Landfill Gas 3,960.9, Sewage Gas 871.9, AD 1,311.5, Biomass & Waste 20,442.3 (37.4%) (the 15,435.5 from Drax is 28.26%) Total 54,609.6
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Wales – (GWh) Wind 3,400.9 (66%), Solar PV 714, Hydro 307.5, Landfill Gas 45.8, Sewage Gas 45.8, AD 31.5, Biomass & Waste 484.2 (0.9%). Total 5,139.3
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Imagining a finite energy supply coupled with the people around us who use it, gives both shape and meaning. We value and treasure our share, so that how we use energy also has meaning – and so that our lives have meaning – another step on the road to happiness.
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Anything with shape and meaning can enter the commons of storytelling, because it has a moral and so possible plot lines. We can love, hate, nurture, or abuse it.
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Imaging the people around me to be the population of the UK, here are the 2017 UK government statistics.
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In 2016 renewable energy (including biomass) accounted for (only) 8.9% of final total UK energy consumption.
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It accounted for only 24.6% of electricity generation (also including biomass).
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We’ve a long, long way to go. In truth, the journey is too far, because we have not time to take it. The answer is not to seek more green supplies, but to shrink our demand to what we can have. Oil – those many millions of years of sequestered photosynthesis provided an illusion of infinity. Natural physics, to which we prodigals must return, will provide us with only the simple truth of its absolute finity.
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It is finite in all the forms, sounds and scents of Earth. All of pleasure is there – even, as William Blake tells us, in spiritual infinity – in a grain of sand – in a wild flower. William would, like all his peers, be intrinsically aware of the Rule of Return. Today, peer reviews peer to endorse a convenient and indolent cult of eternal sunlight, in which Earth’s biomass, of which homo sapiens is one small part, can be eternally combusted for that one species’ perpetual delight.
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More Thoughts on the Good Life

Here’s a powerful thought – the largest consumption of energy in the UK is personal consumption and the largest share of that is by personal transport. Yet most believe themselves powerless and that corporations are consuming the Earth. UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 2017 energy statistics show otherwise. From the hard statistics, we can see that “Industry” is potentially powerless, while people are potentially powerful.

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I say potentially, because most people currently believe what industry-sponsored sources such as the main political parties, mainstream newspapers and the BBC suggest to them – that is, the idea of the power of democracy, in which each of us is an essential part – and of the powerlessness of the individual outside that “democracy”. The BBC and news sources, such as the Guardian propose that we choose one or other of the industry-backed political parties. That is why the upsurge of Jeremy Corbyn and of the SNP has drawn such vitriol from those sources. Meanwhile, UK manufacturing has shrunk dramatically as it has been outsourced to low wage economies. Moreover, outsourced manufacture is largely in the purchasing power of single citizens and of the household.

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Hold this thought – That which is physical is largely in the hands of citizens, while that which is abstract is largely in the hands of the current powers – in usury, currency-creation, stock trading, cyber tech, media empires and party politics.
So, both climate change and the ecological crisis are more in the hands of citizens, and less in the hands of the powers. Personal decisions have become the most potent decisions. They may cause or draw us back from climate change.

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So closely are they related, that swelling gross domestic product, could be renamed gross domestic climate change. Spend less in our households & we may head for some sort of steadying. A common moral of personal restraint could have a far greater effect than the most successfully-applied carbon tax.

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Money, information and violence are currently in the hands of the powers. Some of those can be reclaimed. (I say diffidently, perhaps all)

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In 2016 UK transport accounted for the largest proportion of final UK energy consumption at 40%, followed by the domestic sector at 29%, industry at 17% and the service sector 14%. (UK government terms and stats)


The larger part of transport’s 40% is the family car –
Energy consumption for transport is separated as follows (last data available 2015) – Domestic 65%, Industrial 21% and services 14%.

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2016 figures (published 2017) separate transport energy consumption as – Road 74%, air 23%, rail 2% and water 1%.
Air transport consumption has trebled since 1970

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“Between 1970 and 1984, the industrial sector accounted for the largest share of consumption – until in 1985, the domestic sector surpassed industry. By 1988, transportation became the largest consumer and has maintained its dominant share since. A shift in economic activity away from heavy, energy intensive industries accounts for the decrease in the industry sector’s share, whilst increasing mobility and rates of car ownership account for a large proportion of the increase in transportation.” (UK Energy Consumption 2017, DBEIS)

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That summary makes my case. Personal choices account for the bulk of increased energy consumption.

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Considering how infrequently most of us fly and many of us not at all, that 23% (trebled since 1970) for aviation is massive. Those who travel twice a year (or once, first class) use the bulk of their carbon budgets in flying. That budget can be entirely removed on an instant. If you are someone who does occasionally fly and who also cares a bit about this and that, then proclaiming that you will never fly again is the most effective thing you can do in a single step. It proclaims against power’s contrary proclamation and brings both proclamation and action home – to oneself and to those we love.

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Anyway, as the statistics say, citizens do the most damage, and so citizens must undo the damage. We can work together to remove the need for personal transport. Ordinary people have the skills to do so. The powers do not. The infrastructures remain – albeit decayed and they can be revived both physically and in the imagination – replacing the cajoling visions of the powers. Ingenuity and dexterity of the trades can resettle town centres, villages and fields – trading each to each until we have an economy, which is not connected to the stock market, or to the banks. We’ll also have a culture disconnected from those things and which may endure when currencies cascade and the casino falls apart. If you say that is a wild impossible dream, I say, no culture will endure the cascading ecosystems and wild climate change, which are the course of our current “democracy” – and in pursuit of the strangest cult of realism.

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Personal transport is the place to begin. It consumes the bulk of the energy, which many are struggling to convert to green energy. That attempted conversion is a fantasy – nothing can replace the power of fossil fuels. Our current way of life cannot be greened. We must change the way of life, not merely the nature of fuels. The first step is to remove the need for personal transport.

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A hundred years ago, the only group in the UK, which required energy-consuming personal transport, was the suburban office worker, who travelled to the offices of government, law and corporation by train. The office worker’s suburbs were built alongside the railway. Everyone else had perfectly evolved feet for the purpose and also sometimes, the ingenious addition of pedals and twin wheels. We are an agriculture – I doubt we can change that. Transport between scarcity and surplus; between field and city remains a problem and it has other solutions, since we cannot remove those needs. But the mass of transport consumption is personal consumption – remove that and we can look about with a lot more to play with.

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Probably, most would agree that the worst of modern life is those great streams of road traffic, severing cities and scarring communities. The wounds caused by the family car would be the greatest pleasure to heal. Children could be children without fear. Adventure may return. It is not only children who are confined to the house by the tyranny of the car, but adults too. Lovely evenings, when once upon a time, whole communities would be out for a stroll, now pass unwitnessed. What lies unwitnessed are the delightful surprises – the sounds, scents and sights of reality. Instead we settle for the beguiling, soporific fictions of the powers through a television, or lap top screen.
Human cultures disrupt. Growing food disrupts. Mining materials for turbines and panels disrupts. But there is, and never has been a technology which has disrupted anywhere near the degree of either aviation, or the family car. Remove those and we’ve the beginning of a possible “road!” to the future.

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(Statistics are from Energy Statistics 2017, UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

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The Good Life or the Ballot? Both, you say? I say the Good Life First, the Ballot Second.

We have reached a pivotal moment. I think we can be certain that governments and other powers, such as corporations and their promotional arms, such as the BBC, are set on destruction. The powers have made no appropriate attempts to act on climate change, or on the current ecological catastrophe. It is plain that those in power think climate change is not real – rather it is a bee in the bonnet of just enough of the electorate to make it politically worth the posture of a response. Since the first world climate summit in 1990 carbon dioxide emissions have risen steadily, so that by 2017 they were 60% higher than when nations first pledged to act. Argument within governing systems is without hope of being heard, or even vaguely understood.
But there is hope. It is (as it has always been) in living the good life. Though such a course may fail, until it does so, it remains a source of happiness. It is now the only productive course we have to mitigate the worst of climate change. By all means speak to the powers – you never know – and this writer is frequently wrong – but without rapid and then hopefully fashionable personal change, there’s not a realistic hope in hell…
If political engagement means that we become distracted from the problems of our own lives, then that engagement will be more destructive than productive. To consider that social change comes more from hierarchical instruction than personal consideration denies laws of physics. Crowds, electorates, gangs, or societies are made up of the physics of people – one by one. A crowd is five people, thirty people, a thousand people with those specific weights, energies and substances. But the crowd; the electorate; the corporation; the government are also imagined – they are ideas in our singular heads. The politically-engaged proposition (political influence is more powerful than the good life) suggests that to live well, we lobby an abstract authority to permit us to live how we choose and then, because consensus denies our request, we can continue to live how we do not choose. Oh democracy, we say with a sigh – it’s bad, but not as bad as the alternatives. We propose that we are not moral beings – that we are a part of the moral consent of the crowd. We misname that permission as liberality – we’d do better to accept it as permissiveness.
And so, climate change “authorities” jet to so many climate conferences, that they may be among the most climate-destructive groups on Earth. Likewise, I may vote green, while taking holiday flights. I say that I lobby for the greater good, and propose that my small footprint is insignificant relative to the power of a green cross in the ballot. Meanwhile political consensus (the amoral permission) is an idea. It does not exist. People exist. One by one, we have physics, ecological connections, unique dreams and also, of course – common dependencies. We are responsible for all of those things. Our own causes generate unique effects, which only we can understand. No greater good will remedy them. The greater good cannot see them. We walk in personally-imprinted landscapes.
People cause climate change. Governments cannot do so. Governments are communally accepted ideas (accepted by coercion, violence, inheritance, fearful prudence, or the ballot). Ideas have not the physics to cause anything.
Living the good life in that landscape is the greatest contribution to the greater good, since the greater good is the physical, moral and spiritual addition of our unique experience and contributory action to all the other unique experiences, which together make the whole. Culture is what I do. Of course, I converse with others about my effects. It is cellular. I am both complete and incomplete. I am myself and my society and in the end my species. My species has evolved within groups – as a social species. Ours is a eusocial evolution. Even so, every experience which enters the commons of folk memory, or tradition has first entered the senses of an individual. No-one can experience birth, death, wind, sunshine and rain, but on their own. Yet my and all our yearnings are also to properly belong in family, friendship, neighbourhood, religion, tradition, memory…
Before it is too late, we must pay attention to our unique and lonely senses – to what we love and to what feeds us in taste, scent, sight, sound… We must be attentive. Those things will be modified by our inattention; by our distracted attention to more powerful notions of economic governance. Climate is warming by my actions. The casino does not register it. If we listen we’ll hear the change. Already, at the dawn chorus, some small birds have ceased to sing.
We inherited a living culture. Our lives are the culture. We, not governments, pass that culture to our children and beyond.
The household remains as the model for the economy as a whole. The economy is a collective of households. It is true that the casino of rent, currency manipulation, usury, trade in shares and bonds and so on is not related to the household. But the casino is not an economy. It is a casino. Modern economists – even most green economists live strategically inside that casino to manipulate it for the better. They are misguided. The following are also disconnected from the casino – pillaged soils, pillaged ecologies, pillaged resources – that is: capital is not connected to the casino. But pillaged soil, ecology and resource and also diminishing infrastructure capital are very directly and sensually connected to the household – and to me. They are my responsibility. Their cause is my diminished responsibility.
Listen! – The household is ingenious and fierce and is rooted in family and folk tradition. It is limited to the restraints of wage, local resources and neighbourly opinion and is a dynamo for the pursuit of what we may call the most appropriate distribution of happiness. Isn’t that what we want for an economy?
Yet, modern European and American households have abandoned those restraints for what they see as the larger and progressive world of the governing casino. Even so, modern households are responsible for cascading ecologies and climate change. They provide the physics to the casino’s abstraction. The abstraction can fix nothing and it causes nothing – doughnut economics, or true cost accounting fix nothing. Only by fixing the household – the physical acts of the sensual, sensitive household, can we can fix ecology and economy. Only through the household do we have a landscape which is worth the governing. But here’s the thing – who does not want to come home? We are prodigal sons and daughters unravelling threads to our various and anxious ways home.
Don’t forget that restraints give shape and meaning – borders can be drawn to be beautiful and true. We are placed within them. They trace the possible forms of home.
Rationally (abstractly) climate change is already beyond technological recall and settled cultures are set on almost certain unsettlement. The most populated cities and communities are coastal communities, which must soon migrate to higher land. Nearly all central government offices will be beneath the tide. Yet those government offices are (almost universally) making no attempt to guide their dependent populations to act on climate change.
The miracle could be the household.
Most of us agree that we are part of a collective madness and so attempt to manipulate and reason within the madness – by petition, at the ballot and by consumer-choices. I disagree. Why don’t we school ourselves to be sane? The governing psychosis oversees a changing physical landscape of people and resources. The physics is where we should be. Physics reacts to our tools and teaches us how to belong. People change the physics. Corporations? – they are a part of the governing psychosis and they are also abstract. Has anyone seen a corporation? – they don’t exist beyond an idea and our consent to it. It’s late – but there may still be time to bail out and descend to solid ground.
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The casino (which we pretend is an economy) will collapse – unless beforehand, ecology, or climate change wreck the culture as a whole. Money flow and the power of what we do – that is energy flow, are directly related. Perhaps 95% of that energy is from fossil fuels. Even so, current debt-created and quantitively-eased money-flow has exceeded even that vast fossilised under-pinning. In a sense fossil fuels had suspended time and negated laws of nature – we dreamed that history had ended. It had not. Instead, history accumulated invisibly in cultural effects, which were quietly sequestered beyond our collective imagination. Most in positions of power and their academic and journalistic sycophants, or critics remain inside that collective. That collective imagination will not be changed. We can reason within its borders, but reason from the real world of sunshine and rain will be treated as nonsense. Inside the casino, it does not rain. Meanwhile, nothing can replace fossil fuels. They came and money-flow vastly expanded. Now they must go and money-flow must dramatically shrink, to within limits of natural physics again. Collapse is inevitable. When the casino collapses, companies fold, unemployment soars, tax revenues crash and infrastructures of social security, health-care, building and road maintenance and so on, crumble. The casino will bring down the real economy.
Once again, households can be lifeboats in the wreckage.
After the crash, what will change? Looking around at fields, crops, houses, roads, bridges, harbours… – nothing – nothing at all. The ideas will have changed – corporate structures, currency values, the complacency or anger of the crowd, the excitement or despair of the stock market… All that is physical will remain, while all that was polemical, coercive, psychotic, or despotic will be in chaos. The same food will be on the shelves, but we may have no wage to buy it. The same crop will grow in my field, but my tractor may be short of fuel to harvest it. The ecological means to the needs of an economy will remain unchanged. The sun will shine and the rain will fall. Trade’s people will have retained their skills. Though money-flow will have lost its fossil power, still, all that is essential will remain – food, shelter, good conversation, people gathering to sing at the piano… Yet, they are a tiny percentage of what we used to buy, just yesterday, as we pillaged the Earth. We can be happy – rich in good things – without asking for more.
If I’ve lost my wage – still, all that is best of what a wage could buy will remain. My friends, family, neighbours, colleagues… will remain. All will be unchanged, but for the money, the governance and the high-pitched shrieking of share-holders and currency manipulators.
That is why, rather than pushing for a more benign casino, which registers natural capital, eco-system services and so on, we should divest from the casino and step by step build a real economy of people and resources, which can emerge alive from beneath the coming rubble. I don’t mean baked bean tins and bunkers. I mean that we shop with businesses which are not financed by the amoral stock market, but simply by me, the purchaser. A community of trade’s people, proper shops, village/corner shops and stores, street markets and farmers’ markets, pubs, libraries, theatres and concert halls, meeting houses, churches, temples mosques, synagogues, council buildings… can be revived in the transition town manner- perhaps with a protective local currency and perhaps via locally issued (non-tradeable) shares, or bonds. If I don’t find what I need by my local pound, then that lack is revealed and it may be to someone’s advantage to learn the missing trade (perhaps myself). Step by step we can divest from the garments of the casino (are we sure it had any clothes?) and put on what we can find in our terrain.
***
Am I fixated on aviation? – Yes – because it is both the least necessary and the most destructive of all our activities. Everyone, everywhere and forever could stop flying with very little effect on their lives. We’ve no need to wait, while we lobby for carbon taxes, air traffic duty, or against runway expansion. Family connections? – jet-propelled connections will impoverish the lives of those we’d connect with. Love? Filial bonds? It’s an easy equation to understand. Trans-oceanic family duties contain a very near betrayal of still deeper bonds. Air freight? – It’s frivolous and unnecessary. Those conferences (business, political, scientific)? – Nothing results without all parties carefully writing and reading the documents – why not begin and end with documents? Air-born climate authorities are not speakers, or performers, but writers, readers, data gatherers and statisticians. Politicians, scientists and business people would do better to turn away from the posturing mirror – they’d achieve more and have more time to do so. Travellers? – Why travel without travel? Why not discover cultures and terrains in between?
Many, or perhaps most of our destructive activities can only be changed in concert with others, but aviation is marvellously different – we can remove it on an instant.
Electric aviation is a fantasy. We’ll have trouble generating enough for more pressing needs, such as domestic heating.
With regards to government – had we had proper governance, then all aviation (apart from the pleasurable hang glider) would long ago have been made illegal. For all their earnest lobbying, those who’d propose this, or that reduction in aviation, will still be ridiculed as lunatic fringe.
Aviation came with oil and must go with oil. The super market, the family car, suburbia and so on are the same, but more problematic in ascending degrees. Many can abandon the super market on an instant, but others may have no alternatives nearby (until they are created). A family car, tied-in to work and pleasure is as destructive as occasional aviation. However, ditching the family car is a more difficult proposition – it is tied to existing infrastructures – such as suburbia, lack of public transport and inconvenient work places. We can only change those things in concert with others and so conversation of some sort (by no means, party political) becomes necessary. Earth has not the capacity to power the electric family car. Wind, hydro and solar generated electricity is the answer to many needs, but within absolute limits. The car is redundant and must be made so by personal change, assisted by communal change.
Suburbia? – Well clearly, that’s an epic adventure – re-centring into new (or revived) towns and villages, accompanied by mass migration to coast and countryside and then re-cultivation of new hinterlands into farms and market gardens.
With regards to climate change, another powerful, easy and instant effect is to switch our general electricity supplier to a green supplier – making sure the source is wind, hydro, or solar – some use biomass, which is utterly destructive. We can also decide on an instant to farm and garden organically. If we are fortunate to have land, we can plant trees on an instant – and we can let our existing hedges grow up – to flower, berry, nut and photosynthesise! For these important things, we need no advice from authority and need lobby no-one politically.
Other good personal activities such as re-using, re-cycling, refusing plastic packaging and so on have a tiny beneficial climatic impact relative to the large impact of refusing to fly, ditching the family car and switching to a green electricity supplier (or contributing to a community energy project). Nevertheless, they do have very important ecological consequences and they are an essential part of the good life.
How do we find a way of life which is not powered by fossil fuels and which sits happily inside its ecology? For me, it is firstly, a society organised so that both work and pleasure are walking, or cycling distance from anyone’s door. That is a society, which has removed the need for personal transport. It is also a more egalitarian society. The wealthy, by the sheer weight of their energy-bloated behaviours and purchases, cause the bulk of climate change, resource depletion, ecological destruction and social depravation. A common ethics, followed by common law may control what is anti-social wealth. So political engagement is a part – but I maintain the secondary part of firstly discovering what is the good life and then living it. That will be a process of trial and error – new truths are discovered by new errors. How do we know where to begin? Why not start with the question – what is happiness? Only my reader can know the answer.
***

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Christmas Message from the Convivial Economy

The modern casino, which politicians and journalists, mistakenly call an economy is not held together by laws of physics – of scarcity and surplus –of laws of nature – or abstractly, by the wishes and ethics of citizen. It is held up by the religious fervour (the blind faith) of its punters. When they doubt just a little, then spending and investments slow. But when the cult’s followers lose faith in sufficient numbers, the whole cult and all its properties crumble. That resources are mined to extinction; that ecologies on which all economies depend are cascading; that climate change is accelerating beyond human recall – has no influence on the casino. All transactions – debt-created capital; usury; currency speculation; trade in shares and bonds are sequestered within the sanctity of its beautiful walls and are pledged at the beautiful altar. Outside, the evils of the world fall at a sordid 32 ft per sec sq and are nasty, brutish, cold, wet and short.

 

Democratically-elected cult followers have formed governments in every developed economy. The cult crosses political boundaries – both left and right are followers. All newspaper, radio and television stations promote the vision. Most of our friends are devotees. Self-professed independent BBC openly mocks all other views. Democracy and the cult are commonly regarded as synonyms – just as democracy and consumer choice are regarded as one.

 

Of course, the preferred measure of cult well-being is GDP – a measure of spending. As climate change parches soils, withers crops, and starves people – or conversely, floods coastal cities and destroys lives, crops and livelihoods, so spending will increase. When my house floods, I spend money to repair it – or pay rising insurance premiums. Funeral expenses, lawyer’s and doctor’s bills – all marvellously add to GDP. So, as assets shrink, cult well-being expands. This madness passes without note.

 

Now the tragedy is (to those who are pinned to the Earth at 32ft per sec sq) that collapsing casinos bring real gravitational economies with them. Companies fold, unemployment soars, tax revenues crash and spending on health and hard infrastructures crumble.

 

A dramatic reduction in spending is needed for economies to sit balanced within the ecologies and resources which must supply them. But such reduction will crash the casino – national currencies, shares and bonds will appropriately fall like a tower of playing cards.

 

So, arguing for de-growth of the casino is the wrong argument. Improving impossible systems can only prolong the impossible. People who still walk on real soil, pinned down by laws of nature, must carry on walking and appeal for others to join them. Life beneath a collapsing casino will not be pleasant, but we must all endure it. We can only endure if we have built an alternative economy which can emerge alive from beneath the rubble. Social connections, independent skills, local currencies and a common story-telling of the lives we’d like to lead – the binding of a mutual and beneficent purpose, will be enough to lead us through a certain amount of chaos. We could be happy.

 

The spending power of Christmas-celebrating nations means that these few days are the most destructive few days in both time and space on our shared planet. A Christmas message of hope and new birth at the darkest time of year is beautiful, true, ancient and perennial – but Christmas celebrations today are – fossil-fuelled travel and the manufacture of useless ephemera – utterly destructive and utterly heartless. They symbolise, not rebirth – nor innocence in a manger, but greed, narcissism and a decision to end future human cultures for a few moments of our own. Grandparents will cross the globe to visit grandchildren adding two or three tonnes weight of CO.2 to a single cross on the shoulder of a grandchild’s future. They’ll not carry it.

 

Those binary symbols are metaphors for the casino (which we currently call an economy) and the real economy of people, soil and resources. I pray that all of us, following a simple, quiet star, will soon set out to discover that new beginning.

 

***

 

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The Citizen, the Middle Class and the Government

So wildly has humanity as a species been blown off her evolutionary course towards a deliberately chosen destruction, that all we can hope is, since our understanding has been so commonly wide of the mark, that today will prove no different – that there may come a chink of surprising natural redemption through our own gathering clouds.
Economic activity has currently affected at least a projected two degrees of global warming – and increasing floods, droughts and storms. Two degrees may, or may not be beyond a tipping point, but unless we utterly change how we live today, then three degrees and accelerating to utter chaos, are inevitable. Nevertheless, today’s consensus remains – that we live today as if there is no tomorrow – that tomorrow is an abstraction, while today is real. We have elected as a society, that our children will take care of tomorrow – our brilliant children. Climate change is an idea. The day to day problems of my life are real.
Now, while GDP is a useless measure of economic health, it remains an excellent measure of economic destruction – the faster we spend – the faster we remove the ground from beneath our feet – as spending increases, assets diminish – as spending continues, so suicidal anthropogenic CO.2 swells in the atmosphere. What’s more, though a two percent annual increase in GDP means a two percent increase in trashed assets, it also means, more or less, a two percent increase in CO.2 emissions – which, in turn, means a step closer to throwing away all statistics as climate balances topple chaotically.
Of course, that climate balance is a life balance. An annual two percent rise of trashed asset only makes mathematical sense when we consider assets as lifeless gases and minerals with isolated and measurable properties. When we consider the ecologies on which all economies utterly depend, then again, we throw away all statistics as species and relationships between species cascade. Man is just one species within that cascade.
That relationship is a beautiful thing – a lacework of immeasurable wonders. It is a source, not only of economic well-being, but of happiness. It could stimulate a renaissance of economic activity – and a hubbub of exited conversation as economies attempt, by both trial and error, to integrate with their ecologies. Fossil fuelled societies had become divorced from Earth. Now that we know our folly, we must suit for a new relationship – without the mirrors and with far, far fewer demands. All that we take must now be returned – biomass for biomass. The web of connections recedes into complexity beyond our limited perceptions, yet when the horizontal sun shines through, as through those spider webs in the early morning grass – invisible at mid-day, all we can say is holy!
Tragically, NGOs, corporations and governments turn away from that relationship towards mitigating our currently bad behaviours. We lower vehicle emissions, green new public spaces, reduce pesticide use, encourage recycling, garden organically, discourage plastic packaging and create markets for renewable energy. But although these activities are benign, they also do real moral harm – they suggest that we can continue our way of life, but in a nicer, less destructive way. They distract from the real problem, which is that our current way of life (however green) is utterly self-destructive. They provide the illusion of transition, but in truth, provide the opposite – a justification for a slightly more benign status quo – in which there is no transition – and in which we stay exactly where we began.
Those benign activities suggest that what is deeply immoral (destruction of future cultures for the temporal comforts of our own) is the opposite – that we are living a personally-considerate and moral life.
***
We’ve become so accustomed to bungled “top down” solutions to economic and social problems; to those qualified “experts” arriving on site, that we’ve forgotten that all effective solutions have been “bottom up” – from where a tool actually touches its materials. That forgetfulness means that we do those nice things, such as recycling and refusing plastic bags, while petitioning governments and corporations to contribute what we imagine is their – that is, the important, organisational bit. We believe governments and corporations are the primal tool-makers. Our belief in democracy suggests that a badly-behaved government will (if we lobby hard enough) be replaced at the next ballot by a better one. So, we recycle, sign petitions and continue as before.
Our faith in “top down” may derive from a communal faith in the power of hard-fought democracy – even consumer-choice is a personally-empowered vote for top-down provisions – so that responsive corporations act rather like responsive, democratically-elected governments. We elect, by our purchases what will soon appear on the shelves. Even though our chosen political party is not in government, we say we have done our bit – democracy chose against us, but democracy is important. Similarly, even though as much of our chosen produce as we’d like, is not on the shelves, some is and we’ll continue, by our market signals (as in the ballot), to change all that.
It would be easy to characterise our passivity as positivity – as optimism. In truth it is as black and tragically-negative as any event in history. I go too far? Slightly – there is little deliberate evil done, but nevertheless unprecedented evil is done by that passivity.
Consider this – the passivity is justified by a deeply suppressed lie. We deny that governments and corporations are ideas – that they have no physical qualities. We pretend that they powerfully shape our lives and that we and our personal decisions are insignificant. We deny that cultural and economic changes are affected by people shaping their own lives and work-places – that skill and ingenuity are there, at the bottom – not at the top. We deny that the changing forms of culture are actually the shaping hands and dreams of ordinary people.
And here’s a larger thing – we deny what we do in common – a pub chorus shares the same song – individuals find the pitch, discover harmonies and gain the joy of the whole.
I am not insignificant. I am the physics of the culture.
People exist, but connected by ideas of governance, justice and behavioural codes. That is why we become shocked by the sudden appearance of a governing personality (or dictatorship), whose hubris ignores those codes – Henry VIII, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Donald Trump… All solutions to our current predicament – that is finding ways to live within our means – must be applied by ourselves. Parliament is supposed to be a collection of voices gathered from the constituencies – bringing news of religions, philosophies, pleasures, trade and the trades – to together devise some collective actions (taxation and infrastructure spending), to remedy injustices and to maintain all the colours of a national identity. Currently there is no news from the constituencies, because the constituencies are waiting with rusting tools for never-to-be-released directions from central government.
Slowly and everywhere shops and workshops are boarded-up as corporate sea water washes murkily into the emptying spaces. So, the message to government is what remains – the corporate message and so, in turn, the consumerist message. Our members of parliament are not sent to Westminster with post bags of constituents’ actions and thoughts on trade and the trades; with news of species loss in our regions, or the cultural methods, specific to our regions, which we’ve devised to mitigate climate change. And there are no governmental directions, because government, being but an idea in the heads of citizens, has not the means to affect anything without the physical contribution of those citizens. Economic reactions to changing soils, weathers and resources are frozen in a tableau – a two-dimensional silhouette of the doctrine of “our proud democracy”. So, we have the ballot, consumer right and consumer choice. We’ve desolate town and village centres, where people once gathered for work, trade, study, experimentation, companionship and pleasure. We’ve fields abandoned by the intelligences of real people and occupied instead by a cynical tide of a handful of corporate, patented drug pushers. And we’ve a binding moral idea of overall governance – a governance which does not exist. Imagine the moral landscape as a physical one, in which morally abandoned ground is the low ground and hills are independent thought. Imagine the corporate brine (or low life) slopping wherever gravity pulls it. Look to the hill tops and how far dispersed. What has to be done, can only be done through the dykes, sluices and filters of the moral imaginations of citizens. Yet, dry land is shrinking, with little defence against the turgid waters
This is a nightmare that needs the genius of Charles Dickens as narrator – not Kafka – too narcissistic; too personal; too narrow… George Elliot would do it pretty well, or E M Forster. We need humanity – sticking to English language (like this essay), Shakespeare’s; Chaucer’s words are like bequeathed commons of soil, rock, green growth and moral light in the swirling obscurity of swamp fever. Today, we are as Dickens’s mud larks at the low tide of the dead waters of Victorian Thames. Naming flower, tree, birdsong – actually we need Everyman – you and me. We need to gather at the pub piano – at the community hydro project – at the skills of joiner, cabinet maker, weaver, knitter, farmer, brewer, baker… gathering at the river…
We need to assert commons – commons are those immutable islands in the stream of economic growth and technological progress. What is that progress? It has been accelerating use of fossil fuels. It expands today, by mining tomorrow. It will be the retreat – the rapid deceleration of burning things and the rapid shrinkage of GDP. Then, the progress will be in the diffident resettlement of the always part-mysterious ecologies of which any economy is one small part. An untouched and sacred tomorrow will be the central purpose of progress – that is – the happiness of children. Of course, shrinking GDP will mean collapsing money, share and bond markets – we can endure those things only by the solid physics of renewed earthly connections and by connecting with each other. That also means the collapse of the rent-gathering middle class. The middle class goes as the money goes.
Are we brave? If not, then no bravery will be brave enough to face three degrees of climate warming and rising. That is the current trajectory. IPCC (the world’s middle class) has chosen that trajectory.
***

 

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An Open Letter to the Soil Association

After decades of wasted time, when the Soil Association could have been a respected voice, calling on citizens to live within their ecological means, we’ve finally come to a cliff edge. We’ve but three or four years remaining to change how we live and change utterly – or to continue as we are and be changed both as a culture, and as individuals, by catastrophic flood, drought and storm. Those effects are apparent now, but will swell during just a few decades to unbearable proportions.
I’ve been speaking of this for so long, you may say that the stylus on my original (you say, laughably antique) gramophone is stuck in the groove. That groove has remained as a perennial truth and so – yes, I’m stuck.
Self-congratulatory voices proclaim (for instance) 100% electricity generation for Scotland by Scottish wind on a windy day, or the spread of solar panels in California, where the sun always shines, but this is meaningless – it was always going to be easy to generate current electricity demand by true renewables (wind, solar, hydro), but heat, transport and industrial/agricultural machinery? – Heat will be a struggle -the rest are out of reach. No renewable source has that much energy. The only solution is to abandon those demands and to find other ways to live.
Carbon capture and storage, wild hopes of future green technologies and equally-wild claims of accumulated carbon by a variety of farmed crops (the worst being grassland) all combine so that we do nothing to change our lives. Meanwhile, climate change is caused by how we live.
Here are some things that can no longer be – suburbia, super markets and retail parks, the family car, aviation (yes, all aviation), large container shipping and related road transport, fossil-powered field systems… My list is not really disputed by anyone who does the sums – it’s just that most hang on to the comfort of CCS and also to a fantasy of more beneficial land-use (mass forestation) and to geo-engineering.
Here is something I wrote in reply to a friend who regularly and helpfully comments on my writing –
Your understanding of permaculture is as deep – in love, gratitude and loyalty, as mine has been of organic systems – both formed in receptive, searching youth. Perhaps we both did find moral, ancestral codes to which we remain obliged – even though those ancestral voices were themselves very young! Of course, in maturity we can trace permaculture and organic tendencies in almost every period of history. When you were drinking at the good well of permaculture, “organic” voices had already become corrupted, opportunistic, consumeristic, branded, disconnected and shallow. I still drank (I thought) at the original spring. That accounts for my reactionary tendency. The leaders of the Soil Association have trampled carelessly over my holy ground – over my soul.
I reckon, permaculture can easily embrace the organic architecture without change – that is, an economic system which integrates with its ecological effects, by imitating the behaviours of organisms. That includes, not only rules of return – biomass for biomass, but an attempted (that is active) understanding, moral, spiritual, practical and scientific, of a natural world integrated with an economic world. The primal organic spring, like the permaculture spring, irrigated thoughts on trade and the trades and on households, as much as on farming systems. Such a spring is a perennial source of delights.
That such a source of delights was spurned, by the organic movement itself is a wound, which has never healed in me. To integrate an economy into an ecology is a difficult thing – with much leakage and cumbersome mismatching. We are fortunate that natural systems are so forgiving and that we are given such a wide leeway for mistakes. As a farmer/grower, I think the best I can aim for is a near enough balance – and so a permaculture. I’m reliant on a little leeway (principally sunshine). Recently there have been outrageous claims of farming systems, which accumulate carbon – and keep on accumulating it – the worst example being the grassland alchemists. Both permaculture and organic movements are polluted with them.
Yes. In disturbing natural systems, we cannot but be disruptive. It is fortunate that good growing techniques can aim for a near enough balance. We cannot be more ambitious than that. (It is a high ambition) Actually, where we fall short, the beneficent linear, non-cyclic contribution of sunlight may contribute to fill a little of our cyclic deficit. All good farming land in UK is cleared, natural woodland (or reclaimed coastal/wet lands) and only as undisturbed (unburnt) woodland can we consider it to be a net carbon sink. Our justification for disruption is the growing of food – we cannot add carbon sequestration to the list of our indulgencies. Similarly, our justification for disturbing the forest is for timber, but there again we must temper our sequestration dispensation.
Those sequestration claims are made to delay acceptance of this truth –
The ways we’ve chosen, or have been coerced to live are causing climate change, (& cascading ecologies & pillaged resources). The only method to restore a climatic balance is to change how we live. That is the only solution – not just a part of the package. We must search for ways to live within our ecological means.
Searching for ways to green how we currently live is futile. Our demands are too great. Searching for ways to green the supermarket is futile. Its demands are also too great. Though every super market is clad in solar panels, and though all the food sold is organically-grown, yet still – its demands will be too great. Pursuing the greening of those demands leads to three degrees of warming and soon. Those vast organic acres, which supply the super market, will draw down carbon into their soils only to the optimum point, where they stabilise after years of substance abuse. They cannot balance out centralised distribution (including internet purchases), suburbia, commuter culture, the family car, aviation, the manufacture of useless consumer goods…
The Soil Association should be side by side with the transition town, permaculture and agroecology movements in transition towards ways in which communities can live within their means. That is – as agricultures. That is also towards re-centred suburbia, and revived village and town centres, in which work and pleasure are walking distance from anyone’s door. Those infrastructures are decayed, but still present – awaiting occupation – proper shops and trades, appropriately-sized factories and workshops, market squares and also the pleasures – library, church, temple, mosque, concert hall, theatre, pub, café… That is, if you remember, the original and convivial organic dream of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s. To appropriately-sized factories, we may add appropriately- sized fields.
For the past twenty years the Soil Association has been actively working against her own dream – chasing an ephemeral realism that super markets are (to quote her leaders) here to stay.
Well, if they are here to stay, then it will be to witness their own destruction – that is the end of settled human cultures and the overwhelming of every coastal city on Earth within decades.
We have seen at COP23 that governments of developed economies (fixated on economic growth) are incapable of assisting the changes necessary to remain within two degrees of warming (1.5 degrees are now beyond reach). As Kevin Anderson says, “Twenty-seven years after the first IPCC report, emissions this year (2017) will be 60% higher than in 1990” (economic growth has considerably outstripped the growth of wind turbines and solar panels) The future is entirely in the hands of civil society. Those organisations, such as the Soil Association, which were created by that civil society, may return to the places where they were born. I propose that, as those prodigals return, the richness (and innocence) of their natal soils should prove both a relief and a pleasure to them. After years of inappropriate anxiety, they may grow and breathe properly at last – as they (and nature) first intended.
Patrick Noble

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