Culture, Economy, Ecology and Climate

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Exodus

Consider this: everything we do to support current ways of living is so destructive that it will cause the end for human cultures as we know them. The jobs we do; taxes we pay; purchases we make, all contribute to self-destruction.
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To lobby for improvements; efficiencies; for a greening of that way of life, gives it further credence and worse – a greater longevity. By that lobbying, we endorse destruction and we signal support for a more efficient but still destructive status quo.
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The answer is a mass exodus towards another way of life. For me, it is a journey from the extra-ordinary to the ordinary – from anxiety to sweet relief – from the end of history to history again – and from a crazy, fossil-fuelled levitation, to a specific ration of time inside a measured allotment of space – palpable things, which weigh easily on my understanding and which I can love, share, smell, taste, touch, hear and see.
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It is an exodus from cyber money to real money; from an internet of illusions to the physics of things; from travelling without travail to the obstacles and rewards of terrain – rivers, hills, seas, peoples… Our journey will pass from dependent consumerism to personal management of a fair share of time and space. We inherit that share in the passages of time and we are tasked to bequeath its undiminished space as our time also passes. We fulfil an ephemeral role, which was similarly held by generations of ancestors. We occupy but one small human space in the larger and grander flow of history, but the grand is made up of all its individuals. Past action created my ration, just as my present action creates (or diminishes) future rations.
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The idea of an allotment, or a ration is very different from ideas of limits, or borders.
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A ration is both physical and spiritual – my allotted garden is full of wonders, changing seasons, visiting species, evidence of personal histories on a terrace here; a tree there; many stories and moral lessons attached to the physics of things. I see the actions of ancestors embedded there too, as clearly as I can read ancient words emerging from a page. Similarly, both my allotted house and my allotted workplace are repositories for memory; obligation; celebration and are catalysts for new ingenuities to fit the inevitability of changing times. My allotted time and space are fluid, ever-changing and also changeable by my actions.
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The ancient term we have for such allotments is the common.
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On the other hand, limits and borders, remain as thin lines, which we cannot cross. They can’t be loved – only defended. They sometimes appear inside the common as taboo – that is, things which we cannot say, or do, but more generally they destroy the common. We have liberty inside a border to do as we choose – home as castle – profession as castle – money as castle, and where we override another’s morality, we can become lawfully immoral. Monopolies of land, profession and money, exclude the specific ingenuity, dexterity and sensual intelligence of others. The consumer is limited only by the thin line at the edge of her borrowing and spending power. Her right as money-property holder overrides moral commons of proper behaviour.
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The terms we have for borders and limits are enclosure and property. Inside my property I am libertarian – I can be profligate, selfish, cruel, or (I defer), kind as I choose. Enclosures are untouched by nature – they have no nature. But they can be bought and sold, or violently lost and won.
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The now accustomed measure of economic success is GDP, which in recent times has been mostly composed of spent assets. Tragedies of war and natural disaster, as well as foolish and profligate behaviour, plus usury and rent, all lead to a swelling of GDP. If we applaud GDP as a measure, then we applaud those things. If we applaud a shrinking of GDP, we may seem to applaud the shrinking of those things, but nevertheless we still signal approval of the measure itself (de-growth of GDP). For instance, GDP measures the expenses of climate heating as positive.
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We may reason that to fit within the means of a terrain, we must shrink that spending – we must achieve rapid de-growth to just the point that our limited means will provide. And yet, we can see that degrowth will cause “economic”, or rather, casino collapse. Casino collapse (of banking, share and stock markets and currencies) will also cause real economic collapse (of manufacturing, labour, social infrastructures…).
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So, our exodus must be from GDP to a different measure – from the spending of assets to the maintenance of assets. Our hope is not for the casino to degrow to a point – an apparently positive end within the same measure – but for the casino to collapse, while at the same time, we have built a new life boat economy defined by new measures to rescue the falling fragments of the old. I say life boat, because there is unavoidable chaos ahead. The life boats can then deposit us on durable ground.
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Pursuit of the de-growth of an impossible way of life, does not change the way of life, it merely presents it with new limits. In any case, enforced degrowth is impossible without chaos and human misery.
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If, like any business, or household, we measure community success by measuring assets (not the spending of them), then we enter a brave new world of possibility. The Inland Revenue measures my annual household income as assets in year two, minus assets in year one. In the same way, so can a national accountant. But then, if we ask the questions, what are assets? and, what do we mean by assets? – we surely leave the amoral world of property and enclosure to enter the both pragmatic and spiritual world of the always moral commons. The study of economics is, after all, a branch of moral philosophy.
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Everything I do has an effect and so also a moral. My property enclosure allows me to deny that truth. GDP as a measure also denies that truth. It liberates bad behaviour.
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What are my assets? I say, family, friends, good air and water, birdsong, green leaves, scent of flowers, ancestral music and literature, good cooking, musical instruments, pubs, libraries… Some have monetary value, some not. All have moral value.
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Do those assets survive from year one to year two? Even though they may not and become lost in war, famine, or flood, GDP may still soar, and by the same expenses of war and post disaster re-building that those lost assets bring. It does not measure destroyed assets as a negative. It does not hear the weeping.
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GDP does not measure even monetarily-valued assets – furniture, tools, property, or existing social infrastructures, such as electricity cables, water and sewage systems, hospital buildings, roads, harbours, bridges, work-shops, houses– it knows neither the presence, nor the lack of them. They become visible when they are sold. Monetarist UK governments, such as Margaret Thatcher’s, Tony Blair’s and all others since, have paraded rosy “balance sheets” by exchanging such assets for money (privatisation). However cheaply they are sold they will add to such “balances” and also add to GDP. Asset stripping is a well-tried method to stave off bankruptcy – or to make hidden subsidiary companies (otherwise known as favours to a friend) rich by the cheapness of the purchase. But a bad end is inevitable! Yes, if GDP is a measure of the good, then a bad end is inevitable.
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The government of Bhutan has introduced us to an “Economics of happiness”. From Latin America, we have learnt “Buen Vivir”. “Liberation Theology” teaches much the same, while the thoughts of Ivan Illich require urgent revival. Then we have the lean economics of David Fleming.
They all point to our first steps of exodus – the pragmatic answer to the question, what is happiness?
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Those who argue for de-growth of our current way of life, perhaps combined with a green new deal for more durable infrastructures, must be careful what they wish for. If it supports the same, but less profligate and more green way of life inside the same old world of amoral enclosures, then it is doomed to failure – more money to fund the impossible – flood, famine, storm…
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However, if a green new deal is diverted to support the pack-horses of Exodus, with provisions for the journey and for the final settlements, then money can mutate to an asset again. Money, which has once spent, or extracted real assets can be returned to the common from where it gained its destructive power by bleeding that common. Like Tom Paine’s land value tax, which returned enclosure-generated money to the common, a green new deal can be seen as restorative justice.
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Here is a very simple truth – only good personal behaviour can bring humanity as a whole (literally) down to Earth, and to living within a ration of Earth. All intelligence of the goings on of life, must first pass through unique and singular senses. There is no corporate, or consensual way listening, scenting, seeing… What’s more that intelligence is specific to its time and space. Cultural adaption is specific to its terrain and to its time in history, and so is personal in the same way. Of course, personal action will be in, or towards concert with others. We are a social species. We love to share intelligence and we love to live and work together. We are empathetic and sympathetic – personal good (or, I suppose bad) behaviour is contagious.
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Political behaviour can be useful if it speaks in defence of an established, or establishing way of life. It is up to us to establish that life, only then, can we defend it – that is, we must have something, or at least the infancy of something, to romance others to join it.
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Otherwise, we punt just another idea in the greater casino of ideas. We say, that others must distort their realities to an alien idea. Of course, hierarchies, armies, police, secret police, manipulated ballots, commercial advertisements and persuasive newspaper barons, do that as a matter of course. It has not been productive. Its purpose is destructive.
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Our purpose is to escape that course towards the truths of a human settlement within its ration of larger nature.
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However, there is much that can hinder that personal journey, which we may need to repel by argument, ballot, or violence, but unless we are personally on the road and unless we know what it is that we defend, then political, or violent, or so-called, non-violent action will be futile.
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So, if we are on, or are about to step on the road, or even simply dreaming of the road, then political action may assist the journey. Certainly, unless the so-called body-politic can see our journey as a palpable thing, then we flaunt a mere idea, which can be neither emulated, nor shared – nor truly attacked.
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So, our extinction rebellions must be primarily against ourselves. Without our billions of small purchases, the corporation would not exist. We must urgently create an economy amongst ourselves, which can survive the crash of banking, stock and share markets, currencies and everything which depends on them. To be sure, the richer we are, the more planetary harm we command, but from where do those riches come, but from ourselves? Our argument is with people – with the vicious rent extraction practised by doctors, lawyers, architects and so on – many of whom may well take part in the extinction rebellion. It is no accident that those status enclosures usually define themselves as a practice – medical practice, law practice, architectural practice and so on. We argue for an exodus from the economic drainage of such practices. When Adam delved and Eve span…. Once upon a time, professionals professed. Now, as a casino has replaced an economy, professional means one who has enclosed a trade and can charge rent for it. It means one who must never profess, but must be reserved, taciturn discrete… To profess is now labelled, unprofessional.
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Arise ye professionals and profess – because you are currently the very foundation of our suicidal, but peer-reviewed, rentier casino.
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I am an atheist, raised by two atheist parents, but surely our exodus must be a religious exodus? Don’t we join the swelling caravans to protect the sacred – good soils, clear water, vibrant forests, teeming seas…? Are not invisible ancestors spurring us forward in shame and ain’t that an invisible future I hear calling through palpable veils of richly-spun illusion? Certainly, for myself, I feel my mother and father looking down and it is hard to bear the steady eyes of children. How can ephemeral powers compare to that? And how can ephemeral power compare to this – my present action creates the future?
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Are not clear springs and ancient woods invisible to GDP? What calls us forward has no peer review and the language of that calling is the language of the Koran; of the Bible… We respond at the deeper level of fine music, poetry, prose and painting and of the primary lessons of childhood for what is deeply right and deeply wrong.
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That lesson is currently invisible to journalists and politicians, but as the saying goes, they are people too – especially in the small hours of the night.
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When I say fine music and so on, a folk song, or an elegant two-up, two-down house can be fine things. Ancestry calls for present action to create a future. It says culture is what I do. It is the voice of the commons. Our exodus is from the ennui of enclosure, to the ingenuity, dexterity and conviviality of the common.
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Spending and Selling Ideas into Reality

Yes. Let’s stop spending, or enacting polemical ideas into reality. A corporation exists on two plains – one is a polemical idea – an advertisement – the other is the many small purchases, which create its reality. A corporation is a sold fantasy, which becomes actual by my spending. Has anyone ever seen a corporation? Yes, you may say, they are very real – you receive real wages for real work done. You are a real cog in its wheel and your work-place is a highly visible concrete and glass structure. I say, that you too have been spent into existence and what’s more, you could just as easily be unspent and in search of a new identity – hopefully inside the true physics of soil, forests, fields, rivers, seas, workshops and people.
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Currently successful political parties are those which lobby for and disperse that same corporate advertisement. Votes follow the money and money follows the votes – those many small purchases and votes, which make a reality. Softly and silently (I apologise to the poet) commercial corporations are sliding into government. Most politicians angle their profiles, so that they, in the same way, will be personally spent and balloted into power.
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Politics and consumerism have become so entwined that the ballot has become little more than another consumer-choice – a consumer choice within the same corporate supply.
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Here in the UK there is only one large political group, which stands on more or less physical ground – that surrounding Jeremy Corbyn. Just about every newspaper, radio/television station and political party is utterly focused on destroying it. If they don’t destroy it, they may be un-spent from existence by the contrary power of reality. You ask, What of the Green Party? I say, it has very recently levitated into what it sees as the advantageous world of corporate European power. Rest in Peace.
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How can something, which has no existence, become physical by the power of money? Well, many things do, such as class structures in which real money is extracted from the real economy of the real household to finance my absolutely abstract class status as dentist, GP, solicitor, architect… That extraction could be called rent and it could be called extortion. All enclosures do the same. They extract rent for money, land, status, or ideas and weaken real economic activity – that is the real goings on of people and the land.
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Actually, instead of spending an abstract corporate polemic into reality, why not find a reality and describe, extol the value of its existence. Why not extol existence into existence? Then, why not un-spend a corporation into abstraction again? It is easy to spot politicians who have been bought into existence. They speak like robots – or puppets on a mysterious string. Often, coming from nowhere, they suddenly appear on every front page, fulfilling, of course someone else’s purpose. Here in the UK, one of those chosen in that way, is the well-groomed Liberal Democratic Party leader, Jo Swinson. I suspect the puppeteer is the media baron Rupert Murdoch.
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But it is not only the corporate fantasy that is sold into reality. On “our” side of the argument much that is doctrine, is repeated so much that it can mutate into a consenting hypothesis. That such hypotheses are untested is forgotten in the passionate noise of the original doctrinal polemic. In the battlefield we grow to encourage and protect our comrades in arms.
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Then, an untested hypothesis can be used to create further chapters to the doctrine – with reference “to the science” – quietly forgetting that the science has never existed.
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Gunnar Rungren has an excellent article, currently on the resilience.org site, which unpicks the polemic that “Small farms produce 70% of the world’s food” They don’t. It doesn’t help either our argument, or our task that they should produce all the world’s food, by manipulating figures to show that they already produce 70%. The claim originates from a report by the ETC Groups in 2009, Who Will Feed Us? Now, most of the small farmers and growers I speak to, have that figure indelibly imprinted as a motivational slogan.
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I’ve come across that same brick wall – that line of shouldered arms and have been labelled both schismatic and also of having “no peer review”. Pointing out that the doctrine in question similarly has no peer review and has never been tested, will have no effect, because the doctrine has become sacred and I have become schismatic.
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This particular doctrine is the foundation for sequestration calculations of the IPCC, Zero Carbon Britain 2030 and almost all academic publications besides. No one can show me where and how it has been tested and I’m fairly sure that it never has been tested. I think that the hypothesis, now mutated from an original doctrine, whose source seems untraceable, is possibly (I think extremely likely to be) the cause of the vastly underestimated rate of climate change.
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Here it is as given to me by one of the authors of Zero Carbon Britain 2030 in response to my inquiry –
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“If biomass is burned, the chemistry is more or less reversed, and the original energy and raw material (CO2 and water) are released. There is then no net gain or loss of CO.2, which is why biological fuels are considered to be carbon neutral.”
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That is to say, we can burn a crop, turning its living, energetic mass into dead gas, small ashes and powerful energy and then wonderfully as virgin birth, green shoots will rise from somehow immortal, yet still living soil to spread their leaves and photosynthesise as before. Soil is proposed to be as the cauldron of Ceridwen – though we regularly devour the contents, it will never be empty.
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That the doctrine is unbelievable probably gives potency to the belief.
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The tragedy is that the hypothesis is tested season by season by millions – even billions of farmers, growers and gardeners and by scores of agricultural research bodies, which publish crop yield figures. Yet, specialist monopolies are so sure of the sanctity of their enclosures that such simple truth is forbidden entry. After all, careers would be on the line and the credibility of researchers and university departments seeking funding would be shredded by the winds of ordinary common sense. Well, Amen, I say. Professional status enclosure, not only wrecks economies by rent, but it also monopolises truth and so spreads unchallenged delusion. Peer review has mutated to career review, in the same way that doctrine can mutate to hypothesis.
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Here’s some simple truth – a truth at the finger-tips of every farmer and gardener –
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In addition to the gas released from burning a crop for energy (about the same as from burning coal), we also create the following negative effects.
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1 – If we grow a crop, burn it, and so make no biomass return to the soil, then the following seasons crop will be smaller, because the biomass of soil fauna will be similarly smaller.
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2 – Reduced crop yield means reduced photosynthesis, so that the linear contribution of sunlight to the otherwise cyclic nature of life in our garden will be similarly reduced. Atmospheric CO.2 will increase in consequence.
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3 – We could import minerals (fertilisers) from a consequently emptying hole on the ground and so maintain crop yield, but still, soil biomass would decrease. Furthermore, it would decrease more rapidly than in point 1, because artificially-increased plant biomass would “mine” the natural mineralisation of soil fermentation and so further diminish soil fauna/biomass (sequestration).
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(I leave aside the negative effects on soil fauna – biomass and diversity, of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, growth regulators, genetic manipulation and of other effects of fertilisers themselves)
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4 – If we take biomass from our garden and bury it deep – sequestered from the cycles of life – that is, sequestered like coal, oil and gas – then, similarly to point 1, we will diminish soil life, stunt regrowth and shrink photosynthesis. Consequently, we will increase atmospheric CO.2 . Gas, which would have been drawn down by an optimum photosynthesis, will remain in the atmosphere. The same applies to “embedded structures”, such as timber buildings.
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5 – Removing biomass without a return of biomass, slows both the speed and energy of a cycle, while also of course, shrinking its biomass. Speed and energy are often missing from carbon-cycle models. We can observe changing speed by the deepening, or paling green of foliage. Imagine watching the flow of biomass in the same way that we watch the flow of water in a river. The volume in front of us remains the same, until we consider time – litres per second – and energy – driven at 32ft per second sq. We must also consider the speed of flow and energy in biomass. Life is energetic and so is the contribution of sunlight.
The linear contribution of sunlight is dependent on the gathering power and mass of life cycles.
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To continue my (imperfect) analogy, if we remove a mass of water from the river, the water will slow, as the smaller mass spreads more quietly between its unchanged banks.
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If we remove biomass from a field, life will slow as it spreads more quietly across its unchanged acreage.
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Regrowth will slow. Photosynthesis will slow. More time will be needed to achieve the same yield from both sunlight and plant mass. Days and seasons have absolute limits. Time, as the philosophers say, waits for no biomass.
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Actually, crop-yield teaches all we need to know about manipulated organic cycles. To test the IPCC hypothesis, we can go to the great mass of research into crop yields. Otherwise we can record the goings on of our gardens. A simple record is enough.
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5 – IPCC and almost all others propose that carbon sumps and embedded structures remove CO.2 from the atmosphere. That delusion is a part of almost all climate models.
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They also propose that burnt biomass from an unchanged cropping system (“non land-use change”) is Carbon neutral. Moreover, it is proposed that if emitted carbon is captured and stored, (CCS) we can achieve the miracle of negative emissions. That delusion is also part of almost all climate models.
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6 – Burnt biomass with CCS at proposed rates will very soon strip most forests from the Earth, while turning fertile soils towards desert. Burnt coal with CCS would leave those forests and soils to live and breathe.
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Coal and biomass burning emit more or less the same quantity of greenhouse gases, but biomass burning also shrinks both carbon sequestration and the regeneration of biomass. It follows that burning coal is very much safer than burning biomass. If we consider a transition to “zero carbon” (it must be rapid), then first, we must stop burning biofuels, then coal, then oil, then gas. *
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I don’t recommend burning coal.
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Biofuel crops for transport fuels – oil seeds, sugar cane and so on, have the same ill effect.
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I do not apologise for repeating the above, which I’ve put regularly in print, in various forms since 2005.
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* Anaerobic fermentation from “wastes” provides useful gas – especially for domestic use, while also returning biomass “digestate” to the soil. Fermentation happens anyway and everywhere and whatever we do. With AD we gather methane (mostly), burn it and release CO.2 But, I don’t think we have the acreage for AD crops to displace food crops, since we must do all we can to reduce that area, and so let the wilds expand.
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A Society in which Work and Pleasure are Walking Distance from Everyone’s Door

We need a society in which both work and pleasure are walking distance from everyone’s door. That is the foundation of our task to allow the revival of other species and to allow the lungs of Earth to re-find their balance. I cannot see another remedy. Most people profoundly disagree. Wild polemics advise that we can green our current ways of life, while friends of mine say that their chosen way of farming will “draw down carbon”, others say, Yes, – very nice, but dream on…, while still others say, look how far we’ve advanced, technology will continue to advance and find a way.
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This is what I say.
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We need to re-centre suburbia, revive derelict town and village centres and shut-down corporate-supplied consumerism. Rather than green our loud energy demands, we must hush the noise and begin to watch and listen. We must shrink our needs to fit within what we learn from that natural lesson. Our most destructive activity is transport. Greening that destruction is futile. We must remove the need for it as much as we can.
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And we can replace the high-powered internet and its connected global transport with good conversation, concerts, theatres, pub gossip and sing songs, musical instruments, books, market squares, proper shops, workshops and cafes spilling onto the street. We can replace unreality with reality. That reality includes safe and convivial car-free roads, where people can stroll at leisure and children can play as children should. And we can bring market gardens into town and revive private gardening and allotments. As we remove the old infrastructures, so we also remove dependency. Dependency is a soul-sapping weight. Liberated, we can set pleasures, ingenuity and dexterity free. These arguments are old as the hills.
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Which is why this needs little explanation. The transformation is from an extraordinary fossil-powered levitation and back to very ordinary and easily-understood solid ground. It’s also fortunate that the ordinary contains all that is marvellous – seasons, sights, scents, sounds…. We need no advice from academics, consultants, architects, journalists, or government officials to achieve it. In truth, that hierarchy of professional (and deluded) monopolies has played the major part of our crazy levitation. What’s more, from that elevation it has reached down and extracted crippling rents from those who still generate real economic activity. If I need a solicitor, or doctor, or if I need planning permission for my self-built house, I must bring my £6 per hour to pay for their £300 per hour. I pay for a class system. I pay for idle education by my physical labour. That educated idleness can only exist by the cash-generating power of fossil fuels.
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Sometimes, reality will produce scarcity and surplus – such necessary trade can be managed (if we work at it) by canal navigable river and the sea. Sail trade is tried and tested. Even though you say, “Dream on mate”, it is the only trade which fits physical reality. It can also revive coastal communities. Can we maintain the railway? Only trial and error will tell. Certainly, it must be efficient rail – that is, slow rail. How far will durable electricity stretch? Nobody knows. Its first uses must be domestic. That may well prove its limit, but perhaps it will stretch a little further. Certainly, I don’t know. In any case, uncertainty is the best frame of mind to receive enlightening fragments of certainty.
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Fossil fuels have lifted humanity high above the Earth on a wild ride to self-destruction. What’s more, they have not brought happiness. Our species had evolved to find its place amongst all the other species. Firstly, agriculture came too fast for our deeper selves to keep pace – the inherited moral structures that form family, community and their settlement inside the natural world, were often overlain by that new reality. Thus, moral structures became both strained and exploited. In many instances, we could justly call that new agricultural reality – unreality. Throughout history, (and no doubt, pre-history) many agricultural communities had pillaged their soils and so themselves, even before the magnificent power of fossil fuels levitated our half-unreal agriculture into utter, unmitigated unreality. By agriculture, I mean a culture of roads, villages, towns and cities – of specialised trades – all of which are enabled by the specialist cultivation of fields. Today, in spite of the marvels of aviation; of the internet and so on, we remain an agriculture.
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A society in which both work and pleasure are walking distance from everyone’s door can remain an agriculture – or as I shall pursue, a more horticultural society, into which animals can beneficially contribute. I think our settlements must retract as the wilds expand.
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I carry Utopia with me like an imaginary harbour light, or the evening star. Our cultural voyage cannot embark without hope. Yet, looking at the evidence, there is now no future for humankind – the heating is more rapid than all peer-reviewed predictions. Looking at my family, friends and neighbours, it is plain that we will not achieve the fast (immediate) mutation of social behaviour necessary to live within planetary means. Yet hope is something different. It is anchored, transcending time, to its final leading light. “You never enjoy the world aright, until the sea itself floweth in your veins – until you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.” Says Thomas Traherne. “And know yourself to sole heir to all the universe – and more so, since all others are sole heirs also.”
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Yes, our journey will devise many compromises in the face of both human and natural obstacles. But the thing is, as we set off again, having necessarily compromised, our renewed guiding light must remain Utopia. Compromising a pragmatic compromise always leads to hopeless disaster. After all, Utopia is Nowhere. It always leads to hope.
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A Horticultural Society by Way of the Ferny Brae

A more horticultural society that learns to garden its land – that retreats into its terrain, while the wilds expand, may still have domestic animals for meat, milk and eggs. We cannot grow annual crops, without fallow, regenerative phases in rotation. My rule of thumb is two years of green manure, or pasture to one year of cropping. Pasturing removes the considerable manual labour of cutting and mulching – I assume a world without both oil and electricity for agricultural machinery. I suspect Earth-limited electricity will stretch only as far as domestic heat, light and some refrigeration. Naturally, we’ve legs and bicycles for transport and we’ve direct traction of wind and water for mills, pumps and manufactories. I doubt we can retain the internet.
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There is a very old vein of green socialist thinking, which runs deep into medieval times – almost certainly as deep as the Bronze Age and probably the Neolithic… When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? Here is GK Chesterton describing his hopes for a Distributist movement, which is rooted in that same vein. “Capitalism is the state run by big business, while communism is big business run by the state. I dream of very many, very small businesses.” (from my memory) That yearning may lie dormant in most of us.
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And that yearning must flower and fruit if we are to accomplish this massive transformation – re-centring suburbia into towns and villages, so that work and pleasure are walking distance from everyone’s door.
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Only the intelligent senses of “very many small businesses” could possible achieve that complexity. We must be parochial, to understand both the specific complexities of terrain and the desires of the parish’s people. Good soils, good water and connections of tracks, canals, navigable rivers are all best understood by those who live by them. Those new and old towns and villages, can be ringed with market gardens, cereal fields and orchards and the growing must weave its way through the town too, by the specific means of singular ingenious finger-tips. Strange, isn’t it? If we come to love our personal terrain – our garden, we more easily love another’s.
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You say, such a transformation is impossible. Well, yes. It is. But our current ways of life in Europe and America are also impossible. A greening of how we live, or a middle way is just as impossible. So, every road we take is impossible. The future is impossible. So, why not choose the very best – the loveliest impossible route? Why not choose happiness and grit our teeth through what is to come to achieve it?
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Actually, a more horticultural society is the most likely road to succeed – the obstacles are political and violent – that is, human obstacles – other people. All other roads are certain to fail, because the obstacles they face are physical – flood, wind, heat and a cascading evaporation of species on which all cultures depend. Try arguing with the tide.
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We may think we are doing our bit by paying a little more for an electric car, by recycling, avoiding plastic packaging and by lobbying for a greening of our power supplies – all that, with the social advantage that it is not extreme, or extremist. No-one wants to be “an extremist”. However, it’s very plain that such a middle way will end in utterly catastrophic heating of our only Earth and utter misery for our own children. It fails right from the start.
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However, what if we let an ancient yearning rise in all its romance. It’s neither radical, nor extreme as an idea. It’s only radical in its effect on the extra-ordinary way we live today. European and American ways of life are so extra-ordinary – so radical that they will draw the final curtain over all human cultures and are set arrive, by their own boast, at the end history. My vision, (and that of ancestors from every period) is, on the contrary, ordinary, very old and very easily understood. We don’t want a radical culture. We want a timeless, conservative one.
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To return to our horticultural culture, we’ve many perennials, such as fruit and nut trees and bushes, but the Land Institute’s perennial cereals may offer a less destructive route into a durable terrain. But still, they mean harvesting the whole plant, both grain and straw, as with annual cereals and so may similarly need a regenerative phase – perhaps a season or two of grazing?
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Fallow, regenerative phases mean that animals can add to the complexity of a cycle, but are also limited by its plant biomass. We can add pleasurably, to the whole, while having no malignant ecological effect. The same desire for bread and beer also creates the special, but rationed pleasures of milk, butter, cheese, eggs and meat. I think it unlikely that we can maintain additional pastures purely for meat and milk.
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Anyway, very many, small prairie fields could remain within our horticultural mindset. The scythe is a pleasant tool and scything cereals is not hard work – unlike mixed meadow grasses. Grains are also precious, because they can be stored from good years into bad and they are very light – only 15% water, so that they can be easily transported between surplus and scarcity of regions. Thus, they are useful in both time and space. Anyway, as of old, communities can come together for the harvest. Many hands…
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Here in temperate UK, many of those rolling acres of grassland, were first enclosed to remove people from the land and replace them with sheep. Sheep made wool-money for the few –they bled dry the true economy of people and land and became a blue-print for all monopolies and most dispossessions. Those grasslands can be returned to their natural state as woodland – woodland for photosynthesis, the return of the wilds and for timber. We’ll need timber and we’ll not need that 80% of Welsh lamb for export. Of course, we’ll have no land to spare to feed biomass boilers, broiler houses, batteries and feed lots. What of hill and upland farming communities? Some traditions go back to at least the Bronze Age and some older still – They can adopt the same horticultural mind-set for better soils and of course, forestry and its trades, will provide more employment than sheep ever could. If wool is re-valued as it should be, then sheep may play a part in a new complexity, but it is not only hill communities, whose lives must turn upside down – it is all of us. Just as all of us must dramatically reduce our consumption of things in general, so we must dramatically reduce our consumption of land. Those extensive pastures, which many now claim, “draw down carbon” and turn inedible-to-people grasses into valuable protein, are profligate pastures creating consumerist luxuries. Breathe deep, and let as much land as we can, return to the sounds, scents and sights of the wild. We’ll still have those luxuries, but within the limits of the rotations of a horticultural mindset and they will be special – set aside for feast days and holidays.
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Now, let’s consider this – Old Socialism, Old Tory, Old Liberal (Wig) and so on, would have been similarly connected to soil, materials, labour, the trades – diverse ways of both urban and rural living. They’d find a common truth in material things. Their dispute would be a similarly ancient one – in distribution of materials and between classes and power structures; between urban and rural. They’d share the same evidence of their own eyes – climate and ecological catastrophe, empty holes in the ground, which once held resources, increasingly lifeless soils, wealth and poverty both accelerating wildly, and no-one in control of the ship of fools.
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They might well share a common acceptance of fair rationing (war-footing) and of an urgent need for utterly-changed behaviour. At any rate, they’d share the same horror as the great ship, the Newly Marketed Centre Corporate Green Ground, embarked without touching the ground, or without noting winds, currents, tides, or ice bergs (unfortunate metaphor).
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It is easy to be enlightened to the virtues of the centre and very easy to ridicule the endarkened edges – that is, the old dark ways of rivers, trees, fields, bird songs, crops, workshops, pianos, wild flowers, mountains, frying onions, pub songs, parishes, gravity, tides, passing seasons, harbours and people.
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Nigel Farage’s pint glass has been a potent image. It is attractive, human-sized and is not measured in statutory litres. People are not wrong to yearn for a good life in a simple world. That Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson both represent something quite different – and horribly different, while presenting such homely images, does not negate that genuine yearning. Farage/Johnson represent total deregulation of the same corporate levitation, which is supported by New Labour, Liberal Democrat and Greens. All support the corporate levitation, but the “centrists” would negotiate consumer and environmental protections within it. Neither extreme right of Johnson/Farage, nor the status quo of the prosperous middle-ground will protect themselves from that same corporate self-destruction.
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G K Chesterton also stood, pint in hand like Falstaff in merry England, or Robert Burns with a jug of wine, lying in the heather, or Willian Barnes – I’ve got two fields and I don’t care what squire mid have a better share… Or let’s follow Thomas the rhymer under the hill –
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See ye not yon braid, braid road that winds among the lily leven? – That is the path to wickedness, that some ca’ the road to heaven. – And see ye not yon narrow road, s’ thick beset with thorn and briar? – That is the path to righteousness, though after it few enquire. – But see ye not yon bonny road that winds among the ferny brae? That is the path to fair Elfland, where thou and I this night maun gae…
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When all roads fail, choose the bonny road. It is right because our souls will choose it and because yet half visible truth has long ago chosen it.
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I like to think that the old Socialist, Conservative and Green movements are all closer to a true median ground which stands on (and in) soil, biodiversity and physics, than the currently and powerfully marketed idea of a centre. They are closer in their diverse ways, to the model for all economies. They are closer to the household – to everyday personal behaviour. Meanwhile, the powers behind government, corporation and bank entice left, right and green to their marketed middle ground and to an illusion of franchises in the world of power. The same powers wear enticing left, right and green clothing which is then adopted my many in those groups (such as UK Green Parties), who propose that they are moving towards a reconciliatory centre. They are not. They are endorsing utterly amoral and destructive power. They are abandoning their “family values” and embracing a kind of amorality for all, into which any morality can fit and then argue its corner. That world of power is also an idea. It has no substance. The substance, once again is in the billions of small purchases and in the millions of accepted wages…
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Let’s stop spending the idea into reality and then look to each other (Really, we all know it’s true) – and one, by one, take the bonny road.
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The Wealth of Fields and Nations

As we end bad practice and attempt good practice, so farm and garden soils can accumulate some vital biomass and biodiversity. But that increase in soil biomass will always end at an optimum point, at which the farmer/gardener can only attempt a balance – a stable, living mass. That balance is precarious, because it is subject to human fallibility, unpredictable weather and very human choices, such as attempts to cultivate, or harvest – to salvage something, in unsuitable weathers. Even here, in temperate Wales, such unsuitable weather is becoming more and more frequent. This season we’ve had extreme rainfall, extreme heat and extreme winds – all of which are likely to grow worse. It’s plain that unsuitability will accelerate – that is, current human cultures will be increasingly ill-matched to the weathers, which once sustained them. The lovely yeast of soil, which gave rise to a more or less stable harvest, will be diminished by flood, drought, wind and human desperation. However skilled we are and however hard we struggle, beyond an optimum point, we will not “draw down further carbon” onto our virtuous fields and gardens.
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Anyone who raises an eyebrow at the word, desperation, is plainly not a grower, or farmer.
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Even in perfect weather, the best husbandry can only aim for balance, while knowing that it will often fall short of that balance – all farming and gardening disrupts the natural ecology it has replaced. I think we should begin with that primary knowledge. We should also assume that we will make mistakes. Our task is to grow food, while causing as little ecological and atmospheric harm as we can. We will cause climate heating and we will disrupt natural systems – knowing that, is the best frame of mind to learn how to limit that disruption.
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There are outrageous claims for farming and gardening systems, which “draw down carbon” into their lovely soils. These are often made by the “newly-enlightened”, new farmers and growers and by writers and journalists passionately applying a revelatory idea – a permaculture; an agroecology; – and too easily finding evidence for their own virtue. It is used to promote produce in marketplaces and since it is often a genuine, if deluded aspiration, there are few of the kindly, who’d rock its boat.
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If we consider organic as a method which attempts as best it can, to imitate the optimum cycling of organisms, then we have in the word, a fine rule of thumb for farming and gardening. And it is true that the linear gift of sunlight can repair some very human cracks in our attempted cycles, but only to a point. That point is an optimum (durable maximum) photosynthetic leaf area, much of which will have disappeared down those cracks.
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Like sunlight, there are other linear contributions, which are often accepted as a gift from nowhere. They are no such thing. They have come from somewhere – an emptying hole in the ground, a broken organic cycle in some-one else’s field, or from a once-vibrant ecosystem, such as a forest.
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Many practitioners have made outrageous boasts of soil sequestration by importing large amounts of mulching material. They import from another’s impoverished organic cycle. In short, this is either narcissism, or simple anti-social behaviour – it diminishes a common good. If one field receives biomass grown in another field, the sum of the two masses will end as less than the original mass, which had been thriving in the soil and plants of the two separate fields. Although soil biomass will increase in the importing field, it will increase by less than the loss of biomass in the exporting field. The sum of the biomass of both fields will be smaller and Atmospheric CO.2 will increase accordingly. Where is the missing mass? – In energy (heat), gas from uncycled fermentation and in leached minerals from the importing field and in cascading diversity and mass of soil fauna and plants in the exporting field.
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We could imagine a world without artificial fertilisers, in which the powerful appropriate green wastes and sewage for their high-yielding, money-making fields, while the disempowered struggle to scratch a living. As always with inequity, overall yields will fall, while a few become rich. Overall photosynthesis will fall, along with the shrinking soil biomass and increasing atmospheric CO.2.
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The human economy is also an organic system. Adam Smith, the moral philosopher, observed, Economies with high wages and low profits achieve the “greatest wealth of nations”, while those with low wages and high profits achieve the least.
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That equity of wealth distribution, applies equally to both economy and ecology of fields. Of course, a field which is most knit inside the webs of its ecology, achieves greatest economic success. But that success can only be achieved for a community of fields, if so called, wastes (wages) are distributed fairly between all fields. If those biomass/wages are taken by an elite group as profit, then the wealth of the nation of fields will fall.
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The greenhouse effect of lifeless gases will increase to the same degree.
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Having left fossil mass to lie quietly sequestered in its strata and having ended the burning of living biomass (the lungs of lovely Earth), and having re-arranged our ways of life to do without what those fires and explosions have brought us – suburbia, the family car, aviation… – we must look to Adam Smith’s prescription for a bio-massive wealth of nations.
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Fields can shrink from the compass of oil-power to the compass of man-power and we must limit growing areas to just our dietary needs – and I’d say, pleasures. Meanwhile, we must let the wilds expand – only the wilds can “draw down carbon”. They are Eden. Sorrowfully, we cannot escape the Fall. As the poet, Edwin Muir tells us – Time’s handiworks, by time are haunted. He continues – blossoms of grief and charity bloom from these darkened fields… Strange blessings, never in Paradise, fall from these beclouded skies.
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Energy

Blake, William, 1757-1827; Adam Naming the Beasts

Blake, William; Adam Naming the Beasts; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/adam-naming-the-beasts-83208

All life is busy – energetic – converting mass to energy and energy to mass. We note energy in the causes and effects of motion and in the growth of individual organisms. A continuous fermentation both within organisms and in soil and sea through which all terrestrial cycles must pass, breaks biomass into simple, original minerals (biomass nutrients) and gases. To a farmer, as fermentation accelerates, so does the growth of her crops. Receding, or increasing fermentation is plainly visible, week by week in the paling, or deepening green of foliage. The energy is plain. The mass is plain. The increasing mass of her animals, or indeed, her children, is a consequence of the increasing mass and energy of her plants, which in turn, are a consequence of the power (acceleration) of soil fermentation and photosynthesis. That deepening green of cereal blades indicates increasing speed and increasing energy. Yes. Time and velocity are also plain – we say slow-growing; fast-growing and we have impatient appetites, dependant on Winter stores.
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Temperature is critical to energy/mass exchanges and to rules of good husbandry. Fermentation happens anyway if temperatures and moisture are right. If plants are not available to take up those minerals (as in a bare fallow, or planting delayed by bad weather), then they will escape to water courses. The gas that escapes to the air, will not be returned by photosynthetic re-balancing, but will accumulate in the atmosphere, to the degree and duration of the ferment of that one fallow field. Subsequent crop yield from that field will be smaller, because soil biomass will be smaller. Lifeless minerals and gases will have increased, while biomass and bio-energy will have diminished. We could look at it in these terms – a tendency for lifelessness will have become larger than a tendency for life. Optimum husbandry success is for dying and living to remain in balance. Dying and living are both dynamic, whereas lifelessness and dying are not at all the same things. Minerals and gases are either a part of a tendency for life, or of a tendency for lifelessness. My husbandry can swing the balance one way or the other. Humanity as a whole is choosing to swing the balance towards a lifeless planet.
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Those who’d burn energetic biomass for mere energy, gas and ashes are approved by the IPCC and most government departments as achieving “carbon neutrality” – that is, to say that future photosynthetic energy will repair that loss. How such a ridiculous hypothesis gained consensus is a mystery – even though it is universally accepted, it has not been proved by any research that I can find – and no-one, who supports it, has been able to find me any. IPCC say that biomass burning can achieve, so called, negative emissions if the gases are captured and stored in some way in a “carbon sump”. Farmers and growers can refute the hypothesis, season by season. If we grow a crop, remove it from the farm and make no biomass return to the soil, then soil biomass and energy will shrink, subsequent re-growth will shrink and leaf area presented for photosynthesis will similarly shrink. Year, by year, a tendency to lifelessness will increase and a tendency to life will diminish. The only way we can replace the loss of fertility is by importing it from elsewhere, so that the “elsewhere” is similarly diminished – a hole in the ground with nothing in it. It follows that burning coal with CCS is a far, far better thing than burning biomass with CCS. I do not advocate burning coal.
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The obsession with carbon as mass in the air, or mass in/on the soil and for a direct cycle between the two, without exchanges of energy, has led to another error. Embedded structures, such as timber buildings are accounted as “carbon sumps” – denying that carbon to the atmosphere! The opposite is true. If we remove life (the tree) from a life-cycle, we shrink both the energy and mass of that cycle. Biomass will be denied to the soil to feed subsequent regrowth and photosynthetic energy of one tree will be removed. The energy of the forest’s life-cycle will diminish by the power of that tree and atmospheric CO.2 will increase accordingly. Embedded structures are not a large part of carbon auditing, but future audits may include James Lovelock’s carbon sumps, in which large tonnages of biomass are buried – sequestered like coal, oil and gas. It is proposed by many that those sumps will deny carbon to the atmosphere – they will achieve the opposite.
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So, here’s a thought for economists – that balance of death and life is the measure of a stable economy: one in which economy and ecology become one. Food and soil become one and so human energy (life) and soil become one – also cultural sense of place and soil become one. As lifelessness increases, so the primary economic asset (food-supply) diminishes. It’s well to pause here to reflect on our ignorance. A trawling of scientific literature won’t help. With regards to biological complexity, we are lost in intellectual chaos. It’s plain that the interweaving of an only partly-understood biodiversity is essential for an optimum (that is a durable maximum) bio-energy and mass. Part-understanding is a very dangerous thing. So, in this regard, science is a pleasure, and I’d say, an essential pleasure, but is of little practical use. Application of such ignorance is a definition of stupidity. However, there are other ways towards other kinds of truth – trials and errors of farming and growing bring us close as we can to the truths of dynamic reactions – as I say in the first paragraph – in the deepening, or paling green of foliage – in sustained crop yields. As with much in life, humility and innocence receive the greatest revelations. Of course, the studied scepticism of true science is an attempt at a similar innocence and it can uncover delightful pictures of complexity. But the grower does not need to unravel complexity – structural anthropologists and linguistic philosophers have long-ago failed at that – the grower must only answer the question, what should I do? She can marvel at complexity and enjoy the scientific literature – both of which may increase the diffidence of her footsteps, but her task is to grow the primary economic asset (food) in a way that future growers can attempt the same. All of the above is moral philosophy, it unravels for me, what I should do. Every day, I must do something, by my judgement and cannot wait for scientific corroboration. That, (if you believe in progress) may be centuries away. For myself, I think, we will wait forever, because the answer we seek is complexity itself – not the addition of many broken down elements. The broken-down elements are interesting, but of no practical use.
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Here’s another thought – as Richard Douthwaite has taught us, money-flow must shadow energy-flow, so that within the realm of money-exchange it must shadow acceleration due to people. Of course, acceleration due to people also extends beyond the realm of money. We’d regard a lot of what we do to be tainted by money – we would not accept it. So, for many exchanges, money is taboo. In consequence GDP (spending) should be far less than energy due to people. This makes for a more flexible and safe money system, since where money fails, people can step in.
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I think, many tragedies that are currently unfolding can be attributed to the enclosure of money as property. As Adam Smith warned, money as property would bring capitalism tumbling around our unprotected ears. I’d go further – all enclosure does the same. Rent for money, status, land, ideas – all idly extract money from the true exchanges of what people do. Rent even extracts money from activities which would otherwise be moneyless. It creates a class system of rent-lords on the one hand and of rent-payers on the other. Rent-lords are plainly what we think of as the middle class, while the rent-payers are in a turmoil of bewilderment, loss of identity, increasing poverty… so that they cannot identify with any class. No wonder we have the dark side of Brexit and of Trump’s America – people seeking recognition, belonging and class. Anyway, rent money (debt) has sent money-flow on a trajectory, far beyond acceleration due to people. Not only that, acceleration due to people is sickening in consequence – intelligence of a changing world, ingenuity, dexterity, hope, enthusiasm – all are bled by enclosure – all slowly die, while a tendency for lifelessness accelerates by acceleration due to rent; acceleration due to fossil fuels…
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If we suddenly inject an energy far greater than acceleration due to people and a further acceleration of money-flow as a consequence, we can not only have a world where death overwhelms life, but in which lifelessness overwhelms death. Once-quietly-sequestered and fossilised life, laid down over many millions of years, has been released by fire to create a plague of human-power, wild dis-cultural money and a blanket of atmospheric gases beyond the capacity of merely contemporary life to draw back into her cycles. We can plainly see by the growth of GDPs and GWP that all life will very soon be spent.
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Our current GDPs, or GWP are measuring the end, if not of life on Earth, at least of all human cultures and most of the holocenic species of plants, fungi, invertebrates, insects and animals, with which we are familiar.
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The largest part of current money-flow, measured by GDP is enabled by the carbon (here I can use the word) once safely-sequestered in the quiet strata of fossilised years. We can also use the rather beautiful word, sequestered for the idle fossils once peacefully reclining in those strata. However, the use of the words, sequestration and carbon, when describing the essentially energetic cycles of life, has led to disturbing errors in climatic models. Perhaps it would always have taken an innocent grower, or a child, to point out those errors. Sadly, and for reasons outlined above with regards to enclosure and here particularly, status enclosure, farmers and growers have been tongue-tied – deferring, quite wrongly to the dignified ignorance of enclosed soil and atmospheric science. The same can be said for the supressed intelligence, which would otherwise be noted by all the trades. Where a tool touches its materials is the closest, in both time and space, that we come to the reactions of those materials. Of course, there are many exceptions to that “dignified ignorance”, but on the whole it remains true – certainly in the realms of IPCC, many universities and all government departments. Lazily accepted hypotheses (career-enhancing doctrine) have steered the consensus away from the truth. They’ve steered cultures away from the soils on which they depend. An easy metaphor – the idle fancies of rent-collecting architects have replaced the functional and elegant buildings which could have risen from the intelligent senses of builders.
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Science cannot tell us what to do. Beautiful and detached science has alerted us to a climatic disbalancing, which has been selected by human behaviour. I accept, admire and humbly wonder at the hours of true dedication – the data gathering, the studied patterns emerging… But what we do with new information, brings us to the realms of the effects of causes. It brings us to the trial and error of tools, to ways of life and so to the judgements of moral philosophy – that is, of right and wrong behaviour. One branch of moral philosophy is economics.
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Many dedicated scientists have understood this – wearing a sceptical coat for the science, then exchanging it at the end of the day, to wear the moral, pragmatic coat of a whole person. Kevin Anderson and James Hansen are famous examples, but there must be many others. Anyway, I can only admire the science – I sit at her feet – but in the world of economics (of what we do) I can speak on an equal footing with anyone – all trades contribute their insights. Science, being essentially amoral, cannot tell us what to do. Don’t forget, although we haven’t spent earnest years in gathering and seeking patterns in the data, yet we can all understand the conclusions. We can all delight in the research.
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In farming, I defer only to my farm, as she repels, or accepts my behaviour. That is my duty as a commoner. Otherwise, I must defer to others – medical practitioner, stone-mason, boat-builder, house-builder, forester, turbine maker… There is the trust that should bind a modern society. It is the world of moral commons – of a common history and future. One of the dangers of our current way of life is the legitimisation of “technologists” hiding behind the amoral cloak of science, so that ethics can become detached from actions. Status enclosure consolidates that position, as does career-connected peer-review. Examples include pharmaceuticals, gene technologies, medical practice, pesticides manufacture, “applied climate science”, architecture… All these are crafts; arts; tools; technologies… All that we do has an effect and so also a moral. The beauty of science is that she sees from the cultivated position of amorality, which allows for the unexpected to make sense. A “scientist” who leaves that ivory tower, while forgetting to put on her everyday coat of social loves and responsibilities, becomes a dangerous creature, unhampered, libertarian… It is fortunate that true science has an essential humility – a quieted self – so that she immediately puts on the moral coat of an ordinary citizen, as she shuts the door of the ivory tower, reclaims her-self and mixes with family and friends.
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To function properly, the tool of money cannot be bought and sold. It is a useful tool for more complex energy exchanges – in which unseen actors can contribute. Enclosed money – money as property is irresponsible money. It can create acceleration due to money; to personal power. It can be bought and sold and it can be rented – all without commons of restraint and good behaviour.
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Enclosed status (medical practitioner, solicitor and so on) is irresponsible status. It can charge a rent for that status, which is far beyond a wage for work done. It accumulates money as property and so also achieves acceleration due to money.
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Enclosed land is… Well, the ill-effects are so well documented that I’ll point you to Tom Paine, J S Mill, Henry George… to Oliver Goldsmith – Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey – where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
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This is an article about acceleration. We can have acceleration due to people, the effects of skill, ingenuity, dexterity, muscle – people can then rely on acceleration due to gravity – hydro-turbines, pumps, mills and factories, acceleration due to the moon – tidal shipping currents and tidal turbines, acceleration due to biomass – food and building materials, acceleration due to temperature differences – wind turbines pumps and mills, sailing boats, or acceleration due to oxen and horses (I’d hope, within kindly limits).
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We can no longer have acceleration due to burning things – either fossil biomass, or living biomass. Perhaps as a first step, we should ask ourselves, how can I live without explosions and fire?
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However, we can have acceleration due to fermentation. Since those gases will rise anyway, we can gather them to burn safely, changing one gas for another, plus useful energy.
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We can no longer have acceleration due to money; to inequality; to enclosure; to anything, which acts outside the cycles of life, or which breaks our connection to both the time and space of soil, such as fossilised produce of ancient soils. Of course, our cultural history is stuffed full of inequalities, empires, enclosures, deforestation and destructive farming, but now that we have risen so far above the true physics of the world, we must scramble back down by every means we can – or like the baseless fabric of this vision, we’ll leave not a wrack behind… Already – we are such stuff as dreams are made on and those in positions of authority almost universally consider that we can make stuff from dreams. The idea of progress is that we make stuff from dreams. Acceleration due to dreams is just a longer dream.
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If we can’t have acceleration due to money, then using money – carbon taxes, carbon trading, true-cost accounting, ecosystem services will only endorse what we should rectify. A better way is agreed rationing, re-distribution, and an enthusiastic story-telling of the moral commons of proper behaviour. We don’t stop air-travelling, because a tax has made it too expensive, but because it is the wrong thing to do. Once it has been accepted as the wrong thing to do, it can be made illegal. Use of other resources can be similarly rationed, because unfair distribution is plainly wrong – or so the new stories say.
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Once upon a time, we could live happily ever after. We can aim for such a time, but first, the plot must pass through a variety of tragedies to get there. In a previous chapter, we chose (from a passing mountebank) future tragedy for a moment of exquisite pleasure. Ain’t that a proper tale to tell? It was a dark and stormy night. We said to the tale-teller, tell us a tale. He stepped into the light and began, “It was a dark and stormy night. We said to the tale teller…” You see, we already know what we need to know. We must live through the tragedies we have created. We cannot ask, how can we avoid tragedy? We have already chosen tragedy. Now we must choose the best tragedy and we must live by acceleration due to people; gravity; moon; sun; temperature. But acceleration due to people is primarily dependent on acceleration due to biomass. Our arts, cultural commons and taboos should all (as probably once they were) be focussed on optimum maintenance of that biomass. All the rest are tools to help, or hinder the journey. After all, ours has to be an agriculture, a hunter-gatherer culture, or a mixture of both. At the moment, cultural consensus is choosing minerals, gases, chemical reaction, fire, gravity, the moon, temperature and the linear energy of a lifeless sun.
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Diary of a Baby-Boomer Nobody

1280px-Gormley_Land_Saddel_Bay_Arran

My world is very small. I’ve not travelled much and not at all beyond Welsh, Scots, Irish and English shores. Yet, I think the parish of Llannefydd, where I’ve lived and worked since 1975, provides an accurate-enough microcosm of anywhere that has not been ravaged by war, invasion, empire, flood, drought and famine. Earlier, as a teenager in suburban Woking, I devoured books of all sorts, absorbing the knowledge and insights of revered authorities and resting in what I thought was their beauty and truth. I decided then, in the 1960s that oil and its ways of life were destructive and I also vowed never to fly – and I never have and never will. I suppose John Ruskin, William Morris, On Walden Pond and so on, led me to that conclusion. I was what is now called a school phobic. I have no education. That has been a valuable asset to finding my way. Everywhere, I see education’s distorted and blinkered perspective – particularly, of course in people of influence, because I must repel that influence. A friend has written that he and I are the Shakespeare-quoting outlanders of Huxley’s Brave New World. Would I still love Shakespeare and Chaucer, had I an education? – I doubt it.
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I hope this is not a narcissistic journey. I remain uneasily in the first person, because I’ve stumbled into a need to explore why I think and feel as I do. I focus on myself, because what I think and feel is mine (my fault) and not that of the “we” of family, friends and influences.
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Having escaped suburbia, I spent five years working on archaeological digs, until I fell into farming by accident. Now in my mid-twenties, I spent a winter at leisure (on accumulated wages) in a very beautiful place and when eventually I ran out of money, I found that I did not want to leave. Farm labouring was the only local work and I came to enjoy it. Soon, I began to rent some nearby fields. It was very much easier for me than it is for today’s young people. In 1976, a friend and neighbour, simply and trustingly, bought me fourty-six ewes – selected with the skilled advice of another friend and neighbour. With that first lamb crop, I repaid the money in the first year. That also, could not happen today. It could not have happened then, without the kindliness, trust, time, money and wisdom of neighbours – most of whom were born and hefted into that cynefin. They displayed the timeless common of such communities – hospitality to and curiosity for strangers. Meanwhile, because I continued to work for five days a week as a farm labourer and so needed no other maintenance, the ewes soon increased to three hundred. This is not a story of hard graft and steely determination rewarded – not at all – I enjoyed regular music nights in the local pub and partying generally. Tragically, for anyone today, it would have to be hard graft and steely determination and even then, it would probably end in failure.
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It was a world of unspoken commons, untouched by NGO, government, corporation, or bank. Although that world has almost gone, it does remain in us all, as a kind of folk memory and I speculate that there are few who’d not long for its revival if they just let the emotion to rise. Most commons have been enclosed – by consumer rights, consumer dependency and by monopolies of supply, information and the ballot. However, I think the common does survive in the ethics of the household; in filial codes and memories. Once upon a time, many aspects of the commons were preserved in church, chapel, mosque, temple… Even though the power of religious institutions led to the very human problems of all power structures, nevertheless those institutions often stood as foils to many forms of enclosure – latterly, at least of ethics.
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Of course, under the wing of Protestantism (of course, Protestantism herself was not guilty), older commons of both land-use and the trades were swept away – mutating into fabulous wealth for aristocrats and larger yeoman farmers and into new slums, starvation and prostitution for the migrating dispossessed. Power’s excuse was a conveniently-adopted cult religion. We can see a similarity today, as the powers put on a fervent green mantle, as a means to the coming new money-spinner – claiming both virtue (as in the Reformation) and a new source of enclosed and fabulous wealth. As the old sources (oil) slip away, the opportunistic see that “renewable” energy must be exploited and enclosed – Monopolies get used to monopoly. How marvellous that a new money-spinner can wear a cloak of green virtue, just as the vicious enclosures of the sixteenth century Reformation wore a cloak of religious virtue.
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What are commons? I say they are the long-evolved (and evolving) moral guidance of the similarly long experience of ancestors. Those morals survive, embodied in the living, at many levels from shallow to deep. They urge what must be done to conserve both the culture and the species – including species on which ours depend. They overrule ephemeral coercions of power. Often, they define the roles of power. At the deepest level they emerge in the intrinsic morals, which we think (or rather, feel) make us human. We have the muscular form of who we are, but also the moral form of what we do. Taboo belongs in that realm. I think enlightenment is wrong to sneer at taboo. Meanwhile, at the shallowest level (though tinged with the deep) commons emerge in rights to land and water responsibility, to pannage, estovers, pasture, piscary, flotsam and so on. All commons define rights to responsibility. They outline both rations of what we can have and a ration of what we can do. Don’t forget that the true home of economics is moral philosophy. It is also the household itself. If we understand household budgets and household rules of behaviour then we know all we need to know of economies generally. Casino “economists” will disagree.
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Commons define behaviour. Present cultural behaviour germinates the cultural future. The future cannot undo what the present has done. That is a potent thought. Enclosure – property – only concerns nouns. It is a fence line for irresponsible protection of time-freed nouns (the liberal economy) and for the exclusion of unruly verbs – that is, the effects of causes, including the guidance of moral philosophers and real economists.
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Because they’ve evolved to do so, children quickly learn the subtlety of commons. Often, commons involve rituals of initiation and coming of age, in which we put on the spirit of passed ancestors – to live in the same bequeathed and rationed space. We curate our inheritance as we can and then bequeath it in turn.
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Enclosure defines right to irresponsibility – to private property with which I can behave as I choose. All enclosures are the same – of land, money, ideas and status. They remove both lessons of history and needs of the future. That is the state we are in today – total enclosure of the last social commons, with no past and no future. Land-owners can pillage as they choose – money owners likewise. GP; solicitor; consultant; “professional” people, extract terrible rents (that is riches) from communities they once served and to maintain the ways of life, (the class system) to which they’ve grown accustomed. Their monopoly cannot be challenged by other than their own professional bodies – peer review has become a mutually supportive career ladder. In theory at least, peer review once provided useful insights to those with open minds, but today it serves only to increase the barbs of the fence-line, which excludes schismatic “peers” who’d rock an established and lucrative boat. And so it is, that my simple mind has no trust for scientific papers – even though it is curious for the science. To those who ask for a list of sources beneath my articles, I say Pshaw! The source is mine. If we cannot think for ourselves, why burden the world with more clutter? A paraded dignity of peers cannot increase the dignity of my words – they are what they are for themselves… Of course, I’d attribute quotations and influences.
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Anyway, it came to pass, as proper stories say, that I met a farmer’s daughter and married into a small farm. In 1987 we decided to register the farm with the Soil Association for organic conversion.
My rented hill land had been organic since 1978, but we now had the pleasure of arable crops and eventually an orchard and veg field. Eventually too, we managed to escape the commodity market and sell much of our produce over market stalls as food – not commodity – to real people, face to face – that is, all our vegetables, apples, apple juice, beef and lamb. We sold only what we grew on the farm. For the future, we must do the same for cereals and pulses.
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Here is this season’s picture of our small, organically-managed farm – 66 acres of marginal to good land (grade three) and a further 23 acres of rented hill land, which is unsuitable for cropping – The 66 acres breaks down as 10 acres of an oats/barley/pea mix and 7 acres of oats – all for combining, plus 2 acres of apples and 3 acres of vegetables. The bulk of the energy required for the 5 acres of apples and vegetables is manual. Whereas, the 17 acres for combining is almost entirely diesel powered. The remaining 44 acres provides minimal woodland, being mostly grassland. It is diesel powered for hay and silage, but mostly “dog and stick” for the rest. Is that sustainable? For the apples, vegetables and dog and stick – If very well managed, possibly. For the rest – No.
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The rented 23 acres of hill land, includes about an acre of grazed oak woodland. Our (entirely benign) landlord has retained about 4 acres of oak woodland which is a part of the whole – but our part is pasture and mostly by dog and stick. Is that sustainable? No. Such land would be more beneficial as woodland – economically, ecologically and photosynthetically.
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I reckon a rule of thumb for crop rotation is one year of extractive crops to two years of regenerative green manure or pasture. (we practice 2 years cereal to 6 years grass/clover) I think there is little to choose between green manure, or grazing – both are effective. Yes, I do think we could have a vegan agriculture. However, grazing has two advantage – One – it removes the considerable energy required (human, or diesel) to cut and mulch. Two – it provides useful eggs, milk, butter, cheese and meat to the community. There is a plausible third advantage – a balance of plant to animal, could replicate the proportions of that balance in nature. Nature has evolved for optimum success. So! – introducing animals into a rotation may achieve optimum agricultural success. Of course, for the future, our meat ration will not stretch to every day, but only to weekends and special occasions. Cereals and pulses must feed people. We’ll have none to spare for batteries, broiler houses and feed-lots.
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So, at Bryn Cocyn, the 20 acres of arable and vegetable cropping, need 40 acres of green manure/pasture to maintain their fertility – leaving only 6 acres, of which 2 are woodland and 2 are apples. That means we must plant a further 2 acres with trees. We are about to do so. However, what of those 23 acres of hill land, which cannot support cropping? I think they should be returned to their natural state – that is woodland. We haven’t done so. I am guilty.  Because we easily sell all our lamb and beef by market stalls, providing a large part of our income, my economy has trumped my ecology, stepping beyond its sustainable ration. It is no dispensation that most UK farms are far, far worse. My excuse? – We are step-by-step in transition.
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In Wales, we export 80% of the lamb we produce, which makes for an obviously precarious future. If we thought of 80% of sheep-producing land, repurposed as new woodland, then we could also think of both a more stable economy and a more stable ecology. In addition, we’d add considerably to Welsh photosynthetic power. I don’t like the word, sequestration – it implies a still and quiet mass. It also leads to wrong thinking. The truth is that life in soil, bacteria, fungi, plant and animal is dynamic, fluid, inter-changeable and vivacious! Those who use the term to describe an accumulated mass of carbon (such as IPCC & most of the climate glitterati) are deluded. Climate glitterati? I borrow the term from Kevin Anderson.
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In short, I think we need cropping land to grow food and unless two thirds if it is dairy/meat-producing ley pasture, only a third of that area can actually produce food for people. I think all other land should grow trees. Readers must know that I don’t share the wild sequestration claims of the “pasture-fed” evangelists. Neither do I share the polemical yield statistics by those such as George Monbiot, who attribute to vegetable yield, three times its true yield – by ignoring the regenerative phases of rotation – and by similarly diminishing animal yield, by dismissing its integrated part in that rotation. Animals (as in nature) add to, rather than diminish the whole. George is polemical for the animal part of re-wilding. Why should he not be so for the increased biomass (yield) of vegetable/cereal/pulse production? I like George’s rewilding ideas (although we shall need timber for construction), but he is lazy and conveniently-selective when he comes to food production. Even so, I agree with George that fields dedicated purely to animal production are a waste of space (I am guilty). What’s more, those fields for the most part (unless Bronze/Iron Age field systems) are not “traditional”, they are a legacy of the brutal clearances of people from the land to allow for the golden fleece. Wool made aristocrats fabulously rich. As Thomas more accurately said, Sheep have devoured the people. Now, although it shouldn’t be, wool is worthless and sheep meat income is purely subsidy. We’ve an acute shortage of timber and forestry (per acre) provides far, far more employment than beef and sheep production.
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We let our hedges grow untrimmed – I’d say they are about fifteen feet tall on average – with blossom in the spring and nuts and berries in autumn. Most new agroforestry schemes in large-field arable land have no more “forest” than we have with small fields and wide traditional hedges. From Bryn Cocyn we can look East across the Vale of Clwyd to the Clwydian Range beyond and we can scan from Prestatyn and Rhyl in the North to Llangollen in the South. That vast area is a desert of neat and tightly trimmed hedges. No wonder it has become routine for our neighbours to spray for aphids. What if all those thousands of farms let hedges escape to the sky? It would provide the most rapid ecological and photosynthetic benefit I can imagine. We have an 8.5 acre and a 9.5 acre field, which I’d like to divide with new hedges, to make all the fields in Bryn Cocyn about 3 or 4 acres – good for organising arable and grazing rotations. But my family does not agree – I point out that tractor passes would remain the same if we divided longitudinally – I like the idea of the old strip fields – but no – those fields are similar to our neighbours’ fields – they fit; belong in the community. We are a family democracy.
Anyway, to assist our step-by-step transition, five years ago, I cashed in my small pension and bought a 6kw wind turbine. We also have 4kw of older solar panels and 3kw for my son’s new house. We don’t borrow money and we’ve never accumulated enough for electric vehicles.
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Because my world is small, small influences to the wider world can remain large to me and also serve as a paradigm for the far larger influences which they have reflected.
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The following is very close to me and my small world. I believe it to be a shrunken replica of most citizens, large NGOs and the larger world. Around 1990 or so, a charismatic, ambitious and rather narcissistic group rose to steer the course of the Soil Association. They saw their task as pushing “organic” into the mainstream. They wanted organic products in super markets, large restaurant chains and in “mainstream” thinking. They focused on this alone – the larger the organic market, so the greater the beneficial organic acreage to supply it. They adopted the necessary code phrases – such as paradigm shift, green-sky thinking…- while also creating the necessary human-sized imagery – community supported agriculture, box schemes… Neither of those had power to dilute their vision (as they should have done) rather, they lent the Soil Association false credence.
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The annual Soil Association conference, became not a place where delegates from the shires assembled and shared news, knowledge and concerns, but an outright political rally, in which those charismatic leaders and panels of invited “celebrities” took (pre-submitted) questions from the floor. Those celebrities would know nothing of organic techniques, but would convey the illusion to attendees that they had entered a world of serious “movers and shakers”. At one conference, Vandana Shiva spoke eloquently of lost commons and the fight to reclaim them. Like Greta Thunberg, she is a powerful speaker and I, most of the floor and the charismatic leaders were left with tears in our eyes. Yet one by one, having listened to Vandana, each charismatic leader, addressed the rest of us with the same message – that the world is as it is – that super markets are here to stay – that we’d better get real about enclosures – that we’d better goddam get on the Titanic, because the rest of the world was going nowhere.
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Of course, that was my last conference. I failed utterly to influence that NGO and yet I remain a member – hoping against hope to revive its original commons.
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Those who’d electrify the Titanic, can’t see that the problem is the Titanic. Those who’d green their wealth can’t see that the problem is wealth. Those who’d green the super market can’t see that the problem is the super market. Those who’d green the enclosures (by a green new deal perhaps), can’t see that the problem is the enclosures…. They can’t see that to be effective, a green new deal must enter the common.
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For renewable energy to stand inside terrestrial limits, it can only service the rationed limits of good behaviour. It has not capacity to service bad behaviour. Wind turbines and solar panels face terrestrial rations of mass, acceleration – space and time. I speculate that we can gratefully accept their energy for domestic heat, light, refrigeration and cookery, but no more. For transport, we must return to the world we had before fossil fuels. We must abandon suburbia, centralised procurement/distribution, all aviation, the family car… Why not? We can have sail trade, vivid and vivacious villages and towns, canals and navigable rivers. We can have a re-centred suburbia, interspersed with market gardens and dairies … We can have lively coastal towns and villages – their harbours re-built along every mile of coastline, for small-boat fishing and both shore-hopping and open-sea trades. We can have full employment. We’ll have plenty of now-idle metal work and so on for re-purposing. We will have acceleration due to people and not acceleration due to oil. What’s more two people working side by side are more or less equal, until one gains an oil engine, car, aeroplane ticket, large high-consumption house… Money flow must shrink from acceleration due to fossil fuels to acceleration due to people – the energy of people – the power of what people can do. Why does no-one speak of acceleration? Why in carbon calculations does no-one enter the energy in living biomass – that is the power, not merely the mass of life? They (IPCC and most others) enter nouns, but not verbs. Anyway, GDP (spending) must shrink to at least a tenth (probably more) of what it is today (UK). It must shrink from fossil mass to biomass. That fossil mass was expendable, being converted into both energy and a mass of atmospheric CO.2 and other gases. However, biomass must remain as biomass to live breathe, photosynthesise, die and recycle. – only its intrinsic energy, including human energy (converted from food-mass) can be thought of as energy. Our lives cannot transcend the cycles of all the other lives. We must learn (or re-learn) to join those cycles to find optimum cultural success.
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GDP may be a useful measure of money exchange, but it is a ridiculous measure of an economy. Ebbs and flows of the market are the concerns of a casino. Casinos wreck economies. My readers will know that the economic destruction of war, natural disasters and so on, increases GDP, even though, in the process, cultural assets have been considerably shrunk. Of course, for much that maintains economies, no money passes hands – the activities of households, parenthood, fairs and festivals – we can list many things. Economies are maintained by agreed commons of good behaviour – the good life as it learns to fit its rations of space and time.
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Have Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion been manufactured, just as the organic movement has been manufactured?
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1 – Yes. I’ve no doubt that Cory Morningstar’s research is largely accurate.
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2 – No. I’ve no doubt that Greta is Greta – flesh and blood and heart and soul. I’ve no doubt that most who swell the Extinction Rebellion are so likewise. I’ve also no doubt that there are some members of the Soil Association, who still dream of lost organic commons – vivacious towns and villages, re-centred suburbia and a renaissance of the skills of the trades – accompanied of course by the decay of oil-powered super market, large food manufacturers, restaurant chains and out of, or edge of town retail/industrial parks.
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3 – Yes. How else could the school strikes and the extinction gatherings have reached all forms of media so fast without shady manipulation? How else could Greta, so swiftly address the UN, parliaments various, assembled Hollywood super-stars, or be photographed with jet-setting Naomi Klein, Al Gore and so on…?
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4 – No. The imaginations of many have been fired by both movements – not by the manipulators, but by the movements themselves.
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So, we could put the problem like this – Have the movements been enclosed? I’d say both yes and no. Both are sufficiently on the common to entirely reclaim their commons. Yet both are sufficiently in an enclosure to be in very real danger of total manufacture and manipulation.
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I say, Viva school and extinction rebellions! But I also say, where are you going and what do you mean? I say, governments and corporations have not caused species extinction, or climatic instability. Governments and corporations have assisted we little people to behave badly, but because governments and corporations are merely ideas, the physical causes are entirely ours. Our rebellion should be against ourselves. We can step out of enclosure and onto a personal moral common. Government manipulation has assisted the rich to become richer and so the poor to become poorer – so is that where the true government-against-people battleground lies? – an inequity emergency? We can say that ecological destruction and climatic imbalance are largely caused by the rich – that the poor have not the spending power. That’s true, but even if justice was done and we were re-empowered, we’d still need a clear picture of where we were going and of right and wrong behaviour.
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It’s plain from the above that my own life has some small successes, but also a large portion of failure. I know this – I cause climate change. I contribute to ecological catastrophe. How much? Forget that. All I know is that I must contribute less to destruction and more to a durable way of living. Collectively, we are at a point, where every road we choose will be through a variety of differing tragedies. We cannot avoid tragedy. Nemesis was our consumer-choice. Listen – literature, theatre, music, painting… can make tragedy both beautiful and true – so can a good life. For any future at all, the casino (which most call an economy) must collapse, or be collapsed about our ears. It will be highly unpleasant. I leave that to your imagination. Our task is to begin to construct an economy and a culture which is disconnected from the casino – one that can emerge more or less alive – tragic and comic – conversing and loving – laughing and crying – beautiful and true – from beneath the rubble. Greening our current way of life will be suicide.
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The common is a realm of rationing, maintenance, knowledge and celebration. Scattered here and there, some cultures still practice those things – people call them indigenous cultures – I’ve not fathomed why.
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All cultures are indigenous. It’s urgent to discover both how and why. Then we must come to see that cultures are not what we have, or have achieved. They are what we do.
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