Culture, Economy, Ecology and Climate

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Daring to Dream

While coronavirus forces us into isolation, many things may become apparent, which were previously supressed from the imagination.
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1 – Isolation-enforced de-growth may lead to an imagined and personally-planned de-growth, in which moneyless activities, far outweigh the moneyed. Natural pleasures may become more valued goals – than the old goals of pursuing money to buy manufactured pleasures.
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2 – The above will become acute (rather than chronically simmering) if our chronically unstable “economies” crash, leaving acute trauma. Moneyless activity may prove both more productive and more felicitous, than violent scrambles for money and limited supplies. Of course, that last may win out, but it is not irrational to dream that it won’t. In any case, if the current “economy” does not crash, our planet will very soon be uninhabitable. We must imagine and hope that it will crash. That tragedy is our best hope. We must choose tragedy. It is time to imagine tragedy as benign.
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3 – Enforced family and community rationing may lead to self-reliance in many other things too and to a mistrust of plainly inept governments and to their advocacy for amoral corporate supply – and also to their class-enforcing doctrines. For instance, in states, such as the UK, revulsion at its corrupt newspapers and radio/television channels, may lead to a new thirst for self-learning and to a delight in it. Similarly, expensive and time-wasting education, which teaches us to conform to the current status quo, may be seen for what it is. On the schooling ladder we must conform to pass exams and later, we will find it advantageous to seek, not peer-review, but career-review. Something is rotten in the sate of UK. Imagine a return to health – to good, honest, timeless decency. Imagine it.
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4 – The fantasy, which we so vociferously call, the bottom line, progress, enlightenment… may be seen as the fantasy that it is. Currently, we see climate heating as an abstract idea, and the lives, which cause it, as solid reality. For most of us, our lives will outweigh a mere idea.
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What if the scales fall from our eyes and we suddenly see, zero emissions by 2035 as an urgent reality, and our lives as dangerous fantasy?
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5 – Often, uncertainty brings fear, which brings thoughtlessness (denial), selfishness and both protective violence and violence towards scape-goats – the cornered human animal.
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Convivial Revelry is no Small Thing

Once upon a time, not so long ago, economic transactions using money, were out-weighed by economic transactions, which did not. Still, that moneyless economy, though much shrunken, remains a force for good. Without it, the whole edifice of wages, spending, rents, money interest, stocks, bonds and shares would collapse. Today, because money has accelerated beyond control, “economies” are teetering on the edge of collapse. As we know, parenthood is often deferred to paid child-minders, nurseries and schools. Music is bought in concert tickets and recordings, while singing around the pub piano is a distant memory. Apprenticeships have been replaced by expensive and inappropriate university courses. Monopolies of medicine, law, architecture and so on, charge fabulous rents, merely for their enclosed social status – and of course, much else for which people are paid wages, is futile, ugly and useless.
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Only sixty years ago half the population remained at home, without wages, yet working full time – cooking, caring, teaching, washing, cleaning, telling stories, singing nursery rhymes… But for the upper middle class, half the population (women), probably worked harder than wage-earning men. So, in the above respect, unpaid work outweighed the paid. Add to that football, cricket, productive gossip, pub sing-songs – yes, I agree, women often missed out on those things too.
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Let’s fade back into the Thirteenth century, when, as David Fleming has eloquently reminded us, a massive part of everyone’s time was passed in religious and seasonal festivals. Economies were hugely resilient, because money was but a small part of the whole. Always, when things went wrong the unpaid probity, ingenuity and dexterity of people could step in.
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Don’t mention medieval hierarchies and the unjust distribution of male to female labour. It’s plain – so we can change it for the better. In any case, hierarchies today are spiralling out of control by pillaged and utterly irresponsible wealth. A lord of the manor had function and obligation and was, in any case, poor by today’s standards. In medieval times, (I speculate) Richard Branson would be imprisoned (or executed) for transgression of common law. We are not performing well on the male/female balance either…
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Truly, I can see no alternative today but to resume such models. Though money is useful for more complex trades in scarcity and surplus, a so-called steady state, or circular economy must be largely moneyless to achieve resilience to the unexpected and also to achieve self-determined happiness. If every household had a garden, some musical instruments, a store of ancestral tales and rhymes, surely that household would also produce new songs, tales and rhymes of its own. The stimulus would not be money, but conviviality.
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Of course, if half of us – a mixture of men and women – worked for money, eight, or so hours a day for four, or so days per week, producing, by our various skills, what our communities need in the way of food, fabrics, furniture, metal work… and that money circulated entirely within that exchange of trades – but for a tax – say a tythe, or perhaps more – as contribution to common infrastructures of hospitals, harbours, libraries, irrigation sluices, bridges and so on, money which, in consequence, would cycle back again – then still that activity would be a small part of a twelve-hour seven-day whole, which one half of the adult population would have for pleasure. The other half of the population would have similar pleasure time (slightly less?). But their day jobs of cooking, cleaning, caring…. Would involve no money.
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I do think, we need to welcome the return of uncensored long sentences along with long balmy Summer days to sit by the river and practice the fiddle, or to stroll into a deepening intimacy with our landscape, or to read and write and tell each other stories of how these things came to be. You bring the wine. I’ll bake the bread.
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As the world sits in coronavirus lock-down, a common Guardianist sentence is – You said the economy was everything, now we can see that it isn’t. As usual the Guardian is wrong. The economy is everything, but the greatest part of that economy is moneyless. The true economic dynamo is common understanding of good behaviour, which needs no payment, and is certainly its own reward. Yet, Left Liberals would put money value on “eco-system services” by their “true-cost accounting”. They lobby for basic income for house-keepers. They lobby for more money. It’s true that basic income is a temporal remedy to social injustice and it’s also true that it can stimulate real economic activity. It’s true that it’s the best course in our current shut-down. But if that money is simply created by central banking, it will add to still more destructive money-flow. If it is generated by a tax on enclosure, as Tom Paine tells us, money flow would remain the same, while its restorative justice may add (it also may not) to commons of good behaviour.
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The truth is that increasing money flow by adding still more fictitious “natural capital”, would be another step over the edge for the soon-to-be crashing casino. Commons of good behaviour teach that the ecology of which it is but one small part, is priceless. Reverence is useful. It has proved effective in just about every culture, every-when and everywhere.
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As we’ve explored, much else is priceless too – parenthood, the delight of attained skill, bonds of friendship and family, the sight of a good crop of corn, laden apple trees, well-brewed beer, a lovely fabric, a dove-tail joint well-fitting, tale-telling, music, dance…
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Money as a tool for more complex exchange than barter, is liberating and useful. Money as property is an always destructive power. Enclosures of money, land and status into irresponsible property are at the chore of our amoral pillage of both nature and each other. Present action creates the future, just as past action created our present.
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The reason I slid so easily into organic farming and subsequently became so alienated from most “new” organic farmers, is this, my definition of the word, organic –
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Organic – method, which seeks efficiency and resilience, by imitating the cyclic behaviours of organisms. Organic as a method applies to everything – to every trade, infrastructure and pleasure. Its primary attitudes are reverence, belonging, study and the learning and application of skills. Such a definition was commonplace to agriculturalists of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. By 1990 it was utterly betrayed. It entered the market-place and wanted as much of it as it could. However that market was “organised”, or rather disorganised, was no concern. I remember, David Fleming as a solitary voice of discontent at one packed Soil Association meeting. I loved what he said, though what it was escapes my memory. Anyway, it’s a comfort to me now that I have his writing. My younger, and shy in public, conviction is affirmed. As Wendell Berry says, Eat and you are involved in agriculture. We might as well add, Eat and you are involved in everyone and everything.
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Lock-down – The first, faint whisper of hope.

For zero cultural CO.2 emissions, plainly we must change the culture. I’d say, we must evacuate the culture and occupy another, so that human causes sit inside a ration of Earth. It is futile to think we can electrify what we have. What we have is no longer possible. It never was possible. We’ve lived a lie – a vicious lie. Few of us want to be vicious. Well, let’s evacuate and be what makes us happy – to be kind.
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To live within our ration, we must also abandon those parasitic hierarchies, which prey on balanced and circular economic activity – rent for enclosures of money as property (usury), land as property (rent) and status as property (rent for professional status in law, medicine, architecture, planning…) Without that abandonment, we’ll not live within our earthly means. We must pillage to pay rent.
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Coronavirus has forced some steps towards living within our ration, suspending some of the parasitism listed above. And, we’ve seen banking and aviation teetering on the brink of collapse. If we are to stay within two degrees of warming, we’ve only fifteen years to plan their demise. Is that possible? It is not likely – near impossible. Collapse is the miracle we need – the only practical solution. To live a good and kindly life, we must pray for the miracle. Remember, two degrees of warming will still be highly unpleasant. It means the flooding of coastal and island communities – violent storms, terrible droughts…
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The tragedy of casino collapse, means that people may come together to build their own economy on solid ground. By casino, I mean usury, currency manipulation, trading of stocks, bonds and shares and the gambling on rising rents. Those rents are extracted from wealth gained by true economic activity. Most powerful politicians, journalists and “business” people today, belong, not in the economy, but in that casino. To be plain, they have no sense of reality, levitated as they are on an upward flow of money from the real economy, which they predate.
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In my dream, the ethics of home and family – the fair rationing of land, food, things, chores and pleasures, become the model for a renewed economy – the good housekeeping of every trade and governance. It means the return of the common and the end of enclosure. It is a very strong dream, because I think nearly everyone has dreamed it – as Rob Hopkins says, what if?… It has recurred throughout history and in every place, but it has been almost universally supressed from reality. Today, if it does not become reality, then two degrees of warming will very swiftly become four and it will be sans dreams, sans history, sans future, sans everything. Remember, we’ve only fifteen years to shrug off the parasitism and to live within our physical means.
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Coronavirus illuminates both the possible and the likely. They are far from the same. I’ll not hide it. My heart is breaking. Here in the UK, many people are behaving very badly indeed – fighting over what seems, in the end, most precious to them – toilet rolls. Government looks likely to behave very badly indeed by pouring billions into airlines, corporations and banks. Toilet roll manufacturers have done quite well and have asked for no support. It seems everyone needs their suicidal way of life, fearing the virus and its effects, but having a kind of hysterical, psychotic forgetting of the utter terror they will cause, only a few decades away. It is not lack of education. The major causers of climate heating are the climate-educated middle class and the rich. In that category, I include every jet-setting climate activist, and every “climate scientist” who has attended any Earth Summit, since 1990. Plainly, they’ve not changed a thing. Surely, they must also own large stashes of casino money, to afford both those fights and the leisure to make them. They are rather like those New Labour politicians, who have destroyed the Labour Party with the backing of Mr Rupert Murdoch. The consensus of IPCC is to green the status quo with the backing of “industry”.
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But many other people in the UK are behaving very well, devising networks of support – that is living a good life by their “family values” – acting out commons of good and kindly behaviour – without support from government, corporation, or bank.
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What if…? – instead of massive gifts of money for suicide, authorities put the same (I think much less would do) into the inherited skill, ingenuity, dexterity and moral probity of communities, so that what is parasitic on those things would collapse and something beautiful, true and appropriate could emerge from beneath the ashes?
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Coronavirus has forced some governments to do just that – suspending parasitic activity (rent, mortgage and so on) and providing cash for those who must isolate from their work places.
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In developed economies, most manufacturing is destructive and useless. Most travel is destructive and useless. Most “economic” activity is destructive and useless. What if…? – we decided to live good, happy and kindly lives together. It is a very, very powerful and also a very ancient dream and it is, yearningly – just faintly stirring – a possibility. But first, we must actively choose “economic” – that is, total casino collapse – total collapse of the ways we developed and so-called, educated people live today. Viewed from a passing satellite nothing much will have changed. Fields, woods and the solid infrastructures of towns, roads, harbours, bridges… will all remain untouched – awaiting occupation. At night, many pinpricks of light will be quenched and at day those vapour trails, which were once teased out by the wind into semblance of cirrus clouds – will be gone.
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A very brief history

I suppose that since agricultures began, people have pillaged their soils and stripped landscapes for fuel and building material. Of course, others have warned us to think of tomorrow – the terrain that feeds us, must be fed in return. Everywhere, laws of commons evolved for fair (or at least, agreed) distribution and rationing of water, arable land, grazing, timber and other foraged and mined resources.
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It seems that round 1500BC, warrior culture emerged from friction between neighbouring communities. It is probable that tree-cover then, in what is now the UK, was pretty much what it is today. Land competition began. Since then, forests have grown and shrunk by human activity – or occasionally, the lack of it. By the Seventeenth Century the land reached “peak bleakness” – stripped of trees for fuel, house and ship-building. Economic collapse was inevitable, but then – a miracle – coal reprieved both the economy and to an extent, the forest.
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Now, we struggle to unwind that industrial revolution. We find ourselves pretty much back in the Seventeenth Century, with a larger (but still very small) forest, but also with a population about fourteen times larger. Do we have greater knowledge? I don’t think so – or not much – most of our new tools, methods and thoughts have been tied to coal, oil and gas. We do have some new electrical tools. The internet? – I doubt we’ve electrical capacity to power it. We’ve more urgent new electrical demands – domestic heat and cookery and then, ceramics, smelting… I doubt there’ll be any to spare for transport – and if there is, it must be severely rationed in some way.
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We’ve gained new insights into biological systems, but there again, we’ve also lost many. How do we treat the land? I cannot think we know much more than Galen in the first century AD and Virgil in the first century BC – and they were both very far from “expert”. Still, we must farm by rule of thumb, returning a biomass equivalent to the mass we extract. Thinking of biomass – plainly, we cannot burn it, but it can be fermented, and so return digestate to the soil. Domestic gas for cookery is a simple and elegant technology and “farm-yard” gas may be sufficient to power some small machinery.
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That burnt fermentation gas would rise anyway – all biomass must ferment, producing humus, minerals for plant growth, heat and gas to the atmosphere… If we gather “waste” biomass, we can substitute gas from aerobic fermentation with gas from our anaerobic fermentation. Then digestate can return to the aerobic cycle again having lost what we have gained – a little gas and energy. In the scheme of things, that is probably a small disruption.
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Meanwhile, greenhouse gases from human cultures are rising so fast that we have very little time. We must stop burning both biomass and fossil mass – on an instant (15 years). Zero emissions by 2035, mean just that – not the net zero of IPCC. On reaching optimum balance, an ecosystem will also be just that – balanced. It will “draw down” no further “carbon”. Neither a perfectly imagined agricultural system, nor a vibrant rain forest will help us by sequestering our bad behaviour. They will be saturated with life – at the limits of soil volume, canopy area and so on. They can sequester no more.
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Of course, we can heal our broken cultural cycles – returning life to degraded soils – and that, it is true, will “draw down carbon” up until its balance, when it will draw down no more than its cycling requires. But there again, the harm is something we have done, and which we must now undo. It will be hard work. There will be no lazy negative emissions from “Nature’s ecosystem services” to save us – though IPCC and acolytes tell us so. This is cultural – or mis-cultural – we can retrace our steps to where and when we misbehaved a lot less and resume from there. On arrival, we’ll have still more to change. For instance, if we alight in the Seventeenth Century (UK), we must quench those domestic fires – fourteen times as many domestic fires… However, we’ll have a culture which can thrive without the family car, aviation, massive shipping, the internet… Suburbia will not exist. We’ll have sail-trade, mostly manual farming systems, manufactories directly powered by wind and water, local self-reliance, anciently-evolved trades… To which we can add solar power, wind turbines, heat exchangers (electrical) and so on, to replace those logs and coals in the grate.
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The advantage of imaginatively returning to the past, is that we remain in a deeply-understood cultural tradition. So, you say, we’ll also be stuck with inefficient and destructive hierarchies, enclosure and social injustice! But then, we’ll have the same old commons of good behaviour and a yearning for the common good. We’ll have hope for change within a durable economic foundation. Today, there is only shame and despair. Today cannot be improved. We must – all of us – evacuate.
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The Immaculate Conception and the Holy Ghost – or, if you like, the Cauldron of Ceridwen.

From now on I shall refer to the immaculate conception by the holy ghost, which is the central pillar (no phallus intended) of climate and carbon sequestration models employed by IPCC, ZCB 2030 & etc, as ICHG.
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The Zero Carbon Britain model employed an increase in biofuels. It proposed to introduce bio-fuelled aviation at a third of the then current, total  capacity. It rated those biofuels as “zero carbon”. In response to my 2010 inquiry to CAT they kindly sent me this –
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If biomass is burned, the chemistry is more or less reversed, and the original energy and raw material (CO.2 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 the hypothesis is ridiculous and that it is not even framed as a life cycle, (rather as a carbon cycle) has been the reason I began to write in the first place. I’ve spoken of it copiously since 2005. I won’t bore you with more of the same. Rather, I’d like to consider it as a moral proposition.
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My right, or wrong actions on the farm are important to me. Moreover, the farm is a perfect environment to test the ICHG hypothesis. I’ll bore you a little more by mentioning that the ICHG hypothesis has never been tested in the peer-reviewed literature. Rather it is a blindly accepted assumption from the scripture. When did it begin and who first proposed it? – I’ve no idea. An eloquent and loved A level science teacher? Perhaps it was she, who first chalked the script on a blackboard, so that it became a contagious light bulb in the minds of her pupils. To have become universally accepted, I’d guess she flicked the switch, sometime in the 1960s, or 70’s.
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I think it originates in worship of human ingenuity and the substitution of an equivalent ingenuity in nature – nature as narcissistic mirror – clever photosynthesis – the copious linear gift of sunlight, which forever heals life’s broken cycles. Look! – leaves are like solar panels – clever as people, says a father to his child. It is a Cauldron of Ceridwen from which we can feast forever, because it remains, forever full. Perhaps it should also be known as the Ceridwen Hypothesis.
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It encapsulates Hubris to end all hubris.
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I think that a universal moral awakening – a religion – is our last hope for human cultures to shrink their needs to just what a terrain can supply. ICHG is not that religion.
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Nemesis knows that if we burn a field, or forest, we will be left with gas, energy and ashes. Nemesis knows that ashes (if we’re very lucky) are an insufficient return to our field, and that the whole life-cycle of soil, plant and photosynthetic power will shrink – simply for a lack of life. Next season’s biomass in soil and so plant will consequently shrink. Photosynthesis will be limited to just that shrunken unfurling of green leaves. Nemesis also says that this is not a straight line of decline: it is parabolic – it accelerates through tipping points to Oklahoma. The linear gift of sunlight is limited by the cyclic, living mass of green leaves, which receive it. The linear is limited by the cyclic. How much living mass (or humus) is sequestered in the wind-born soils of Oklahoma? Oklahomans followed the ICHG hypothesis. They were forced to starve, or migrate.
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Nemesis also knows that the most vivacious life-cycle is limited by soil volume, water and temperature. Once the cup of soil is full of life, it can increase no more. However much we think we add to our soils by importing compost and manures, once soils are in balance at optimum capacity, the cup will run over. Photosynthetic leaf area will not increase. It will import no more sunlight. Worse, that imported biomass will have been stolen from a consequently impoverished soil in another’s field. Fair distribution in agriculture is the primary model for personal ethics – for the laws of commons.
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Some consequences of belief in Ceridwen’s never-empty pot are –
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Life can return to degraded soils, by re-wilding, or by better husbandry. In IPCC terms, this is called sequestration. So far, so good. I agree.
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However, since IPCC also believe in the cauldron, they project that same sequestration into the future – even after a system has attained balance and soil capacity is full. I do not agree.
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Neither a rainforest, nor an imagined perfectly-balanced agricultural system will sequester any further carbon. That fictitious “draw-down” cannot be set against fossil fuel, or biofuel emissions. IPCC climate models are consequently wildly optimistic.
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Burning fossil and biofuels is simply wrong and no pardons, or indulgencies can mitigate that wrong.
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Burning fossil fuel is far better than burning biofuel, because, in consequence, we can leave living systems to live and breathe. I do not advocate burning fossil fuels.

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Claims by many permaculturalists, organic farmers, and grassland polemicists that they can “draw down carbon forever”, is wrong. They can do so only to an optimum point of balance and that balance will be a very high achievement. Frequently, adverse weathers and human misjudgements will leave them (and with the best intent), the wrong side of that balance. Those who import fertility in out-sourced composts and manures, impoverish that neighbouring cycle. The exporter’s overall biomass will deteriorate faster than the importer’s biomass can regenerate. The sum of biomass in both systems will be smaller than before the import/export “event”. We accelerate to Oklahoma by unpredictable tipping points in the web of life! Death is quick. Life, though powerful, is slower.
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It should be a moral calling – an honour, to guide a farming, growing, or forestry system towards balance. It is no shame to sometimes fall short of that balance. We are fallible – the thing is, to try. However, as many do, to claim negative emissions is deeply wrong. It is outrageous. Some carbon footprint calculators will tell you that virtuous acres of imported biomass (carbon) will provide dispensation for your family car, or a couple of holiday flights. I don’t like the word evil, but at last, in that case, the idea is evil. The people who adopt it are very dangerously deluded. I include IPCC, Zero Carbon Britain 2030 and many others in that category.
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Here’s why I’m so at odds with many of my green friends

So long as I’m in the fields – in the orchard – or with the animals, I can be happy. I can also be happy in the company of farming people – even though I deeply disagree with their current farming techniques. There is a common ground – an understanding, which I can rarely find elsewhere.
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I find the following very hard to untangle. Why do I feel so alienated from most of my “green” friends? I think it is probably in the vagueness of their conviction – in the borrowed nature of it and in, not their lack of experience – because we all have experience, but in their refusal to absorb that experience and instead, rely on the supposed experiences of others. Those others, will have been selected, not for their truth, but for their affinity. This disentanglement of mine, becomes difficult, because such humility is surely a good thing – a route to an open mind and heart. Yet, my friends express those borrowed thoughts with such a sense of virtue that my anger rises. Anger ain’t a good thing, so I feel that I’ve become, as they may truly say, a “negative personality”.
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Meanwhile, my own experiences have been, for the most part, of personal failure. My conviction, for over fifty years (born 1949), has been this – to find a way of living, which can abandon fossil fuels and bio-fuels and also settle happily as a very small part of the re-balancing of a vivacious Earth!
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To begin with, as a young man, I thought that growing sufficient food year after year was the foundation of all cultures – so I set out to see if we could achieve crop yields, similar to our neighbours, but without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and imported fertilisers. I think we achieved that – sometimes receiving 3 tonnes per acre of cereals – sometimes not – because of weather, or my own mis-timings and misjudgements. Of course, if we subtract input from output (which is a truer measure of yield), we came out very well in the balance sheet. To grow an acre of cereals, we needed a further two acres of regenerative crops in rotation, which cut our overall yield considerably – but then, our neighbours in those days followed a similar rule of thumb and did the same. We all grew on so-called marginal, or grade three land. Our “chemical” neighbours did not wish to degrade their soils. Everyone loved their inheritance. Everyone knew of Oklahoma. Everyone, valued their “farm-yard manure”. In fact, before we had our own land, I learnt a lot from those neighbours, from years as a farm labourer. Our histories and loyalties are entwined. Together, we’ve faced fluctuating weathers and similarly difficult prices.
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In those days, just about every tenancy agreement, would have a clause forbidding the sale of hay and straw. Everyone agreed that exported biomass should be limited to that extracted for food. Hay and straw should recycle back to soil via animal feed and bedding. That knowledge is as old as the Neolithic. In just the last two, or three decades, as with much else, it has been forgotten. Certainly, “climate science” has not re-learnt it – suggesting, as it does, the burning of whole crops for energy, while calling the process “carbon neutral”. Today, the return to soil of human “wastes” is scarcely discussed. Only thirty years ago, I remember, it was regular topic of conversation – how to remove pollutants from sewage systems. Because solutions are radical, they have been conveniently forgotten.

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Very sadly, I feel no such loyalties for my green friends – for their outrageous claims for the carbon sequestered year after year from their borrowed advocacy for this, or that farming system. They defer to this, or that NGO’s “selection” of “peer-reviewed” papers on the subject. That phrase – peer reviewed papers – is thought to be a clincher in all arguments. It clinches nothing for me, because the test for all such papers, is to superimpose them on our own experience – to discover if they fit – if idea and substance merge happily together. Sometimes they may do so and we shout, blimey! – that’s a new way to think about things. Often, they may not and we must carefully disentangle why that is so. Sometimes too, we must defer to the experiences of others. Always, the measure is against the directly sensual, “actuality of being” – a clumsy phrase, but I have not wit to find another.
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Ah well, but I cannot deny that my green friends are seeking remedies to our currently psychotic ways of life – or that my farming friends are often locked in that same psychosis. Our farming neighbours have come to believe that they are the “cutting edge” of the “industry”. They’ve no thought of what’s in their barrels and sacks, only that they are the latest on the market. As for those pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, growth regulators and artificial fertilisers, they know they are supported by peer-reviewed trials – just as my green friends are supported by other peer-reviewed trials – as the phrase goes, “Peer reviewed trials have shown…”. So, the peers are as wildly at sea as the rest of us – at all points of the compass – driven by the winds of career (advancement and wages), fancy, politics… The word, peer, is the clue – no more than gang member of whichever faction we support.
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The craziest, cutting-edge fashions practiced by farmers in our region of North Wales are firstly, Maize-growing, for animal feed and also, increasingly for biomass digestors. The necessarily late (frost-free) sowing date means a necessarily late harvest, which as often as not is from water-logged fields. Rivers turn brown and deeply rutted and compacted fields lie bare and puddled through Winter. The other, still crazier fashion is for “New Zealand” out-wintering of cattle – fields of Kale down which lines of wrapped silage bales are placed, so that using an electric fence, kale and silage can be foraged together. Fields are usually chosen to be sloping for surface drainage. You can imagine the quagmire of soil and slurry creeping down-hill and away. How can farmers do it? I don’t know – but it is cutting edge and also peer reviewed.
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So I hunch my shoulders and slouch into my dream world, shouting – A plague on all your houses – a plague on those claims for virtuous sequestration from mob-grazed grasslands, because we happen to have some grassland; – from those permaculture plots, which produce so little food, that we’d be better to have a very small veg patch and to turn the rest back into trees; – from the claims of intensive no-dig, heavy-mulch market gardeners, who achieve what they do, by importing vast amounts of biomass from “elsewhere”, while not giving a damn about the consequently-impoverished “elsewhere”: – from the cutting edge farmers, who’ve no idea what they do – only that it is cutting edge. *
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Trouble is, I cannot put up, or shut up…
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Our aim has been to contribute towards convivial population centres, where “work and pleasure are both “walking distance form everyone’s door” – where workshops, proper shops, market halls and squares are interspersed with libraries, theatres, concert halls, pubs, restaurants, hospitals, meeting houses, churches, temples, mosques… where every street has its corner shop and every village, its workshops, shop, or two, plus pub, church/meeting house… We dream of un-spending the super market and re-spending such places into being, in which every citizen contributes ingenuity and dexterity to the economic whole of both work and pleasure – and in which work herself may become a pleasure too.
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And we did partially succeed in our small fragmentary way. We managed to sell all our small farm’s produce (just 90 acres), with the exception of cereals, face to face with people over our market stalls. We found many friendships, stories and mutual loyalties through vegetables, apples and apple juice, soft fruit, beef and lamb. Farm and town became, very nearly, in microcosm, one system. We grew and sold, very nearly, a whole cuisine.
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But we also failed, because we were compelled to travel further and further afield, in search of busy market squares. Our local towns, though beautiful and ancient places, were also deserted. People congregated in the ringed encampment of super markets. After years of standing in those deserted and beautiful towns, dreaming of old-fashioned market days, we too betrayed the dream for other, more distant towns, where fragments of dreaming remained. My justification was to promote and participate in the dream, so that as it spread, I could eventually retreat back into my own terrain – just as other producers would occupy my vacated stalls. I maintained that I was on a meandering road to somewhere (home), whereas super markets and internet “organic” box schemes, were locked into a linear road to nowhere.
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The dream did not spread. It steadily faded. We were fortunate, because we had gained loyalties and friendships over many years of market trading – and as the towns decayed, so we still maintained fairly steady sales. Newly-arrived producers, in those markets, found it very difficult. Meanwhile, our customers were ageing and one by one were unable to come to town. Young people (with a few lovely exceptions) did not replace them. Rather, they clicked on the choices of their chosen (usually nation-wide) box schemes, or web sites of artisan producers. We had customers from every class, but without doubt, the greatest volume of sales, were to the so-called working class. That class also paid the biggest personal bills. I suspect that the organic-seeking middle class, followed the young to the internet. They came to us for “another delicious sirloin steak”, but it was plain that the bulk of their shopping was done (almost certainly) in the super market. Anyway, the customers with whom we bonded most, were trades’ people themselves – who liked to repair things, when broken, who were gardeners and cooks – who had family traditions and loyalties – who were curious about our farming methods – and who were from both the Left and Right of politics. Somewhere in that left and right is a lesson for durable human cultures – and yes, they loved to discuss such things. Our more middle-class customers had more fixed opinions.
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Anyway, everywhere I look, the dream is fading, and yet I can see no way to remove fossil-fuels from our culture, other than to remove those ways of life, which need it. The first step must be the footstep (or the cycle peddle). Of course, we can also have oar and sail. We cannot have the family car, commuter culture, suburbia, aviation, massive shipping – and probably, we’ll have insufficient energy for the electric railway. We’ll discover if that is possible, only after we’ve found sufficient renewable energy for domestic heat, cookery, refrigeration – and for processes, such as ceramics and metal-working/re-purposing. The first step is to remove the need for personal transport. That is a beautiful first step, because it can be taken personally, but to finally succeed, it will require mass participation – evacuating and re-centring suburbia and re-occupation of towns and villages for both the pleasures and the trades. Market gardens, dairies and orchards can ring those newly-vivacious settlements and we’ll also need significant shifts in population towards the countryside as man-power replaces oil-power… Oil-sized farms must shrink to man-sized (sexless term) and so radical land reforms will be essential.
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Populations of many towns and villages are currently too small, but those industrial towns which were built close to sources of coal and iron will have populations, which are far too large for their terrains to supply. Canal networks, which were essential to their establishment, may however, assist in the establishment of new, less energy-intensive trades.
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This is not a step in the dark. It is a step into what was normal only a handful of generations ago. We know it in our souls. Up until the beginning of the twentieth century – and even in “developed” economies, sail trade remained a significant part of peoples’ lives. That’s a trade to revive! – and small harbours on every mile of UK coastline await revival for boat/ship-building and for river/canal, shore-hopping and overseas trade.
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Don’t forget also, that direct traction of water wheels (for instance) may often be more efficient for manufacturing than hydro turbines for electricity – Of course such sites can have both – direct power for machinery and small turbine for heat and light.
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What a lovely adventure! – which is why my green friends annoy me so much, by their borrowed claims for the carbon sequestered in their virtuous fields. It is not something they know from the trials and errors of husbandry, (the end gauge for everything) but a convenient selection from the literature – from the peer-reviewed trials have shown…
In any case, the carbon emitted from biofuels and fossil fuels so utterly out-weighs even the most outrageous of those claims, that they do no more than fiddle with a more socially-just arrangement of deck chairs as the Titanic lists further into the icy water.
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All agriculture disrupts the natural systems it has replaced. The most a grower can achieve is balance and that is a high and intermittent achievement. My friends say that “science says” they can “draw down carbon” beyond that balance and achieve negative emissions! Well, life can return to lifeless soils – as they say, drawing down carbon, but after a variable period it will end in balance – in optimum biomass and diversity and with the limits of heat/cold, water and space – simply space (volume of soil). To find and maintain that balance, while also producing food is a noble end, involving many trials and many errors. For many seasons, we may nearly, but not quite, maintain that balance – frequently because of increasingly unpredictable weathers and often, because of our own misjudgements and mistiming.
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IPCC relies on those “peer-reviewed papers” and has negative emissions embodied in its modelling. It is no surprise to me that adverse climatic events are arriving many decades before the IPCC prediction. It is not the patient gathering of data, which is wrong – I admire it greatly – it is the entering of that data into models based on untested, yet peer-reviewed/career-reviewed hypotheses, which I have come to despise. Farmers are fortunate, in that the pragmatic tests for life cycle hypotheses, remain on the farm – in the biomass produced season by season in response to their “good or bad” actions. Soil biomass and plant/animal/human biomass are one living (and dying) system, with which we attempt, as best we can, to be a part by the best methods of extraction and return.
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All farmers know that if we remove a crop for sale and so make no return of biomass to the soil, then next season’s crop from that field will be smaller, next season’s photosynthetic power will be reduced and next season’s soil biomass will shrink. That is why we need at least two further seasons of regenerative cropping (green manure, or pasture) to return to balance, or near balance. Farmers also know that continuous regenerative cropping (or rather, no cropping) can only end in balance – soil capacity has limits.

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IPCC use an untested hypothesis in all their sequestration models – they say (they really do!) that if land-use is unchanged, then we can extract crops year after year and the system – the life-cycle, will remain in balance. They say the same for coppicing, or clear-felling of forests – worse, future models include negative emissions by carbon capture and storage from burnt biomass.

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I can find no IPCC reference to trace where extracted biomass ends, or returns to an agricultural life-cycle. Food crops end in food “waste” and sewage “waste”. Burnt biomass ends in energy, gas and ashes.

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As I say, farmers and growers test the IPCC hypothesis, year by year in crop yields. Climate models are wildly optimistic. Why is there no outrage from farmers? I suppose it must be a convenient untruth.

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Anyway, in case some think problems are too immense for the individual to be a part of solutions, here are some UK government statistics, which show the opposite – that only the individual and the household have a hope in hell of solving them. I’ve lazily lifted them from an old article of mine and so they are a year out of date. I don’t think it matters…
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Here are DBEIS figures for UK energy consumption (their categories and terms).
Transport consumes 40%
Domestic 29%
Industry 17%
Service 14%
If we break down the transport figures, we have
Domestic 65%
Industry 21%
Service 14%
So, if we break down domestic, industrial and services to include their transport consumption, we have
Domestic 55%
Industry 25.4%
Service 19.6%
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So, households directly control more than half of total energy consumption. What’s more, households control a very high proportion of all the rest by the power of their spending. Very plainly, personal transport and personal expenditure on manufactured goods and services are controlled, not by governments and corporations, but by ordinary people. Ordinary people are far from powerless. I think we hold nearly all the powers. We can un-spend most of our difficulties – which, like Amazon, Tesco and BP, we had previously spent into existence and we can congregate in more convivial places.
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The reason why UK performs so well (in published carbon budgets) relative to other nation states, is that out-sourced manufacturing is not included in the above figures. UK manufacturing has declined dramatically in recent years. Once, it was the largest UK energy consumer. Now, offshore purchasing is largely in the hands, not of governments and corporations, but in the clicking buttons and key boards of UK citizens and so our powers are even greater than those suggested above.
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That’s why I’m so depressed and grouchy.
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I know that there are many fine, food-producing permaculture practitioners, many excellent do-dig systems and that many others add to overall productivity in their skilled use of grasslands, but none of these can achieve so called, negative emissions. All systems end in balance. Even the wild will end in balance. Our aim should be optimum (durable maximum) life – in both its biomass and energy. To subdue our hubris, we must acknowledge that the greatest vivacity will always be found in the evolved complexity of the wild. Human systems will always disrupt that evolution and the most elegant of those systems can only ever arrive at a balance – one which has a lower overall biomass and energy than the natural system it has replaced. People have always known this. Stories of the Fall are universal. Physicists and “bio-chemists”, thinking only of carbon have persuaded people otherwise. In the face of thousands of years of agriculture, the physicist is clearly ridiculous.

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Brief Interlude

Yes, “By all that’s holy, think about what you do!” we cry as the ageing gas of past fires thickens with the new – smothering the living mass beneath. Once, a vast complexity of species inhaled and exhaled, creating a singular being – a terrain and its atmosphere.
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Only connect. We must instantly end the burning, so that the singular being, of which humanity is but one small part, can continue to live and breathe. All the offered dispensations – sequestration, regeneration and so forth, are futile, unless first, we end the burning.
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Once we have put out the fires of both life and fossilised life, then we can look around to discover how best to live inside what remains of living cycles and within dramatically shrunken energy supplies. We’ll learn from our terrains, how best to eat and excrete, live and die, sing and let sing and by our rations of soil and settlement, to make appropriate tribute in return.
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First, we have a great upheaval – all that the fires have given us must end – the family car, aviation, massive shipping, suburbia, commuter culture, the super market, internet shopping, profligate manufacturing, super-human weapons of war… All those things need energy and materials beyond the capacity of a regenerating Earth.
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Claims for the virtue, or vice of various farming systems; of people’s diets; of techniques for “sequestration” and “regeneration”, are all futile if they distract from the urgency of what we face. That is, abandonment of the ways we live today and rapid adoption of ways, in which both work and pleasure are walking distances from everyone’s door. Having removed the need for personal transport, we can more easily find ways to live within our means. In countries such as the UK, personal transport is by far the largest consumer of energy. In many parts of the world, it is the least. In the UK, only a hundred years ago, it was also the least. For most, it was zero. Then, manufacturing outstripped everything. Manufacturing is created by household demand. There, we have two simple lessons. Most say, it’s an impossible and inappropriate lesson. If they are right, then they must accept the mass extinction of nearly all the species, among which, our own has evolved. That means our own extinction. This is not far off. It has already begun. I think that even seventy-year olds, such a as myself, will live to see great tragedies unfold. It is too late for a planned transition. Every year, since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, CO.2 emissions have continued to rise – dipping slightly in recession – shadowing the expansions of GDPs and GWP. Today, they are over 60% higher than in 1992. Very soon, they will double. Anyone who looks to governments and corporations to find solutions, is plainly crazy. The household holds all the cards.
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