Patrick Noble’ Books

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

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

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2014)

A Potent Nostalgia (2013)

The Commons of Soil (2011)

The Lost Coefficient of Time (2011)

Romantic Economics (2010)

Notes from the Old Blair and Bush (2008)

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

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

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

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

Contact onfo@bryncocynorganic.co.uk

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

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

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

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ON FLIMSY LADDERS, or Flimsy Ain’t Nothing. Flimsy is All.

We float above living Earth in a life supplied by fossilised life.  Amoral monopolies controlled by careless elites, manipulate how we work, play and endorse those monopolies by their marketing arms – the political parties. Meanwhile, we levitate above laws of nature – and above the beauties of nature – one species apart from all the other species– aloof from touch, sight, scent, sound…

It is plain that laws of nature must bring the whole levitation down. Some are building ladders to descend before solid ground and culture collide at destructive speed.

Those flimsy ladders appear even flimsier beside the vast structures they are deigned to evacuate. In short they look ridiculous.

Here’s a thought. Those ladders seem ridiculous, because they seem human.

Here’s another – That vast monopolistic structure of political party, media, oil, pharmaceutical, chemical, construction corporations and so on, manifest in suburbia, retail park, cheap holiday flights, desolate town centres and deserted fields, –

should seem ridiculous because it seems inhuman.

Here’s yet another – Until humanity understands her flimsiness as a single part (and not necessarily an essential part) of all the species which together make the whole of singular, finite Earth, she’ll not find an enduring home.

It follows that flimsy ladders are the only ladders.

Those ladders are also a source-book of comedy and tragedy. Every plot a dramatist could find is embodied in the flimsiness of ladders. Each broken rung is a source book for the design of better rungs.

Methods are revealed inside our mistakes. Without the mistakes we don’t find the methods.

It will be helpful to have some sort of a common vision of the cultural settlement we’ll begin at the foot of the ladder. Also, to achieve optimum success, our economy – our house-keeping – must sit nicely inside the ecology, which feeds it. In short, our study of economics is an adventure in moral philosophy. It asks, how can we achieve social happiness? That common vision will not be found in thin air. Cultures evolve from a deeper ancestry than visionaries of the perfect society can replicate.

But I propose that when we step flimsily and perhaps clumsily down to Earth, we’ll find something more potent than the massive fossil-powered structures we’ve left behind. We’ll find the resumption of history. We can pick up (for better and for worse) our inheritance and then consider firstly, how to maintain it and then how to pass it on. Resuming the ordinary course of cultural history may evoke a great social sigh of relief – a sigh of ordinary happiness.

The extra-ordinary photosynthetic power of those many millions of fossilised Summers had interrupted the ordinary course of history.

We’ll find ourselves in the relaxed position of asking, not what marvellous exploits can we achieve today, but what is ordinary? How can we be ordinary again?

After all, oil monopoly has also interrupted the course of eusocial human evolution. We are anxious. We are uprooted from simple ethics. Those ethics are an ancient inheritance – a common, which the new monopolies have enclosed. We don’t ask ourselves what is right or wrong in our economy, because its infrastructures are pre-packed – pre-provided.

Many today, who ridicule the flimsiness of ladders, ask the wrong question. They ask, where are the extra-ordinary green solutions to power extra-ordinary ways of life? To them it is ridiculous to ask otherwise – and also ridiculous to question the virtue of that “achieved” way of living. Yet their (our) way of life is only a couple of generations old and has not been powered by human ingenuity, but by wildly increasing consumption of coal, gas and oil. Remove the oil and we remove the way of life. In a sense, oil was procured from outside time in the form of fossilised years. So in that sense, oil ended both history and proper consideration of physical space. I know that most people applaud the end of history and ridicule what they’d call the whimsy of my driving by the rear view mirror. Most people believe (religiously) that they live by extra-ordinary technologies. They don’t. Our extra-ordinary lives are powered very simply and brutally by mining, felling and burning. We burn things. From coal, gas, oil, we are turning terribly and stupidly to burning biomass – the life of which we are a part.

Climate change (along with laws of ecology and physics) will shortly and ordinarily, end the oil adventure in ways too nasty for my pen – Pen? Key board? The faithful of today’s cargo cult of progress wait without action, believing that a messianic future will wash technological redemption on her tide. An ocean of future innovation laps at the shore of the present bearing a marvellous flotsam of consumer choices. The flotsam may be green flotsam – hydroponic cities of glass and the evolution of species edited to fit human needs in the ingenuity of a splice.

At last, at the foot of my ladder, I step out from the strata of fossilised years, and back into the movement of life, time and history. There, I’ll find that the future cannot redeem the present. On the contrary, the future will be a consequence of the present. My descendants will inherit whatever it is that I’m about to do.

***

At the foot of my ladder, it seems to me that I must find the point where history was suspended by fossilised life – and then set my small shoulder to the wheel, in the hope that history will creak into motion again.

I reckon our economy (my house-keeping) must be powered by what I can find in exchange for what I can return – the cyclic contributions. Of course cyclic contributions are life cycles. Man is but a single species among the many which make the whole. Some things I can take, because they keep on giving – the linear contributions – such as sunlight, gravity, wind… Other things, such as metals can be taken only by leaving empty holes in the ground.

Then of course, I have history lessons. History lessons are just as suspect as those who write them. Nevertheless, they are variably useful and also an essential cultural connection to an ancestry from which we’ve received our lives.

Here’s my founding proposition. Of course I may adjust it as I learn this and that. Anyway, here goes…

Efforts to live within our means will fail unless we arrange to live in settlements, such as towns and villages in which work-places are just walking, or cycling distance from our doors.

Attempts to green current infrastructures of suburbia, distant work-places, centralised procurement/distribution and so on, will fail. No renewable energy can power those things.

Towns – gatherings of workshops – have evolved around market squares, market halls, or harbours, followed by inns, churches, mosques, temples, libraries, theatres, concert halls, parliament buildings…

There is no need in such a settlement to call on the family car. Transport to consider is the routine import of produce and materials from surrounding terrains and also the export of wastes and manufactured tools in return. Then we’ll have the sometimes pleasurable, sometimes expedient exchange of scarcity and surplus between neighbouring and sometimes more distant communities.

A town and its terrain are one. They are called an agriculture. A town and its terrain are a life cycle.

Considering larger cities, it is notable that until the arrival of the railway, all were settled by navigable river, estuary, or the sea. Such will be the case for us too…

It follows that we must populate such settlements and evacuate the impossible and energy demanding systems of suburbia, ring road, super market and retail/business park. We can re-centre suburbia into towns and villages. Coupled with that – in a movement which reverses the violent and depraved rural dispossession of land enclosure, very many people must migrate (return) to the countryside. That not only integrates economy (people) into ecology (land), but also steps towards social justice.

All this is a return to ordinary history. It is not at all an extra-ordinary thing. However, the scale of the evacuation of oil and coal systems must be massive. It will probably be the most epic of all human adventures. Every effort to improve, or green our current monopolies, by working within them, will make that adventure much more difficult.

An epic adventure – a mass social movement – on a flimsy ladder.

The stuff of legend.

For instance, an internet box scheme for well-produced organic produce means that the organic producer, who is part of town centre revival, has lost customers, and the town a valuable inter-connection. Similarly, organic produce in a super market, improves the super market, but leads shoppers away from what can, towards what cannot endure. It erodes the quality, colour, conviviality and possible future of the town.

All we do must be towards revitalising towns and villages, repopulating farming and woodland communities (perhaps ten-fold?) and re-centring suburbia into new towns, or villages. If work-places are a short walk from home, (as always in history) then living within energy means becomes suddenly possible. Such communities will have similarly short walks to shop, pub, theatre, library, temple…

No renewable energy can power the economy of the developed world. The following are impossible – suburbia, commercial aviation, the family car, large container shipping, super markets, industrial agriculture… Attempts to green those things delays adoption of what is truly possible. They will continue to deplete resources and to accelerate climate change.

My reader may keep this central proposition in mind – Those things are a brief perversity of human behaviour.

A return to ordinary behaviour may be evoke a communal sigh of relief – a convivial relaxation – a lifted anxiety – opportunity, not for amoral leaders of great monopolies, but for the moral probity of us all…

***

Villages, towns and cities are emergent properties of fields. Together, they form an agriculture. We have lived in that way for four thousand years. The techniques of today’s farmers are now impossible, as are the emergent properties of their farms. From the compass of oil-power, we shrink to the compass of man, horse and electric power. Fields will shrink to a human-scale. Machinery will also shrink to a size that can be manufactured by the ingenuity of people we know by name in village and market town workshops.

Even today, horticulture demands a large labour force, relative to its mechanisation and so horticultural and orchardist transformation will be easy. Fruit and veg are a large part of our diet. However, cereals are central to enduring settlements, because they can be stored from good years into bad years and being very light (85% dry-matter) can be exchanged between regions more easily than any other food. (They travel well in both space and time!) Of course, only a hundred years ago cereals were produced by horse, ox and man-power. We can do so again. (Tractor use was then a novelty). But there may be a case (climate change) for a specially-reserved, judiciously-used internal combustion engine – a museum piece from the Oil Age. Bear in mind that this writer considers biofuels to be more pernicious than oil-fuels. However anaerobic digestion is a case aside, since “digestate” is returned to the soil to maintain fertility. Such gas will have many, but limited (specially reserved) uses – domestic and industrial. One use may be the gas-powered combine harvester.

Modern technologies can be maintained only if they settle within ordinary laws of natural physics and society.

Again this writer is at odds with most, because he proposes that international trade will prove to be the least of our problems. People have traded over long distances since the Neolithic. Sea trade was ubiquitous by the Bronze Age. Sail technology has been refined over thousands of years. Again, as with towns and villages, we simply resume at the point where coal, or oil began. Nothing fits laws of physics better than sail-trade.

Similarly, nothing answers inland transport needs better than canal and navigable river – the placement of many inland towns is evidence of that knowledge.

However, boat-building faces the same problems it faced in the Nineteenth Century – an acute shortage of timber. Livestock will integrate well in arable crop rotations, but much pasture currently exclusively dedicated to livestock would be far more productive in its natural state – that is as forest. Moreover, much woodland which has been recently planted using environmental grant money, has not been managed for timber. There is no reason that biodiversity cannot be maintained, while also considering trees for house and boat-building. There is currently a rather unpleasant fashion among land-owners to boast of the carbon sequestered beneath their extensive pastures. They are wrong about both the carbon and the contribution of pasture to enduring economies. Grazing animals turn inedible grass into milk, butter, cheese, meat, wool, hides… That is a wonderful contribution to both our culture and its economy, but the currently vast acres of grass are excessive. Much of that pasture is natural woodland. We must find the acreage that integrates best in the whole – the whole of both economy and ecology.

Trees grow very slowly. That is more reason to act quickly. They are central to our new, but ordinary (old as the hills) economy.

That brings me to the word “organic”. Here’s my usage of the term: Organic – to describe a method, or tool which replicates the cyclic behaviour of organisms.

The term has no meaning when describing a pack of food on a shelf. It can describe only a method of production.

Plainly, if it is to sit within the ecology which sustains it, our new economy must use organic methods.

Because they are designed to fit within natural physics, organic methods will always produce the highest crop yield.

Plainly in anyone’s book, crop yield will be output minus input? Yet today’s agricultural journals and ag department do not subtract input from output in their yield calculations. Do they consider vast inputs of oil, fertiliser, pesticide, fungicide, herbicide and so on to have no real biology or physics – no mass for measurement? Is the Green Revolution such a sacred idea that it transcends a sublunary measure? That must be so. In truth, the vast oil-powered levitation above natural physics, (The transubstantiation, from which we descend by our flimsy ladders) is a wild and unreasonable cult, with which there is no reasoning…

There is an unequal split and I think, a tragic split, in the green movement – the larger part of which seeks to engage with that cult, in hope of making it a little greener. The much smaller part (perhaps ridiculously small) is my part – the flimsy ladder part. We may converse with the cult as we pass, but ours is a step by step transition to physical ground.

Much of the green movement swells the crowd of earthly pillage by hoping to reduce the pillage a bit. For instance, it says that by licensing more organic produce in a super market, we achieve “the good” of more organically-farmed fields. They propose that since the super market is a vast market, hopes of vast organic acreages lie in that super market. In consequence it provides the dispensation of an “organic good” to those who may question the virtue of the super market.

The organic logo (the sign of the Monks Pardoner) sells organic virtue for the sin of the loss of the organically-evolved town and village centres, which my flimsy ladder is attempting to reach.

The tale of the Soil Association is the salutary tale of those who seek, through commercial/political marketing to extend their influence, while neglecting whatever it was is they were formed to represent. The same process, led by Tony Blair, destroyed the purpose of the Labour Party

Meanwhile, it is largely unnoticed that organic systems produce the highest, sustainable yields and remain the best guide to settle economies nicely within their terrains. Agroecology, a clumsier term, has been seized by academics to distance themselves from the New Organic commerce.

Anyway a variety of social movements and fashions may begin the flimsy descent very much together – social justice movements, commons movements, transition town movements, permaculture movements, land reform movements, agroecology and biodynamic movements, climate change activists… and a smattering of my rag-tag part of the old organic movement.

New Organic, like New Labour is working against every one of those movements.

Similarly, let’s leave those air-freighted, jet-fuelled, climate-changing, climate change evangelists to their podiums and book signings. No-one who boards a commercial aeroplane can be serious about the climate change. Those people present their eloquence – their self-importance – as dispensation for the very great harm they cause by flying. Flaunted hubris cancels its own nemesis! Bear in mind the attitude we seek must be one of diffidence, humility, fragility, contrition… as we ferret out ways to understand the natural physics in which our organic house-keeping must settle.

This writer keeps a restorative mantra for repetition. He could place it as a refrain beneath every paragraph.

Governments and corporations are abstractions. Only people exist. No one can change the balance of the atmosphere with a thought. Governments and corporations have not caused climate change. People are the physics and people are specifically physical – one by one. People are the application which causes climate change. One by one we cause climate change. Only one by one can we restore some sort of balance.

Cultures are not states to be protected. They are methods – and those methods are also applied one by one.

It is true, we are coerced, enticed and often forced to cause climate change, but nevertheless we have caused it. Of course, those coercive forces in media, corporation, government, think tank, university and so on are also applied one by one by people employed in those monopolies.

Personal ingenuity, dexterity and most importantly, moral probity have been enclosed. Personal behaviour is enclosed.

In reclaiming the consequence of our actions, we reclaim commons and shove off enclosure. The utter futility of attempts to change an amoral monopoly by a morally persuasive thought must be apparent from the above. No one there is listening.

Reclaiming consequence reveals a fascinating world of natural physics and social interaction.

Fascinated is the thing. From fascination we turn to love – belonging – affection. Consequence travels forever through complexity of space around us and through time into the future. Those ripples are ours. Our place; our time for our place; our particular devotion may uncover a seemingly infinite variety of connections with specific influences in fungi, bacteria, plant, invertebrate, animal, mineral… all in the compass of a single workshop or a few fields. Reclaiming consequence not only reclaims our place on Earth, but is a road to happiness. We prodigals of the Oil Age may return to an ancient familiarity, passing buried memories on the road – a loved hollowed oak of childhood, familiar birds singing across buzzing of Summer flies and finally, the creak of the garden gate falling to.

Wendell Berry has a lovely essay currently on the resilience.org web site. He takes his title from E M Forster’s Howards End – It All Turns on Affection. Read that. He probably says it better than I can. I share his love for E M Forster. Read him. His short story, The Machine Stops (1909), perfectly describes 2016.

Meanwhile it all turns on what we do and we don’t know what to do without affection.  As oil-power shrinks to the compass of man power, so the world expands.   Only connect.  Flimsy ain’t nothing. Flimsiness is all.

***

 

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The Delightful Fall from Monopoly to Familiar Humanity

The end of fossil fuels requires that we shed what those fuels had once supplied. Commercial aviation, large container shipping, ring roads, motorways, retail parks, super markets, suburbia, the family car… No renewable energy source can supply those things.

No newspaper, television/radio station, or academic institution will tell us so.

If we don’t change how we live, then climate change will very soon change how we live in ways too wild to imagine. Here’s a choice – Choose to change by human methods, or have change chosen by inhuman laws – of physics and of nature.

We must stop being led by the BBC and the rest…

That very soon with regards to climate change has already begun and is accelerating.

Plainly, models for how we might live lie in periods of social history before the adoption of fossil fuelled tools. Don’t raise your eyebrow – the ways we live today are extra-ordinary and will be very brief. We must return to an ordinary way of life powered by ordinary laws of physics.

Attempts to green our current ways of consumption will prove impossible. How we live is impossible.

But how we might live is rooted in cultural memory. We’ve evolved from ancestral soil that waits for re-settlement. History was broken by fossil fuels. Now shattered histories are shards for re-assembly. I think that journey may evoke familiarity – in all senses of the word. I picture oil prodigals returning home to intriguing, half-forgotten landscapes. I picture a great social sigh of relief.

Oil had shattered cultural history, because oil monopoly had enclosed our part in it. Even now, many green and climate change activists lobby their monopoly to change, rather than consider how to change themselves. We salute the solar panels on the super market roof and delight in the increase (by consumer market signals) of organic, recycled and fair traded produce in the aisles…

By such voices, we swell, re-enforce and approve the enclosure.

The latest “science” won’t save us. We must act immediately and with the tools we have and can devise. One by one, we are the flesh and blood of current economic activity.

Governments, corporations academic and media institutions are abstractions. They don’t physically exist. They may coerce, entice, or compel us, one by one, to do this and that. But we are the corporate application. One by one we apply corporate and government desires. We are the life and physics. Without us, governments and corporations are ideas in the wind. We apply those thoughts one by one.

One by one, we commute from suburbia; take that holiday flight; swell the power and size of super markets, while diminishing the size of markets for proper shops, trades and market squares…

It is only one by one we can reject the holiday flight, revive our proper shops and begin to farm and trade more properly. Only one by one can we re-centre suburbia – creating familiar work places, such as market gardens and workshops of every kind, while ditching the commuter anxiety. One by one is the most personally empowering thought – one by one makes a crowd. How else?

One by one is no small thing. It is everything.

Of course, we can vote for the least-worst political party – the party, which hinders us the least. Yes. Solar panels on the supermarket roof are better than no solar panels. Yes. My organic super market purchase has maintained “the good” of some organically-managed fields. But that whole system of retail park, centralised distribution and wild consumption is impossible. It will collapse economies, because it will collapse the ecology in which all economies must sit. We must evacuate it.

We can also dream, like Tom Paine, of social justice – a citizen’s dividend funded by a land value tax. If we tax parasitic enclosure, then we can fund a convivial, ingenious, productive economy! We can end income tax and VAT which restrain and impoverish ingenuity and dexterity and we can tax idle monopoly. It is a perfect solution, which if realised, would truly solve a multitude of economic problems.

But governing monopoly never has, and never will, agree to be taxed.

We must somehow, step by step, evacuate those rentier infrastructures, which governing monopolies supply. The amorality, which is the right of enclosure, will be vigorously-maintained by right-holders, who will never defer to the ethical restraints they had brutally shed by the act of enclosure. Moral behaviour lives on the common.

Governments, corporations and media organisations, will do all they can to supress and ridicule the commons. Giving credence to governments, corporations and their media, gives credence to the ridicule.

So we must quietly reclaim the common and spread the joy of it, while also (why not?) spreading fashionable jokes about government, corporation and media. We do that by moral action; by shoving off the coercion of enclosure and by refusing the amoral rights conferred by property – including our own property. Our own property may include land, status, ideas, seeds…

Anyway, we must act immediately and not by professing the restorative justice of futuristic dreams. Our hearts can hold those dreams, but they live where religious impulse lives – in quiet eternity.

The future is a consequence of the present. If “evil” corporations and their tamed media organisations and political parties are mere abstractions applied through ourselves, then it is plain where that “evil” truly lies – It is in ourselves. Future restorative justice does nothing to mitigate present misbehaviour – just as hopes for redemptive advances in technology are helpless to assist either the present, or the presently-to-be-wrecked future economy.

Look – science can document climate change, but science has no place in the technologies we adapt, reject, or devise. That is the responsibility of those who use the tools. We cannot sit and wait for scientific revelation – as many do. In any case, the reaction and resistance of natural physics to tools, brings tool makers in some ways closer to the truth of natural physics – and more intimately so than the necessary scepticism of science can ever achieve. Science is a delight, but it cannot help us in what we do.

Science must cultivate innocence. Technology cultivates in the thick of experience.

By the steps of shedding fossil-fuels from our lives, we’ll find ourselves in a falling, fragmenting economy – descending towards an appropriate size – one fitting the landscapes we finally settle. We descend from the monolith towards variety and to behaviours specific to where they fall. Descent! Landscape! As our power shrinks, so the resources, delights and difficulties of landscape expand.

To grow food, we must study bacteria, fungi, plants, invertebrates, insects, animals, seasons, weather… We can’t blindly follow instruction on the sides of pesticide, or herbicide drum – or recommended application rates of “fertiliser” from the corporate brochure.

To travel, we’ll become aware of time, weather and the terrains and cultures through which we must pass. We must look about us. Just as a mother’s gaze imprints permanent bonds upon her child, so does landscape imprint a bond with those who live by it. I go too far? No. That imprint feeds delights; curiosities; rewards beyond the profligate bread and circus of corporate supply. That beyond includes beauty, truth, love – as well as thirty-two feet per second squared and an absolute finity of supply. Of course, the beyond includes a contrary and perennial death, despair… That’s why communities evolve the reconciliatory tragedy and comedy of verse, drama, music… Consider finity. It evokes sound, scent, colour, diversity, quantity, form, presence and loss and the complex languages to describe them.

That is why, without fossil fuels, we’ll have full employment and why, if we can find an economic fit for that ecologic finity, (there being little room to spare) idle monopoly will not find a home. Of course modern, post medieval history is a history of enclosures and no doubt, such history is likely to return, but for now…

Cloud Cuckoo Land? Yes. It is the only land. Utopia? Not at all. It is a place of many trials and many errors, but where with hope, cuckoos and their foster-parental willow warblers return each May. Where we live now – at the wheel of four hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide and rising, will soon be washed, or dried from beneath that corporate-dependent accelerator pedal.

You do know – don’t you? – That the Paris Accord was an accord of the monopolies to sort of green (a little bit) our currently-impossible ways of consumption to put at ease some expressed anxieties about our consumer choices? The market cannot bear consumer anxiety and it especially cannot bear too much reality.

***

 

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More on Monopoly, Rent & Resource Extraction, plus Inappropriate Scientific Peer Review

A social system which aims to settle its consumption of resources within the ecological renewal of those resources, must remove the parasitic effects of enclosure. Enclosure bleeds productivity without a returning productivity and so is destructive to good house-keeping. Rent (a modern or post medieval concept) is entirely idle and has thriven by parasitism of labour. Sustainable economies must be based on the passing on of commons – received from ancestors and passed to descendants. Meanwhile, the modern rentier economy travels crazily towards both denial of resources to descendants and yet to an assumed, idle rent gathering bequeathed to increasingly-wealthy family beneficiaries. In the manner to which we’ve grown accustomed…

De-growth towards an economy of maintainable size can begin by a step by step divestment from what fossil fuels had once supplied. A steady-state economy must eventually settle within a central moral common – within the rule of return. We must replenish as we consume.

So the first steps are easily-defined. Commercial air travel, large container-shipping, suburbia, ring roads, motorways, super markets, family cars, industrial agriculture… – are all impossible to maintain without fossil fuels. We must shed them from our lives.

Another first step must be removal of the parasitic effects of property enclosure – in land, ideas, seeds, money-creation and status. I suppose our favoured (none violent) route may be less to remove enclosures, and more (if we can) to ignore them.

Following steps can only be partially visible – a part of the errors and trials of actually taking the steps. Learning to live together is always complex – to farm; trade; travel within the limited physics of our supply needs co-operation. And we need agreement in what we build. That is where shared moral commons become central to all that we do.

Let’s get things straight. Properties give right to irresponsibility. Commons give right to responsibility.

Although the most pernicious, land property is not the only enclosure. Others include intellectual property, money creation and status. Status commands rent without return.

I may be forced to take my £4 per hour to pay a lawyer’s £250 per hour – She extracts rent for status – well, let’s say, £240 per hour, allowing £10 for labour. Of course, this transaction wrecks my economy. Medical practitioner, dentist and so on, do the same to a smaller extent – but at a still destructive £50 to £100 per hour.

Those who extract such rents, often compound the economic destruction by investing in land property – to bequeath down a family line of rent extraction and further economic destruction!

Plainly, the extraction of rent for status is immoral. Commons would define it so. A law of commons would make it illegal.

Let’s be proud, not of what we have, but of what we do. Cultures are methods, not states. States protect a perennial anachronism.

Methods always have contemporary effects and so must adjust to changing times. They are always moral, because actions always have consequence.

In contrast, states (enclosed monopolies) have a single, blind moral – focused to protect a central amorality. They are morally fervent for the protection of the amoral state. The evidence of that blindness surrounds us in the rapidly accelerating effects of a climate change that are invisible to the singular focus of governments and corporations.

Moreover, the increasing size of monopolies is apparent in the growing distance between rich and poor. Monopoly (enclosure) swells by extracting the wealth created by ordinary labour.

In the UK, we’ve seen signs of hope in the popularity of the MP, Jeremy Corbyn. I think we can say he stands for the commons.  We’ve also witnessed an opposite fervour from the monopolies to bring him down. This is not only from the billionaire-enclosed mainstream newspapers, but also from the supposedly impartial BBC and also from the strangely and newly “static” once left-wing newspaper, the Guardian. Both have been vitriolic.

To return to monopoly status, plainly, our rent extracting medical practitioner is not entirely parasitic. She may also be a hard-working moral being – so her role is complex. She lives, partly on a moral common and partly in an amoral enclosure. On the common she possesses the justified respect of the community of which she is a part and she also commands that aforementioned £10 per hour for her labour.

The common says that her rent demand above the £10 for her labour is immoral (anti-community). She can happily step out from the enclosure into the welcoming heart of the common. There, she’d find easy acceptance, happiness, but not what that rent could buy.

Not what that rent could buy – is at the heart of both community and of our current economic problem. It could be a marvellous slogan for the steady-state economy – Not what that rent could buy…

Had we not a rentier economy, would we have measured economic success by the sum of mere spending in GDP? Readers of this will be familiar with the folly of GDP as an economic guide. Such a sum indicates that natural disasters which may destroy homes and ordinary lives are a good thing – an economic stimulus. They appear in GDP as new surges in house building and repairs – and in funeral director’s bills. War and weapons manufactory are all very good for GDP. Yet disaster and war destroy assets and wreck lives. They create extreme unhappiness and collapse economies. Rent does the same in apparently gentler fashion – it shrinks assets and makes life difficult.

Have those who understand GDP’s stupidity as an economic indicator, also spotted that it is just the measure to be useful to the rent-setting of rentiers? Rent demands of status are part of a GDP-like carelessness and similarly pay no regard to the community’s economic well-being.

Commodification of food supply chains has assisted earlier land enclosure by sending many remaining, post- enclosure farmers to the city to seek what they can at the call-centre door – once at the factory gate. That cheap food also releases a higher proportion of wages for house rent, rentier energy supply and rentier consumer goods. Various enclosures manipulate towards increasing rent – seeking the optimum, maximum, bearable rent – blind to the economic pillage they cause.

Only the moral common can maintain a truly convivial economy and only the moral common can free ingenuity and dexterity to adapt cultural methods to the changing physics of supply. What’s more, only common ethics can regulate demand.

Life’s physics resists my tools, so that I come to a better understanding of both physics and tools…

Should I? Shouldn’t I? We ask those questions every minute of everyday life. They do not occur inside a monopoly. The only question inside a monopoly is – how can we best maintain the monopolistic state.

Meanwhile, it is not the monopoly which applies the monopolistic provision – It is we little people. For the most part, the last remaining farmers read instructions on the sides of pesticide and herbicide drums and do as they are told. They’ve no idea why. Many say, they are the “cutting edge” of their “industry” – applicants of the latest intellectual property. In any case, they add to GDP by their purchase of patented machinery, fertilisers and pesticides, and while being so few, become more aggressive in protecting the state of that rural way of life… It is true, their backs are to the wall.

The real economy has its back to the wall. Soon, climate change will wash much of what remains away. Climate change may even wash the rent away.

We’ll be struggling to reclaim commons then. It may be simpler to reclaim them now.

***

Everywhere, status foils our attempts to reclaim commons. Sometimes this is not to maintain the payment of rent, but to maintain influence.

I’ve personally encountered this in the academic world in which defended hypotheses have conferred a status to their proponents. Then, peer review gives to those ideas something like an intellectual property, but without the rental value.

It should be a scientific delight to argue the merits of a hypothesis. After all, every hypothesis has been proved to be wrong – nature is always more complex than the simplicity of our minds. Today’s peer-reviewed hypotheses will also be wrong. That is the virtue of the cultivated scepticism of science – knowledge of its perennial fallibility.

Professorships stand on past pronouncements and professors, being but little people (like all of us) defend their status from embarrassment, when they should have been delighted by a challenging thought.

Peer review, which could be a curious and helpful exchange of possibilities, has become a dangerous industry. I’ve written elsewhere of the now manipulated confusion between technology and science (The Music of Narcissus). Technologists contribute to the peer review system as though theirs is a science. Of course, and worse, most are commercial technologists. They often come from within the monopolistic interests of pharmaceutical, bio-technology and energy corporations and so on.

The intervention of such people is the intervention, to be blunt, of big money and rentier enclosure.

A genuine scientist, who holds to such and such a proposition may find it and his reputation (and the reputation of his institution) used by monopolies for their own ends. Research grants often flow from that direction. To have a hypothesis challenged, which may undermine the marketing of let’s say a certain herbicide, puts the human creature, our professor, under extreme and inhuman pressure.

A large chemical company will not attend to his protest that all hypotheses are fallible and will always be wrong in some way. They will not be curious about his notion that perhaps open-mindedness is the beauty of science in a world of brash stupidities… They will be even less pleased by his new position that perhaps a herbicide he’d once thought safe, should now be withdrawn from production.

In a sentence – The academic world, by its association with commerce, has been corrupted. Where necessary, it has been enclosed. Of course, many academics resist enclosure and it is possible that some institutions have done the same. Sometimes, to step back onto the common will enhance a reputation – and certainly that must be so among the truest of peers.

There is a hypothesis which has informed the climate calculations of the IPCC, the Paris Accord, Zero Carbon Britain 2030 (adopted as policy document for Welsh Government) and many others.

It says that we can burn a crop for a biomass boiler, return nothing to the soil at all and the following season’s crop yield will remain the same. Soil carbon will remain the same. Photosynthetic leaf area will be the same and in consequence, atmospheric CO.2 will remain unchanged having been absorbed in the same quantity of photosynthetic biomass.

That utter fantasy is defended tooth and nail by all academia. Had they read it, no farmer, or gardener would accept it. Yet nearly all farmers and gardeners do accept it because they have not read it. They assume that “the scientists” must be right. I write about this in the unpublished, End the Burning Begin the Growing.  My counter hypothesis is probably mistaken in some way, but I present it as a spur to further thought.  The truth is that, as a farmer, I know the IPCC calculations are not only wrong, but ridiculous.  Nothing can replace experience. https://convivialeconomy.com/2016/07/05/ending-the-burning-beginning-the-growing/  I think it is another tragedy of the enclosures.

This particular enclosure is (I propose) a tragedy of epic proportions. It is the cause of the unexpected rapidity of climate change.

I am a farmer without academic peers and yet I and my farming peers know that crop yield cannot be maintained without a return of sufficient biomass to the soil. We can guess, with a fair certainty, that an attempt to do so will result in diminished soil biomass (soil carbon), reduced crop yield (leaf carbon), reduced photosynthetic power, and so increased atmospheric CO.2. That is even before burning the crop. That results in a greater climate change effect than fossil fuels. Fossil fuels release more or less the same CO.2 as biomass fuels, but in their case, untouched biomass continues to live and breathe. In the case of the mentioned hypothesis, the true peer review would have been between farmers. Growing crops is a technology – an art – not a science. Science has stepped outside its area of exploration to a place where it has no experience – and to me, no credence. Science has stepped out from innocence (where it belongs) to experience, where in this case it is creating terrible havoc.

We’ve seen how technologists have been disrupting the true scientific community. Is this Science’s revenge – by disrupting the true technological community?

Outside a farmer’s knowledge of good husbandry, even a historian could easily point out the folly of the biomass burning hypothesis. Here’s the pillaged soils of Rome. There is Easter Island. Here’s the blowing dust of Oklahoma…

Anyway, this passage is written in despair.

***

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Reclaiming Commons through Land Value Tax, or a Wing and a Prayer

There are estimates which present the power of a litre of petrol as equivalent to two to three weeks of manual labour. On one hand, that suggests a lot of hard physical work ahead – on the other, that limp dependency on a monopoly may be marvellously replaced by our own actions and those of our friends and neighbours.

We can depend on what surrounds us and can be understood – soil, sea, river, rainfall, sunshine, wind, rock, biomass, biodiversity… We wander through the economy of our supply – the hammering of workshop, the swish of wind turbine, the jokes of market traders… We brush against the leaves of corn and finally at home, note the necessary repair to the garden gate as we identify the wren singing in the lilac tree.….

I don’t mind if those oil versus manual figures are inaccurate, or hold a sophistry invisible to me. The truth remains, that as the immense power of those many millions of Summers of photo synthesis ends, we’ll be provided from the limits of singular seasons as they pass. Our newly-limited, but suddenly visible economics becomes the people and resources which palpably surround us – in short, an economy we can understand.

In a sense, oil did create the end history. We became demi-gods, aloof from the physics of time and space. We also became aloof from the beauties of time and space – travelling above cultures and terrains and not through them. Meanwhile, Earth has evolved without a conscious humanity, but very much with humanity’s physical effects. Now, we must return to Earth – not only with scorched wings, but to degraded soils and pillaged resources.

In Jan Breugal’s depiction of falling Icarus, a man ploughs on regardless of the silly goings-on of aristocrats – That’s how Sixteenth Century economics worked. Icarus came home from adventuring (such as war, or expeditions to the Sun) and said, “What’s for dinner?” He knew food would be grown and supper prepared. He cared not how. However, for the last few decades, whole societies have followed Icarus. The ploughman now follows instructions on pesticide and herbicide drums supplied by Icarus… He’s no idea what’s in the drums and fertiliser sacks. He cares not how.

Anyway, as history returns, the workings of an economy will become apparent again. If we and our neighbours do not provide, there will be no provision. Ordinary people may steer a course back into history and with luck – a course towards a newly egalitarian and convivial culture.

Two weeks of labour for a litre of petrol! – but much which fossil fuels have provided can no longer be, and so it follows that the energy demands from what can longer be, will also dissolve – cloud-capped towers, air travel, suburbia, the family car, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, matricides… – leaving not a wrack behind. (Apologies to the Bard) I propose that sudden relaxation of energy demand may liberate a great social relaxation – a delighted communal sigh of relief. It seems that the Prospero was a mountebank anyway.

But how can we pick up new (& old as the hills) tools and have liberty to apply them, in a world of enforced dependencies – debt/mortgage-tied wage packets and massive and daunting monopoly infrastructures of ring road, suburbia, motorway, super market…?

The monetary and taxation solutions to our problem are easy and have been proposed and refined of centuries. They have never been applied. It is probable that they never will be applied. Land enclosure is the primary source of wealth for the powerful and is similarly the primary source of poverty for the rest. It is also a classical cause of economic stagnation, decadence and collapse. All enclosures have that same effect – intellectual property, professional status, resource monopolies… – all command rent without a return of service.

Many who promote basic income today, do so imagining a world progressing to driverless cars, unmanned machines and so on, so that more and more human labour is shed into playfulness. For those people, basic income is a means to an egalitarian redistribution of machine-driven and rent-driven wealth. They pre-suppose a continued oil monopoly, or oil-replacement monopoly.

Many dream of a continued, but green automation. That is a fantasy.

But as economies once carried by oil, are shouldered by the much slighter frames of people, basic income can provide security for the necessary trial and error of accumulated skills. It will provide leeway for innovative and increased work – not for increased leisure. It is a simple replacement for complex social welfare systems and also removes the stigma from that welfare. The necessary evacuation from and re-centring of suburbia, accompanied by a large migration to the countryside will all be assisted by basic income. That migration reverses the clearances of enclosure, which sent rural populations to city slums and across oceans. Now people (not oil) must grow food and people must congregate closer to fertile soils. There will be need for simple housing – on a dramatic scale.

And that simplicity may be a pleasure – one expressed by poets, novelists, painters, musicians – themselves, liberated by basic income… The end of oil sends populations home and truly down to earth. And that word home evokes others, such as love, motherhood, fatherhood and family. Basic income gives liberty to the proper raising of children and by that token to a more egalitarian, busy and convivial future.

Am I over ruralising our problems? But the greatest city is always, first and foremost, an emergent property of the efficiencies of fields. If we eat in a city, then we are involved in agriculture. Cities are agricultures.

So we also need to reverse the parasitic, rentier effects of enclosure and marry basic income to her true partner – land value tax. Land tax combined with a citizen’s dividend provides the simplest, most elegant regenerative tool for social justice.

Readers will be familiar with the following passages, but I present them anyway, because they show how well-expressed truths are seldom applied. Tom Paine, John Stuart Mill, Henry George, Tolstoy and many others express what many repeat today. Meanwhile, land monopoly continues to parasitize ingenuity and dexterity and to drain wealth down conduits of increasing rent. Of course, over very many centuries, the great religions have expressed similar truths, which the powers have similarly ignored. The truth combined with the ignoring of it are an ancient tradition! – Poets, philosophers, priests and shamans rail at the times as around them economies crash. Rulers always have been stupid. Ideas are a nuisance to power.

Here’s Tom Paine, Agrarian Justice 1797.

“Men did not make the Earth. Every proprietor owes the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.” (….)

“Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss, and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.

In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity, that I am pleading for. But it is that kind of right which, being neglected at first, could not be brought forward afterwards till heaven had opened the way by a revolution in the system of government. Let us then do honor to revolutions by justice, and give currency to their principles by blessings.

Having thus in a few words, opened the merits of the case, I shall now proceed to the plan I have to propose, which is,

To create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property:

And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.”

Here’s Winston Churchill expressing the ideas of Henry George. (speech, 1909)

“Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains — and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.”

Of course we are ruled by monopolies. The political parties of consensus politics represent those monopolies and promote them to us in the same way they’d promote rival brands of pot noodles. So what I and many of the readers of this essay would argue will prove a very tall order to execute. There is no way in to that political system. In truth there are few ways in to our rentier economy, other than that of an accepted dependency on it – to become a part of it. We can vote for the least-worst political party. We can send market signals by our super market purchases to try and improve the super market. We can buy organic produce and fair traded produce, recycled packaging and so on… – but these improvements only re-enforce the monopolistic provision and our dependency on it. They give the Icarus super market chain acknowledgement, approval and credence…

Yes, if we are to avoid the (let’s make no bones about it) the terrible ecological and economic collapse, which our current rentier monopolies are setting out to achieve, then I can find no other recourse, but the following. –

Somehow, that ploughman in Breugal’s painting (and all plough-people) must take his eyes from the sky, re-shine his plough, and apply himself earnestly, ingeniously and dextrously to the job in hand.

Cultures are not states to be protected. They are methods. They are what we do. What’s more, we make a culture, one by one. Even under monopoly we make a culture one, by one. We may be coerced, enticed, or compelled to do so, but nevertheless, it is we little people, who do it, one by one.

We drive to the retail park. We take that holiday flight…

Bayer, Syngenta, Cargill, Monsanto, oil companies, super market chains, National governments and neo-liberal ideology have not caused climate change. They are abstractions. They don’t exist. One, by one my reader and I have caused climate change. We are the physics. You cannot change the composition of the atmosphere with an abstraction. We are the application.

It follows that one, by one is no small thing.

It also follows that one by one is the only physical thing.

So it follows that we should take our eyes from the sky to consider that our own feet are the first feet to consider, when taking the first step. Really, those feet are the only thing.

Of course we can vote for least-worst monopolistic provision of coercion, enticement, bullying… We can suggest, one by one, perhaps warmly huddled in an NGO, to the abstraction that is governance, that the rentier economies of today are self-destructive – that a land value tax to fund a citizen’s dividend, combined with removal of taxes on work and work’s products may liberate a common economic good. Income tax and particularly, VAT stifle the productivity and increase the poverty of those who make things and grow things and have little effect on the wealthy – nearly all of whom are rentiers. The sick, old and disabled contribute a far higher proportion of income to the exchequer (through VAT) than do the fabulously wealthy. Of course, we also know that monopolies will not listen to proposals to destroy monopolies.

But on the other hand, it is also important to our souls to testify – to speak – even though we know that only our friends are listening.

Transition towns, organic agriculture, local currencies, locally-issued shares, or bonds, community projects in renewable energy, village/corner shops, pubs, post offices… – all shed dependency.

To testify the truth to power also sheds dependency – although we know that power does not listen and may occasionally supress that truth by physical violence. We know that no economy founded on land monopoly (such as ours) will adopt a land value tax to fund a citizen’s income, just as people have known for very many centuries that though a truly egalitarian way of life is possible, it remains extremely unlikely.

But here’s a remarkable thing – the end of oil will provide an earth-shattering loss of bearings to oil-dependent monopolies. They’ll find themselves in a new landscape with no compass and a forgotten ability to navigate by sun and stars. We can pick up some tools and begin. Of course, remaining powers will remain in denial – coercing people to live and consume as before, until the chaos of climate change leaves every one of us utterly lost at sea…

My ramble leads me from manpower/oil-power, through enclosure and parasitic rentier effects, to elegant remedies to rentier effects, to the fortressed deafness of enclosure, through the abstract nature of governance, towards the real effects of ourselves. It leads me through hopelessness and hope and back again…

What about the abstract nature of government and corporation? It can only act through acquiescence of societies and what’s more, through people one at a time. It follows that I am as significant as any other. So we finally return to what must surely be the primal and central hope – albeit one which has eluded success in historical memory.

I mean a contagious, fashionable surge, or folk movement towards proper behaviour – towards the deliberate construction of commons – a moral, heritable framework for the future of children.

That hope can only be infused one person at a time, but what if it’s side by side in a surge as fashionable as Beetle mania, or high-heeled shoes?

Fashions in people and other eusocial animals have a deep and anciently-evolved purpose. They are a means to a quickly-adapted change of social behaviour.

Such surges can happen. This writer cannot predict that one will. But he can see no another solution.

With regards to the stupidity of Power – nothing has changed. Power never has, and never will listen to reason.

But with regards to our period of history, everything has changed. It is unique; extra-ordinary; suicidal.

Here’s a simple truth – Power is settled on a course to destroy civilisation and to drive many thousands of species of life to extinction.

This is the most epic of all human times. No Icarian legend can match it. Let’s be honoured. The only step is the first step and for me, the only step is mine.

For a start, would you book a holiday flight, when booking a flight (by power of fashion) has become an utterly shameful thing? Would you proudly boast that extensive international lecture tour to further your career? – For shame! Although the last few proper shops are fading in your local town, would you brazenly use the economically/ecologically-destructive super market sat brashly and brazenly nearby?

Those monopolies – in energy supply, food supply, land supply, medicine supply, travel supply, governance supply – are driving us to the edge. If we cannot redress the enclosures by taxing monopolies (principally land) to fund a regenerative citizen’s dividend, then we must refuse those supplies.

Don’t lobby your monopoly to stock more fair-traded, recycled and organic produce. Find a proper shop or market square and then begin the conversation.

For God’s sake, for the First Cause, for the Quantum Coherence of atoms, molecules cells – testify! Since cultures are what we do – do it. On a wing and a prayer? Yes. Do it. Perhaps we can’t go far wrong if we simply sit on a wing (of that home-built hang glider) and pray….

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END THE BURNING – BEGIN THE GROWING

As I look across our fields I can see the deepening, or paling green of rotations. The deeper the colour, the swifter the flow of life and the greater the harvest yield. Life has energy – increased speed indicates increased mass.

Good agricultural technique places an economy as nicely as possible inside the complex flow (or very many flows) of an ecology. When economy and ecology are seamlessly enmeshed then both may run at optimum speeds.

Of course economy offers a further complexity, which often hinders a proper application of agricultural technique. For instance, produce may flow away from a field (ecology) into an economy, which sends no wastes back in return – so that soil life diminishes, crop colour pales, life slows – and of course, crop yields fall.

Neolithic pioneers would have quickly learnt the rule of return, just as all organic gardeners and farmers must know it today. Slash and burn would have been chosen by some, but most would have become devoted to and grateful for their patch of soil. Ancestral commons have been passed devoutly to descendants. In most cultures, when thinking of soil, people find powerfully charged concepts such as “home” or “maternity”.

“We note that such virtue is traditionally found in labour, craft, dwelling and suffering supported, not by an abstract earth, environment or energy system, but by the particular soil these very actions have enriched with their traces

Yet, in spite of this ultimate bond between soil and being, soil and the good, philosophy has not brought forth the concepts that would allow us to relate virtue to common soil – something vastly different from managing behaviour on a shared planet.”

Declaration on Soil, Ivan Illich 1990

Yes, the rule of return is easy to understand, though much more difficult to perfectly follow. However, every gardener knows that if she grows a crop, harvests it, but returns nothing to the soil, then the following crop will be smaller. It is such a simple idea and one that is universally replicated not only in ecologies, but in physics and even social justice.

Yet consider this –

“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 CO2, which is why biological fuels are considered to be “Carbon neutral.”

That hypothesis was given to me by Peter Harper of the Centre for Alternative Technology in justification of the plan in Zero Carbon Britain 2030 to maintain a third of current UK air traffic by biofuels.

The hypothesis says that our allotment gardener can grow a crop, return no wastes to the soil and yet receive the same crop yield (the same photosynthetic leaf area) the following season. Plainly, Zero Carbon Britain 2030 is wrong and our ordinary gardener is right.

Here’s the truth – If we grow a crop, return nothing to soil but gas (& if lucky, ashes), then the following season’s crop will be smaller. Soil life (soil carbon) will diminish, area of leaf presented for photosynthesis will shrink and atmospheric CO2 will increase. That is even before burning the crop. Biofuels of any kind (apart from AD) have a greater climate change effect than any fossil fuels.

(Anaerobic digestion replicates natural fermentation. It gathers gas for energy, while returning “digestate” to the soil.)

The tragedy is that IPCC climate change calculations assume the same (CAT) hypothesis. I propose that climate change is advancing far more rapidly than expected because “none land use change” biofuels have been entered in IPCC’s carbon budgeting as “carbon neutral”.

I’ve heard friends of mine repeat the above hypothesis with the careful tones of those who’ve come to understand a complex and esoteric idea. In the last few years we’ve had “important” BBC programmes reiterating it – most notably a series by the director of Kew Gardens and another by the particle physicist Professor Brian Cox. Both speak in hushed and awe-struck wonder at the power of photo synthesis. Of course it is right to marvel at the power of photosynthesis and the viewer is hooked. Yet the hypothesis is wrong.

How has this happened? It would not matter that it had happened if we were arguing the virtue of a hypothesis. The beauty of scientific hypotheses is that they always have been and always will be wrong. But the hypothesis has been universally accepted and applied in the carbon budgets of nation states, corporations – in personal and small business carbon footprints and finally in the Paris Climate Change Accord. All assume that burning biomass can be carbon neutral if there has been no land-use change – that is energy from wastes, arable crops, “novel” crops (such as kelp & algae) and forestry are all considered to be carbon neutral.

I propose that physicists who dominate the climate calculation community (and perhaps intimidate it) have not entered the existing energy in the life which they’d burn. Biomass is entered as mass, which becomes energy by combustion. I think they miss a coefficient of time. Biomass carbon is entered by the same value that a lifeless mass of coal is entered – by its mass on the scales.

Consider this analogy to what has been done. Our IPCC physicist attributes to a pond of water (coal) the same mass as a river (life). But the pond has no energy, while the river is undeniably energetic!

As our physicist sits on the river bank, the mass of water is increased per second, per minute, per… while the pond (for the purpose of argument) remains the same. The animal biomass which writes this piece about biomass, will shortly stand up and walk to the veg field, where it will pick up a hoe and begin to hoe. That energy to do this and that – to change the mass of this and that, is ignored. The river is just a pond, says Professor Brian Cox. (as Albert Einstein turns in his grave)

Sometimes it needs a farmer/gardener to tell a physics professor what is truly what – as Albert Einstein knew – testing relativity by Newton.

Albert might tell me how better to enter the burning of biomass into a climate change prediction. For a start this simple rustic suggests mass/hour – a system for mass, similar to that we use for energy – kw/hour. I leave that to others, particularly because I don’t think we’ll find a proper energy coefficient for highly variable life. Sadly, I leave it as the lost coefficient of time – and tragically lost time – and rapidly accelerating climate change.

I suppose that 32ft per second sq. is embedded in that flow of water, just as the linear contribution of sunlight has entered the leaves. Sun and gravity are (for our purpose) linear, constant contributions.

We change and engage with variables not constants, otherwise we engage in futility.

***

Anyway, this writer can gaze across his fields and see a deepening and paling of green. Sometimes colours reflect expected patterns of increasing/diminishing fertility provided by crop rotations. Sometimes they reflect the weather. Very often they reflect this farmer’s miscalculations and mistakes.

Let’s consider a willow coppice, designed for a biomass boiler. I choose the innocent-sounding willow coppice unashamedly for polemical advantage. These willows are not entered in climate predictions, of the IPCC, or in any government CO2 budgets, because they are considered to be in balance – photo-synthetic re-growth & combustion gas are thought to be of equivalent value.

Moreover, Willow coppice evokes a benign image of what may go onward the same though dynasties pass…

Right – Willow coppice will shrink as dynasties pass. The area of Willow leaf presented for photosynthesis will diminish as soil life diminishes, because willow stems and leaves have been sent, every three years or so, to the furnace and insufficient biomass (in autumn leaves) has been returned to soil.

But wait, says our physicist – wastes (sewage sludge) has been returned to the field to maintain a balance.

But wait again, says I – that sewage has been removed from a food cycle elsewhere, so that distant food-producing fields have been impoverished to feed those flames of yours. The biomass and photosynthetic area of the whole has been diminished.

Wait again turnip head, says the physicist, hydro-electricity has fixed Nitrogen from the air and feeds those Willows for nothing…

Well, nitrogen does stimulate growth but it also stimulates a plant to drain its soil of every other element. (It increases leaf biomass, while reducing soil biomass) And anyway, societies will become so energy deficient that electricity generation must be channelled to domestic and infrastructure demands to avoid economic collapse. Meanwhile, burning biomass will lead to ecological collapse.

It is true that nitrogen provides a kind of battery for generated energy – particularly energy produced far from centres of population (as hydro and wind often are). But a more useful battery/storage would be in hydrogen for transport or in conventional (and new generation) batteries for direct electricity usage.

***

And having considered the cycles of burning and regrowth, let’s now consider what we mean by sequestration. Here again, this writer is at odds with the IPCC and most carbon auditors.

The word suggests quietude and stillness and in the case of anaerobic layers of ancient peat, coal strata and so on, so it is.

But if we consider soil it is not. Soil is alive – soil mass flows between species in variable mass at variable speeds. As we’ve seen, the energy in that mass should give living carbon a greater value (mass plus energy) than lifeless fossil carbon.

If we take biomass from the living world and bury it in a carbon sump (in the Lovelock manner) then we shrink a life cycle and diminish subsequent photo synthesis. We have prevented a return of regenerative biomass to soil and have broken the rule of return. Carbon sumps increase atmospheric CO2. The same is true of the value given to carbon embedded in house timbers and so on. Of course the negative effect is insignificant relative to the utterly destructive effects of biofuels, but I think it important to note for the sake of understanding bio-cycles.

The linear contribution of the sun just keeps on giving. Once upon a time there was no life on Earth and it shall be so again. So life has expanded beyond an absolute rule of return. Forest fire, volcano and reasonable human activity (such as house building and an occasional log fire) have been balanced by the awesome power of photosynthesis. Coal, gas, oil and peat, once parts of living cycles, have lain sequestered – removed from life’s cycles and yet life has continued to expand to an optimum point.

Photosynthesis gives us leeway for husbandry mistakes, for a little frugal fire, but not for burning as a way of life.

But now millions of years of sequestration have been released in just a few decades to power an extra-ordinary and unprecedented way of life that must end as that combustion ends. As fossil fuels end, the ways of life they powered must similarly end.

We cannot replace the burning of coal gas and oil with burning the life out of Earth. On the contrary we must do all we can to re-grow the mass of life of which we are a part. Diminish any part and we diminish the rest – including the biomass (in crop yield and populations) of the economies of the species Man.

Here’s something in a sort of physicist language (possibly).

When economy and ecology are seamlessly enmeshed, then both can run at optimum speeds. When not, friction between them will slow both their cycles, grind down biomass and release wasted economic heat…

We’ve lost the coefficient of time.

Here are frightening statistics from UK Government’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

UK SHARE OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

Electricity – Bioenergy 44%, wind 20%, Hydro 4%, solar 3%

Transport – Bio diesel 6%, bioethanol 3%

Heat – wood 15%, other biomass 4%, solar thermal & other 1%

So biofuels account for 72% of UK’s so called renewable energy production. Only 28% may be called truly renewable.

CONSIDERING ONLY ELECTRICITY GENERATION

Bioenergy 61.97%, wind 28.17% hydro 5.63%, solar 4.23%

I think many nation states must consume a higher proportion of truly renewable energy, but even so, I propose that biofuels explain the unexpected rapidity of climate change.

Even organisations such as Biofuel Watch, which campaigns very effectively against profligate burning, do so because it is crazy to grow crops for the furnace rather than for food. What’s more, biofuel crops grown by land use change are agreed by all to emit more carbon than they save. However, I know of none who oppose all biofuels from first principles. That is crazy, since every gardener, allotment-holder, or window-box tender should understand the rule of return – that subsequent crops cannot be grown on a diet of gas and ashes – that imported fertility must be taken from somewhere else, where fertility has been diminished.

Biofuels are a part of a fossil-fuelled hubris that cannot see why its extraordinary way of life must end. It turns blindly from burning one thing to wildly burning another.

We’ve powered a way of life by combustion. It is the combustion (internal and external) which must end.

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BY ALL THAT’S HOLY, WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE ABOUT THE END OF OIL. – a brief post to keep an eye on truth & beauty after Black Thursday 23rd June 2016

“Launching a ship was a most important social event in these seaside towns, to which everyone looked forward with great excitement. It was considered by everybody to be an unofficial public holiday. The headmaster recorded many times in the school log that on such occasions (as at harvest time) he had to close the school because it was impossible to get children to attend. On the previous day of the launch, workers would be employed to open a large trench from the stern of the ship to the sea to facilitate an easy passage at the following high tide. The launching would start with a traditional religious service of blessing…”, Nefyn Shipbuilders and their Ships, Mr O J Cowell

Such a scene was replicated in beeches and small harbours along the Welsh coastline (& of course around the world). For instance, and typically, the village of Llantsantffraed with a total population of 1,286 (1851 census), produced 55 sea-going vessels between 1786 and 1864. Bear in mind that a boat may have taken two years to build.

The Lleyn Peninsular was particularly famous for its shipwrights, producing both ocean going and shore-hopping vessels to order from throughout Britain.

Porthmadog schooners (for the American and Australian slate trades) could match the great tea clippers for speed and modern design. The last was built in 1914.

Nearly all these vessels were financed, built, fitted-out, cargoed and crewed by local skills, without a word of advice from government, corporation, college, or bank.  Of course those local skills were both inherited from within a tradition and also enlivened by the curiosities of travel – both physical and literary.

I borrow the following from Welsh Ships and Sailing Men, by the great Aled Eames.

The brig Anne Catherine was built in 1859 on the beach at Llangranog. Length – 193ft, 211 tons and built for the ocean trade. Finance for her construction, cargo and crew was raised entirely from within the community – as was the custom. Finance for such projects was raised by shares – tradition had evolved a system of 64 shares – known as “sixty fours”.

In this case, shares were bought by 2 master mariners, 1 shopkeeper, 2 blacksmiths, 2 innkeepers, 1 merchant, 1 tanner, 1 joiner, 1 spinster, 2 widows, 2 private individuals, and 7 farmers.

Llangrannog is a small village. Evidently, in 1859 it had a multitude of trades and trade’s people with income to spare for boat-building and sail-trading ventures. Today, it relies on tourism and EC subsidised farming. You’ll find no boat-builder, or sail-trader, and little fishing – no blacksmith and no tanner. There may be a joiner for fitting out holiday homes. If any widow, or “private individual” has money to spare, then it will almost certainly be re-invested in property (to create further inequality), or in shares for the further corporate destruction of a once self-reliant Llangrannog. Meanwhile, young people cannot afford a home. In any case, tourism and grass farming provide insufficient work.

In 1859, this was a self-reliant economy, but one which looked out to sea. To be sure, it’s domestic heating was provided by coal, but transport was by foot, cart horse and sail.

Land enclosure had dispossessed the bulk of rural populations across Britain. It created city slums and mass emigration. Then rentier effects had further bled productivity – land-holders became richer and trade’s people became poorer. However, for coastal Wales (and I presume elsewhere) the sea, tradition and ingenuity provided a kind of counter-commons. Shipwright; sail-maker; navigator inherited filial knowledge and passed it on. No other education can be as intimate, complex and self-sustaining.

The reader can guess where I am heading – How do we re-create such an economy today? We have no other choice (minus the coal) but to return to such a solid, reassuring, slowly-evolved, tried and tested integration of economy into its terrain. We need an economy which follows laws of physics and of nature. Nothing can replace the extra-ordinary powers of fossil physics. Nothing can replace the extra-ordinary ways of life it has generated. No renewable energy source can power suburbia, the family car, air travel, the centralised supply chains of super markets… Many pursue that end. They are deluded. Many say that proposals such as mine cannot be serious – sail-trade is good for a laugh, but not for the serious business of a modern economy. Yet if we sit down and consider simple laws of physics, economy and ecology (as we must) then nothing can match sail-trade for its efficiency, or for its spur to economic regeneration and for its use as a tool to integrate a modern trading economy more or less inside a reviving ecology.

Large populations must always aim for surplus and then for trading between scarcity and surplus.

I speak of sail trade as developing from the already highly-developed model of the 19th Century – probably boats similar to the fore and aft rigged, 200ton schooner. I think that sail-assisted tankers and container ships lead us nowhere. They “green” with utter futility, an impossible oil-powered model. It is a similar proposal to the greening of (utterly impossible) super markets. Such greening prolongs and replicates an impossible oil-powered way of life.

As Richard Heinberg has pointed out, the massive economic growth of the 20th & 21st Centuries has not been caused by improving technologies, but by rapidly-increasing consumption of coal, gas and oil.

We must return to ordinary history – It works. We resume where oil began and ordinary human-scale life ended. We can retrace our steps to Llangrannog in the 19th Century and begin then. If we can reclaim some commons in the process and so remove the parasitic, counter-productive effects of enclosure, then we have an opportunity for a far more convivial economy than today. Readers will be familiar with the idea of a land value tax to fund a citizen’s dividend…

That’s by the by – How can we switch on this illumination – The extra-ordinary oil-powered years were a wild madness, whose Nemesis is now increasingly apparent – not only in the increasingly-resented poverty its monopoly has caused among the dispossessed, but in what may level possessions in flood, storm, mass migration, famine, war…

The return to ordinary, limited human powers may invoke a great common sigh of relief. By switching off the oil we switch off the unaccountable monopoly – or duopoly of consensus politics and consumerism. From dependency on an invisible and unaccountable supply, we may become suddenly and marvellously dependent on each other…

With regards to the family car, here is Ivan Illich

The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly instalments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society’s time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry.

Ivan Illich, Energy and Equity, 1973

By all that’s holy, what’s not to love about the end of oil?

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THE MUSIC OF NARCISSUS

A fiddle and a cello weave in counterpoint. The fiddle sings of a redemptive future, while the cello evokes a scenic past. The song of the present is obscured by headphones.

Both voices speak of the future – the one calling and the other restraining. There will be a better future in which the finest scenery of the past is preserved. The dissonant present recalls only what’s nasty, brutish and short.

The sea of the future (fiddle) laps gently on beaches of the past (cello). Our cleverly-educated children will achieve what’s impossible today. Meanwhile, landscapes will be realised without a Claude glass – forever Crome, Cotman and Constable.

Natural physics – evidence of the dissonant senses – says that the sea is rising; soils are degrading and that only empty holes in the ground remain where economic resources once lay. But if we look to the future, then ideas will replace those resources. Looking to the present is Luddite and without hope.

We are living through a cargo cult. We will be redeemed not by our behaviour, but by flotsam of the tide. In short we’ve lost our minds.

Many green thinkers are devotees. The God of Cargo washes peer review after peer review to the shore – of the scientific evidence that is not quite complete. The definitive answer will come. True visionaries stand on the shingle to be first to receive what the tide may bring.

Here’s the madness – that ideas will replace resources; that future ingenuity will remove present consequence; that historical landscapes are natural ecologies.

Of course, the truth is that ideas create nothing; that present action creates the future; that historical landscapes are far from natural ecologies, and also that living contemporary economies are utterly dependent on living contemporary ecologies.

What’s more, deferring personal and political moral decisions to the consideration of imaginary children, is (I’d have thought) the extreme of depravity.

No action can escape its moral.

Every footstep has consequence and so has a moral. The cargo cult proposes that if we know of a better future and a better past, then we can forget present actions and present morals, because a better world will come to wash all that away… Meanwhile we listen (through headphones) to the rising and falling polyphony of the fiddle’s shafts of sunlight illuminating the rustic hills and river valleys of the cello.

The cargo cult provides the central doctrine of all our popular newspapers, including of late, the Guardian and is the guiding light of the BBC – just listen.

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This writer pursues a perennial theme and its variations – that culture is what we do, not the state to which we’ve grown accustomed. In other words, civilisation is a complexity of methods, not a state. I think we create cultures one by one as we apply ingenuity and dexterity to the resources we’ve been given. Culturing stops, when we stop culturing.

My history depicts that from at least the late Bronze Age (about 1500BC) and until the 19th Century, idle elites sat back and enjoyed the fruits of the skills of the trades. Working people created the culture – growing food, cooking it, building ships, sailing them, building and designing houses, palaces, churches, temples, mosques and cathedral, painting pictures, making music, plays, novels and verses, … All the while the powerful enticed, coerced, taxed, bullied, made wars, extracted rent and so on, but played no part at all in creating the culture. Nabob, Prince, Laird, Lord, Squire… all knew that they were dependent on the trades and remained happy to be so.

Once upon a time a great change came – the arrival of fossil fuels. I say that event provoked a very brief, but extreme perversity of cultural behaviour. The perversity is this – Idle and incompetent elites removed tools from the hands of the skilled and began to wield tools themselves – albeit at a distance from country estate, boardroom, parliament – and even throne.

The massive powers of those many millions of years of sequestered photo synthesis proved irresistible. Once gold-torqued Achilles sought status by bronze sword and chariot, while his needs were provided by the ingenuity and dexterity of the trades. His cattle raids were sung, by the tradesmen we call bards, as epic adventures. In truth (by sweet lies) the whole of history, until the 19th Century records only those adventures. How cultures were composed remains invisible. We have some archaeological evidence to help a distant and flawed retelling of cultural history, but we have no written evidence from the times.

Anyway, elites began to wield oil tools with the same carelessness with which they’d once drawn their swords.

Oil tools have no cultural traditions to restrain them, because they are managed from within enclosed monopolies. Land enclosure had bled the skills of the trades, first by dispossession and secondly by rent. However, although elites grew richer and the skilled became poorer by enclosure, nevertheless those land-enclosing elites had continued their helpless dependency on the skills of the trades.

The trades had codes of practice – of family and guild traditions – of responsibility for passing on commons for the future of trades. They were connected to the physics of nature by natural reaction to the actions of their tools.

Enclosure turns moral commons into amoral property. It asserts (by law) the right to shed responsibility.

When elites enclosed fossil resources and fossil-powered tools they asserted that same property right and also claimed that same right to irresponsibility.

The trades vanished through the factory gate and with regards to farming to reading instructions on the sides of pesticide and herbicide drums and fertiliser sacks. The farmer has no idea what’s in the drums and sacks – in any case information is hidden behind the walls of another enclosure – intellectual property, which like all property holds right to irresponsibility.

Yes. Culturing stops, when we stop culturing. Now fossil-fuelled tools are culturing from behind the black glass of irresponsive and irresponsible monopolies.

The social perversity may be brief, but the god-like power of oil-powered Achilles has emptied trades and tradespeople from villages and town centres; has evacuated harbour towns; has utterly sacked the integrated and long-evolved complexity of the culture we must return to when the oil perversity ends. That culture has meant that work and pleasure have always been only a short walk (or cycle ride) from anyone’s door.

Industrial estate, retail park, ring road, suburbia – all demand the family car – and money to buy/insure/maintain the car – and nearly all wages now come from behind the black glass of those monopolies.

Ordinary history had an idle elite dependent on the rest. The brief oil perversity has the rest dependent on an idle elite.

The mistake is to think we can improve the provision of that elite by our market signals (consumerism) and by political lobbying. But by doing so, we give perversity credence and further longevity.

***

I think that what little history we have, teaches that those who depose elites always end by taking their place.

I propose a return to ordinary history. To mitigate the worst of climate change, resource depletion, social injustice… we must take tools back to our own small, ordinary, but responsible hands. We must evacuate ring road and retail park and re-occupy fields, towns harbours and villages. We can place small elites on pedestals to keep them sweet, while removing tools from their incompetent hands. We’ll make the culture and they can enjoy it.

That’s a very tall order – but in truth, it’s the only order. Early Neolithic and some pastoral societies may have lived more beautifully, sustainably and equally by the advice of elders, but that is a tale too tall for the populations of today.

We can use a democratic process to elect least-worst options, but we must create the culture for ourselves. Too tall? But there’s much that many of us can do instantly and without effort. We can shop in villages and town centres, while abandoning all super markets. We can ditch the holiday and business flight. We can farm and garden without pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and bagged fertilisers. We can evacuate most of what the oil enclosure provides and begin step by step to make things and grow things without oil. There is no law to prevent us creating a culture, contrary to the direction of corporation and state. After the extra-ordinary oil decades, we simply become ordinary again. Many are trapped by work-ties and poverty. Many have nothing but a super market nearby, but time will change that.

With regards to the futuristic cargo cult which is the status quo – living in the present will provide very many unexpected delights. Take off the headphones. The future will not provide for us. We provide for the future. The latest scientific paper is neither here, nor there – we have all we need to know.

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Consensus, pre-packed party politics is another form of consumerism. We choose a branded party just as we choose a brand of pot noodles. We may, or may not improve the political system, though we may as well try to do so. But nothing is more important than simply taking tools from the incompetent hands of state and corporate power. With luck, because we face ecological and so economic collapse, the powers may be resigned to our rebuilding of an ordinary, easily recognised, but much shrunken economy – particularly because we’ll provide them with that lovely long oak table for the council chamber; with fine food and wine and some elegant roofs over their helpless, but still dignified heads. That shrunken economy may provide many delights – repopulated fields, thriving villages and towns, low rents and cheap housing, sounds of music from pub doorways, many and various curiosities – proper shops and trades…

If we leave the powerful in power, but with their powers restrained, then we escape the bloodshed.

But fiddle and cello play on and many are drawn to the delusive music. Beautiful Narcissus leans over the musical pool. His marvellous ingenuity (He is Everyman) will find an alchemy of something from nothing – such as a replacement for the irreplaceable powers of fossil fuels. Those many millions of years of sequestered photosynthesis will be replicated in the human ingenuity of a single summer. Trees are like solar panels, says a mother to her child, nearly as clever as people. Incidentally Everyman is a sexless term.

We’ve seen how the fiddle player of the Cargo Cult removes ethics from actions. Present transgression (such as over-consumption) will be washed clean by future technological redemption.

And there is another, rather similar delusion to escape. That is the misnaming of technology as science.

Technologies must always have a moral, because technologies always have consequence. On the other hand, the cultivated scepticism of science is a learnt process by which we remove moral perception in order to free our thinking. Science is a lovely and essential creature but has no application. It is a pleasure.

When we take a new perception from scientific thinking to illuminate, let’s say medicine, or agricultural techniques, then we have moved back into the moral world of technology.

However today, many technologists call themselves scientists. Some have white coats to prove it. Nearly everyone accepts the deception. Here’s the thing – by that transformation we can remove ethics from actions. The deception is made doubly easy by intellectual property enclosure. Plant breeder, drug researcher, pesticide manufacturer, gene splicer… all hide behind both enclosure and the amorality of science. Poor science. Poor tragedy of the enclosures.

So, as we take tools into our own hands, we must escape both the delusive music of progress (the Cargo Cult) and the fraudulent claim of technology to be science.

Because we are returning to the ordinary flows of history – or at least to a history, which began in the Late Bronze Age – events may unfold with a far greater ease than we’ve a right to expect, given the man-made chaos we’ve had a hand in causing.

Neolithic and Early Bronze Age societies and the hunter-gatherers before them, probably lived more happily than is likely for us. Anyway, if we can escape the delusive music in large enough numbers, then I reckon the song of the living physics of the Earth will be delightful enough for Everyman’s dancing feet.

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