Our Wounded Earth. Who holds the Knife?

Climate is disbalancing faster than all predictions. Tipping points come and nudge still others – accelerating. Plainly, no one has a clue, but this – it is our doing and we must undo it. And we don’t need to understand that vast complexity. We never have and never will. But we do understand what we’ve done to cause it. It is our way of life and the number of people living it.
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Let’s also get this straight, most people in the world are not guilty. They have no car, they’ve never flown, they do not ask for much. They survive on the smallest patches of soil. Those people should be our model. Professor Kevin Anderson has been an incorruptible rock in all the excuses and dispensations. Consult him for an excellent collection of statistics. Why receive them second hand?
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However, as a farmer, along with most practical people, I (and millions of others) know many things that the institutions do not. I know why the predictions of IPCC and so on, have been wildly and dangerously optimistic. For four thousand years, fields have provided all the data needed to understand the impact of human cultures – on soil life, plant life and animal life. The sum of the biomass of soil, plant and animal in year two, subtracted by the same sum in year one, provides a good-enough estimate for an annual measure of “carbon” “sequestered” by one’s particular husbandry methods. I don’t like the use of carbon as a synonym for life and I don’t like the use of sequestration (a still and quiet mass) as a synonym for soil life, which has mass, acceleration (vitality/energy) and velocity (slow growing/fast growing). Anyway, all growers also know (or should know) that that soil life, plant life and animal life are not only interconnected – they are one organic whole. If the shade of green in my crops, pales, or deepens I can tell that life has slowed or speeded-up. I will also know that soil-life has also diminished, or swollen in acceleration, velocity and mass.
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There is much else that a farmer knows, which our climate physicist does not. To complicate the last paragraph, if I pass a hoe between my crop-rows, the colour of that crop will deepen. That is a trade-off. My cultivation will have disturbed – will have killed a layer of fungal life. That death means mineralisation, which means plant food, which in turn means temporal acceleration of plant growth, in exchange for deceleration of soil growth. Overall, the energy, mass and velocity of the whole system will have shrunk – even though my crop will be boosted. However hard I try to do otherwise, soil life at the end of a cropping season will always be weaker. The following season’s crop, will also, in consequence be smaller, paler and weaker. Year after year of cropping eventually produces Oklahoma, or the pillaged soils of Rome.
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IPCC says that arable fields in continued arable use (none land-use change) are “carbon negative”, while burning crops from those fields is “carbon neutral”. How can anyone not think that is utterly, utterly bonkers? IPCC say that achieving Oklahoma is carbon negative.
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1 – Sequestration figures, which are entered into the modelling are grossly overstated – to my eyes they are outright fiction. Farmers can measure sequestration rates, season by season, by the very simple measure of crop yields. They can correlate those figures with what they have done to achieve them – the husbandry failures, or successes, adverse weathers and so on. Bear in mind that biomass yield also indicates photosynthetic potential and that yield also indicates soil fertility, which along with plant biomass, climate physicists call sequestration. Up until the 1970s, and the world over, such data was copiously collated and analysed by countless “agricultural colleges” and government ag department – and without commercial manipulation. It remains archived, but unread.
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From over fourty-years’ experience, I can say that the utmost an agricultural system can achieve is balance and that that balance is rare. Close enough is a good aspiration. We cannot “draw down” further carbon. Regeneration stops when balance is reached. IPCC says (it really does) that regeneration goes on forever.
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Agricultures always disrupt the natural systems they replace.
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Moreover, I place this pigeon among the cats, to say that natural systems too can only achieve balance, though that balance will have a greater biomass than a well-managed field, or garden. Total biomass will fluctuate by a complexity of injury (such as fire) and repair, but it can never sequester more biomass and energy than the limiting finity of soil volume, rainfall and so on.
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So, natural systems replenish after injury (as in regenerative agricultural rotation), but will always end in balance – limited by the physical boundaries of soil and ultimately of Earth herself. We cannot say that sufficient acreage of ancient woodland will “draw down” a proportion of the “carbon” emitted from an adjoining human economy. That economy must deal with its own ill-effects.
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An ancient rainforest can provide nothing as dispensation for indulgence-seeking human cultures.
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IPCC and most other projections only work (along with the futurism of point 2), because they add the dispensation of “good” natural systems to compensate for the ill-behaviour of humans. In other words, sequestration modelling is fiction. It is a vast and deadly fiction. It is tragic that most of the green movement has embraced it as dispensation for its unchanged behaviour. Einstein would be horrified, but something else is missing from our climate physicist’s calculations – She otherwise thinks of energy, but in natural systems she measures only mass – matter. Where are energy (vitality) and time (velocity) in her calculations? She accepts that matter and energy always remain in some form or other, yet in sequestration figures, she conveniently forgets it. In short, to a farmer, she is plain bonkers. Our climate physicist measures the nouns and forgets the verbs.
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What humans have done to cause climate-heating they must now undo. We can save ourselves, by changing ourselves, but nothing else can. Time is very, very short. Net emissions are a fantasy.
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2 – This has a series of points, which are really one and the same.
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a – We cannot change a political system by argument within the accepted boundaries of its beliefs. In consequence we give credence to the beliefs. Jeremy Corbyn has been the only politician of recent times, who has challenged the UK political system. He was swiftly “dealt with”. However, he remains a much-admired figure. Therein is a clue.
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b – We cannot change what we’ve come to call industrialisation, using the tools of that culture. Tools are the culture. It is futile to change “industrial” tools for the better. We must find new (or old) tools to create a new culture.
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c – Giant corporations exist by our purchases – of oil, airline tickets, cars, food commodities, from grain to bananas. If we think giant corporations are a problem, we don’t remove the problem by lobbying corporations to behave better. Instead, we withdraw consent. We remove our spending and re-spend it elsewhere. By improving the tools of corporate supply, we continue our dependence on corporate supply – and give it credence. The answer is to remove the corporation from our culture. This could be very easily done if people could find a common ethic to withdraw their money and replace it as they choose. The corporation thinks the consumer is king by both following and creating consumer “trends”. The corporation will more than happily “green” its tools. Trends are where the money lies. What we ask, they will do. But the corporate tool is the problem. We, the grower, baker, miller, weaver, sailor… must take back the tools.
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d – Michael Moore’s film, The Planet of the Human, paints the picture very well. That it hits the problem with a sledge hammer is probably also appropriate. But the film needed a postscript, or perhaps a part two. What do we do when the sledge hammer has crumbled the whole “thing” into its original aggregate? Who first used the term “the thing” – I think it may have been William Cobbet? Anyway, I’ve encountered the phrase several times in books I’ve enjoyed, from the Nineteenth Century and perhaps earlier. We all know what it means and the thing’s original aggregate will need some re-purposing.
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The film’s target was industrialised green energy. I support the sledge hammer. But, in doing so it attacked all green energy. That is either an oversight, or a mistake.
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For very many centuries local engineers and blacksmiths have made ingenious wind pumps and mills. There is good reason to think that such pumps and mills could be adapted to power turbines for electricity. Hydro power is still more ancient and farm-scale, village scale – even perhaps, town-scale hydro turbines could easily be constructed by such village-scale labour and ingenuity.
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What the film calls the elephant in the room – intermittency – could (and should), like seasons, day and night, be embodied in the culture as a simple law of nature. Something we doubly value, when we’ve got it, and accept when we haven’t. We store food through Winter. Currently no one has a genuine solution to storing wind electrical energy for windless days, or hydro energy in drought. Like everything in life, we can have a ration. Our new culture can manage that ration fairly, like irrigation in the Mediterranean, or medieval strip-fields, by laws of the commons. A re-entry of time, seasons and rationing into a common vision of how things are, would prove both a beautiful and useful addition to our economic behaviours.
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Our own farm exports a little more electricity than it imports by a small wind turbine (rated 6kw) and solar panels (rated 4kw). I can see no reason why my son, who is a good welder, could not build the structure of such a turbine (blades, tower, bearings), entirely from scrap materials (the aggregate). He’d have to study a bit more to make the turbine, but certainly someone in our village community could – and entirely from the “aggregate” of lost industrialisation. The farm’s electricity demand includes the welder, fridges and freezers for our butchery and a high demand at apple-pressing time (September to January) for apple mill, hydraulic press and pasteurisers. We have an electric grain mill and of course an ordinary domestic demand (from an old, cold, stone farmhouse). We burn wood for heat. Something we must somehow stop.
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Perhaps solar voltaic is doomed. I haven’t the knowledge to know. Currently, I, or my sons cannot make a solar panel. We could however, easily make a solar thermal system and we could also make a biodigester for farm “wastes” – returning the “digestate” to the soil. Our aerobic composting system is less efficient, releasing an equal amount of uncaptured gas to the air and of uncaptured heat to the surrounding environment. In a better future we could certainly capture that heat – bearing in mind that most of the heat will be produced in Winter, when heat is needed.
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Heat pumps – particularly ground-source heat pumps could similarly be constructed by local ingenuity, from Local “aggregate”, and as a good way to use what electricity we have, bearing in mind the limits of wind and rain.
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We need to live in much smaller, cheaper houses, built for “solar gain”. At the moment, few of us do. Changing housing is a mountain to climb, but must be an essential part of the utopian vision, which is the only vision to draw us back from the environmental and climatic cliff edge we now peer over. The vertigo is freezing our actions – as is dependency. Utopia can be a common goal. Few will dispute its truth – but most shrug it off as impracticable. I say utopia is essential – we must always compromise utopia – not our previously failed utopian compromise. Instead, having failed, we re-focus again on that perfected vision and then discover a new compromise. The least-worst option is the best option.
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Direct traction from tide, gravity (hydro) and wind has been anciently tried and tested. It may still be the best option for mills and manufactories. Again, it is easily devised by local ingenuity and labour.
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The direct traction of sail power is almost universally ridiculed. I’ve no idea why. We’ll still need to trade scarcity and surplus and I think, happiness – that is beautiful things and experiences, unique to their terrains. Without sail power we descend into the brutalist side of localism. Why be brutal? (apologies to beautiful brutes). That’s another thing – wonder at the beauties of nature and despair at our clumsy footsteps, is another essential catalyst (or rather, enzyme) for the good.
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Utopia is certainly possible, but we know it is unlikely. The whole – every species in nature – is the same – healing wounds – finding a balance and then, repairing new wounds. Homo sapiens is (should be) just the same. Earth as a whole, is the same. We can liberate both personal and community sensuality – and the intelligence of those senses. We can cast off the fictions of the powers. Even if we fail, because that cliff edge is just too close for the time that remains, we can know that our road was the road to happiness. We must pass through economic tragedy. Collapse is inevitable. We cannot tell if we will emerge the other side, but we can hope so.
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And Like this Insubstantial Pageant, Faded…

My time on this little podium is ending and the book will close. What remains is the “actuality of being” – each heartbeat unique, becoming instant memory. Yet that actuality is outside time because it is constant and yet is the embodiment of time, because its actuality is that mysterious thing – life herself – the only conduit of experience. As we’ve said, it is being.
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Past, future and this book’s advice are nothingness. Being is the essential verb in a midden of nouns.
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Life is common sense. Common sense is the measure of everything. It is what mystics from every culture have called timelessness – through veils of Maya and clouds of unknowing…
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We Jongleurs de Joy can celebrate it, while the powers, who seek to mutate past illusions into future illusions must supress it. The “actuality of being” must be supressed (at all costs) by schools, universities and newspaper editorials. Life is the absolute lord of misrule.
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That divide could be the ancient divide between church (ancestor worship, animism, polytheism and even monotheism) and the state. In history (and in guessed pre-history) the state (clan, tribe, family – even city-state) has usually been subject to a common, both spiritual and pragmatic vision. Now we have the opposite. Everywhere, church and state are becoming one. In other words, the church has been colonised by the status quo.
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In more recent history, church and state have restrained each other into some sort of a balance of morality and amorality.
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Listen – I attend no church, or temple and cannot say many of the things required of me, to belong in those communities. I fit the label of atheist.
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Yet I think – no believe – that a common spiritual and pragmatic vision, is our last hope to evacuate the suicidal consensus of the powers. We cannot outstate the state, but we can out-believe it.
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Only a common sense of being can outweigh the nothingness.
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As Siegfried Sassoon said, surfacing from the deep trauma of an idiotic war – This is from memory, because I can’t find the book. Like much in life, the spine has fallen off –
“It is only from the inner-most silences of the heart, that we know the world for what it is, and ourselves for what the world has made us.”
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May Day

MAY GARLAND

Happy May Day to Everybody

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We can be Jongleurs de Joy, or Prophets of Doom.

Supressing the tragedy and enjoying the comedy, seems a profitable course. Remember that reality – the plot – is the same for both. Taking the tragic road to the light on the other side is the same as taking the comic road. The roads are the same.
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Comedy is of the mind – we do need the mind – we need a quick wit and quick responses. Releasing too much of the heart to public gaze aggrandises us as heroes of noble tragedy – and apart. Comedy makes us ridiculous, but included. Truly, whole societies – indeed the species herself are ridiculous. Laughter brings us together.
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Tragedy can bring us together in laughter. As we leave the oil machinery behind – evacuate the enclosures and settle the common – we must first pass through tragedies, which we ourselves have made – well, through tragi-comedy. Let’s be jongleurs de joy; lords (and subjects) of misrule; Don Quixote as Everyman (sexless). If laughter defeats the tears, we’ll have a glimmer of a chance.
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Those seriously engaged in maintaining suicidal ways of life – that is, nearly everybody – will label us comic. Keep the label and keep throwing it back. Might we not eventually fall in a common heap of helpless laughter?
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Never forget that seriousness is a biological catalyst – an enzyme, which extinguishes thought. It is the puffing up of authority in the face of danger – the posturing of rival animals. Many species use it to extinguish sensuality and fear. Those serious peer-reviewed articles, or newspaper editorials use posture (seriousness) as a replacement for thought – just as rival silver-backs swell with stupidity to achieve their status.
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Seriousness proposes “realistic” responses to the ecological, economic and climatic cliff edge – that is, it shuts off the problem and swells with stupidity. It cannot not listen to truly reasonable voices, because it has blocked its ears.
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Perhaps it is true that we have but three ways of seeing – the tragic, the comic and the serious.
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We can escape neither the first, nor the second, but the third – seriously?
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A Very Short but Tangled Tragi-comic Plot

Each month will contain ecologic/economic meaning. For us – for developed economies – all of which are agricultures, or dependent on agricultures – that meaning will contain a large thought-stifling smog of tragedy. We think we cannot do what is right, because of the tragedies our action will cause.

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The central premise of all I write is that we must embrace tragedy – that there is no other course, but to take the tragic rite of passage towards the light on the other side. Our ways of life are causing terrible tragedies. It is illogical to say that we cannot act out remedies, because of the tragedies they’d cause to our tragedy-causing ways of life.

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For me, another essential mantra, is that comedy and tragedy share identical plots – the one of mind – the other of heart. Of course, as we see in the best writing and hear in the best and deepest music, comedy and tragedy can weave together as one – just as heart and mind are one

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It is illogical to say that we cannot act out remedies, because of the tragedies they’d cause to our tragedy-causing ways of life. – Is that not the archetype for the best stage comedies and tragedies?

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Of course, we could also say, it is illogical to say that we cannot act out remedies, because of the ridicule they’d draw from those still engaged in ridiculous ways of life.

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That last applies to most of peer-dependent, career-dependent academia and in particular to “climate science”.

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It applies to me in conversation with friends and family – I am ridiculous to some and dangerously tragic to others. Usually I draw back – accepting the role of clown and resenting the role of evil darkness! My life is entangled with theirs. I’ve no wish to disentangle. How on Earth do we disentangle from our common tragedy, together? One thing I know, is that I’ve only partially disentangled myself.

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Dog and Stick

How do we extract crops, while maintaining future yields? – By cycles of use and return, but also by introducing generative phases in rotation. Perennial cropping of fruit and nut trees and bushes is useful and perennial cereal prairies as dreamed by the Land Institute may be a thing of the future. Nevertheless, even perennial cereals will need regenerative phases – by either cutting and mulching, or by grazing.
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A very old rule of thumb is one year of cropping to two years of pasture (once called fallow). Many organic growers, practice two years of cropping to four years of green manure, or pasture.
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I don’t see how we can escape that simple rule. I think a vegan rotation could work very well, but I think the introduction of animals would work better. Meat, eggs and dairy add to the diversity of both biomass in the field and to the quality of diet.
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Used as part of rotation, animals increase the final yield. Pasture and green manure work equally well, so that animals add to overall harvested biomass, rather than being (as is commonly cited) an extremely inefficient way to grow food.
If efficient growing systems do best by imitating natural cycles, then that sort of proportion of animals is surely appropriate.
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Of course, we cannot have feed-lots, broiler houses, battery houses and piggeries, but also how much area can we dedicate for perennial grasslands dedicated solely to dairy, beef and sheep production? Think of a glade in the forest, dedicated to human cultures. How big can that glade be, to avoid collapsing eco-systems and swelling atmospheric CO.2 ?
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All agriculture disrupts the natural system it has replaced (my mantra). How much of the natural must re-grow and how far must human interference shrink? Whatever the grassland polemicists say – no (UK) grassland is as rich in life as the forest it has replaced. Yet, beautiful human cultures have evolved with grasslands. How can we deny that?
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Here’s something – thinking of the UK, those wide upland pastures were not created by ingenious local habits. They are not an ancient cynefin, terroir, or clan territory, they are the result of a vicious aristocratic (most of it) expulsion of people from their lands. The enclosures were a land grab for the currency of sheep’s wool. A very few got rich, nearly all ended in starvation, city slums, or voyaging Atlantic, or Pacific oceans.
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Close cropped uplands are nearly deserted – economically but for wide-scattered farmsteads and ecologically, but for sheep, crow, buzzard, a few skylarks, curlews and so on and of course tourists – who may be the largest economic contributor – along with farm subsidy and the meagre lamb trade. The tourists come for the wide, desolate spaces and think it wild.
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But those scattered farmsteads could surely find a better living in re-foresting and re-wilding? We certainly need timber more than we need sheep. We also need to overturn the terrible injustice of the enclosures and bring people and life back to those places. Those farmsteads can still provide lamb for local butchers and (if soil permits) milk to local dairies. People can widen their skills into forestry and wood-working and bring new meaning to the word cynefin. Eighty percent of Welsh lamb is exported. Well, eighty percent of that land area can certainly be re-wilded, or re-forested without the smallest economic harm. Eighty percent is a precarious percentage.
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Thinking of pastured flocks and herds, the East of the country is in desperate need of them for its tired and half-dead soils, while the West has far too many. Is that a recipe for a beautiful friendship, which also increases the species diversity of both West and East? Also, bear in mind that we’ll not need the vast acreage of cereals, previously destined for animal feed. Economies will gain some slack. Also, efficient, most ecologically-integrated flocks and herds will follow, not the grain market, but the seasons. People will re-learn the true calendar (UK) of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Communities may synchronise with the true movement of time. Each month will contain ecologic/economic meaning. That is a delight.
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Our Habitation

How do we re-settle? By trial & error. But here are some thoughts. Every habitation must begin with some sort of understanding and some sort of a plan.
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Potatoes contain about 80% water
Carrots contain 90%
Cereals contain 15%
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A tonne of potatoes contains 200kg of nutrients
A tonne of carrots contains 100kg
A tonne of cereals contains 850 kg (dried in the field by sunshine)
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That is why cereals have founded towns and cities. They are very light for transport. A ship’s hold can carry 4.25 more of cereals than potatoes. Differing types of bread have been the staple of most cultures.
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Cereals and potatoes contain very similar nutrients.
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We would not be very well if we consumed a diet entirely of cereals. That has created a chronic (sometimes acute) sickness of the poor in many parts of the world. So, most fruit, roots and leaves are best grown close to home. Without engine oil, that thought is essential.
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There is much demonisation of cereals, but not much sign that people can resist a hot loaf, straight from the oven, a flat bread straight from the griddle, or hold back their pride in the local pasta. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou…
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Cereals can be traded between regions, as scarcity and surplus demand. In my dreams (reality is very close) small sailing vessels of 500 tonnes (they are coming to fruition as we speak) will prove ideal (along with river/canal boats and barges) for that trade – or indeed, sometimes for that rescue mission. 2,000 tonne vessels will soon follow. That’s a lot of grain – bearing in mind our primary aim will be to localise. *
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Cereals are useful both in time and space (tonnage). They can be transported not only through scarcity and surplus of regions and neighbours, but also between scarcity and surplus of hard, or abundant times. They can be stored for years. They will remain central to our harvest festivals!
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I begin with a defence of cereals, because they give emergency leeway to otherwise localised food systems – of course, the bulk of our cereal crops will also be consumed locally – or within a town/mill/terrain relationship.
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Cuba successfully rode the oil blockade by diminishing the contribution of large collective farms and by encouraging citizens to both “grow their own” and to form small grower co-operatives – the organiponicos. At landfall, we can do the same – vegetable and fruit growing can weave into town – into private gardens and public spaces – derelict car parks for instance, or roadside avenues of fruit trees. Quite literally, hope can sprout from beneath paving stones. Meanwhile, market gardens, orchards and dairies can ring those towns, occupying, and revitalising the oil-desolation of retail park and ring road.
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The same will happen in Suburbia as it re-centralises into villages and small towns sat in a sea of biomass – what we currently separate as agriculture and horticulture.
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Is the distinction any use for our new adventure? I think not. As man-power replaces oil-power, all arable farmers will be forced into a more horticultural mindset. Mixed farmers will be forced into both a more horticultural and also, a more “dog and stick” mindset.
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Fields will shrink into the compass of man-power, with the additional advantage of attention to detail – the intelligence of many more senses. Large collective farms have not worked well in history. In private ownership, they’d become the now familiar colonial plantation owner and his hundreds – even thousands of slaves. In public ownership, they’d become institutionalised and wooden. Our new settlers will not stand for either. They’ll want to use their own senses and their own brains.
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With all this shrinking, you say, you are shrinking back in time and towards low yields and inefficiency. No, I say we are shrinking back into a world without fossil fuel and biofuels. We must put out the fires. We cannot have massive tractors and their massive machinery. We replace them with people – the ingenuity, dexterity and sensuality of very many people. To fully utilise people, it must be an egalitarian landfall.
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I’d say that most work done today is not only futile, it is destructive – insurance, banking, advertising, market research, manufacture of useless shiny things; of cars, trucks, aeroplanes. We scurry to destroy ourselves. Those many millions engaged in destruction can instead be engaged in useful production. Eventually, as the hard work of transition passes, people will have far, far more leisure time without oil, as they had with it.
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There will be work reviving canal and navigable river systems and small harbours all around the coastline. There will be work building the new sail-trading ships and smaller craft and there will be work on the farm and with rural housing – plus new tool-makers, weavers, millers…
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I say we cannot have fossil fuels, or biofuels, but anaerobic digestion is different. Fermentation is everywhere. It is essential to the continuation of life. It happens anyway. Harvesting gas is rather like hunter-gathering. We anaerobically ferment agricultural and household “waste” and use the gas. We exchange one gas for another and use the energy. CO.2 for methane seems a good idea.
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Tiny digestors may provide for the domestic stove. Farm digestors may provide for some small machinery. Neighbouring farms may share that machinery, for initial cultivation perhaps and what about a combine harvester – used for only 1 month every year – travelling between farms.
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I am talking low horse power. The scything, stooking, stacking and threshing could be done by hand. In difficult weathers the combine harvester can dash between rain-storms. It’s a pleasant thought.
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Another thought – ceramics and metal working (re-purposing) need considerable heat. The digestor may provide it. We shall only know if it can, by trial, error and rationing – that is by fair distribution. Bear in mind the end is to shrink our impact on both climate and ecology, so that we cannot grow crops for the digestor, we can only place it as a part of the cycles of use and return.
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How do we minimise our impact? My own remedy is to think of human cultures occupying glades in the larger forest, rather than the permacultural remedy of imitating the canopies and understories of the forest. I think we can grow a greater biomass in the glade – one that meets our needs in a smaller space, while around us, the wilds can expand. We’ll only learn by doing it. Certainly, my crop of wheat needs full sun. Why do I say remedy? – because our culture is currently very sick and will not survive.
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* https://ecoclipper.org/

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