Age of Limits 2014

31 05 2014

I first heard of this Age of Limits 2014 conference over at Chris Martenson’s website when our resident climate scientist, Mark Cochrane, announced he was to be one of the speakers.  If ever thare was a conference I would have loved to attend, it was this one, but just the thought of flying half way around the world, not to mention the utter lack of funds to do this, ensured there was no way I was going to be there!

Nevertheless, already reports of what an excellent event this was are filtering over on the interweb……  starting with Dmitry Orlov who writes…:

The intellectual part of the experience is a sort of Epicurean feast for the connoisseurs of collapse. (There are plenty of conferences at which the topic of collapse has been banned; consequently, I am no longer invited to them—to my relief, because life is short, and speaking at these conferences makes it that much shorter.) Virtually all of the attendees without exception have successfully navigated their way through the grieving stage of denial prior to showing up, and there is almost no discussion of whether financial, economic, social or civilizational collapses are possible and/or likely, or whether this is something that beautiful people shouldn’t even worry their pretty little heads about. If you show up while still grappling with denial, then, in all likelihood, your head will explode, and while there will be helpful people on hand to help you find scattered pieces of your cranium in the tall grass, you will spend most of the conference gluing the pieces back together, and will miss out on all the fun. So, if you are new to the topic of collapse but curious about it, please acquaint yourself with the Kübler-Ross model and do whatever you have to, prior to showing up, to get past Stage 1. For maximum effectiveness, try to make it all the way to Stage 5 (acceptance).

In addition to the usual suspects, Gail Tverberg, Albert Bates, John-Michael Greer and Orlov himself, this year featured a couple of star speakers: Dennis Meadows and Mark Cochrane.  I would kill to hear Meadows….  or meet Mark.  But there you go.  Mark may very well write his own report on this conference, watch this space, because I will ensure you get to know what he thought of it all….

ageoflimitsDennis is Emeritus Professor of Systems Management, former Director of the Institute for Policy and Social Science Research at the University of New Hampshire, and Lead Researcher and co-author of the Club of Rome’s 1972 publication, The Limits to Growth. He successfully predicted the collapse of industrial civilization four decades ago—successfully in that the model he presented back in 1972 has been in remarkable agreement with observations ever since. Since then, he has collected several large boxes of articles attempting to disprove his claims, and a slender stack of articles pointing out that he was right. Even in science, getting it right is not the path to recognition if the truth contradicts the dominant paradigm (of infinite economic growth on a finite planet).

Dennis had agreed to present at this conference reluctantly. He has retired from Club of Rome discussions, and has found more cheerful uses for his time. But he seemed happy with the outcome, saying that this is the first time he faced an audience that did not need convincing. Instead, he took the time to add some details that I think are crucially important, among them the fact that his WORLD3 model is only accurate until the peaks are reached. Once the peaks occur (between 2015 and 2020) all bets are off: past that point, the model’s predictive ability is not to be relied on because the assumptions on which it relies will no longer be valid. Thus, the author of this particular plot, claiming that peak population will occur in 2030, committed the exact error that Dennis warned us against: of looking too far to the right. Once the initial peaks come and go, we will be in a different world than the one he modeled in 1972—a world in which, I foresee, accurate population statistics will no longer be available. We know that the dynamics of global growth are very different from the dynamics of global die-off, but perhaps that is all that we will ever know, because there won’t be anyone left to model or measure the die-off.

Orlov’s remarks on Mark’s talk are most interesting…….

a very thorough demolition job on the various shibboleths that haunt what passes for discourse on climate change in certain intellectually stunted corners of the world. He demolished the denialist claims, and then proceeded to demolish the techno-utopian “solutions,” such as seeding the oceans, seeding the clouds, space mirrors and so on. In doing so, he did not use climate models, explaining that models are quite complicated and open to dispute. Instead, he relied on climate theories which are not in dispute because they agree with observations, and on historical measurements of climate change—its known causes and its apparent effects.

Mark’s conclusions included some tongue-in-cheek “good news”—“We’re all gonna die!”—which I took to be a nod in the general direction of Guy McPherson, who presented at this conference last year, and who predicts near-term human extinction—whereas he clearly feels that “nature bats” (vespertilio naturalis?) do last. But Mark also gave a much more nuanced summation: that while global effects of climate change can be predicted to some extent, the local effects are unpredictable but are certain to be sufficiently dramatic to make life very difficult and perhaps impossible for the vast majority of us. Apparently, there is no place on Earth where you can hide from climate change. Be it the boreal forests of Siberia or the tropics of Borneo, the local destructive effects of climate change on ecosystems are unpredictable. Most of the species alive today have evolved long after the last time such conditions occurred anywhere on Earth, plus the rate of climate change is now very fast, giving them insufficient time to adapt. Consequently, no historical data exists on which such predictions could be based. We do know some things: fish, corals and shellfish will do badly; sea grass and jellyfish will do well. (I hope that there is a sea-grass-and-jellyfish soup recipe out there that results in something palatable!) Overall, his presentation reinforced my feeling that it will be essential to remain mobile, because no one place can be expected to continue to reliably produce food.

Well, that remains to be seen.  Sure, producing food in the ways we currently do has no future, but if Geoff Lawton can do it in the Jordanian desert, then clearly alternative farming methods have some future somewhere, and there are no possibilities of farming ever being mobile, a contradiction in terms.





The Exact Timing of Near-Term Human Extinction Is Academic

30 05 2014

Collapse of Industrial Civilization

This post is in response to Systemic Disorder commenter Palloy who thinks that peak oil will save mankind and that global warming “will not be as bad as +1.5°C.” I want to answer the question of what degree of warming we are already committed to if industrial civilization were to disappear off the face of the Earth right now.

Palloy is overlooking the part that aerosols from industrial activity play in temporarily cooling the planet. James Hansen called this the Faustian Bargain:

…Human activity modifies the impact of the greenhouse effect by the release of airborne particulate pollutants known as aerosols. These include black-carbon soot, organic carbon, sulphates, nitrates, as well as dust from smoke, manufacturing, wind storms, and other sources. Aerosols have a net cooling effect because they reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the ground and they increase cloud cover. This is popularly known as “global dimming”…

View original post 802 more words





The Cob Oven Saga, part II

29 05 2014

This is a continuation of The Cob Oven Saga started a few days ago……

IMG_0339IMG_0340Having finally finished the brick arch entrance, we then began building the support base for the sand mould that the inner clay dome is supported by.  Without a strong support, it’s impossible to build a dome, and wet sand is what is normally used.  The only trouble is, we could not get the sand to stay vertical for the first 100mm of its rise, and I ended using scraps of zincalume sheet metal lying around to hold it up.  I was going to remove it before stacking the clay onto the mould, and thought the better of it, I reckon it can be removed along with the sand through the door when the time comes…..

One important thing to mention at this stage…….  it seems universally accepted that the height of the entrance door should be 63% of the internal height of the dome (ie, sand mould..), and that the height of the dome should be 63% of the diameter of its base.  For this particular oven, that turned out to be 400mm high, and 635mm in diameter, but if you’re going to build one too, the dictating factor will always be the height of the entrance.  To make sure we got the height right, I used a spare piece of 6mm dowel which I marked with a pencil 400mm from one end and inserted into the sand at the centre point of the oven.

Serge, whose advice on building these things is second to none, thinks that as his technique evolves the dome should be thinner than what he has been doing for the past dozen years or more.  I’ve looked at youtube videos too, and frankly, nobody does exactly the same thing, and really, as long as it works, who cares how it’s done?  As we had started to build the dome at the base some 75mm thick (which is what Serge did nine years ago on the original dome), I decided to try a hybrid method where the wall thickness decreases as one reaches the top…….  Will it work?  Watch this space……

IMG_0344The important thing to understand here is that it has to be thick enough so as not to collapse, but thin enough to dry properly to the middle of the wall.  Clay shrinks when it dries, and it will shrink even more when it will be fired; and if it shrinks unevenly, you could have a collapse on your hands.  At least, this oven, being on the southern side of the house is in total shade all day at this time of year, and even though it is unseasonally warm here for this time of year (another 28°C day today…. in May?) I’m hoping for a good result.

Serge tells me the trick is to watch for the outside to start cracking, whereupon the inner sand mould can be removed to allow the interior to dry.  patience is the word of the day, even if Glenda’s birthday is a mere 13 days away, and the Pizza Chef is chomping at the bit to fire it up and make some pizzas!

IMG_0347IMG_0349Serge also expressed concern that as the clay shrinks it might separate from the brick arch which will not shrink……  so this morning, upon uncovering the beast from the tarp that stops the heavy dew from slowing the drying process, I decided we should cover the bricks with cob, and make this cover overlap the neck of the oven in an attempt to key the oven to the arch.  it also stops the bricks from moving, which they did as we tamped the clay against them.  It’s all experimental, but there you go.

IMG_0350We made the cob mix pretty wet so that it would key into all the brick arch’s irregularities…  the bricks I’m using are pretty rough in texture, as are my cuts!  Now we wait.  it’ll be a few more days before we can finish it, the sand has to come out, and the inner dome must dry before we can cover it with cob, and then the outer render.  In the meantime, Alessandro will just have to keep making pizzas in the AGA…

Continued here……





The Look

29 05 2014

Reblogged from Steve Harrison’s http://tonightmyfingerssmellofgarlic.com/  blog Posted on 26/05/2014

More than a look
A letter from the pottery and the late autumn garden

I heard a couple of young designers talking about sustainability and recycling, as if they had invented it.

Apparently, it’s the new hot topic in design. It’s so interesting to listen to young people talk about things that they know very little about. I must have sounded like such a twat when I was young  –  and probably still do for that matter. These people were talking about sustainable design as a ‘feature’ of design.  It wasn’t the effect of consumerism, or its consequences, that was of interest to them.  It was the look of things. It was all about design and The Look! Real sustainability didn’t seem to be the core issue.
Being a baby boomer, I grew up through the sixties and seventies and was very involved in the ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of sustainability. The grass roots approach. When I met ‘The Lovely’ at Art School and we set up house together in a flat in Bondi, I promised her, not a lovely home or plain comfortable house, not even a shed.  I knew that I would never be able to buy a house earning the sort of money that potter could earn, so I was only looking for vacant land.  I initially promised her a life in a tent! Fortunately she said OK!  Count me in!  She didn’t mind a bit of hard work. I thought that I would find some little piece of bushland and pitch a tent while I built a mud brick shed, a pottery, a kiln and then, at a later date, a house.
This was what a lot of people did here in Australia in the past. Especially the returned solders in the post war period. My own father bought a vacant bush block and cleared it with a mattock, and hand cut a track to get trucks to the site. Then we all lived in a caravan for a year while he built the first two rooms.  After that, we all lived in that cramped building, while he built the next few rooms.  The house was only just finished a few years before my older brother left home. Everything was paid for, bit by bit, as you went along.  There was no credit, or ‘LendLease’ in those days.  No plastic card credit.
I was interested in living what I thought would be a less-complicated life.  I was wrong.  All lives are complicated.  However, in my youthful enthusiasm.  I considered that living directly on the land and eating from the that land as much as possible by way of gardens and orchards, then making pots to sell that were made out of the land, should all be doable.  Well, as I said, I was naïve and full of youthful hubris.  For someone interested in DIY sustainability, the obvious choice was to build with earth, dug free from the land and turned into capital by shear effort and will power.  Creating capital out of virtually nothing is a pretty neat trick.  So all but one of our buildings are made from mud bricks.  Of course, keeping chickens and ducks and eating the vegetable that we grew ourselves in an organic garden were all part of that daydream.
Well, it all came true.  It wasn’t a dream.  It was made real by dogged hard work of two dedicated people who teamed up and concentrated in a single minded effort to make it reality. Of course it didn’t all happen as planned.  There were detours and setbacks. Lots of little hiccups along the way.  But we made it happen.  Janine turned out to be one hell of a tough girl.  I’m so glad that she accepted my offer.  And as it turned out, we didn’t need the tent.
A kiln was built and pots were made and sold, but we always had a big vegetable garden and one of the first things we did, was to plant fruit trees for the future.  Once we were a little more secure, I made pots and glazes from the raw materials that occurred in the landscape around us.  It took time to research and uncover all the potential of the local geology, but bit by bit, I found one material after another that I could use to replace a previously bought ingredient in my recipes.  These days we buy very little, but I do still buy some ingredients that are very hard to find, or make from what we have here to work with, like bentonite and alumina powder. Recently, I have even bought some plastic kaolin to add to my mixtures to make them a lot more potter friendly on the wheel.
Unlike young designers in the inner city, we are not interested in ‘The Look’ of things so much as the reality in total, their cost, both in money terms but in particular the cost to the environment, their carbon debt and their running costs. That is why we have chosen not to own a big car, an air conditioner, a microwave, a large plasma screen and other energy hungry appliances.  So we don’t have The Look, we have chosen not to buy into it.  We have a busy sustainable life which takes a lot of time and personal effort  to maintain.  We just don’t have enough time or energy to have a real job to pay for ‘The Look’.  We’ve ended up with the blisters, the gritty, real, sustainability part, but without ‘The Look’.  One very good outcome of all this DIY, is that we don’t have a mortgage and we can afford to live this small life.
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In the garden, the cauliflowers are in full flower just now, so we are finding ways to use them up. One of our long time favourites is to cut it into bit sized chunks and eat it raw dipped in aioli made from our own garlic, lemons, local organic eggs and locally produced olive oil. That’s an entrée that is worth waiting all year for. It’s just terrific, great flavours and textures. Almost a meal in itself.
AioliIMG_3915
1 egg
1 lemon
1 cup of olive oil
5 or 6 or 10 cloves of garlic, depending on size.
Chop up the garlic and add the egg, whip it up into a thick yellow frenzy with half of the oil and the lemon juice, lastly add the remaining oil and mix it into the emultion, add pepper to taste and a little salt if you like. I don’t. If your eggs are small, use less oil, or add a second egg.
At the end of the summer, we ended up with a silver beet ‘tree’ that grew on the edge of the garden path. It grew as tall as me and finally had to be held up with a tall wooden stake. It finally ripened its seeds and the wind blew them all over the garden. We now have loads of the green stemmed silver beet growing everywhere. I’ve been mowing it to keep it down to a manageabe amount. The Lovely transplanted a dozen or so seedlings into a bed, where they will be safe from my whipper snipper and garden chipper hoe.
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They grow so fast at this time of year, so we have to find ways eat it with out getting too bored. The usual way is to just scorch it in a fry pan and sweat it down to a small warm mass. I believe that it’s called ‘whilted’ spinach. What is nice about it is that it doesn’t involve any oil or even water, just some heat. We serve it with a little lemon juice or alternatively with a dash of white wine vinegar. It seems to go quite well with most things that we eat.
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Because these plants are so prolific just now we are constantly trying new ways to use it up. Not unlike the situation with zucchinis in the summer time.
It makes a lovely fresh side dish that is really quick to make and no washing up. just rinse the pan and it’s back up on the hook. A more substantial dinner at this time of year that is warm, satisfying and low fat is spinach and ricotta pie.
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Wilt the spinach, as above. You can make ricotta very easily from milk that is past it’s use-by date by heating it gently and adding some lemon juice to it. It will separate into curds and whey, drain off the whey and add the curds to the spinach and place into the pie crust, cap it off and add a little grated cheese and /or brush with the whey or milk to get a nice brown top.

We have completed 2 of our 5 wood firing, weekend workshops and had work shown in the Manly Regional Gallery and at Ivy Hill Gallery down the south coast to coincide with the International Wood firing Conference. I couldn’t afford the time to go for the whole thing, but managed to get down there for a couple of days. So now it’s back into the workshop to start throwing more work. I have shows coming up in Singapore and Taiwan in the next few months, so I need to get productive.
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The Lovely, catches my visage in the mirror, so that it shows my bald spot. It’s not a good look.  Its not ‘The Look’ either.
It’s just a look and that’s how I am. Best wishes from the thinning potter, and I don’t mean waistline, and his happy snapperJanine was given a really simple recipe for pastry from Marta Armarda, a ceramic artist from Spain, who was in residence at Sturt workshops in Mittagong.




Finally…..

28 05 2014

monbiotIt’s simple. If we can’t change our economic system, our number’s up

I’m probably breaking every copyright law under the Sun, but I could not let this article by George Monbiot go.  On the whole, I like George.  Maybe now he has finally seen the light, he may forego his love affair with nuclear power.  Time will tell……..  I like to think any regular reader of DTM won’t learn anything here, but this is surely Monbiot at his best.  Finally.

'The mother narrative to all this is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots.'

‘The mother narrative to all this is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots.’ Photograph: Alamy

Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham.

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.

To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues miraculously vanished, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained. But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.

It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, with the accessible reserves exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.

On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable, the Ecuadorean government decided to allow oil drilling in the heart of the Yasuni national park. It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as either blackmail or fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich. Why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills, will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America.

Almost 45% of the Yasuni national park is overlapped by oil concessions. Yasuni national park. Murray Cooper/Minden Pictures/Corbis The UK oil firm Soco is now hoping to penetrate Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo; one of the last strongholds of the mountain gorilla and the okapi, of chimpanzees and forest elephants. In Britain, where a possible 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil has just been identified in the south-east, the government fantasises about turning the leafy suburbs into a new Niger delta. To this end it’s changing the trespass laws to enable drilling without consent and offering lavish bribes to local people. These new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.

The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun. As the volume of the global economy expands, everywhere that contains something concentrated, unusual, precious, will be sought out and exploited, its resources extracted and dispersed, the world’s diverse and differentiated marvels reduced to the same grey stubble.

Some people try to solve the impossible equation with the myth of dematerialisation: the claim that as processes become more efficient and gadgets are miniaturised, we use, in aggregate, fewer materials. There is no sign that this is happening. Iron ore production has risen 180% in 10 years. The trade body Forest Industries tells us that “global paper consumption is at a record high level and it will continue to grow”. If, in the digital age, we won’t reduce even our consumption of paper, what hope is there for other commodities?

Look at the lives of the super-rich, who set the pace for global consumption. Are their yachts getting smaller? Their houses? Their artworks? Their purchase of rare woods, rare fish, rare stone? Those with the means buy ever bigger houses to store the growing stash of stuff they will not live long enough to use. By unremarked accretions, ever more of the surface of the planet is used to extract, manufacture and store things we don’t need. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that fantasies about colonising space – which tell us we can export our problems instead of solving them – have resurfaced.

As the philosopher Michael Rowan points out, the inevitabilities of compound growth mean that if last year’sthe predicted global growth rate for 2014 (3.1%) is sustained, even if we miraculously reduced the consumption of raw materials by 90%, we delay the inevitable by just 75 years. Efficiency solves nothing while growth continues.

The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result, they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle-class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.

Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.





Forget ‘saving the Earth’ – it’s an angry beast that we’ve awoken

28 05 2014

The Conversation

 

Clive Hamilton

Clive Hamilton

Article by Clive Hamilton, Vice Chancellor’s Chair, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE) at Charles Sturt University

Originally published here.

Extreme fire is part of life in places like San Diego, USA, pictured earlier this month. But local fire captain Richard Cordova says it’s “very odd for the month of May to have these types of fires”. Michael Nelson/EPA

Environmentalism is undergoing a radical transformation. New science has shown how long-held notions about trying to “save the planet” and preserve the life we have today no longer apply.

Instead, a growing chorus of senior scientists refer to the Earth with metaphors such as “the wakened giant” and “the ornery beast”, a planet that is “fighting back” and seeking “revenge”, and a new era of “angry summers” and “death spirals”.

Whether you consider yourself to be an environmentalist or not, the warnings from Earth system science have far-reaching implications for us all.

Nature fights back

In its early days, the science of ecology showed how easily complex ecosystems could be degraded and species obliterated. In 1962, by observing the damage to humans and nature caused by factories and industrial agriculture, Rachel Carson in Silent Spring presented nature as highly vulnerable to destruction by the power of synthetic chemicals.

The early view of nature as fragile, that is, easily disrupted and unable to repair itself, has been tempered somewhat by evidence that many ecosystems are more resilient and can adapt to new circumstances.

But whether fragile or robust, the Earth has been understood as unresponsive, neutral and essentially benign.

This understanding has various expressions, including “Mother Earth” as nurturing, feminine and easily damaged entity. The notion of living harmoniously with nature took hold, inspired by images of pre-industrial peoples living close to the natural world.

Underlying these conceptions is a view that, while humans can cause a great deal of damage, nature is passive and always our victim.

Yet now we see that the planet has been disturbed from its resting state, jolted out of the providential era of climatic stability characteristic of the last 10,000 years, and is now on a new and largely uncontrollable path that is creating conditions dangerous for human life.

Seeing the bigger picture

The rise of Earth system science – which has brought together many different fields of science so that we can better understand how the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and other systems work together – has changed the way we see the world.

Now, the Earth is understood as a dynamic system with strong feedback effects, which can suddenly shift it to a new state when critical points are crossed.

So profound has been the influence of humans that scientists have proposed that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene or the Age of Humans, defined by the fact that the “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system”.

NASA explains the basics of Earth systems science.

 

As Earth scientist James Syvitski writes:

At some point, we graduated from adapting to our environment to making it adapt to us … But now we regularly decelerate and accelerate natural processes, focus energy in extraordinary ways and alter, destroy or create ecosystems.

That means we must no longer see the Earth as the submissive repository for supplying our resources or taking our wastes, nor as the docile victim of our rapacity or carelessness.

This newer understanding of the Earth has been vividly expressed by palaeoclimatologist Wally Broecker:

The palaeoclimate record shouts out to us that, far from being self-stabilizing, the Earth’s climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts even to small nudges.

When the Earth is understood this way, the task of environmentalism can no longer be to “save” or preserve the planet, for the planet we wanted to save has already become something else. Our task now is to do what we can to pacify, or at least not aggravate further, something vastly more powerful than we are.

If we have wakened the slumbering beast by poking and prodding it, the prudent course is firstly to stop. But we cannot put it back to sleep.

There is no return to the peaceful conditions of the Holocene, at least not for thousands of years; but to provoke it further, as we still are, is foolishness on an epic scale.

Respect, not love

Yes, the Earth still demands our respect, but it is a respect founded on trepidation rather than love. If we are inclined to think of the planet as Gaia, we would do better to regard it not as the all-loving, all-nurturing Mother Earth of the romantics, but more like the half-crazed, bloodthirsty and vindictive goddess of the original Greek tales.

Some like French philosopher Michel Serres have argued we must negotiate a new contract with nature. Under the terms of this natural contract humanity would reject mastery “in favour of admiring attention, reciprocity, contemplation, and respect”. The contract would grant nature rights and make reparations.

Twenty years ago, that kind of thinking seemed to make sense. But today we must ask whether the Earth, roused from its slumber, is in any mood to sign a contract with us.

Earth system science now teaches us that the planet to which we might have hoped to graciously offer a peace deal – the receptive, predictable object of our exploitation and neglect – existed only in our imaginations.

The Earth does not want our love. Instead of talking restitution, would we perhaps be wiser to be preparing for retribution?

This article is based on a speech at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival.





The Cob Oven Saga

25 05 2014

Nine years ago, as I finally had the roof up on this place, it struck me as a good idea to build a cob oven, and use Glenda’s ******th birthday as an excuse to have a pizza party and celebrate the progress on the house.  I had several concrete blocks left over from the build, so I quickly knocked up a plinth outside the kitchen door (still non existent at the time, as is the back verandah an old photo reveals) high enough that the oven could be easily accessible from the kitchen……

plinth

Memory Lane

My friend Serge had built several such ovens, so I asked him for his expert assistance, and he and I began building the thing.  We got as far as making the first shell around the sand mould, when the weather unleashed the wettest June on record….  it just rained and rained and rained, and the oven ended up covered with a tarp well past the birthday; to boot, everything went wrong on the weekend of Glenda’s **th.  One of the rear tyres on my car self destructed, and I only made it back to Brisbane by the skin of my teeth.  Worse, the cooling system on Glenda’s car also gave up the ghost, and we had no car to go out with to celebrate the milestone.  Luckily, a friend of Glenda’s took pity on us and saved the situation.

I had a house to build, and no shortage of other things to do, so the oven was put on the backburner.  Eventually, the tarp disintegrated, and the whole thing collapsed in an ugly heap that eventually saw native bees nesting there, and moss and weeds growing all over it…….  I have to say, I have no idea where the nine years since went, but to say the mess was a bone of contention here is the understatement of the year!

cleanupHaving an Italian Pizza Chef as a Wwoofer inspired me to rebirth the project.  Plus of course, it’s Glenda’s birthday again soon, so now I have another deadline.  No pressure.  Watching how long it took the Wwoofer to just clean the whole thing up to reach this stage reminded me of why I just ignored it.  What a job!

Template

Template

Serge recently built himself another oven at his place in Gympie, and gave me some tips on best ways to modify the original all cob design.  It was decided to make a brick arch doorway to the oven instead of the original clay one.  I decided to make a full size drawing of the brick layout and use it to make templates… but who says things are meant to turn out as planned?

Cutting bricks

Cutting bricks

I bought a nine inch (230mm) diamond cutting wheel for my father in law’s old AEG angle grinder only to find it could only cut about ¾ of the way through the bricks.  Undeterred, I mounted the machine in a device I bought for peanuts at a garage sale designed to turn angle grinders into metal cut off saws.  Getting the cutting angle right in a device only designed to make 90° cuts was challenging to say the least, and time consuming.  After mucking around for what seemed like hours, I finally managed to shape a brick into a wedge shape that closely resembled the template I had cut from the drawing……. only to discover once I’d finished that you really only have to be one degree out over twenty four cuts, and…….  you’re out 24°!  There went my ambition of making perfect mortarless joins like the Romans…… or was it the Mayans?  One can always dream….!

Where's the keystone?

Where’s the keystone?

Having ground the wedges again to more closely resemble reality, I then decided to do a practice

Finished Arch

Finished Arch

run using cardboard wedges as temporary ‘mortar’.  I’ve seen brickies build arches in houses, so I had a pretty good idea of what was necessary, and made an arch support from two pieces of scrap plywood; only to realise once I could see the arch ‘in the flesh’ as it were that without a proper keystone, the arch might not be stable enough to support its own weight.  So back to the grinder it was and four bricks were cut into wide keystones (I only needed three, but as luck would have it, I stuffed one up!)

I have to say, I won’t miss this dusty part of the process.  Or the noise.  But it’s done.  The arch is self supporting, and all the gaps are bogged up using some of Glenda’s ceramics clay.  Don’t know how much it’ll shrink, but the arch will be finished with an added layer of thick cob on top, and that should hold it together nicely.

Watch this space.  next week, Alessandro the wwoofer and I are going to get stuck into making cob to finish it.

Continued here….