Is eating no meat actually doing more harm than good?

18 05 2017

I spend more time on the internet arguing wih vegetarians/vegans than any other group of people……  I so wish they would get off their high horses and start supporting farmers who do the right thing…. and that goes for all you meat eaters out there who buy meat from supermarkets….  STOP IT!!

This opinion piece was originally published by Farmdrop on 4th May 2017.


The younger generation are positively redefining the way we see ourselves in relation to food and the environment.

I grew up in the late 1960s and so I consider myself a bit of a hippy. That decade marked a fundamental mind-set shift in the way people saw themselves in relation to the world. At the time, it was difficult to pinpoint where these ideas came from; many of them simply seemed to come through intuition.

I mention this because, for the first time since the late 1960s, I feel like another shift in consciousness is occurring among the younger generation, particularly amongst so called ‘millennials’.

There is a new field of scientific study called epigenetics which shows that all living organisms constantly interact with their external environment and that these influences can prompt changes in gene expression which can be passed down through the generations. Plants, for example, have epigenetic responses to the environment they grow in, as a result of which a plant may have a subtle difference in its genotype from its parents. Even more interestingly, certain epigenetic traits can stay dormant for several generations, only to find full expression at a later time.

So I suspect that the changing shift in consciousness towards food production and sustainability may actually be partly epigenetic. Perhaps the radical energy of the 1960s is now finding expression among millennials, albeit in a slightly different way.

For these reasons, as an organic farmer of almost 45 years, I have never been more optimistic about the future of farming. However, I am growing increasingly concerned about the large number of people turning to diets that may not necessarily be either healthy or sustainable.

If we are to move to a genuinely sustainable food system, then I think we all need to become much better informed about the sustainability or otherwise of different food systems. Only then we will be better placed to challenge the huge amounts of misinformation on so-called sustainable diets which are encouraging people to avoid all meats and animal products, despite the reality that in many (if not most climates and regions) it is difficult to farm in a truly sustainable way without livestock.

What is the problem with food and farming?

It has become a cliché but it’s true: supermarket food is not cheap and comes at a heavy price. The industrial application of nitrogen fertiliser has contaminated our water systems and atmosphere with dangerous nitrates; the subsidised production of fructose corn syrup has driven an increase in obesity and diabetes; and the excessive use of antibiotics in animals has caused a resistance to these drugs amongst humans.

The real problem is that none of the costs of all this damage is charged to the people who use it and, on the other hand, the positive effects of sustainable farming are not supported.

The current policy framework supports a dishonest economic food pricing system, as a result of which, the best business case is for farmers to grow using industrial methods and for retailers to buy the commodity products from industrial farms, process the hell out of them, package them so the consumer knows nothing about their backstory and then make a profit by turning that around.

So we need new incentives and disincentives, which ensure that the polluter pays and those who farm in a truly sustainable way are better rewarded for the benefits they deliver.

But what are the most sustainable farming methods?

There is no doubt that agriculture and farming is one of the most significant contributor towards climate change. Cutting back on the biggest pollutant (man-made fossil fuels) is very important but to actually reverse climate change – take CO2 out of the atmosphere – then we need to change the way we farm, particularly in relation to the way we look after the soil.

This is because organic matter in the soil is a store of carbon, thereby mitigating harmful emissions in the atmosphere. Britain’s soils store around 10 billion tonnes of carbon, which is more than total annual global emissions of carbon dioxide. Moreover, high levels of organic matter are also the basis for soil fertility, releasing nutrients for healthy plant growth and ultimately food. In other words, the amount of organic matter present in the soil is essential, both for combating climate change and ultimately improving our health.

The problem is that industrial farming methods have depleted organic matter in the soils. In the East of England, around 84% of the land’s carbon rich soil has been lost and continues to disappear at a rate of 1 to 2cm per year. That represents an enormous amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

Sustainable food systems are therefore about much more than simply avoiding nasty chemicals and antibiotics, they are about building organic matter in the soil through crop rotation and mixed farming practices.

It is possible for farmers to reduce the emissions from agriculture by re-introducing rotations in the way they use their land – introducing a grass and clover phase that builds soil organic matter, which is then grazed by ruminant animals on rotation, who fertilise the soil further, and results in an ability to grow healthy crops.

According to the International Panel on Climate Change, it is estimated that 89% of all agricultural emissions can be mitigated by improving carbon levels in the soil.

How can you have the most healthy and sustainable diet?

Everyone, at least in principle, wants to eat a healthy and sustainable diet, but we are all very confused about how to do it. If you asked 10 people what the most sustainable and healthy way to eat was then you would probably get 10 different answers. A few might say vegetarian or vegan (the numbers eating a vegan diet has increased by 360% in the last decade) but I think that a large scale switch towards vegetarianism may not necessarily be compatible with sustainability.

In my opinion, many people have been led astray by bad science. The tools used by scientific researchers in the past, and whose published papers have prompted changes in people’s diets, were not based on sound science. It was said that red meat and animal fats should be avoided, both because they are unhealthy and because ruminant animals (cows and sheep) are largely responsible for harmful methane emissions.

But it turns out that neither of those positions are necessarily true.

The study that prompted Governments in Britain and the United States to recommend people to reduce their intake of fats was not based on solid evidence. It is this study that encouraged the food industry to replace fats with added sugars, and we are only now understanding the damage these do to our health.

And the studies that recommended a reduction in red meat consumption on grounds of reducing its environmental impact only look at certain factors in isolation rather than the whole food system. Land-use is often considered as bad in all instances, even though raising livestock is sometimes the only productive land use option available. In roughly two thirds of the UK’s agricultural land area is grass and the only way we can turn that into a good soil that stores carbon and grows healthy crops is to have ruminant animals grazing on a rotation system to fertilise the ground.

These flawed assumptions have had significant consequences for the way people eat. Beef production has halved since the 1980s and the consumption of lamb, arguably the most sustainable grass-fed meat for the land, has plummeted. While new evidence is now showing that animals fats are good for our health and cattle grazed in the right way can actually reduce carbon emissions by creating fertile soils.

Where do we go from here?

My message is simple: a healthy diet should work backwards from the most sustainable way to farm, and that ideally means eating the foods produced by mixed farms using crop rotations which include a fertility building phase, usually of grass and clover grazed by cows and sheep, but also pastured pigs and poultry.

Industrial farming has been an extractive industry. We have dined out on the natural capital of the soil that previous generations have laid down for us. We need to fix that because the environment in which a plant or animal is produced goes a long way to determine its nutrient value when consumed by humans.





How Do You Degrow an Economy, Without Causing Chaos?

16 05 2017

An article written by a Facebook friend of mine, Jonathan Rutherford, who is Coordinator of the New International Bookshop and a ‘Simpler Way’ activist. Originally published at the Resillience website.  The real challenge for those in charge is not ‘jobs and growth’, it is how to best manage the looming contraction……

‘Houston, we have a problem’. On the one hand, there is growing acceptance among environmentally conscious people that rich nations and affluent regions of the global economy must dramatically reduce overall resource and energy consumption levels – that is, undergo a process of ‘degrowth’ – if humanity is to bring about a sustainable world order. On the other hand, we have a growth economy that cannot go two steps in this direction without causing huge economic and social problems.

If you doubt the first part of this statement (i.e. the need for ‘degrowth’), consider just one metric – the material footprint (MF) indicator. This measures consumption of all natural resources (biomass, fossil fuels, metal ores and minerals) extracted from the environment. Humanity’s current MF is about 70 billion tonnes – a figure that has more than trebled since the 1970s. As we know, already this rate of consumption is generating waste, pollution and land-use change that are driving environmental problems such as global warming and species extinction. But now consider the fact that the per capita rich nation (i.e OECD) MF is about 30 tonnes. If the 9+ billion humans expected to be living on earth by 2050 rose to this level, we would need 270 billion tonnes per annum – that is, four times the present rate, which is unsustainable. Using similar figures in the 1990s Friedrich Schmidt Bleek estimated that rich nations need to make ‘factor 10’ reductions in overall resource use (renewable and non-renewable), if we are to move down to a globally fair share and at sustainable levels. And that estimate, it should be noted, does not factor in the likely increase in MF that, recent history suggests, will inevitably result from the continuous pursuit of economic growth by all nations, included the wealthiest.

Many people hope that we can make ‘factor 10’ reductions via technological advance and efficiency gains alone, without having to make cut overall rates of production, consumption (i.e. GDP). But, as argued in a recent peer reviewed article by Giorgos Kallis there are strong reasons to think that this will not be viable. Few want to admit it, but the kind of radical reductions we need to make will require GDP contraction i.e. de-growth.

But if we in the rich world need to degrow the economy, as it appears we do, how is that done without causing utter social chaos and breakdown?  The problem was recently illustrated in a series of articles run by the ABC. The first article highlighted the trend among some young Australians to adopt relatively frugal lifestyles of reduced income expenditure and increased savings. A follow up article, however, asked: what would happen to the economy if everyone did this? The answers were revealing, and implicitly revealed fundamental flaws in our existing economic system.

The article cited data which suggest every year Australians spend $955 billion on all forms of consumption. Of this about $416 billion (44%) is made up items such as ‘food, clothing, housing, utilities, health, transport, insurance’ which the article defined as ‘necessities’ (note: one, of course, may question whether i.e. all clothes consumption are truly ‘necessities’!). The other $523 billion was made up what the article defined as discretionary items. Economist, Saul Eslake pointed out that, even if we exclude from this discretionary figure the $100+ billion worth of imported goods & services, if  all Australian households ceased all the remaining discretionary spending, GDP would be immediately reduced by 25 per cent. But, as Eslake pointed out, the impact on the economy would eventually be far greater than this, due to knock-on effects. The reduced spending, for example, would result in firm bankruptcy and thus laid off workers which, in turn, would further reduce aggregate demand in a cycle of downward depression familiar to students of economic history.

But while all this is entirely correct, reducing societal consumption – degrowing the economy – need not necessarily result in chaotic economic breakdown, as the ABC article implicitly assumed. This is indeed an inevitable outcome within our present economic system, but possibly not others.

Our present system – both in Australia and now most of the world – is, of course, the capitalist market economy. This 500-year-old system has certain defining features that mark it out as unique compared to other economic systems humans have devised.  It is a system in which a) most (if not all) the major means of production are privately (these days corporately) owned by a small minority of the population; and b) where the fundamental economic problems (what, how, and for whom to produce) are solved “automatically”, through the price mechanism, rather than through conscious social decisions.

Importantly, for this discussion, the system is characterised by a growth compulsion. Due to competition, all firms – particularly large shareholder firms – are under constant pressure to invest in new techniques, methods of production and products, to improve competitiveness and their sales figures. If they fail to do this, they not only risk profits margins but also eventually being taken-over by other firms, or made bankrupt. Since no firm wants to perish, and since all must expand if they want to continue to exist, a general growth compulsion arises, not just for individual firms, but for the macro economy as whole. So, while almost everyone wants growth, it is also true that the system needs growth for its basic functioning.

In fact, the system cannot possibly tolerate even a slow-down in the rate of growth, let alone a contraction. Richard Smith points out that even when capitalism approaches a ‘steady state’ of zero GDP growth, such as what happened in the USA in the wake of the GFC, the outcome for society at large is ugly. The situation is characterised by “capital destruction, mass unemployment, devastated communities, growing poverty, foreclosures, homelessness and environmental considerations shunted aside in the all-out effort to restore growth.” Obviously, nobody wants this, including advocates of degrowth.

What then would be required to contract the economy, in an orderly and fair way? The influential ‘Steady-State’ theorist Herman Daly argues that we can do so, while retaining a basically capitalist system, on the condition that the state steps in to play a far more active regulatory role than at present. Among other policy suggestions, Daly proposes that the state impose escalating resource depletion quotes, that can be traded in a market, while retaining private enterprise and the market system.

An emerging school of eco-socialists argue, however, that this will not work. Saral Sarkar points out three flaws with Daly’s plan.

“1) The contraction of the economies of the world must occur in an orderly way. Otherwise there will be unbearable breakdowns of whole societies. An orderly contraction can only take place in a planned economy, not in a capitalist market economy. 2) Only a socialist political order can achieve, by means of egalitarian distribution of the costs and benefits, a broad acceptance of the necessary contraction, 3) Only in a planned socialist economy can the problem of unemployment be solved, which would otherwise become more and more acute in a contracting economy. To this end, a planned economy can consciously use labor-intensive technologies and methods, which, in addition, result in less use of resources.” (Sarkar, 2012, 325)

Let me just briefly elaborate on the first reason given by Sarkar (for greater detail see Sarkar 1999) – the idea that contracting the economy within a capitalist market system would result in chaotic breakdown. Sarkar points out that the famed ‘efficiency’ of the market system only works well (if at all) when there is a buyers’ market, leading to strong competition between suppliers to meet customer demand. But in a contractionary scenario, most markets would be ‘suppliers’ markets, as there would be, in general, a shortage of supply relative to demand. This would mean even poorly run, high cost firms would be able to survive. And, as with any market economy, you would still have a situation where increasingly scarce resources were tended to be allocated to meeting the money backed demands of the already wealthy, rather than to meeting the vital needs for all – a recipe for social chaos in a context of heightened scarcity.

For these reasons, and as unfashionable as it is today, Sarkar argues that a socialist economic framework will be necessary if we are to contract the economy in an orderly, peaceful and socially just way. This would involve a process in which the state nationalises and/or shuts down most large-scale firms in the economy and actively plans the process of contraction via mechanisms such as quantitative controls, price controls, a quota system etc. But what about smaller firms and co-ops, operating at the local level? Here, it is plausible that a quasi-market economy – albeit operating within a very different no-growth culture and firmly under social control –  would be viable. Another eco-socialist Richard Smith elaborates:

“In arguing for large-scale industrial planning, I’m not saying that we should nationalize family farms, farmers’ markets, artisans, groceries, bakeries, local restaurants, repair shops, workers’ cooperatives, and so on. Small producers aren’t destroying the world. But large-scale corporations are. If we want to save the planet, the corporations would have to be nationalized, socialized, and completely reorganized. Many will need to be closed down, others scaled back, others repurposed. But I don’t see any reason why small-scale, local, independent producers cannot carry on more or less as they are, within the framework of a larger planned economy.”

Eventually the goal will be to move to a situation in which most (if not all) people live and work within highly localised economies, using local resources to meet local needs. As Ted Trainer argues, this is not optional if we want to reduce our ecological footprint to sustainable one planet levels that all can share. Gladly, there is a case that the quality of life could be very high within such communities.

But herein lies a problem for the eco-socialist, and wider degrowth movement. Trainer points out that these new local communities will not work well unless they are based on the active participation and cooperation of most, if not all, ordinary citizens in the locality. This will be necessary to ensure that all are provided for and the economy works within local eco-system limits. Active and inclusive participation by all (or at least most), Trainer argues, is ‘the crucial prerequisite… that will be needed if ordinary citizens are to eventually run highly self-sufficient local communities well.’ Widespread civic participation and cooperation simply cannot be imposed ‘top-down’ via states, even if they wanted to. In any case, Trainer argues, only if movements for localism and simpler living emerge first, is there any chance of building the eventual political will that will make a process of societal degrowth at the national and global levels possible.

For this reason, we ‘Simpler Way’ advocates tend to see the eco-socialist state directed process described above as ‘only’ a final, albeit necessary, step in a long multi phased transition towards sustainability. The first (and hardest) phase of the revolution happens when ordinary citizens, not states or corporations, take it upon themselves to start building today, even in small ways, the new self-reliant economies in the towns and suburbs where they live.

Having said that, the above sets a parallel challenge for participants within existing localist movements such as Transition Towns, eco-village, permaculture, simpler living etc. For it is equally true that we will not make a successful transition to sustainability – and the new local communities and economies will not function well – unless participants within these movements become aware of, and begin advocating for, the eventual need for an orderly process of ‘de-growth’ – a process that, for reasons mentioned briefly above, is only likely to go well within an eco-socialist framework. Ultimately, unless both these local and national-global processors occur, will not make a successful transition to a sustainable society.

Of course, today, across the world we are miles away from the necessary political and cultural awareness needed for such a transition. It is likely that the coming oil crunch and global financial contraction will aid our cause and encourage more people to see the sense in localism and de-growth – but, until then, activists must doggedly go on raising awareness wherever they can. Even if it does not feel like it, every conversation counts!

Reference:

Saral Sarkar, Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices. London: Zed Books. 1999.





Blindspots and Superheroes

14 05 2017

I haven’t heard much from Nate Hagens in recent times, but when he does come out of the woodwork, his communications skills certainly come through….. We who follow the collapse of the world as we know it probably know most of what’s in this admirable presentation, but it is absolutely captivating, and you will learn something new, or see it in a different perspective. It’s an hour and twenty minutes long (I actually drove down town to use the library’s free wi-fi to download it, my mobile phone data allowance won’t stretch to a quarter Gig for one video!), so make yourself a cup of your favourite poison, and enjoy the show……

Nathan John Hagens is a former Wall Street analyst, turned college professor and systems-science advocate. Nate has an MBA with Honors from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Natural Resources/Energy from the University of Vermont. He is on the Boards of Post Carbon Institute, Institute for Integrated Economic Research, and Institute for the Study of Energy and our Future. He teaches a class at the University of Minnesota called “Reality 101 – A Survey of the Human Predicament”.

Nate, partnering with environmental strategist DJ White, has created the “Bottleneck Foundation”, a nonprofit initiative designed to help steer towards better human and ecological futures than would otherwise be attained. The “Bottlenecks” are the cultural, biological, and technological challenges which will arise as energy and terrestrial biomass begin their long fall back toward sustainable-flow baselines this century. The “Foundation” part of the name is a tip of the hat to Asimov’s “Foundation” series of novels, about an organization designed to mitigate the negative effects of societal simplification. BF is dedicated to making “synthesis science” accessible to a new generation of engaged people, through educational materials and projects which demonstrate that reality is a lot different from our culture currently thinks it is.





Life in a ‘degrowth’ economy, and why you might actually enjoy it

23 04 2017

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Time to get off the economic growth train?
Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

Samuel Alexander, University of Melbourne

What does genuine economic progress look like? The orthodox answer is that a bigger economy is always better, but this idea is increasingly strained by the knowledge that, on a finite planet, the economy can’t grow for ever. The Conversation

This week’s Addicted to Growth conference in Sydney is exploring how to move beyond growth economics and towards a “steady-state” economy.

But what is a steady-state economy? Why it is it desirable or necessary? And what would it be like to live in?

The global predicament

We used to live on a planet that was relatively empty of humans; today it is full to overflowing, with more people consuming more resources. We would need one and a half Earths to sustain the existing economy into the future. Every year this ecological overshoot continues, the foundations of our existence, and that of other species, are undermined.

At the same time, there are great multitudes around the world who are, by any humane standard, under-consuming, and the humanitarian challenge of eliminating global poverty is likely to increase the burden on ecosystems still further.

Meanwhile the population is set to hit 11 billion this century. Despite this, the richest nations still seek to grow their economies without apparent limit.

Like a snake eating its own tail, our growth-orientated civilisation suffers from the delusion that there are no environmental limits to growth. But rethinking growth in an age of limits cannot be avoided. The only question is whether it will be by design or disaster.

Degrowth to a steady-state economy

The idea of the steady-state economy presents us with an alternative. This term is somewhat misleading, however, because it suggests that we simply need to maintain the size of the existing economy and stop seeking further growth.

But given the extent of ecological overshoot – and bearing in mind that the poorest nations still need some room to develop their economies and allow the poorest billions to attain a dignified level of existence – the transition will require the richest nations to downscale radically their resource and energy demands.

This realisation has given rise to calls for economic “degrowth”. To be distinguished from recession, degrowth means a phase of planned and equitable economic contraction in the richest nations, eventually reaching a steady state that operates within Earth’s biophysical limits.

In a world of 7.2 billion and counting, we need to think hard about our fair share.
Karpov Oleg/Shutterstock

At this point, mainstream economists will accuse degrowth advocates of misunderstanding the potential of technology, markets, and efficiency gains to “decouple” economic growth from environmental impact. But there is no misunderstanding here. Everyone knows that we could produce and consume more efficiently than we do today. The problem is that efficiency without sufficiency is lost.

Despite decades of extraordinary technological advancement and huge efficiency improvements, the energy and resource demands of the global economy are still increasing. This is because within a growth-orientated economy, efficiency gains tend to be reinvested in more consumption and more growth, rather than in reducing impact.

This is the defining, critical flaw in growth economics: the false assumption that all economies across the globe can continue growing while radically reducing environmental impact to a sustainable level. The extent of decoupling required is simply too great. As we try unsuccessfully to “green” capitalism, we see the face of Gaia vanishing.

The very lifestyles that were once considered the definition of success are now proving to be our greatest failure. Attempting to universalise affluence would be catastrophic. There is absolutely no way that today’s 7.2 billion people could live the Western way of life, let alone the 11 billion expected in the future. Genuine progress now lies beyond growth. Tinkering around the edges of capitalism will not cut it.

We need an alternative.

Enough for everyone, forever

When one first hears calls for degrowth, it is easy to think that this new economic vision must be about hardship and deprivation; that it means going back to the stone age, resigning ourselves to a stagnant culture, or being anti-progress. Not so.

Degrowth would liberate us from the burden of pursuing material excess. We simply don’t need so much stuff – certainly not if it comes at the cost of planetary health, social justice, and personal well-being. Consumerism is a gross failure of imagination, a debilitating addiction that degrades nature and doesn’t even satisfy the universal human craving for meaning.

Do we really need to buy all this stuff anyway?
Radu Bercan/Shutterstock

Degrowth, by contrast, would involve embracing what has been termed the “simpler way” – producing and consuming less.

This would be a way of life based on modest material and energy needs but nevertheless rich in other dimensions – a life of frugal abundance. It is about creating an economy based on sufficiency, knowing how much is enough to live well, and discovering that enough is plenty.

The lifestyle implications of degrowth and sufficiency are far more radical than the “light green” forms of sustainable consumption that are widely discussed today. Turning off the lights, taking shorter showers, and recycling are all necessary parts of what sustainability will require of us, but these measures are far from enough.

But this does not mean we must live a life of painful sacrifice. Most of our basic needs can be met in quite simple and low-impact ways, while maintaining a high quality of life.

What would life be like in a degrowth society?

In a degrowth society we would aspire to localise our economies as far and as appropriately as possible. This would assist with reducing carbon-intensive global trade, while also building resilience in the face of an uncertain and turbulent future.

Through forms of direct or participatory democracy we would organise our economies to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met, and then redirect our energies away from economic expansion. This would be a relatively low-energy mode of living that ran primarily on renewable energy systems.

Renewable energy cannot sustain an energy-intensive global society of high-end consumers. A degrowth society embraces the necessity of “energy descent”, turning our energy crises into an opportunity for civilisational renewal.

We would tend to reduce our working hours in the formal economy in exchange for more home-production and leisure. We would have less income, but more freedom. Thus, in our simplicity, we would be rich.

Wherever possible, we would grow our own organic food, water our gardens with water tanks, and turn our neighbourhoods into edible landscapes as the Cubans have done in Havana. As my friend Adam Grubb so delightfully declares, we should “eat the suburbs”, while supplementing urban agriculture with food from local farmers’ markets.

Community gardens, like this one in San Francisco, can help achieve sufficiency.
Kevin Krejci/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

We do not need to purchase so many new clothes. Let us mend or exchange the clothes we have, buy second-hand, or make our own. In a degrowth society, the fashion and marketing industries would quickly wither away. A new aesthetic of sufficiency would develop, where we creatively re-use and refashion the vast existing stock of clothing and materials, and explore less impactful ways of producing new clothes.

We would become radical recyclers and do-it-yourself experts. This would partly be driven by the fact that we would simply be living in an era of relative scarcity, with reduced discretionary income.

But human beings find creative projects fulfilling, and the challenge of building the new world within the shell of the old promises to be immensely meaningful, even if it will also entail times of trial. The apparent scarcity of goods can also be greatly reduced by scaling up the sharing economy, which would also enrich our communities.

One day, we might even live in cob houses that we build ourselves, but over the next few critical decades the fact is that most of us will be living within the poorly designed urban infrastructure that already exists. We are hardly going to knock it all down and start again. Instead, we must ‘retrofit the suburbs’, as leading permaculturalist David Holmgren argues. This would involve doing everything we can to make our homes more energy-efficient, more productive, and probably more densely inhabited.

This is not the eco-future that we are shown in glossy design magazines featuring million-dollar “green homes” that are prohibitively expensive.

Degrowth offers a more humble – and I would say more realistic – vision of a sustainable future.

Making the change

A degrowth transition to a steady-state economy could happen in a variety of ways. But the nature of this alternative vision suggests that the changes will need to be driven from the “bottom up”, rather than imposed from the “top down”.

What I have written above highlights a few of the personal and household aspects of a degrowth society based on sufficiency (for much more detail, see here and here). Meanwhile, the ‘transition towns’ movement shows how whole communities can engage with the idea.

But it is critical to acknowledge the social and structural constraints that currently make it much more difficult than it needs to be to adopt a lifestyle of sustainable consumption. For example, it is hard to drive less in the absence of safe bike lanes and good public transport; it is hard find a work-life balance if access to basic housing burdens us with excessive debt; and it is hard to re-imagine the good life if we are constantly bombarded with advertisements insisting that “nice stuff” is the key to happiness.

Actions at the personal and household levels will never be enough, on their own, to achieve a steady-state economy. We need to create new, post-capitalist structures and systems that promote, rather than inhibit, the simpler way of life. These wider changes will never emerge, however, until we have a culture that demands them. So first and foremost, the revolution that is needed is a revolution in consciousness.

I do not present these ideas under the illusion that they will be readily accepted. The ideology of growth clearly has a firm grip on our society and beyond. Rather, I hold up degrowth up as the most coherent framework for understanding the global predicament and signifying the only desirable way out of it.

The alternative is to consume ourselves to death under the false banner of “green growth”, which would not be smart economics.

Samuel Alexander, Research fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.





The Cob Oven saga revisited……

4 04 2017

Sometimes, life’s twists and turns really surprise me…  A few days after his arrival, I was showing my Sicilian wwoofer pictures of Mon Abri, and specifically the cob oven another Italian wwoofer and I built there, almost three years ago now…… To my amazement, Vincent enthusiastically exclaimed he wanted to build one here too! Now, I had planned to build one, but where the house will be built, and not until it was built…… Discussing it further with Glenda, however, encouraged me to take the bull by the horns and try again…

I did say at the time that I was looking forward to putting the gained experience into building another slightly larger one in Tasmania when we finally get there…. just not this soon. My last effort was built on a one metre square block base, and this was the limiting factor for its size. It was adequate, but a slightly larger size would have been better. So what to build the base with for this one?

Digging up the house site revealed dozens of large to very large Dolerite floaters, the rock that gives the local clay its characteristic ochre colour. Of course they are all at the house site, a good 350 metres from where the new oven would go near the shed. And I needed sand, and bricks, and……… loads of hard work.  Good thing Vincent is young and fit and energetic… it was after all his idea…!

20170326_143117It was decided to build a 1.2m diameter base with rocks from the house site. Vincent and I managed to lift most of them onto the ute, but two of them were totally out of the question, with one I now realise that must have weighed close on 300kg…! They were chained up, and dragged with the trusty 4WD, very slowly in low range first gear. The biggest of the two was actually shaking the car as it was dragged along, and as it turned out to be the second big rock, it had to be lifted on top of the first one….

We tried levering it with crowbars and ramps, to no avail. It was one big heavy sucker..! Then I came up with the idea that if we could get it at least upright, we might be able to push it atop the first one with the ute’s towbar by reversing against it. trouble was, the 2WD was just wheel spinning, while the 4WD’s towbar was too high and just slipped above the rock, even lifting the two rear wheels clean off the ground…. until I came up with the idea of removing the tongue off the car, and putting it back in upside down!

To Vincent’s amazement, it worked…. he had given up all hope, I could tell. One good 20170328_101515thing about getting older is that you’ve solved lots of problems over your life, and this was just another problem solving issue…… I told Vincent that if the Egyptians could build pyramids, we could build a pizza oven base!

As you can see from the pics, these stones are very round, and not exactly ideal for building something that should resemble a dry wall. That we managed to get as good a result as we did was actually pretty amazing. The top wasn’t level of course, so it was capped with a concrete wedge platform, that also held all the rocks on top together. I don’t think they’re going anywhere soon…..

Related image

Steve Harrison’s Bourry Box

While all this was going on, I’d been searching for bricks, and even found ‘free’ ones in Geeveston on Gumtree. But the woman getting rid of her bricks gave me the run around re picking them up for days, and while searching for more, I actually hit the jackpot, finding 600 refractory bricks for $1.50 each. I wasn’t keen on spending that much money, but I had seen brand new fire bricks in Hobart for $6.95 each, and as we are planning to build Glenda a Bourry Box wood fired kiln in the future that will require way more than 600 bricks, we decided to not look a gift horse in the mouth, and bought them.

When you load things like bricks, one or two or three at a time on a ute, you don’t really think about the weight of it all…. I assumed they weighed in at maybe 2kg each, so 600 would be under the vehicle’s load limit of 1.3 tonnes. As it was, there weren’t 600 there, only 530. As we drove off, the car was making horrible scraping sounds that made me think “oops….. maybe we overdid it?” I hadn’t checked the tyre pressures before loading, which is something I normally always do… the mudflaps were scraping on the road, and the tyres we bulging ominously. I drove the 10km to Huonville very slowly, and at the first garage put a pressure gauge on the tyres, only to discover they were not that far 20170330_183738down; even at the maximum recommended 65psi, they were still bulging. Feeling really bad about this didn’t help either it turns out…. so we just kept going, covering the next 25km home, very slowly, without blowing a tyre, which was my greatest concern.

When we got home, I weighed one brick, and it turned out to be 3.5kg……. Ute one had just carried 1.8 tonnes of bricks 35km! Tough old thing is all I can say. And I think we were lucky too…..

I then basically went about rebuilding the last oven, only with a base 700mm in diameter20170402_134034 instead of 600. It doesn’t sound like much difference, but never forget volumes are in dimensions cubed, and even 10% bigger equals 33% larger volume, which pretty well means 33% more of everything, like clay and sand! Miraculously, just enough of the bricks I bought had already been shaped as wedges; they weren’t perfectly sized, but they would do, and I could skip the ugly brick cutting exercise except for the three keystones.

One thing I did differently this time was cementing the bricks together rather than use cob. Using cob made the last arch way too wobbly, cement made it stiff as a Roman arch.

20170403_081107Vincent, being the typical young, enthusiastic, and impatient young man he was assured me when we started we could finish the whole thing before he left……. I couldn’t stop laughing! The last one took me nine years I reminded him, and we’ve already lost two days waiting for free bricks. Just picking up the fire bricks took half a day, and a couple of hours to unload them… Nothing ever goes according to plan, there’s no need to get impatient over this….

But you have to give it to him, on his last day, when he was catching the 10 o’clock bus to Hobart, he got up at 6AM to help me make the sand mould. We even used up what cob was left to reach one third the way up said mould. At 9AM, he quit, and got himself ready for the rest of his life, but he left having learned quite a bit more than he had anticipated I think. I just love teaching young people these skills…..

So far so good, the first layer of cob is on, and cracking as it should in readiness for keying in the second layer. We’re supposed to have a dry week now, and if all things go well, I may even have it finished before my appointment with the digger that will excavate the house footings on Easter Saturday….

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So far so good……..





Second Cider Season

4 04 2017

It’s hard to believe I’m on my second apple harvest…. nor can I believe how different this year’s is from last. I guess having a record dry winter followed by a record wet one should be a clue, but I was never expecting a total loss from the Pink Lady crop…

fareast2Seeing Matt next door harvesting apples, and having this keen as mustard Sicilian wwoofer chomping at the bit to get things done here, I decided to drive the 4WD over to the ‘Far East’, where last year I had my very best apples, all borne out of total neglect. I only seem to go there once a year to pick apples!

Having the 4WD this year meant I was able to reverse down the steepest bit of land on fareastthe block all the way to the bottom, knowing I’d be able to drive back out again. I didn’t do this last year because I had zero confidence I would be able to get back up the hill with a 2WD ute, and as a result, those apples were never harvested…. it’s a long uphill slog when you’re carrying maybe 30 or 40kg of apples.

With all the winter rain we’ve had, the Blackberries have been doing overtime, and picking apples down there literally means drawing blood..! But the Fannies were just amazing, by far the best ones on the whole property.

Vincent (the wwoofer) who surprised me with his knowledge of horticultural issues was pondering why this is so, but we’ll never know I guess. It’s just amazing how these apples were almost not affected with black spot – a normal by product of wet conditions which absolutely everyone down here is complaining about – nor the dreaded coddling moths. Maybe it’s the soil, maybe it’s the better drainage from the steepness (though Matt reckons he has the same problems up the back of his block, and it’s even steeper) maybe it’s even the presence of so much Blackberry? Black spot is after all the result of monoculture….

Most Pink Lady trees didn’t even have apples on them, and those that did….. well look for yourself and see the total disaster…..

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…. and the Pink Ladies was staggering…

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The difference between the Geeveston Fannies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because Matt’s crop is also badly affected – he said to me that one single black spot equals 100% infection – he’s decided to go into juice production for selling at markets. So we 20170401_120022struck a deal. We would juice our apples for cider, in exchange for roughly half a bin of apples. Which is all I had to give him anyway! Black spot may affect the appearance of the apples for shops, but they are just as nice to eat, skin and all, especially when you know they’ve never been sprayed with poisons! It’s simply amazing how people will buy poisoned apples that look perfect, but not organic poison free imperfect apples that are just delicious…… and of course black spot is invisible in apple juice!20170401_120414

So the following weekend, we drove the 450kg of apples we’d collected next door, and started juicing

Fanny juice has this amazing golden glow to it, and it’s the nicest apple juice you’re ever likely to taste…… because you won’t find any anywhere in the shops for starters! It’s such a pity that in the fermenting process, all that colour disappears from the resulting cider.

Vincent and I went home with 120 litres of juice in fermenters, which should last me until next year’s harvest, as I’m still drinking last season’s cider. And very nice it has turned out too.

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It’s official……………

8 03 2017

I am now an old fart.

Yesterday, I turned 65 (will she still love me…?) and am now officially a pensioner. To celebrate, I did the unthinkable, flying over 2,500 km to join my family and friends in Queensland who all wanted to see me. Love miles George Monbiot calls them……. not only that, we also drove more than 300km in Glenda’s little car, though it would have only burned 15 litres of petrol doing so. I’m over feeling guilty over my travels now ; whatever I do (or don’t do) will not make one iota of difference to the outcomes of western civilisation…..

If ever I needed reminding of why I will never return to the big island, the weather while I was burning all those fossil fuels was downright awful. Maybe it’s because I am getting old, or maybe it’s due to climate change, but I could not remember the heat being as oppressive as it was……. as I type, in Geeveston, it’s 21 degrees (C of course…) and I have my shirt off……. after harvesting in the market garden, more later.

Everyone I spoke too was mumbling through the thick air about the oppressive heat, and the lack of rain…… worst summer in living memory, etc etc etc………… in the end, I spent most of the time eating, drinking, sweating (when not in airconditioning) or traveling by oil powered transport. Now I’m back, I have to wear off the pounds I put on in just three days!

Glenda and I made the time to see Bruce at Mt Glorious. Where too it was hot….. Mt Glorious? For Pete’s sake, it’s 600m above sea level..?

There’s never enough time to talk to Bruce. Like me, he is short of people he can have an actual conversation that makes sense with, and after just three hours, we had to go back down the mountain to the pea soup.

Bruce related a story to me that relates highly to an article I recently published about PV’s negative ERoEI. It goes something like this……:

His in-laws, who live off the grid near Stanthorpe in Queensland, had a pretty good 20 year old 24V battery bank charged with an array of 12V solar panels. It worked just fine, until the lady of the house decided to replace the fridge, and voila, the system could not cope. So she contacted the company who installed the original system to upgrade it. “But everything’s changed now” she was told…… you will have to replace the whole lot…. nonsense said Bruce (as I said when he was telling me what happened). 12V modules are a thing of the past now, unless you’re willing to pay for ‘camping’ versions of these things that cost ten times as much per Watt as the ‘conventional’ gear being screwed to everyone’s roofs these days…… talk about an expensive fridge.

The company involved could not be bothered to tinker with the system, they reckoned the batteries and associated inverter and charging gear were too old and not worth the effort. So off it all came, now replaced with the latest stuff, including the ridiculous use of a grid tied inverter needing to be hooked up to an ‘island’ bit of gear to make it work as a standalone inverter. And at 20 years old, all that stuff was right on the verge of paying itself off in energy return, but now it’s a pile of waste with a negative ERoEI. Bruce has the panels, but I suspect he doesn’t need them, though they could be good backup for his old system should anything go wrong with it……….

The other interesting thing that happened to me was on the flight up…… I just happened to sit next to this Canadian, who, after some banter, it was discovered knew all about peak oil and ‘the end of capitalism’. Maybe there are more and more people ‘getting it’ these days.

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Steak from the neighbours, mashed potatoes with parsley and garlic from the garden, plus home grown beans – all washed down with home brewed cider made with apples from trees I can see from here…

Back to reality. I was a tad concerned about leaving my garden unattended, particularly not being watered in this warm weather, but I need not have worried, it seems to have thrived on neglect! This morning I harvested 7.3kg of tomatoes, 9.6kg of snow peas (!) and a 3kg zucchini that was as long as my arm…… a zuccini that big is not salable, so I chopped it up for the chooks. Waste nothing (unlike solar power companies).

I’m actually starting to feel like I’m living in abundance, at least for the time being. I ate a watermelon from the poly tunnel before leaving for Qld, and this morning I got stuck into a delicious rockmelon. I’ve been making blackberry jam, and there’s such a glut of berries now, I will be making more for the next couple of weeks…. and just before leaving, I bought half a pig from my neighbour, and is it soooo delicious……. Eat your heart out Queenslanders……