On future proof building……

9 10 2018

I’m quite a fan of the English TV show Grand Designs, and Kevin McCloud in kevin.jpgparticular. The key word in the show’s title is of course ‘grand’, and many – if not most – of the projects irritate me no end, but as an owner builder from way back, not only do I relate to these people, the show has taught me a trick or two…… my gripe remains, why oh why do they all feel the need to build such ginormous houses, often for just two people to rattle around in?

The Australian version, now showing on ABC TV some 8 or 9 years after screening on pay TV which I refuse to pay for, is not as good as the pommy version, the presenter I find lacking in Kevin’s unique personality….. but I digress.

My reason for this introduction is that the last episode was about an earth covered house in Victoria built by a couple whose home was destroyed in the 2010 bushfires. Never wanting to go through that again – surprise surprise – they decided to move to the only place that didn’t burn to the ground and where the few livestock that survived had escaped to…. right next to their big dam!

steels creek

By that stage, the similarities between this project and ours was starting to amaze me, but it gets even better, because they too experienced stuff ups with concrete deliveries, bad weather, and lo and behold, they even have an AGA in the kitchen….

Weirdly, the presenter whose name I haven’t bothered to store in my memory banks expresses disbelief that anyone would make safety their top priority in building their new home. Is he for real? Yes I am biased, but clearly this construction method is the only way to go – even if needing to go a lot smaller in this case – and as climate change unravels, it’s getting more and more important to consider future conditions. As the show unwinds and the weather throws everything at these poor owner builders, the lady half of the couple even says that as time goes by, she gets more convinced than ever that their decision is the best they can do…. If you are that way inclined, the 48 minute show can be viewed here for free…..

IMG_20180914_133934Since Caleb assisted me with raising the central post and beams, I am pleased to announce that I have been making quite amazing progress on my own, and it’s all going up much faster than I had anticipated.

The ridge beam that will support the hip roof over what I call the pointy bit had to go in first to brace the central post and allow me to remove all precautionary (and probably un-necessary) ropes attached to the fourbie ute; my first attempt at trimming the post to the required height turned out a bit hairy, as it was windier than I had realised, and a 50km/h gust required me to brace myself on the 5kg Makita saw which it didn’t like, kicking back and nearly throwing me off the plank onto the concrete 3 metres below……. I might be exaggerating, but that’s how it felt at the time! The job was eventually done on a nice windless day…..

The stud wall frame at the front of the house had to go up before any roofing members could be added on, and it all involved doing lots of preparatory work like anchoring rafter bearers to the top course of blocks, and cutting checks in the beams and a mortise in the post.IMG_20181001_121230

I’m using time-consuming traditional methods that few builders, if any, would use today, or that could be afforded by your average owner if they could not do it themselves.

I’ve now learned to sharpen my chisel so well I could shave with it if I was that way inclined…… and just as well, because it’s getting a lot of use. That central mortise was very important, because every other rafter has to be an exact 1200mm from it so that the plywood sheets that will eventually make the ceiling can go up without needing any cutting whatsoever.

IMG_20180924_133517Some of those sheets will join up atop the internal block walls, which I found to be almost perfectly aligned with what’s on the drawings; quite a task because getting concrete exactly right is a bit of an art form; I learned all the mistakes when I built my last house in Queensland, and I was not going to repeat them if it was at all possible……

The other important reason for correctly aligned walls is that the mostly cosmetic short rafters joining the back wall to them had to also be in the right place. The end blocks had been left empty for the top 200mm or so, and I cut a slot wide enough for the rafter to go in, and once in place the void was filled with concrete, anchoring the mini rafter in place.

It’s really cool coming up with all these concepts in one’s head, and finally seeing them come to fruition in reality……

The next step will be putting the roof on, giving me a nice big platform to work from to build the hip roof frame.

It’s even really starting to look like a house……

The only things holding me back right now are a wedding in Queensland, and the almost certain funeral for my mother in law that will occur within days or weeks…. such is life I’m afraid, we just have to steer down that road without falling in ditches…. eventually, we all reach the end of the road.

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Panoramic picture window in the kitchen

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The large gap at right will be filled with five bi-fold doors

The other momentous event this week was that the sawmill was finally taken away. After two and a half years in residency here, it almost came as a shock. But it finally allowed me to install a gate where the entrance to the milling area was so that I can finally get my own cattle to rotate through the four one acre paddocks that constitute the far east of the Fanny Farm. I’m practicing with Matt and Coreen’s cows at the moment.

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Bye bye sawmill……..

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….hello moo cows!





Are NEW Chinese buildings really FALLING DOWN?

16 07 2018

Years ago, I remember hearing Nicole Foss saying that those Chinese ghost towns we have all heard about were never built to last; they were built to be finished so the builders could get paid by the government, and to hell with durability……

Well you would not believe how bad it actually is……  and to think that China consumed more cement over a recent three year period than the US consumed during the entire 20th century, for results like this, is simply appalling…. and it’s fast looking like it was all wasted.

ChineseCementDemand2011-2013

Australia’s economy utterly relies on China’s, and China’s is not looking too good now, especially after you watch the video below……. Nicole wrote this way back in 2011..:

Vulnerable Commodity Exporters

Commodity exporting nations, which were insulated from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis by virtue of their ability to export into a huge commodity boom, are indeed feeling the impact of the trend change in commodity prices. All are uniquely vulnerable now. Not only are their export earnings falling and their currencies weakening substantially, but they and their industries had typically invested heavily in their own productive capacity, often with borrowed money. These leveraged investments now represent a substantial risk during this next phase of financial crisis. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, are all experiencing difficulties:

Known as the Kiwi, Aussie, and Loonie, respectively, all three have tumbled to six-year lows in recent sessions, with year-to-date losses of 10-15%. “Despite the fact that they have already fallen a long way, we expect them to weaken further,” said Capital Economists in a recent note. The three nations are large producers of commodities: energy is Canada’s top export, iron ore for Australia and dairy for New Zealand. Prices for all three commodities have declined significantly over the past year, worsening each country’s terms of trade and causing major currency adjustments.

China – Not Just Another BRIC in the Wall

More than anything, the story of both the phantom recovery and the blow-off phase of the commodity boom, has been a story of China. The Chinese boom has quite simply been an unprecedented blow-out the like of which the world has never seen before:

China has, for years now, become the engine of global growth. Its building sprees have kept afloat thousands of mines, its consumers have poured billions into the pockets of car manufacturers around the world, and its flush state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have become de facto bankers for energy, agricultural and other development in just about every country. China holds more U.S. Treasuries than any other nation outside the U.S. itself. It uses 46% of the world’s steel and 47% of the world’s copper. By 2010, its import- and export-oriented banks had surpassed the World Bank in lending to developed countries. In 2013, Chinese companies made $90-billion (U.S.) in non-financial overseas investments.

If China catches a cold, the rest of the world won’t be sneezing – it will be headed for the emergency room.

There’s more to read about this on the Automatic Earth here….. an old article, but more relevant than ever.





Building soil on the Fanny Farm

18 12 2016

With the new chicken pen finished, and at least half the new market garden finished – the other half is awaiting the moving of a huge pile of soil 30 to 40 metres away to fill in more furrows between existing windrows – the time had come to prepare the first area for production. Everything takes time, not least this project…….

The green manure I planted there soon after the house site excavations were finished was starting to go to seed, and looked promisingly ready for ploughing in… so I slashed it with my trusty Honda brushcutter. This machine is part of the ‘use fossil fuels while you still trimmerheadcan’ strategy…. after literally burning through two plastic auto string feeding heads for it, I replaced them with an alloy fixed string device that is proving way superior. With wet grass now a metre high, and uneven ground left over from the orchard heydays, mowing is very difficult, and this machine has been priceless, working long hours on 98 octane fuel. Because it’s four stroke, it starts first time every time too!

gardengreenmanureOnce slashed, the rotary hoe I bought last year was started again, and the grass clippings and green manure was laboriously ploughed into the soil. The plan is to eventually not disturb the soil ever again, but after years of cattle roaming all over it, me driving utes over that section of grass, and lately the excavator, the ground needed to be de-compacted…

I then added lime for Calcium (most Australian soils are Calcium deficient) and a starting point for rectifying the soil pH. No doubt further pH testing will be required later until I’ve got that right……gardencompost

A tonne of compost bought locally was then unloaded off the back of the ute by my better half, and the whole lot was rotary hoed again to get it all thoroughly mixed in.

The chickens were then allowed in to start scratching around and adding their bit to the soil. I need lots more chickens before this system starts working properly, but like I said, everything takes time…… we have one clucky chook sitting on a dozen eggs at the moment, so there are more on the way, and I am trying to source some meat chicks, because they are very good at tractoring soil.

The main pipe between the pump and the cube atop the power station was then cut, a T piece inserted, and a a one inch riser installed for access to water from our wonderful dam…..

gardenwaterCharlotte and Fanny might be back soon, and they will be able to see the progress since they left. Nothing will be planted there for a while, as it will take some time for all that new soil biomass to settle in. We’re getting there though……. and I will have another couple of French wwoofers here in February for some more action.

gardenchickens





Eye opening comment from an independent Council Alderman

16 09 2014

This most interesting blog article from a Hobart City Council Alderman, Eva Ruzicka, explains why Council rates never go down, and how growth and, more to the point, incremental growth in the complexity of how governments at all levels no longer has any choice on how to run its day to day affairs, due to ever more stupid and unsustainable regulations.

If you ever needed more proof that we have to live more simply so we may simply live…….  look no further.

And the other big question on the election trail….

Alderman Eva Ruzicka

Alderman Eva Ruzicka

If there is one thing that people get feisty about, it’s the rates bill. Why is it so high? Why does it never go down? And why do people try to get elected by saying they’ll vote for lower rates and then we never hear from them again once they’re occupying the comfy chairs around the Council table?

I’m tempted to answer that you’re living in a Western capitalist economy predicated on growth and if you want the benefits you’ll have put up with paradigm of exponential increase. But I suspect that won’t win much in the way of plaudits, and it is a bit politically philosophical when you’re trying to put bread on the table and pay off the mortgage.

What I can say is that historically, things might have been different if we’d elected accountants, rather than politicians. When elected people have avoided increasing rates or increased municipal debt, later generations have had to stump up.

And this is the nub of it. You have to go back to where it all started, and for this, have a look at the history books. Tasmania (or Van Diemen’s Land as it was then) wasn’t settled for any economic reasons. It was settled to stop the French from taking possession.

So there wasn’t any business case for the English government of the day to fund the prison camp from the Colonial Chest – other than just barely meeting the costs of running a dumping ground for the surplus population who tried to make a living any way they could outside the punitive property laws of the day.

When word got out the island was highly suitable for farming and grazing, we had all sorts coming here to make a fortune by taking up the land from the Palawa/Pakana by force, and being subsidised with free land and convict labour.

And when the Napoleonic Wars were finally ceased, guess what? England did the usual trick of saying, stand on your own two feet, we can’t afford to subsidise you anymore. So when Tasmania the colony did in 1856, it then got successive colonial governments that were excellent at running up large debts with overseas banks, but useless at providing the services a growing population demanded. Let a form of local government do it, they said.

And local government did.

Albeit very reluctantly, because while the carrot of local control (for which read those land owners and magistrates who got to impose their ideas of moral behaviour on the free, convict and ex-convict population) was tempting, no money came with it. Sound familiar?

(Cost-shifting is a time-honoured practice where central and local governments are concerned. Local government get the responsibility to provide the services that everyone expects central government to do, but bad luck bunnies, you’ll also have to find the funds. Don’t get me started on this today – perhaps another post another time.)

Nonetheless, by the end of the century, there was a proliferation of Councils, Town Boards, Road Trusts, schools, cemeteries, various agricultural pest control boards, jetties, marine boards, libraries, water trusts, and so on. By the time the Colonial parliamentarian, Dr John McCall, got all the Mayors of the day into a room well away from the press to discuss the delicate matter of reform, there were over three hundred various types of authority that came under the wing of local government.

You have to remember also that once was, most of the population of the island effectively lived, worked and died in the same locality, and rarely, if ever, left it. Local councils diversified to the extent their ratepayers wanted various services within their municipal boundaries – hence the diversity. And still there wasn’t sufficient money to go around because the Tasmanian population just wasn’t there.

(It’s a policy problem I’ll be writing more on – the lack of population impacting on local government.)

Reform was needed, and reform followed throughout the 20th century.

Yet still, money is the nub of it. The 49 Councils existing up to 1993 relied on State and Federal funding to cover activities the ratebase could not. Years of not wanting to incur debt, or incurring debt without sufficient raising the rates, or simply just not raising the rates because it was politically unpopular, set the scene for more financial reforms in the noughties. And life got more complex too, with increased State and Federal legislation and improvements concerning water, sewerage, planning, building, plumbing, health, parks, recreation, roads and rubbish management.

Anyone who said (and continues to say) amalgamation of Councils should lower rates is either ignorant of the changes in local government practice or just wishing out loud wistfully.

As one recent example, take water and sewerage. Okay, so its operation was taken off local government just recently but it still owns the asset. Why? The big Councils were able to sort out their problems, but for smaller ones, provision of clean water and adequate sewerage was just beyond their financial ratebase ability, and neither could they reasonably service the level of debt needed to get the job done to the high level of health and safety legislation. It’s been argued that the problems of water and sewerage were being sorted out at the local government level, but for State parliamentarians, particularly some of those in the seat of Lyons and Braddon, progress weren’t fast enough when people flooded their offices with complaints over water alerts. Hence, TasWater’s accelerated program of water and sewerage reform outside of Hobart and Launceston today. And this isn’t to say we shouldn’t all have clean water and adequate sewerage – we should. But how it has been gone about is not exactly creating less cost to the consumer.

Another big complexity is financial reform. Simple accounting is now replaced with accrual accounting and Councils now have to take into account asset depreciation, equity, debt repayment, on-costs, annual operating costs, long term 20 year budgets and financial plans, asset renewal programs, auditing, financial probity, etc. etc. Now the impact of decisions can be tracked across the whole organisation and into the future in the modelling of setting rates. (And we can see the impact on ratepayers today of past decisions where Aldermen refused to raise rates in election years.)

Okay, now I start to sound like an accountant, but bear with me. Here’s a plain English example of how things have got more complex in the last 50 years.

The people want a BBQ in the local park. Council either has the money to pay for building up front or it raises a loan to do it, say $2000 for a simply concrete slab, brick and steel plate BBQ, labour costs included, and some donated bricks and cement from the local businesses. And as people wanted to boil a billy to go with the sausages, a tap was provided that anyone could turn off and on. And a simple wood slab table and bench set were sat beside the BBQ. We’re talking about 20-50 years ago.

The BBQ is built, and lots of families and their friends used it, especially in the summer months when everyone visited in the holidays. So many people from out of town in fact, that Council ends up cleaning the BBQ and making sure there is a wood supply because of the complaints about cleanliness and people using the park’s trees for the BBQ. Have to encourage the visitors – good for local business.

And as the hole in the ozone layer got bigger and the Slip! Slop! Slap! campaign took hold, the local people asked for a cover shelter. And then for more chairs and tables for families to use, and they had to be under cover too. Eventually everyone uses the asset so much, it wears out and vandals have their way tagging the park furniture on bored winter afternoons, and for some reason, people keep nicking the tap fittings and firewood.

So then the local people ask for an electric BBQ replacement. As Council neither has the up-front cash or wants to raise the full loan to do it, it works with the local community group to raise the funds and eventually makes up the shortfall with a grant sourced from the local parliamentarian who is due for re-election. The shortfall is added to the rates budget.

Voila! A new BBQ with a renewed cover shelter and upgraded, vandal proof chairs and tables and shelters, and because we all wanted it to look good, some landscaping with trees and shrubs that provides wind shelter and a form of privacy between the tables of the many families now using the BBQ area. And the tap has been converted to an in ground sprinkler system, with a more secure drinks fountain with a dog bowl attached at the base. There is no longer worn out lawn under the tables but a lovely mulch soft-fall. New cost, say very little change out of $300,000, because of the grant, but actual bill of say $550,000.

The community and the elected members all get to enjoy a celebratory community BBQ when the power is switched on and have their picture in the paper. Everyone’s happy, it’s a wonderful place and the older folks reminisce about using the last one when they were kids, and how they’d like to form the same sorts of memories for their grand-kids.

So what’s the problem?

The asset was built either with a loan that had to be repaid, as well as interest and charges, and/or rates that have to be raised. So the initial cost of $2000 may well have been more as interest rates shifted around or Councillors didn’t want to raise the rates that year to finally pay off the loan.

The cost of cleaning and wood supply has to be added to the Council’s budget, as well as the increase in manpower needed to service the BBQ on a regular basis.

No money was put aside for replacement for the BBQ, tables and chairs or the nicked taps, so when the new electric BBQ with the new park furniture was provided, no money was there to pay for it. A lot of Council officer time (time equals wages costs here) was spent designing the new asset, engaging with the local community and consulting about it, as well as the planning, building and plumbing costs and requirements. The cost of providing water from a vandal proof tap has to also be factored in, as today water has to be paid for, and there is the added cost of maintaining the new landscaping. And there was the officer time spent in trying to source the funds through the grant process, and reporting the whole shebang to the Council for discussion and, finally, a decision.

In terms of asset management, there was no asset depreciation or replacement put aside for the old BBQ. Further, the cost of the new equipment was much, much higher as it had to meet Australian Standards requirements, let alone the fact that Councils now have to meet planning, building and plumbing rules just like everyone else. These are hidden costs no one really had to contend with in the past and now have become mainstream in local government practice because State and Federal governments demand it, and risk management decisions in the Courts have created them.

So now the Council, under 21st century accounting rules, has to put money aside for replacement/depreciation, asset development and annual operating costs, and it has to meet various health and safety obligations and Australian Standards in replacing the old BBQ. This is the financial iceberg under the upfront cost of the BBQ. You not only have to pay for building, you also have to budget for maintenance, depreciation and replacement.

All in all, while this is a somewhat potted explanation, it should explain why a rates bill continues to grow.

So in answer to the questions, why are rates always rising? The real cost of local government is like a financial iceberg. At some time, the elected members are taken into a budget workshop and get to see the full horror of the finances as the iceberg of electoral promises rolls over. We get to see there’s more than just the tip. The real cost has become a hazard to political shipping when you least expect it. And so rates are raised, after careful noting of CPI, and a sounding of the electorate’s mood. In Hobart City Council, the Aldermen are fully aware of the finances, and get to find out the real costs and impacts.

And that is why rates bills never get lower. The community demands more, it pays more. More complex local government processes cost more. We could cut the rates to zero, but at some stage, someone has pay for replacement of what we all use. If not you, then your children and grandchildren in a disproportionate amount if we won’t foot part of the bill today. We could cut the rates to zero, but would you then be satisfied with the loss of services?

Carefully spent taxes bring civilisation – not political promises to cut rates.





A Letter from the garden.

19 02 2014

Another inspirational guest post from my friend the potter, Steve Harrison……  Self sufficiency at its best.
Steve Harrison

Steve Harrison

The heat wave continues. It continues not to rain. The tomatoes continue to ripen and get sunburnt. The cucumbers continue to die off in the heat and the dry.  The corn continues to shrivel and desiccate. Some plants handle the dry and the heat better than others. Clearly cucumbers have a strict upper limit past which they just die! No room to negotiate. They curl-up, shrivel and turn to dried paper over night. Watering twice a day didn’t help. Perhaps we might have to use shade cloth during the summer months over these sensitive plants in the future if our local climate continues to heat up and dry out like this. Global warming – what global warming? We have tried to prepare ourselves as well as we can. We have dug 4 dams over the years to collect all the ground water that passes our boundaries, some more effective than others. We usually have enough water in the dams to provide us with irrigation water for the gardens and orchards to get us through the summer heat.

There have been years when I had to pump all the remaining water in the lowest dams up to the higher ones to reduce the water surface area and reduce evaporation.
I disconnected the petrol powered fire-fighting pump from the pottery system and carried it into the dried out dam floor, then ran a temporary poly-pipe line up the dam wall and over to the next dam, concentrating all the water up there. I repeated this 3 times until all the water was concentrated from the other three dams into the smallest dam. This provided us with enough water to keep plants alive for another 2 to 3 weeks longer in the summer. On two occasions we have run out of water in the dams altogether, having pumped them all down to mud. We said good bye to all our fruit trees and let them wither. Fortunately for us it was only another few weeks before it rained again and nearly all the trees survived. Only the oldest and weakest died. As in life.
We collect all our own drinking water in water tanks, from the rain that falls on our roofs. There have been times when we got so low in reserves that we only had a few weeks of drinking water left, and as it was from the bottom of the last tank, it was getting a bit murky with sediment. We had to ask a group of potters that planned to visit, if they wouldn’t mind bringing their own drinking water with them. It is possible to buy drinking water and get it delivered in a tanker truck. We have never got that low that we have been forced to buy drinking water. We’ve always managed on our own. When we came here, with virtually no money, we bought some second hand water tanks that were very cheap because they were old, and old water tanks don’t like to be moved. These old rusty tin tanks slowly corroded away with age, however, as we settled in over the years and started to be able to save some money, we were able to replace these old water tanks with new ones, one at a time as they slowly turned to rust. I became quite a dab hand at getting inside the old tanks and either cementing them up to extend their life span, or later, using silicon rubber to fill small holes. Of course patching-up old water tanks rarely works, it just gives you a few more leaky years. Because as we all know, rust never sleeps.
Eventually, after 20 years we saved up enough to get a ‘cast-on-site’ concrete tank built by an itinerant tank maker who was passing through the area, several of us in the village put our names down. We all lived to regret it. He dudded all of us in different ways. He acquired the nick-name of ‘Tank-Boy’ from one of the locals. Tank-boy never worked when you were watching, he’d turn up, always late, and if I was home working in the kiln factory where I could see him, he’d make some excuse to leave again. I don’t know where he went, perhaps to other jobs, where there was no-one at home. He was completely shonkey. He worked in chaos with rubbish all around him. He had to borrow my spanners to tighten up the bolts on his metal form-work. On the day of the big concrete casting, there still wasn’t any steel reo mesh in the bottom of the tank. When I came home from working at the Art School all day, the tank was cast. I suspect that my tank has no reinforcing mesh in it’s base. When it was all finished and he’d gone with his cheque. I finally got to look inside to find that the concrete was so badly cast, that there was steel mesh showing on the inside surface. It would soon rust out and crack the tank apart if left, so I had to climb inside and re-render the holes and patches with a special concrete primer and then render the surface with cement. 2 days of work. The final insult came when I found that he hadn’t fitted the tap into the tank properly, just cemented it onto the outside. As soon as the tank started to fill up with rain water, the tap just “popped” off. I had to get inside again and chisel out a proper hole through the wall of the tank and then fit a 2″ threaded brass pipe through the wall with flanges and sealant on both ends and screw it up tight. Then I fitted my own 2″ tap to the outlet. This part is the only part of the tank that is well done and is still working well 20 years later. The concrete on the other hand is full of cracks and ‘weep’ lines. The concrete roof in particular is in shocking state of cracks.
My friend Dave who runs a truck with a ‘Palfinger’ hydraulic crane and moves all my kilns for me, plus other jobs like stretching orchard netting over garden frames, had a tank built by the same guy, a year or so later, west of Mittagong. Dave came home to find the plastic down pipes missing from the guttering on his shed. Tank boy had sawn them off to make support pillars inside the tank that he was casting for Dave. We compared notes and it turned out to be the very same guy. Quite a strange man.
The time for having fun and making pots is over for a while now. I have to find some paying work, so it’s back into the factory/toy-shop to make some kilns to earn some money.

One kiln finished and ready to deliver with another being welded prior to galvanising.




As it’s February now we are approaching the end of Summer. Everything is ripening and we are very busy in the kitchen in the evenings. The kitchen echoes to the sound of the fermenter ‘blurping’ away as it converts our grapes into wine. I took the afternoon off from kiln building and stainless steel sheet-metal work to harvest half of our shiraz crop. This year the vintage is quite early. In past years the shiraz was vintaged in March, but with global warming, everything has moved forward a month, more or less in line with all our other fruit crops. Since the early seventies when we first moved here ripening has occurred earlier and earlier, and it snows less and less. It hasn’t snowed here in Balmoral for years now and it must be at least 5 years since the Hume Highway was blocked by a sudden snow fall. The shiraz aren’t fully ripe yet, not as ripe as I’d like them to be, but the black birds, wattle birds and the friar birds have found them and more importantly, have found that they can just squeeze through the 65mm hex mesh ‘chook’ wire that encloses the garden. We will need to re-wire the garden completely with smaller mesh, if we are to keep them out in the future. I only want the little insect eating birds in the garden, not the larger fruit eaters. I suppose that we are lucky that it has taken the birds 15 years to work out that they can get into the garden and help themselves. I plan to re-clad the garden walls with 30 mm hex mesh in the future, if fact, as soon as I have the time and money. I already have a 50 metre roll of white plastic orchard netting left over in the shed from when we netted the vineyard 20 years ago. This is enough to cover the top. I have kept it wrapped up in black plastic up in the barn loft, so that it wouldn’t deteriorate from ultraviolet exposure.






If only I’d known all this when I started!  I could have saved myself a lot of time, effort, loss, angst and money. In my experience of life. I start out knowing nothing and learn as I go, usually by observation and then by asking questions. Most people respond well to genuine enquiries, but there are a few stupid people who think that everyone should know what they already know and respond in a Neanderthal sort of way. I can do without them. I don’t think that they know as much as they think. They say that they don’t suffer fools gladly, but all of us are fools until we get ourselves educated and as there is always something to learn, I’m a perpetual fool. Even experts are fools in another field. There was one particular shop keeper in Bowral that I’m thinking of! The Neanderthals prove themselves redundant in the long run. Mademoiselle Fifi and I have learnt to live our lives, by living it, on the job as it were, from trial and error –  A lot of error actually, but we persist, and good-will always shines through and it’s been mostly fun. A complex mixture of hard work, fun and the emotional rewards and comforts of that hard work!

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This year we are experimenting with whole bunch maceration for the shiraz vintage. I have picked the grapes a little early, before the birds eat them all. They could be sweeter, but never mind. In a perfect world I’d wait another week or possibly two, but the wildlife won’t allow that. I have two fermenters working. One with and one with-out French and American, lightly toasted oak shavings in the must. I’m trying whole bunch maceration again this year, I have enjoyed a few very nice wines made by this method, that some of my friends and associates have either made themselves or given to me as presents. The product can be quite tannic from the extended close infusion of the tannins from the skins, pips and stalks in the vat. This is not a bad thing. But takes time to soften out. Just about all red wines. Well, actually, all quality red wines, are made by extended contact with the grape skins. The better wine makers who want the best results for their wines also perform a ritual, called ‘plunging the cap’. No, it’s not a ritual humiliation performed on youngsters in british private schools. It’s a way of getting the maximum contact with the grape skins with the fermenting juice. All the colour in red grapes is in the skins. The juice is clear, hence champagne, a white wine, being made from red Pinot noir grapes as well as chardonnay grapes.
With prolonged contact of the skins and sugars, the yeast slowly converts the sugars in the juice to alcohol. The alcohol is the active ingredient that dissolves the anthocyanins that produce the red colour. I’ve read that the red is good for me. I certainly hope so. I like to think so, just as I like to drink it. I won’t know for another year or so whether this experiment has worked well enough or not. It has become quite trendy recently to ferment wines on wild yeasts. I have decided that there is enough at risk in making our years harvest of shiraz grapes into wine without adding the uncertainty of possibly loosing it all to a rogue wild yeast. So I have taken the precaution of using a known, reliable, cultivated red wine, shiraz, yeast.


After all these last few weeks of dry heat, it has finally rained. We have 32 mm. of slow soaking rain and it is really nice. All the plants are responding well and shooting out new growth.
Mmselle Fifi is out and about in the garden with her baskets harvesting whatever is ready to be eaten on the day, any excess is cooked, concentrated and otherwise preserved in some way for later use.


Yesterday, she was out harvesting some of the red ‘isabella’ grapes. Perfect for making dark grape juice. So far she has pasteurised and preserved 14 litres of the delicious stuff, so fruity, fragrant and sweet. A perfect drink for a hot summers day or any time really. So far she is about half way through the crop. A crop that we otherwise wouldn’t have got if we hadn’t put it entirely under netting a month or two ago.

with love from Syrah and Isabella




Nothing we do is sustainable….. been saying it for years now.

1 08 2013

Sustainability is destroying the Earth

By Kim / Stories of Creative Ecology

By Kim / Stories of Creative Ecology

Don’t talk to me about sustainability.  You want to question my lifestyle, my impact, my ecological footprint?  There is a monster standing over us, with a footprint so large it can trample a whole planet underfoot, without noticing or caring.  This monster is Industrial Civilization.  I refuse to sustain the monster.  If the Earth is to live, the monster must die.  This is a declaration of war.

What is it we are trying to sustain?  A living planet, or industrial civilization?  Because we can’t have both.

Somewhere along the way the environmental movement – based on a desire to protect the Earth, was largely eaten by the sustainability movement – based on a desire to maintain our comfortable lifestyles.  When did this happen, and why?  And how is it possible that no-one noticed?  This is a fundamental shift in values, to go from compassion for all living beings and the land, to a selfish wish to feel good about our inherently destructive way of life.

The sustainability movement says that our capacity to endure is the responsibility of individuals, who must make lifestyle choices within the existing structures of civilization.  To achieve a truly sustainable culture by this means is impossible.  Industrial infrastructure is incompatible with a living planet.  If life on Earth is to survive, the global political and economic structures need to be dismantled.

Sustainability advocates tell us that reducing our impact, causing less harm to the Earth, is a good thing to do, and we should feel good about our actions.  I disagree. Less harm is not good.  Less harm is still a lot of harm.  For as long as any harm is caused, by anyone, there can be no sustainability. Feeling good about small acts doesn’t help anyone.

Only one-quarter of all consumption is by individuals.  The rest is taken up by industry, agribusiness, the military, governments and corporations.  Even if every one of us made every effort to reduce our ecological footprint, it would make little difference to overall consumption.

If the lifestyle actions advocated really do have the effect of keeping our culture around for longer than it would otherwise, then it will cause more harm to the natural world than if no such action had been taken.  For the longer a destructive culture is sustained, the more destruction it causes.  The title of this article isn’t just attention-grabbing and controversial, it is quite literally what’s going on.

When we frame the sustainability debate around the premise that individual lifestyle choices are the solution, then the enemy becomes other individuals who make different lifestyle choices, and those who don’t have the privilege of choice.  Meanwhile the true enemy — the oppressive structures of civilization — are free to continue their destructive and murderous practices without question.  This is hardly an effective way to create a meaningful social movement.  Divide and be conquered.

Sustainability is popular with corporations, media and government because it fits perfectly with their aims.  Maintain power.  Grow.  Make yourself out to be the good guy.  Make people believe that they have power when they don’t.  Tell everyone to keep calm and carry on shopping.  Control the language that is used to debate the issues.  By creating and reinforcing the belief that voting for minor changes and buying more stuff will solve all problems, those in power have a highly effective strategy for maintaining economic growth and corporate-controlled democracy.

ravagedThose in power keep people believing that the only way we can change anything is within the structures they’ve created.  They build the structures in a way that people can never change anything from within them.  Voting, petitions, and rallies all reinforce the power structures, and can never bring about significant change on their own.  These tactics give corporations and governments a choice.  We’re giving those in power a choice of whether to grant our request for minor reform.  Animals suffering in factory farms don’t have a choice.  Forests being destroyed in the name of progress don’t have a choice.  Millions of people working in majority-world sweatshops don’t have a choice.  The 200 species who became extinct today didn’t do so by choice.  And yet we give those responsible for all this murder and suffering a choice.  We’re granting the desires of a wealthy minority above the needs of life on Earth.

Most of the popular actions that advocates propose to achieve sustainability have no real effect, and some even cause more harm than good.  The strategies include reducing electricity consumption, reducing water use, a green economy, recycling, sustainable building, renewables and energy efficiency.  Let’s look at the effects of these actions.

Electricity

We’re told to reduce our consumption of electricity, or obtain it from alternative sources.  This will make zero difference to the sustainability of our culture as a whole, because the electricity grid is inherently unsustainable.  No amount of reduction or so-called renewable energy sources will change this.  Mining to make electrical wires, components, electrical devices, solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal plants, biomass furnaces, hydropower dams, and everything else that connects to the electricity grid, are all unsustainable.  Manufacturing to make these things, with all the human exploitation, pollution, waste, health and social impacts, and corporate profits.  Fossil fuels needed to keep all these processes going.  Unsustainable.  No amount of individual lifestyle choices about electricity use and generation will change any of this.  Off grid electricity is no different – it needs batteries and inverters.

Water conservation

Shorter showers.  Low-flow devices.  Water restrictions.  These are all claimed to Make A Difference.  While the whole infrastructure that provides this water – large dams, long distance pipelines, pumps, sewers, drains – is all unsustainable.

Dams destroy the life of a whole watershed.  It’s like blocking off an artery, preventing blood from flowing to your limbs.  No-one can survive this.  Rivers become dead when fish are prevented from travelling up and down the river.  The whole of the natural community that these fish belong to is killed, both upstream and downstream of the dam.

Dams cause a lowering of the water table, making it impossible for tree roots to get to water.  Floodplain ecologies depend on seasonal flooding, and collapse when a dam upstream prevents this.  Downstream and coastal erosion results.  Anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in dams releases methane to the atmosphere.

No matter how efficient with water you are, this infrastructure will never be sustainable.  It needs to be destroyed, to allow these communities to regenerate.

The green economy

Green jobs.  Green products.  The sustainable economy.  No.  There’s no such thing.  The whole of the global economy is unsustainable.  The economy runs on the destruction of the natural world.  The Earth is treated as nothing but fuel for economic growth.  They call it natural resources.  And a few people choosing to remove themselves from this economy makes no difference.  For as long as this economy exists, there will be no sustainability.

For as long as any of these structures exist: electricity, mains water, global economy, industrial agriculture – there can be no sustainability.  To achieve true sustainability, these structures need to be dismantled.

What’s more important to you – to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for a little longer, or the continuation of life on Earth, for the natural communities who remain, and for future generations?

Recycling

We’re made to believe that buying a certain product is good because the packaging can be recycled.  You can choose to put it in a brightly-coloured bin.  Never mind that fragile ecosystems were destroyed, indigenous communities displaced, people in far away places required to work in slave conditions, and rivers polluted, just to make the package in the first place.  Never mind that it will be recycled into another useless product which will then go to landfill.  Never mind that to recycle it means transporting it far away, using machinery that run on electricity and fossil fuels, causing pollution and waste.  Never mind that if you put something else in the coloured bin, the whole load goes to landfill due to the contamination.

Sustainable building

Principles of sustainable building: build more houses, even though there are already enough perfectly good houses for everyone to live in.  Clear land for houses, destroying every living thing in the natural communities that live there.   Build with timber from plantation forests, which have required native forests to be wiped out so they can be replaced with a monoculture of pines where nothing else can live.  Use building products that are slightly less harmful than other products.  Convince everyone that all of this is beneficial to the Earth.

Solar power

Solar panels.  The very latest in sustainability fashion.  And in true sustainability style, incredibly destructive of life on earth.  Where do these things come from?  You’re supposed to believe that they are made out of nothing, a free, non-polluting source of electricity.

If you dare to ask where solar panels come from, and how they are made, its not hard to uncover the truth.  Solar panels are made of metals, plastics, rare earths, electronic components.  They require mining, manufacturing, war, waste, pollution.  Millions of tons of lead are dumped into rivers and farmland around solar panel factories in China and India, causing health problems for the human and natural communities who live there.  Polysilicon is another poisonous and polluting waste product from manufacturing that is dumped in China.  The production of solar panels causes nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) to be emitted into the atmosphere.  This gas has 17 000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Rare earths come from Africa, and wars are raged over the right to mine them.  People are being killed so you can have your comfortable Sustainability.  The panels are manufactured in China.  The factories emit so much pollution that people living nearby become sick.  Lakes and rivers become dead from the pollution.  These people cannot drink the water, breathe the air or farm the land, as a direct result of solar panel manufacturing.  Your sustainability is so popular in China that villagers mobilise in mass protest against the manufacturers.  They are banding together to break into the factories and destroy equipment, forcing the factories to shut down.  They value their lives more than sustainability for the rich.

Panels last around 30 years, then straight to landfill.  More pollution, more waste.  Some parts of solar panels can be recycled, but some can’t, and have the bonus of being highly toxic.  To be recycled, solar panels are sent to majority-world countries where low-wage workers are exposed to toxic substances while disassembling them. The recycling process itself requires energy and transportation, and creates waste products.

Solar panel industries are owned by Siemens, Samsung, Bosch, Sharp, Mitsubishi, BP, and Sanyo, among others.  This is where solar panel rebates and green power bills are going.  These corporations thank you for your sustainable dollars.

Wind power

The processing of rare earth metals needed to make the magnets for wind turbines happens in China, where people in the surrounding villages struggle to breathe in the heavily polluted air.  A five-mile-wide lake of toxic and radioactive sludge now takes the place of their farmland.

Whole mountain ranges are destroyed to extract the metals.  Forests are bulldozed to erect wind turbines.  Millions of birds and bats are killed by the blades.  The health of people living close to turbines is affected by infrasound.

As wind is an inconsistent and unpredictable source of energy, a back-up gas fired power supply is needed.  As the back-up system only runs intermittently, it is less efficient, so produces more CO2than if it were running constantly, if there were no turbines.  Wind power sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work in practice.  Another useless product that benefits no-one but the shareholders.

Energy efficiency

How about we improve energy efficiency?  Won’t that reduce energy consumption and pollution?  Well, no.  Quite the opposite.  Have you heard of Jevon’s paradox?  Or the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate?  These state that technological advances to increase efficiency lead to an increase in energy consumption, not a decrease.  Efficiency causes more energy to be available for other purposes.  The more efficient we become at consuming, the more we consume.  The more efficiently we work, the more work gets done.  And we’re working at efficiently digging ourselves into a hole.

The economics of supply and demand

Many actions taken in the name of sustainability can have the opposite effect.  Here’s something to ponder: one person’s decision not to take flights, out of concern about climate change or sustainability, won’t have any impact.  If a few people stop flying, airlines will reduce their prices, and amp up their marketing, and more people will take flights.  And because they are doing it at lower prices, the airline needs to make more flights to make the profit it was before.  More flights, more carbon emissions.  And if the industry hit financial trouble as a result of lowered demand, it would get bailed out by governments.  This “opt-out” strategy can’t win.

The decision not to fly isn’t doing anything to reduce the amount of carbon being emitted, it’s just not adding to it in this instance.  And any small reduction in the amount of carbon being emitted does nothing to stop climate change.

To really have an impact on global climate, we’ll need to stop every aeroplane and every fossil-fuel burning machine from operating ever again.  And stopping every fossil-fuel burning machine is nowhere near the impossible goal it may sound.  It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely achievable.  And it’s not only desirable, but essential if life on this planet is to survive.

The same goes for any other destructive product we might choose not to buy.  Factory-farmed meat, palm oil, rainforest timbers, processed foods.  For as long as there is a product to sell, there will be buyers.  Attempting to reduce the demand will have little, if any, effect.  There will always be more products arriving on the market.  Campaigns to reduce the demand of individual products will never be able to keep up.  And with every new product, the belief that this one is a need, not a luxury, becomes ever stronger.  Can I convince you not to buy a smartphone, a laptop, a coffee?  I doubt it.

To stop the devastation, we need to permanently cut off the supply, of everything that production requires.  And targeting individual companies or practices won’t have any impact on the global power structures that feed on the destruction of the Earth.  The whole of the global economy needs to be brought to a halt.

What do you really want?

What’s more important – sustainable energy for you to watch TV, or the lives of the world’s rivers, forests, animals, and oceans?  Would you sooner live without these, without Earth?  Even if this was an option, if you weren’t tightly bound in the interconnected in the web of life, would you really prefer to have electricity for your lights, computers and appliances, rather than share the ecstasy of being with all of life on Earth?  Is a lifeless world ruled by machines really what you want?

If getting what you want requires destroying everything you need – clean air and water, food, and natural communities – then you’re not going to last long, and neither will anyone else.

I know what I want.  I want to live in a world that is becoming ever more alive.  A world regenerating from the destruction, where every year there are more fish, birds, trees and diversity than the year before. A world where I can breathe the air, drink from the rivers and eat from the land.  A world where humans live in community with all of life.

Industrial technology is not sustainable.  The global economy is not sustainable.  Valuing the Earth only as a resource for humans to exploit is not sustainable.  Civilization is not sustainable.  If civilization collapsed today, it would still be 400 years before human existence on the planet becomes truly sustainable.  So if it’s genuine sustainability you want, then dismantle civilization today, and keep working at regenerating the Earth for 400 years.  This is about how long it’s taken to create the destructive structures we live within today, so of course it will take at least that long to replace these structures with alternatives that benefit all of life on Earth, not just the wealthy minority.  It won’t happen instantly, but that’s no reason not to start.

You might say let’s just walk away, build alternatives, and let the whole system just fall apart when no-one pays it any attention any more.  I used to like this idea too.  But it can’t work.  Those in power use the weapons of fear and debt to maintain their control.  The majority of the world’s people don’t have the option of walking away.  Their fear and debt keeps them locked in the prison of civilization.  Your walking away doesn’t help them.  Your breaking down the prison structure does.

We don’t have time to wait for civilization to collapse.  Ninety per cent of large fish in the oceans are gone.  99 per cent of the old growth forests have been destroyed.  Every day 200 more species become extinct, forever.  If we wait any longer, there will be no fish, no forests, no life left anywhere on Earth.

So what can you do?

Spread the word.  Challenge the dominant beliefs.  Share this article with everyone you know.

Listen to the Earth.  Get to know your nonhuman neighbors   Look after each other.  Act collectively, not individually.  Build alternatives, like gift economies, polyculture food systems, alternative education and community governance.  Create a culture of resistance.

Rather than attempting to reduce the demand for the products of a destructive system, cut off the supply.  The economy is what’s destroying the planet, so stop the economy.  The global economy is dependent on a constant supply of electricity, so stopping it is (almost) as easy as flicking a switch.

Governments and industry will never do this for us, no matter how nicely we ask, or how firmly we push.  It’s up to us to defend the land that our lives depend on.

We can’t do this as consumers, or workers, or citizens.  We need to act as humans, who value life more than consuming, working and complaining about the government.

Learn about and support Deep Green Resistance, a movement with a working strategy to save the planet.  Together, we can fight for a world worth living in.  Join us.

In the words of Lierre Keith, co-author of the book Deep Green Resistance, “The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much personal integrity as possible; it is to dismantle those systems.”

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Originally posted by Stories of Creative Ecology here.