Monday, October 19, 2009

Excellent Perspective

Doing my Monday morning news check, watching the US dollar continue its collapse. . .

Excellent article this morning on Mish's site that's worth a read. While the US population is captivated by Michael Jackson's ghost, the balloon boy, or what the hell else tele-tubby kind for crap is being dished out. . .well, other stuff is going on.

Here's the link. It's worth one's time, especially the interview with Max down the way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

So, as someone recently asked. . .

"Hey, what's with the guitar and class-A amps? How minimalist is that?"

"Very-" I say, "they double as space heaters in the winter."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Got Guava?

Here's an excellent current research piece on biochar production. A little weighty but well worth one's time.

This describes the technique I've found to work best on my site.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Feeling Hopeful.

The garden/farm has really been coming along, making great strides at every turn, or so I'm pleased to report. The "Forest Garden" concept clearly can be demonstrated as a viable one at this point. Over the next 6 months or so the 8000 or so square foot concept garden will be expanded over perhaps an acre and a half. Food self-sufficiency for myself is pretty well in the bag at this point, and grocery store runs are far and few between. For longer term true sustainability to include fuel inputs and cashflow adequate to my needs I'll need to press in about another 40 or 50000 square feet. All things being equal I should be there by this point next year. 50k of forest garden should sustainably produce .25 per square foot of salable produce annually. There's no additional cost in that, or at least minimal cost, as I'm producing materials on site for planting. There will likely be the addition of lime and trace minerals, but all in all things look pretty good. Biochar has been very important. One step at a time. Ultimately it looks as if as the improvement in the soil quality improves, yields per square foot may well double. I'd say there a very stong possibility that a dedicated couple or individual could make a modest but sensibly comfortably and secure, and very satisifying living farming in this manner. Proof should be in the bag by next August.

I find this very hopeful indeed. My primary goal from the onset of this blog was to both advocate and demonstrate an alternative but viable in which one can work for a sustainable(I mean sustainable in the real sense) future not only for myself but for Hawaii and even the world. This is an effective model. There may well be others, and I'd enjoy seeing them, but few out there are much past the dreamer/concept stage. We need to do better than that. I'm strongly of the opinion, uncertainties included, "Forest Gardening" at least in Hawaii is perhaps one of the most promising--and hopeful, humanely hopeful--projects one could take on.

It's also been very helpful to meet so many others in the last 5 months with the forum and all of us in this very active group have learned a great deal from each other and all of our individual projects have been greatly advanced. It's tough to go it alone for sure, and it's nice to not worry about that anymore, at least locally.

Anyway, thoughts after coming back from the shop with a very heavy basket of goodies.

Monday, July 27, 2009


It's time to raise a hue and cry on this one, on its way through congress at the moment. This bill could be a potentially devastating blow to any progressive agricultural project, and especially would impact Hawaii. Take the time to do some research on the intent and the likely consequences of this legislation. Read it for yourself.

I don't like to offer my opinions on such things, as I believe people should read such material for themselves, but few seem willing to do so. In a nut shell, at the moment, these are the ramifications of this bill as I see them.

1) Every "farm" in the country must be federally licensed and registered. A 500 dollar annual fee.

2) Every "farm" in the country is now open to federal inspection at any moment in time.

3) Every "farm" must provide in essence a detailed "MSDS" on every farm product. If you grow a green bean, you'll need to register with the federal government what kind of green bean it is, where the seeds came from, the process by which it was grown, and any and all soil amendments, or fertilizers, or mulches, or pesticides, or whatevers where used in the process. 10000 dollar fine for each omission. This includes home brewed mixtures of garlic juice and tobacco or elsewise.

4) Of course, all of those fertilizers, or mulches, or carts of horseshit you use to grow those green beans will require producer "MSDS" sheets as well, as to what the mulch is made of, or what the horses ate, or where it all came from.

The strict interpretation of these provisions are onerrous in the extreme to any small farmer, and the fines so threatening for small operations that surely the bill will discourage small farming. The provisions are especially difficult for small operations that emphasize diversity, or organic practice, or permaculture, as the paperwork load required will be hundreds of times more complicated than that of, say, a huge factory farm growing GMO corn. . .this is how I see it.

Read the material for yourself and form a educated opinion. Primarily this will impact the consumer, rather than the producer, and everyone has a vested interest in the details. Kiss farmers markets good bye if the bill passes in its current form.

I'm trying to get a discussion going on the forum, by the way. It's important.

UPDATE: Farm language has been modified, thankfully, to be specifically exempt as long as no processing occurs on the farm site. The language pertaining to processing is very precise, and involves simple things like cutting or drying. More on this as it comes along.

UPDATE: annual fee for drying herbs has been raised to 1000 bucks, from 500, from zero. Monsanto may care little. You might.

UPDATE: This bill, written by people on the Monsanto payroll(no shit, really.) has passed the house. Some exemptions have supposedly been made for small farms, no details.

There's two other bills in tow behind this one if this one doesn't achieve the agenda. Again, written by those on the Monsanto payroll. No shit. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Corrupt Government II

Here is an interesting opposing view to many of my contentions, and it's worth a read and thinking about.

I profoundly disagree, but the points raised are valid and interesting, and to take the time to answer some of the objections raised is worthwhile.

Discussion here:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fear of commitment

"Fear of commitment." This is something I've heard from a number of people lately. Would it not be nice to enjoy the luxury of indulging in such things?

I relate to the fear. Over the last couple of years I've been forced to accept some very major truths about the world and where we are in history, and the future that faces us. I've wrestled for certain with "fear of commitment" to the validity of such truths and the necessary repercussions that these truths forcibly demand. Change is upon us, and epic change it is. Our lifestyles will change as well. The new paradigm by which we will live is far from clear, and a rigorous and adaptive heroism will be required of all of us. Where this all ends up, short of the resolution that the macro scale provides us, individually, is also far from clear. Suffice to say: Take nothing for granted.

A little over a year ago finally I felt forced to make the commitment to the "new world coming" and get started on crafting a way of living that will remain workable in the future. Sustainability is key and core to that way of living. I was full aware that I was doomed to failure if I either made the mistake of indulging in comfortable half measures or dilettante morality. I needed to make a "commitment" to the ramifications my rationally derived and studiously researched knowledge as well my ethics. A big deal, and no way around it. Ignoring the issue was appealing but no longer an option. Evasion neither. Sailing away to a far corner of the world would escape nothing. It was time to get busy.

Nine months later:

We are well past the time for talk. Talk at this point only puts one further into the deficit of lack of preparation and lack of adaptation. This deficit will have consequences for many. I really think it is high time to have serious, honest, and introspective conversations about the reality that is coming our way. Make a commitment with the results of that conversation. Then get busy. All in all, a lot can happen pretty fast once that commitment is made.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Biochar II

The initial garden beds I've established with biochar are getting close to a year old at this point, and I've got a bit of data and miscellaneous observations to report. The biochar I'm using is primarily charred guava, homemade in steel drums. I've probably at this point produced a ton or so of biochar. There's about 1 pound per square foot of it mixed in jungle soil that's on the average of 8 inches to a foot deep. That may seem like a high loading to some, but very high carbon contents are key to the game and one could go twice that, I'm sure.


Immediately but perhaps not obvious: Soil is black. It gathers and retains much more solar radiation. Germination rates are higher and faster.

Initially I was pretty concerned that the biochar was having a toxic effect on growth. Many of the plants were showing what appeared to be a nitrogen deficiency, slow growing, yellowed leaves, and puny. These effects have disappeared. I can project two reasons why this may be the case.

1) The clean charcoal is in the process of absorbing such nutrients from the soil, so a temporary scarcity is bound to occur.

2) One may produce a P-K surplus or imbalance where the majority of the plant growth is dominated by root growth. The plant eventually recovers and flourishes, but initially things look rough.

I'd suggest at this point not applying biochar to the soil directly, but rather applying biochar to a composting process--and then applying the whole mix of compost and innoculated biochar. This seems to produce much greater and immediate results.

Any casual observation of the microfauna levels in the treated soil as opposed to jungle soil will leave one with no doubts about the healthy effects of the biochar. Small fungi abound, and are not present in the latter. Clearly there's a great deal of aerobic activity(odor) where the jungle soil is so anaerobic in places it stinks like sewage.

All in all the reports seem to bear true. I'd suggest one will see about a 20 to 30 percent growth yield over untreated soils. For those of us who intend to as much as possible function in the absence of(or minimal usage of) commercial fertilizers(organic or not) and follow a food forestry model, biochar is an absolute godsend and really makes it look much much more viable. As well, we've turned every invasive plant on the island into a valuable commodity.

Over the next few months my goal is to move from the "concept farm" of perhaps 10000 square feet to about an acre and semi-commercial status. Proof of concept has really been had, and I'm pleased to be able to report that this sort of concept is unquestionably a do-able, sustainable, and profitable enterprise. Table taros will be a big part of that project and finally I've enough clean planting material to make that jump. So far, the primary crop out here is U'ala Piko sweet potatoes with a few others thrown in the mix. As much as possible no-till practice. Yields at 9 months are reliably .25 to .5 lbs per square foot. No pest trouble yet to report. Topdressing only with small amounts of 10-20-20 special and trace elements. Some lime applied, as well as clean wood ash. I harvest the sweet potatoes when they're large enough to start poking out of the ground. The chickens find them for me.

. . .and meanwhile most everyone out there is bitching about the terrible economy and that "the kids here have no future". . .

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Corrupt Government:

Is there any other kind?

In light of the current blatant bullshit going on here locally, a thoughtful discussion of how to deal with the local politics issue--or whether to deal with it at all-- is timely. I in no way want to offer my thoughts as any kind of "official" view of the forum or anyone else--but I think it's really worth considering whether or not it's even possible to work for meaningful change for a better future within the "approved" mechanisms of the system. I think it's important to ask this question in a very deliberate manner. My answer? no, it's not. As I see it, politics as a completely rigged game that favors money and power, and money and power is required to play. Some well meaning people don't really look at themselves as privileged power brokers, but at the very least one must be of significant enough privilege that one has the free time to fiddle around with political sorts of stuff, and have ample enough time to sit through endless procedural processes. Face facts: most honest working people don't have this kind of time. Also, important, but not to go too Howard Zinn on anyone, these processes have largely proven to be utterly pointless. It's worth looking at the historical record to see if one can find a single damn instance where meaningful change has come from within the "approved" system. I don't ask this rhetorically. In every significant case I can think of, business as usual dominated and until the population finally got agitated enough to take to the streets with axe-handles very little happened. Otherwise, the policy of government in general is to placate, divert, or ignore the will of the people. In general, the range of the "permissible" debate is very narrow, whether right/left wing or progressive or not the whole is controlled to be palatable within the "approved" system. This guarantees again--business as usual. But that is the point of goverment as it exists: Protect the status quo. If you think that a system designed from the start to protect the status quo will allow the existence of effective mechanisms to challenge that which it's designed to protect--it's probably worth thinking that over again. And maybe once more. It's useful, no doubt, to offer mechanisms that look like they offer avenues for discourse or progress or change--as long as at long last the status quo and its interests are still protected.

"Sustainability" will become a huge human rights issue within the next decade. You will see people in the streets here as well as around the world as vested government interests protect the priviledged while steering humanity on a suicide course. Eventually, people will freak out about that, and once it gets started, look out. I've no idea what form that sort of thing will take, or whether such events will be at all constructive, but such a path seems all but inevitable. The status quo has no interest in sustainability, as that would get in the way of personal profits. It may be useful, no doubt, to offer mechanisms that look like they offer avenues for discourse or progress or change for the better-- as long as those profits are still insured. Eventually, however, people do wise up to what is going on. It can take a long time, and we're not there yet. Still that day is coming fast. Faster than many think. There will be a shooting war over these issues at some point. I'm not looking forward to any of this.

But I'm not dogmatic about all this. I can be persuaded and am in fact eager to get behind any positive cause that has real intelligent focus and inherent integrity. I'm not, however, interested in jumping out of one sinking boat into another one that has the holes arranged a bit more cosmetically. Neither am I interested in recreational legislation or meddling in other people's lives to satisfy some perverse and narcissistic need to feel like "I'm doing something for the future." Most importantly, and pointedly-- I sure as hell have no interest in getting roped into some campaign against pro-growth development interests to then replace these with other pro-growth development interests. . . This being said, I do however, see a real need for real solutions. Real solutions. Real solutions. They involve real questions: I don't see these questions being asked in any meaningful way, except by persons and individuals, who are also answering those questions in personal and individual ways. There's a lot of urgency in those people, often, because they look around and like myself, see others not asking those questions--and it's all in all getting to be more than a little terrifying.

Real questions:

1) How is Hawaii going to survive the current ongoing collapse and restructuring of the world economy?

2) How is Hawaii effectively going to survive the steeping prices and increasing scarcity of food, energy, and raw materials?

3) How is Hawaii going to preserve as much as possible of the island's ecosystem as we face a 1 degree temperature rise per decade over the next 100 years?

Everything else is trivial. Some may find my attitude contemptuous and selfish. Or needlessly combative. That's hardly the case. Personally, it comes down to one thing to get me involved--I need some convincing that there's good reasons that I should take time and energy away from planting trees or building water tanks--stuff that matters and contributes in a measurable way to a better future--to quibble about greenspace, or roads, or fast food restaurants or or shit that doesn't. God, let's get a little perspective, perhaps! Anyway, that's my take.

Still, it's not my intent to unduly bust or criticize anyone's efforts. This is simply how I see it. I also feel a strong sense of inevitability about all of this and have no doubt whatsoever that sooner or later a critical mass will wake up to what matters. If others feel that there may be some good use to participation in those processes, go for it. Please, however, be duly considerate of the fact that much of the time the only real effect of these activities is more and more complication, which has the sole result of making life more difficult for the average joe. While it's seldom the intent, too often it is the result. At this point in history, life is complicated enough with all sorts of other pointless hindrances to effective living.

So for myself, I'll just keep focusing on demonstrating effective living, the kind of living we need to adopt to squarely face our future, and do so to the best of my ability. I see no other effectual option. At the very least if the political process fails humanity like it looks like it will, somebody out there had better have done some homework. . .

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Food Forest Project Update

The view out towards the workshop. Well, let's just say this sort of farming works.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pavement is the answer! Is Jesus the question?

Mind you all, like everywhere else in the world I expect there's some sort of territorial pissing match going on about who is going to be in control of the world's future. For myself, I only fight winnable battles, and I'm afraid just surviving this one will be a victory. Endurance is my forte. That being said, here in Hawaii, it's all about the pro-growth forces who haven't figured out yet, or more likely don't care--that if you paved every square inch of the island it might impact tourism, huh? We could still have laser light shows, right? -- never mind it would preclude everything else, like agriculture or families or a quiet still night sky or other trivial things like that. . .--and those who understand what's actually going on here and what needs to be preserved.

What needs to be preserved most preciously is the lifestyle, every bit as much as the land, or anything else. All else follows. If you preserve the lifestyle, you will preserve the forest, or the reefs, or the taro patches, and all the rest too. The more complicated the pro-growth people make life the less likely anyone will have the time to sit around on the porch and have a good time with friends playing music. The more expensive they make life the more likely people will steal koa or hapu'u ferns out of the forest to pay their property tax. I'm not kidding. It's wholly corollary. Of course we all know that by now, don't we? I mean really?

Anyway, take a listen to good Darren here and his buddies.

This is authenticity.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Whoa there, Bessie!

Ok, so I get a lot of e-mail that says "I'm so glad to find other people who believe the world is going to collapse like I do."

Well, OK. The problem is I don't believe the world is going to collapse. And while some may make of this a fine distinction I disagree. Again, I don't believe the world is going to collapse, but I do believe for very good and thoroughly researched reasons, that at least on the macro scale we've seen the end of human expansion. I also believe we've blown beyond what the planet can bear sustainably by a great deal, maybe even an order of magnitude. So sure, while I agree all of this is going to suck and be difficult, I'm damn determined that the world isn't going to end, at least locally, for me. I feel pretty optimistic in all that. Now if you ask me how the average dufus is going to fair, well, that's a different story. "Out there" I expect some areas will be downright ugly. Sure, we all know that. It's important, however, to not focus on end of the world thinking as it's inherently a self-defeating attitude. Plan for a planned future, and do what you know you can do. Throwing up one's hands and expecting the end of the world is every bit as much a cowards cop-out as denying the reality of the situation we're in. We need now, more than ever, thoughtful rational preparation.'

So sure. There's a good chance by the time the century draws to a close that 1/4 of all higher species on the planet will be extinct, and the human population may be under a billion people. That will no doubt be a drag to live through, in a world especailly that looks like it's dying, and may well be doing just that. It will take some backbone to hang in there, no doubt. Most of what you love will be dead, and that will be depressing. Is this the end of the world? Of course not. Most of the biomass on this planet is microorganisms, fungi, and worms that look like they're eager to crawl some unwelcome place--I expect these will fare just fine. For us, however, things look less promising. I doubt anyone really disagrees with that--we're not so much looking at the "end of the world" as a "really difficult change" in it. Really, really, actually, difficult change in it.

Why do I bring this up? Because the "deny anything is happening" crowd and the "it's all going to end" crowd are the same people. Both positions simply represent groups who are advocating a position that conveniently absolves them of their personal responsibility to the present--and that's just bullshit.

I'd suggest it's high time to figure that out. They only "peoples " you is fooling is you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Great Schism II?

Got rained out early today and am sitting here with a bit of time to consider a lot of stuff that's been on my mind hard for the last couple of weeks.

Do you feel the vibe out there? It's getting ugly.

For the last 25 years it's been very convenient to lump people into one of two camps: liberal or conservative. That was pretty stupid, and a lot of us didn't fit either of those camps very well, but the distinctions were useful for the media to use while enlightening us all about where the world was going. Really, never more than a caricature, but a useful one for a lot of people who had an invested interest in dumbing down the issues. It was exploited to the greatest degree, because you could win elections on trumping up the prolife/prochoice-- gun rights/gun control-- gay rights/burn all gays in bonfires false alternatives. What I find most interesting is the very rapid rise of the 3rd group, which most all of us fit into--those who recognize that we must have sustainable policy and we're looking square in the face at trainwreck of collapse if we don't get it together. The rest of that shit is just foolishness. Ideology has very little to do with it. One of things I enjoy about this site is the wide range of perspectives. While outright whackoism isn't tolerated, and while those with conservative bents may be more focused on taxation and the debt issues involved in sustainability, and others with ecological bents may be focused on climate change and ecosystem destruction, we're ALL interested in the destruction of watersheds and the depletion of minerals or fuel souces. You bet. It's a big picture perspective with very heavy first principles, and it's getting to the point quite quickly, quicker than many of us would have expected, where these issues will be day to day realities.

And then, there are those, who just don't want to think about all that. Here is where the gulf is. The gulf exists not between liberal and conservative or any of that bullshit, but rather between the people who understand that the ways of living of the last 50 years or so are over, never to return--and those who simply don't want to think about it. It's between those who understand that NINJA loans are a bad idea and that a nation that runs credit almost to the exclusion of productivity cannot maintain an economy-- and those who just don't want to think about it. It's beween those who understand if we haven't passed peak oil, we will by 2020, and we're unprepared for either--and those who just don't want to think about it. It's beween those who understand that while technology is a good thing, mostly, there ARE NO viable alternative fuels even on the drawing board or hypothesized that compete on a manner of scale with our current fossil fuel dependence-- and again, those who just DON'T want to think about it. I could go on and on and on-- but it's really between those who understand viscerally that our way of living is going to change, either by choice or duress or necessity, soon-- and those who just don't want to think about it. At all, ever. For good reasons too, as it would involve involving oneself in a thought process that if it had the slightest amount of intellectual integrity would require radical changes in priorities in what one did and how one lived one's life. That would be a pain in the butt, wouldn't it? But it's harder to maintain those narrow ideas every day, isn't it? And so the deliberate attempts to remain willfully and comfortably uninformed is getting downright snarly to anyone who suggests that perhaps the conversation should be broadened a bit. That "bit" I'd suggest, would be an honest comprehensive look at the state of the world--its resources, its state of health, its population, and every other pertinent detail and then projecting a sensible forecast. It doesn't bother me much if that forecast differs from mind, just that people do it. Then, and only then, we can work together perhaps. It is absolutely foolish in the extreme to stick with the status quo, a prediction no more sophisticated than this one: tomorrow will be just like today. While "statistically" that projection is 8 or 9 times out of ten true, no one cares. What we care about is not so much people who can forecast when things don't change, but when they DO change. That's what requires action. And in spite of the fact that anyone credible is screaming "train wreck!" there's next to no response from the "I don't want to think about it, damn it!" crowd. We need to realize that this isn't so much a difference of opinion, but rather sanity attempting to deal with a pathology.

Christ. . .

So what to do? Well, just what we're doing. Keep soldiering on personally working for a better future. Hopefully one that would be better for many, but better for oneself in the last resort. This is no small thing. It's going to get harder every day to live in denial, even in the level of denial that all of us who try our best to understand where the world is going still embrace in our lives. . .the Les Paul? Ah phooey. Easier to construct than a pipe organ! The amp too!

Anyway, just thoughts as we tumble down the rabbit hole.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Really worth a listen. . .

It will take a little bit to get through it all, but it's very helpful.

I mean really. If you've got the time. . .listen.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Sustainable Biointensive Ecoforming" vs. "Permaculture"

This is going to be a wonkish post. Sorry about that in advance. There's a point to it.

"Sustainable Biointensive Ecoforming"  or SBE--is a term describing a system using an amalgam of both novel and traditional techniques with the intent of creating sustainable eco-habitats. The concept borrows heavily from all available sources and is centered around the core values of "best practice," "appropriate technology," and "sustainability."

"SBE" has a great deal in common with Permaculture, especially in the fact that both have tricky names that somebody just pulled out of his ass. With "SBE" that ass happens to be mine.

What SBE does not have in common with Permaculture is that in spite of the fact that I coined the term, I have no intent to trademark it. Nor to I have any intent to sell "SEB design course" certificates to suppliment my "sustainability." Certainly while there are remarkable and admirable examples of Permaculture techniques to be seen, there are also an awful lot of courses out there with nothing more to show than a spiral herb garden, a few straggling fruit trees, and a bunk house full of trustfund kids from Mendecino County all paying 500 bucks a week to hoe weeds. SBE is far more concerned with profitably farming produce than farming youthful good will for a profit. In fact we here at the "SBE Institute of Hawaii"--LOL--advocate staying as far away as is possible from anything that might resemble green profiteering. It smells of gimmickry, threatens the integrity of the concept, and ultimately isn't sustainable anyhow.

Personal sustainability is impossible without a larger sustainable community. I personally cannot reconcile the notions of "certification courses"--especially expensive ones-- which practically for most people stand as a barrier to the access of knowledge--I cannot reconcile this sort of practice with the very real need to educate and advocate. It is in my self interest to involve as many others as I can, even at my own personal cost, as without critical mass sustainability is bound to fail.

Anyway, I think it's worth thinking about.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Psst. . . Hey Buddy--you need a carrot?

In the past I've written a lot about a couple of terms--"mainstream" and "counterculture"--and their values as opposed to "extra-cultural" values. In any given society you have the consensus majority values, and you have a group of people who rebel against those values. In the sailing world which is notorious for its factionalism, you have "racers" and "crusiers"--one group that makes a virtue out of going fast and the other reactionary virtue of going "slow." You also have the "high tech" sailors and the "traditionalists"--one group that makes a virtue of using every possible conceivable technological advance and the other group who goes out of their way to use the most ancient and even obsolete tools--except of course, engines. Racers, crusiers, the high tech and tradtionalists are all about those engines. When you find yourself in the crowd of those who "sail" without relying on engines at all, you find yourself in a completely different crowd with completely different values. And, by and large, values that are more explicit and practical. This is the "extracultural" essence of real sailing. It involves wholly different values than what is mainstream and pursues wholly different ends. You'll find few debates about "wood boats" vs "plastic" boats or full keel vs. fin in the real sailing crowd. Use laminate sail cloth, or blue tarps, or coconut husks. No one cares. These aren't ideological issues, they're completely practical ones, and by and large no one really cares how you go about your sailing as long as you do. It's only the mainstream groups--both the pro and con ones--who squabble about such stuff. And squabble they do, especially because they're going out of their way to make a set of values that are pretty silly in the first place more "emotive" and personally meaningful, I guess, by creating artificial conflict. And bickering about those sorts of things at seemingly endless length is a lot less work than actually learning how to sail a boat, for real, in a meaningful fashion, without cheating. I guess that's the appeal.

Once you pull the engine out of the boat the whole gig changes completely. It reminds me a great deal of my current project--sustainability. Once you educate yourself of what sustainability is, and what it takes to achieve it, not only on a personal but a global scale--and you do so in a well informed manner that relys on numbers and not adjectives--the whole gig changes as well. You'll find yourself not in either a mainstream or counter-culture position but an extracultural one. The comparisons one can draw from sailing to sustainability are near endless. And the conversation, among those who are endeavoring to learn such a lifestyle(with all the perils one might face abandoning the engine) involve primarily practical issues. Where the squabble comes in with the mainstream and countercultural crowd who are fighting about the best way to keep their "engine"--ie., a consumptive lifestyle--it seems that here too the commentary on that issue is near endless. As for me, and a growing number of people who have manifest other values, well, we're just planning to get along without all that.

Expect however, as the anchor comes aboard in the chill morning just as the fog starts to lift in the still dark morning--and the steamy mists from one's cup of rapidly cooling coffee are the sole telltails of the day's weather to come--as you drift from the anchorage on the ebb tide in the manner of sailors for centuries past. . .expect no company but the terns. While can be hard and lonely indeed to live on the frontiers of humane integrity, intimate at once personally and with the world--don't unduly begrudge those warm and comfortable ashore. They sleep.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


It was a few years back, and I was walking back from some project to the boat along the IU trail in Bellingham, when I saw a little shitty dog break loose from its oddly misshapen owner's grasp and sprint across four lanes of traffic. Initially aghast, the misshapen fellow pursued in obvious terror for his pet's life, and did so in a state of agitation and heroic fearlessness that I would have never thought this pudgy wonker capable of. Stopping a freeway he rescued "Fluffy" from the jaws of death and tenderly carried his beloved animal to the side of the road, where he proceeded to give it the cruelest beating perhaps I've ever seen.

My dad was an undertaker, and I grew up in that biz as many of you know, and you get to see some stuff, alright. It does change how you look at things. While I never pursued the "playing dolls" with dead people part of the business, I did have a hand in estate and funeral planning for a couple of years--this is where I caught the bug to watch finance--but all in spending time with families there was a central lesson to be learned.

And this is it. In spite of all the talk, people don't much give a damn about their kids. They really don't. Not any more than they do their pets, IF it's that much.

You must realize that even if you're talking estate planning to a couple, you're in a very small subset of people. The majority of people don't plan at all. The reason for this is very simple. They don't want to talk about it. It's scary to them to expect that they might die, even though it's obvious that they will, and they'd much rather not talk about it and in so doing let their kids be stuck with the bill, the taxes, the mess, the anxiety, and all the rest that comes from not planning or being honest. Even of those who do plan this is a huge obstacle. A few do, and do plan, and do care, but it's probably less than 5 percent of the population that has the level of maturity to deal with issues like this in a responsible manner. For most, however, it's much easier to deny and evade and play silly and just let the issue take care of itself, as, after all--they won't be there to see it, ha ha!

So, don't be too surprised when climate change--something more complicated to understand than death, I guess--has so little steam with people. Or at least meaningful steam. There are very few ways to escape the reality that as a parent--one had, and enjoyed the benefits of, a completely complicit hand in destroying their children's future. It is possible in the past that one may have been innocently ignorant of the effects of one's actions. No longer. Today you must be willfully ignorant to be unaware. So what are people doing? Or at least most? Nothing at all. And the reason is exactly the same as above--it's simply too painful to bear the emotional cost of the responsibility of destroying one's childs future.. So, as long as is possible, people will ignore it. As I say, I've seen it before, and I expect nothing else.

Look, love is an action, not an emotion. No body experiences what you might feel, they only witness what you do. . .

Do we love our planet and our future generations or not?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Truth Always Prevails:

Unfortunately, it generally prevails far too late to matter. . .

In the interest of education, I have found a wonderfully thoughtful source for a very sensible and rigorous look into sustainable energy. Many of us have a high degree of technical illiteracy when it comes to such things--and we can't expect to make either good personal choices or have an understanding of policy choices without being conversant in the details. I'd really recommending either purchasing--or taking advantage of the free PDF. download here. Print yourself a copy, and form an informed opinion before it's too late.

Really, it's a valuable a piece and is worth a look.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Seeking the Farms of the Future:

Here is a great video from the BBC that sums up our situation very well.

The future is in small high intensity sustainable farms managed primarily by manual labor. There's really no other answer that I can see.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Greater Fool's Game:" Peak Fool?

Not hardly. I asked myself, where on earth could you find investors stupid enough to get involved with the TARP program. I mean, really really stupid and with a lot of money to spend too?

Ah, well, of course.

I mean, you really couldn't make stuff like this up.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Darwin Sez:

"It's not the strongest, nor the most intelligent that survive and evolve: It's the most adaptable."

Hmmmm. This duck saw the front approaching and flew south.

Storm clouds?

We live in a nation that thinks it can run an economy on debt. . .not credit, mind you, but debt. It's credit if you borrow to purchase an asset. It's debt if you borrow and piss it away.

. . .where we now have more people that work for government than work for manufacturing. . .

. . .where we now have more people in prison than work in agriculture. . .

Your share of the US debt, if you take into account the federal deficit, and your share of the private sector debt, and you add in your share of the un-funded liabilities of social security and the rest--although a bit hard to wring out the numbers, can credibly be said to approach $500,000.

If you've got a little time on your hands, this video will give you something to think about.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Peak Unsustainability?

This is one hell of a moment in history.

It's interesting in how the forum is going along, and the level of keen interest that's been generated even in one short week. I really sense, and I'm sure a lot of you do too, that we're living through a unique, even epic time. There's still a lot of confusion and denial out there floating around, and the fear of what's ahead explains a great deal of all that, perhaps even excuses a bit of it. No matter, what's coming is coming and rather than debate it's time to prepare.

The synchronicity of the moment is so shockingly unlikely on one hand--and so obviously predictable on the other that one cannot help but be a bit bewildered. We're seeing something I guess I'll call Peak Unsustainability for lack of a better term. Isn't it more than a little crazy that the housing market would collapse, primarily because people overbought, assuming an obviously unsustainable level of asset appreciation would continue forever? At the same time, they bought huge vehicles, assuming an obviously unsustainable supply of near freebee fuels would pour out forever? At the same time banks decided that they could carry a seemingly unlimited amount of debt on their books, assuming that they'd be able to float an obviously unsustainable amount of leverage forever? At the same time, of course, agricultural regions around the world begin to suffer a permanent drought, brought on by soil loss and the destruction of aquifers--and policies and practice that seem to by and large assume you could pump water at whatever rate you wanted to out of that well, in an obviously unsustainable manner--forever? The list goes on and on and on--in fact, one finds few individuals, or industries, or nations even, that haven't completely ignored their "balance sheet" and haven't run up completely unservicable debts not only in the realm of finance, but against our ecosystems, our croplands, our climate, even the integrity of our communities, institutions and personal relationships--the wealth and common good and even good will and trust has been completely looted. And to make matters worse? All of this wealth was squandered--tossed away on idle entertainments for the mega wealthy, trinkets for the rest of us, and, oh, I guess we got a couple of sex flicks out of Paris Hilton. . .

Obviously, key to to the lack of sustainability in the past was the complete neglect and even willful evasion on the part of most everyone in keeping good books. The amount of credit received either from bad loans or squandering natural resources was vast, but by and large kept in those mysterious "off balance sheet" assessments that now need to get valued. . .and so the response? Attempt to keep the party going by trying to squeeze even more blood out of that wrung out turnip. . .print money and expand the economy! Growth! As if this policy isn't obviously unsustainable and will only drag us deeper into the hole--but certainly patent unsustainability hasn't restrained anyone in the past, and it looks at this point that pumping that well will continue with bigger and bigger pumps until only dust comes out. . .

We have a lot to learn from this tendency. First, we must personally keep a rigorous accounting of our own practices. It's going to matter. Not only is unsustainable practice unsustainable, it's about to become rapidly and increasingly unaffordable, and as such no longer an elective for most. This will be a very big change in how things are done, oh boy--especially as we wind down a whole lot of people are going to find that they were sold out.

And they aren't going to be happy about all that.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Any of you ever actually catch a banshee by the tail before?. . .

It happens, sometimes.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sustainability vs. Self-reliance.

Let's not confuse the two, as it can lead to sloppy thinking and bad planning.

Let's take the case example--one familiar to me--of preparing a sailing vessel for a voyage. That sailing vessel, it is obvious, needs to be self-reliant. Even a week at sea will shake out a great number of possible problems that must be within the means of the vessel and crew to deal with without outside aid. Both Homesteads and Seasteads need to have the capacity to operate in a self-reliant manner much, if not the majority of the time. Certainly in the context of ocean sailing many of the dangers one may face are pretty transparent and obvious. With homesteading ashore, at least in the context of recent history--many of the dangers are much less well understood. There is a fixation with many with growing food--but as with Seasteading--one can quickly find out that food self-reliance is the easiest thing to achieve. It's the first step, and a critical step, and must be achieved, but there's a hell of a lot else to think about as well.

While Self-Reliance is certainly a value to be sought after--sustainability requires a community. Certainly the more self-reliant one is, the less often one will need to call on the services of the community that one cannot provide for oneself--but it is unrealistic to think that one is going to provide everything. You will need sail cloth, cordage, chain--and while it's possible to consider or fantisize about providing all of those things for yourself--it's a lot more efficent to allow someone in a community that has far more interest in weaving cloth or spinning fiber to take on that task rather than dinking away at it yourself. At the very least, someday, somewhere, you're going to get sick--and unless there's someone to bail you out, your self-reliance will come to an end.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Forum is Booming!

Thanks for the interest. I'm certainly open to any suggestions in how to improve and or make it more useful. . .

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Food Forest

Here is an interesting video I was just introduced to. It's pretty interesting and is very similar to what I'm working through here. Interesting to see even many of the same plants. It's worth a look.

Here's a picture of my place booming along:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


A thought last night as the quiet rains fell on the hapu'u, and I beside the cheery woodstove with a glass of wine and the Les Paul. A comfortably sore back from planting but a full belly. A lot of the world seemed a long long way away.

We must remember--the secret ingredient that unfailingly is able to convert despair into beauty--heroism.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

One meal per square foot?

Well, not quite, unless perhaps I toss in the bird.

Seriously though, I'm really coming along on this whole thing.

The U'ala Piko sweet potatoes I can attest conservatively produce at .5 lb per square foot per year. I've 1500 square feet of those and plan to double that here in the next couple of months. The potatoes alone will give me 100% food self-sufficiency and double as a very effective cover crop. I've written about this in detail before. As well, any extra or culls can easily be put into ethanol production with relatively high yields. The U'ala is a basic and reliable survival crop that with a years efforts can bring most any homestead in the area into near sustainable status.

They're good eats too. 

You'll note above the sweet trick I'm giving away--the corrugated PVC roofing made into 12 foot hot houses. Perfect solution for my area building greenhouse space--bug, slug, vog and chicken proof for a 1 buck a square foot. I grow perfect greens in these and it makes my previously difficult crops flawlessly successful. It would be impossible to greenhouse for less money. Besides, you're growing in real soil so the flavor--and nutrition is much higher than anything one could possibly produce in a hydroponic situation. Here I am again, giving away a million dollar idea. . .ah well, what the hell. Beets, carrots, and spinich in those in the pictures, and the herb garden on the left. 

God, I can grow some honking big sweet potatoes up here. . .that sucker in my hand must weigh 4 lbs.

Here's an interesting read. . .

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Oh yeah, the easy way the sailor cooks Taro.

Throw it whole in a pressure cooker and nuke it.  1 hour.  Take it out and peel it. You can't fail. Be careful not to overdo it. . .use it like you would any other starch at that point or just eat it.

Never trust the candidate that big money supports.

It's about damn time someone starts asking this question:

As well as a whole lot others, like what the hell Tim Geitner or Holder or any of these other scamsters that are doing in this whole supposed administration of change? All Obama has done thus far, except for some token crap to keep progressives convinced that they haven't been suckered, is to take Bush's economic policy and push it twice as much.

As well, get ready for the "bailout" of Madoff's investors that he rams down our throats. . .I saw this coming months ago. . .

Peak Food: growing taro as a basic staple.

It would be next to impossible to find a basic staple as effective for the small homestead as taro. It is no mystery as to why the ancient Hawaiians and others throughout the Pacific revered it so highly--what is a bit of a mystery is why in modern times taro production and consumption has been much diminished. I expect the main issue is that few anymore cook "slow food" sorts of things, and a great deal of misinformation about "toxins" in the plant has discouraged others from even giving it a try. It's hardly any big deal--and any Hawaiian homestead is incomplete without at least a few of these plants.

I grow a number of different varieties here on the shoulder of the Volcano, but mostly I focus on table taros as opposed to poi taros. Yes, there is a difference--in flavor, in consistency, in the amound of "bite" in the raw corm and all the rest. It's important to discover not only what grows best in ones area but also what style is best suited to the usages you expect from the plant. As I use the taro personally as a basic starch in most everything, the firmer table taros are what I focus on, although many do very well.

In the climate I have, most varieties go from very small 'oha to maturity in perhaps 13 months. I find due to the moisture it's often best to harvest small to avoid disease and root rot, but all in all I haven't had much trouble with any of that. Most of the types I grow produce perhaps 6 'oha through their growth cycle, so you can get a bit of an estimate of how long it takes to get a sustainable taro patch up and running. You had better expect 2 years to really be functional. Don't expect to run out and just purchase a bunch of plants. While many farmers are generous indeed with their plants--it's important to realize that they're a valuable gift that you just wouldn't want to toss away to anyone. You'll figure out why. . .as well, you don't want plants from just anyone as it's very easy to import a disease that will destroy your efforts forever. Be aware, there are pitfalls in this as in anything, and the plant is so important to sustainable success here you don't want to make any big errors.

All in all the plant is easy to grow if you give it good practice and sensitive attention.

Please be considerate. These plants are very emotionally valuable to some here, including this atheist. Think like you're planting crucifixes, and your taro patch is a temple of sorts. Don't be some pinhead hippy stoner about the whole thing, so in touch with yourself you're about to get twitchy, ahem, or elsewise. Don't pretend you know what it means to the Hawaiians--you don't. Understand what it means to you, which may rapidly become every bit as valid. Respect a plant that embodies hope. As magical as the plant is, you'd have damn insensitive not to get it. Of course, if you're that brain dead, you'll never be able to grow it, either.

There are people out there more knowledgable than I, for sure, when it comes to this sort of thing that you'll find to get you started if you look. I don't know of anyone else on the island that is growing at my altitude, however, so perhaps there is something to (re)contribute here to the lore. Historically they did, but no longer. At this point I don't really have any huli to give away, as I just replanted, but within the year should be at my goal of 1000 or so plants and will be in a better spot to be helpful to others. 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Peak Food: the obvious strategy

So, in light of this, it doesn't take a lot of insight to figure out that increased food prices, and increased taxation, even outside of the context of price inflation and stagnant wages--growing one's own food is starting to make a hell of a lot of sense. Even at this point it's starting to make real economic sense, and especially for couples the model of one wage earner and one gardener is very attractive. The garden produces implicit untaxable(so far) income and it's disproportionally valuable. Clearly it will only become more so.

So, what to plant? I think the mistake that I see most often is that people get all fired up about planting tomatoes and herbs and the like, which is good--but not at the cost of neglecting staples. Many assume that major staple foods like rice and wheat will be available if expensive but garden crops like the above will not. This is not what history suggests: Actually the basic staples are the first thing to go. Again, we've already seen this with rice, and to some degree both corn and wheat. In the age we live in, these common and traded commodites are also much more vulnerable to market manipulation--whereas other crops are not. This is a risk as well. Also, we face competion from the biofuels market for things to eat--this as well has caused a great deal of price pressure on basic staple crops. I do not see any of these trends easing any time soon.

The great difficulty is that the majority of staples are difficult to grow in a garden setting. They tend to be best cultivated in large land holdings and with mechanized cultivation methods. Growing wheat in a small home garden is a near pointless exercise and a waste of space. While one can grow beans, or chickpeas, or even corn and potatoes--and certainly I grow a lot of sweet potatoes--yields beyond what basic subsistance requires are often difficult to come by. Few options exist, and careful research is bound to be important. Ask, what is it that you're going to eat every day? It's not going to be lettuce. What will be the backbone of your homestead?

Peak Food: the economics of eating.

Let's make a few assumptions to preface the conversation and put it in the context of sensible simplicity--meaning efficiency, right?

Let's look at the average individual in round terms at the moment--and the food issue.

This person makes 20000 - 25000 dollars a year at the prevailing wages of 10 to 12 dollars an hour.

This person eats 3 meals a day. Of course they eat out all the time at McDisgustings and the rest--but assuming they might cook on occasion--it's very easy to assume a food budget of 20 dollars a day if one isn't surviving on complete poverty food. Dry goods across the board at the moment will cost most of 2 dollars a lb--adjusting back and forth for calorie density--and those who have provisioned for "voyages" or elsewise will recognize that 3 lbs per day of dry food in the mix is very sensible. If you're going to throw in anything remotely healthy like a vegetable or two adding a couple of bucks a meal is easy, and if one isn't sedentary throwing a bit of meat in there can easily add another couple bucks.

At 20 dollars a day in food it costs over 10000 dollars a year in earnings. Remember this poor bugger is paying a dollar of taxes on every 3 of earnings. A 20 dollar a day habit will eat 30 bucks of wages a day--and you eat 7 days a week while working 5.

So, let's assume the price of food across the board doubles. Rice did last spring, at least, and this isn't really very radical a notion.

Can the average American worker withstand a 40 dollars a day food budget? Consider as well that it costs 60 dollars of wages to earn that 40 after taxes--obviously not, as you've ate your wages completely and then some. If we assume this person again pays 500 dollars a month in rent, 100 bucks a month in utilities, and nothing at all on cigarettes--honestly, a doubling of food costs is something that simply cannot be borne. In fact, the situation gets very rapidly into the case that it simply doesn't pay to go to work--as it will cost one more in expenses to get there and feed oneself than the prevailing wage pays.

The point of this post is to observe that the median wage earner in this country is so pinched in terms of monthly income that there simply isn't the extra money to overcome large food price increases. So don't think that hardship will be isolated to the remote deserts of Africa. . .

Peak Food:

It's getting timely to insert this term into our collective jargon as the reality is right around the corner. It looks very possible to me that this summer will herald the arrival of the first of the global famines, as we crush up against the inescapable fact of our unsustainability. Sooner than I would have expected, certainly, but we've learned a great deal in the last few years about how the supply/demand relationship is more sensitive and inelastic than one might have thought, and how small changes in availability can create large cost spikes and bubbles, especially in a world with commodity speculation and the ETF's. We saw a quite the bubble in rice prices last year and spot shortages, and we can well expect to see the same this summer. 

The day in which a 50 lb sack of rice was cheaper than a 50 lb sack of potting soil is gone forever.

We'll look into this issue in a bit more depth in the next couple of posts. If we use the motif of "preparing for a voyage"--as it isn't far off reality--we'll have a better sense of what sustainability really means in a practical manner. The issue is likely to be very practical.

It was a little over two years ago that I stood in a Costco in Los Angeles a bit agast at the flies of consumerism crawling over the shit--and I happened to see a pre-packaged tray of sushi in the fridge case. Fraiser River Sockeye! the package screamed, Bleck, I thought to myself, in a Costco in L.A.? but my eye caught the words(product of China). A closer look was warranted at this point.  Can you imagine that there was a moment in history in which things were so cheap that you could catch a fish in Canada, freeze it, fly it to China to have people cut it up and make sushi out of it, pack it in into wonky little 30 piece trays, fly it back across the Pacific Ocean once again to Los Angeles, and the whole thing can be bought for 12 bucks, including the half of the entire product which won't be bought by anyone and be pitched in the trash? God, I wish I had taken a picture of that. . .

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Waena--putting the "perma" back in permaculture

One understands "waena" gardening when one understands that the skill involved is understanding each plant and cultivating it in a near natural state in a place that it flourishes. Most agriculture techniques or even permaculture techniques attempt to modify the local environment to suit the plant. Of course borders on each of these concepts become vague and blurred but--there is a big difference between walking out on ones property, finding a spot X, knowing that plant Y will grow in plant X, and planting plant Y--rather than attempting to cultivate plant Y on site X and using a cat to hammer the land into condition to do so. 

As James Lovelock often points out, one of the things that's difficult about the modern "eco progressive" movement in general is that by and large the majority of its proponents are middle to upper class urbanites. While they may be very educated about ecological issues in a theoretical sense, they are often very disattached from the realities and practical issues of a non-recreational life in harmony with the land. Just a little. One large and very well promoted permaculture project right down town Los Angeles comes to mind--while an amazing example of fine gardening--a farm kid would immediately ask how on earth one pays the mortagage on a square block of prime real estate worth 2000 bucks a square foot with bok choy. He may also ask where in this permaculture project one gets the water--to which the trendily dressed vegan anarchal-feminist will point to the pipe, of course, dummy.

So what's special about waena? Not a great deal. It's another type of subsistance lifestyle(that's what they used to call permaculture before grant money was invented) that many of our ancestors lived. Subsistence lifestyles are by nature "sustainable" or people die. Plenty have died and still do and more will yet. This is one of those realities and practical issues of a non-recreational life in harmony with the land. But, as subsistence goes, waena is a particularly good style of a particularly fine climate, and the crops it relies on are particularly fine and reliable. As well, Hawaii is only a 100 or so years removed from this kind of lifestyle being commonplace, as opposed to perhaps 500 in Europe, so the idea of working within a natural state and the means of doing so aren't so lost or alien. Since any sort of better or survivable future will require a restoration of as much of the natural state as we can--pressing new land into service for agriculture, even permaculture, is simply not a tenable option.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Waena III

So what are the risks of waena farming, or the downsides? Few, really, especially in an uncorrupted ecosystem. A previous cleared area, especially one cleared and neglected, will require a great deal of time and effort to weed and remove invasives and grasses, but within the forest itself simply removing the false staghorn, by mulching and controlled burning historically--and immediate planting with taro or u'ala one will get good results. Since the forest encourages small patches in multiple zonal habitats, the likelyhood of pest infestation or weed introduction is limited simply by isolation. In a day with new bugs and viruses all the time not having all one's eggs in one basket is pretty sensible!

For weed control I use the u'ala sweet potatoe (piko) as a perpetual cover crop. Bare ground will rapidly become infested with something, so one may as well infest it with sweet potatoes! The sweet potato at least in my area seems to be of very little interest to many insects, and seems to work well as a border barrier as well protecting more vulnerable produce. The single biggest mistake one can make is to open a garden plot without any immediate usage. It will rapidly become infested and the work involved will be radically increased. If you're foolish enough to clear and let the guava get going, you're going to be duly rewarded for your neglect.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Waena II

So let's look at the primary advantages of this technique. Pictures tomorrow maybe, if I feel like it.

For Hawaii, or any rain forest climate, certainly having multiple dry and wet zones where both upland and wetland plants can be cultivated is a huge advantage. Since taro is the backbone of the Pacific one would have to be nuts not to grow it, in fact I'd go so far than you have to be nuts not to give it a try if it's even remotely possible. You can hardly get a more perfect staple, and the plant is near magical in its loveliness anyway--something I can't say for, well, perhaps barley, which makes me sneeze just thinking about it. Since with taro the low holes and muddy spots are already spoken for, with a sustainable yield potential of possibly 2 lbs a square foot-- the rest of sustainability is easy. Taro is especially valuable because it's labor intensive, but labor intensive for everyone. There are no effective mechanical harvesters, and everyone is in the same position--for a market crop it makes a lot of sense. I focus on high end table taros, not poi taros, because they historically have grown better in my areas than anywhere else, and look like they still do. It's worth looking into. 

Man, I can grow taro that comes out of the ground and tastes like a twice baked potato straight up, with the sour cream and butter built in. Thanks, Jerry! Some of that and a couple cups of kava and I'd need precious little else. . .

These muck holes in the rainforest are generally so rich and anerobic than near nothing can live in them. They are unutilized space in the native forest as even the plants more or less used to the area will die of root rot. Not taro. Planted with taro, in this sense, per acre, the bioresperation of CO2 is markedly increased--the native forest is unimpacted, but the yield is maximized by perhaps even a factor of 2. Too good to be true? Well, we'll think about that tomorrow. There are things to think about.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Waena farming in Puna, Hawaii.

The term "waena" stems from the Hawaiian term "waele" meaning "to clear of grass." In a cultural context waena style farming is an ancient practice of farming in an agriforestry setting. Historically it was most practiced in Kona, Ka'u, and Puna, but in the last century many of these techniques have been lost and the upland farms have been abandoned for lower level elevation properties and techniques. In some way my project here is rediscovering the wheel, but the the need is timely. Much of the valuable lower altitude agricultural land has foolishly been lost to development and a fair bit of the farms still in operation are somewhat vulnerable to drought and introduced pests. These issues do not face the prospective higher altitude farmer who works in harmony with the forest, and as far as I can see this may be one of the most valuable techniques for the would be homesteader/permaculturist in any mid to high altitude tropical environment.

My acreage here near Volcano is in a natural state, with virgin forest and a good deal of natural topography. There are many peaks and ridges and holes to be found, with a vertical relief of perhaps 10 feet. Obviously many zones that require sensitivity the needs of various plants to flourish and it is easy to make mistakes. The major food staples of taro and sweet potatoes do very well here indeed--and to have one's nutritional needs covered with reliablity is more than many can hope for.

The main advantage, however, is this--you don't screw up the ecosystem. There is no clearing or machinery involved, and if one were to cease production within a decade, for certain, the site would return to a natural state. This is no small thing and far more responsible and low impact than many "green" concepts out there. Of course yields are not as high, hypothetically, as they might be with a cleared lot and flat ground--but neither are the infrastructure needs. The vast majority of fertility and composts come from the site itself in a proven sustainable manner--the ohia trees are excellent soil builders--and with careful culling of limbs, thining, and utilization of biochar the whole makes for an uniquely viable system.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Damn the Doom!

Ok, enough of this already. . .here's a "few, we lonely few, we band of brothers" bit. . .

There is a lot of talk about "uncertainty" out there, and people feel that they don't know which way to turn. Allow me advocate that this moment uncertainty is an erronious attitude born of denial. We have nothing to be uncertain about except the most trival of details. We have been for a while lost in a forest, unsure of our path, many of us paralysed by indecision. No longer. We know the path that lies ahead, and we know it's going to be a miserable grim slog at times. There is really nothing left to do but pick up and soldier on.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing either. Acknowledgement of a task engenders effort towards its end. It is time to acknowledge the task that lies ahead. We have no option but adapting ourselves to our new future and our lot in life. This will be painful for many, of course, if not most. No matter.

We a dire future, but not necessarily a hopeless one. The hope is up to us, and the heroic manner in which we face what is ahead. I will not deny that hope and delusion can be very difficult to discern at times. Fine, so be it. The alternative at this point is dispair. I resolve to maintain meaningful hope even if my is an outright and undeniable lie.

We must either learn straightaway in a completely functional manner how to care for ourselves and our loved ones in every aspect of life, certainly including many of those we have taken for granted till now--or beg for aid from those who have been foresighted enough to do so. Whether by land or by sea the age of dabbling in these lifestyles as a recreational dilettante is over and to persist will be fatal. We still have time to press ahead honestly and make a few mistakes, but less time than we did a year ago.

Frankly, I intend full well to prosper. I would expect any enterprising individual with a good mind and the willing to learn--one that is a first order producer of knowledge or value will be as succesful as any. The brokers and agents of this world, or any of those who managed or outright stole the efforts of others will find it very difficult to adapt. The only bond between men and women and society will be one's word and one's integrity--woe to you if you've not demonstrated any to date!

One must: 

Provide a secure dwelling that one owns, or owns with others. Whether a cabin in the woods or a boat--or the back of a datsun wagon, to be without a castle of some variety will be a recipe of sure dispair.

Provide oneself with a diversified means of income--cashflow will be part of human society for the near future, and a great deal will be demanded likely. You will not be able to rely on  "employment." You will need to produce value. Whatever that means is up to you so long as it works.

Provide oneself with a network of knowledgable dependable freinds and cull the rest.

Provide oneself with the mental maturity and determination to succeed, as well as not to be a detriment to the community that by necessity one will find themselves within. Success will require acute technical understanding of the task at hand.

Lastly, resolve to make life meaningful. Whatever that takes. This may well be the last line of defense that the hero has--one must believe that one is carrying on for something. This something is not going to be hard to find--in fact, there are unlimited deserving opportunites that will require a hero for survival. . .

And with that, I resolve to stick with more practical stuff in posts for a while. As, it is, all in all, the practical stuff I do best. . .

and YET ANOTHER plug for George Soros.

Game theory and the "Tragedy of the Commons" pt II

Some rambling thoughts.

Obviously, then this CO2 problem is going to be a tough nut to crack, and in the classic "Tragedy of the Commons" manner we are operating dangerously close to the "problem impossible to solve by technical means." Everyone at this moment has a vested survival interest in using the atmosphere as a  sewer. In fact, certainly, if you don't, you are severely penalized. My integrity in wanting to live a low impact lifestyle through the last decade caught me no end of grief and alienation--it ended freindships and relationships as well as opportunities. Jay thought flying off to Bali was unethical material consumption, and well, that wasn't fun enough for some and made others feel bad or stupid. Others in a more comfortable and flexible manner had different "feelings" about the matter and different "beliefs." I had a different understanding of the issues at hand. Still, we all recognized a looming problem that promised to be unsolvable.  All in all, however, as game theory dictates, the only way to win in such circumstances is by a radical redefinition of the game rules.  Most people instinctively understand this, but not how to do it, and this is part of why we have the muddled mess that we do.

One of the very great dangers I see among those who I know who share similar values to mine is a particularly insidious one. There is a tendency among many who are repulsed by the mainstream values, in any culture or in any time, to project that the mainstream values are destructive and will ultimately end to some sort of apocalyptic demise. Sure, the gods will avenge the "evildoers" in the end and disposessed people have always whined that. This is a very different attitude than a well informed and technically literate understanding of a given society's trends--although the predictions of dire consequences may sound very similar in most cases. Some people are worried about the next decade because of credit default swaps, some because of peak oil, some because jesus is on his way back or some such. Let me point out that while there is a certain camaradarie in such doomsday talk, each of these people will engage in a "radical redefinition" of the game rules in order to win in a different manner. Redefinitions predicated on erronious first principles are unlikely to be successful.

For myself, this has always been a central concern. Back in my late 20's I felt a great deal of pressing anxiety about the future and in what manner I was going to face it. I was in a position where I certainly could have taken that career path to some degree anyhow, but for technical reasons really felt that it would be a dead end at some point--at any rate I wasn't connected enough to every be very successful in that world--and finally made a very conscious choice to "radically redefine" my game rules in a manner that I felt I might win. That choice was the "extracultural" lifestyle of Seasteading and, all in all, it was a good choice. At any rate there was a great deal of deliberate purpose in the whole thing--I knew either choice would have grave consequences--as well if I were to go about either choice in a half-assed manner I'd certainly lose.

Driven to succeed? Not really. I'd say the central motivation I have that has carried me forward was the desire to understand. I wanted to know what I was talking about beyond a trivial level. I wanted to have reliable and technically applicable understanding of the world I lived in and the forces that shaped it. Understanding, I find, is always vastly more powerful in engendering action than casual belief. Far too many are comfortable with mere belief, and while they may have strong "feelings" about those beliefs, far too often there's a heavy air of "I can't be bothered with the details" attutude that floats around with it as well.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the issues we face at this moment are technical issues that require a technical understanding and technical solutions. Ideology and belief will not suffice to achieve anything. In fact, ideology and belief may well be powerful hinderences to accurately "redefining" the game rules. . .

So, then after that ramble--what will be "winning" and what will be the rules? What rules have radically changed?

I think a few things really may come to be understood with a higher level of resolution than in the past.

First-- "Feeling" states are very important. Passion is meaning.  Still, feeling leads to the  phenomenology of experience, not to comprehension. As well, affluence in general has a tendency to cheapen experience by making it far too accessible, and as such commonplace. I believe we will need to jealously guard our feeling states in this hard future in a manner to which many are unaccustomed--and adopting a deliberate integrity in our actions is the way to do so.

Second--Money will be a markedly less valuable and reliable tool for achieving those winning states--whether good times, or security, or companionship. Money has been pretty much the only tool in most people's toolshed for some time, and they're going to be pretty lost without it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

How I measure my CO2 footprint.

This is a tricky buisness. Measuring any of this sort of thing is a very inexact science, and the only way to keep integrity in the process is to hedge the numbers very conservatively. But here a start and critique is invited.

In the high altitude tropics where I live the daytime temperatures are in the 60's to low 80's all year round. 140+ inches a year in rainfall mostly well distributed throughout the year. Stuff really grows and biomass abounds. As far as I can survey, I have about 1500 Ohia trees ranging from small and immature to nearly 3 feet at the butt, with the average size of perhaps 8. I have over the last year planted Koa as well in various places, several hundred trees. Most are doing well. The Ohia are prodigious soil builders requiring little in nutrients and producing large amounts of heavy leaf mold throughout the year. No wonder they are sacred here. They are the real backbones of the forest that the whole island system is built on.

Early on I built a couple of stations in the forest to measure the quantities of biomass dropped per square foot. Quantities are significant. With these and other estimations it is fair to assume 20 tons an acre in carbon rich biomass is produced annually. This seems to be consistent with other local crop yields of taro or sugar cane, or at least is sensibly in the credible range. 

So, perhaps that sounds like a lot, but only a portion of that is carbon, and only a portion of that is sequestered. Some becomes wood in trees which is relatively longterm storage, a good part of it rots giving off CO2 and CH4, not so good. So, the actual pumpdown in the amalgam is probably only a 3rd of all that, or about 20000 pounds.

So, what does that offset, really? The answer, of course, is nothing, as the the "ecowankers" and others are still flying around the world raising awareness about global warming. But, minding my own buisness, the figures are different. So, what is my allowable consumption to be carbon neutral? Well, roughly 200 gallons of gasoline a year, or 4000 lbs of wood in the woodstove, or elsewise in consumption in the mix. Of course here it gets very complicated, and it gets tempting to cook the books. Personally, I think the easiest thing to do is to scale it all in gross dollar consumption because the spending of every dollar has a carbon impact at this point, and the price of a gallon of gasoline is probably the most accurate measure of the real impact of a purchase, as fuel is one ingredient in everything we buy. If I assume 200 gallons of gasoline at 3 dollars a gallon as an average(since I don't burn that much gasoline) we have 600 dollars of consumption: if we assume that fuel is at least 10% of the cost of any purchase, conservative indeed--this gives me a consumption level of +/- 6000 dollars a year at current valuations as what I'd see as the upper allowable limit of personal expenditures. Of course this is a little over twice of global GDP so I'm living pretty high on the hog. A good number for a lot of reasons: 3 acres per person, perpetual permaculture, living under one's federal standard deduction so tax money doesn't directly go to undermine one's effort(another topic). At the moment with world population where it is there is almost 5 acres per person on the planet so the effort is sensibly ethically dependable. . .3 acres per person in agriforestry permaculture with cash expenditures not to exceed 6000 dollars a person for annual expenses to me seems to be a very good estimate of what sustainable really means. It is indeed do able, and of course, central to the theme around here, is a strategy that makes the forthcoming economic collapse of pretty small consequence. . .

Thoughts? Obviously unless you're living very sustainably off the land itself this isn't achievable. 5 gallons a week will not run a homestead and drive you to work. It will however, power a homestead alone. The immediate implication is that any functional homestead must provide both food, infrastructure, and income to be sustainable. Going elsewhere to earn a living is prohibitably ineffient and something we'll need to change.

Let me point out as well that the forest here is improving. This property is moving from a "natural" state to an "enhanced" state. By careful stewardship the output and carbon cycle of the land can be greatly enhanced. Careful applications of soil ammendments, tree husbandry, the introduction of biodiversity(koa especially) and biochar promise to move me from carbon neutral to into the plus column quite rapidly. Of course to then increase my standard of living is counterproductive--restaint, remember?--but does demostrate that this small living can work and provide for a lifestyle that indeed moves in the right direction. More on these techniques in the next few days.


So, what this all means is that the average N. American couple will need to pare back consumption and expenditures by 80 to 90 percent. This is a lot. A lightbulb, casual recycling and a spiffy new Prius isn't going to cut it. Funny that I would find that number to be applicable because -- -- these folks have come to the same conclusion. I don't see any way around it.

So, really, what gives? Are we really really right there at the brink of the Malthusian Nightmare? Yeah, I guess so. Yeah, I really think so. Honestly, I've been trooping and working on this stuff for years and it's caught me by surprise. But, all in all, this how it works. Life is what happens before your ass gets wiped off the planet.

Here's another term: Ecophile. One who loves nature but in a self-centered, delusional, destructive, and exploitive fashion.  As in Pedophile.

Anyway, excuse me while I attempt to go sweat out the rest of this fever. . .

Oh, and lastly, so since I've been asked a great deal lately--how long will it take to get a homestead together in the manner in which you have? Two years. If you have help. I'm not there yet either, but certainly striking distance and have may a few, but not to many mistakes. I don't mind being a pioneer. Someone needs to.