Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Greatest Enemy of Progress:

A bit of a revelation shared here this morning. After my TEDx presentation in Hilo here a couple of months ago and a few follow up encounters I've had to admit that there were some very fundamental issues pertaining to climate change(and of course our debt issues, and resource depletion as well--it's all the same problem, after all), stuff that I'd really made the mistake of overlooking. . .I think most all of us made the mistake of overlooking. . .kinda on purpose a lot of times.

Let me posit a new meme, a prime requisite for engendering progress. . .

The greatest enemy of progress in the modern world isn't ignorance, but rather cynicism.

In speaking to a lot of people, one finds as the polls confirm, that the number of people who are in denial about the big issues of today are really pretty sparse, less than 1 in 5, and generally hold their views not because of any sort of thoughtful position but rather of selfish kneejerk ideology. They're unreachable, of course, but their rhetoric can resonate with a larger population--desperate to dismiss the evidence. Still, honestly, in speaking to people, this sort of stuff doesn't account for the main reason for their unwillingness to act.

Here's why progress is stalled.

1. People dismiss the data not because of the lack of persuasiveness of it. They don't get even as far as looking at it. They feel justified in dismissing the data even before looking at it because of the lack of evidence that "the evidence" seems to be persuasive to the very people that claim to find it persuasive. We are accustomed, hardened even, to a perpetual onslaught of sales pitches-- of people talking their book. To to be able to sniff out and reject claims on the basis of the apparent integrity of the one espousing them may be cynicism, pure and simple-- but in our culture it's also a very valuable survival skill. It's especially worth considering in this case, as there is a large moral component to all of our pressing issues, and there's an reasonable expectation that one who was in possession of such important truth would, well, "walk the walk." And there's very very very few examples of this, especially among "leading spokes-people," whatever that might mean. . . oh yeah, I guess I mean those people who have enough affluence and free-time to spend more than their share of time holding a microphone. Strike one!

2. Now, of course-- it doesn't help a damn bit that very often those ( talking the talk, not walking the walk) very often get involved in all sort of commercial ventures somehow loosely attached ideologically to "the issues"-- and set out in an obvious attempt to maintain their current unsustainable lifestyles by peddling "sustainable living." Whether pimping alternative energy, green building, whiz-bang technology, setting out to be some kind of eco-fabulous talking head, selling homeopathic tinctures that offset CO2-- or whatever, anything other than cutting consumption. . . Well, you know, people don't really like hypocrites, especially hypocrites that are selling stuff. Now sure, there's a certain amount of commerce in all of this stuff as hypocrites have a vested interest in buying stuff from other hypocrites in an attempt to try to give their cute tricks some credibility, but the larger audience doesn't buy it-- they see right through it, or at least think they do. For them it's simply further evidence that the "issue" is a scam. Cynicism Strike two!

3. Now here's the real kicker: The thoughtful individual who is mostly informed of the data, but full aware of 1 and 2 asks themselves. . .Wow, I'd really like to try to make a difference, but to do so will require some hard work and meaningful sacrifice. But I can't do it alone, and if I make sacrifices while others do not I gain nothing and only lose in both the short AND the long run. Sure! Straight up, clean game-theory here, and they're absolutely right and rationally justified in holding such a position.  This is, in fact, not an attitude held of ignorance at all, but rather a well informed one.

Strike three! No wonder we're not getting anywhere. Whoops, rather to say, no wonder we're actually losing ground.  Those of us who would set ourselves up as "advocates' for a better world would do well to realize that we're not very convincing-- and the reason we're not very convincing isn't that A) our facts are weak, nor B) people are too stupid to understand our argument-- it's that we ourselves come across lacking integrity and commitment personally and that we belie our own message by our actions and lifestyles.

We will not make any progress until we realize at the core of all these issues is a willingness to sell out the future for short term gain. We will not make any progress until there is meaningful economic justice and equal opportunity, across nationality, sex, race, or class. We will not make any progress until there is meaningful economic equality. This inherent fairness is critical, as it's simply impossible to ask those to choose against themselves for the greater good while others in positions of privilege exploit the greater good. . .and in fact profit by the fact of lack of justice and the crises engendered by it.

This is why it's patently obvious that guys like Al Gore and other eco-fabulous jackasses like that are the absolutely worst spokemen for "sustainability"-- and they'd do us all a great service if they dried up and went away. I mean, come on! Let me tell you some thing for certain-- if we actually get there, I promise you this: A sustainable planet can't have any Al Gores on it!

So, those of us who would want to strive for a better world had best attend to our own affairs first, and once we've been successful enough to possess a solid enough display of integrity to defeat objections 1) and 2) by our own commitments to justice, only then are we in a position to take on objection 3). Otherwise, let me suggest, or "shout out" actually, you're not helping a thing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rocket Stoves Revisited.

Cooking for Thanksgiving last week gave me the urge to re-post some old stuff on rocket stoves, as it's been of interest for some time. And it should, as these are an ideal transition technology to utilize local biomass in a simple and practical manner. You'll start to view your strawberry guava as an asset rather than a pest-- grab yourself a good pair of loppers and harvest some fuel.

Enjoy! Questions answered and plans available.

Here's the link to old articles on the same.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Re-forestry Season:

Record amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere this year-- what can one do?

UH has nice trees on occasion, selected for forestry. Give 'em a ring!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Hilo: Oct 15

Details here:

Our discussion here:

There is potential that this may be a pretty interesting moment in history. We'll see.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Opportunity of the Decade!

This weekend, in Hilo, at TEDx Waiakea-- you'll have the unique opportunity to. . .

Gosh, that's right! Actually see me not wearing work clothes. That's right, no pine tar, epoxy, motor oil, paint, varnish, hydraulic fluid, chain saw scuzz, PVC cement, banana juice, chicken shit, spilled beer, soldering flux, battery acid, concrete, sawdust, metal filings, fish scales, tree sap, filth, permatex, rust, charcoal, mud, bits of string, bottom paint, blood, and hopefully little sweat and tears. This is a rare event indeed, kinda shocking for me.

I fear an allergic reaction.

The topic of this TEDx event is "Simple Ways to Power Yourself and Your Community." While honored to be featured there, in many ways I've really learned the key to all that is "talk less, and do more." Making an exception, I guess, here on this blog, and certainly for the event, and I hope that I can offer a constructive message. It's been a lot of work for me putting one together, and one that has involved a great deal of soul-searching--as I've been forced to confront my audience--perhaps not so much locally but otherwise largely one of "mainstream" people -- something I don't have a lot of contact with anymore, and haven't, frankly, in years. In many ways my life path has been one of seeking "authentic" experience as a means to reach personal integrity. That personal integrity, of course, compels one to adopt an informed, realistic, but heroically optimistic world view(even if that part is kinda iffy) and this blog has a lot of that kind of observations muddled through it. The observation today, frankly, is that "authenticity" is rarely, rarely, rarely found in talk, but in the evidence of past action. As in a lot of ratty worn out clothes that are the badges of projects taken on and completed. It is remarkable that in order to reputably address a mainstream audience on the subject "empowerment" with a message of "authenticity" I'll need to personally shed any evidence of actually having any.

Please, can't I at least bring the welder? LOL.

Seriously, it is remarkable, and telling.  A lot on my mind lately, in a constructive manner, sure. But I've got to admit to being deeply burdened by the reality of the moment and responsibility that comes from it. Our community is really starting to suffer, and that's just the facts-- it's easy for me to carry the concern that time spent flapping my mouth or typing away here could and should be better spent raising yet another round of birds, or welding up a cook stove or two(propane is now 6 bucks a gallon on the island), planting taro-- endless the options, there. However, I do feel though it may be as important as bear witness to hollowness and moral bankruptcy of the moment. . .simply, sincerely, authentically. . .to at least deny those that exploit the moment the defense of ignorance. . .as if any would believe it anyway.

Ah, but you friends of mine, don't doubt. You know I'll give 'em hell!

Thanks, Larry, for the opportunity, and all the time and effort put into organizing the event! Kilauea SilviCulture pledges to donate and plant a tree for all attendees! That ought to get some pants properly muddied up!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Appropriate Technology for the Future:

We'll set aside my tirade about Rick "Imperial Dragon" Perry of the Koch Klimate Klan-- it looks to be a foregone conclusion that we'll (s)elect that monster to be the next "Leader of the Free World." I don't want to be accused of beating a dead horse here. . .

Did I mention he's the god-damned "antichrist?" Seriously!

Anyway, in the interest of being constructive I thought today I'd introduce skills that may well become important in the future that we're likely to face: Flint Knapping and Gnawing.

Flint knapping, of course, is the traditional art of making stone edged tools by chipping hard stone, like obsidian  or flint. Without the means, especially fuel, to work metals, knapping can produce implements much superior to more primitive techniques, like poking stuff with sharp sticks or mashing things apart with rocks. Here in Hawaii we don't have in hard rocks like that, and probably won't have any fuel either--especially after the bio-mass to energy boys get ahold of the forests--so we'd better stick to techniques that we can actually manage in the future of scarcity that seems all but unavoidable.

Gnawing, as well, is a time honored tradition for getting stuff apart. Compared to knapping, it is relatively simple to master. Rats can do it. But it too has its technical limitations, as it relies on teeth, something already starting to show signs of scarcity in East Hawaii. Around the world scarcity of teeth, especially prevalent among males of the warrior class, was compensated for by again utilizing sharp sticks and mashing rocks, used to compel women and children(who still possessed the tools for gnawing) to perform the necessary tasks. Sharp sticks and rocks were also useful to produce extra children even among toothless women, so teeth proved to be a true renewable resource manageable even in cultures of comparative austerity. . .

. . .Now as promising as either of these two technologies seem to be, personally I kinda like to dream for the moonshot--like practicing a little, authentic, thinking ahead and conservation now--as it seems to me that if we responsibly steward our resources now, we might not even need to worry about the scarcity of teeth that much in the future.  . .

. . .Nah, I know. Just a pipedream. Conservation? Good stewardship? Too much work. It would cut too much into our quality of life. . .be realistic, Jay.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tao of the Ninja Mennonite: IV

Big guns, now: good vs. evil?

See I wasn't really raised so much to believe in evil, as well, as Nietzsche said "You may search the world for evil, but alas, all you may find is the bad," meaning, of course, that being evil is really hard to do, and you've got to really want it, and you've got to be fucked up in a galactic kind of way to do that. You've got to be a bit superhuman, really. Most people want just the bad, which is just some weird twisted version of the good, selfishly-- so you'll sell out at your own convenience to get it.. A lot like our current President, or perhaps Mitt(Holy Underwear) Romney.

I was also a brainy geek kid, chess club sort, who loved Dungeons and Dragons and all that, as it was this completely wonderful world to play thought experiments with. Contrary to what the evangelical idiots thought, it wouldn't drag you to the DEVIL, as well, there was one, drawn up nicely by a set of rules, and all the rest in the game, you got to know "it" personally, and you'd figure out it wasn't a very good winning proposition to have anything to do with any of that DEVIL stuff unless you were nuts and self-destructive. In fact, being stupid doesn't work with "evil," you've got to really work at it or you just end up being "bad.". I'm telling you, it's not simple.  Think about it. Take some time. It ain't a simple issue. You'll find, if you think about it, you can end up being good and stupid, by mere accident, and I guess it counts, if anyone keeps score, but to be evil you've to to really mean it. You've got to be deliberate. For what end? It can't be chicky-poos, or wealth, or power, or any of that-- that's just bad again. See, evil can't have an end but itself. You've got to want it because you just want it,  itself. Ah, Epistemology. . . People still tell me they believe in "evil."  I say, well, try a thought experiment. Lock yourself up in a closet and just be all "evil" by yourself for a couple hours and see how that works out for you. What do you figure you're going to do? Be pissy? Angry? Think mean thoughts? Cut on yourself?(can't do much of that, you've got a couple of hours!). Bunk. Evil is a joke!

Well, now we've got Rick Perry.

Now seriously, this makes me wonder. This dude is fucked up, in a supreme galactic sort of way. He can't, absolutely can't, impossibly can't, be as stupid as he makes himself. His state is in the worst drought in history. Nope, no such thing as climate change, he says. Evidence is out, like it is on dinosaur eggs. Or maybe Enron too, or a whole lot of stuff it's handy not to think about. He has executed more people that any other Texas Gov., a high bar, frankly, and has "no doubts, whatsoever" about his doing so. He believes, in spite of the fact that he lives square on top of the best piece of oil real estate in the US, that "environmentalists" are impeding oil exploration. . .Like there's parts of Texas that haven't been looked at? Isn't it legal in Texas to shoot environmentalists(whatever that means) on sight? He's a Christian Dominionist? You just look this up on your own. . .Let's be clear, this fucker is a monster. I understand it's poor taste to compare people to Hitler. I wouldn't dare, so I wouldn't. Hitler was a beast, for sure, but I don't believe he had some complete willing, complicit desire to destroy all of humanity and creation? Hitler was a fascist, a complete egotistical nutcase, and wanted to restore some kind of weird ass mythological motherland. As fucked up as that is, at least I can stretch my head to get around it, and maybe try to understand why.

To deliberately commit violent, self-destructive, self-demeaning suicide for myself and everyone else I might  know, doing everything one can to drag them into it, well, is something I don't, or didn't, believe was a mindset possible to exist.

I've got to tell ya, I've been in a lot of churches in my time.  My Dad was an undertaker, after all, and we got to see all that religiosity  layed out in its glory. Dogma? Sure, seen lots of that. Bigotry? Sure, seen lots and lots of that. Racism? Sure, seen lots of that. Classism? Less of that, but growing, for sure. Homophobia? Some of that, but shrinking.. Stupidity? Tons and tons of that. Selfishness. all that? Well, of course. Evasion of personal responsibility? Well, hell! What do you think religion was created for?

Completely blind ass evil? I didn't believe it possible.

Rick Perry has expanded my mind.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Tao of the Ninja Mennonite: III

So it would have been in the late 50's or so when my Grandfather, a rather devout, even dogmatic sort of Mennonite farmer--plowed up a nest of dinosaur eggs preparing some new farm ground. The eggs are at a natural history museum in Spokane now. I've got half of one, cut and polished. I wasn't there, but I can imagine the scene a bit. It would have been the era, of course, where the whole creation vs. evolution(fight, you can't call it a debate) was probably hitting the mainstream in rural America. My grandfather wouldn't have been the kind of guy who would have spent a lot of time worrying about it, as wheat farming gave him all the worrying he needed--as he would have figured that if he was supposed to care, he'd probably be "encouraged" to do so. Well, here was encouragement to think about it--in the form of a half dozen perfect, oddly shaped eggs.

Now I can very much imagine his thought process. He was not particularly educated, but was a experienced and keen observer of nature. He would have known for sure that the size of the eggs were far too large for birds, and the shape was all wrong anyway, having seen plenty of snake eggs. He might have heard some of the hyperbolic explanations from the more evangelical sorts: explanations of how the dinosaurs were created on day one and the extinguished, or died in the "flood" or some crap like that, but I'm sure the fact that these were eggs would have held some sway, and a nest, which spoke of creatures living their lives rather than some exhibitory divine freakshow. He would have known also that it wasn't unusual to find other sorts of fossils either, stuff that couldn't possibly co-exist with big lizards, like mastodon tusks or dire wolves--and if anything to try to believe that all this stuff had happened in a week just a few thousand years ago was simply implausible. He wouldn't have needed to be a research scientist to known this, he was a natural scientist who had enough life experience and eyes in his head to think that a bit of a stretch. Creation was a revelation of God, after all, and it wouldn't lie to you. Besides, while he was familiar with his bible, for sure, he was familiar enough to understand that the "word of God must be read with guidance by the small, still voice of the Holy Spirit"-- meaning, that you just can't take everything in there verbatim, but you must practice a certain amount of cautious, thinking discernment. Jeez, how sensible. . .

See, being a bit of a bible scholar myself, having studied the thing cover to cover in my youth, I can promise you in there no-where is a commandment that one must be a dumb-ass. Science was encouraged in our household, for sure, as much as bible reading, as both, with guidance by that that "small, still voice" were was of understanding God. Ultimately, for me, I was far more persuaded by the likes of Issac Asimov or Carl Sagan-- perhaps also Hegel, Schopenhauer, Jung, on and on--Marcus Aurelius and Gung Fu Tze: these satisfied the answers of my "small, still voice" than did the various zealots from the dark ages. . .that's the path of growth, and how it happens. Does that "small, still voice" still speak to this atheist? Sure.

Contrasting now for a moment. . .just for giggles. Nervous ones.

Michele Bachmann?  This woman probably hears voices, but I doubt they're "small, still ones." For fuck sakes, she's running for president and getting somewhere trying. Mind you, she believes 1) The earth was created in a week some 8000 years ago 2) Climate change not just not happening, but is a hoax 3) Her homophobic husband is actually straight.

Some video fun. There's much more along this line if you follow the links. Be careful, if you haven't heard this kind of stuff be prepared to pick your jaw up off the floor.

So just how do people get to be this stupid? It's really worth a question, and education or lack of it isn't the issue. What it is, as far as I see it, the causal element is privilege, mostly the privilege to live your life in evasion of any facts or details that might challenge your selfish preconceived opinions. It gives one the option of being removed from the details that make up what most of us call "reality." But that's good old Michele and to a large degree describes the overfed pin-heads that support her. Privilege? That's not my background, for sure, nor my family, and so we have a tendency to adopt a critical eye especially towards things we want to believe. One can find oneself in a position where one cannot afford the luxury to believe foolish things for comfort, nor the risk of being wrong. Lack of privilege demands pragmatism, and objectivity--not dogma or idealism-- it might surprise people that that my Grandfather sold his farm in 1976, because of climate change. He would have been unaware of the research, but he was wholly aware of the level of the water in his well and the dates he had planted and harvested over the previous 50 years-- that would have convinced him far more than any scholarly study.  But we that work with our hands can't have our head, ahem, in the clouds.

Hand that stupid fool a shovel-- she might learn something.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Tao of the Ninja Mennonite: II

Following on the last post, it's worth putting some time and effort considering the implications of the "yoked" terminology. It's a much more refined view than one hears from many "empowerment" camps--who might otherwise use terminology such as dispossession, or exploitation, or enslavement-- see, the term "yoked" is important-- as within Anabaptist tradition one realizes that the "yoked" animal puts its head into the harness willingly, and performs work against its own better future for the short term gain of a couple of handfuls of feed. 

The wisdom of this tradition is to understand that one has personal culpability in the bearing of a yoke.


See, personal responsibility is central to these people. There are no innocent bystanders in this world view. Sure, you'll find kids around the world in terrible situations, but in a lot of cases the fault for that child's condition and the villain can be capably lain at the feet of not only some oppressing elite class(a growing and currently favorite) but also the kid's parents, and grandparents, who stuck their head in a yoke and empowered the exploitative force by their own efforts to seek an easy handful of feed. And I think there's a good point, if not an absolute one, there: most people find themselves in the positions of "dis-empowerment" not by exploitation by others, but by selling out to them.

Cognitive Dissonance seems to me to be the critical flaw of most progressive movements I value: no wonder, our culture has high expectations of maintenance. Few are willing to carry the burden of remaining independent, and we have found that the most effective way of controlling a herd isn't bullwhips but to feed it well. (Alert! Feed sack is running empty, and bullwhips must suffice in such environments!) It's little wonder to me as to why we see such little progress being made-- using climate change again as an example -- of all these organizations "battling" climate change all the while "yoked" to funding, support, media access, even expectation of lifestyles--on and on, coming from sources that have absolutely the opposite goal in mind. End result? Losing ground, of course.

Look, let's be clear: there is no way to preserve "spotted owl" habitat and hunt Californian Perky-titted Golddiggers.  Any of us who would want to make a change for a better world will need to be damned careful in what we do, how we live our lives, what our expectations are, who we work for, if we're serious about getting some traction on the issues we care about. The temptations to stick one's head in a "yoke" are strong, and opportunities ubiquitous. It may in fact be that at the moment it's all but impossible to operate effectively within mainstream--or even semi-mainstream society-- and keep one's values and benevolence intact. I expect that's the case. This is an extreme moment in history, and I see very few options left but stepping aside, washing one's hands of the whole business, and living in quietude, separation, and independence as much as possible-- until the season changes. There's a message here, but the corn-fed don't want to hear it yet. Once the whips come down, I expect there will be a renaissance of interest. 

That's hardly powerless, after all. Enjoy the moment. Preserve your strength.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Tao of the Ninja Mennonite

Well, some of you don't know this, but the whole Mennoite thing is my Mom's family. Sure, I grew up around all that. And honestly, hardly a bad thing. Almost hip, really. It's not really such a big stretch to be an atheistic Mennonite really. Nor ninja. Fits me nicely., in fact.

Some people think-- stupidly, frankly, that the Anabaptist movement(meaning, re-baptizing people from ignorance into enlightenment, some time ago) has today some anti-technological element to it. Horse-shit. Mind you, these are the people that invented refrigerators. Or Issac Babbitt, who invented the modern alloy for bearings. Or a chicky-poo cousin, Tabitha-(a her, again. as Anabaptist guys like powerful girls that do things. . .) who invented, guess the first radial blade circular saw? Her? Eli Whitney's first business partner? Anti-technological? Well, they were anti-patent, rather than anti-technological--- and that's why they aren't household names. If you find yourself your average Amish, or Mennonite, or Hutterite master of technology you'll find a guy who could build you an engine out of iron laden sand. No kidding, and has respect for all of it. Any of you whizkid IT punks want to try that? No, motors are not built with a mouse click--I'm not kidding-- and by the way, you still need those kinds of motors to run servers, in case no one taught you that in school. The anti-technological Anabaptists?  They have if anything the most profound respect for technology, meaning, that they understand both its values and its dangers. The real issue, basically, when adopting a technology, is whether or not by the usage of the technology you'll become "yoked"(important term!) to a world view you find inherently destructive. Well, Anabaptist or not, that "metaphorical test" is worth some time thinking about, because it seems to me most people I know aren't merely "yoked" but in fact "imprisoned" by that they're dependent on.

Maxim? So, use it, if it doesn't use you.

Easy, huh? Just that a lot of modern stuff doesn't pass that muster.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sailing and Self-reliance as Empowerment

So, how did I get involved in sailing? Only a dream really. I tell people as a kid from southern Idaho I grew up on prairie schooners, ha ha-- but that's not the case. I didn't grow up in the social class where people owned boats, and sailing lessons were completely out of the picture in terms of affordability. I bought books on sailing, used ones because they were cheap and read voraciously. I couldn't afford a sailboat, so I talked myself into building a little 12 foot skiff out of lumberyard culls, and, 6 months or so later launched it, having built sails and all, and I was pleased to discover it sailed. The first time I ever set foot in a sailboat was that boat, and the first time I ever went sailing was in that boat. It worked. I was so green that when I discovered it sailed upwind I wondered if I discovered something, it was utter magic. Got to say that sense of magic hasn't gone away.

One thing led to another as I was absolutely hooked. I also was, however, unknown to myself, a becoming a complete relic, a sailing iconoclast.. See, I started learning from sailing by reading books written in the 1920's in the pre-motor, or pre-yachting era. I figured, as the people in the books informed me, that self-reliance was everything-- that motors especially were unnecessary and if you learned how to sail, you wouldn't need one, but if you started sailing while depending on motors, you'd forever be dependent. I believed them. Since I didn't know anyone in “yachting circles” I didn't ever meet anyone to talk me out of that until later on once I had some skill under my belt-- then I was shocked to discover that I was doing something radically counter culture-- well, like something for real. Go figure. I really had no idea that the idea that one should rely on self-reliance and personal skills rather than technological aids was so crazy. I guess if you grow up in a poor community that comes natural to you as you is all you've got-- you can't buy solutions. Within the “yachting industry” the notion of doing without the newest modern aid to “navigation” or “safety” is tantamount to heresy. Facts have nothing to do with it. The statistics that confirm that the single most significant cause of fatal injuries or deaths in the sailing world (behind drinking) is engine and gear related failures, stuff you're dependent on, which then fail you and leave you hanging-- this is what kills people. Not storms, not whales, not sinking, not getting lost in the fog. But facts have nothing to do with it. It has to do with dogma, and the reality that few people will put the time and effort in to really learn the skills sailing requires, and engines and electronics provide a tidy way of covering up the fact that one's skills are actually pretty minimal. So obviously, they're popular.

But learning those skills, admittedly, can be tough work—not just physically but psychologically as well. You'll get a lot of heat from people when you try to really achieve something with an honest long term goal, especially if your efforts make theirs look silly. Especially people with 9 figure incomes. It's worth it anyway. I've got news for you, once I got to the point where I was making passages in my own 52 foot rescue cutter, no engines, a boat I had designed, built, rigged, sewed the sails for and the whole bit-- and my time was my own and I was king of my own domain, for real--I mean really, for real-- let me tell you that underway in the company of blue whales off the California coast going wherever you wanted to-- let me tell you that few people ever have the privilege of understanding the kind of “empowerment” that such an experience can give you. It never goes away. It changes you. You're different now, and always will be. But that cuts both ways.

I had a clue from this early one. I was at the dock one day, working on some project on the boat and this grand old lady stopped by. The sculling oar had caught her eye, surprising to me as few people knew what it was. “Well, Son, you're serious” she said. I don't remember her name but she grew up with a family on a sailing boat back in the 20's and 30's, and had been most everywhere at one point or another. She had plenty of stories, for sure, and good ones. As she was about to leave she said, “consider this” rather pointedly and told a story. She spoke of remembering in great detail the first time that she stood watch on the yacht on an ocean passage, at night, in the central pacific while the rest of the family slept. She was about 7 or 8 years old at the time, and said she could remember the night in compete detail, even though it might be 70 years ago. She said she knew full well what she was doing, and that her job was critically important to the safety of everyone she loved, and that her job mattered. Her role mattered. She mattered. There's that empowerment I'm talking about again. Upon finishing that she warned me “it will make you different, Jay, if you keep it up. You will do things, and think things, and know things that other people never will. And you'll find some loneliness in that. See, most people never get the courage to think or do anything. They can't, how could they?.”

Yup, she was right.

You see, my natural tendency with is blog really was to come here and blast readers with a pile of facts and figures about climate change, or resource depletion, or our seeming intractable debt issues, or all the rest-- as that's the kind of stuff I research incessantly, and it's how I think. I'm a sailor, after all, and good sailors keep eyes to weather all the time. Thinking ahead, always being a step ahead, always anticipating problems, always being prepared is the central skill of seamanship, and once learned, you just can't shake it. These things matter, especially if we're going to try to pretend to empower ourselves and our community we can't possibly do that if we don't have a good working idea of what kind of world we're empowering people to be empowered within. But you know, in thinking about it, I realized that all of you here are smart enough to have seen and read through all of that stuff, and probably wouldn't care a bit to see any more evidence of how tough the future is likely to be. Many of you will simply be turned off in an immediate knee-jerk reaction the second I would start to talk about any of it. I understand. See, without a certain level of “empowerment” such information like that isn't of any help at all. In many, if not most cases, people in our society really don't have the skills, or the sense of self-reliance, or confidence-- empowerment, right?, to really cope with what might be coming their way, and thinking about these things, even if they're critically important only produce as feeling of helplessness, anxiety, and despair and of course that's hardly helpful. See, rather than talk about the “bad” stuff, I understand what I really need to be doing is empowering people, give permission maybe, to take on a lifestyle of independence, self-reliance, and personal meaning—you don't have go sailing, of course, that was my path—but if you do you'll earn the right and develop the courage then to look at these issues squarely and adopt an empowered stance-- not one of hopelessness and fear, but one of bold heroism in the face of danger. Maybe in the same manner that a skilled captain, whom we all culturally respect, on seeing the barometer falls knows what's coming, and immediately and confidently makes preparation to ready the ship.

So while we respect in some manner the image of that Sea Captain, an embodiment of skill and experience, always looking out for the ship, always taking the conservative long term perspective, always willing to make the hard decisions-- boy, I tell you, our current society in fact couldn't be further from that ideal. Independence? Hardly, most of us are completely dependent on our jobs, careers, or checks in the mail and we're often completely beholden to where-ever the come from. That's hardly empowering. It's expected you've got to get expert advice, permission even, a lot of time for even the most mundane matters of life. That's hardly empowering. Self-reliance? Hardly, our lives are filled with the requirement of being dependent on a whole host of widgets and devices, cell-phones, computers, skype, whatever that we've no real idea how they work and have the tendency to just crap out suddenly and leave us hanging, often utterly helplessly. Even our icons of “independence” and self-reliance have largely become gutted of that. Custom motorcycles? You go now and buy a “custom motorcycle” off the shelf? Didn't guys used to build them for themselves—oh god, you need an expert now to do that for you. Oh yeah, born to be wild. . .be sure you get a safety check. . .And of course the sailing world, which I'm obviously familiar with, and how old Captain Piddlemarks can blab on incessantly about what kinds of equipment must be found aboard the properly equipped yacht. He sells that stuff after all. Geez, and of course we see where this all ends up: a society of co-dependent—not interdependent—people making a living capitalizing on the lack of empowerment people feel, making a living off the fact that people are trained to be to timid to think or do things for themselves. Boy, this does not make for a society of heroes. If anything, it makes for a society of victims-- and then we're surprised why it seems we can't possible tackle the simplest of issues, let alone--issues like climate change. We can't. We're too defendant on getting that next paycheck to pay for the services of others we need to get that next paycheck. No wonder our strategies are so shortsighted, because even if a solution might be offered that would be for the greater good of all, for the future, but that might threaten next weeks paycheck—we've immediately got to reject it. Even with our big incomes we're too impoverished to care about the future or very often each other.

This is why self-reliance is so critical to empowerment-- you, by becoming progressively less dependent upon a system, earn the right to think for yourself-- as the luxury of your independence guarantees it's something you can now afford to do. This is why I might suggest that a person who has a skill set developed enough to successfully make a go of it on a 4 figure income in fact, be well be far better equipped to provide real empowerment to people than any pep talk by some guy, though fabulous, no doubt, earning the big bucks and well spoken, but still firmly entrenched within a co-dependent system, and well rewarded for it.

So, self-reliance as a means to empowering oneself? What can one do? Well, anything one learns to do for themselves which they couldn't do before is empowering, of course. But, your ship will only be as secure as the weakest link in the anchor chain-- and it's best we focus on that link first-- something we're often very reluctant to do. We must always strive to challenge our comfort zone, not only in what we do but with the thoughts we're willing to entertain. You'll also find certain lifestyles, or professions, makes becoming self-reliance much more effective as they demand it. Others, frankly, don't, and discourage it. For example, you'd find if you took on learning real sailing, well, you'd find yourself in conditions all the time that challenges you, and the environment is always, always, trying and expanding your skill-set, your confidence, and with it, your relative empowerment. That's great. For this very reason I focus on teaching the skills of “sustainable homesteading”--as the same conditions apply. So go for it! How empowered to you want to be? Make that decision and set sail! How empowered do you need to be? You'll only discover that mid voyage, once you've learned the skills to properly read charts. But one thing leads to another, inevitably, and if one sticks with it's all but inevitable that one will get there. You will find indeed that one can become captain of one's ship, master of your fate. And please do, because I need like minded companions—fellow commanders-- who will join me in the task of building an armada to sail on the soonest tide, boldly, heroically, to confront the threat that now lies just beyond the horizon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Unexpected rise in jobless rates"

Unexpected by whom?

One may ask, how is it that "experts" or economists get it wrong practically every time?

Well, who do they work for? The news agencies that select them as "experts" perhaps?

And who do the news agencies work for? Their advertisers perhaps?

And  how interested do you think GM would be in dropping a million dollar ad spot, pimping the new 2012 Chevy Tahoe or some such, into the middle of a news broadcast reporting 1) Current manifestations of climate change 2) Mounting resource depletion 3) and the generally crappy/negative outlook for the world economy?

No wonder the American people are so clueless. They've been sold.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Willful Ignorance.

This very interesting study released earlier this year: Yale's Six Americas Report. It's really worth a look over. . .

The scope of the report:

This report extends and updates an ongoing program of research analyzing Americans’ interpretations of and responses to climate change. The research segments the American public into six audiences that range along a spectrum of concern and issue engagement from the Alarmed, who are convinced of the reality and danger of climate change, and who are highly supportive of personal and political actions to mitigate the threat, to the Dismissive, who are equally convinced that climate change is not occurring and that no response should be made. The Six Americas are not very different demographically, but are dramatically different in their beliefs and actions, as well as their basic values and political orientations. The groups were first identified in a nationally representative survey conducted in the fall of 2008, and were re-assessed in January and June of 2010. The current report is the fourth in the series; in it we provide new insights into the informational needs of the six groups, their understanding of the health impacts of global warming, beliefs about current environmental impacts of global warming in the U.S., and support for local adaptation and mitigation policies.

The crux of the issue, as I see it:

Of the Six Americas, the Dismissive were the most likely to say they are well-informed about global warming, with 91% saying they were very or fairly well-informed. Among the Alarmed, 85% said they were very or fairly well-informed, followed by two-thirds of the Concerned the Doubtful. The Disengaged were most likely to say they were not well-informed, with only 2% saying they were very well-informed.

Take the time to work through it. Unless, of course, you're one of those who already knows everything there is to know about the issue. . .

Friday, August 12, 2011

Unemployment numbers:

Speaking of adopting new paradigms on how the future is going to work. . .

Jobs? Forget jobs. The role of whatever government we have isn't to create jobs, it's to allow for opportunities.  And there's our problem with policy now-- we've the worst of both worlds, where job creation is impeded by lack of support, and opportunities are impeded by institutional restriction.

Now all of this serves big corporate interests very handily, as high unemployment makes for cheap labor when you need it, and you get away with offering miserable terms. Restrictions are also very helpful-- as anti-competitive practice -- as it's only the biggest of the big who can afford to bear the burden of compliance. Thus it's cheaper, and considered safer, by policy makers to ship a cage raised frankenchicken, butchered by slave labor in a prison camp in Alabama, 6000 miles around the world to an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean-- and out-compete local poultry farmers.

It works nice for Tyson Foods. Now of course Tyson is a big, big contributor to right-wing nut case causes, like Koch, or Coors-- But seriously, you really think a company like Tyson Food wants small government? Baloney--big government is critical to their profitability. If it wasn't for the existence of the regulations on the books from whatever host of various institutions at all levels-- keeping moderate producers out of the market-- there is simply no way they could dominate the market like they do. Small government my ass-- that's just code language for "insuring the biggest players enjoy the privilege of socialized costs and private profits, oh, and pay no taxes at all."

Makes you really wonder what kind of sucker can buy some of the rhetoric out there. . .

It may seem inevitable on the current trajectory our economy and policy seems to be following(anybody read "Gravity's Rainbow?") an age of austerity is more likely than a pot of gold. Maybe. It's worth considering, as the wealth our our society continues to be raided, that a certain amount of liberty is gained with the impoverishment of various institutions--and while clearly in such an economy jobs may be scarce but opportunities may abound.

Just thoughts.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Opinion vs Agenda:

There's an interesting thought experiment that comes to mind here.

Imagine a 1000 people were giving the task of adding a column of a 100 numbers. Everyone turns in their results. We'll assume average math skills.

A certain percentage, maybe 70 percent(wild guess) will get their numbers right. Their results will be in agreement with each other.

A remainder will make errors here and there and get independently wrong results. Mistakes happen, and we should expect a random distribution of error results.

What would be really unexpected, however, is when/if you get a group of people who all make the same mistakes and all come up with the same wrong number--and insist it's right. This can't actually happen in the world of mathematics, it can only happen if you have some central outside influence, one that wants wrong answers, and that tells people what result they're supposed to get before they start adding and they make the necessary mistakes to get that desired and predetermined answer. Does this sound like Congress?  There's a hell of lot of this kind of figuring going on right now. The debt debacle and the resultant downgrade by S & P is a great current example, but plenty of others exist, and while they certainly don't hold a monopoly share, mostly this crap is coming from the same camp-- those who claim to believe in a "right to life," but don't give a shit about the biosphere. They believe there's infinite resources of oil in the ground but also believe the Battle of Armageddon is just around the corner and we probably don't have the time to use it all up like we should. They have invisible friends and expect the rest of us who grew out of that phase of development respect them for that. They think there's no evidence for climate change, but there is evidence of the "virgin birth." Right down the line, it's a very handy convenient world view that nicely absolves one of  any responsibility to the rest of humanity, or the planet, or even one's own children while maintaining a veneer of smug, entitled, self-righteousness. . .how nice for them!

I think that veneer has been about polished through, 'bout now.

See, I think people can tell the difference between "opinions" and "agendas." Opinions are positions based on one's current understanding of the applicable data. Opinions change on occasion. Agendas, on the other hand, are pre-conceived preferences defended by cherry-picking data or even outright fabrication. Here we have a pretty good track record of respecting each others opinions. Agendas, well, I think we're all a little chapped when it comes to hearing that stuff all over again.

Feel that one's opinion is unjustly labeled an agenda? Without a doubt, an honest, forthright, good faith willingness to look and discuss the facts at hand in a fair and objective manner goes a long way to creating the necessary good will to maintain a constructive dialectic.

Our society can exist with a difference of opinion. But sure as hell it's becoming increasing difficult to accommodate agendas, as they are inevitably --inherently-- divisive.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Practical Solutions: XT500

Some months ago watching fuel prices rise I decided I'd better be proactive--even though I drive a relatively new Toyota Tacoma frankly it's not infrequent that my work outside the farm doesn't require such a vehicle, and while it can still get 25 or better MPG one could do a lot better. A friend had this old beater Yamaha XT500 that had been wrecked and left in the rain. I figured by the time I got the 100 pounds of rust ground off of it, it would be lighter than stock, fast, and it might be a fine machine. LOL.

It's coming along. This will be an utterly stripped, utterly practical back roads rager designed to run on E85 or higher with a bit of pre-heat(a wick wrapped around the fuel line, high tech!).  Magneto, wholly. Banana juice goes in and smoke comes out. That's it.

All in all these were very fine machines, very ahead of their time and robustly built. Certainly equipped to breathe in an old school kind of way. In the process of lapping the valves out here. The seats cleaned up fine.

Actually, a very exceptionally well built machine--a Paris/Dakar winner back in the day, and perfect to my needs. The gauges and controls actually worked/were rebuildable, which was a minor miracle. The handlebars were bent, but that was fixed with the mapp gas torch and some dinking around. The head stock had a pretty good twist in it but I cut the whole works off with a dremel tool and stuck it back on square to the frame with the wire feed. No sweat! Took a tiny amount of rake out. Am trying to talk myself out of adding some length to the swing arm(and of course the 575 big bore kit--shame on me for even thinking about it! LOL Oh, and the cam, oh and the 49mm intake valve, etc.,) In reality at some point I'll need to replace the stock piston (8 to 1) with a higher compression unit (probably 10 to 1) to be serious about the high E formulations, but one thing at a time.

Hopefully will get new rings and a couple of seals in the mail this week to get the thing running. The spokes on both wheels are complete trash but the rims are passable. These are on their way from KEDO in germany, stainless steel this time around, as well as an oversized jet kit to run on back yard ethanol blends if need be. It's no trouble to get the permit to brew one's own E100, it does take some tinkering to build machinery to process it but certainly doable-- that and an acre or so of bananas or cane will keep a guy on the road in a cost effective manner for years to come. I'll have about a grand in it to have it running. It would be pretty trick for 1500. It would be radical for 2000--restraint! Restraint!

More conversation here. There's a place for a rally of such kinds of bikes. Hows that for hopeful fun?

So What's the Hold-Up?

Continuing, obliquely, with the topic at hand. . .

So, why has the "sustainability" movement been so ineffective at initiating real change? Come'on, we've got to admit that-- by any metric, we're only losing ground.

The answer is in the "P's," I think.

Sustainability is most effectively achieved by altering paradigms. The primary paradigm which is in need of alteration is that the expectation of "economic growth" as a means to prosperity remains a viable world view. In a world of constraints, where we obviously find ourselves now, the only avenue left to increasing prosperity is through altering "process"--to ever more efficient, beneficent and higher real value return activity. Old timers call this frugality, and simplification of lifestyle and expectations is the fast track to achieving it. A vegetable garden isn't a bad example.  Process, adopting this paradigm, leads to progress. Unfortunately, the bandwidth of the cultural consciousness is still captivated not by progress, but by profits, and the "sustainability" movement is no exception here. Profits aren't accessed by efficient process, but rather products--and yup, here is the hold-up.

There are those that will tell you that you can transition to a "sustainable" world by adopting solar PV's, high tech batteries, LED lighting, smart chargers, electric hybrid cars, triple-pane thermally active windows, etc., etc., which is all neat stuff, no doubt, except the problem is you'll never ever be able to afford any of it if you actually do something for a living that's "sustainable." Is pimping inherently unsustainable "sustainable" product a sustainable means of earning a living? Phat chance!

Here's it's more the message of-- turn off the lights, wear a sweatshirt. Take the bus. Funny but there's no money in any of that. . .of course if you adopt the process of progress you'll find have less need for profits anyway.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Musing on the Qualities of Leadership, or Lack Thereof. . .

Well, no need to belabor the obvious, for anyone who pays attention to the news.

It seems interesting to me that one of the primary attributes of "empowered leadership" that for some reason we've wholly lost is the confidence to listen to evidence and be persuaded. Just where have we got the notion that blind adherence to rigid ideology is somehow a stronger manifestation of personal strength--stronger than than the confidence to impartially entertain opposing views, consider the merits of the argument, and alter one's opinions as the evidence demands?

It's utter craziness. From Oslo, to Washington D.C., to the guy that told me the other day that he knew climate change was a hoax because God promised in the Bible to never destroy the world again after the flood, and of course, if climate changed destroyed the world it would prove the Bible wrong. . .radical, dangerous, short sighted, entrenched, militant idiocy threatens our very survival. It's our consumerism again, our consumerism of ideas--selecting those things we'd like to think over those we need to accept-- and now increasingly demanding others participate in those kinds of destructive fantasies too-- all too often, ultimately, at the end of a gun.

I find it utterly terrifying that I know literally dozens of people who believe they are masters of various arcane sciences, are shamanic, whatever that means-- have magic powers, unique conversations with angels or whatever, or can heal cancer by chanting vowels. . .they're pretty insistent about everyone taking them seriously too. . .smugly grouchy even. . .and I know basically one capable mechanic.

God, this self-indulgence is really going to bite us in the ass.

Also: Bonus link for the psychologically inclined-- Diagnose your favorite Panglossian! Worth a read.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Musing on the Qualities of Leadership

A couple of thoughts come to me this morning, observing world events and dynamics here locally.

Anyone who would deign set themselves up in a position of leadership must possess a certain level of hubris, and a sense of entitlement-- a sense of exceptionalism. That's natural and part of the job, and that narcissistic self-confidence is not necessarily a defect, rather it can be a source of great creative potential.

Still, I find it striking the enormous schism that exists between the two ways that a "sense of exceptionalism" can manifest itself:

1. The sense that because one is exceptional, the ethical mores that may bind mankind do not necessarily apply to oneself.


2. The sense that because one is exceptional, the ethical mores that may bind mankind may apply to oneself especially.

Worth chewing on, I suggest.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Numbers of Sustainability: 3

So the "numbers" series is continuing to generate both interest and ire. Nice to know people are reading. . .

An email I received-- paraphrased:

"Jay, you've got no idea what you're talking about. My family has four 100 square foot raised beds and they easily grow half our food. That's for a family of four. . .maybe you need more practice gardening."

This fellow makes a partial living promoting and developing small garden beds. And he mows lawns, elsewise.

OK, that's fine, on the surface the claim sounds reasonable. But let's think about it a bit.

We can talk in terms of calories, and it would be very helpful, but no one wants to, because the numbers are irritating. We can talk in terms of pounds, but no one wants to weigh out and really quantify this either. So there's an attempt to keep numbers out of the conversation, but whoops, they're still there. Back of the envelope, and off the cuff, but still there. . .


We can assume that it costs perhaps 400 dollars a month at a reasonable minimum to feed an adult. If, as in this household they're 4 adults(two teens) that's netting 200 dollars a month(half their food) x 4, or 800 dollars a month. Times twelve, that's 9600 dollars a year in produce, out of 400 square feet, or a net yield of 24 dollars a square foot.  If we assume my numbers of net value(the produce likely worth 2 dollars a pound, as in greens, brocoli, etc.,) that's cranking out 12 pounds a square foot a year. Sustainably too! Organic!

It's all in the mulch, he says. I think it's in the bullshit.

A one acre property "gardened" at this level of proficiency would net the gardener, what, almost a million bucks a year in gross proceeds, and that's assuming that you lose some square footage to pathways and a tool shed(approx 40000 square feet times 24 dollars a square foot.)

Boy, if I could plant beans like that, I'd quit my day job!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Numbers of Sustainability: 2

It seems my last post generated a lot of interest, and not a little ire. Some people hate it when you quantify things. Sorry 'bout that. I'm writing this blog for the purpose of helping normal people of average financial means to attempt to live sustainable lifestyles. It isn't as easy as some would make it.

So, constructively, here's another question people must ask if they want to succeed with a sustainable lifestyle. Their personal conclusions can differ, sure, as mine's a bit of a guess, but a good one--and as the economy changes so will the conclusion. My conclusion is based on my experience and what feet on the ground right now will likely experience. Not selling anything, just offering up my best analysis.You're welcome to your own answer: Just have one.


At what point does the per square foot cost of a given piece of land make farming/gardening economically nonviable?

Here's how I would think about it. Raw, round numbers again.

I'd assume that reasonably fertile land can return a quarter pound per square foot of produce per season.

I'd assume that a reasonable mix of produce may have a value on the current market of 2 dollars a pound. Bell peppers may be more, potatoes a lot less of course. This is a guess of a mix of things that constitutes a garden that might provide meaningful substance. Other guesses are worth hearing and will provide other results. Obviously if we try to cook the books by suggesting that we're growing saffron we'll get unrealistic numbers.

That means one can expect to gross .50 cents of value per square foot per season. This assumes no labor inputs at all, no water bill, no seed costs, no fertilizer, and no bugs. Honestly, any body I know who could crack out .50 cents a square foot is doing pretty dang good. I don't get even close to such a number, as such intensive ag would make for so much soil erosion I'd be done in 5 years.

To purchase a given piece of land either requires an out of pocket expenditure or finance-- in either case it would generally be considered bad business practice to expect to yield less than a 10 percent value return on such an investment. We can quibble about that number. I'd appreciate hearing other views.

That gives me, of course, a value of  5 dollars a square foot, as I see it, as a reasonable estimate the absolute maximum number at which a given garden can actual return more value than it consumes. 3 dollars a square foot is more realistic, and leaves some room for labor costs. 2 dollars a square foot may even net a very meager return. Again assuming no labor input or costs or losses. Beyond this projected value, the garden consumes more resources than it produces and becomes unsustainable. I'd appreciate hearing other values of what one might think is the breakback number where inputs are a wash and labor a loss. Surely we can all agree that such a number 1) exists and 2) is important. I understand that some are in a position where none of this matters, again, great, smoke 'em if you got'em. It's doesn't make you bad. But at some point, for sure, exercises in gardening become so uneconomic to be nothing else other than conspicuous consumption. That's all, and to obfuscate that fact may mislead people new to the issue and of more modest means to take on projects that won't pan out for them, and that's a shame.

Unfortunately, much real estate in suburban neighborhoods exceeds this number. The closer one gets to the beach, the more one exceeds this number. The Girl's old place in Venice had a cost in excess of 300 dollars a square foot at the bubble valuations, yikes!-- it would cost you 25 bucks, by that math, to rent storage for a dog turd.  By contrast, I paid .14 cents a square foot for my property and one could go cheaper than that now. Obviously, if one wants to have a leg up on achieving sustainability, or even pretend to approximate economic decisions, those kinds of low costs give one a huge leg up.

Do the math, it matters. . .

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Numbers of Sustainability: 1

I think it's time and worthwhile to start having this discussion. We may well be getting to the point where sustainability is no longer an option, and it's worth getting past the dress rehersal stage and face squarely the task in front of us. I'd appreciate discussion, feedback, and having folks check my math. There's going to be some major assumptions made here, and values attached to them. I think if they're kept transparent they work, though we can quibble about the details.

So, the question that prompts all this is this one, and I get it asked all the time: "How much land do I need to live "sustainably?" First off, I'm not sure I understand the question, as in most all cases the question comes from someone seeking the lowest possible value. In the years of teaching sailing I never met anyone, contemplating an ocean voyage, who asked "How little water can I get away with on a 2500 mile ocean passage?" Nobody asks questions like that, as it's a serious matter, and the consequences for failure are deadly--and obvious. Because people take ocean passages seriously a different kind of question is asked, much more resembling "How can I stuff as much water as possible aboard my boat?" Unfortunately, no body really takes sustainability really that seriously yet. I suggest we should, and part of the reason it's become even more pressing is precisely that fact: that no one really takes sustainability very seriously.

But let's try to put some real numbers to the "how much land do I need" question, even if without the numbers we've more or less answered it already-- you need as much land as you can personally physically manage by sustainable means. Still, it's worthwhile to put a bottom threshold to the issue. There's a lot of people making wild-ass claims about what "one can get away with." This sells seminars, and books, and offers false hope and security in the name of profit. Let's do a little better.

This is how I think about the issue.

While one can grow a lot of pounds of greens and whathaveyou in a small space, to focus on pounds of product can be very misleading. If we're interested in real sustainability, it's much more important to focus on how many "calories" of food can be produced in a given space, as that's really what we care about. One finds, once one starts to do the research, that numbers like "calories per square meter" are hard to come by from the gardening or permaculture crowd-- but you certainly can find such numbers from the biofuels industry, as, well, calories per square meter is all they're interested in. So that's where I start, and figure we'll factor in reality as we go along.

Plants aren't magical. They're organic solar panels. The energy in food comes from sunlight, and nowhere else, and the function of how many calories produced per square meter is a function of 1) how much sunlight one gets 2) how efficient the plant is at converting it to usable(edible) form.

Let's assume first, that we're growing sugar cane, which is just about the highest yield caloric plant on earth, at least not assuming algae and stuff like that. Suffice to say that most garden crops won't be anywhere as efficient in creating calories as sugar cane, nor are most gardens planted nearly as intensively as a commercial cane field but it's a great starting point to find the upper theoretical limits of reality. In doing the research, I find for industrial, completely unsustainable, NPK, mechanized cane a square meter of sugar can can produce a kilo of sugar per year. If we assume 4 calories per gram of sugar that produces 4000 calories of food a year per meter. If we take that 4000 calories and divide that by 365 days that produces 11 calories of food per day per square meter. If we assume that a large guy capable of handling cane consumes 2500 calories a day(although you'd die pretty quick living on sugar only, but it's efficient)-- you'd need 228 square meters of cane just to meet your basic calorie needs in this wholly unrealistic situation. Let's switch to square feet/acres to make it a bit easier for most of us now. 228 square meters is 2445 square feet, let's round to 2500. Now let's add some reality. Nobody is going to get close to the kinds of yields offered by cane-- if we figure we'll plant a mix of stuff one can actually eat-- so it's easy and conservative to turn that 2500 square feet into 5000. As well, it's wholly unrealistic to expect that sustainable permaculture yields will remotely approximate intensive, mechanized, NPK production--it's very easy to add yet another factor of 2. Remember, we don't want to cheat the numbers, as we plan to actually eat this stuff and survive. There's 10000 square feet of garden, realistically, and conservatively as I see it, assuming no bugs, slugs, pests, drought, pigs, screwups or neglect. An acre is 43560 square feet, so a quarter acre per person is about the absolute minimum I really see as viable, and that isn't living large, nor especially securely, and you'll not be growing fuel to cook any of this--whoops, fuel? We'll leave that out of the question for now, but it's worth noting you'll eat every stitch of what you produce, be a bit glum about that, and won't generate any income for property taxes, trips to Bali, or dental care. Or clothes for that matter.

Thoughts? All in all a half an acre for a strong couple isn't wholly unmanageable, although it's a pretty big project.

Further discussion here:

Friday, May 27, 2011


It's been a pretty busy month on the homestead, with spring now in full swing and growth rates back up--I'm having to run to catch up. The scale of everything planted over the last few years is really coming apparent and it's great to see the "fruits of one's labors." I'm going to try to start keeping a monthly log over at the Silviculture blog, just so those interested can see the progress and how it all comes along step by step. It seems that a viable system has been put together here and I'd like to share it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kilauea Silviculture

Well, very little posting around here, mostly because the little farm has become a profitable venture and as is typical, those who are spending a lot of time doing something often have little time to talk about it! I hope to over the next couple of weeks create a dedicated blog to the farm itself and some of the very interesting programs and products we're offering. It's proven to be a very exiting and hopeful project, and as a model offers a unique opportunity for many. Here's the link to the new blog: Stay tuned! We hope it's helpful.