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New Permaculture Activist focuses on peak oil

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
The ever-wonderful Permaculture Activist magazine focuses on a particular aspect of permaculture in each issue. The latest edition, No. 59, focuses on peak oil. It contains a wealth of interesting material, some of which, such as Lisa Rayner’s article on Trauma Theory and my piece on Designing Energy Descent Pathways will already be familiar to TransitionCulture regulars, while there are many other insightful pieces such as Thom Hartmann’s exploration of the ’something will save us’ mindset, and a very good piece on the lessons we can learn from Cuba. If you are interested in TransitionCulture-type stuff and don’t already subscribe to the Activist, do yourself a favour, you can do so either here or here.. (20 Feb 2006)

“We have to get smart fast”

Jonathan, Past Peak
…I want to touch on just one of the lectures here, a recent talk by anthropologist Stephen Lansing, who has studied the planting and water management practices of Balinese rice farmers. From Stewart Brand’s summary of the talk:

With lucid exposition and gorgeous graphics, anthropologist Stephen Lansing exposed the hidden structure and profound health of the traditional Balinese rice growing practices. The intensely productive terraced rice paddies of Bali are a thousand years old. So are the democratic subaks (irrigation cooperatives) that manage them, and so is the water temple system that links the subaks in a nested hierarchy.

When the Green Revolution came to Bali in 1971, suddenly everything went wrong. Along with the higher-yield rice came “technology packets” of fertilizers and pesticides and the requirement, stated in patriotic terms, to “plant as often as possible.” The result: year after year millions of tons of rice harvest were lost, mostly to voracious pests. The level of pesticide use kept being increased, to ever decreasing effect….

There’s a lot more in the talk. It’s a great little introduction to complex adaptive systems. It’s a deeply thought-provoking look at the role of religious and other stable cultural systems in maintaining social norms over time. It’s an extraordinary look at ecological interconnections and the disastrous unintended consequences that can result when Western development models are jammed down people’s throats. And much more besides.

The thing I wanted to emphasize, though, is this. The planners and development “experts” thought they knew better than the knowledge and wisdom that was stored in systems that had had a thousand years to reach a stable optimum. Much of that thousand-year-old knowledge was unconscious knowledge in the sense that it was woven into the very fabric of systems and social arrangements. It’s likely that no one participating in it had a conscious, analytical grasp of how it all worked. No experts could articulate it. And yet it was very real and very profound. It was the kind of knowledge that is stored in the fabric of any healthy ecosystem.

But the development “experts” were so sure of the superiority of their own brand of knowledge that they didn’t hesitate to upset the whole apple cart, all at once, with disastrous effect.
(22 February 2006)
From Big Gav.

Dovecote attractor

Jeff Vail, A Theory of Power
…But I digress… in a sharp and much needed departure from the geopolitics focus of late, let me return to another of my favorite topics, and in the process explain how my rambling introduction is actually relevant. The farm house, you see, had a dovecote…

A dovecote? Yes, and in this case, it was actually the recipient of a French government grant for refurbishment. Besides an excuse for sweat-suit ensconced, aging Mafiosi to tend to pigeons on New York roof tops, what could a dovecote possible be good for? Quite a lot it turns out. The dovecote is actually an exemplary nutrient attractor, a paragon of permaculture principles, and a long-forgotten mainstay of sustainability.

What is a dovecote? Forgive me if you consider this common knowledge, but it certainly wasn’t to be found anywhere on my school curriculum. A dovecote is a glorified bird house. It would normally house pigeons or some species of dove, but even a bat box accomplishes the same function: it’s a single point of collection for nitrogen-rich bird dropping fertilizer. And that, it turns out, is a very valuable function. A dove or pigeon will produce somewhere in the range of one pound dry weight of droppings a week—roughly the same as what they eat in the form of grains and insects. So a dovecote that houses a hundred doves will produce over the course of one year about 5000 pounds of fertilizer.
(19 February 2006)
Another from Big Gav of Peak Energy in Australia.

Sauntering toward a post-oil era
Replacing cars with feet has benefits for humans and nature

Tim Holt, SF Chronicle
In the not-so-distant future, as worldwide demand for oil supplies continues to escalate and gas prices spiral, we’re going to be driving less and walking more. That, of course, will be a very good thing for our waistlines, but it’s going to require some major adjustments. People in this country haven’t walked much since the 1930s, before suburbanization and auto dependence took hold. Since then, we’ve come to accept the idea that walking is a decidedly inferior means of transportation.

That’s hogwash, as we dedicated walkers know. I want to sing the praises of perambulation and, in the process, hopefully inspire some of you to take those first few tentative steps.

When you get out on the pavement for the first time, feeling small and naked alongside all that rushing traffic, your thoughts will very likely be along the lines of “poverty, Third World, peasant” — one of the subliminal messages of the dominant car culture.

But forget all that. Instead, as you walk along try chanting “Wordsworth, Shaw, Carlyle.” Those are three of history’s more celebrated walkers, and repeating their names will remind you that you are now in very select company. One of the major benefits of walking is that it stimulates thinking, and, as the above-mentioned writers amply demonstrate, thinking can lead to great things. Perhaps in your case a new literary career, or at least a decent haiku or two.
(26 February 2006)