27 April 2014

Permaculture to the Rescue!

I'm already into the fourth week and the fourth lesson of the online permaculture design certificate course I'm taking with Geoff Lawton and his team in Australia (see this intro to Geoff). I've gotta tell you, it sure is exciting learning!

Given that I'm as far away as you can get from having a three-dimensional-seeing brain, I'm already on my way from being a person who only saw flat land versus hills to someone who can detect contour and see the nuances in a flattish landscape. I'm starting to be able to see possibilities and opportunities whenever I look at someone's land. (Now my own chunk of rock in the shade, it still stumps me.)

But more important than the landscaping "eye" I'm developing is the ecological learning I'm doing. For example, there's a whole section just on patterns in the natural world. It's the patterns that capture energy for living systems, and it's vital that we harmonize with patterns rather than working against them. 

Things got really out of whack in this culture when we started working against the rest of Nature: growing monocrops in straight lines with no diversity, with no features for trapping and recycling nutrients, with no water features. Topsoil was either lost or depleted of nutrients. So farmers had to start using chemical inputs, which has led to even less diversity of life in soils and on farms generally. This course teaches that soil degradation is at the core of the environmental problems we're facing. Permaculture is about partnering with ecosystems and designing for ecosystem interactions that will build soil. 

Looking at what's happening in California right now is chilling, knowing how much of western Canada's food comes from there. One hundred percent of the state is in drought of some kind (and it's only April, close to two months away from summer), with nearly 25% of California in exceptional drought. The most important element in permaculture is water, and permacultured landscapes are focused first and foremost on water retention. 

Imagine the resilience in the face of climate disruption that would come from food growing that is based in and on natural systems (which we help along) that have many connections, that are rich in diversity, and that waste nothing because everything is cycled through the system. Imagine!

If you are ever feeling totally blue about the state of this planet, I won't blame you for going the way of Paul Kingsnorth and Will Falk (I often go there myself). But if you want to try out something different, look up permaculture. Watch Geoff Lawton's videos on it or check out the old videos by permaculture founder Bill Mollison. Read a book on it (try Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway, or a book by co-originator of the movement, David Holmgren). Take a course in it. It will definitely cheer you up for a while, by the sheer sense of possibility and opportunity it will give you.

p.s. I am grateful to permacultureprinciples.com for the wonderful image above.

20 April 2014

Why We Can't Solve the Climate Crisis ... We're Useless, Narcissistic and Disconnected

Caveat: I'm talking about EuroAmericans in this post. I don't want to assume that all human beings on this planet are as useless as we are.

When you spend hours every day reading about climate change, researching climate change, writing about climate change, teaching about climate change and talking with others about climate change, it's easy to get a little miffed at times about the slowness of our reaction time.

And when I say "reaction time," I'm talking about society's general apathy about climate change, but also about how long it's taken the average Joe Public person in our culture to wake up. The latest instalment of the IPCC's 5th assessment report has people talking though (with thanks to the media). Generally misquoting the report and not understanding who or what the IPCC is, but finally talking at least.

Unfortunately, it seems people are talking ... but still not thinking. And that's probably because we still aren't taking the time to sit down and think about what we're hearing on the news and in the other media.*** 

Case in point: given all the warnings in the Working Group 3 report on mitigation about food security, I'm still hearing people go on and on about sea level rise. Our food security is extremely fragile. Food emergencies have already started. Every aspect of global warming and climate change (from loss of Arctic summer sea ice to yes, sea level rise) can affect our food production. Sea level rise -- the kind that people are picturing and pseudo-panicking about -- on the other hand, is a creeping problem that will likely take decades if not a century or more.

My husband and I (he's the one who spends hours and hours every day on climate change) were talking about how blessed we are, food-wise, at this time in this place -- and how we're throwing it all away. Environmental NGOs still create climate change campaigns that don't mention food security while others are creating food security campaigns that don't even mention climate change. It's crazy!

Why can't people (of all ilks and intelligences) critically think their way to seeing the connection between food security and climate change? We came up with two theories:

1. Pathological cultural narcissism (this one comes from an old friend who practises psychiatry in a large Canadian city)

Narcissism is excessive interest in oneself; extreme selfishness; a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration. Because it runs our lives (remember, I'm talking societally here) and we have no insight into the fact that it's controlling us, it is a psychosis (a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality).

We are disconnected from reality.

2. Pathological cultural uselessness (again, please remember that I'm talking societally and about EuroAmericans) 

People in this culture no longer know how to ensure our own survival. Practically no one knows how to grow, prepare or preserve all their own food. We don't know how to grow or forage our own fibre plants to make our own cloth and clothing. We have to hire tradespeople to create our shelters (and even then, each one has a specialty and very few can build a whole house). We don't know how to collect our own clean drinking water or generate our own electricity.... All we know how to do is shop, shop, shop ... buy, buy, buy. In other words, we're useless. 

We are disconnected from reality. 

So if we don't understand our connection to the "real world" there's little chance that people are going to see/understand/act on the connections that are being impacted by climate disruption.

Which brings me to the children and what they should be learning in school. The most important curriculum in a child's life today is learning how to build their own soil, grow their own food, collect their own rainwater, and generate their own energy. Let them study reading and writing, math and science, social studies and physical education through their real-world learning about how to survive. 

On this day of religious rebirth for many millions of people around the world, may you find some time to reconnect with Creation.

*** Perhaps every time we sit on the toilet, we could take that time to think about climate change. It's not like we've got anything else to do (I'm obviously desperately trying to figure out ways to get the public thinking up climate change solutions ;-).

13 April 2014

"In Short, We're Screwed" ... But What's the Long Version?

Faith sees the invisible, believes in the incredible, and receives the impossible.
— Unknown
What a week! On Tuesday night, we went to a book signing where Nikki van Schyndel talked about the year and a half she spent living in the wild in the Broughton Archipelago of British Columbia. I've been reading Becoming Wild during every spare minute ever since. What an inspiration! 

Then on Wednesday, I read We're Finished. Now What? by Will Falk in the San Diego Free Press. This is someone who says, "In short, we're screwed." And he's right. He goes on:
Let the knowledge sink in. Let it weigh on your shoulders. Let it pull you to the ground for a second and rub your face in the dirt of reality. Let it kick you in the gut and double you over with plain truth. Let it boil the acid in your stomach until you’re sick with honest anxiety.
Reminds me of something I realized almost exactly a year ago (see that post here), that if we can't feel the pain that comes with realizing "we're screwed," then we'll never get to the point of taking action. And Falk has realized (personally, viscerally) that the only way past the depression that is setting in with this understanding is action. 

And then on Thursday, while discussing Falk's piece with my husband, he said something that really resonated for me. 

So many huge innovations and transformations have come about even just in our lifetime. But look at how absolutely impossible (indeed, science fictiony) they seemed only years before they were invented! 

Yet when people are asked whether we can win this admittedly humongous climate change challenge, practically everyone (who's awake ... most people around me don't even care yet) says no, this problem is too big to fix. The universal social response seems to be "No can do" ... "No want to do" ... or "Ain't gonna waste my time worryin' about it."

But damn it, my hubby says, this problem is too big NOT to fix. So he's not giving up, and I'm in for the long haul. 
I am reminded of the man who, alone in a vast desert with no hat, no water, and a broken leg, pulled himself up on one bruised and battered elbow and smiled at a bunch of dry grass, saying, "You know, if this keeps up I might get discouraged." — Larry Dean Olsen

That's the long version of "we're screwed." All it's going to take is a miracle. And we've had lots of those lately.

By the way, Falk's essay is worth a read. He ends it by asking us: 
Who among us can sit idly by while our loved ones are doomed to death – while everything is doomed to death – and not act with every ounce of our power? Action is still possible. And once you start, you’ll begin to feel better. I promise.

06 April 2014

We're Getting Close to a Breakthrough in Public Understanding of Climate Change, But World Leaders Are Still Dense

The IPCC AR5 WGII SPM is out. Isn't that exciting? Wait, what?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report Working Group II Summary for Policymakers is out. It's the one that looked at impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, and despite the shenanigans that only people who read the technical (scientific) report before the policymakers' report will see, it's making waves where IPCC reports don't normally make waves ... at my school, for example, and at my favourite sushi restaurant.

My school principal told me the other day that students should be learning how to grow food because the UN said so (or something like that). As the teacher who designed, fundraised for and installed (with my students and their families) the school garden -- I'm someone who has known for years that students should be learning how to grow food. Alas, my colleagues, for the most part, don't see food growing as a curricular pursuit, so it's not as effective a program as I'd hoped.

It was interesting to hear my boss and some folks at the restaurant talk about the latest instalment of the IPCC's fifth report. Suddenly it's serious! Suddenly it's about food security and water sources! And it's about bloody time! 

I can tell that it's finally getting into the general public's awareness by how much the loony tune deniers are out in full force, telling bigger whoppers than ever. A natural health newsletter that purports to have millions of subscribers responded to the Working Group II report with headlines like "Plant use of CO2 utterly ignored by IPCC" and "The UN goal is to enslave humanity under a system of dictatorial control." Seriously! The author of this "editorial" has "a background in science and software technology" so that makes him a total expert on climate change and the workings of the United Nations, right?

Anyway, the more frightened the deniers get about "losing" (which I don't understand, because we're all losing), the more ridiculous their claims become. But that's simply a sign that public awareness about climate change is growing.

In the meantime, President Obama's Administration in the United States is "taking public comment about possibly updating standards for existing landfills." Oh yeah, that's gonna solve America's pesky wee climate change emergency! You go, Barry. 

So once again, we have voices telling us on the one hand that climate change is threatening our food and water ... and on the other hand, we see world leaders doing diddly squat about it.

I'm sorry, folks. This is disheartening work. I'm signing off now.