Thursday, May 20, 2010

Drinking the Archdruid's Kool Aid

Great post from the Archdruid. I've excerpted the real juicy bits, but you should read the whole thing.

"The uncontrolled simplification of a complex system is rarely a welcome event for those people whose lives depend on the system in question. That’s one way to summarize the impact of the waves of trouble rolling up against the sand castles we are pleased to call the world’s modern industrial nations...

Plenty of people have argued that the only valid response to the rising spiral of crisis faced by industrial civilization is to build a completely new civilization from the ground up on more idealistic lines...– we no longer have time for grand schemes of that sort...when your ship has already hit the iceberg and the water’s coming in, it’s a bit too late to suggest that it should be rebuilt from the keel up according to some new scheme of naval engineering.

An even larger number of people have argued with equal zeal that the only valid response to the predicament of our time is to save the existing order of things, with whatever modest improvements the person in question happens to fancy, because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. They might be right, too, if saving the existing order of things was possible, but it’s not. A global civilization that is utterly dependent for its survival on ever-expanding supplies of cheap abundant energy and a stable planetary biosphere is simply not going to make it in a world of ever-contracting supplies of scarce and expensive energy and a planetary biosphere that the civilization’s own activities are pushing into radical instability. Again, when your ship has already hit the iceberg and the water’s coming in, it’s not helpful to insist that the only option is to keep steaming toward a distant port.

What that leaves, to borrow a useful term from one of the most insightful books of the last round of energy crises, is muddling through. Warren Johnson’s Muddling Toward Frugality has fallen into the limbo our cultural memory reserves for failed prophecies; neither he nor, to be fair to him, anybody else in the sustainability movement of the Seventies had any idea that the collective response of most industrial nations to the approach of the limits to growth would turn out to be a thirty-year vacation from sanity in which short-term political gimmicks and the wildly extravagant drawdown of irreplaceable resources would be widely mistaken for permanent solutions...

A strategy of muddling doesn’t lend itself to nice neat checklists of what to do and what to try, and so I won’t presume to offer a step-by-step plan. Still, showing one way to muddle, or to begin muddling, and outlining some of the implications of that choice, can bridge the gap between abstraction and action, and suggest ways that those who are about to muddle might approach the task – and of course there’s always the chance that the example might be applicable to some of the people who read it. With this in mind, I want to talk about victory gardens...

The reason that the victory garden has become a fixture of our collective response to trouble is that it engages one of the core features of the predicament individuals and families face in the twilight of the industrial age, the disconnection of the money economy from the actual production of goods and services – in the terms we’ve used here repeatedly, the gap between the tertiary economy on the one hand, and the primary and secondary economies on the other...

People use money because it gives them a way to exchange their labor for goods and services, and because it allows them to store value in a relatively stable and secure form. Both these, in turn, depend on the assumption that a dollar has the same value as any other dollar, and will have roughly the same value tomorrow that it does today.

The mismatch between money and the rest of economic life throws all these assumptions into question. Right now there are a great many dollars in the global economy that are no longer worth the same as any other dollar...Those dollars have the same sort of weird half-existence that horror fiction assigns to zombies and vampires; they’re undead money, lurking in the shadowy crypts of Goldman Sachs like so many brides of Dracula, because the broad daylight of the market would kill them at once...

As long as most people continue to play along, it’s entirely possible that things could stumble along this way for quite a while, with stock market crashes, sovereign debt crises, and corporate bankruptcies quickly covered up by further outpourings of unpayable debt. The problem for individuals and families, though, is that all this makes money increasingly difficult to use as a medium of exchange or a store of wealth. If hyperinflation turns out to be the mode of fiscal implosion du jour, it becomes annoying to have to sprint to the grocery store with your paycheck before the price of milk rises above $1 million a gallon; if we get deflationary contraction instead, business failures and plummeting wages make getting any paycheck at all increasingly challenging; in either case your pension, your savings, and the money you pour down the rathole of health insurance are as good as lost.

This is where victory gardens come in, because the value you get from a backyard garden differs from the value you get from your job or your savings in a crucial way: money doesn’t mediate between your labor and the results. If you save your own seeds, use your own muscles, and fertilize the soil with compost you make from kitchen and garden waste – and many gardeners do these things, of course – the only money your gardening requires of you is whatever you spend on beer after a hard day’s work. The vegetables that help feed your family are produced by the primary economy of sun and soil and the secondary economy of sweat; the tertiary economy has been cut out of the loop...

At a time when the tertiary economy is undergoing the first stages of an uncontrolled and challenging simplification, if you can disconnect something you need from the tertiary economy, you’ve insulated a part of your life from at least some of the impacts of the chaotic resolution of the mismatch between limitless paper wealth and the limited real wealth available to our species on this very finite planet. What garlic is to vampires and a well-fueled chainsaw is to zombies, being able to do things yourself, with the skills and resources you have on hand, is to the undead money lurching en masse through today’s economy"

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I Heart Hank and Vera Jones

If you live in the Ottawa area you may have heard of Hank and Vera Jones. They were in the news last summer. The couple have turned most of their half acre yard around their Constance Bay home into a pollinator garden.

Where Hank and Vera see a beautiful and natural habitat, filled with native flowers and grasses that support biodiversity and encourage important pollinator species, some neighbours see unkempt lawns. A complaint was made to the city and in accordance with the by-laws, city officials threatened to mow the garden down.

Fast forward to this year and Hank and Vera's garden continues to exist and thrive, especially after a generous donation of native plants from the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, and widespread support from environmentalists, councillors and organisations, but the issue has not been fully resolved.

Hank has written an open letter to Ottawa city councillors, asking them about their position on the by-law for property maintenance, and has created a rich resource page to educate people on the importance of pollinator gardens.

They are also dialoguing with neighbours to explain what they are doing and why in the hopes that raising awareness of their garden will help people understand the nature of the important work they are doing and support or at least tolerate it.

I think Hank and Vera really are the bee's knees! I love what they are doing and wholeheartedly support their work.

And if that isn't cool enough, Hank has been busy with another fantastic project. Check out these rad salad tables he built. I mean, are these awesome or what?

I heart Hank and Vera Jones. So much in fact that I contacted them a while back and asked if they would be willing to open up their home for a Transition Ottawa reskilling event in which guests could tour the garden and get a demonstration of the salad tables. They were thrilled by the idea and we set a date!

I can't wait to meet them in person and especially tour their garden and see their salad tables in action.

If you live in the area and are interested in joining us for the event, check out all the details here and feel free to register. It'd be great to have you!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Producing a Life

"Radical Homemakers are aware of the misplaced priority on increasing the bottom line. Quite often their incomes are significantly below the norm. But that is because they have learned that there are two ways to make a living. In one method, the convention of our culture, substantial money is earned and then spent on purchasing life's necessities. In the other method, significantly less money is earned, and basic necessities are produced or otherwise procured. Packages from the mall, plastic-wrapped food, designer labels and television sets are seldom seen inside these households. Rather, they are filled with books, simmering pots, some dirty dishes, musical instruments, seedlings, wood shavings, maybe some hammers or drills, sewing machines, knitting baskets, canned peaches and tomato sauce, jars of sauerkraut, freezers with hunted or locally raised meat, and potted herbs. Outside the door there are no multiple new cars or manicured lawns. Whether in the country or the city, one is likely to find a garden plot or potted tomatoes, fruit trees, bicycles, probably a used car, shovels, spades, compost bins, chickens, maybe a wandering goat or some other livestock, and laundry blowing in the breeze. These people are producing their life, not buying it."

~Radical Homemakers,p. 208