Thursday, February 21, 2008

Seize the Day - Threshold Moments and the Hope for Change

Friend, colleague, farmer, and fellow Blogger Sharon Astyk ponders the implications of well-timed, concerted action in response to crises - natural or engineered. Don't let governments, militaries, and corporations define our responses to the inevitable shocks yet to come. Carpe diem!

Seize the Day - Threshold Moments and the Hope for Change

It is common to respond to plans for radical change by stating that it is impossible to get this or that change enacted. This, of course, is manifestly wrong. We have only to look at historical events to see that it is perfectly possible, for both good and ill, to radically change circumstances in a host of ways that looked completely impossible not very long before.

The question is, how does that happen? And is it possible to imagine that we could, in fact, change things, and for example, bring about a relocalized economy, or 100 million farmers? Is that even feasible? More importantly, could it possibly happen before it has to? That is, we all know that we'd be a lot more secure if the transition to a sustainable agriculture happened a little before we were all out of food. Is that within the realm of possibility? I think so, but it requires a change in our perspective.

Now generally speaking, radical change is enacted one of two ways. The first is by revolution of one sort or another – a violent (not always warlike, but always violent), and deeply disruptive overthrow of what has gone before. In a very short time – the casting off of what has always seemed inviolable – slavery, colonialism, the divine of kings – transforms the landscape.

The problem with revolutions is that the costs are extremely high. Even a non-violent revolution means that large chunks of the existing population in power are simply cast out, and often come back to haunt you (think Cuba’s wealthy landowners, for example). Revolutions are vastly destructive, and anyone who simply isn’t ready, either adapts, or is overrun.

The other option is culture change – the gradual transition of a society from old values to new ones. It starts as a small movement, growing gradually, until ideas permeate the culture. Most of those who resist are given the chance to acclimate, and eventually come to accept, if not like, the dominant culture view. Eventually, cultural norms make it impossible even for those who espoused previous views to acknowledge them or to express them – think, for example, of the American Civil Rights movement. While racism was once a cultural norm in the US, now if you ask around, there are only about 4 people in the US who will admit to ever having expressed racist views.

The difficulty with this method is that it is far too slow for our present purposes – the major advances of the Civil Rights movement, for example, came over a period of 20 years. We simply don’t have 20 years of marching and gradually changing cultural norms.

Now it is necessarily the case that every movement contains elements of both of these – that is, the Civil Rights movement did include revolutionaries, and revolutions often begin with demonstrations. It is impossible for me to describe historical courses in any detail in a five page essay – but most such changes are dominated, either by a moment of overthrow, or by the lack of that moment.

Are those our only choices? That is, are our only options taking up arms, or marching and singing? Both might work or they might not – we may well be able to transition our culture, given enough time or enough will and anger – to a society that can adapt to the new environmental norms. But we do not have multiple decades to make such a transition. James Hansen, for example, notes that most of our environmental changes will have to come rapidly over the next decade. And because almost all our changes take some major lead time, that means that the period we have to change attitudes is very short.

As for revolution, it is simply too destructive, even were it not a bad idea for a host of other reasons. The human costs of radical, sudden transformation are resistance – lots of it. And lots of resistance means either the failure of overall goals or repressive responses that destroy what is created from the inside out.

So are there any other choices between the complete rupture of prior experience and the gradual transition to a new way of thinking? I think there is another option, but it depends upon being prepared to take hold of a moment, and claim it as your own.

The third choice is something I’m calling (for lack of a better term) “threshold moments” – those points at which history intervenes, and something that was unimaginable the day before becomes entirely possible. At those moments, it is possible to make a larger step forward than could previously have been imagined – people are poised for radical change.

Now such moments occur in two ways. The first is when events demand a particular change – for example, as in Cuba when the cutoff of oil supplies demanded a rapid fire deindustrialization of agriculture and the transition to a new economy. In this case, cause and effect are direct – that is, the systemic response to food shortages is the institutionalization of a new system. The bombing of Pearl Harbor leads to a military response and US participation in the World War. While it can never be said that there is no other response possible, the response is the logical, successful addressing of a problem

But there is another kind of threshold moment, one in which we perceive we are at a transitional moment, and at which it is possible to imagine a number of possible responses – where what matters is that the populace is poised for response – and multiple possible successful responses are possible. Here is the moment at which it is possible to advance a new agenda – and possible to override other public agendas by laying claim to that moment and advancing one’s agenda as a logical response.

The obvious example here is 9/11. If you are not American, I think it is hard to understand how desperately Americans were casting around after 9/11 for some way to make their own response match up to the radical change in their world that they experienced. And there is nothing logically contiguous with the event about, say, invading Iraq or going shopping – that is, what was most notable about 9/11 was that people were willing to make massive changes, had they been asked. They were not asked – and no one made a strong attempt to wrest the narrative of 9/11 away from the government – individuals resisted the story we were being told, but there was not a fully formed attempt, say to recast our response to 9/11 in terms of oil and energy, and to use it as a major call for renewable growth. Some attempts were made, but there weren’t enough people working together.

Such threshold moments come around fairly often in history, and are likely to come more often as we enter what has been called “interesting times.” In the last decade, we’ve had large-scale threshold moment, 9/11, and a smaller one in which some significant cultural changes might have been enacted, Hurricane Katrina.

Does that sound strange and unlikely? I think it is true that had Americans been told after 9/11, “We want you to go out and grow a victory garden and cut back on energy usage” the response would have been tremendous – it would absolutely have been possible to harness the anger and pain and frustration of those moments, and a people who desperately wanted something to do. Even after Katrina, it would have been possible for a concerted narrative that ran the pictures from the superdome over and over again saying “And if you never want this to happen again, you must…” Katrina would not have been nearly as effective as 9/11, but a great deal of change could have been made with it, regardless. And making use of the momentum of such events could have enabled us to be that much further along in the adaptation process before a moment comes at which a particular response is truly necessary.

Naomi Klein notes that this is precisely the claim of Milton Friedman’s “Shock Doctrine” which says that at a moment of crisis, you can sweep away the old and transform things utterly. Up until now, such a system has been mostly used for ill, for market reforms that are utterly destructive to our public life. But since such events will be used, it only makes sense for us to use them for good.

Moreover, as Klein points out, the Shock Doctrine’s essential message, overthrowing the past, is destructive to the ordinary people who are victims of a crisis. That is, those who live through such threshold moments in history and are directly affected by them want to cling to what they have of the past, to restore what they have lost. The Shock Doctrine model destroys, rather than reclaims the past.

Here, sustainability advocates have an enormous advantage in being able to claim the narrative from those who want to overthrow the past. Because ultimately, our propositions are always tied to the past, to previous successful responses to hard times and disaster. We are tying our propositions to what people dreamed of in suburbia, the small slice of personal eden that never was, and saying you can have that thing you once sought, as part of the promise of restoration. Those who claim that we are merely advocating a return to the past are missing the point – it is never possible to go back, but it is feasible to anchor the future in the past, to offer a narrative in which we do not have to give up what we value, but can retain it, and take it with us into a new and radically different world.

To do this, we will have to prepare and watch for the next such threshold moment. The peak oil and climate change movements were simply not organized enough 7 years ago at 9/11, and we mishandled Hurricane Katrina – there were plenty of individual attempts to tie it into climate change, but there was no unified attempt to create a single narrative account of Katrina.
If we are to imagine Relocalization and steady state economics taking over, if it is possible (and I do not say that it is, merely that we cannot fail to try), we must be absolutely prepared for the next threshold moment, and to explain how it is (and it will be, we won’t have to lie) about the oil, about the climate, and how it demands a particular response, not blowing up another country far away, but a change in us.

I have no idea when that moment will come, and neither does anyone else. It could happen tonight, and have us wake up in a changed world. Or it could leave us hanging for years, and the next such threshold we cross could be the transition into a real disaster, one in which our options are limited. But regardless, since it is always possible to fuck things up worse than necessary, sustainability advocates of every kind must be prepared to take one story and echo it back across media and blogs, to tell it and tell it, and teach others to demand a particular kind of response.

One of the things about this that is important is to remember that this doesn’t work in a linear way. That is, the process involves going along making small changes, and adding a few new recruits and tiny incremental alterations for a good long time. At first it seems like you aren’t making any progress at all – that the change is so vast that the little moves can’t get you there. But it is important to remember that you are doing the advance work for something that is likely to alter, not with a gradual building, but in a moment. That is, we’re doing what we can now, so that when the right time comes, we can do vastly more.

Kurt Cobb observed at Community Solutions that the best example of this narrative claiming is the 9/11 Truth Movement – regardless of what you think of their claims, they have been enormously effective in changing the official story about what 9/11 was. There are more of us – Paul Hawken has called the sustainability movement the largest movement on the planet, and that may well be true. There are tens of millions of people all over the world who care about this. And we have to be able to tell the story, the true story, of how climate change and peak oil have created a disaster to which we must now respond.

In the meantime, we grow our victory gardens and build our movement and educate our neighbors and plan and wait. It won’t be too long in coming. And then it will be time – to pass the word, and make our move – to try and take control of the narrative and say “This is what is needed as a response, to make us better.” And everything we do in the meantime, everything we start, every working model we create, every program we start, every change we make in our homes and neighborhoods, gets us that much more ready to seize the day.


Earth Hour March 29, 8-9PM - Lights OUT! (Good Idea)

Why don't we do this more often? It will get us in practice for the blackouts heading our way as energy decline and Peak Everything starts to hit home. We're spending energy as if there's no tomorrow. Keep it up and there won't be!

World Wildlife Fund's Earth Hour
is catching on across America following the tremendous success of last year's event in Sydney, Australia. This global phenomenon will spread across six continents in 2008, including hundreds of communities like yours in the United States.

Chicago will serve as the U.S. flagship city for Earth Hour in 2008, with Atlanta, Phoenix and San Francisco joining as leading partner cities. But everyone throughout the US and around the world is invited and encouraged to turn off their lights for an hour on March 29 at 8 p.m. local time--whether at home or at work, with friends and family or solo, in a big city or a small town.

What will you do when the lights are off? Why not change out those old energy-wasting light bulbs to new, inexpensive and efficient compact fluorescents. Earth Hour is also a great time to consider what you and your family can do in the days and months to reduce emissions and live more sustainably. We have lots of great ideas to get you started.

To alter the course of climate change we must act now. The U.S. is the world's leading emitter of carbon dioxide—over 20 tons per person every year. One person committed to reducing energy consumption can make a difference, and millions of us working together can change the world.

Let us know that you're a part of Earth Hour - sign up on the site and become part of the movement!

One hour, America. Earth Hour.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It is Time for a New Victory Garden Movement!

It is Time for a New Victory Garden Movement!
by Sharon Astyk
(whose blogs [
Casaubons Book &
Depletion & Abundance] should definitely be visited regularly. She has 2 books in the works derived from her astute yet whimsical discourse.
Also see Revive the Victory Garden and Kiss Your Grass Goodbye)

There is little question that it is time for us to create a new Victory Garden movement. That's one of the central premises of Aaron's and my book, and I don't think there are very many people who understand what we're facing who would deny that this is true.

In fact, there are quite a number of people in the Community Garden movement, and the blogging community who have supported the creation of a new Victory Garden movement. Some people doing this work include Bob Waldrop, whose call to action on local food systems has drawn considerable attention here (among other places): , Foodshed Planet's site has inspired others, and the group Revive the Victory Garden, who have called for 2 million new gardens to combat climate change in 2008:, and there are literally too many others for me to list. But the movement is nascent, still beginning, and seems to need a little midwifing to get things moving along.

The reality is that interest in really, really local food is growing, and so is interest in food production, as food prices skyrocket and quality falls. And the best news is that this is a case where grassroots action not only can work, but it is the only thing that ever has worked - that is, in the US during both World Wars, in Cuba, in Russia - gardens for food security began and grew under the aegis of ordinary people acting to improve their world. While we can enable it from above, the creation of a victory garden movement is a person to person, blog to blog, neighbor to neighbor project. Why do it? A host of reasons, personal and political.

Victory Gardens Mean:

-Better Food - Fresher, better tasting, straight off the plant food money literally cannot buy!

- Better Health - More nutrition in just picked vegetables, grown without chemicals, while getting the kind of exercise many of us pay the gym for! Safety from industrial food contamination and toxic imports.

-Food Security - Food in your pots as prices get higher, supplies that can't be disrupted by energy shortages, greater regional self-sufficiency. Millions of new gardeners can make sure that Americans don't have to wait for distant food supplies to be trucked in - weeks after they are needed. Every gardener makes your region more secure.

-Higher Quality of Life - A more beautiful environment, stronger community, a better environment.

-More Money in your Pocket, More Time for What Matters - If you don't need as much money for food, or to work as many hours to pay the grocery bills, you can use that money or take that time for what you really care about.

- The Chance to Serve Others and Create a More Just Society - Your Victory Garden can be a strike against hunger and poverty - you can have food to donate, and the ability to teach others to fish (ok, garden), and thus, eat for a lifetime.

- Reduce Corporate Power and Improve Democracy - We cannot simultaneously deplore the power corporations have in our society and depend on them to supply our most basic necessities. If we stop giving our hard earned money to the corporations who undermine our democracy, they will be less powerful!

-Protect Against Climate Change - Humus rich soils, full of organic matter can sequester tons of carbon, quite literally - and grow the best vegetables. We reduce our carbon emissions when we don't have to drive to the store or buy fossil fuel grown food.

-Reduce our Energy Dependence - Fossil fuels are used in agriculture, both industrial and industrial organic at every step, from the fertilizer in the ground to the refrigerated truck to plastic bag they come in. We can eliminated fossil fuels from almost every step when we grow our own.

- Create Peace - We're at war for oil right now. If we can cut back on our need for the stuff, we don't have to kill or die for it.

-Hope for the Future - In a changing world, the ability to grow food, to share and enjoy it, and to live in a healthy world full of beautiful gardens may be the best legacy we can our children and grandchildren.

Ok, so we agree that we need Victory Gardens. How do we bring all the participants in this movement together, and create a real and national Victory Garden movement? How do we bring together professional farmers, with Victory Farms and city Gardeners, schools and community resources, and backyard advocates? How do we get Victory Gardening onto the national agenda? How do we teach millions of people how to grow, cook and eat their own, and why?

One part, of course, is the person to person work we're doing now. The next step is to create a large-scale Victory Garden umbrella organization guided by people in every part of the Victory Garden movement - chefs and cooks helping people learn to eat, teachers helping children get involved, churches, corporations and community groups all putting gardens on public and private greenspaces, local "garden farmer markets" where very small scale producers can exchange or sell their extra in their neighborhoods, climate change and energy activists working on this simple way to cut our energy usage and reduce atmospheric carbon. That is, we need a movement - a real, serious movement. And we can do this.

And to get those new gardens and gardeners started. And for that, we need your help. We'll be asking for more specific help as we go along, but getting started, we'd love all of you who blog to put out the Victory Garden idea, even if you usually write about other things. If you can, start a Victory Garden blog, and post a link in comments - I'll put links up on this site and my other one.

And make the effort - reach out to one neighbor, at least, and help them get started gardening. Share seeds. Talk to your community, your synagogue, mosque, church, neighbors, school about gardening. Take a risk - for greater security later. Plant a front-yard garden, centered around a "V" for Victory (cabbages look great like this, particularly mixed with nasturtiums or calendula, but use your imagination). Be courageous - we need this Victory!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

DNA Pollution Spawning Killer Microbes

Rogue genetic snippets spread antibiotic resistance all over the environment.

Over the past 50 years, virtually every known kind of disease-causing bacterium has acquired genes to survive some or all of the drugs that once proved effective against it. Analysis of a strain of vancomycin-resistant enterococcus, a potentially lethal bug that has invaded many hospitals, reveals that more than one-quarter of its genome—including virtually all its antibiotic-thwarting genes—is made up of foreign DNA. One of the newest banes of U.S. medical centers, a supervirulent and multidrug-resistant strain of Acinetobacter baumannii, likewise appears to have picked up most of its resistance in gene swaps with other species.

The antibiotic-drenched environment of commercial livestock operations is prime ground for such transfer. “You’ve got the genes encoding for resistance in the soil beneath these operations,” he says, “and we know that the majority of the antibiotics animals consume get excreted intact.” In other words, the antibiotics fuel the rise of resistant bacteria both in the animals’ guts and in the dirt beneath their hooves, with ample opportunity for cross-contamination.

These animal operations are real hot spots. They’re glowing red in the concentrations and intensity of these genes.

An even more direct conduit into the environment may be the common practice of irrigating fields with wastewater from livestock lagoons. About three years ago, David Graham, a University of Kansas environmental engineer, was puzzled in the fall by a dramatic spike in resistance genes in a pond on a Kansas feedlot he was studying. “We didn’t know what was going on until I talked with a large-animal researcher,” he recalls. At the end of the summer, feedlots receive newly weaned calves from outlying ranches. To prevent the young animals from importing infections, the feedlot operators were giving them five-day “shock doses” of antibiotics. “Their attitude had been, cows are big animals, they’re pretty tough, so you give them 10 times what they need,” Graham says.

The operators cut back on the drugs when Graham showed them that they were coating the next season’s alfalfa crop with highly drug-resistant bacteria. “Essentially, they were feeding resistance genes back to their animals,” Graham says. “Once they realized that, they started being much more conscious. They still used antibiotics, but more discriminately.”

While livestock operations are an obvious source of antibiotic resistance, humans also take a lot of antibiotics—and their waste is another contamination stream. Bacteria make up about one-third of the solid matter in human stool, and Scott Weber, of the State University of New York at Buffalo, studies what happens to the antibiotic resistance genes our nation flushes down its toilets.

Weber is now investigating how fertilizer derived from human sewage may contribute to the spread of antibiotic-resistant genes. “We’ve done a good job designing our treatment plants to reduce conventional contaminants,” he says. “Unfortunately, no one has been thinking of DNA as a contaminant.” In fact, sewage treatment methods used at the country’s 18,000-odd wastewater plants could actually affect the resistance genes that enter their systems.

Consumers may contribute to the problem of DNA pollution whenever they use antibacterial soaps and cleaning products. These products contain the antibiotic-like chemicals triclosan and triclocarban and send some 2 million to 20 million pounds of the compounds into the sewage stream each year. Triclosan and triclocarban have been shown in the lab to promote resistance to medically important antibiotics. Worse, the compounds do not break down as readily as do traditional antibiotics. Rolf Halden, cofounder of the Center for Water and Health at Johns Hopkins University, has shown that triclosan and triclocarban show up in many waterways that receive treated wastewater—more than half of the nation’s rivers and streams. He has found even greater levels of these two chemicals in sewage sludge destined for reuse as crop fertilizer. According to his figures, a typical sewage treatment plant sends more than a ton of triclocarban and a slightly lesser amount of triclosan back into the environment each year.

For consumer antibacterial soaps the solution is simple, Halden says: “Eliminate them. There’s no reason to have these chemicals in consumer products.” Studies show that household products containing such anti­bacterials don’t prevent the spread of sickness any better than ordinary soap and water. “If there’s no benefit, then all we’re left with is the risk,” Halden says. He notes that many European retailers have already pulled these products from their shelves. “I think it’s only a matter of time before they are removed from U.S. shelves as well.”

Read the whole story here.

Joe Polaischer - Tribute and Obituary

Joe Polaischer, well known, highly respected and dearly loved permaculture teacher, farmer and pioneer past away this morning, February 14, in New Zealand.

Joe leaves the global permaculture community an incredible legacy of commitment and dedication to healing the earth. Over the past 18-plus years Joe has empowered and inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of people through his teaching in New Zealand, Europe and Japan, and through the living example of sustainability in action he created with his partner, Trish Allen, at Rainbow Valley Farm in New Zealand.

Joe Polaischer was born in Austria and grew up on a peasant farm in the Austrian Alps. He spent many years in Africa and South America in his twenties.

Passionate about sustainability, self-sufficiency, appropriate technology and bioregional community development, in 1988 he and Trish purchased the property known now as Rainbow Valley Farm on the North Island of New Zealand
The farm has been featured in magazines around the world, and from my personal experience and travels it is a global permaculture treasure. Joe's exceptional knowledge and skills, wonderful sense of humor, commitment to excellence, and knack for making the most mundane elements of life a work of art and beauty are legendary.

Late last year Joe was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor which was removed but returned with a vengance and within a few short weeks has claimed his life.

Joe's commitment to his work never faded even in his final days. The Permaculture Design Course he and Trish had scheduled to teach at Rainbow Valley Farm Feb 22nd is going ahead as the express wish of Joe, so he could leave knowing his work and permaculture training in New Zealand would continue.

I had the exceptional honour of spending a few days with Joe and Trish at Rainbow Valley Farm in May last year en route to IPC8 in Brazil. Joe and Trish discussed with me the issue of succession - the importance of training others to replace us and putting strategies in place for the work to continue. I will be returning to New Zealand next week to honour Joe's wish, supported wholeheartedly by Trish, and assist with the PDC and provide encouragement and support to the new generation of permaculture teachers who will be attending. Geoff Lawton will also be joining the course to teach the second week on his return from Cuba.

Our thoughts are with Trish and the permaculture community in New Zealand at this time. We will do what we can to ensure Joe's wish is fulfilled and that his work and commitment to a sustainable future is honoured.
Thank you Joe for your inspiration and dedication and for the wonderful legacy you have gifted us - this will live on in our hearts and in our work. May you rest now in peace in the arms of mother earth. - Robyn Francis Feb 14, 2008

Obituary for Joe Polaischer

It is with great sadness that I reflect on the death of Joe Polaischer. I met Joe only four years ago, although his reputation had well preceded our meeting. In recent years I have had the privilege of being hosted by many wonderful permaculture activists and teachers during a series of overseas teaching tours. Joe Polaischer and his legacy is one of the brightest points in my picture of the global permaculture community.

No one who has met Joe could fail to be struck by his passion about nature and permaculture. Such passion is common in the younger generation eager to explore and change the world. It is rare in someone in their 60’s, so experienced and world weary as Joe. Passion is often associated with a strong ideological position.

Within the spectrum of leading permaculture activists I have met, Joe was closer to the ideological than the pragmatic end of the spectrum. His use and promotion of simple appropriate technologies, serious food production from diverse integrated systems and radical simplicity of personal needs, he was by no means unique in the permaculture network. But Joe was also a practical realist who dealt with design problems and technical issues in a systematic way so permaculture solutions could be seen to work. This is not so common amongst us ideologues.

Joe also understood that radical ideas and novel systems also needed to be attractive if they were to succeed in luring ordinary people away from mind deadening consumer dependence. His work was characterised by art and beauty as much as it was by ecological function.

Most leading permaculture teachers have as least some practical knowledge and skill in either food production, animal husbandry, building and construction, or other practical arts that contribute to permaculture, some are jacks of all trades. Joe was a master of most. His attention to detail, maintenance, quality and art that we associate with his native Austria were combined with the “can-do” innovation of his adopted home, New Zealand. He was constantly experimenting with new information and systems.

The personal lives of many permaculture leaders reflect a pattern of relationship instability, mobility and sometimes a lack of ability to practice what we preach. Whether by his wisdom or good luck, Joe was ably balanced and complemented by his partner in life and livelihood, Trish Allen. Trish’s good nature, organization and pragmatic commitment to permaculture as everyday life, blended and balanced with Joe’s vision, passion and skill. Between them, they made Rainbow Valley Farm, their small rural property at Matakana, the permaculture icon of NZ.

For myself and Su Dennett it is always inspiring to meet other older couples who have managed to make the personal and domestic expression of permaculture, a central focus of their work in permaculture. Rainbow Valley Farm has all the intimacy of Joe and Trish’s hands, heads and hearts but it is also a place where many thousands of people from New Zealand and overseas have experienced permaculture, many for the first time, through regular tours, courses, Woofing and internships. Many more have vicariously enjoyed some of the bounty and beauty of Rainbow Valley through innumerable magazine and newspaper articles, books, television and radio programs.

For even the most committed activists, the difficulties of maintaining a strong personal permaculture space which is also a very public demonstration and education center are great. Joe and Trish managed to do both for as long as anyone.
I believe one of the secrets of their success was that the rules and routines at Rainbow Valley Farm were always clearly laid out. For many easy going Aussies and Kiwi’s, Joe’s Germanic precision and expectations made him a hard taskmaster but one who commanded respect. Perhaps he was a perfectionist, too head strong to be able let Rainbow Valley Farm evolve into a more public environmental education center.

Part of Joe’s legacy in New Zealand is a whole network of people with the passion and skills to see Rainbow Valley Farm continue to be a venue for inspiration and learning in some way.
Joe’s contribution was not confined to Rainbow Valley Farm. As well as being involved in local community and wider environmental issues, Joe has been one of the most influential permaculture teachers in the German speaking world.

I am not familiar with the full history of his Permaculture Design Course teaching but I remember being astounded by the intensity of the program of his most recent series of courses in Austria in which Joe was ably assisted by fellow Austrian, Christoff Schneider. Getting to know Christoff emphasised for me the calibre of permaculture students and activists who have been drawn to work with and learn from Joe over the years. I am sure that Christoff and many others who shared in this legacy will use it to good ends in New Zealand, Austria and around the world.

Japan is another country where Joe made a substantial contribution to permaculture education, having taught several PDC’s there and hosted many Japanese Woofers and interns at Rainbow Valley Farm. In fact it seems to me that everyone I have met in the Japanese permaculture network has visited or knew about Rainbow Valley Farm. The Japanese influence on Joe’s work at Rainbow Valley Farm was evidence of his great ability to recognise and apply the best from other cultures.

Everyone who knew Joe would acknowledge that he was an independent thinker with strong opinions. Some might think of him as a character in the mold of Mollison, a rough rural philosopher and storyteller with his own conception of how things should be.

Over the decades I have seen many capable and opinionated (mostly) men of this ilk, who for one reason or another have dismissed Mollison and permaculture in favour of their own version of sustainability. Joe Polaischer on the other hand showed a sincere deference to Mollison and a passion for permaculture as a great influence on his life and work.

While he was steeped in the “Mollison school of permaculture” I also found him very warm, respectful, open and influenced (in recent years) by my own contributions. Perhaps a stronger example of Joe’s ability to get on and learn from others, even the most abrasive, was his good, if argumentative working relationship with Sepp Holzer, a fellow Austrian and brilliant permaculture designer and practitioner, completely outside the lineage of permaculture teaching, who has clashed with almost everyone within the European permaculture community.

Most permaculture teachers have grown up in a world of relative stability and affluence, and typically, with some personal disconnection from land and community lineage (?). Joe was unusual in having experienced the self reliant way of life on his grandfather’s farm in an Austrian village where he could trace his ancestry back more centuries than the Maori lineage in New Zealand, as well as being old enough to have experienced a time “without money, economy or government” in the immediate aftermath of WWII.

These experiences informed his teaching and allowed him to understand and communicate both the creative possibilities and the harsh challenges of the energy descent future we face around the globe.
In a group discussion, at IPC7 in Croatia in 2005, on the implications of peak oil for the global permaculture community, Joe held the participants spellbound with his stories of the aftermath of WWII. He reflected that he once believed that he would never live to see such times again but that he was now not so sure.

Well, Joe is safe from the risks and uncertainties of the future but he left us with the best he could give to help survive and even prosper in a world of climate change and energy descent.

Maybe I can finish this obituary with a story told by the American philosopher Gregory Bateson to illustrate the characteristics of a “mature culture”; one that I have retold many times.

The dons of New College, Oxford were gathered as usual for dinner under the great oak beams of the dining hall. One of the dons got up on the table and poking one of the beams, showed it was riddled with borers. The college council met in consternation. Where would they get oak timbers of this size to replace the beams that were all in varying states of decay? One council member recalled that the forester who managed the college’s forest investments maybe able to help. The forester was summonsed and asked his opinion. He nonchalantly replied that they had the trees and that when he had come to the job, his predecessor had instructed him that this particular stand of great oaks should not be cut and sold as they had been planted at the time of the dining hall construction to replace the beams when they eventually decayed.

During an advanced permaculture principles course at Rainbow Valley Farm in May last year, Joe told us a variation of this story that came from his own experience. As a very young child, he was following his grandfather around the farm. The old man pointed to a particularly fine grove of trees saying they were only to be used to replace the large beams in the farm barn when that became necessary.

Was Joe’s story another rare example of “mature culture”? Maybe Gregory Bateson’s story was not an exceptional case confined to ancient and august institutions of learning, but a normal and natural behaviour of people connected to nature, the ancestors and the decendents. I’m still not sure but I am certain that Joe Polaischer was an exceptional man who leaves a great legacy of experience, story, vision and hope for all our decendents. David Holmgren, Melliodora, Feb 14, 2008

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rising CO2 Levels: A Double Whammy for the Food Supply*

By Stephen Hume
The Vancouver Sun
Monday 04 February 2008

Some critics of the case for global warming make light of concerns over rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Increased carbon dioxide is good for plant growth, they say. Some don't concede that the planet is warming up at all, despite a preponderance of opinion to the contrary among mainstream scientists.

But they maintain that even "if" the world should warm, Canada comes out a winner.

First, the argument goes, warmer climate means a longer growing
season. It pushes the temperate zone in which field crops flourish farther north. This means more land can be used for agriculture.

Second, all that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will stimulate plant growth. Thus, we get more farmland and better growing conditions.

However, the latest bit of news should be equally alarming to those concerned about global warming and the "What, me worry?" faction.

Research published by three scientists at Southwestern University in Texas suggests that the price of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is sharply falling nutritional value in staple crops upon which 40 per cent of the world's population relies for its dietary protein.

Daniel Taub, Brian Miller and Holly Allen analysed more than 220
experiments in which plants were exposed to levels of carbon dioxide that ranged from the present ambient level to about double the existing level. They discovered that as the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere goes up, the protein in wheat, barley, rice, potatoes and soy beans diminishes, in some cases quite sharply.

Barley lost 15.3 per cent of its protein, potatoes lost 14 per cent, rice and wheat lost almost 10 per cent. Soy beans fared better, but even they lost 1.4 per cent of protein.

As these plants absorb more carbon dioxide into their tissues, the
researchers found, they do so at the expense of other compounds, including those which are essential parts of proteins.

This may all seem rather esoteric, but a 10- to 15-per-cent
shortfall in the protein available to 40 per cent of the world's population should make everyone sit up and take notice because the effects would be felt pretty quickly by the other 60 per cent, too.

Cereal grains, particularly barley, are key components in feed for
the animals - chickens, pigs, cattle - that provide much of the protein in the developed world. A 15-per-cent reduction in the nutritional value of animal feed could only mean less efficiency for farmers and rising costs for consumers of meat, eggs and dairy products as well as for consumers of the two cereal grains - wheat and rice - that dominate world supply.

Well, the solution's easy, some might counter. Just use the
additional land that comes available as temperate zones move north to increase production and that will offset any falling nutritional values.

But the climate change jigsaw is complicated and what seems
logical doesn't necessarily follow. For example, the quality of soils in northern latitudes is much poorer than the deep, rich soils that now comprise the North American and European breadbaskets.

In Canada, 95 per cent of the land mass will never be suitable for
field crops. It doesn't matter what the climate is like, you can't grow wheat on glaciated rock or mountains. And agriculture requires stable climatic conditions; the evidence suggests global warming will bring the opposite.

Worldwide, a drop in nutritional value of cereals and potatoes is
compounded by other difficulties.

Rising sea levels is one. The most productive arable land for most of humanity lies at the present sea level in coastal regions. That's because the most fertile land tends to be either old seabeds or in river estuaries and coastal plains like the Fraser delta, carried there by millions of years of erosion. Rising sea levels threaten this land with flooding and salt contamination.

The inability of impoverished nations to purchase fertilizer to
boost production to meet nutritional shortfalls is another problem.

So, we may face a double whammy of constrained production and
degrading food supply. Small wonder the researchers conclude that "The effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide on crop protein therefore seems likely to be of genuine importance for human nutrition in and beyond the 21st century."


Saturday, February 2, 2008

2008 PERMACULTURE CONVERGENCES IN THE US & International Gathering in 2009

Northeast Permaculture Gathering 4th Annual NEPC Summer Gathering, 2008 tentative Dates July 11-13. Hosted by the Western Mass Permaculture Guild.
Southeast Permaculture Convergence
15th annual. Tentative date, August 2-4, 2008
Celo, North Carolina.

Southwest Drylands Permaculture Gathering
Near Santa Barbara. Labor Day weekend 2008. Combined with the first Southern California Convergence.

Bay Area Regional Permaculture Convergence
California. Their 4th annual was held July 7-8, 2007.

Upper Midwest Collaborative
This is an annual gathering. They also held a Twin Cities PC Convergence in 2006.
Friday, February 29th, 2008 – 6:30-9pm
Minneapolis College of Art & Design
Visit or email info@ permaculture

Cascadia Ecofair
Oregon's 10th annual permaculture convergence. For many years it was titled as a Northwest PC event. Mostly Oregonians, particularly the Willamette valley. Held August 23-26 in 2007.

Evergreen State Permaculture Convergence
First annual in 2008.
Planning is underway for the next International Permaculture Conference and Convergence, IPC 9, which will be in Africa in July, 2009. The Director of IPC 9 is Mugove Walter Nyika of the Regional Schools and Colleges Permaculture (RESCOPE) Programme, in Malawi.