A friend reminded me this morning of the one humourous book in my otherwise serious permaculture library. It’s the one book I refer course students to when they feel at a point of information overload, to give their minds a bit of a break. It is of course, ‘Crap Cycle Lanes’.
If you believe that our local authorities are spending our money wisely, then a quick flick through this book will convince you otherwise.
The ‘Coventry velodrome’ (shown here) is just one of a whole series of magnificent examples of pointless activity. It left me wondering whether there was some kind of legislation forcing councils to create a certain number of cycle lanes, but of unspecified length. Why else would so many pointless short stretches like this be popping up all over the place? Did someone actually think that examples such as this would make it safer for both cyclists and pedestrians?
If you’re already aware of the excellent short film ‘The Story of Stuff’, you’ll be pleased to hear that Annie Leonard and her team are back with an important message about the Copenhagen agenda…
If you missed ‘The Story of Stuff’ the first time around, you can still see it here.
Perhaps only one piece of the puzzle, but still nice to see Stephen Fry adding his voice to a nice little video by WeForest… And mentioning the word ‘permaculture’!
It was perhaps inevitable that our so-called ‘World leaders’ would disappoint us in Copenhagen. Are any of us really surprised? The influence of big business is far too great for our politicians to lead us any more. No, we are the ones this time who are going to have to come to the rescue.
Yes, politicians can make decisions which have far reaching effects in a short time, but let’s face it, it could be a long time before they make them.
We don’t have time to wait!
We however, are always in a position to make different choices. Yes, let our voices be heard, but let’s not waste valuable time banging our heads against the proverbial brick wall, when we could be spending that time making positive changes in our own lives now.
And those changes don’t have to be big; Nature rarely takes big steps. No, evolution is mostly a gradual process, as it’s important for the effects of small changes to be observed before continuing on. Chaos theory suggests that a butterfly fluttering its wings on one side of the world can lead to a storm on the other. Our small personal changes may seem insignificant from where we stand, but the effects of them ripple out into the world, whilst we often remain unaware.
But with so much to do, what should I do first?
Having just put another couple of logs on the fire on this chilly night, I am once again reminded of our total reliance upon winter warmth. As I mentioned before, we’ve developed an adapted hibernation strategy to get us through the cold months, but our dependency on fossil fuels of late has made us very vulnerable.
I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy though, & like most permaculture advocates, see a lot of opportunities in this situation for positive change & creative solutions. Permaculture was originally developed in response to the oil crisis of the 1970′s – looking at solutions that didn’t rely upon the availability of such easy energy. Since then our whole way of life has become more & more dependent upon the supply of oil & we are more vulnerable than ever to a reduction in its availability. Just think of all the things that we now take for granted & that rely upon oil in some form or another for its production or transportation.
Permaculture was always about looking beyond oil & as time goes on its solutions become more & more relevant to our lives.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of Peak Oil, it puts forward the idea that we have now reached maximum production of oil (so from now on it will become much more difficult & expensive to extract). This would mean that everything using oil in any part of its production will become more expensive too (just about everything we currently spend money on!). Clearly our dependence upon oil has become completely out of control & we urgently need to take different approaches to meeting our needs (& responsibly cutting back on our unnecessary wants).
Entropy is commonly defined as;
‘A measure of disorder or randomness.
A closed system evolves toward a state of maximum entropy.’
A closed system evolves toward a state of maximum entropy.’
As a physics undergraduate student, this never made sense to me. If things are only able to proceed to a greater and greater state of disorder, where did the order we see come from in the first place? This paradox could only ultimately be answered by bringing in an additional factor not mentioned above; one that acts in opposition to entropy. I later realised that factor is life.
Yes, we do indeed see plenty of examples of entropy around us. ‘Inanimate’ objects do fall apart; we see mountains being eroded by the forces of wind and water, rocks being broken into smaller and smaller pieces, cars rusting and so on, but is that such a bad thing?
Or are we just so afraid of change, that the very idea of entropy scares us? Just look at the things we make; plastics are a great example of something we made to last forever and then we realised what a bad idea that was. When we’d finished with them, they just wouldn’t ‘go away’. They just sat there performing no useful purpose, locking up important raw materials and preventing nature from making something new from them.
So having looked at the functionality of different patterns, how might we go about using this knowledge to design truly sustainable ways of living? Well, looking at both excellent and poor examples of pattern application should help illustrate the idea.
In wastewater treatment systems, we have long used beds of gravel to help clean up our sewage. Collectively, the many particles of gravel have a lot of surface area on which the active bacteria live. This is an application of the successful ‘lobe’ pattern, which we find being applied in our colon, where the collective surface area of the ‘friendly’ bacteria makes digestion most efficient.
An adaptation of this system involves planting in addition, some heavy feeding plants into the gravel beds. These plants take up the fertile wastes of the bacteria and turn it into plant matter (or biomass). This can then be cut and made use of in any number of ways, including use as fuel or a mulch. The combination of gravel and reeds for instance, makes for a very efficient system.
Patterns abound in nature, and yes we often see beauty in those places, but our ability to recognise patterns is actually vital to our survival. Imagine if you will… What if we couldn’t recognise the pattern of say, a particular face or fruit and associate it with safety / nurturing or indeed the opposite? Wouldn’t life be so much more time consuming (and dangerous)?
So our brains are already ‘hard-wired’ to recognise patterns. It is such a powerful process, that it can even elicit an emotional response (to for instance, a fluffy toy in the pattern of a baby penguin).
OK, so other than these obvious survival issues, why is understanding patterns important to me?
Well, given that we’ve been making a bit of a mess of things of late, we might be advised to consider some different ways of doing things. Like how we grow our food for instance. Or how we use energy. Quite frankly, how we might go about being sustainable!
So how does understanding patterns help us with living more sustainably on the Earth? Well, you may have noticed that nature as a whole has done pretty well. Yes, species have come and gone, but life as a whole is still here, after a mere 3.5 billion years apparently. Makes one feel humbled by the sheer vastness of such a timescale. So what’s nature doing right, and how can we use those same principles to ensure that our human genes make it beyond the end of the next century?
The daily choices that we make have either a positive or a negative effect upon our environment & believe me, those choices are significant. Have you ever considered how much of your income (& time) that you spend each week on just obtaining food? Now multiply this up for a whole year. Then multiply that by the number of people in our country alone. It’s a big number isn’t it?
So, where do you currently choose to spend that money (at the supermarket or from local producers & family businesses)? How do you spend that time (travelling back & forth from the shops & queueing at checkouts or growing your own in your garden)? These are choices that we can decide to change in any moment. We can decide to do that now. Every little thing that we change for the better makes a difference & is always worth doing. Is it clear now that we are not as powerless as we have all been led to believe?
Climate change certainly is occurring, but what is rarely mentioned is the significant role that modern farming practices are almost certainly playing in all of this. Energy-intensive fossil fuel use, economic subsidies that encourage overproduction, monocultures (huge areas of single crop), the massive use of pesticides, herbicides & chemical fertilisers, factory-scale meat & dairy production & poor countries growing luxury cash crops for Western greed. These are all practices that are poisoning our World & destroying the soil, without which nothing on Earth could live…. When we buy foods grown in these ways, we are not only funding these farming methods, we may just as well be carrying them all out ourselves.
If I were to ask you the question:
“What is the quickest way to get from A to B?”
A . . B
What would you answer?
The most common response is of course “a straight line” and we humans have got quite obsessed with them. But where (else) in nature do we find them? Which others species uses vast amounts of energy to carve a massive slice out of a hill to level a road, destroying important habitats in the process, just to save a minute or so of journey time?
It’s traditionally the time of year again to give our homes a good ‘Spring clean’. I guess back in ‘the old days’, warmth was too precious to be opening doors until it was warm enough outside, so a smelly winter indoors was probably inevitable! Vacuum cleaners have of course removed the excuse for us to leave cleaning things that long, but affluence has brought with it a different problem. Clutter!
It seems to be the in-thing nowadays to have people come in and get rid of your clutter for you. Many of us have big emotional resistance to this, but we know on some level that it makes sense. Paying someone else to do it for you seems a big drastic to me (and scary!), but if, like me you’re looking for one more good reason to get on and have a good clear out yourself, then read on…
The millstone around the neck is a powerful metaphor for life’s responsibilities, but in a society that values the ownership of material goods, it can be difficult for us to recognise the ways in which our ‘stuff’ burdens us too. What we need is a clear sense of the time, energy and space it takes to keep something in our possession, but first let’s look at how nature does things.