Monday, May 6, 2013

New Blog

I started off with grand intentions for this blog, and then . . . life happened. I continue to be interested in sustainability, and have not abandoned blogging, but my focus has changed a bit. If you found the content here interesting, you may want to check out my new blog, CascadiaSustainableHomes.com.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Regional Food Analysis for Cascadia

When I first really learned about peak oil and its implications, the thing that most freaked me out was the potential impacts to our food production and distribution systems, and I do not think that I am unique in this. As a result, I was greatly interested in reading Sharon Astyk’s recent post on Regional Food Analysis. I would invite my reader's to read Sharon's post, as I think it may be one of the most useful things that the various sustainability groups out there might be able to do to help the broader community prepare for the long descent.

I intend to start working on the research for preparing one of these for my own region, and I am going to start plugging the idea with the various sustainability groups in the area, and see if we can't get a concerted effort going here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Does it Mean to be a Cascadian?

This is a very large question, and one that I do not even pretend to have a full (or perhaps even partial) answer to. I ask it not because I expect anybody to provide an answer, but because it is a question that I feel is crucially important to grapple with as we ponder a future in which industrial civilization and all that goes with it is in decline. Many writers and commentators have discussed re-localization in a variety of ways, and occasionally the idea of revitalizing some aspects of pre-industrial cultures gets some play.

In most parts of the world, including a significant fraction of the United States, there is or was a pre-industrial culture that most of the current inhabitants are descended from. These pre-industrial, indigenous cultures were generally reasonably well adapted to the needs of their geographical place, and while many were not terribly sustainable, they were much closer to sustainable than modern industrial civilization. Discussions about how to adopt a more sustainable way of living, in many regions, therefore have a model (flawed though it may be) of what this more sustainable life might look like.

In Cascadia, on the other hand, the vast majority of the current inhabitants are not descended from the indigenous population. So, although there is (or was) a pre-industrial culture here, most of us have no real connection to it, and I personally think it quite unlikely that this culture will be a usable model for us as we struggle to create a culture that is capable of enduring in this place. Even worse, non-natives did not arrive in this area in significant numbers until after the industrial revolution was in full swing in England and the northeastern United States. As a result, essentially from the beginning of non-native habitation of Cascadia, the region was fully integrated into the industrial civilization, first as a resource colony, and then later as an industrial center in its own right. No non-industrial frontier civilization, such as that found in Appalachia, was ever able to develop here.

What this means to us is that we have essentially nothing to fall back on culturally that has been adapted to our region. This is one of the reasons I feel that the Dark Mountain Project may have something to offer for Cascadians as we contemplate the unraveling of industrial civilization. The Dark Mountain Project is, on one level, about discovering, or rediscovering, what it means to be human and how to have a culture that fits in the context of our particular circumstances. For those of us in places like Cascadia who are effectively cultural orphans, finding the answers to these questions assumes a whole new level of importance.

So: What does it mean to be a Cascadian? And how are we to build a culture that is adapted to Cascadia and not dependent on industrial civilization?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Plans for the Homestead

I'd been meaning to post something like this, but Sharon Astyk's recent post about spring garden plans finally prompted me to actually do it. So here are some of the things on my project list for the Homestead:

First: Actually purchase the place! Hopefully before spring is over.

Short-term projects (complete in 2012):
  • Fence the backyard. This is to keep small children safely in the yard.
  • Remove several tall conifers along the back fence line. They are isolated remnants of a previously existing stand and are potentially a large hazard to neighbor's houses in a windstorm, and I don't want to be liable for that sort of damage. They will also make for a nice initial supply of firewood.
  • Establish several raised beds for vegetable garden.
  • Establish a rhubarb patch.
  • Build a worm bin (or perhaps two).
  • Weatherize the house.
  • Install a clothesline.
  • Start building addition/accessory dwelling unit. The accessory dwelling unit will be completed by the end of 2013, the rest to be completed as time and resources permit.
 Medium-term projects (complete before 2016):
  • Finish addition.
  • Start beekeeping. Also, create habitat for other pollinators: mason bees, hummingbirds, etc.
  • Establish asparagus patch.
  • Improve insulation and windows where necessary.
  • Get rainbarrels (or even better, a cistern) for catching rainwater from the roof.
  • Start trees suitable for coppicing for firewood.
  • Build a greenhouse. Dual purpose - increases solar efficiency of the house in addition to providing a place to start plants.
  • Plant fruit trees.
  • Plant native trees and vegetation; reduce or eliminate lawn.
Long-term projects (Complete as soon as I can get to them/have resources to do them): 
  • Root cellar.
  • Solar hot water system.
  • Permanent roof.
  • Composting toilets/gray-water recycling system.
  • Start keeping chickens, and/or rabbits.
  • Build pond for aqua-culture.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review: Let Us Be Human by Sam Charles Norton

A few years ago, I led a study with an adult Sunday School class at my church of Sharon Astyk's Depletion and Abundance. My intention was to explore the issues of peak oil, resource depletion, and the limits to growth, and to discuss what an appropriate Christian response to these issues might look like. Even though it is an excellent book, spiritual concerns are, at best, tangential to the main topic of Depletion and Abundance, and as a result the book was not a good fit to the purpose of the study. In Let Us Be Human: Christianity for a Collapsing Culture by Sam Charles Norton, I have finally found a book that really speaks to the subjects that I had wanted to explore with that Sunday School class.

A nice, concise summary of the topics the book covers can be found in the introduction, which, conveniently, was published in full by the author on Energy Bulletin (see Let us be Human: Christianity for a collapsing culture). As that is already conveniently available, I won't attempt to summarize the contents again. Instead, I offer some of my own observations of aspects of this book that I found particularly striking.

Although Norton is in some respects quite traditional - for instance, his use of He, His, and Him (capitalized, no less!) when referring to God might be somewhat irksome to more progressive Christians who sometimes go to great pains to not assign a gender to God - he is not even remotely fundamentalist or literalist in his understanding of scripture or theology. He understands that much of scripture is metaphorical or poetic, and quotes Tom Wright to emphasize this point when discussing apocalyptic literature (a popular genre of Jewish literature of which the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation are the best-known examples): "there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space time universe. There is abundant evidence that they knew a good metaphor when they saw one, and used cosmic imagery to bring out the full theological significance of cataclysmic socio-political events."

Norton directly confronts some of the more pernicious ideas to emerge from religious discourse in recent years. In a discussion of poverty, he states "There are still debates about what is the best thing to do about poverty, but it is impossible to be a Christian and not work for social justice." (Contrast this to calls in recent years from some right-wing leaders that Christians should leave churches that promote social justice.) He also condemns the "prosperity gospel" that has become popular in some evangelical circles, and condemns the doctrine of dispensationalism, which forms the foundational premise for the Left Behind series of novels. Progressive ideas are not immune from his criticism, either: private judgement (the idea that, quoting Norton, "this is what I choose to believe and no-one has the right to criticise me, because my choices are inviolate") and liberalism (again in Norton's words, "the idea that Jesus is a very nice man, a good human teacher, let's try and follow his teaching") both suffer under the assault of Norton's pen.

The author is an excellent writer, and he manages to explain fairly sophisticated theological concepts in a manner that is accessible to the average reader yet not oversimplified. One of my favorite examples of this is when Norton discusses the concept of realized eschatology. I have encountered this idea in several other books, but Norton's explanation is the first one I have found that is actually clear and understandable.

Let Us Be Human might not be of much interest to the non-religious, but I would highly recommend this book to anybody seeking to explore the spiritual ramifications of the crises our industrial civilization faces. It is concise and well-written, and possesses the unique strength of being written by one of the few people I am aware of who has an equally solid grounding in Christianity and theology on the one hand and in the issues of resource depletion and the limits to growth on the other.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to Landscape

Food forests are an idea that have been gaining recently in popularity as a way to practice permaculture, and now Seattle is going to build a public food forest on Beacon Hill. I don't know if this effort will have much practical impact on my life, as Beacon Hill is a fair distance from Edmonds, but the inspiration value is priceless. I am now thinking about how to use some elements of the food forest idea on the Homestead, and I am also thinking about the possibilities of networking to push towards creating a public food forest in Edmonds.

And as far as the Homestead purchase goes, the frustration continues. The loan servicer has apparently assigned an individual to this transaction, but as far as I can tell that individual has not returned any calls to our negotiator, so we are continuing to wait, as patiently as possible.