The Days After Tomorrow 2: The Thunderbird Lesson

Thunderbird Site

A 1985 on-site reconstruction of the oldest known human habitation on the North American continent, used by Paleo-Indians in what is now the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. What they were doing there, for 12,000 years, could be a lesson for us all. (Photo by Douglas Campbell/Flickr)

When we talk about re-ordering human life to suppress the sicknesses that have brought the planet to the brink of destruction — greed, heedless exploitation of limited resources, and so on — the discussion often founders on claims that these traits are fixed in human nature or to put it in more modern techno-jargon, they are “hard wired” in our brains and/or in our genes. So it doesn’t matter, it is argued, \ how we try to organize society, human nature will assert itself and a few years after the total crash of industrial society someone will invent a futures market and away we go again. One of the reasons that I will never buy that argument is that I have been to the Thunderbird Site. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow: Introduction

Making dinner without a microwave, as they did in Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, 800 years ago (when the city was larger than London)? Maybe. But living without greed? Priceless. Maybe we should ask. (Photo by Cahokia Mounds Museum Society)

Making dinner without a microwave, as they did in Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, 800 years ago (when the city was larger than London)? Maybe. But living without greed? Priceless. Maybe we should ask. (Photo by Cahokia Mounds Museum Society)

Apres Nous le Deluge. And Then What?

Opinion is divided about what la Marquise de Pompadour meant, when she said (perhaps to her lover Louis XV), “Apres nous, le deluge [After us, the crash].” It was either, “You know, we’re making a really big mess of things, and everything is probably going to go to hell after we’re gone.” Or, on the other hand, she may have meant, “So what? We’re going to be gone. Where’s the cake?”

Among people who believe that the Industrial Age has started to come crashing down around our ears, there is a roughly similar divide: between those who see nothing after le deluge but extinction of the human race; and those who think some of us will survive. But then what? Continue reading

The World’s Most Sustainable Country: What? Cuba?

By 2006, when this picture was taken, urban farms such as this converted soccer field in the middle of Havana were supplying the city with 90% of its produce while using virtually no petroleum products. (Photo by Dave Williams/Flickr)

By 2006, when this picture was taken, urban farms such as this converted soccer field in the middle of Havana were supplying the city with 90% of its produce while using virtually no petroleum products. (Photo by Dave Williams/Flickr)

After 50 years of pretending that Cuba is not there, the United States government this year admitted that, well, it is still there (even  Fidel Castro is still there) and we may as well deal with it. This is seen in some quarters as progress. But it is widely assumed that American business will swoop in there and upgrade them from their 1967 DeSoto cars, re-mechanize their agriculture, build fast-food restaurants, and stamp out Communism. It’s what we do.

What we should do is recognize that Cuba confronted in 1991 precisely the kind of Apocalypse that looms before us today — the sudden loss of external inputs to the economy — things such as oil, heavy equipment, cars, and did we mention oil? — and handled it. We have more to learn from them than there is likely time to learn before we are in the soup, but we should do the best we can, because there is no better example in the world for meeting and besting such a crisis. Continue reading

A Way Back to Eden

food forest

The bounty of Permaculture: Could it be the source of life after the death of the industrial age? (Photo by hardworkinghippy/Flickr)

The second story the Bible tells us, right after recounting how God created Heaven and Earth, and set humans up in a bountiful garden, is the story of how we got kicked out of the garden. Historians believe that the story of the Fall has been told for 10,000 years, which is about how long we’ve had agriculture. (Coincidence? I don’t think so.) For ten millennia we have lamented the exchange of a life of ease and plenty for our hardscrabble existence marked by loss and pain.

When I contemplate the coming crash of the Industrial Age, when I visualize its massive wreckage, I have come to believe that I can see, in all the smoke and horror, a path leading back to the Garden that was once our birthright, and could be again. Continue reading

USGS Director to NE Coast: Brace for Impact

Superstorm Sandy not only did this to Fire Island, NY, but made it easier to do again. (Photo: Cheryl Hapke, USGS)

Superstorm Sandy not only did this to Fire Island, NY, but made it easier to do again. (Photo: Cheryl Hapke, USGS)

A week after announcing her retirement, the director of the US Geological Service told a Washington DC conference that Superstorm Sandy fulfilled her worst climate-change nightmare: it blew out the natural defenses against storms along hundreds of miles of the Northeast coastline, leaving them vulnerable to any garden-variety nor’easter that comes along

The USGS is one of the agencies of the US government that tells us the truth, starting with its insistence at the time that the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was a man made disaster, a fact that is not widely enough understood to this day. But it is funded by Congress, and while it has not knuckled under to the knuckle draggers (by, for example, refusing to research global warming issues because many Congress Persons don’t believe in science), neither has it been especially strident about the clear and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, more frequent and more potent storms, etc. Continue reading

Brazil: Another Miracle Falters

Sugar cane, Brazil is discovering, is not the hoped-for panacea for energy independence. Photo credit: Sweeter Alternative

Sugar cane, Brazil is discovering, is not the hoped-for panacea for energy independence. Photo credit: Sweeter Alternative

For years, all the countries that hoped wistfully for  energy independence, or renewable energy, or the oxymoronic “sustainable industry,” have looked to Brazil as a shining country on a hill that did it all, and had it all.  It was inspiring. A typical headline of a few years ago (simply Google “Brazil” to see dozens) appeared in The Daily Texan: “Brazil’s Energy Program Could Teach U.S.” It turns out to have been a perfect example of the mendacity of hope (see my essay About Hope). Continue reading

Ray Anderson, RIP

Ray Anderson addresses the TED conference in 2009. Unlike most, for 25 tears he actually walked the walk of sustainability in industry. (Photo by whiteafrican/Flickr)

The only industrialist I ever met who had a genuine, drop-to-your-knees, road-to-Damascus, life-changing epiphany about the role of industry in destroying the world was Ray Anderson. When I first interviewed him in the 1990s, he was a few years past the experience — he likened it to “a spear in the chest” — triggered by his reading Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce.  From that day forward, Anderson had a mission. Continue reading

Gardening a Crime in Oak Park MI

These raised beds for vegetables may put a Michigan mother of six in the slammer for 93 days.

Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan figured her lawn was gone anyway — it had been torn up for a sewer repair — so instead of going back to the water-hogging, fertilizer-leaching, pesticide-soaked obscenity that graces everybody’s front yard, she would do a far, far better thing. She put in five raised beds and started growing fresh, organic vegetables for her family. Smart, sustainable, nutritious, and illegal. The city code says if the ground is not paved, it has to be  covered with grass, shrubbery or “suitable” plants. Vegetables, says the city, are not “suitable.” The city prosecutor plans to take “all the way” prosecution of the mother of six children for crimes that could get her 93 days in jail. Seriously.

One Third of World’s Food Destroyed: Culprit Found

The critters that are "stealing" our food, busted at last. (Photo by Chris Huggins/Flickr)

A study done for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, released a week ago, finds that nearly one-third of the world’s food supply — in the United States the figure is 40 per cent — is never consumed because it is wasted. Billions are being spent to develop new chemicals, new genetically altered seeds and new, energy-intensive, unsustainable farming methods that are alleged to increase food production, but the authors of the study expressed surprise that the loss of food, much of which is deliberately thrown away, is drawing no attention. Continue reading

Free the Food: A Tea Party Worth Having

WARNING: Buying this produce from the person who grew it could be extremely beneficial to your health, and illegal. (Photo by pmulloy2112/Flickr)

Here and there around the United States, groups of activists are taking their country back from a tyrannical government and declaring their independence in a critical area of their lives. It’s not the Tea Party, and it’s hardly an Arab Spring, but it could be significant if it takes hold. Three towns in New England and one city in California have acted to pry the government’s cold, dead hands off their food supply. The New England towns have passed what they call a “food freedom” ordinance; and San Francisco had decriminalized urban farming. Continue reading