If I were to ask you the question:
“What is the quickest way to get from A to 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.
Could we all be suffering from brain damage? Tony Wright certainly thinks so, pointing out that the world we’ve created is clearly the product of a disconnected consciousness. The idea that we can keep on using up Earth’s resources and polluting her soil and water without consequence is insanity.
But it seems there was a time when we lived much more in balance. A time before the ‘Fall’ spoken of in the stories of many of the world’s cultures. Anthropologists now tell us that 150,000 years ago our brains were 10% heavier than they are today. So what happened?
Tony Wright thinks he knows. His new book ‘Left in the Dark‘ challenges the common idea that we are now at the peak of our evolution. He argues that if we do now have significant brain dysfunction, then how would we know, when the instrument we use to judge this is the very thing we are observing?
Tony’s quest to find answers has driven him to experiment regularly on himself, in particular around the effects of diet and sleep. He even stayed awake for 11 days and nights last year (a new world record) to prove his theory ~ I know, as I was there! It was not the first time he’d subjected himself to this process though, he’d previously undergone scientifically scrutinised sleep deprivation, baffling researchers with his lucidity.
In the great seasonal cycle of the year, Winter; when there is little for us to do outside, is the time that nature has offered us for reflection. Yet instead, our artificially-created busyness keeps us pre-occupied (working all hours to earn enough money to pay the mortgage* & keep on top of our debts) & this, as far as I’m concerned is happening for a particular reason. If we were actually allowed the time to think, to feel… most of us would quickly see through the way that we are all being manipulated & demand significant change.
In his younger years, Aussie Bill Mollison was a logger, until he realised that he & his fellow labourers were being worked to exhaustion to keep them from finding the time to think about what they were doing. That realisation led him to take responsibility for the choices that he was making & to reconsider his life path. He went on to spend many years observing natural systems & noticing what made them so inherently stable. From this he redesigned existing human systems to work in harmony with nature, something he was later to call ‘Permaculture’. His set of design tools & methods has since inspired milllions worldwide into making more ecologically sustainable lifestyle choices & we can use them ourselves too.
It’s unusual to get to the end of the day at the moment, without hearing the word ‘recession’ (look there I go mentioning it again!). But these cycles are to be expected as they are a completely natural thing. Each year we enter a different kind of recession, but one that we are always much more prepared for ~ winter.
Life employs two main strategies to get through these lean times; migration & hibernation. Plants don’t have a lot of choice as they are rooted to the ground, but being mobile gives animals & birds an extra option.
Migration is an effective way for many species to cope with the ups & downs of the natural economy. When one habitat goes into recession, they just head off to another that is about to b(l)oom again. Instead, over centuries we humans have opted for an adapted hibernation option, but has this been a crucial error that has led us into the environmental mess we now find ourselves in?
So that went well… my new year resolution to write every day failed at day 2. Many would call that pathetic, but I (after a short period agreeing with them), have decided to celebrate it instead. Am I mad? Some might say so, but there is reason in my apparent insanity.
You see, everything I have really learned in my life has come from trial and error. Sure, I have a lot of stuff in my head that has got there from books & TV etc., but that isn’t genuine learning. That stuff might not actually be true. Or it might be true for others, but not for me. The only things I really know are those I have learned from my own personal experiences.
And those understandings have come from trial and error. Starting with the likes of how to make sounds, then crawl, walk and so on, to the present day. To discovering that it just isn’t realistic, given my current situation, to expect to be able to write every day.
So OK, I’ve discovered something that I wasn’t doing before my resolution; but what’s new?
Well, the difference is that now I have examined the reasons behind my failure. I have more understanding. I have more patience. I can set more realistic goals.
I’ve certainly learned how well I have been programmed to beat myself up for ‘failing’.
So what’s your new year resolution? Have you thought of one yet?
The turning of the year always provides us with a great incentive for a fresh start, but what is the secret to maintaining any new habits?
Well for me, it has to be something important, or I lack the helping hand of my conscience. Those past habits that I have successfully changed have been those where the benefits were to more than just myself.
Which is why last year I finally decided to give up hot drinks for the environment… A pretty contentious thing to do I know, especially at the time of year when a nice cup of tea is one of our favourite ways of getting warm. Why such a drastic step?
Putting on the kettle for a cup of tea has long been a British institution, but all our habits were once new behaviours. We probably started boiling water simply because it was the only way to be sure it was safe to drink. Tea (& later coffee) was a habit born out of British colonialisation, & one that was initially affordable only to the upper classes. No doubt, like those energy hungry & unproductive lawns we now all have, it was seen as a sign of affluence & so ultimately adopted by us all as a result. Indeed we have adopted a great number of energy wasting habits over the years. The big question (& one posed by transition culture) is ‘would we rather give them up one by one in our own time, or have a massive change forced on us at once?‘
Last weekend, on my way to teaching one of my weekends-based permaculture design courses, I was offered a leap of faith. It had rained heavily the night before, so I encountered areas of flooding on the first half of my journey which I carefully negotiated. It all seemed manageable, but then I came across the big one…
Ahead of me lay about 150 metres of road flooded by a river; one which normally flowed several feet below, under a bridge. How deep was it? Thankfully I had a guide; a 4×4 driver was fording from the other direction. It looked touch & go, but I wasn’t sure there would be any way around & 25 people were going to be waiting for me…
I decided to plunge in. My car is a diesel, which I figured made her a bit less vulnerable to the flood water, but how much depth could she cope with? Of course once committed, there really isn’t any way back. It was only then that I pondered such things as ‘what about the exhaust?‘. I guessed that moving forwards & the pressure of gases through the exhaust would keep the water out, but what if she stalled? And if she did, how long before the interior flooded? I began pondering the bravery of my decision to not purchase breakdown cover ~ one based upon me always being in the right place with the right information & tools whenever a problem had occurred in the past. At this point though, it seemed courageous, but crazy!
The soil is vital to everything that lives on Earth; if we want healthy bodies & a healthy planet then we need healthy soil. So we must make choices that encourage this & support farming systems that feed the soil rather than deplete it. Soil is a miraculous substance, a place where air, water, minerals & micro-organisms can work together to nourish plant growth, but they must be present in the right proportions. A healthy soil has good structure & consists of approximately 25% air, 25% water, around 40% minerals & up to 10% organic matter. Natural systems build such soils & modern farming practices degrade them. The normal rate at which nature builds soil is around 0.2 tonnes per hectare per year, yet the rate at which it was recently being lost on US farmland was measured at around 40 tonnes per hectare per year! The reasons for this dramatic loss lies in the increased wind & water erosion facilitated by the removal of surface matter (mulch & cover vegetation), natural windbreaks & the effect of ploughing (& digging) in particular.
Whilst ploughing is done to accomplish certain tasks, there are so many more reasons why we shouldn’t do it. The structure of the soil is vital for healthy plant growth, but ploughing damages that structure in several ways. When the level of organic matter in the soil falls below 3.5%, the soil structure cannot be maintained. Ploughing permits excessive amounts of air into the soil, which oxidises this organic matter, causing it to break down & as a result this structure is lost. Most arable land has only 1-2% organic matter & a close look at any such field will reveal a compacted unhealthy looking soil. No wonder farmers are throwing so many chemicals at it to get anything to grow!
I guess that going to the loo just isn’t dramatic enough to be discussed in the new BBC1 series of Survivors.
But don’t you just want to know all the details?
We’ve seen plenty of the cast foraging for food and water from abandoned shops, but nothing of the way they are managing to keep their toilet going. With no mains water to flush with, they would have to be using rainwater and then only flushing when they really have to. It must be pretty smelly by now with so many of them sharing facilities but no one seems to be moaning about that.
Flushing loos are just one convenience (excuse the pun) that rely on us having plenty of water. Around a third of our household water use goes straight down the toilet. That’s water that has been purified to drinking standards, taking a lot of extra energy (that also means CO2 emissions these days). And yet for little investment, we could easily harvest enough water from our roofs to perform this job and immediately make a big impact on global warming. Alas, we’ve got very used to having flush loos, even though they cause more problems than they solve. Our bodies separate solids from liquids for a very good reason, because mixing them leads to anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition and that’s what creates those bad smells (methane ~ a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2).