Archive for November, 2016

Three short videos

November 30, 2016

I’m sure you all know this stuff by now, but if not, here’s three short animated videos from the Post Carbon Institute and Richard Heinberg :

 

 

 

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Aussie Backyard Bird Count

November 29, 2016

I took part this year for the first time and will do it again next year. This is the email I received from them :

 

More than 61,000 people participated this year, submitting over 45,000 checklists and counting 1.4 million birds!

The Top 10 most counted bird species in Australia remained unchanged for the third year running, with the Rainbow Lorikeet once again claiming the number one spot. Even though scientists recently separated the NT Rainbow Lorikeet into a different species – the Red-collared Lorikeet – the Rainbow Lorikeet was still number one by a wide margin.

While the Top 10 species remained the same there was a bit of movement in the order, with House Sparrows dropping two places, reflecting the current worldwide trend of sparrows disappearing from urban areas. Is this the beginning of the decline of Australia’s House Sparrows? This will be one to watch in next year’s count.

To see the full results or to download the species list for Australia or your state click here. A HUGE thank you to everyone who took part in the #AussieBirdCount. It will be back again next year, from 23-29 October, we hope to have you on board and counting again!

 

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A few pictures…..

November 28, 2016

…..just to show how things are going.

Looking from the edge of the bush across into the food forest. The sticks in the foreground are part of a hugelkultur bed in the making. Between the two stakes is the thornless blackberry bed, raised up and built on contour. The green groundcover on the right is a native, Swamp Mazus (Mazus pumilio). That area always seems to be wet for some reason, so the Mazus does well. It’s possible there is some sort of underground water seepage from the sloping area behind. The black pipe in the right hand corner is coming from the tank overflow up by the house and takes water to the three pools just to the left of the blackberry bed :

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I put a vigorous form of the Native Violet (Viola hederacea) under the blackberries. It’s taken off in the damp conditions and the rabbits haven’t touched it. This is the second year for the blackberries and there are many more flowers than last year because I pruned heavily to make them branch. Hoping for a good crop. I’ll need to get a net up soon :

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In the food forest itself there has been so much growth due to the wet winter we had. Borage in the foreground, much loved by the bees. Nasturtiums under the plum in the background and the apple (under the polypipe arches), which is a Cox’s Orange Pippin. This is it’s third year. First year it did nothing; last year it set two fruit but they dropped off when quite big. This year it’s had masses of flowers, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for some fruit at last :

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Another view of the food forest, looking up the path towards the house :

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And looking down the same path, away from the house :

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Yarrow in flower. The rabbits love the flower stems, so I can’t get it to flower unless I put a circle of wire around the clump :

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Lots of hoverflies around this year. I hope they’re pollinating, because I’m not seeing many bees now. I’m not sure what this little guy is, but he’s not a hoverfly :

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Quince is setting fruit :

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A good crop of loquats but most of the fruit is covered in black patches and spots. I assume it’s fungal. I’ve bagged a few of the better bunches :

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The self-sown poppies are in bud :

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And the first flower appeared. It’s a frilly, double form and is attracting what few bees there are :

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My little Australian Finger Lime is in bud and a few flowers have opened :

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Redbor kale is in flower in one of the planter boxes :

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The leaves are frilly and an intense purple. The familiar grey-green, crinkly leaves of lacinato kale are on the left :

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Up on the deck, this tub of strawberries is doing well. There’s a tomato in the rear :

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The strawberry wicking buckets have all been topped up with fresh compost and are raring to go :

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I’ve planted tomatoes and alpine strawberries in the second of the two planter boxes :

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More tomatoes in tubs and wicking boxes :

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Endive in a wicking box. This lot was direct sown. So much easier than sowing seed and potting up seedlings :

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Dandelions direct-sown in another wicking box. The chooks will get most of these :

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I bought this mini Cape Gooseberry at Bunnings, although the label says it will get to a metre in height, so not that mini. I’m already growing the large form in the garden. Judging by the size of the flowers on this one, the fruits will be no more than pea-sized; it will be a bit of a novelty at best. I won’t risk it in the garden; I’ll find a large pot for it, so I can be sure to collect fruits and sow the seeds to get more plants, then I can try it in the garden. They grow easily from seed :

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It has been a strange year in the garden so far. Rainfall over the last six months has been double the average for Melbourne. There have been very few cabbage white butterflies, but hundreds of little hoverflies. The redcurrants have not flowered and fruited, but all the feijoas are covered in flowers which has not happened before. We have had warm days followed by freezing cold ones. I wasn’t game to put my tomatoes out until early November, the latest they’ve ever gone out. I’ve planted beans three times and they’ve all rotted before germination. My neighbour tells me he’s had the same problems with his beans. Usually I plant the first batch of beans in early October and every month thereafter; no way will I get beans before Christmas now. Has all this just been due to the extra rain or what? As the saying goes…..we live in interesting times. In the garden, anyway.

So what IS ‘sustainable’?

November 23, 2016

In this post, in which I mentioned ‘renewable’ and ‘sustainable’ in the same breath, I claimed that few people really understood what ‘sustainable’ means. So what actually does the word mean?

That which can be sustained? Something…..a process, a thing…..which can be carried on or last for… how long? A short time? A long time? Indefinitely? There are all sorts of fancy definitions, such as the one from the famous Brundtland Report in 1987, which talked about ‘sustainable development’.

In searching for definitions I found this site. It’s extremely comprehensive and I think it’s one of the best I’ve seen on what is popularly known as the ‘sustainability crisis’. This extract is from the glossary which defines ‘sustainability’ :

We’re going to define sustainability quite differently from normal definitions because the most popular definition in the world, the Brundtland definition of so called “sustainable development,” is flawed. It’s so flawed it should be tossed on the rubbish heap of history’s biggest catastrophic mistakes.

First we’ll give you our definition, followed by a look at why “sustainable development” is not just flawed. It was designed to deliberately lead problem solvers astray, because guess who “development” benefits most, even more than developing nations? Why large for-profit corporations, of course.

So here’s their definition. Short and sweet and simple to understand :

Sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely.

Indefinitely? How long is that? Until the sun burns out and everything on earth turns into a charred mass? I don’t think we need to go quite that far. Upright-walking humans have been around for about 4.5 million years. That’s the age of the oldest-known skeleton that has been found anyway. Noted biologist Edward O. Wilson, in one of his books, gives the average age of a species as around 5 million years. So we might have another half a million years to go. I reckon that’s enough to be going on with.

So what can be sustainable? Can things be sustainable? I’ve seen a newspaper article in which a couple claimed they’d bought a ‘more’ sustainable refrigerator. (I’ve highlighted that word ‘more’ because I want to go into that later). Refrigerators can’t be sustainable. Apart from the fact that an individual fridge will break down eventually, they’re part of a bigger system and that’s what has to be sustainable (did they consider whether the material resources and energy used to make the fridge were themselves sustainable?). Can a person be sustainable? I’ve seen people say they’re trying to be self-sustainable. Again no, because people are part of a bigger system which they depend on and can’t be sustainable as individuals unless that system itself is sustainable (what they really mean is self-sufficient). So what does sustainability refer to? This is the definition we learned in our permaculture design course :

A system is sustainable if it produces more energy than it consumes, with at least enough energy left over to maintain and reproduce itself indefinitely.

This is getting closer to the mark, especially because it uses the concept of energy in the definition and because all life on earth is defined by energy transfer between living things and their environment. And it refers to systems. Only systems can be sustainable, not individual things. A system can’t be sustainable if any process in that system isn’t sustainable, i.e. can’t be carried on indefinitely. There’s that word ‘indefinitely’ again. I think we might just opt for ‘a very long time’, but I’ll continue to use indefinitely because it’s easier to type.

So now we have two things to consider: a system and a time scale.

A system is a collection of components which are interacting, interconnected and interdependent, so in order to assess the sustainability of a system all the elements in the system and their interconnections to other systems need to be considered. If just one of those components is a part or a process that can’t be continued indefinitely, the entire system can’t be sustainable. The ultimate system, as far as humans are concerned is the biosphere…..the living earth. It’s a hierarchy of systems within systems, within systems, within systems. We don’t need to consider anything larger, like the solar system or the universe, just the earth will do.

So onto that word ‘more’ and why it irks me so much in this context. Either a system is sustainable or it isn’t. There are no degrees of sustainability. That which is sustainable persists; that which isn’t, doesn’t.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen or heard the words ‘more’ sustainable. There is no such thing as ‘more’ sustainable, just as there is no such thing as ‘more’ dead. There are no degrees of deadness. Either a thing is dead (not alive) or it isn’t. It’s a yes/no thing, an on/off thing, or if you’re into digital stuff, a 0/1 thing.

When I was Googling sustainable, I found dozens of sites claiming “10 ways (insert any number you prefer here) you can be more sustainable”, and so on. Without a thorough understanding of the concept we have no hope of planning a future that is truly sustainable.

The other phrase that shows that most people have little understanding of the concept of sustainability is ‘sustainable growth’, although I’m not seeing so much of that now. It’s been pointed out so many times that the earth is finite and that nothing can grow forever in a finite system, that people are catching on to that one.

So when you see something described as sustainable, think it right through. Look for all the connections it has to the entire system of which it’s a part and if one of those connections is unsustainable, then the whole system is also unsustainable.

This post wasn’t easy to write, because sustainability is a concept that few people think about and is therefore difficult to get across to the generally uninterested layperson.  So I want to thank Bernie, who is a regular reader, for his pre-publication input and comments. Bernie’s blog is here.

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Addendum

After writing this post I remembered a writer whose work I admire, Paul Chefurka, so I went to look at his website again. In an article on sustainability he says this:

I use a very strict definition of sustainability. It reads something like this: “Sustainability is the ability of a species to survive in perpetuity without damaging the planetary ecosystem in the process.” This principle applies only to a species’ own actions, rather than uncontrollable external forces like Milankovitch cycles, asteroid impacts, plate tectonics, etc.

Paul talks about carrying capacity and overshoot, then goes on to ask, “what is a sustainable population level?” He uses three methods of assessment:

  1. the ecological footprint, in which he comes up with a figure of 4 billion people.
  2. the thermodynamic assessment—a population of about 1 billion.
  3. the population density assessment—about 35 million people.

There is a fourth assessment—the ecological assessment, in which he quotes the work of American marine biologist Dr Charles Fowler. Fowler did three assessments based on different approaches and came up with figures:

1) 35 million, 2) 10 million, 3) 7 million. Quite a difference!

My own view is this, formed after much reading and thinking:

Humans lived sustainably within the constraints of the biosphere for over 4 million years. Those constraints apply to all living things and include food availability, predation and disease. As hunter gatherers, humans must have lived sustainably. If they hadn’t, they would have gone extinct and we, their descendants, wouldn’t be here now discussing it. Of course, human populations would have risen and fallen over that time, but on the whole didn’t grow appreciably.

Then, some 12,000 years ago, agriculture was adopted. Before this, hunter-gatherer societies had been in approximate equilibrium, relying on photosynthetic energy to supply plant and animal foods and fuels for cooking and heating and barely altering the Earth’s surface. Agriculture was probably an unavoidable consequence of a species with a large brain capable of observing and thinking, an upright habit thus freeing the forelimbs for holding tools, plus opposable thumbs, making holding things even easier. The main thing about agriculture is that it produces more food than would be available naturally and that allows more people to survive, so population increases. More people means more food has to be grown and more food means more people. We have been on that positive feedback treadmill ever since. Now, we could have gotten off that treadmill (and still could), if we had realised the problem and done something to control our numbers. But we didn’t and now there are way too many of us and our activities are destroying the biosphere on which all life depends. It is too late to go back. Finding and using fossil fuels to grow even more food just exacerbated the problem and has produced huge increases in population over a very short time.

Without food supply constraints and self-control of numbers, a crash is inevitable. Whether you call it a crash or an ecological correction, it is all the same. Nature (our name for the biosphere system) makes the rules, not any one species.

So my view is this: any form of food-growing, without self-control of numbers will prove to be unsustainable and that applies even to permaculture, which is still agriculture, although one of the permaculture principles, ‘apply self-regulation and accept feedback’, covers this nicely, so long as those who practise permaculture adhere to it.

It’s also my view (and the view of others I’ve read), that hunter-gathering was and is, the only sustainable way of living for humans, simply because that is the evolved way for all other species and we are no different; just another species of large mammal, living in a system in which the emergent properties of the system set and maintain the behaviour of that system. Our large and complex brain has enabled us to get where we are today, but it’s more than likely it will ultimately and quite literally, be the death of us.

The modern version of “Let them eat cake”

November 19, 2016

“In this spontaneous conversation between two of Britain’s most vocal scientists on climate change and engineering, we see a frank analysis of the details that belie inconvenient truths for each one us.

Our current carbon pollution rate is taking us towards a planet that is on average 4°C warmer than today with regional variations far exceeding this and changes to the natural world that will be so profound that it is fair to say, this will not be the same planet.”

~~~~~~~~~~Mike Stasse (Damn the Matrix)

 

Well worth watching when you have half an hour to spare:

 

Anderson: “I take the view that we can actually make a big difference by making social changes now. We can still just make the 2ºC but it needs rapid and deep reductions by this relatively small set of big emitters.”

 

That small set of emitters is us. We in the industrialised, developed world with our computers, cars and electrical toys. I’m not hopeful that enough of us will make the necessary changes.

 

Bracken….a valuable resource

November 12, 2016

Permaculture teaches us to see resources wherever we can and to use them to build self-sufficiency into our lives.

On my bush block, one of the understorey plants is bracken. It isn’t an introduced ‘weed’ as many people think; it was probably growing here long before humans came to this country. It’s a member of the fern family of plants and they are a very ancient family which evolved long before flowering plants. It’s hard to see how it could ever have been introduced anyway, since it doesn’t flower and produce seeds and trying to get a section of root established and growing isn’t easy.

Bracken grows from a long underground rhizome which puts up a single frond in spring, at intervals from points along the rhizome (nodes). Each frond grows for a year or two and then dies. Dead fronds accumulate and new ones come up each year to replace them. The mass of dead and dying fronds becomes perfect fuel for a fire and this is probably why most people don’t like it. A bushfire cleans out the whole mess and new fronds will appear almost straight away. It’s role in the post-fire ecosystem is to protect the soil from compaction by heavy rain and to shelter and shade the slower-growing plants which result from germinating seed.

Bracken growing in my bush :

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All those white ‘spots’ amongst the bracken are a local wildflower called Milkmaids (Burchardia umbellata) a member of the lily family. This year, probably because of the good rains, there are hundreds of them :

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Here’s a better close-up (image from Wikipedia) :

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Bracken is one of the most valuable resources I have. Each week I aim to cut and mulch about 300 stems. That’s a lofty ideal only achieved in a good week; if I can get at least 200 done, I’m happy.

Ready for the mulcher (about 60 stems) :

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All done :

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From here I can use it for mulch on the garden or I can add it to the compost tumbler with chook poo and compost it. This lot is destined for the chook run as deep litter, which saves me buying sugar cane mulch or pea straw :

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I’ve spread it out here to show what I mean; usually I toss it in a heap and the Girls spread it out for me (they think there might be a treat in there somewhere!) :

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By cutting it regularly I keep the property free of fire fuel and get a valuable resource in return. Win-win!

Is this the future?

November 6, 2016

Idyllic scene, you might think?

Well, of course some people don’t like them and some people do, for various reasons, which I won’t go into here.

The reason for this post is to show that massive structures like this can never be part of our long-term energy future.

Here’s the base of one of those towers being put into place :

All that rebar and all that cement…..made with the energy from fossil fuels.

Next comes the tower, fabricated elsewhere, using, you guessed it, energy from fossil fuels. Oh, and that big semi-trailer thingy runs on diesel :

Whacking big crane to lift the tower into place. Fossil fuels made that, too :

Up goes the tower. What’s driving that crane? Oh, of course, fossil fuels :

There are more images where these came from, and a comprehensive analysis of how much energy it takes to put one wind turbine into place, but I hope you’ve got the idea by now. Everything about wind turbines, their manufacture, installation and maintenance thereafter, depends on fossil fuels. Which are an unsustainable energy resource. Which are running out. Which will not be part of the future. Which is why building wind turbines is a complete waste of resources and energy, never mind whether you like the look of them or not.

To be useful to mankind, an energy source has to be renewable AND sustainable. Read it again, it’s that important. Oh, but wind is renewable, the wind will always blow. It’s what they tell us, so they must be right. Same as solar…the sun will always shine so solar is renewable, too.

But renewable does not always mean sustainable. To be truly sustainable, an energy source must be able to reproduce itself so it can keep producing more energy. A horse using energy to pull a cart can make more horses, BUT the horse has to be fed and its food must be able to reproduce itself. Horses eat plants. A plant makes more plants via seeds. Plants are renewable and sustainable as well. People make more people, but like the horse we have to be fed from a sustainable food source, too (enter plants again). ‘Sustainable’ is the operative word and so many people have no idea what it really means (I’ll be writing a future post about that, too).

The energy from a wind turbine can’t make more wind turbines. I’d be willing to bet every cent I have that you will not see wind turbines producing ‘baby’ wind turbines that will fully erect and maintain themselves, forever. That’s what sustainable means….if not forever, then for a very, very long time.

Production of wind turbines as a means of capturing wind energy will cease to exist when fossil fuels cease to exist. You can’t mine mineral resources for making wind turbines using machinery powered by wind turbines. You can’t make wind turbines in a factory powered by wind turbines. You can’t propel a vehicle powered by a wind turbine sitting on the back. And I haven’t seen anything to suggest that a factory powered by solar panels can make wind turbines either. Or more solar panels, for that matter. Neither wind turbines nor solar panels are sustainable energy sources and to be technically correct, they aren’t energy sources either. They’re energy carriers. The original source of wind and solar energy is the sun. Solar panels and wind turbines just collect it and turn it into electricity. Electricity is an energy carrier too, not an energy source.

The writer of the blog linked to above wrote a reply to a comment in his comment box. He said :

……….my main contention is that these devices are part of the fossil fuel supply system and the massive industrial infrastructure. I don’t see them reproducing themselves, nor their auxiliary parts, nor manufacturing the objects that we want to use the electricity for. The crane, the huge mining dump truck at the end of the essay, the whole process is interconnected. With the world “scalping the bottom of the barrel”, what do we do at the 25 year mark? My opinion is we will have used precious, limited resources on a dead end mainly to continue the unsustainable.

My main reason for doing this research is trying to bring reason to the supporters of these devices. They have an almost religious fervor making them (willfully?) blind to the total system needs and are living with and creating false hopes. These false hope will add to the trauma of facing the need to live at much, much lower energy level. It will also have us making decisions that will be detrimental to the next generations.

While I haven’t written anything about solar energy here, even though it applies equally, my main reason for writing this is because I’m tired of seeing newspaper articles and Facebook posts, and all and sundry praising and promoting so-called ‘renewable’ energy sources which are clearly unsustainable, thereby giving false hopes to people about an energy future which is clearly not going to be ‘business as usual’.

A false hope is no better than an outright lie. With the truth, you know exactly where you are and can move forwards from there. With a lie you can only go so far before you fall into a hole.