Burning Man: A Conversation with the Founder Larry Harvey, Founder, Burning Man A first-time Burning Man attendee once said, "I walked through the gates, looked around, and asked myself, 'What is this place? Is it real?'"
Every year up to 50,000 'burners' make the pilgrimage to Black Rock City for eight days of commerce-free, debauchery-filled expression of human imagination.
Leaving no trace of the party behind them, this diverse group of international artists, CEOs, technologists, intellectuals, families and bohemians alike carry on Burning Man founder Harvey's world -- one of mutant cars, themed villages and a 40-foot fiery effigy. Join us as we speak to the founder himself, and find out what Burning Man's new HQ in SF will mean for that fair city.
Democracy, in the American tradition, has been defined by a simple morality: We Americans care about our fellow citizens; we act on that care and build trust and we do our best not just for ourselves, our families and our friends and neighbors, but for our country, for each other, for people we have never seen and never will see.
American Democracy has, over our history, called upon citizens to share an equal responsibility to work together to secure a safe and prosperous future for their families and nation. This is the central work of our democracy and it is a public enterprise. This, the American Dream, is the dream of a functioning democracy.
Public refers to people, acting together to provide what we all depend on: roads and bridges; public buildings and parks; a system of education; a strong economic system; a system of law and order with a fair and effective judiciary; dams; sewers; a power grid; agencies to monitor disease, weather, food safety, clean air and water, and on and on. That is what we, as a people who care about each other, have given to each other.
Only a free people can take up the necessary tasks and only a people who trust and care for one another can get the job done. The American Dream is built upon mutual care and trust.
Our tradition has not just been to share the tasks, but to share the tools as well. We come together to provide a quality education for our children. We come together to protect each other's health and safety. We come together to build a strong, open and honest financial system. We come together to protect the institutions of democracy to guarantee that all who share in these responsibilities have an equal voice in deciding how they will be met.
What this means is that there is no such thing as a "self-made" man or woman or business. No one makes it on their own. No matter how much wealth you amass, you depend on all the things the public has provided - roads, water, law enforcement, fire and disease protection, food safety, government research, and all the rest. The only question is whether you have paid your fair share for we all have given you.
We are now faced with a nontraditional, radical view of "democracy" coming from the Republican Party. It says that "democracy" means that nobody should care about anybody else, that "democracy" means only personal responsibility, not responsibility for anyone else, and it means no trust. If America accepts this radical view of "democracy," then all that we have given each other in the past under traditional democracy will be lost: all that we have called public. Public roads and bridges: gone. Public schools: gone. Publicly funded police and firemen: gone. Safe food, air and water: gone. Public health: gone. Everything that made America America, the crucial things that you and your family and your friends have taken for granted: gone.
The democracy of care, shared responsibility and trust is the democracy of the American Dream. The "democracy" of no care, no shared responsibility and no trust has produced the American Nightmare that so many of our citizens are living through.
Nightmare it is, but there is no denying credit to Republicans for their skills at framing. The recent Republican "Contract from America," for instance, begins with a statement of their moral principles. The recommendations are special cases of those principles. It is a strategic initiative. Instead of a laundry list, each recommendation is a special case of a general strategy - to defund our American government.
Furthermore, they understand that about 20 percent of the electorate consists of people who are conservative in some ways and progressive in others. These are biconceptuals, sometimes referred to loosely by political professionals as "independents" or "swing voters." Republicans know their job is to activate the conservative part of the brains of the biconceptuals and they do that by sticking strictly to conservative moral principles and a clear conservative strategy. They never make the mistake of ignoring biconceptuals.
Progressives too often fail to clearly state the moral principles behind the American tradition. Our arguments often sound like an abstract defense of distant "government" rather than a celebration of our people, our public, and the moral views that have defined our tradition and the real human beings who work every day to carry them out.
There is a distinction between government as the administration of what we, as a public, provide each other, as opposed to government control. The right wants to focus only upon control, not upon all that our tradition has given us. They do not just hide the vast positives, but they also hide the fact that governmental control, control over our daily lives, is more private than public. Private government for profit runs our lives - the health care we receive, the food we eat, the cars we can drive and the gas to fuel them, the news we get, loans for our homes, and on and on. Public government is for the benefit of all of us. Private (especially corporate) government is for the private profit of top management and stockholders. If you are concerned about your life being controlled for the benefit of others, look to the private sphere.
The institution of government, however, is not the point. We must, instead, defend the moral principles we seek to advance through our American government - and through ethical business practices, voluntary associations etc. The traditional view of American democracy sees government as embodying these moral goals, to protect and empower everyone equally.
If we are to successfully overcome the Republican demonizing of government and shared responsibility, we must restore faith in the mutual enterprise itself. Rather than simply defend government or government programs, we must positively advance the moral values of American democracy and the Dream, not the Nightmare.
That is why we support a renewed focus on public life, a public life that includes all Americans. We should focus on the public nature of our shared responsibilities.
Public life means meeting our shared responsibilities, caring for one another and building the mutual trust upon which democracy depends. The recommendations below are special cases of these moral principles. They also represent a special case of a general strategy - to restore public life to American democracy. We must return the public to our political system and end the corrupt influence of selfish interests that have abandoned our shared responsibilities. This means public finance of campaigns, strict enforcement of the highest ethical standards in public life and protection of the sacred right to vote. Our nation has vast national wealth: a huge continental landmass with wealth in minerals, agricultural land, forests, cities, beautiful places, as well as its public wealth, that is, the creative wealth of its educated citizenry and the collective wealth of all its citizens and corporations. We, the public, can put our nation's vast wealth to use in creating jobs that make the lives of all better: building, educating, curing and imagining. That is the Dream.
To realize the Dream, we must end the Nightmare. We must turn back the right's assault on public and higher education and meet our traditional commitment to education. Our children are tomorrow's public. The future of democracy depends upon them. We must rebuild our public infrastructure, a fancy term for the necessities we share: roads; bridges; dams; parks; fair grounds; water mains; sewers; the power grid; public agencies that monitor disease, weather and food safety. Government that works for all of us can and should create jobs that serve us all by rebuilding our shared necessities. We must come together publically to mutually ensure the health of all America. Health is not a private matter. It is public one. We must protect the prior earnings of American workers set aside in Social Security or private pensions. They have been earned through hard work and discipline. Taking these earnings away is theft, despite the right's use of the word "entitlements." A public of unequal voices is not a democratic public. We need a progressive tax system through which all Americans pay their fair share, and a business ethics that fairly rewards those whose work creates productivity and profit. We must put the American individual above abstract corporate entities. We must end "corporate personhood," which gives transnational corporations a greater voice than individuals in our public deliberations. We must end the move to "privatize" institutions through which we meet our shared responsibilities. When the public is removed, the private sphere takes over, charging more and often creating unaccountable monopolies that bilk the public. Privatization of the public typically means that most citizens just pay more, often a lot more. Discrimination of all kinds must be overcome. Public life depends upon recognition of our equal humanity.
This is why Democracy is and must remain, public. This is why America has traditionally been a beacon to the world. This is the example America has set. We dare not give it up. The alternative is the Nightmare.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Ray Glendening, left, shows Shibu Jose how tall the new willow plants should grow in one year at the Horticulture and Agroforestry Center on Wednesday in New Franklin. ¦ CHERISH GRIMM
COLUMBIA — Shibu Jose and his team believe that today’s soggy river bottoms could be untapped grounds for the largest advanced biofuel economy in the nation.
Jose, director for MU’s Center for Agroforestry, is proposing to cultivate and harvest biomass crops along the floodplains of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. He said converting less than 1 percent of the 116 million acres of “marginally productive” cropland in that region could create a corridor of sustainable biomass and biofuel production.
Because of the land’s proximity to the rivers, food crops cultivated here — typically corn and soybeans — are prone to failure because of flooding and soil erosion. Much of his proposed harvest would be immune to both.
His proposal involves replacing the food crops along the rivers with seven types of plants:
cottonwood and willow trees,
switchgrass and miscanthus grass,
energy cane, and
sweet and biomass sorghum.
All except sorghum are perennials, meaning farmers wouldn't have to replant year after year.
Jose, whose background and advanced degrees are in forestry, said this is perhaps the most productive use of some of the flood plains.
“If you plant the trees or grasses, it keeps the soil in place for 10, 15, 20 years,” he said. “Even if there is a flood, they stay in place.”
But the project also represents a more realistic approach to expanding the advanced biofuel economy, which has been stymied by financial shortfalls and unrealistic expectations.
Getting people together
The backbone of the proposal lies in a marriage of environmentally sound land usage and economics. Refineries are currently able to convert just about anything pulled out of the ground into fuel, he said.
“The technology is there, but no one is producing advanced biofuel at a commercial level," Jose said.
Jose is leading the development of a consortium in the biomass and biofuel industry. More than 50 partners are on board representing every major segment in the supply chain, from education to production to consumption.
Under Jose’s plan, area farmers would cultivate and harvest one or many of the proposed crops.
Small, advanced rural biorefineries would then collect the biomass, grind up the feedstock, and make pellets or extract sugar out of them. The product would then ship to "hubs," larger plants that ferment the pellets into electricity or biofuel, such as butanol, green diesel and jet fuel. This end product would be sold to consumers.
This producer-to-consumer scheme seems simple enough, but other promising companies have foundered when trying to ignite the commercial market for advanced biofuels.
In 2007, Range Fuels promised it would become the first commercial cellulosic plant; it had planned to use wood chips to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2008 with an end goal of 100 million gallons per year. The company received $76 million from the Department of Energy. Former President George W. Bush said it would help break America’s “addiction to oil.” Today, the company is no more.
Peter Nelson, co-founder of Memphis-based advanced rural biorefineryBiodimensions Inc., said large companies such as Range Fuels broke ground on unrealistic expectations. “The technologies weren’t well-vetted,” he said.
As Range Fuels planned, most big companies intend to build a huge factory to convert thousands of farmers’ harvests into commercially available biofuel, he said. A common problem is that farmers aren’t ready to produce the necessary feedstock, and that creates a strain between the companies and the rural communities.
In general, “there were unrealistic expectations on the part of the biofuel companies that the feed stocks were going to be cheap," Nelson said.
"The large petroleum companies and the farmers just didn’t speak the same language,” he said.
A smaller start
Nelson said small advanced rural biorefineries act as an intermediary between farmers and large petroleum companies. They help farmers have a seat at the table by doing the first step of processing.
“It puts the region in control to work with the large biorefinery,” he said.
Jose said advanced rural biorefineries are central to the consortium concept. They will eventually contribute to biofuel production. In the meantime, other byproducts can keep farmers profitable.
Show Me Energy in Centerview, southeast of Kansas City, is an example. It is a farmer co-op that collects biomass from neighboring farms and produces pellets that help heat homes. Eventually, these pellets could be made into butanol, a drop-in biofuel.
Founder Steve Flick said Show Me Energy is starting small and building a foundation.
“You have to crawl before you walk, walk before you run,” Flick said. “What we’re doing is cutting-edge, for the next generation to learn.”
Bringing parties together
Jose said just bringing the diverse stakeholders to the table would help break the vicious chicken-versus-egg cycle that has plagued biofuel technologies in the past: Can’t create biofuel without technology. Can’t develop technology without funding. Can’t get funding without investors. Can’t get investors without political support and infrastructure. Can't get political support and infrastructure without demand for biofuel.
Jose and his team envision a “farm-to-fuel” team that places different parties shoulder to shoulder, moving forward at the same time for a common goal: a biomass- and biofuel-based economy using the Mississippi and Missouri river corridors.
Rather than building a basic supply chain, Jose said the teams have learned from others’ mistakes and have added bankers, transportation experts and equipment manufacturers to the mix.
“There is no existing model that brings every player together like this in the region,” he said.
Advanced biofuels on the market
The term “advanced biofuel” generally means a renewable fuel that is derived from fast-growing crops, agricultural or forestry waste or other sustainable biomass feedstocks other than corn starch. Various low-input, high-yield crops such as tree and grass varieties can be converted into liquid transportation fuels.
Logistical issues such as availability of sustainable biomass feedstock, transportation costs and a lack of venture funding have stunted the growth of many of these technologies.
There are a number of pilot-scale refineries in the U.S. that have the capabilities to produce advanced biofuel, but very few are able to take the steps to commercial-scale production, said Joanne Ivancic, executive director for Advanced Biofuels USA.
“We have (solved) most of the technical challenges at least on a bench scale," she said. "But it costs a lot to move these projects from a bench scale ... to a commercial scale.”
Jose said 70 to 80 of the small advanced rural biorefineries in the Missouri and Mississippi river region, or seven to eight per state, would work together to ship their products to five or six large refineries.
Moving away from corn
Underlying the push for a U.S. biofuel economy is the belief that decreasing the nation's dependence on fossil fuels would help disengage the nation from unstable Middle Eastern economies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower prices at the pump.
However, Ivancic said government support for advanced biofuel commercialization has been small.
“Political will has not really been created to support it,” she said.
Despite meager government funding, ambitious mandates have been set for fuel producers in the future. Under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the amount of U.S. biofuel use must increase from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022.
The catch is that 21 billion gallons of that fuel blend must be gleaned from non-cornstarch, or advanced biofuels, which currently are quite scarce.
In the U.S., corn ethanol is the reigning king of the biofuel industry. It is currently the most readily available biofuel on the market. In Missouri, for instance, the Missouri Renewable Fuel Standard requires the sale of 10 percent ethanol blends when ethanol is cheaper than gasoline.
By producing corn ethanol, manufacturers have been able to drop in a gasoline additive that may soon account for as much as 15 percent of the fuel pumped into automobiles.
Corn advocates such as TheCropSite point to studies that show direct-effect greenhouse gas emissions are reduced 48 percent to 59 percent in comparison with gasoline.
But critics say the immediate benefits are superficial and act as a glossy PR distraction from corn ethanol’s expensive side effects. Some, such as theEnvironmental Working Group, say the decrease in prices at the pump is offset by grocery costs, since the production of fuel competes with food for corn. The group also says the toll corn ethanol production takes on the environment cancels out the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Most cars manufactured before 2008 aren’t able to handle fuel with more than 10 percent corn ethanol, and even that, some say, burns faster than regular gasoline anyway. Ivancic said that because car engines are designed for optimal gasoline performance, drivers experience a "mileage penalty" when using ethanol-laced fuels.
What could happen
Jose can't suppress his excitement when he talks about the project, which is still in its developmental stages. He speaks of the plants with the adoration of a parent when visiting one of the research farms in New Franklin. He brags about how fast his crops are growing.
He has been awarded a small grant from the Mizzou Advantage Program but says it will take millions of dollars to keep the consortium and its activities alive and billions in private investments to bring the biofuel economy to fruition.
He says if all goes as planned in the next five to 10 years, the Mississippi and Missouri river corridor could see:
1 million acres of biofuel crops.
The creation of 70 to 80 advanced rural biorefineries in the region (seven to eight per state), creating jobs and economic benefits in the states.
A healthy, advanced biofuel industry producing 20 percent to 30 percent of the national goal of 21 billion gallons a year.
His team is applying for several federal grants worth millions of dollars, but the programs are highly competitive.
“We’ve decided as an institution to move forward with the consortium one way or another,” he said. “That’s our strategy.”
Brian Kerkvliet of Inspiration Farm in Bellingham, Washington shows how to make Fukuoka style seed balls. A mixture of clay, compost and seeds. The balls can be tossed into existing crops. Some people use see balls (or larger "seed bombs") as a form of "guerilla gardening": toss the balls into areas that are desolate and could use some flowers/edibles.
Tony Cenicola/The New York TimesCarrots from Claudia Joseph’s gardens. More Photos »
By MICHAEL TORTORELLO
AS a way to save the world, digging a ditch next to a hillock of sheep dung would seem to be a modest start. Granted, the ditch was not just a ditch. It was meant to be a “swale,” an earthwork for slowing the flow of water down a slope on a hobby farm in western Wisconsin.
And the trenchers, far from being day laborers, had paid $1,300 to $1,500 for the privilege of working their spades on a cement-skied Tuesday morning in late June.
Fourteen of us had assembled to learn permaculture, a simple system for designing sustainable human settlements, restoring soil, planting year-round food landscapes, conserving water, redirecting the waste stream, forming more companionable communities and, if everything went according to plan, turning the earth’s looming resource crisis into a new age of happiness.
It was going to have to be a pretty awesome ditch.
That was the sense I took away from auditing four days of a weeklong Permaculture Design Certificate course led by Wayne Weiseman, 58, the director of the Permaculture Project, in Carbondale, Ill.
The movement’s founders, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, coined the term permaculture in the mid-1970s, as a portmanteau of permanent agriculture and permanent culture.
In practice, permaculture is a growing and influential movement that runs deep beneath sustainable farming and urban food gardening. You can find permaculturists setting up worm trays and bee boxes, aquaponics ponds and chicken roosts, composting toilets and rain barrels, solar panels and earth houses.
Truly, permaculture contains enough badges of eco-merit to fill a Girl Scout sash. Permies (yes, they use that term) like to experiment with fermentation, mushrooming, foraging (also known as wildcrafting) and herbal medicine.
Yet permaculture aims to be more than the sum of those practices, said David Cody, 39, who teaches the system and creates urban food gardens in San Francisco.
“It’s an ecological theory of everything,” Mr. Cody said. “Here’s a planet Earth operating manual. Do you want to go along for a ride with us?”
It’s hard to say just how many have climbed aboard the mother ship. In San Francisco, Mr. Cody saw more than 1,500 volunteers turn out in 2010 to create Hayes Valley Farm, a pop-up food garden near the site of a collapsed freeway ramp.
“I like to say it was the largest sheet-mulching project ever done in the world,” said Mr. Cody, who designed the garden following the permaculture principles and directed the process of covering the ground with a cardboard weed barrier and organic material.
“We sheet-mulched about an acre and a half,” he said. “That’s something like 80,000 pounds of cardboard diverted from the waste stream.”
Scott Pittman, 71, who directs the national Permaculture Institute from a farmstead outside Santa Fe, N.M., estimates that 100,000 to 150,000 students have completed the certificate course since the philosophy was developed in Tasmania over three decades ago. “In the U.S., I would say we represent 40,000 to 50,000 of that number,” he said.
But then pemaculture has no membership rolls or census-takers. By intention, “it has been, for all of the years I’ve been involved, a pretty decentralized movement,” Mr. Pittman said. The message seems to get out in its own fashion, without publicists. Mr. Mollison, for example, has been permaculture’s leading figure since the late 1970s, and his books have hundreds of thousands of copies. Yet his name has apparently never warranted a mention in this newspaper.
Permaculture, Mr. Pittman said, is “guided by the curriculum and a sense of ethics, and that’s pretty much it.”
The ethic of permaculture is the movement’s Nicene Creed, or golden rule: care of the earth; care of people; and a return of surplus time, energy and money, to the cause of bettering the earth and its people.
In its effort to be universal, permaculture espouses no religion or spiritual element. Still, joining the movement seems to strike many of its practitioners as a kind of conversion experience.
MR. Pittman first encountered Mr. Mollison and his teachings at a weekend seminar in New Mexico in 1985. As a system, permaculture impressed him as panoptic and transformational. “It shook my world,” Mr. Pittman said.
Almost on the spot, he decided to drop his work and follow Mr. Mollison to the next stop on his teaching tour: Katmandu, Nepal. Soon after, he began to lead courses alongside Mr. Mollison, in cities and backwaters around the globe.
Mr. Mollison hasn’t toured the United States in almost 15 years. At 83, Mr. Mollison has “kind of faded into semi-retirement in Tasmania,” Mr. Pittman said.
Yet in recent years, Mr. Mollison’s ideas seem to have bubbled up from underground, into the mainstream. “I just trained the Oklahoma National Guard,” Mr. Pittman said. “If that’s any kind of benchmark.” The troops, he said, plan to apply permaculture to farming and infrastructure projects in rural Afghanistan.
It’s a system, permaculturists contend, that can work anywhere. In Park Slope, Brooklyn, Claudia Joseph, 53, has used the precepts of permaculture to develop new food gardens at the Old Stone House. (Its original 1699 Dutch edifice was a locus of the Battle of Brooklyn in the Revolutionary War.) “It’s a huge breakthrough,” she said. “To go from a swatch of grass to 1,000 blueberry bushes.”
The parks department recently bulldozed two of her gardens in an overhaul of the playground in the surrounding Washington Park. But in a few protected spots, Ms. Joseph, an environmental educator and consultant who lives two blocks away, has already started on an edible food forest.
This “guild” of complementary plants is the opposite of annual row-crop agriculture, with its dead or degraded soil and its constant demand for labor and fertilizer. Permaculture landscapes, which mimic the ecology of the area, are meant to be vertical, dense and self-perpetuating. Once the work of the original planting is done, Mr. Mollison jokes in one of his videos, “the designer turns into the recliner.”
At the lowest level of a food forest, then, are subterranean crops like sweet potatoes and carrots. On the floor of the landscape, mushrooms can grow on felled logs or wood chips. Herbs go on the next level, along with “delicious black cap raspberries,” Ms. Joseph said.
Other shrubs, like inkberry, winterberry and elderberry, are attractive to butterflies and birds. They’re an integral part of the system, too.
But more likely to appeal to the children who attend the nearby William Alexander Middle School is a Newtown Pippin apple tree, “a variety first grown in Queens,” Ms. Joseph said.
Ruling the forest’s heights are the 40 large pin oaks already in the park, whose abundance of acorns will make a banquet for squirrels. Permaculture also looks favorably on high-quality bushmeat. But Ms. Joseph will be leaving that harvest well enough alone.
WITH its focus on close planting and human-scale projects, permaculture is ideally suited to a small suburban yard or a patio garden. But most of the students I met in Wisconsin had their own 1,000-blueberry-bush visions and ideas on how permaculture could help fulfill them.
Kellie Anderson, a 27-year-old rolfer, lived for five months in a giant sequoia tree named Keyandoora. (At the time, she was protesting a logging plan in Humboldt County, Calif.) After the workshop, Ms. Anderson said, she planned to inhabit a 1986 diesel school bus that she and her boyfriend were in the process of converting into a camper. But fortune seems to have taken her instead to Sanibel Island, Fla., where she is now helping to plan a sustainable-housing community.
Kris Beck, 48, a founder of an energy-efficiency tech company, had a notion to build a sanctuary with a megalithic stone circle (think Stonehenge) on her family’s old Wisconsin dairy farm, along the Mississippi River bluffs.
Bruce Feldman, 60, who spent two decades as an English teacher overseas, experienced the collapse of the baht in Thailand (he was being paid in that currency), and an earthquake in Japan, in 1995, that left him wandering the streets for four days. These events, Mr. Feldman said, “got me thinking that I should start preparing for my own future,” ideally, a four- or five-acre self-reliant homestead in the Ozarks of Arkansas.
The site of the workshop was a permaculture Shangri-La unto itself: 60 acres of rolling pasture and woodlands, a few miles from the Buffalo River in Wisconsin. In 2004, Jeff Rabkin and his wife, Susan Scofield, bought this Amish farm for $125,000.
The original plan was to lease out the fields and build a cordwood cabin as a weekend home. Instead, under the influence of permaculture, Mr. Rabkin became seized with the idea of stewarding the property himself. To this end, he and a permaculture buddy, Victor Suarez, 44, bought a small flock of sheep and planted 300 fruit and nut trees.
During the work week, Mr. Rabkin, 49, and Ms. Scofield, 48, run a marketing and public relations firm in Minneapolis. That background is apparent in the catchy name they gave the place: Crazy Rooster Farm and Amish Telephone Booth.
But the Amish telephone booth is no gimmick. The couple installed a phone line in the shed next to their farmhouse, and their neighbors roll up in buggies to make calls.
While Amish visitors mill around in Mr. Rabkin’s yard, they may strike a deal to sell him three steer and two heifers, or 20 black-locust fence posts. Like a coneflower patch draws honeybees, Mr. Rabkin said, “I like to say that the telephone attracts beneficial wildlife — our Amish neighbors — which is what permaculture tells us to do.”
Ms. Scofield collected asparagus, beets and raw milk from neighboring farms to feed the permies. The occasional Amish visitor, like Thomas Zook, who delivered a bucketful of new potatoes in the middle of a downpour, gave a glimpse of what low-impact living might look like, taken to an extreme.
Mr. Zook’s father, Jonas Zook, even dropped in to watch a video about pond management, but walked out after a minute or two. After marathon days of PowerPoint presentations, I wouldn’t have minded joining him. For all its exhilarating ideals, permaculture is a movement grounded in “zones,” “patterns” and “functions.”
Labs, as it were, took place in the toolshed. On the first day, Mr. Weiseman demonstrated how to create biochar, or partly burned charcoal, in a primitive “rocket” stove, a device he assembled out of a piece of ductwork and a paint can.Next, he started bubbling compost tea with an aquarium pump in a plastic bucket. (“Even petroleum has a place in permaculture,” he said. “The five-gallon bucket is the greatest application of petroleum in the world.”) He wrapped a clump of standard compost in a cloth like a hobo’s bandanna pack and dunked it in water. Next, he added molasses to feed the brew.
After a couple of days, we would fling this brownish broth over the kitchen garden to enrich the soil with beneficial bacteria.
That was the concept, anyway. A week after the workshop, I ran these theories past Jeff Gillman, 41, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota and an author of four books about gardening practices and the environment.
He professed to be “a believer in the whole concept of permaculture.” But he dismissed the compost tea as “lunacy.” Scattering a few foreign microbes into a sea of soil, he said, was like parachuting 10,000 people across the breadth of the Sahara. They would not survive.
Normal compost, the solid stuff from a backyard bin, “should already contain all the microbes that are beneficial to the soil,” he said. And if it doesn’t, “beneficial microbes move in very, very quickly.”
With biochar, Mr. Gillman admitted to a bit of bafflement. “Charcoal, in general, is not in and of itself harmful to soil,” he explained. “It helps to hold on to nutrients. But having said that, it boggles my mind why you would take a perfectly good block of wood that you could use as compost or mulch, and burn it.”
IN a broad sense, though, permaculture is not about the scientific method or textbook agronomy.
“I don’t know that anyone has ever done a double-blind study of permaculture,” said Mr. Pittman of the national Permaculture Institute. “Most people in permaculture are not that interested in doing those kinds of studies. They’re more interested in demonstrating it. You can see the difference in species diversity and yield just by looking at the system.”
As Mr. Weiseman observed, permaculture may be a “leap of faith.” But not leaping might have its own consequences.
Beginning with Mr. Mollison, permaculturists have forecast a near future of resource scarcity. “Not just peak oil,” Mr. Weiseman said, “but peak water, peak soil.”
And the news, with its drumbeat of economic decline and ecological catastrophe, feeds the prophecies. In this dystopia to come, permaculture won’t be a lifestyle choice, but a necessity.
“We know what’s right,” Mr. Weiseman said. “We know what’s best. We feel this thing in our bones and in our heart. And then we don’t do anything about it. Or we do. And I did. And it’s bearing fruit.”
But preparing for doomsday in San Francisco, Mr. Cody said, is not what draws a crowd of busy souls to shovel horse manure on a drizzly Saturday morning. To the 12 central tenets of permaculture, then, Mr. Cody added a 13th: “If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.”
In other words, why mourn the eventual demise of our office blocks and factory farms, when there’s a feast to be made, right now, in your own backyard?
The greatest hits of permaculture are all in the “Introduction”: the ecological ethics, the landscape design principles, the domestic architecture. The book also dabbles in some colorful minutiae. Will shredded licorice root make suitable wall insulation? Does a goat like to munch carob pods? (Spoiler alert: the answer to both is yes.)
New Yorkers won’t have much use for the section on “Avenue Cropping Techniques for Monsoon Tropics.” Permaculture’s philosophy may be universal, but its practice, focusing on microclimates and native ecosystems, is strictly local.
In this spirit, dozens of cities hold regular permaculture gatherings. The New York Permaculture Meetup Group is one such place to post questions and view local projects. New members can join at nycpermaculture.info, and attend the next assembly on Aug. 2, said Alice Lo, 29, of Rego Park, Queens, one of the event’s hosts.
If Meetup participants go home believers, they may be ready for the baptism of an immersive Permaculture Design Certificate Course. Many of these workshops take the form of a residency. Ms. Lo suggested a permaculture-and-yoga biathlon, Aug. 5 to 25, at an ashram/ranch in the Catskills. For information: (845) 436-6492 orsivananda.org/ranch/perma_design.html.
Wayne Weiseman, who taught my course at Crazy Rooster Farm and Amish Telephone Booth, worked as an organic farm manager, an outdoor skills instructor, a public school teacher, a cabinetmaker, a luthier and a New York cabdriver. He brings these trades to the teaching of permaculture. Mr. Weiseman will lead fall workshops in Jessup, Md., and Americus, Ga. (For information: www.permacultureproject.com).
Wild mountain yam grows in the forest farm of Oikos Tree Crops.
PHOTO: ERAN RHODES
Hidden within the rolling forested hills and vineyard-covered valleys of southwest Michigan, on the outskirts of a town that embodies rural Midwest culture, is a tiny farm that, if not for the few sturdy hoop-houses, most people would likely not even recognize as a farm.
The property of Oikos Tree Crops, which consists of less than 20 acres, produces a greater diversity of food than any farm I have ever seen, yet from a glance the mostly wooded landscape appears to fit right into its surroundings. The farm is in itself a fully mature food-producing ecosystem.
For a long while, I have wondered what permaculture would look like on a larger scale. After spending a long spring working at Oikos, I finally understand — large-scale permaculture is what native peoples of this land would have called, well, everything. Nature has the potential to produce food in abundance. And humans are capable of working with nature in order to make a particular ecosystem easily harvestable — what modern farmers would call “managed.” This is especially true in today’s world where most nature-based farms are started from scratch, using former cornfields or otherwise cleared land.
Such was the case with the land that plant guru Ken Asmus bought in 1980. After moving from his home in Saginaw to attend school in Kalamazoo, Ken decided to buy a small piece of land where he could experiment with planting all kinds of different trees, and start a plant nursery business. Little did he realize that every time he went out to walk the grassy field — shovel in one hand, tree sapling in the other — he was initiating something entirely revolutionary: a new form of agriculture.
I have just completed my first four months of working at Oikos Tree Crops, though it feels like much longer. I got this job because I really wanted it, which I take as a very encouraging sign, given that most of the other things I really want have to do with saving the Earth. In fact, everything about my life this spring has been encouraging — a truly remarkable achievement in a society such as ours, with its constant reminders of things to be depressed about. I mostly attribute this success to the remarkable uniqueness of working with Ken at Oikos.
When I arrived at Oikos, I felt like I was arriving home; fitting, since the word “oikos” translates from Greek to “home.” And now that I am not only an Oikos customer, but also an employee, I can confidently say that my previous suspicions of this being a special place were accurate. The project I was hired to lead has to do mostly with perennial vegetables, or annual fruits and vegetables whose seeds are primarily sourced from wild ancestral varieties: basically, plants that not many people grow, and pretty much no one grows on a large scale.
More than being a successful small-business plant nursery, I view Oikos as the embodiment of the coming revolution — that is, the food revolution that must transpire if humans are to survive and thrive. The small parcel of land is an organically molded, ever-changing sanctuary — a haven for plants that are dying out, or have otherwise been forgotten. At the heart and core of everything Oikos does are the principles of ecological diversity, centered on edible perennial crops.
A stroll through the rolling hills of the narrow property would likely take even someone who knows nothing about identifying plants quite a long time, given the diversity and beauty of the place, and the knowledge that nearly every trees and shrub is producing a perfectly edible crop. The tall grasses waving to the rhythm of the breeze, tickling the trunks of the abundant trees and shrubs would tantalize even the most satisfied urbanite into confessing to the unparalleled grace of nature.
Unlike other plant sanctuaries or plant conservation organizations, every plant that Ken grows is for the purpose of being spread around, shared, and planted in as many different places as possible. He has no sense of ownership over plants, over nature — a truly remarkable feat considering that Oikos Tree Crops is his livelihood.
The Oikos Tree Crops landscape is, in a sense, complete. There are a plethora of nut trees: pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, hickories, buckeyes and, of course, oaks. There is just about every fruit or berry tree, shrub, vine or crawling groundcover imaginable: nannyberry, bearberry, buffaloberry, snowberry, thimbleberry, and berry much more! And for every type of tree or bush or vine, numerous varieties. The main food staple that has been missing from the food forest is perennial vegetables.
Besides all the wild edibles that grow as weeds around the property, such as dandelions, clover, plantain, nettles, asparagus, among many others, we are now propagating dozens of other edible plants that can become like weeds, and grow on their own, either as perennials, or by self-seeding. Ken does not follow the general public’s fear of weeds — utilizing and working with nature’s abundant diversity, he has never had one weed take over completely. Even plants such as the autumn olive berry or scotch broom, that have caused so many farmers grief, Ken welcomes and embraces into his plant community, fully knowing that they are filling a specific niche within the ecosystem.
Wild varieties of squashes and melons are growing on their own out in the fields, and will hopefully spread on their own in the coming years. Earth peas with their exploding pods will become a permanent edible legume. Perennial wheat and other grasses with edible seeds will slowly replace the aggressive bindweed. Tubers, such as Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, chufa, oca, wild mountain yams and others are all thriving. We even have a wild variety of crabgrass that originates in Russia, and we cultivate the seeds for food. We have dozens of perennial salad greens, quinoa (a close relative of the common weed lamb’s-quarters), rhubarb, and even tomatoes and peppers. All these and many more will add to an ecosystem that feeds us, and allows for conditions in which the rest of the wildlife in the area can co-exist, thriving together with us in harmony.
And more than simply providing abundant food and an example of a new form of agriculture, at Oikos we save all the seeds from every plant we grow. We propagate these seeds, and distribute the plants, so that edible “weeds” can take over everywhere.
Our model would be the perfect homestead system for anyone interested in truly living off the land with minimal tilling. The food forest environment allows ample space for livestock as well, or the occasional “harvest” of some of the abundant wildlife that makes its home here.
I see Ken Asmus as a visionary who’s way ahead of his time, though he won’t admit it. In fact, Ken tends to shy away from anything that might resemble being political. His modesty is an inspiration. Ironically, I view the entire Oikos operation as being one of the most radical acts of rebellion and revolution I have ever seen (and I have been around my fair share of gung-ho political activists). What can possibly be more political than defying the destructive food system that seems to have such a strong hold of this country?
Industrial food production has become something so removed from nature, with its mono-cultures, its mass tilling, irrigating, spraying, genetic engineering, manipulating and owning.
I have already learned so many valuable lessons during my time at Oikos. Every day I am introduced to new plants that, even though I have farming experience, I never knew existed. I am thankful to be working here, and I am thankful that you, by reading this, are taking part in the revolution.
The seed, the source of life, the embodiment of our biological and cultural diversity, the link between the past and the future of evolution, the common property of past, present and future generations of farming communities who have been seed breeders is today being stolen from the farmers and being sold back to us as “propriety” seed, owned by corporations like Monsanto.
Under pressure of India’s Prime Minister’s Office (which in turn is under the pressure of the White House because of signing the U.S–India Agriculture Agreement) the States are signing MOU’s with seed corporations to privatise our rich and diverse genetic heritage. The Government of Rajasthan has signed seven MOU’s with Monsanto, Advanta, DCM-Sriram, Kanchan Jyoti Agro Industries, PHI Seeds Pvt. Ltd, Krishidhan Seeds and J.K. Agri Genetics.
While what is being undertaken is a great seed robbery under the supervision of the State, it is being called PPP – Private Public Partnership.
The MOU with Monsanto focuses on Maize, Cotton, and vegetables (hot pepper, tomato, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower, water melon). It will in effect hand over to Monsanto millennia of breeding by farmers. The State will subsidize Monsanto’s breeding. It will allow Monsanto’s propaganda to replace extension by promoting “awareness building activities under Monsanto’s “gurukulam” training package with recommended package of practices for Rajasthan”. The State infrastructure will thus function for promotional activities of the companies. The private companies seed distribution will be based on “seed supply and distribution arrangements involving leverage of extensive government – owned network”.
Thus farmers’ varieties will be replaced by increasing “Seed Replacement Rate” – which in effect erases in one season million of years of evolution and thousands of years of farmers breeding. Instead of breeding and distributing public varieties, the state agriculture universities are acting against their public mandate and violating the public interst by facilitating the privatization of the seed supply.
Brainwashing by Monsanto based on “guest lectures by Monsanto’s global experts and scientists” is being labeled as “knowledge transfer”. Selling hybrids and then GMOs is being subsidized by using public land for “Technology demonstration farms to showcase products technology and agronomic practices on land made available by the Government of Rajasthan”.
Besides the handing over of seed and land, “Monsanto will be helped in the establishment of infrastructure towards the fulfillment of the collaboration objectives specified above through access to relevant capital subsidy and other schemes of the Government of Rajasthan”.
While public resources will be made available to Monsanto as a subsidy, “Monsanto’s propriety tools, techniques, technology and knowhow and intellectual property rights with respect to the crops shall remain the property of Monsanto although utilized in any of the activities outlines as part of the MOU.”
This is clearly an MOU for privatization of our seed and genetic wealth, and a violation of farmers rights. The seed supply that the agriculture universities are handing over to Monsanto are not the property of the state, nor of Monsanto. They are the common property of farming communities.
While the Government of Rajasthan has signed seven MOU’s, in the final analysis it is the MNC’s who will control he seed by buying out local companies or locking them in licensing arrangements. This is precisely what happened in the cotton seed sector. 60 Indian seed companies have licensing arrangements with Monsanto which has the intellectual property on Bt. Cotton. In the final analysis, this is not an issue of technology, but of seed monopoly.
The Government has argued that these MOU’s will introduce hybrids in Rajasthan. However, “processes like hybridization are the technological means that stop seed from reproducing itself. This provides capital with an eminently effective way of circumventing natural constraints on the commodification of the seed. Hybrid varieties do not produce true-to-type seed, and farmers must return to the breeder each year for new seed stock.
To use Jack Kloppenburg’s description of the seed: it is both a means of production and a product. Whether they are tribespeople engaged in shifting cultivation of peasants practicing settled agriculture, in planting each year’s crop, farmers also reproduce the necessary element of their means of production. The seed thus presents capital with a simple biological obstacle: given the appropriate conditions, it reproduces itself and multiplies. Modern plant breeding has primarily been an attempt to remove this biological obstacle, and the biotechnologies are the latest tools for transforming what is simultaneously a means of production and a product into mere raw material.
The hybridization of seed was an invasion into the seed itself. As Kloppenburg has stated, it broke the unity of the seed as food grain and as a means of production. In doing so, it opened up the space for capital accumulation that private industry needed in order to control plant breeding and commercial seed production. And, it became the source of ecological disruption by transforming a self-regenerative process into a broken linear flow of supply of living seed as raw material and a reverse flow of seed commodities as products. The decoupling of seed from grain also changes the statues of seed.
The commodified seed is ecologically incomplete and ruptured at two levels: First, it does not reproduce itself, while by definition, seed is a regenerative resource. Genetic resources are thus, through technology, transformed from a renewable into a nonrenewable resource. Second, it does not produce by itself; it needs the help of other purchased inputs. And, as the seed and chemical companies merge, the dependence of inputs will increase. Whether a chemical is added externally or internally, it remains an external input in the ecological cycle of the reproduction of seed.
It is this shift from ecological processes of production through regeneration to technological processes of nonregenerative production that underlies the dispossession of farmers and the drastic reduction of biological diversity in agriculture. It is at the root of the creation of poverty and of non-sustainability in agriculture.
Where technological means fail to prevent farmers from reproducing their own seed, legal regulations in the forms of intellectual property rights and patents are brought in. Patents are central to the colonization of plant regeneration, and like land titles, are based on the assumption of ownership and property. As the Vice President of Genentech has stated, “when you have a chance to write a clean slate, you can make some very basic claims, because the standard you are compared to is the state of prior art, and in biotechnology there just is not much.”
Ownership and property claims are made on living resources, but prior custody and use of those resources by farmers is not the measure against which the patent is set. Rather, it is the intervention of technology that determines the claim to their exclusive use. The possession of this technology, then, becomes the reason for ownership by corporations, and for the simultaneous dispossession and disenfranchisement of farmers.
We need to only look at the cotton seed supply to see what corporations hijack of seed means. Monsanto’s now controls 95% of the cotton seed market. It controls 60 Indian seed companies through licensing arrangements. It pushed the price of seed from Rs. 7/kg to Rs. 3600/kg, with nearly half being royalty payments. It was extracting Rs. 1000 crore per annum as royalty from Indian farmers before Andhra Pradesh sued Monsanto in the MRTP commission. 200,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since corporate takeover of seed started as a result of globalization.
Rajasthan is an ecologically fragile area. Rajasthan farmers are already vulnerable. It is a crime to increase their vulnerability by allowing corporations to steal their genetic wealth and then sell them patented, genetically engineered seeds. We must defend seeds as our commons. We must protect the seeds of life from the seeds of suicide.
The future of the seed, the future of the food, the future of farmers lies in conservation of biodiversity of our seed. Contrary to the myth that we need to hand over our seed supply to corporations to increase food production, farmers varieities when used in agro-ecological systems have the potential to double food production in 10 years according to the U.N.
Navdanya’s research also shows that biodiversity based ecological agriculture produces more food than monocultures.
In the arid tract of Rajasthan farmers only take-up single crop not because of higher economic return but have no choice due to vagaries of nature. It is seen that the income derived from monocropping of pearl millet resulted in a net income of Rs. 3280. Of the total return that farmer achieved 60% was spending the inputs only. In contrast by adopting mixed farming system a total gain of Rs. 12,045 was recorded wherein the expenditure incurred was a mere 19%. A mixed cropping in the surveyed villages comprised of pearl millet, moth bean and sesame grown together in a unit of land. Further exploring the more common mixed farming wherein pearl millet is sown with mung bean.
It has been observed that mixed farming system registered more returns (69%) as compared to mono-cropping system. The increased return in mixed cropping is attributed to lower occurrence of weed and reductions in pesticides due to judicious use of inter spaces.
Also at times the supplementary crop commands a higher price than the staple crop. A similar study for mixed cropping was also undertaken wherein a comparison between monocrops of maize and mixed crops of maize, cowpea combined was studied. The results herein were in consonance with the findings of above two case studies. The maize, cowpea combined crop recorded 31% more returns than maize monocrops.
Seed sovereignty is the foundation of food sovereignty. Seed freedom is the foundation of food freedom.
The great seed robbery threatens both. That is why it must be stopped.
Professional football is back in action after the resolution of a labor standoff that brought the National Football League to a halt for 18 weeks. The NFL players’ union has voted to unanimously approve an agreement with team owners that makes several changes to promote player health and safety, including limiting of on-field practice time and contact, and increasing the number of off-days for players. Players will also have the opportunity to maintain their healthcare plan for life. These changes came about after a greater awareness of the toll football takes on players’ bodies, one of many issues tackled in "Not Just a Game," a new documentary featuring Dave Zirin, sports columnist for The Nation magazine. Zirin talks about the film, the NFL deal, and the ongoing lockout threatening to derail the NBA’s upcoming season. "The owners in these leagues are getting less public subsidies than they thought they would get, because of the economic crisis in 2008 and the trillion-dollar bailouts of the banks," Zirin says. "They’re saying, 'We need to restore profitability and get more salary back from players, because we're getting less tax dollars than we thought we would get. And we will lock the doors and end the games, unless we get more money back.’ And that makes it, to me, a much more broader political and social issue, like, oh, we don’t even get our sports now, because Goldman Sachs needed a bailout?" [includes rush transcript]
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Guest: Dave Zirin, sports columnist for The Nation magazine and host of Edge of Sports Radio on Sirius/XM. His latest book is Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love. He is featured in the new documentary, Not Just a Game: Power, Politics & American Sports, based on his bestselling book, A People’s History of Sports in the United States.
"Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself." ~ Mark Twain ~
If our economy was the RMS Titanic, Republicans would be like an ambitious first mate, so eager to seize power from the captain that he steers the ship of state into an iceberg, thinking he'll take over when the captain goes down with the ship. Republicans have forgotten — or no longer care — they're on the boat too, and their working very hard to ensure that the country will be nearly ungovernable should they succeed in seizing the reins of government.
If it seems like the White House is arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, the GOP is busy measuring the the captain's quarters for drapes, even as the ocean pours in. And the tea party orchestra plays on, with just one song on the playlist — "Under the Sea."
The defining moment, as Carl Pope points out, is one that shows how disturbingly deep the GOP's current brand of crazy (that Noonan, Books and others are just noticing) runs, and how far back it goes.
Paul Krugman last week argued that commentators who are suddenly lamenting the "insanity" of the Republican Party are culpable, because they didn't call the craziness out when it began to surface. He's right, in the sense that the American Right began to unmoor itself from reality long before the Tea Party, or even Barack Obama's nomination. One of the lamentably ignored alarm bells came with an "undisclosed" Bush administration official who dismissed his opponents in 2002 on the grounds they were "reality based."
By that he meant "people who believe solutions emerge from study of discernible reality." The aide went on that "that's not the way the world works anymore. We're an empire, and when we act, we create our own reality."
While these comments generated a certain amount of mockery in the blogosphere, most political, economic, and media leaders shrugged it off. The obvious resonance with Fascist theories -- that "will" creates truth, rather than truth being an external reality to be determined -- alarmed far too few.
While GOP confidence in the ability of imperial "will" to reshape the politics and cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan has dimmed over the past nine years, the scope of their ambition has merely grown. Most recently the Right appears to believe that its desires can reshape the global bond markets, so that a U.S. default would become simply"short term volatility."
You just cut the IRS and all the accountants at Treasury, which means that the actual revenue you have to spend is $0.
The nation's nuclear arsenal is no longer being watched or maintained
The doors of federal prisons have been thrown open, because none of the guards will work without being paid, and the vendors will not deliver food, medical supplies, electricity, etc.
The border control stations are entirely unmanned, so anyone who can buy a plane ticket, or stroll across the Mexican border, is entering the country. All the illegal immigrants currently in detention are released, since we don't have the money to put them on a plane, and we cannot actually simply leave them in a cell without electricity, sanitation, or food to see what happens.
All of our troops stationed abroad quickly run out of electricity or fuel. Many of them are sitting in a desert with billions worth of equipment, and no way to get themselves or their equipment back to the US.
Our embassies are no longer operating, which will make things difficult for foreign travellers
No federal emergency assistance, or help fighting things like wildfires or floods. Sorry, tornado people! Sorry, wildfire victims! Try to live in the northeast next time!
Housing projects shut down, and Section 8 vouchers are not paid. Families hit the streets.
The money your local school district was expecting at the October 1 commencement of the 2012 fiscal year does not materialize, making it unclear who's going to be teaching your kids without a special property tax assessment.
The market for guaranteed student loans plunges into chaos. Hope your kid wasn't going to college this year!
The mortgage market evaporates. Hope you didn't need to buy or sell a house!
The FDIC and the PBGC suddenly don't have a government backstop for their funds, which has all sorts of interesting implications for your bank account.
The TSA shuts down. Yay! But don't worry about terrorist attacks, you TSA-lovers, because air traffic control shut down too. Hope you don't have a vacation planned in August, much less any work travel.
Unemployment money is no longer going to the states, which means that pretty soon, it won't be going to the unemployed people.
These are just the very immediate, very theatrical outcomes. Obviously, over any longer term, you'd have issues from bankrupt vendors stopping work funded with federal highway money, forgone maintenance on things like levees and government buildings, and so forth. Averting any of these things would require at least small cuts in Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid spending, or military payrolls.
Now, maybe you look forward to these outcomes. There are certainly some on this list that I would be okay with. But because I am not delusional, and I did not fall off of a turnip truck last night, I recognize that the American public does not agree with me, and that if any of these things happen, they will freak out and besiege their local representatives.
The Republicans are right about one thing: A default would cause government spending to contract in real terms. But which would fall more, government spending or the size of the private sector? The answer is almost certainly the private sector, given its dependence on credit to purchase inputs. How much could it fall? Take the contraction that followed the near-collapse of the financial system in 2008 and multiply it by 10.
The government, on the other hand, has access to the Fed, and could therefore get its hands on cash to pay wages. With the debt ceiling unchanged, this would require some legal sleight of hand. But the alternative would clearly be a collapse of U.S. national security—soldiers and border guards have to be paid, the transportation system must operate, and so on. Issuing money in this situation would almost certainly be inflationary, but the Fed might conclude otherwise, because the United States has never been in this situation before, credit is now imploding, and the desperate credit-expansion measures implemented in 2008 proved not to be as bad as the critics feared.
So this is what a U.S. debt default would look like. The private sector would collapse. Unemployment would quickly surpass 20 percent. The government would shrink, but it would remain the employer of last resort.
Even though the debt deal proposals currently on the table call for trillions in painful cuts to programs for the poor, working- and middle-classes, the damage they would do to important programs in education, transportation, infrastructure and health care pale in comparison to what even a "partial default" or "selective default" would do to those millions of Americans, and the consumer economy itself.
Ah, and that's the difference between McArdle and today's conservatives. She's not delusional enough to believe the majority of Americans agree with her that even some of the above might be acceptable. Congressional Republicans are either: (a) delusional enough to think that a majority of Americans agrees with them, or (b) just too far gone to give a damn.
Before you hazard a guess as to which is the case, listen to Sen. Mike Lee articulate the GOPs basic demand: Give us what we want, or we blow the damn thing up.
In an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball Monday evening, tenther Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) admitted that he is using the threat of a catastrophic default to extort the nation into rewriting the Constitution to force a permanent era of conservative governance:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: How many days do you think we have, on the outside, to get this debt ceiling through before we have a problem? How many days?
LEE: I don’t know, maybe ten days.
MATTHEWS: Okay, in ten days you want to change the United States Constitution by two-thirds vote in both houses? That’s what you’re demanding.
LEE: Yes. If possible we can’t change the Constitution just in Congress but we can submit it to the states. Let the states fight it out.
MATTHEWS: And you think you’re being reasonable by saying you want a two-thirds vote in the House, which is Republican, and in the Senate which is Democrat. You want the Democratic Senate, by a two-thirds vote, to pass a constitutional amendment or you want the house to come down?
LEE: Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying and I’ve been saying this for six months.
...Most Americans, regardless of their politics, do not really have enough information to evaluate either the impacts of failing to raise the debt ceiling or failing to take action on carbon pollution. Almost all of us end up being primed by leaders whom we have decided to trust. It is a weakness of the populist Right that science (party for religious reasons) is in disrepute as a reliable guidepost. But that doesn't mean that the average member of the Tea Party is in love with Exxon-Mobil -- they're not.
But the Grover Norquists and the Newt Gingrichs and the Charlie Kochs and the Eric Cantors -- they all probably have a pretty good sense of what economics and science tell us will happen if we take their advice.They think it is good for the world, even though they understand that the world will become a less safe place. Those who will suffer are, quite simply, not worth worrying about. Risk is good. Failure and suffering are appropriate. Only the tough deserve to thrive.
It is one of the anomalies of today’s politics: The party that professes absolute fealty to the Constitution in its original form is also the most eager to change it. Exhibit A is the amendment pushed by Republicans to require a balanced budget every year, cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product, and bar any increase in taxes without a supermajority of two-thirds of Congress or any increase in the national debt without a supermajority of three-fifths.
The immediate explanation for the amendment may seem obvious. Republicans in Congress want to please their party’s base. But why is the base so interested in putting government in a straitjacket? A party that sees itself as likely to win future elections is generally not interested in limiting its own powers. But according to Ran Hirschl, a legal scholar in the field of comparative law, parties expecting their fortunes to decline often attempt to entrench their views in constitutional provisions while they have the power to do so. Hirschl calls this pattern “hegemonic preservation,” and the Republican Party’s eagerness to amend the Constitution is a perfect example.
Republicans know in their gut that theirs is a demographically declining party. The GOP does poorly among younger voters, and it has little appeal to ethnic minorities who represent a rising share of the population. The native-born whites at the party’s base worry that they are losing control of American society, and they see themselves as the source of the nation’s wealth and values, besieged by claimants on the public treasury who steal their money through taxes. Locking in low taxes through the Constitution would offer them protection even after they can no longer dominate elections.
Maybe the Republicans' "Titanic Politics" isn't about steering the ship of state into an economic iceberg, in hopes of taking over when the captain goes down with the ship. Maybe it's not that they've forgotten their on the boat, too. Maybe they know they're never really going to take the helm any other way, and are willing to send it to ocean floor if they don't. Either way, they'll go down with the ship too, and take the rest of us with them.
More than 270,000 organic farmers are taking on corporate agriculture giant Monsanto in a lawsuit filed March 30. Led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the family farmers are fighting for the right to keep a portion of the world food supply organic—and preemptively protecting themselves from accusations of stealing genetically modified seeds that drift on to their pristine crop fields.
Consumers are powerful. For more than a decade, a cultural shift has seen shoppers renounce the faster-fatter-bigger-cheaper mindset of factory farms, exposéd in the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. From heirloom tomatoes to heritage chickens, we want our food slow, sustainable, and local—healthy for the earth, healthy for animals, and healthy for our bodies.
But with patented seeds infiltrating the environment so fully, organic itself is at risk. Monsanto’s widely used Genuity® Roundup Ready® canola seed has already turned heirloom canola oil into an extinct species. The suing farmers are seeking to prevent similar contamination of organic corn, soybeans, and a host of other crops. What’s more, they’re seeking to prevent Monsanto from accusing them of unlawfully using the very seeds they’re trying to avoid.
“It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement,” says Public Patent Foundation director Dan Ravicher in a Cornucopia Institutearticle about the farmers’ lawsuit (May 30, 2011), “but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement.”
Even as the megacorporation enjoys soaring stock, the U.S. justice department continues to look into allegations of its fraudulent antitrust practices (The Street, June 29, 2011):
Monsanto, which has acquired more than 20 of the nation’s biggest seed producers and sellers over the last decade, has long pursued a strict policy with its customers, obligating them to buy its bioengineered seeds every year rather than use them in multiple planting seasons. Farmers who disobey are blacklisted forever.
It’s a wide net Monsanto has cast over the agricultural landscape. As Ravicher points out, “it’s actually in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply.” Imagine a world devoid of naturally vigorous traditional crops and controlled by a single business with a appetite for intellectual property. Did anyone else feel a cold wind pass through them? Now imagine a world where thousands of family farmers fight the good fight to continue giving consumers a choice in their food—and win.
UWA PhD student is evaluating how biochar—a stable form of charcoal commonly used in carbon sequestration and as a soil conditioner—influences soil micro-organisms.
“Improvement in the biological status of soil is important because it helps regulate nutrient cycling and improves conditions for root growth.”— Noraini MD Jaafar. Image: flickr (Truthout.org)
School of Earth and Environment Researcher Noraini MD Jaafar says the study aims to determine the role of biochar in soil as a habitat for soil organisms and the effect of biochar on growth and functioning of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and other microbial activities.
“Biochar may improve the ability of beneficial microorganisms to increase the efficiency of plant nutrient acquisition. Combinations of biochar and mycorrhizal fungi may improve microbial activity and nutrient status of soil,” she says.
Different types of biochars can affect the survival and activity of soil biota however there appears to lack of research for its practical application in farming systems.
Noraini says, “Biochar are heterogenous due to differences in the pyrolysis conditions and feedstocks—the parent material used to produce biochar. Variations in biochar porosity and surface structure create habitats for soil microorganisms.”
“It has been proposed that the biochar micro-environment enhances survival and multiplication of soil organisms,” she says.
“Improvement in the biological status of soil is important because it helps regulate nutrient cycling and improves conditions for root growth. Knowledge of the effectiveness of biochars and appropriate rates of their application according to soil type could contribute to improvement in soil health.”
“Biochar is of interest as a soil amendment, but in-depth knowledge of how biochar might alter the growth, survival and activities of soil biota is not well understood for farming systems,” Noraini says.
“While there have been many claims about the benefits of biochar, this needs to be confirmed for biochars from different feedstocks. This research will determine whether there are consistent patterns in interactions between the source of biochar and soil microorganisms.
Noraini’s research began in August 2008 and it has incorporated high resolution microscopy of biochar fragments with measurements of soil biological activity. The research will conclude at the end of 2011.
Winthrop Professor Lyn Abbott, Associate Professor Peta Clode and Assocociate Professor Daniel Murphy supervised Noraini MD Jaafar during her time at UWA.
Researcher Noraini MD Jaafar is from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and was sponsored by the Malaysian Government for her UWA PhD.
Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse, the former chief oversight official of contracts at the Army Corps of Engineers, has reached a $970,000 settlement six years after she was demoted for publicly criticizing a multi-billion dollar, no-bid contract to Halliburton — the company formerly headed by then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Greenhouse had accused the Pentagon of unfairly awarding the contract to Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root. Testifying before Congress in June 2005, she called the contract the worst case of government abuse she had ever witnessed in her 20-year career. Just two months after that testimony, Greenhouse was demoted at the Pentagon, ostensibly for "poor performance." She had overseen government contracts for 20 years and had drawn high praise in her rise to become the senior civilian oversight official at the Army Corps of Engineers. With the help of the National Whistleblowers Center, Greenhouse filed a lawsuit challenging her demotion. In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, Greenhouse announces that a settlement has been reached in what is seen as a major victory for government whistleblowers. We’re also joined by Greenhouse’s attorney, Michael Kohn, and by Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center.
Rural landscapes of the future might have pyrolysis plants instead of grain elevators on every horizon —processing centers where farmers would bring bulky crops such as switchgrass to be made into crude oil.
South Dakota State University professor Jim Julson displays bio-oil and biochar derived as co-products from processing biomass.
Those pyrolysis plants would pass that crude “bio-oil” on to refineries elsewhere to be made into drop-in fuels and industrial chemicals; they would capture and use for their own energy needs a byproduct called syngas made up of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and perhaps carbon dioxide; and they would send farmers away with an important byproduct called biochar that could go back on the land to help rebuild damaged soils, sequester carbon and alter greenhouse gas emissions.
Sound futuristic? It’s also a current research focus at SDSU.
A major new study by South Dakota State University researchers working with a U.S. Department of Agriculture colleague explores how to get the most from such a production system. The USDA is funding the project with a grant of $1 million — $200,000 annually for the next five years — to help scientists design a feedstock production system for optimum energy production of “bio-oil,” and also to explore the possible ecological benefits from the use of biochar.
The grant was selected by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s flagship competitive grants program called AFRI, or the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. It was selected in the sustainable bioenergy challenge area. Typically fewer than 10 percent of proposals are funded, with awards based on external peer reviews of a proposal’s scientific merit.
“We’re looking at this from a whole system approach, and we’re looking at various components in this whole system,” said SDSU professor Tom Schumacher, the project director. “Historically, the distributive nature of crop production gave rise to a network of grain elevators to separate and coordinate the flow of grain to the processing industry. A network of rail lines added new infrastructure to improve efficiency. For lignocellulosic feedstocks, a corollary to the grain elevator would be a collection point that would be within 10 to 30 miles of production fields.”
Those collection points wouldn’t be for long-term storage, but to receive, sort and pre-process or process feedstocks using pyrolysis to break them down into bio-oil, syngas and biochar. Making crude bio-oil would have the effect of densifying the material to a liquid form that is easier to transport for further processing. Meanwhile, the biochar would likely be used in fields in the service area of the pyrolysis plant.
Pyrolysis is a process that uses elevated temperatures in the absence of oxygen to break down organic materials. The SDSU study will more specifically use a technique called microwave pyrolysis that heats the feedstock by exciting the individual molecules, making it very accurate and easy to control.
Schumacher’s co-principal investigators on the project include professors Sharon Clay, David Clay, Ronald Gelderman and Douglas Malo and research associate Rajesh Chintala, all of SDSU’s Department of Plant Science; professor Jim Julson and assistant professor Lin Wei in SDSU’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering; and supervisory soil scientist Sharon Papiernik of the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, S.D.
Process engineers and soil scientists are collaborating in the research project to learn what happens to bio-oil and biochar production when they vary the pyrolysis processing parameters.
Researchers hypothesize that biochar has different physical and chemical properties depending on the feedstock and the way it is processed. That could affect its usefulness as a soil amendment. They’ll examine the characteristics of biochar from three feedstocks: corn stover, switchgrass and woody biomass.
“There’s a lot that’s unknown about specific types of biochar. There is no single characteristic that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of biochars,” Schumacher said.
Biochar’s pH and other characteristics can vary widely depending on what feedstock and process was used to produce it, Schumacher said. That could make biochar beneficial to the environment, neutral, or possibly even harmful, depending on its characteristics. But scientists are excited about the possibility of finding beneficial uses for a consistent, well-characterized biochar product.
SDSU researchers are researching bio-oil and a co-product called biochar. Both are produced along with a product called syngas in a process called pyrolysis.
“In particular, we’re interested in it as a soil amendment for soils that have erosion and degradation problems, with the idea that the biochar could be used to improve those soils,” Schumacher said. “There’s some indication that some biochars can improve water-holding capacity. Biochar also interacts with soil nutrients, holding them, keeping them from leaching. At least there’s some indication that some biochars will do it — others may not.”
Microbial activity may improve with the use of some particular kinds of biochar. And importantly, biochar is thought to have the ability to tie up carbon for centuries or even for thousands of years, meaning it could be used as a tool to slow global warming.
“We also want to explore the effects of the biochar on herbicide absorption and leaching, and how it interacts with herbicides. Does it tie it up so it’s not as effective? Does it make it more active? It may have some potential to be used in certain environmentally sensitive areas as a filter, if you would, that would tie up certain chemicals or keep them from moving,” said professor Jim Julson in SDSU’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.
Some types of biochar might also play a similar role in helping to tie up phosphorus to prevent it from washing out of a field with runoff — an important consideration for managing nutrients such as manure.
SDSU researchers will do laboratory and greenhouse studies, and ultimately field studies as well. The work will characterize different types of biochar in order to build a better picture of how a pyrolysis treatment plant could produce both bio-oil and biochar, in addition to the syngas that would be used for helping to supply the plant’s energy needs.
I was raised on a small farm in Illinois. My wife, Eileen and I and family have worked together hand and hand on this farm (and adjoining land we bought) since 1966. I attended and graduated University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, IL. I received a Bachelor of Science Degree (Cum Laude)in Agricultural Engineering in 1970.
I worked as a registered Professional Engineer for the Rock Island District, US Army Corps of Engineers for 33 years, before retiring. I held several supervisory positions while at Corps: Chief, Regulatory Branch, Assistant Chief of Operations Division, Chief of the Lock and Dam Branch, and Mississippi River Project Manager. One highlight of my career was developing NIC (Google "NIC - Navigation Information Connection") during the early 90's, in a joint effort, with the District's Information Management personnel and Navigation Industry Representatives.
My wife and I have 2 grown children and 4 grandchildren. We have businesses associated with farming, "live edge" furniture making, vegetable produce, and graphics. We enjoy pursuing our hobby interests.