Quakers and Sustainability

About what Quakerism as a way of life and movement can contribute to transition through social turbulence created by energy scarcity, climate change, and social injustice.


Climate news getting more disturbing

A friend passed on some of his fav blogs and websites monitoring climate news, eg the Arctic and methane, drought and desertification, severe weather events.
For instance, methane explosions in remote Siberia happening this winter, leading to concern about a crescendo of volcanic like activity in areas where there is significant oil and gas infrastructure, all set to be broken up and of course spilling hydrocarbons. https://robertscribbler.wordpress.com/2015/02/24/arctic-methane-monster-shows-growing-eruption-number-of-global-warming-induced-craters-now-estimated-at-20-30/

Should we bother to stay current on developments in the  polar regions, as laypersons at least? I find it tempting, like watching a catastrophic event unfolding before your eyes, mesmerizing. What will happen next? Will I die? Will we avoid the worst and count our blessings?

http://cci-reanalyzer.org/Forecasts/ is a site to see the WHOLE Earth's weather in one animatable view. Very cool; the sort of thing that makes me say thankyou for the internet. (except that Big Brother is also watching me and all I read/post too).

I post a weekly column at my farm site, www.old99farm.locallygrown.net to try and bring some of this important information to about 200 families, who are mostly not inclined to read it. No one thanks you for being the bearer of bad news. However some people will take steps to reduce their personal contributions to global climate weirding and also to make lifestyle choices that could make their future more livable. More power to them, so I keep doing the 'rubbing salt in the wound' perverse thing.

This week I said:
Furthermore, about 10 percent of the world’s food is produced by overpumping groundwater. In essence, we are using tomorrow’s water to meet today’s needs — a theft from the future likely to grow as droughts worsen and spread. [due to climate change, says National Geographic]

Is there too much ‘apocalyptic climate news’ and is it counterproductive? Joe Romm at ClimateProgress has tackled that one several times. He says no, and shows why here: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/02/22/3617410/oscars-doomsday-climate-messages/, “The two greatest myths about global warming communications are 1) constant repetition of doomsday messages has been a major, ongoing strategy and 2) that strategy doesn’t work and indeed is actually counterproductive.” In fact there is not nearly enough information getting out to the public (that would be us_) for informed policy action.


Ex-Quaker's quakerly view 2014

People actually find their way to this blogspot, 5000+ todate, I can't imagine what fractal routes lead them here but good. I found peakoilitis by following the white rabbit done the hole back in 2003 or so. Led me to organize the first and only Ontario Quaker symposium on sustainable lifestyles at Waubauchene ON, Camp NeeKauNis.

Today is Friday Aug 29, 2014, last post here was Oct 2012, and I hadn't intended to come here, followed a white rabbit i guess.

Talks I have with knowledgeable people about the global problematique of climate, energy and finance are no longer about whether or why or when, they're about what do we do now, especially what do we boomers (I'm 60) do that can matter to our children, grandchildren's generations. It's the MBA training in me, still rattling around somewhere in my aging brain, that says define the problem, get on with solving it.

Permaculture still holds the largest hope for me, and it embraces several very specify methods, attitudes, tools. Today biochar is top of mind and I've been websurfing looking for ways to make it at the farm. Found one I had read in 2009, from Sweden, Folke Gunther's double barrel retort couldn't be easier.
But the benefits of biochar are rolling in on the research pages. Just for instance, from  Albert Bates TheGreatChange blog: http://peaksurfer.blogspot.ca/2013/10/post-modern-moonshots.html

So you see, there is much to be hopeful about. Also Holistic (farm) Management, Regenerative Agriculture, Urban gardening, and Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration. http://permaculturenews.org/2008/09/24/the-development-of-farmer-managed-natural-regeneration/ .

All great signs of the willingness of some people to innovate in the direction of a steadystate ecologically-confined human habitat. As Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael, reminds us, "If the world is to be saved, it will not be by old minds with new programs, but by new minds with no programs."


20121005 Thanksgiving Weekend

Last post here was 2008, much has changed in me, much has stayed the same in the world. The economy, environment and energy apocalyptic scenarios are still pending, either pushed out of view by the press and politicos, or scrambled into confusion by naysayers and technophiles.  I was convinced starting in 2004 that we had precious little time as a species responsible for the degradation of the biosphere and extinction of multitudes of lifeforms, to make major changes. It seems we have pushed the can down the road a bit further. The crash will be steeper.

I'm still on the farm, enjoying it more, spending less time with people than with animals. I enjoy my twice daily walk to the pasture to milk my cows. I pause often to gaze at the geese on the pond, so graceful and alert. I admire the wheat I planted in two little one acre paddocks, coming up lush this fall. I smile when I think of the hay in the barn where the cats play.

A recent discovery in my local bookstore, Bryan Prince Bookseller, is Macnamara's People and Permaculture book. It offers a synthesis of many themes in my life including Dave Meier's Accelerated Learning, Ken Wilber's Integral Consciousness, the ICA's community building methods, and yes, Quakerism, though not stated as such. This book has the potential to be a rekindling for me as it paints an integration I had not even imagined among all my searching. And it reminds me, permaculture is about a mindset of abundance not scarcity; I had forgotten that too.

Living with a painful awareness of the cumulative and ongoing damage to environment is like running a race with a grain sack on your back and hobbles. It's hard to keep up any momentum. That's what I find. But along comes a book or an idea that breaks through, pierces the case-hardened angry resignation that my research has concocted.

I still think there's no way humanity will make the changes necessary in  my liftime to avert mass die-off, much painful suffering, and immense collateral damage visited on all other living creatures among us. But the option still exists to live as though there is a future worthy of the name. Hence I plan to build a greenhouse for woody plant propagation, rebuild the woodshed for food storage and sales, plant more fruit trees, dig another pond, add chinampas-style canals and pennisulas for growing drought prone crops, experiment with 'rotational grazing' of chickens in the greenhouse, get the sheep bred, learn to raise turkeys, etc. 


Fall 2008. Taking stock

There is a saying you can tell a person's priorities by what he does more than what he says. I am pulling inward, enjoying having few personal contacts, living alone. I have the new circle of acquaintances in the Dundas Sustainable Lifestyles Project, a thing I started in a moment of inspiration from a talk by Mike Nickerson last fall. This is my new circle of contact, that certainly centres around sustainable living. We mostly see the future as grim, no way out of the perfect storm bearing down on us. (financial markets worldwide are in chaos as I write this, maybe melting down into a 1930's style depression, we'll see.) Suzuki quotes leading ecologist that 80% of species are going to go extinct due to GHG from our human ways.

I did have a 20-something friend I spent time with who could not handle the 'grim' part of my assessment of the world problematique, the scenario we are living where all assumptions from the past are suspect or outright useless. He didn't like the pessimistic ring to my summing it all up as GRIM. I came across a bit of Buddhist writing last nite that put the words in place for me. It is not important whether the future is assessed to be GRIM or ROSY, it just IS, so get on with living it. GET ON WITH IT. Sort of like Nike says, "JUST DO IT". That is what I say we need to do as Quakers, or anyone, spiritually inclined, attuned or adept, or not. It could be a secular world that has the most likelihood of surviving the 'long emergency' into post-carbon, postpeak, postpostmodern living. I'm trying it on for size.

I'm not very outwardly or inwardly quakerly these days. Maybe I should hang out on a blog somewhere and wail into the night with the rest. I'm still recorded in the ministry of chaplaincy in CYM. They don't do any oversight or support so what difference does that make! The chaplaincy started in prison work in 2003-4 but morphed to climate/community preparedness and now local food security. I may be a quaker community chaplain, but hardly an exemplary one!

I have sharply downscaled my involvement in my meeting, Hamilton, the outdoor camp (NeeKauNis) and certainly CYM. I am now the youngest (at 54) regular attender at Hamilton Mtg. 10 years ago I was so keen to do outreach (remember Quaker Outreach Forum on Yahoo) and get a new generation rooted in ourmeeting, but my ways were not the ways of the meeting. I quit trying, which is not really what I like to be, a quitter. It is a bit of a flaunt too, to be straight about it. "There, I told you so, meeting comatose cuz you didn’t' listen to me."

There are many days when it is hard to 'walk cheerfully, answering that of G-D in every person' but so was it for Fox. At least I don't have anyone beating on me, putting me in jail for months or chasing me from town to town!

On to the sustainble future~ (a good biography is the recent See You in a Hundred Years, by Logan Ward, 2007. He and his wife take a stab at living as tho they had no access to any technology or convenience of the last 100 years. Maybe that is indeed what we are facing.


Update April 2008: Old 99 Farm

Quakerism has held an attraction for me since I first discovered it in the 70s. I went into the theology, history and practices quite deeply in the 90's and even went to a seminary for three years. That Baptist seminary even granted me credit for a Quaker based program in spiritual direction (we call it nurture). I went on to study pastoral counselling, practised with prison survivors in a nearby prison.

Sometime in 2004 I stumbled on peak oil, permaculture and climate change, more or less at the same time. I became an activist in my town, starting a small relocalization group. I soon realized this was not going to have much impact and I was not myself preparing for the energy descent future I clearly saw unfolding. Not in the future, but now, in real time.

I decided with my wife to move from our comfy car-centric urban 4000 sf home to a downtown neighbourhood, walkable and much smaller. In the course of this the vision shifted. I read David Holmgren's Permaculture: Vision and Pathways, on a train across the continent to Portland in the summer of 2005. I was changing fast, inwardly and outwardly, as the world saw me. My wife did not agree that self-sufficiency was a priority and local food security was going to become an issue. We parted friends on that.

The search for a suitable farm was begun in earnest, and a year and a half later I found the 20 acres where I am now, on the outskirts of Hamilton ON, at the top of the Dundas valley. I hosted a permaculture design charrette in September last year, resulting the conceptual overview of the future design of this property.

So far I am living here alone, family visits from time to time, and I am very happily busy. Livestock is starting to arrive, the garden beds are dug and ready for spring planting. My first crop of maple syrup is in the cellar.

Old 99 Farm is a cityfarm, suburbs are 5 minutes away by car. That is good, because I intend Old 99 to be accessible to people who are also convinced that drastic changes in lifestyle are upon us, both for the good of the planet's other multitude of species and for a semblance of comfort for our selves. Permaculture is a way of designing our environment for stable human settlements without degenerating the natural world. Sustainability is living well within the Earth's limits. A system is sustainable if it generates at least as much energy over its lifetime as it uses. I propose to try and live that way here on Old 99.

I have a small bungalow, soon to be equipped with solar PV emergency back up power, three bedrooms and a basement well suited for a rootcellar. The barn is a 100 year old bankbarn with room for cows, poultry, pigs and the like. The field will soon be pasture for hay and planting in perennial tree crops and vegetables. Permaculture classes and site visits, allotment garden plots and farmgate sales will begin this summer. Eventually I am quite sure people will want to participate in the life of the farm. In the meantime I am making preparations, building infrastructure and learning, learning, learning.

This is all new, we have had at least 50 years of neglect of the virtures of self-sufficiency, frugality, local commerce, and reverence for the earth. Now most of us are going to have to learn it as adults from scratch, books and mentors. I am a new homesteader, new to equipment, livestock, forestry, soil, carpentry, etc. Part of why I'm doing this is that I want to show that it is possible to move down the energy descent pathway and still have a good life. I may encourage others to do the same. My quakerism says its better to inspire than to instruct. Lead by example, serve by doing. We will see how this life project unfolds.

Thank you Douglas for prompting me to get back to this blog. I am documenting a lot, and need to make some more of it public. There is not time for delay, not for our children or ourselves, to learn to live within the earth's limits.


I'm still here, not posted

I have become too involved in a relocation decision, which is my response to sustainable living, namely start trying to do it.
Not much to say for now.


Community and Peak Oil, Yellow Springs 2006

I attended the 3rd annual conference hosted by Community Solution.org, in the quiet Ohio town of Yellow Springs, last weekend.
The roots of Community Solution go back to Arthur Morgan, the famous Quaker founder of the TVA and designer of India's university system in the 1940 and 50s, at least in part.
He was a believer in the inherent value of small communities, as places where human beings could show their best qualities, and live a fulfilling life.

This event was subtitled 'Beyond Energy Alternatives', because the organizers feel, as do I, that we are well beyond the limits of growth, energy consumption, climate stability and population, and alternative sources of energy are neither abundant enough nor a solution. The earth does not need more energy to fuel human activity. It needs less. Hence we are on a powerdown pathway, which CS believes is actually more likely to be fully satisfying and welcoming us back to the family of nature.

Sure we will use our inventiveness and technologies to ease the burdens every day living, but it will be obliged to conform to the constraints of nature, like humus in the topsoil, or water in the acquifers, or carbon in the atmosphere.

Quakers have long had a testimony of Simplicity, not only as a lifestyle but as a set of values. One speaker at the conference, Vicki Robin listed a very adequate set of elements of the testimony of Simplicity
- Enoughness
- Frugality
- Soulful (inwardly fresh)
- Intentional (the examined life)
- Ecological (living well within the means of the Earth)
- Justice (live simply that others may simply live)
- Economy (Financial independence, integrity, intelligence)
- Balance (healthy harmony among all parts)

This is a recipe for living my life in the midst of energy powerdown, inspired to act as though I make a difference in the world. It mobilizes me to action, in the face of complexity so overwhelming that it would be easy to give up. It gives rise to an urge to make my life relevant to the times I'm living in.