Published May 14 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived May 14 2009

Solutions & sustainability - May 14

by Staff

Working hard to live simply

Andy Parks, The Northern Rivers Echo (Australia)
The idea of growing your own food and living a more simple, sustainable lifestyle is something that more and more people are aspiring to do – but it’s certainly not a new concept.

One study by the Australia Institute found 23% of Australians aged 30 to 59 had decided to “downshift” in some way, reducing their work hours in order to pursue other aspects of life that were important to them.
Leigh Davison said it was called “voluntary simplicity” in the early 70s and, after spending time in Asia, he knew he wanted to make a change in the way he lived his life.

“I was an engineer by profession and spent a few years living in India and Indonesia and was impressed by the fact that people who lived very simple lifestyles, you would probably call them poverty-stricken, seemed to be a lot happier than myself and many of the others living so called wealthy lifestyles,” Leigh said. “I was doing PhD at the University of NSW and got interested in agriculture and organic farming. I rented some land outside Sydney and started growing organic vegies and making compost.”

By the late 70s he had met his wife Ellen in the United States and convinced her to come and live with him on a “hippy commune” at The Channon. Thirty years on and the community is close to providing all of their own food, shelter and power needs.

“We do buy some food, but if Woolworths closed down tomorrow, we would very quickly be able to get to a point where we could be self-sufficient… If you look at your dietary needs, you need carbohydrates and we have a variety of pumpkin that is very sustainable, because it has no pests. We grow potatoes, although we do have to import the seed from colder places like Dorrigo… Sweet potato is very well adapted to this climate, sweet corn, and bananas, they’re God’s gift to humanity. Goldfingers do incredibly well here in the subtropics,” he said. “Then there’s protein; that all comes from the dairy – we make two 3kg cheeses a week. And we make yoghurt, butter, cottage cheese and feta cheese.”

... “It’s a former dairy farm and about 20% we have dedicated towards farming and the rest we are restoring to native forest. Bush regeneration is my hobby, so I don’t have to belong to a golf course or a gym,” he said with a laugh. “One of the ideas that came along with voluntary simplicity was the idea of ‘creative leisure’, so you don’t have to spend a fortune (on leisure activities), you can get your kicks out of growing vegies.”

Leigh said he sees an important educative role for himself and others with similar experiences teaching people about growing food and community models in the future.

“Peak oil is probably happening about now. Peak phosphate is probably going to happen in about 20 years time. Conceivably you can replace oil with other things, but you can’t replace phosphate and the world’s agriculture runs on phosphorus fertiliser… The price of food is going up and will continue to go up. When my mother was born in 1913 the average Australian working class family spent 40% of its income on food. By 1950 it had come down to 20%, by 2000 it was 10%. We’re spending all our money on overseas trips and electronic gadgets, but food is going to go up because it’s very dependent on fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources… You can’t have a sustainable planet with 10 billion people and a lifestyle anything like the one you and I enjoy now... If we want a sustainable society there’s got to be a lot more equity, not just internationally, but inter-generationly. My generation has consumed 50% of the world’s non renewable resources in just 50 years.”
(14 May 2009)

K-5 curriculum for the post-carbon era
Guy R McPherson, Nature Bats Last
"Echoing the influential American educator John Dewey, contemporary educational scholar Nel Noddings argues convincingly that all citizens should be able to surmount the minor obstacles imposed by failures in carpentry and plumbing by the time they graduate from secondary school. Better yet, she argues, we should encourage and facilitate the interests and talents of every student at every level of education, even if they do not fit the two-dimensional liberal-arts model. Yet for me, twenty years were needed before I could overcome the biases and prejudices built into our narrowly focused educational system."

The quote is from one of my recent books, and I use it here to introduce a K-5 curriculum for the post-carbon era (warning: this is a large pdf file). This report is based on a semester's worth of thinking and writing by two undergraduate students. I advised these two superb students on this independent-study project, which they sandwiched between full academic schedules and full lives.

I would love your critical review of this document. I suspect they would, too.

Guy R. McPherson is Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona

Direct link to 187-page PDF
The report was written by Sarah Rios and Jaime Campos. They write:

"Will education be important in the post-carbon era?
What will need to be taught?
What skills need to be acquired?
We hope to provide one alternative for educating students, after the fall of empire."

As the economy begins its downward spiral and as the price of a gallon of gasoline continues to rollercoaster, the impending doom of America, even life as we know it, is approaching. Our education system is in shambles, food prices are ever increasing, and our hopes for an oil-driven tomorrow are no more. Not even the face of hope, Barack Obama, can halt what is bound to happen. With everything moving its course, it is only a matter of time before the idea of great nations becomes that of mere villages. Each unit of people will have to sustain themselves as their own entity. Food will be grown locally and oil-based products will no longer be available on a shelf or at the pump. With this comes a need for those who are ready and recognize the problem to switch gears from being a consumer to being a survivalist. Only with a strong community, one comprised of individuals who barter goods and share a common cause, can any of us have a shimmer of hope.

Yet, with such an inevitable ending to the story that is the industrial era of this world, people do not or will not realize the problems that lie ahead. Time and time again people publish books and articles about the bubble that is about to burst. Time and time again there are signs that the foundation of our current lives are crumbling. Our governments make this seem like a simple scratch and try to cover it with a band-aid, but they don’t realize that this crack is expanding and that a Grand Canyon-sized problem is about to emerge. For those who do realize and are open to the idea of a post-carbon future, there is hope. People around the world are building small communities that will live off the land and do not rely on things we all take advantage of, including flowing electricity, grocery stores, and water coming out the tap. For this minority of people there maybe a future with a silver lining, but it will not be a Hollywood ending.

For the future of our world there are several factors that will still be as important as they are now. Obviously the acquisition of food, water, and shelter will be necessary but so will the education of future generations. For them education will ensure a brighter tomorrow. Yet education will not be the kind that was made to simply make robots to continue the American dream. Instead it will be about educating the young to survive, to know the basic skills that will get them through tomorrow. For most people, there won’t be a need for calculus or organic chemistry, instead basic long division and simple science will suffice. Schooling will involve a movement away from technology and will include only the essentials.

Thus, what follows is a basic outline of the general topics and subtopics necessary for children in the post-carbon era. Though this is an extensive list based on current, edited scholarly standards1 it by no means is an exhaustive list.
(11 May 2009)
We'll post a longer version soon.

Local Living Economies - Protecting What We Love

Peak Moment via Global Public Media
Judy Wicks' love of place, and of animals, has made widening ripples on a global scale. After she moved onto a quaint street in Philadelphia, she learned it was slated to be torn down. Organizing her community, she saved the block as a walkable community. She opened White Dog Cafe coffee shop on the first floor of her home, which grew to a large restaurant proudly serving food from local farmers. Reading John Robbins' Diet for a New America about the cruel treatment of factory farm animals, she located small family farmers and created a cruelty-free menu. Rather than hoard this proprietary information, she founded a local sustainable business network based on cooperation. She went on to found BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), a national network of sustainable, small businesses that promote going local. (, ( Episode 144. Produced March 19, 2009.
(11 May 2009)
Also at Peak Moment.

Latest newsletter from Community Solutions
New Solutions, Communtiy Solutions
U.S. Public Health Community Begins Discussing Peak Oil
Reflections on the ASPO-USA Peak Oil Conference
Annual Membership Meeting
The Rise and Fall of the Techno-Fix (Pat Murphy)
The Risks of Plan B
(March-April 2009)

Bright Neighbor: Connecting and tightening neighborhood bonds

Carrie Sturrock, Portland Oregonian
Let's say you have a frayed overstuffed chair that you want to learn how to reupholster (I do.) Let's say you have very few house-holding skills although you recently learned the hard way how to strip 98 years worth of wallpaper and paint from lathe and plaster walls (I just did.)

How do you find someone in the neighborhood to swap a re-upholstery lesson for wallpaper stripping? Enter the homegrown online social networking tool Bright Neighbor designed with Portland in mind.

One goal is to connect people and tighten neighborhood bonds, said founder Randy White. Another is to help us live greener, more sustainable lives by sharing our stuff - from tools and vegetables - to car rides around town.

"If money went away tomorrow, this is a construct of helping us keep it together," said White, who launched the site in November and made Portland the test ground for Bright Neighbor.

"We have enough stuff and enough people. We just need leadership and action."

Whatever happened to just hanging out on your porch and meeting neighbors?

That's great when it happens, said White, but it doesn't always these days. "The secret is: I'm hoping we don't need Bright Neighbor," he said. Someday.

Maybe after he has convinced cities around the country to buy the platform, which he is calling a "greening behavior tool."

White recently threw a sustainability party in the Southwest with free beer and pizza and, of course, a lot of people showed up. But online membership is now at 4,000 and growing. This week the city of Portland linked to it on its Portland is Better Together page.

"It's a social networking tool that's uniquely attentive to Portlanders identifying with their neighborhoods ... and getting people to connect wtih one another," said Brian Hoop, neighborhood resource center manager for the Office of Neighborhood Involvement.

White, 32, has long been interested in sustainability issues and writes the blog Lawns to Gardens. He is also in the Portland band Railer.

Manyskills, this guy. But can he strip wallpaper?
(7 May 2009)
Randy White is an EB contributor.