The Green Gap

In the Cold War, we feared a Missile Gap was a strategic weakness. Nowadays, we must awaken to the fact that the Green Gap is true strategic weakness: the nations whose economies will thrive in the coming years will not be those with the biggest factories, but those with the most sustainable, efficient, and ecological markets. What we require is a Strategic "Green Reserve" of ecological design to weather the coming changes that both climate and resource scarcity will force on the international economy.

Friday, 17 August 2012

It... Lives!

Now witness the mushrooms of this fully COLONISED and OPERATIONAL spawndry basket!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Mushroom Projects and New Hobbies

I'm back after a long vacation away in Northern Canuckistan and I'm devouring Sandor Katz' paean to pickling: The Art of Fermentation. I've just today gone out to Salcedo Market to get some farm-fresh ginger root and turmeric root, and grabbed some red ginger from the local Rustan's. Also, with the availability of Muscovado sugar (from raw cane juice), I couldn't help but liberate a couple kilos for my nefarious purposes.

Using instructions from the book, I've put together a ginger bug and a turmeric bug: these things are simply fermentation starters made from water, sugar, and shredded roots (with skin). Each day, you add a little more shredded root and sugar. It can take about three days for a good vigourous ferment to get going, but once the ferment starts to work, it's going to be time to make ginger beer! I'll also make turmeric beer and if I can find galangal, I'll do that one, too.

In other news, I have been able to clone the reishi mushroom from my front yard using a rather unorthodox method. Thanks to the fact my wife was away, I was able to do this. I took a bunch of wood chips and stuck them in a couple jars. I then topped the jars with water and stuck them in the microwave for five minutes. It made the room smell interesting, but the water-infused wood (and the jars) were well and truly sterilised. I sealed the jars and let them cool. Once cooled overnight, I plopped a few bits of wood chips from my tree stump into them, and left them about four weeks. This is what I now have:

Thoroughly mycelially - enhanced wood chips with no apparent source of contamination.

I also colonised some pure coir just to prove it could be done. This was done in conjunction with my spawndry basket. News on the spawndry basket front: It flushed!!!!!

And then it deliquesced because I wasn't at home to see the mushrooms flush (see above note on me being in Northern Canuckistan on long holiday). I've since put the basket out in the rain where it will keep wet and hopefully flush again. The mushrooms had grown only at the bottom of the bucket (close to the only source of moisture) due to lack of water, in my reckoning. If I can infuse the whole thing with moisture, I hope that I can get a better second flush.

Projects, projects, projects... at least I am on the right track with the ginger beer, my wife is highly supportive of any activity that provides her with yummy and nutritious ginger beer!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Spawndry Basket

I must admit to wondering whether my wife reads my blog. If she does, I should find out soon after she discovers this post.

I'm calling this a Spawndry Basket because it's yet another crazy mushroom spawn experiment, only this time with a laundry basket. One of the projects from the DVD "Let's Grow Mushrooms" was a great big laundry basket filed with straw bulk substrate and pleurotus spawn. I'm doing the "Philippines version" of that by boiling up some shredded coir and layering that with spawn.

I'm accustomed to my mushroom projects failing, but that's not to say I'm too terribly sad about the failures. I'd rather get them out of my system now while it doesn't matter. I'm also not really setting myself up for success. I'm primarily interested in totally dumb methods of doing stuff, because I'm dumb. I want resilience, not perfection. In this case, if the substrate isn't colonised, I will try again with more coir. Eventually something will work. We had to have done this in an era before clean rooms, so I'm going to keep banging at it until I've got something that functions.

If it works, WHEE! more oyster mushrooms for me, and I will start stealing people's waste coconut husks.

Monday, 9 July 2012


Thanks to the kind Hala Chaoui of UFO, I now have a vermicomposting unit! I went from shipping box to fully built in ten minutes exactly. Instructions were clear and well-illustrated. I've got a few projects this week, after getting some more spawn from the mighty men of the Ministry of Mushrooms, I want to make at least one (maybe two, maybe three) laundry-basket mushroom projects. I learned the process from the DVD "Let's Grow Mushrooms", and as long as I can get spawn, it seems bloody easy. Just boil your substrate and layer it lasagne-style in a laundry basket... keep it watered, and BOOM! Mushrooms. Let's see if it works. If it does, I will have more num-nums for the worms in the form of spent mushroom substrate.

Anyhow, after all that work I was tired so I had a beer and sat down for a while.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Holy Saprophytic Polypores, Batman!

I appear to have Reishi mushrooms growing on a stump in my front yard. They exhibit the classic kidney shape and rust brown spore print, with the white active growing area also notably present. I have another stump that I wouldn't mind giving over to Reishi propagation, so I'd better learn how!

Just wait 'til I tell the guys at Ministry of Mushrooms!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Mycelium Running... for real this time.

I appear to have had some luck running mycelium in coir and wood chips lately. See the above three jars filled with bits of happy mycelium? They are from left to right, pure-ish coir to mixed coir and wood chips. So far it seems like the rightmost mixture is the happiest, though it could also have something to do with the fact it appears to have retained a little more moisture than the others. The pure-ish coir jar seems to have good, fuzzy mycelium in it:
Whereas the one in the mason jar seems to have developed some other form of mould to compete with the pleurotus ostreatus. Perhaps a holdover from its days holding other foods and not being as thoroughly cleaned as it should have been:
If I had supervision of any kind at this time, I might be forced to throw it out, but I really want to see just what happens... and if it goes rank, I'm putting it under the microscope, by gum!

The black soldier fly is doing well. They are crawling off a lot nowadays, so I hope we are getting an increase in the local population. I am not yet ready to start collecting them as I have nothing to use them for. If the neighbourhood allowed it, I would have gotten a chicken or something to et the BSFL, but I think they are going to have to go into an aquarium of fish eventually as fish food. They eat bloody fast though and I'm alone in the house now with dwindling amounts of food to give them. I had a bunch of people over last night, so we had some scraps, but I can't well have a party every night just to feed my BSFL. 

Then again, I suppose I could, and it would be pretty awesome to have a maggot-themed party, I'm sure.

Lastly, I've ordered a vericomposting kit to compost the castings of the BSFL into some friable compost. In order to keep moisture in the indoor food collection bin down, I've been putting dustings of coir in the bottom. These are slowly building up in the BSFL bucket as the BSFL can't really eat coir. After a good soak in the bacteria-rich goo that the BSFL leave in the bucket, it should be soft enough to be able to be eventually digested by the worms I hope. Also would like to plug the vermicomposter's designer, from UFO  (Urban Farms Organic). Check out their designs for high-volume modular composters. I will be reporting back to UFO on how they work out here in the tropics on BSFL leavings.

That's me up-to-date, more news as it happens...

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Mushroom Fail, Soldier Fly Win

While it seems my mushroom bin went rank due to moisture pooling in the bottom of the container, the larvae that I had once worried were not black soldier fly appear now to be black soldier fly. I'm not 100% certain - heck, I'm not 100% certain about many things - but they do seem to have taken on the proper form of BSF.

My dear mushroom contacts over at Ministry of Mushrooms came through for me today with some spawn to pick me up from being morose about a failed first mushroom experiment. One kilogram of oyster mushroom grain spawn to experiment with on my coir! Next, I'll have to purchase a pressure cooker...

Sunday, 20 May 2012

More Mycelial Love

It appears the mycelium is taking to the coir substrate, with the moist coffee grounds maintaining the humidity of the mix notably high. It appears almost as if the coffee grounds are doing double duty, as they can be metabolised by the mycelium and they provide an obvious amount of moisture: obvious by the waft of moist air I get when I pop open the container. Let's see where this goes!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Mycelium Running?

The title of this post is, of course, a riff on Stamets' great work Mycelium Running, one of the three inspirational treatises by Stamets I'm working from. The others are Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms and The Mushroom Cultivator. I say "inspirational" in part because they are inspirational, but also in part because I'm not doing anything Stamets really recommends. However, after pasteurising my bulk substrate of coir, palm fronds, and coffee grounds, I appear to have mycelium running!!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Phase three... or is it five? Mushrooms.

Got a fruiting bag of mushrooms to provide mycelium for a clone. The guys at the Ministry of Mushrooms at Saturday's Salcedo market are pretty awesome and helpful. I've now got a pot to sterilise my bulk substrate, some coir, some leaves, and I think I'm ready to go.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Treats for the Maggots

I hear Black Soldier Fly larvae like coffee grounds. My friends at the neighbourhood Starbucks obliged me with a metric assload of coffee grounds, some of which I intend to use in bulk substrate for growing mushrooms, some for my BSFL. The BSFL are quite active - today I found a couple on the roof of the bin and a couple on the walls. The reports I had heard from other tropical BSFL ranchers that they have incredible climbing abilities when the walls of the bin are wet appear to be substantiated. Now, to use that to my advantage in self-harvesting...

You can see the great, big, fat and happy larvae on my trowel there in the picture on the right. There is an incredible amount of size variance amongst the larvae, and these were easily 1cm long and perhaps 3mm-4mm wide. Many are still tiny. Just from observation, the fat ones are found in the vicinity of meat and the skinny ones seem to be found around vegetables, so I imagine the BSFL have sublimely fast metabolisms and their growth is only limited by the amount of protein they can find in their environment. I learn more every day.

In other news, the coconut guy came today to hack down some coconuts for us. I had one to celebrate. Deeeeee-licious. Of course, I saved the husk to dry for coir.

I gotta admit, I really have this wonderful sense of not knowing what the hell I'm doing, but truly enjoying just trying stuff out and seeing what works. The main thing is that I'm not throwing all this stuff in the garbage. It will go back into the land, somehow.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Affnan's Aquaponics

This man is my hero. His experimentation into siphons (and his incredible explanation of siphon optimisation) is breathtaking.

Black Soldier Fly

I've been trying to attract black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) for some time now. First, I started with rotten coconut. That dried out, moulded, and ended out nasty and disgusting. I then tried reconstituting corn, putting it in the coconut to rot, and attracting BSFL that way. The corn moulded and ended up not being colonised. Finally, I had some old cabbage pickles that were going rancid in the fridge. I put those in the coconut and kept them wet but under a cover. After a week or two, I spotted what I believe to be BSFL. since then, I've gotten a bucket and started feeding them outside the coconut. While they've not completely colonised the bucket, they are slowly eating our biodegradables. See disgusting picture below :) (the BSFL are the white things in the middle of the bottom third of the picture)

Of course it doesn't disgust me, I'm the proud father of highly useful maggots :)

Thursday, 3 May 2012


Here is a shot of some okra in the home-made mulch from our shredder.
Mulching, of course, is highly useful. In our case, we have a confluence of two very important factors that make me believe mulching is an optimal practice for our yard. First, it's the dry season. Mulching helps in moisture retention. I dropped this mulch down after a (very rare!) summer rain. Second, our garden is full of palm trees that are regularly shedding lower leaves in their constant struggle to beat other plants to the canopy. This, combined with sticks I steal from the neighbours' garbage heap, coconut husks, and leaves from the bamboo stand, makes a great and varied texture mulch - and keeps that valuable carbon in our ecosystem. Tropical ecosystems seem to shed carbon like mad, but in a natural tropical ecosystem, the decomposers are totally on steroids - they break stuff down real fast. In the gardens in this part of the world, all the hired gardeners are told to do is get rid of the detritus and make it look presentable. The garden slowly sheds all its nutrients and carbon to the garbage heap, leaving a nasty, hard soil. I'm trying to stem that tide and keep the good stuff where it belongs...

...and stealing other people's good stuff from their garbage. Let's face it, I have no shame.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

From Theory to Action

After a long think, I've finally goaded myself into trying stuff. The easiest thing to start with, I thought, would be a bit of compost and some mulching. Bear in mind, I'm from a county that has six months of winter, and I live in the tropics. The seasonal rhythm to which I am accustomed is just not here. In Canada, it's a cycle of cold and not so cold. Here, it's a cycle of wet and not so wet. Given that the not so wet period is where we are, I'm thinking that helping my small garden retain moisture will be paramount. Here's what I've got going on.

 1) The mythical Black Soldier Fly. I have it on hearsay that the mighty Black Soldier Fly makes its home in the Philippines. I've also heard it bandied about that rotten coconuts will net you BSF, so I am trying a combination of dried corn and rotten coconut rotting under an upturned bucket. I know this sounds appetising (and after looking at the bloated ex-popcorn this morning, I think it's pretty appetising, too) but it's in the back corner of the garden away from small children. I had been reserving old coconuts for just such a service. I will keep you updated.

 2) Garden refuse. I bought a 1.5m-tall box to put garden refuse in. After a day, it's overflowing. Ooops. I guess it's a good thing I bought...

 3) A garden mulcher. I splurged on a chipper that takes both 35mm sticks and soft garden refuse. When that thing goes into action, gird your loins. I even started stealing chippable sticks from the neighbours' garden refuse piles. Well, I asked first, but you get the idea. Imagine me skulking through the night to feed my mulching habit.

 4) Starting a compost pile! Finally, all the crap we throw away will be diverted. I'm looking at a locally jury-rigged worm compost bin. I'll see how it goes. Finally, some irons in the fire.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Lost Crops of Africa

Awesome book series available free online:
Lost Crops of Africa. Three books in all, and they can be read totally free! Register to download the free PDFs.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

I Need Your Help: How Can We Make Land Ownership Fair?

I have a goal: equitable land stewardship.
In my mind, the goal has two subsidiary objectives: allowing the investors to make a small (long-term) profit while allowing the landless and economically disadvantaged take benefit from the land without having to pay rents.

I'm so keen on this idea that I've already pulled out my RRSPs in preparation to invest them in a land co-operative.

My sole problem: I have objectives but no plan.

This is where you come in. I need your brain. I need your ethics. I need all the viewpoints I can possibly collect. I need your advice on how land ownership can be made moderately profitable so that I can pitch the idea for people to get out of their worthless mutual funds and into a land-cooperative that's not only good but real as opposed to imaginary wealth. I need your advice on how such a land use plan would allow for the landless and economically disadvantaged to use the land as a security blanket and possible source of income without worrying about rents and endless fees. I'm willing to pitch in to start making land use more equitable, and if we can work together to make it moderately profitable over the long term, then we can get others to put their money where their heart is.

Any idea helps. Let's find a way to simultaneously pull investment capital out of the stock market, liberate land from private ownership, and help those who have been disadvantaged by the current economy. I look forward to your comments!

Sunday, 11 March 2012


I’ve read for years about our ecological situation and planned to make a break from the city to live sustainably in the countryside. I’ve come up with more and more detailed plans, based in good science and the inventive know-how of global pioneers (the majority of them ex-British colonials themselves), to make this dream a reality. In the course of my own research on sustainability and ecology, I've been gradually introduced to indigenous forms of land use from North America. Recently, and in part because of this, I've started taking interest in First Nations’ issues. Now, I'm a Canadian, but I'm not a member of any of the First Nations. I don’t have a drop of First Nations blood in me, unless there was more friskiness amongst the ancestors than we've give credit for. Beyond being able to say “hello” in Blackfoot, I'm a black hole of First Nations knowledge: a darkness from which no light escapes. I admit that there are others with this exact same colonial background who revere some strange new-age hocus-pocus: the belief that they have a First Nations “spirit guide” and a “spirit animal” that is typically chosen from the following list: eagle, wolf, mountain lion, bear, or dolphin. To be perfectly clear: I am not one of those people. I have never smudged, done a sweat, or joined a drum circle. I'm your classic European-born-in-a-colony: I can recite the countries of origin of all my great-grandparents, tell you the percentages of each of the nationalities that are coursing through my veins, and I've even done a genealogical trip back to the mother country to trace my roots. I feel pangs of displaced affection for the oak forests and bucolic English countryside. I have a deep cultural affinity for my colonial brothers and sisters in New Zealand and Australia. I'm even nominally a monarchist - if we agree to call the Crown a Constitutional symbol of Canada herself and the people who live there. None of this is particularly abnormal or problematic for a colonial.

Allow me also to distance myself from a great deal of baggage: I do not suffer from post-colonial guilt complex or the delusion of “white man’s burden”. The idea that there are cultures out there that needed to be “civilised” is not only patently asinine, but if this “civilisation of the savages” had been achieved, it would have made the world dreadfully monotonous. I’ve travelled around the world enough, and employed enough people in faraway places, to know that my way does not work in certain contexts. Some cultures are simply not punctual. Some cultures value harmony more than objective truth. Some cultures can’t say “no”, and expect you to be able to tell the difference between multiple different types of “yes”. The only way MY ideas would work in those cultures is if I removed the bits that conflicted with my own conceptions and replaced them with attitudes compatible to mine. Being naturally lazy, I realised it was easier to change my approach than change the entire country I lived in. It is clear the colonial powers thought the opposite: that it was better to change all the local cultures than simply to adapt their own approach. As an efficiency freak, I find that wasteful. As a human, I find it despicable. It’s not my place to “civilise” anybody, and I realise it’s not my fault that this country got colonised; however, let’s be frank: I have benefited greatly because of this colonisation.

At this point in the narrative, however, it’s important that we look back on what’s been written and hilight a glaring omission. I would be willing to bet that most First Nations people reading this text will – right at this point – conclude that I’ve actually contradicted myself. Everyone else will likely still be wondering what the point of this post is. It's this: my entire study has been about a new solution to a problem the First Nations peoples have already solved, and yet my own research treated their solution as peripheral. I’ve already said I don’t suffer from white man’s burden or a post-colonial guilt complex, but I do suffer from an almost imperceptible memetic affliction: I still don’t privilege the discourse of the First Peoples. I’ve taken a problem that modernity has caused, and attempted to find a modern (indeed, European) solution to it. Indigenous methods, I have to admit, I treated as anecdotally interesting but not at all part of the solution I was looking for. In actual fact, indigenous methods of land stewardship are appropriate to place, systemic, and central to the problems of sustainability. It’s struck me more and more that: firstly, the depth and breadth of indigenous knowledge about their specific environments is staggering; secondly, a great deal of the knowledge has been brutalized, suppressed, and erased by colonial powers; and finally, after all this brutality, that knowledge has managed, somehow, to survive. This last point is a highly ironic form of good luck, because that which our ancestors attempted to eradicate appears to be a major part of the knowledge we need to solve our environmental problems today. This has become, for me, a disgustingly obvious case of “the more you learn, the less you know”.

To bring it all home, watch this video on the Mi’kmaq concept of “Netukulimk”, which can translate roughly to our concept of sustainability. What hit me was not the concept of sustainability itself - that idea is becoming clearer to more and more of us late-bloomers nowadays. The specific comment that caught me off guard was when Mr. Marshall said, "We must take the best of what the white man has brought forth, through his education and through his different ways of seeing the world, and our ways". Understanding that difference is something we as colonials, suffering from this post-colonial memetic hangover, were not in a place to fully comprehend. Now that I have shaken the cobwebs out, I'm beginning to see the truth of how these worldviews can work together. The darkness of my black hole had gone unnoticed to me because there was nothing but black. A single glimmer of light has now framed that darkness, and I realise now how much I need to learn from the ancient masters of Netukulimk. It is the way of a mature man that he bows his head and listens when a wise man speaks. I've clearly got to learn to be more mature.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Welcoming a New Hand

The Green Reserve is getting into a cooperative mood with a new author, Jorge Sigurd. Jorge is a scholar and a gentleman with whom Green Reserve's fate has been intertwined for well over two decades. I am hoping that this is the beginning of a new phase of growth for the blog as well as for our plans for a green future. I hope to be writing more about some concrete plans for improving the environment and making money doing it, and perhaps building a collective of like-minded people who can collaborate here to assist in bringing the green to the masses! If you're interested, Canadian (or Canadian at heart), and are interested in writing about how to build a greener society, send me an email at :)

Nova Scotia Ecological and Cooperative Links

Yes, I admit, this is research for my own purposes, but I have been looking at Nova Scotia as a place to build a cooperative. In large part because I would like to build a cooperative in Nova Scotia. I guess that is pretty self-evident by now.

All about cooperatives.

All about starting ecological businesses in Nova Scotia.

  • Dalhousie University has an incredible Eco-Efficiency Centre that supports small businesses.
  • There is a homegrown wind power company called Seaforth Energy that makes a durable 50kw turbine. In my native Alberta, solar is probably a better and more cost-effective manner of getting energy (much more sun there than most other places in Canada), but NS has loads of wind.
  • The Nova Scotia Department of Energy has a program for net metering as well as subsidy for getting renewable generations sources onto the grid.
Funky stuff in general.
And, last but not least, property porn.

That's just a start, I think I will start planning a little more openly in the coming days. Talking is winding down, actual planning is ramping up :)

Books that you may find good for your head

Certain books make thinking easier, as having a good framework gives a lovely skeleton to whatever flesh you would like to add to your very own thought golem.

Here's a few of my favourites.

Masanobu Fukuoka - 1978 - One Straw Revolution

It's a gardening manual, a philosophy book, and a biography all wrapped into one, and highlights the importance of letting evolved systems get on with their job, and not letting cleverness get in the way of wisdom.

Robert Anton Wilson - 1990 - Quantum Psychology

Another philosophical book on what we can say about the world around us. Written in e-prime, which can be defined as English without "is".

Lao Tzu - 6th Century BCE - Tao Te Ching

There are many translations, but this one will do for now. Discusses ineffability, impermanence, the nature of change, and all sorts of other goodness.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Collection of Ecopreneurship Links

I was booting around on the web today and yesterday finding information on government grants for green businesses, but I thought it would be nifty to bulk together some business planning sites that would be of help to the budding Ecopreneur.

Ecopreneurist - I suppose the name really says it all, doesn't it? Check out this link on writing a green business plan. As a supplement, Fast Company has a few "dos" for green business plans here.

Green Marketing TV - also has a section on the green business plan, but since I'm also big on forests and biofuels... check the links!

Ecopreneur - a site from South Africa that looks rather posh. They have some good warnings for businesses that seem to apply to pretty much any business.

The Ecopreneur (blog) - seems to have died, but he's got a reasonably good article on there. I hold out hope that it died because he got his business idea off the ground... but I can't be sure.

Just for good measure, here's John Todd talking about Ecological Design (in the second link, he talks about eco-industrial parks, which interest me greatly), as well as some detail on the 12 Principles of Permaculture. Believe it or not, I actually base my management strategies on the 12 Principles of Permaculture, and they work.

Finally, here are a bunch of stories about Ecopreneurs that should warm your heart.

I admit, this was more just for me to keep my links in one place, but I figured someone else might be looking for this stuff!

Monday, 27 February 2012

A Little Good News

While I can tend to get a bit pessimistic at times about the global economy (actually... I'm not really pessimistic... probably the best thing the economy can do right now is contract: it means gas will become relatively more expensive and we'll have more market incentive to create clean alternatives), it helps to see some positivity sometimes:
Envia Systems, backed by venture capitalists, General Motors, and the Department of Energy, plans to announce on Monday at the ARPA-E conference that the company has created a lithium ion battery that has an energy density of 400 watt-hours per kilogram, which Envia CEO Atul Kapadia told me in an interview could be the tipping point for bringing electric cars to mainstream car owner.
Kapadia tells me that current lithium ion batteries deliver an energy density of around 100 to 150 watt-hours per kilogram, while Envia’s battery can deliver 2.5 times that energy with about the same weight as the current electric cars that have hit the market. To build a 300-mile range electric car with standard lithium ion batteries, it would cost around $40,000 just for the batteries alone, says Kapadia.
Envia says with an energy density of 400 watt-hours per kilogram, its battery cell costs could be at $125 per kWh.
That's very good in relation to other battery technologies. Just to shed a little gloom on the topic, though, the energy density of gasoline (or petrol) is 47.2 MJ/kg. The Envia Li-ion battery energy density is 1.44 MJ/kg. We're only off by a factor of 32 give or take, but it's better than nothing. Li-air batteries have an energy density of 9 MJ/kg, so there are other technologies out there that might supplant Li-ion, but for now, I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Economy, Democracy, Climate Change

A short link to a very long - but very wise - dissertation on how to shift the economy to become more fair, inclusive, and democratic: by Benjamin Barber.
"As we’ve seen, capitalism can serve the green economy by being entrepreneurial in an inventive way and finding alternatives that will eventually make money for some people, as it should. If I’m right in what I’ve been saying, then it is our task first and foremost to restore democracy: the commonwealth, the public good, and citizenship. I’m suggesting that what’s wrong in the debate about greening and climate change is that we’re trying to meet the challenge of sustainability exclusively as consumers in a market economy; we’re acting in a way that doesn’t allow democracy to oversee the public good anymore. Science makes powerful arguments, but science doesn’t vote. What we need instead is a restoration of the role of the citizen, of public thinking, of the commonwealth, and of the public good. A green America is part of the commonwealth, not of private wealth or corporate wealth or shareholder wealth. Shareholders have their place too, but we mustn’t support private wealth at the cost of public wealth. We need advocates for the commonwealth, and yes, we have them—they’re called citizens. If citizens take themselves seriously, then they vote for politicians who uphold the public good. If we have only consumers involved in politics, then of course they vote for the people who uphold private interests and the lobbyists who represent them."

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

It's like Capitalism... except that it's Fair!

The next ten years are the prelimaries for our species' final exams, in which we discover whether this bold evolutionary experiment of combining a large forebrain with opposable thumbs was really a good idea.  Practically, that means: can we get our act together enough to do what we know how to do to solve our environmental problems or, better still, eliminate and avoid those problems, not at a cost but at a profit, in a way that is trans-ideological, attractive to everybody, and with no, or hardly any, losers?
Economics is a topic far and cheap to my heart. This is because traditional economics only sees the environment as a source of raw material, and therefore as a part of the greater economy. As my heavily German-accented TA from one of my graduate seminars in international relations put it: "[economists] worship a false God". From a guy who started out his academic career in Economics, that's something of a grand condemnation. Our current economic trajectory is set by an economics of endless growth:
"The current system is broken," says Bob Watson, the UK’s chief scientific advisor on environmental issues and a winner of the prestigious Blue Planet prize in 2010. "It is driving humanity to a future that is 3-5°C warmer than our species has ever known, and is eliminating the ecology that we depend on for our health, wealth and senses of self." (emphasis mine)
Economics itself is, at best, a pseudoscience. It is a dark art that attempts to explain complex, multidimensional, and cyclic behaviour through simple, monovariable, and linear means. It is better explained as part of the ecology rather than with the ecology as part of the economy. The problem is that many people conflate the word economy with money, or Capitalism - as if all economies since the Cold War are Capitalistic. Money economies have the problem that they tend to need to grow in order to survive, and that infinite growth has an inevitable run-in with a finite planet.
Capitalism today abuses the people, environment, politics and culture in equal measures. It has fostered new extremes of wealth and poverty inside most countries, and such extremes always undermine or prevent democratic politics. Capitalist production for profit likewise endangers us by its global warming, widening pollution, and looming energy crisis. And now capitalism’s recurrent instability (what others call the “business cycle”) has plunged the world into the second massive global economic crisis in the last 75 years. Manifesto for Economic Democracy and Ecological Sanity  
Economies are not all money-based, and it has taken a huge economic downturn - that is to say, a gigantic failure of Capitalism to do its job and spread the wealth equitably - to bring alternative economies to the fore. The Occupy Gift Economy is a prime example of the genre, but there are others. In Greece, for example, alternative economies are emerging to free the people from the yoke that money imposes. Such debrouillard economies - Systeme D - are growing like an economic superpower across the world. Their adherents know - just like your mechanic knows - barter is nigh impossible to tax. They also know that the purpose of the economy is not to amass the most green pieces of paper, it's to redistribute wealth. Accumulation is about the ego, redistribution is about the community. It's hard going in Greece, but they have been given an opportunity to show the world that the birthplace of Democracy - a force far more important than cash - can democratise economics, too.

Ironically it is in the gaps of a broken system that the shoots of a different, new economy get a chance to grow. ... But while disaster reveals a society’s economic and social weaknesses, it also reveals where true resilience and real value can be found - in the ability of people to cooperate at the local level to meet a community’s needs.
The change into a local economy, based on barter and a local - informally issued - currency, can actually serve to revitalise the economy without need of money. Europe, especially Germany, has been experimenting with local currencies for years now. They are complete fiction, just like any other currency, but they get buy-in because they can be spent locally. Local merchants make excellent first adopters because they realise no big-box store would ever accept such stuff. In Canada, we have the brilliant idea of Canadian Tire Money, which some local bars even accept on the occasional special promotion night. Canadian Tire knows that Canadian Tire Money keeps people coming back. Parts of Greece are now using the Local Alternative Unit to purchase goods. Does money have to be centrally issued? No. In Canada, you can settle a debt for goosefeathers if both parties agree. You can't pay taxes with them, but contract laws allow you to barter anything for anything, so long as both parties agree to the transaction.

People are even considering new ways of making business equitable. Co-ops are growing in popularity. There is a plethora of startup information online for creating co-ops, and analyses of how a cooperative economic system might develop.Other systems exist, such as a "Circular Economy" based on recycling; Holonic credit networks that are holographic groups of groups of groups that trust one another and are willing to extend one another credit based on their relationships; and Sharing Economies much like the gift economy discussed above. These are all viable ideas that fly in the face of the monetized "everything has a dollar value" paradigm. 

Economies that run on money work, but they don't work equitably. Certainly they drive all sorts of interesting social and industrial forces... but I'd rather be assured by my economy that I can eat than be assured by my economy that I can keep my teeth white and hair tangle-free. The goal of an economy is to redistribute wealth fairly. A even a free market can distribute wealth fairly - if we construct it with that aim in mind.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Problem with Honeybees

It just won't go away.

Neonicotinoids - neonics for short - are demolishing bee populations, and North America is doing sweet nothing about it. While the Europeans have made early moves on the topic, they have in no way addressed the issue head-on, and we North Americans are historically laggards in the environmental department in comparison.

A new article from Grist indicates that we are going even deeper into crisis with bee populations reaching a critical point:

“We are inching our way toward a critical tipping point,” said Steve Ellis, secretary of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board (NHBAB) and a beekeeper for 35 years. Last year he had so many abnormal bee die-offs that he’ll qualify for disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Not good, given all that we grow that depends on pollination.

I've already spoken about this before, but we need this problem to be rectified. People are starting to look at alternative pollinators such as mason bees because they are hedging against local colony collapse. Don't hedge, get active with your local pesticide users and the people who need the services of pollinators: apple orchards, almonds, blueberries, you name it... get together and educate. Everyone loses if we lose bees.

We can help combat bee decline.

Help to ban neonics!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Science, a Battered Spouse of Politics

"We are sliding back into a dark era," she said. "And there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms."
Allow me to say this clearly: if you believe there is an active and lively scientific debate about whether humans are causing global warming, you are wrong.

If you think that there is an argument to be made against global warming that has scientific merit, you are wrong.

Scientists around the world in their thousands: Nobel laureates, ecologists, climatologists, they have generally voiced a chorus of agreement with the science of global warming, and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agrees too - which is tough to do, because EVERYTHING the UN does is watered down and made nice and warm and fuzzy for each and every one of its member states.

The voices raised against the idea tend to be economists, lawyers, journalists, and the occasional monovariable-thinking engineer.

In short, if you reject anthropogenic global warming, you are wrong. That's all there really is to say. There is no longer any debate except that created by psuedoscience and mass media bias: i.e., noise.

So, when scientists - whose tenured jobs depend on them toeing the line and keeping their speech apolitical - start saying they are under sustained attack for reporting their findings, we need to stand up and listen.

Go forth and educate!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Seven Fires

An interesting read from our First Nations brothers and sisters: The Seven Fires Prophecy.

While you're reading that, you may want to load this page about residential schools as a corollary: the first story being stuff we can learn, and the second being what happened when we thought we knew what to teach.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Crash Course

If you haven't yet seen it, I highly recommend The Crash Course. It's free to watch every episode, broken down into bits, and the video streams fast. Pass it on, this is necessary knowledge.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Who Will Save the World?

Well, in naming this article, I have to admit I hope the reader - in her or his own mind - is saying "ME! ME!", but failing that, for those of you who are concerned about the state of affairs in the world but don't know how to help, I wanted to introduce you to some people who might be your key to becoming a superhero instead of just a concerned bystander. Here are nine groups that we should all help to save the world:

Who might fit in this group: people who like to tinker, who are good with their hands, prefer doing to talking, like to show not tell, and love the smell of freshly extruded thermoplastic.
Whether you're in one of the several groups currently working on open-source fabrication technology, a subscriber to the magazine MAKE, or determined to be able to build your own techno-farm, you might fall into the Maker camp. These are the people democratising technology and making building fun (and cool) again.
Why I think they're important: because you should know how to "prototype early, and prototype often". I remember reading about an experiment where groups of people were asked to build a simple structure out of straws. Kids typically performed better than MBAs and very close to CEOs. Why? They get in and tinker right off the bat. They try. They don't sit there planning for half the allotted time they get out and do something. That spark of intrepid and adventurous inventiveness is fanned to a flame in the Maker movement, and we're going to need that creativity and impetuous embrace of mechanical challenge to solve the problems that are coming at us now.

Who might fit in this group: people who like design-intensive (but less work-intensive) activities. People who like to be out-of-doors, who love thinking about how plants work together in an ecology rather than how to plant your tomatoes in a nice, neat row. People who want to tend a forest of diverse species and be inclusive of all the services the ecosystem provides, from the trees and shrubs to the insects and animals. If you prefer to be a steward of your garden and not a slaver, you're likely on the path to Permaculture.
Why I think they're important: because they are the antithesis of taming Nature and bringing Her to man - they take man to Nature, and meet Her half-way.

Who might fit in this group: anyone who feels that design should serve the whole of society and not benefit a corporation. People who understand that patents don't encourage invention, they actively throttle it. People who have used and benefited from wikipedia, firefox, linux, or any number of other free services provided by the open source movement for the good of all.
Why I think they're important: Open-source is living, breathing proof that not only can collaboration exist without remuneration, it can compete with corporate design and development. Partisans of the old economy would prefer to think that money is the only thing that can give an object or effort value, but open-source kicks sand in that idea's face. The fact is that informal economies - economies not based on money transactions - are eminently possible and even desirable when compared against the alternative. Open source isn't simply a greater way to innovate, it's proof positive that money isn't everything.

Who might fit in this group: you read The End of Growth (or perhaps just a short article about it), or understand the realities behind Hubbert's Peak, or perhaps read that the armies of the United States and Germany are both basing their long-term strategic planning on resource scarcity. You want to do something about this scarcity, and you want to take your whole town with you into a post-scarcity world with a resilient and renewable local economy. Welcome to the transition movement!
Why I think they're important: These guys are action-oriented and collaborative. They advocate, involve, build consensus, and motivate. Instead of whining about the state of a local economy, they actively promote economic improvement of a town based on locally-available renewable resources. They focus on down-to-earth value-building proposals and real job creation - not efficiency. This is the exact opposite of the soup-kitchen Depression mentality. Transitionistas make their own damn soup, or buy it locally with the town's own currency. Sustainability dudes have got their soups planned for the next 25 years.

Who might fit in this group: 99% of all people, and anyone else who gives a damn. You'll notice there are no links in this section, I recommend you simply write "occupy" in your favourite search engine and follow the rabbit hole.
Why I think they're important: Quite frankly, because most people still don't understand that we're participating in a system that is exploitative by nature. Occupiers are the educators of the age, the people who understand that the global economy is built to create concentrations of wealth, not distribution of wealth. The concerns and issues raised by the Occupiers are many, but perhaps this one phrase encapsulates most of them: banks may be able to create money, but they sure as hell don't create value. Only people can do that.

Who might fit in this group: people who look at the decisions other people make, and realise that almost nobody takes the consequences of their actions into account when they make those decisions. Systems thinkers are a rare new breed of human that perceives things in cycles and flows rather than linear processes of cause and effect. People who would like their idea to last generations, not years.
Why I think they're important: We can't keep thinking of the universe in the old terms of make, eat, poop; extract, consume, dispose; or creation, judgement, rapture. This is a world where actions have consequences - and consequences have consequences. Using systems theory, we can build systems that can sustain themselves based on the intelligence of their own design. The world is not a place inhabited by cause and effect, it is a place ruled by incalculable interoperating systems, where cause and effect are difficult to calculate. Systems thinkers get it.

Who might fit in this group: people who understand that the market isn't truly free. Economy is a subset of ecology, not the other way around. People who see that subsidies are simply externalities paid for by the taxpayer; that when a government gives preferential treatment, they make an economy weaker. People who know that the doing the right thing by the environment should - due simply to the laws of physics - be the right thing to do economically, as well. In short, you believe that profit and environmental stewardship are not only not mutually exclusive, they're practically intertwined.
Why I think they're important: Green economics is the great Capitalist hope for the coming economy. The belief that the market can - with an even playing field - do right by the planet. If you read Amory Lovins and anything from the Rocky Mountain Institute, you'll understand just how infuriatingly simple it would be to make an economy that not only creates jobs but protects the environment.

Who might fit in this group: people who realise that the energy buck stops with the sun; who see that incredible non-polluting chemical processes occur at room temperature throughout the world; who understand that nature has a 4-billion year head start on us for trying out the solutions to things, well, you might be a biomimic. Perhaps you've been inspired by John Todd's Living Machines or follow the work of Ocean Arks International. One way or another, you've been inspired by great thinkers who prefer to learn from Nature than enslave her. She's already solved these problems... why reinvent the wheel?
Why I think they're important: I'm a lazy guy, really. The less work I do, the better. I also like stuff that's closed-loop and easy to manage, and pays for itself after an initial investment. That's a good deal better than sewage systems that pollute. Why can't we have sewage systems that heal, instead? Why can't we simply listen to Mother Nature, and do stuff smarter, cheaper, and cleaner?

Who might fit in this group: well, it's rather obvious from the title... but people who learn from, study, and aid their local Indigenous Peoples groups are all part of this network.
Why I think they are important: well, there is a reason we call them First Nations peoples. They were around before us, and learned to live at peace with the land before anyone thought to take it away from them. Now, after all these years of neglect,we realise too late that  the knowledge that colonising powers have sought to eradicate is exactly the knowledge we need to aid us in our survival in the coming generations. We are realising our folly at having destroyed so much of the treasure trove of indigenous wisdom. Thanks to the efforts of indigenous groups, that knowledge is being preserved, recovered, and revitalised. I'm in no position to speak for the First Peoples, but I am in a position to say this: we need to be quiet and start listening rather than speaking. We've a lot to learn, and there's not much time.

That's just a few, and I know I've missed many, so I encourage you to add more in comments. We've a lot of work to do, but the work as already started. It's not a matter of where to start - it's a matter of picking who you want to help.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Crash Course in Ecological Economics

The Wise Prime Minister and Mr. M.

The wise Prime Minister had had enough of the one-size-fits-all solutions that the economic advisors of the previous national parties had left behind. She was new, and had to find a new solution. She was also hungry, and didn't feel like ordering from where she was at the PMO building on Sparks. Instead, she put on her grey hoodie, and snuck out past her RCMP detail (who were busy questioning a tourist about his particularly sharp soapstone carving - a subject about which the Mounties were rather sensitive), and jogged down Sparks to Elgin Street. For comfort food on a Friday night in Ottawa after 5PM, Elgin Street was the only real option. It was either Dunn's, the Elgin Street Diner, or International Shawarma.

Being wise, the Prime Minister decided on shawarma as she didn't have to worry about her breath smelling of garlic sauce once she was out of official meetings. One of the Cabinet ministers had mentioned that once, and she only grabbed shawarma on weekends after work from that day on.

Mr. M. was there, as he usually was on late Friday nights, and the wise Prime Minister chatted with him about business. It was clear the store was hopping, and though they served no alcohol, the tiny shop had a certain bar smell about it.

"It looks like business is brisk," said the wise Prime Minister.

"Of course!" said M., "the bars are getting ready for last call, and people are coming here before heading home... or across the bridge to Gatineau."

"But on Sparks, Bank, O'Connor... all of the shawarma places are closed now. Why are you still open?" asked the wise Prime Minister.

"Go into those places at noon, and it will be as packed as this," said M., "but they are all next to high-priced condos and government offices. My store is in the middle of a bunch of bars and just north of some lower-rent apartments. There's a reason why there's a convenience store across the way, too... they must survive on late night slurpee and condom runs." M. laughed to himself.

"So you're saying that only a few blocks north and west of here, there is a totally different type of business environment to here?" asked the wise Prime Minister.

"It's all about location," said M., "if I had the same hours in this store over on Bank, I'd go out of business. I'd need chairs, for the sit-down lunch crowd. No, my restaurant is all about the people who are going to grab a shawarma and eat it on the way home. If it wasn't for these bars and those apartments - and hey, maybe even that convenience store, my model wouldn't survive."

"You mean that other businesses - even businesses in the food and beverage industry - actually increase your sales?"

Mr. M. motioned to the line at his tiny counter that extended out the door, "See for yourself, Ms. Prime Minister."

The wise Prime Minister didn't expect to be so easy to recognise to early in her tenure, and blushed instantly. Mr. M. offered her a mint from a small jar.

"On the house." winked Mr. M., as he reached behind the bar to blast his theme song onto the street - a siren call to the drunk, the lost, and the otherwise sleepless denizens of the East downtown core.

The Wise Prime Minister and the Trade Unionist

The Trade Unionist spoke up, saying, "It's clear, Ms. Prime Minister, that in order to create jobs, you must protect workers. higher taxes on the rich are fine. Too much liberalism in our trade policy ruins our local industry. The only thing you can do to protect jobs is to protect the workers who work in those jobs."

"Go on," said the wise Prime Minister.

"Well,"said the trade unionist,"for example, you can start with strict overtime laws. If all employers have to pay for overtime, then either the workers will get higher salaries, or the employers will have to create more shifts. Tradesmen who work specialized positions will be guaranteed a higher minimum wage. The minimum wage for all workers should be raised."

"But the question of minimum wage isn't a federal one. Every province would have to have a say. What if provinces kept competing for industries by lowering their minimum wage?"

"Of course," said the trade unionist, "certain powers would have to be consolidated at the federal level. We would have to raise the standard for all workers across the board."

"That might be possible when a company becomes big enough to be considered a federal Corporation, but when it comes to local companies, how could we possibly make all the provinces agree to a single standard? Plus, how could we possibly have startup companies survive and grow with rigid, centralized, and draconian labour laws?A strict mandate from Ottawa will never work in a country where the price of milk in Yellowknife is so different from the price of milk in Toronto," said the wise Prime Minister, "even if the provinces gave up their authority over labour, Federal laws on the matter would work in Ontario, but not in nine other provinces."

"But in order to create jobs, we have to protect the rights of workers!" said the Trade Unionist.

"You are right," said the wise Prime Minister, "but we cannot sacrifice the flexibility of traditional family business, and by forcing all labour to abide by national rules, we would create a barrier to new business. We need new businesses - startups, family businesses, small-scale entrepreneurs - to keep the economy going strong. To keep growing, we can't force a single, overarching labour law on all entrepreneurs... especially when labour is the largest expense for almost every small business out there! Every entrepreneur, even if he doesn't hire, adds another job to the economy: his own. More than that, startups create huge amounts of jobs, and the startups that become mid-sized are the biggest job-creation sector in the economy. By raising the single greatest cost to the small entrepreneur, we almost guarantee wiping out the biggest job-creation sector by making it more difficult to cross the magical boundary between small to mid-sized business. It's clear none of the three solutions I have heard solve the problem of job creation."

Almost as if on cue, the Economic Liberal, the Neo Conservative, and the Trade Unionist piped up "No single solution can solve all of the economy's problems!"

To which the wise Prime Minister uttered the only reply under the circumstances: "Of course! There is no single solution..."

Friday, 3 February 2012

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Wise Prime Minister and the Neo Conservative

"Perhaps I can be of help." said the Neo Conservative.

"What is your plan for increasing the amount of jobs in our nation?" asked the wise Prime Minister.

Taking the floor, the Neo Conservative said, "Certainly, Ms. Prime Minister, a degree of protectionism is required in order to protect local industries, but free trade is a good thing if we have companies that can profit by it. Even if companies are not always creating jobs, protecting our own corporations against foreign companies is better than the alternative. But my concern isn't efficiency. I believe that job creation requires job creators, and we must make policies that allow them to profit above all others."

"Go on." said the wise Prime Minister.

"Well, the rich entrepreneurial class are your job creators," continued the Neo Conservative, "they are the ones who need tax cuts so they can go on creating jobs. You can't tax them to death and then expect them to have money left over for job creation. Let them use their hard-earned money as they see fit. They are the visionaries, after all."

"So what you're saying is that we should allow the rich to keep more of their profit because they will create jobs with that profit?" asked the wise Prime Minister.

"Yes," replied the Neo Conservative, "they will have more money to create new ventures, and the new ventures will hire many new workers!"

"You are thinking about things like a bureaucrat and not a businessperson," said the wise Prime Minister, "because if I'm rich, I can write off business expenses to lower my tax rate, correct?"

"Of course." said the Neo Conservative.

The wise Prime Minister continued, "If I am rich and paying lots of tax, I am willing to give more to the economy to get more protection from taxes. If my taxes are low, there is no need to get a tax break, and no need to add money to the economy. I will save it for a rainy day when taxes are higher. Lower taxes means the cost of money is low. If the cost of money is low, I will hold on to it. If the cost of money is high, I will spend it so that I can protect myself from that expense. If you think that it is the entrepreneurial class that creates jobs, then clearly what we need to do is tax them more, not less."

The Wise Prime Minister and the Economic Liberal

The wise Prime Minister called for her Economic advisors. Three men stepped forward: the Economic Liberal, the Neo Conservative, and the Trade Unionist. "Tell me," she said "how can we give our people more jobs?"

Her first advisor, the Liberal, stepped forward and said "we should open our borders to trade, and engage other nations in mutual free-trade agreements. We are a nation with many natural resources to export, and free trade with those who wish to buy our exports would increase sales. Sales increase revenues, and revenues allow companies to expand their workforce. An efficient market, that is the key."

The wise Prime Minister nodded, and said, "Yes, this makes sense. But what of those nations that do not wish to purchase our resources because they have resources of their own?"

"Ahh, then," smiled the liberal, "we will gain access to their markets with our mining and harvesting companies and produce more efficiently than the local corporations. Either way, unrestricted access to their market is beneficial. With barriers gone, the market gains efficiency. That means it's easier for companies to profit."

The wise Prime Minister nodded, "yes, companies profit, but when companies are able to profit efficiently, do they create jobs? I would say they do the opposite. If a company gains profit, it buys out its competitors, it buys back shares, extends its leverage, pays stock dividends, or rewards its executives. It doesn't create jobs."

"But jobs are created when companies can compete in efficient and unrestricted markets," protested the liberal, "When a company wants to expand operations in order to gain more profit, they must hire new people!"

"Sometimes," quipped the wise Prime Minister, "but more profit does not always mean expanded operations. In the rare times jobs are created, those jobs are created where they are most efficient - in efficient markets where the workforce costs less to maintain. Efficiency in a market does not mean more jobs, it simply means more corporate profits. More corporate profits does not mean more jobs, it means a corporation can acquire its competitors and eliminate redundancies. Efficiency is the opposite of more jobs: it is the ability to make more profit by paying less. The idea that efficient corporate profit adds to the welfare of our people is a myth. Corporate profits do not create jobs."