Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Letter To The Editor

Our local politician, John Cobb, is kind enough to supply us with a piece of his mind in the local rag "The Central Western Daily" and today's piece was all about the proposed "carbon taxes" and how they will affect exporters. I cannot find an online version of his piece, though his view is expressed at the end of the following article HERE.

Mr Cobb has expressed opposition to the scheme on the basis that it will decrease the competitiveness of Australian agricultural exporters in overseas markets as well as allowing increased access to Australian markets for foreign agricultural imports.

The actual piece in the "Federal View" section went on at great length about how agriculture was going to be affected economically by any plans to mitigate climate change. This continued economic focus is really starting to wear on me, so I penned the following missive and shot it off to the editor. I wonder if they will publish it...

Re: Tue March 31st 2009 - "Carbon tax a burden for exporters" CWD

I should first point out that Mr Rudd's plan is not a carbon tax, it is a cap and trade scheme. That Mr Cobb cannot distinguish between the two shows that he wasn't paying enough attention during the briefings, if indeed he attended them at all.

A carbon tax would be a much better approach to the problem, but given most politicians make their profits from the big end of town we certainly aren't going to see a real solution of that nature. Can we all say "coal industry stranglehold" in unison?

Our economy and our community is going to suffer greatly under the burden of climate change. This is accepted fact as far as the majority of scientists are concerned, the exception being generally the few who are well paid by various heavily polluting industries.

Agriculture, the industry singled out by Mr Cobb, is going to suffer more than any other due to climate change. Will working to preserve exports save the dairy farmers from endless drought? Logic would say not. Our farmers need more than such a spurious claim of support.

We either need to change the way we live, to accept that there are hard limits on our greed, and hard choices to be made, or we need to give up now, and enjoy the party while we can. We need to stop wasting time and money pretending to make plans that we're never going to bother with. An Earth Hour once a year is just not going to get the job done.

If we choose to think about the future we are leaving our children and grandchildren, then we need to tell these politicians that we care more about people than the economy. Yes, it will hurt, but the future is going to hurt a whole lot more if we don't do some hurting now. Are we adults going to bear a bit of hurt, or are we going to leave it to our children to bear it?

A bit of thought might allow our leaders to conclude that if we adopt stringent policies and place taxes on carbon emissions at home, then we should have the right to levy similar taxes on imports where the originating countries do not adhere to such policies. We also set the stage for a real world-wide legal argument over the future of our species, for the exporters in other countries will surely get a bit upset over those taxes.

If we place a large carbon tax on imports from countries that do not have such policies our exporters are protected, our local industries are encouraged, and we work to combat further climate change. We get three advantages where John Cobb is offering us one, and a dubious one at that.

Friday, 13 March 2009

What the EL?

Two posts in one week?! Something must be up :-)

Just this morning I had a call from a local mining company, who have the EL (Exploration Licence) on our new block of land. This wasn't totally news to me, our good neighbours had warned us that they'd been paid a visit not long back.

It was an interesting conversation, the crux of it being that they were going to be doing a special scan of our area some time this year, and if they found anything interesting they'd take it from there, perhaps with some exploratory drilling, and then negotiation to purchase what they needed if their drilling confirmed their scanning.

I informed them of the status of our plans for the block, and asked them if they could get in sooner rather than later. We'd much prefer find out that we have to move on sooner rather than later. I can imagine the disappointment I would feel after planting a few hundred trees to suddenly find the whole lot was scheduled to be bulldozed. He mentioned that he would mention it to TPTB, though I don't know how we'll fare having such things rescheduled to suit our insignificant plans.

All this time we've been asking for signs, looking for inspiration as to what to do, and then this comes along. Perhaps all the council slowdowns and hiccups have been for a good reason? Maybe we've been put off precisely because these folks want to dig the whole lot up, and so there was really no point to progress in the first place? If this exploration does uncover something, will the relevant content of this blog form a body of somewhat circumstantial evidence as to the existence of Universe-directed synchronicity that moves in a direction to make our lives better?

The DW and I have discussed it, and resolved that we'll take a slowly slowly approach for now. We'll proceed with the plans for the shed, even though that means doing some work for council at our expense, but we're not going to panic about getting our adventure up off the ground to a great extent until we find out what the mining guys want.

If nothing comes of their investigation we can proceed with greater surety. Their technology is pretty advanced being able to view down to 2km under certain conditions, to see what is under the ground. They reckon that if they don't see anything under the ground worth having, then there isn't anything under the ground worth having. If they do their scan this year then we can get back on track for the next one, and only be an extra year behind, yet still a bit ahead given that we should have the roads and shed sorted out. Given the way synchronicity has flowed on this whole endeavour, I'm placing a bet that they will find something, sad as that will be.

As an added bonus, I've hit them up for a look at our underground realms if they don't find anything. Having an interest in rocks and geology and bones of the earth sort of stuff being able to see what's down there will mollify me greatly, and will be like winning even if I don't win the bet. Maybe there are underground caves? Buried rivers? Long lost kingdoms?? lol!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Plod, Plod, Plodding

Things are moving along slowly with the new farm, we've partly secured the ability to put a fence around the road reserve rather than having to install stock grids on the lane, which will reduce our costs by a few thousand dollars, expecially given we can do the fencing work ourselves. We've got to submit a DA amendment for this, and also to have a zincalume shed. Yes, even though the DA specified zincalume, and the guy from council said he would re-issue it, they obviously scoured through it to find a way out of that, discovering that I hadn't included the words "not create reflections" in my DA's statement of environmental effects. That I'd said it was mostly not visible, and where visible, only from distances over 400m doesn't seem to count. Council staff are not to be expected to draw the logical conclusion that an invisible building cannot give off reflections.

The shed is to be located up behind the trees, just right of centre.

At the moment I'm waiting on council, yet again, to let me know what to do about the design of the laneway intersection. I need to submit a plan for that with the DA amendment, and it needs to be up to BAR/BAL standard, which means "BAsic Right/BAsic Left" hand turns, or slightly widened at the end for layfolk. The trouble is the sample diagrams council sent me are for roads 6m wide or more, not for country lanes about 3.5m wide. It seems they need to think carefully about this matter, as I've been waiting three days for a response telling me what I should do. All the while our shed is slowly degrading out on the block.

On the money making initiative of council, the laneway plans are a prime example of their efficiency. When I first enquired I was told to submit plans with the DA amendment application, with the basic idea being they would review them and get me to amend them where required. Great idea, another DA amendment fee each time I had to upgrade the plans would make them rich I imagine. So I set off on a different course, chasing up everything that's needed to create a good plan, first time through. That way I shouldn't need to amend it, and so shouldn't need to pay out more money. The problem with that approach is actually getting the information from them in a timely fashion. In five more days it will be a month since they issued the dodgy DA, and all that time has been spent trying to get them to provide authoritative answers to the issues they've raised so that I can submit an amendment. These guys are certainly not improving people's impressions of councils.

Oddly enough I was at a community forum with our current council, and they admitted that they were having trouble with communication, but had identified the issue and were working very hard to improve their performance. I wonder if they could send some notes over to the new council?

I didn't mention it in the last post, but I guess you can gather from the proceeding that we've decided to forge ahead, at least with the initial stages of the project, and will re-assess it at a later date. The DW was feeling very, very down about the whole thing, and was more than keen to pack it in. At the time we went over the fact that there wasn't much chance of us being able to sell the block as the next people to look at it certainly weren't going to take on all these troubles. Thankfully, a bit of optimism has returned. At the very least we will get the access problem sorted and get the shed up. This eliminates the only major problems with council, and so gives us, or the people we sell it to if we decide we've had enough, a free run at building the house, oh, and using the block, seeing as we supposedly shouldn't even be out visiting the block without that legal access via an open laneway. :-|

Just a quick addendum on the current place, the blog is called the Flood Street Farmlet so I should mention it occasionally I guess! We've had a few bits and pieces of fruit, peaches and plums were hit hard by the fly, same for the tomatoes, though we did have some nice ones. Sadly we let a lot of maintenance slide trying to get things going over the new place, and moving stuff from the FIL's out there, which consumed a few weekends. Cucumbers are this years great success story, they've been just great, and we've had some really nice corn. We've had a few drops of decent rain and things are looking good.

We've had few bites on the sale of this place, though quite a few visitors through the website for a good look. I really do need to update that, as we've also completed a lot of outstanding tasks, though of course there are still a lot more...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Household System

A busy household is a complex system, made up of innumerable processes that take various inputs, and produce a multitude of outputs. We don't often stop to consider how complex a household is, especially if we take full advantage of the ability to outsource many of the processes that go into them, an ability that is increasingly more at risk from disruptions of various kinds.

I guess the first question we need to ask is, what is a household? There is a dictionary definition, but I want something that describes it in real world examples. Is an inner city apartment with a working couple with no kids a household? Sure it is. What about a village home with a few fruit trees and a couple of chooks in the back yard, owned by parents who commute to the local big city and have half a dozen children? Of course it is. A household is going to be any place that people dwell when they aren't working, any place that they consider home, any place that is the focus of their lives (with the exception of the work obsessed of course!)

All households have "needs", or inputs, required in order to function. For most these would be things like water, food, electricity, gas, clothing, furniture etc etc, which for the inner city apartment all come from beyond the boundary of the household system. They may even go so far as to order in cooked meals, or go out for dinner, further reducing the number of processes carried out within the household (ie cooking & cleaning) by outsourcing those processes to people within the economy. Or perhaps they have a balcony vegetable garden, and love to cook at home, in which case they have brought not only the processes of preparing and cooking food within the household, but also growing that food.

In thinking about things like peak oil and climate change, I feel we need to re-assess how much we outsource to the wider economy. Outsourcing carries with it certain risks, which are relative to how critical the outsourced process is to survival. Below is a diagram representing the various inputs to a household, and how critical they are to survival (roughly). It's rather arbitrary, due to the sheer number of factors that could influence such things, and some groupings ("Sundries" for example) contain some items that are a whole lot more essential than others.

The main point to be gained from the diagram is that some items are inherently much more critical than others. Water is the easiest example to consider. Without it we come to a gory end. In general the majority of our population here in Australia relies on external agencies to ensure the security of their supply of water. There is a growing trend in recent years towards pulling this input back within the boundary of the household, but in large measure, if anything were to go wrong with the municipal supplies, most people would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

We can assess our priorities by considering things from two perspectives. The first is criticality to survival. The second is ease of inclusion within the household system. Water is, relatively speaking, easy enough to include within most household systems, at least for the time being, and it is critical to survival, so it should come out at the top of the list of things to take control of.

On the other hand, sundries such as beauty products are not essential, so can be left outside the boundaries of the household system, except where their production might be a rewarding pastime or a source of income. Food, in contrast, is critical, and not always so easy to reliably include within the system. It's critical nature far outweighs any consideration of the difficulty of including it, so it should be up there just after water.

Another important factor to consider is that not all processes are simple, and this is even more the case when we look at things with an understanding of the potential impacts of peak oil. What happens if we can no longer get cheap tools and machinery imported from China anymore? How do we achieve even the seemingly simple task of making a loaf of bread if the supermarket is running low on everything, and the power is out? In the modern world it's as "easy" as nipping to the shop for the ingredients, measuring them out, throwing it all in the breadmaker and forgetting it until we hear the bell ring. Things could be very different in the future.

We need to look at the complete end-to-end process and see what each step of it requires. We need to break down each process and consider all the hidden processes that contribute to the functioning of our top-level process. Then we can get a true understanding of what is needed, and decide whether having a loaf of bread is critical enough to warrant doing the work needed to incorporate it into our household system.

To illustrate further, let's revisit the water issue. Incorporating water into the household system requires a number of inputs that are only available thanks to modern society. Water tanks, piping for storm water, pumps, piping, valves, connections and taps for delivery. Stop and think for a moment how you would put together a water system if you couldn't visit the hardware store for some PVC stormwater pipe, or some copper or poly pipe to get that water into the household. A couple of pieces of galvanised sheeting could be bent into a functional stormwater pipe, and you could use a bucket to get the water indoors, but where do these items come from, if not from the hardware store?

From time to time over the next few months I hope to look in more depth at each of the elements in the diagram above, explore some processes in depth, and try to get a picture of what elements can profitably be included in a household system, which parts should be rushed into ASAP given that they can best be achieved whilst modern materials are available at cheap prices, and which can be developed at a later time using whatever is to hand.

It will also give a clearer idea of what should be outsourced to the community level, and how far from the household that can be without greatly increasing the level of risk. A disruption in the supply of beauty products from France is not going to be a life threatening problem, but lack of food from the farms only 30km away just may be.

Ultimately it may provide something of a whole-household model, and give a good picture of skills and supplies are needed to convert the household from being a net importer to a net exporter, which will be the key to surviving the future.

These posts will all be labelled under "The Household System".