Thursday, 29 October 2009

We Know Not What We Ask For...

I have often been labelled as pessimistic, though I often like to think of it as making sensible choices as to what to be optimistic about. A recent post through the peak oil mailing list I subscribe to was both troubling and illuminating at the same time.

The article "Obama Turns to the Financial Elite for Campaign Cash" starts out describing the exorbitant amounts spent in U.S. political campaigns, and points out that some of this has come from the very Wall St. institutions that the taxpayers over there were so busy bailing out just recently. It's all stuff you've no doubt read and been outraged at before, but here's an example to give the gist of it:
“The investment community feels very put-upon,” he told the Times. “They feel there is no reason why they shouldn’t earn $1 million to $200 million a year, and they don’t want to be held responsible for the global financial meltdown.”

The “investment community” feels “put-upon?” This, as Wall Street prepares to dole out $26 billion in year-end bonuses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The near-record figure represents a 40 percent increase over 2008. At Goldman Sachs, the bonus pool has doubled.
Wow! Yet the masses just trundle along hoping to get ahead. Sure they must get outraged, rant at the nightly news, or drink or shop themselves into a stupor, but short of outright revolution there's little they can do when the political system is tailored to circumvent any hope of achieving real change.

Whilst the article goes on to further highlight the various outrages perpetrated by the current administration in collusion with the financial elite, it is the final paragraph that is the most troubling:
A solution to the social crisis is impossible outside of a frontal assault on the power of the American financial aristocracy and the social inequality that pervades every facet of life. The vast wealth monopolized by Wall Street must be confiscated so that it can be utilized to create jobs, fund health care and education and raise living standards. These tasks can be achieved only in struggle against the Obama administration and by workers mobilizing themselves independently in the fight for a socialist alternative.
I'm not sure about the U.S. but here in Australia our political parties no longer fall on either side of a Left/Right divide. In their efforts to secure the majority of the vote both sides have come closer and closer to a "null space" between the two ideological extremes. They seemingly stand for nothing beyond feathering their own nests and doing the minimum possible to secure a comfortable chance of re-election.

Unfortunately the called for solutions on either side of the divide (more socialistic capitalism, more capitalistic socialism?) miss one critical point. We are facing a future where there will be no more prosperity for any but the ultra-rich. It doesn't matter how much money is re-distributed from the wealthy to the poor if that money is worthless because society's resource base is stretched beyond bearing.

So the poor wish to rise up and join those with a standard of living that will soon be impossible to maintain. All the effort and energy put toward revolution will be wasted when everyone arrives at the finish line and discovers there are no more prizes to be handed out.

Sure, if there was a revolution tomorrow we have a few more good years of productive capacity such that a couple of billion flat screen TV's could be produced and handed out in a socialist undertaking to improve general living standards, but once it's gone, it's gone. I guess if it's not wasted on flat screen TV's for today's poor it will only be wasted on newer models of flat screen TV's for today's rich and middle classes.

The trouble is that no-one really wants to recognise that the revolution should be in the opposite direction, away from riches and toward frugality. The only way to save ourselves from future poverty is to consciously devolve to a comfortable poverty, starting today.

Productive jobs in a consumer society are a relic of a dying age. If people want to secure their future then they should be creating productive jobs for themselves in an neo-agrarian society, not clamouring for revolution to redistribute money so the delusion of modern wealth can live on, more thinly spread, for another decade or so.

Where we need the revolution is in reclaiming rights to land, water, clean air and self-determination and self-care.

We can live without great wealth if we have enough space and water to grow our own food. We can live without great wealth if we are allowed to utilise the resources that fall upon or exist within the space we inhabit. We can live without great wealth if we aren't held up to maintain the standards of the wealthy when we erect our homes, or to abide by the myriad rules created by people with nothing better to do, and no more noble way to earn a crust than making other's lives miserable through endless regulations.

We don't need to be saved from ourselves, for that saving is set to be doing a whole lot of killing where it now mandates solutions that are just not suitable for the future we face. Try erecting a one room shanty made of native stone on your block of land and see how far you get before the local council is there with the sheriff to see you off! Yet a one room dwelling with outside toilet would have to be one of the most sustainable and suitable homes there is. When there are five or ten families doing the same on a block of land, there you have a potentially sustainable future with a low ecological cost. You wont see that solution at the top of most people's list!

The greatest dilemma of those not of the rich classes is securing our right to live in a comfortable poverty in the face of all the wealth, or in spite of all the "wealth" (the term is used loosely!).

At the moment we don't have a chance. In order to achieve the simple goal of living off the land we need to struggle to make enough to support all the parasitic classes that feed off potential landowners, then we need to struggle with the powers that be just for the right to dwell upon and work that land. Options to circumvent the various strictures are closed up as swiftly as they are found, so governing bodies attempt to ensure each family remains isolated, unable to pool resources with others, unable to draw upon their own resources.

We don't need a revolution to bring us more jobs and more opportunities in a dying system. We don't need more chances to ensure our excursion into overshoot territory is as damaging as possible.

What we need is a revolution to allow us to live in our place on earth in a comfortable poverty of our own making, and to allow us the opportunity to make the most of that as we each see fit. We need a revolution to protect all of that from those who would own every acre of the world and every man, woman and child upon it, yet would not step foot outside their tall towers, much less grub in the dirt to make a real living alongside us.

More than anything we need a revolution in our understanding of our place upon the Earth, a revolution in our relationships with one another, and with ourselves, such that we would demand these things in the first place, such that we would demand less rather than more.

This is the crucial revolution, and sadly the one that we are least likely to see.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Rain, Rain Don't Go Away, Just Change Your Day!

There was a spell of nice warm weather there for about a week, and even our trip to Sydney took place in perfect conditions, but I was left wondering at the irony of life when Sunday morning dawned miserable and wet. Whilst we do need as much rain as we can get scheduling it during the week would be a bit more considerate.

After spending about an hour trying to decide whether to venture out in the rain and get the shed started, or to stay in and potter about under cover, getting a start on the shed won out and I loaded up in the wet to go over to the block. It was dry, though still cloudy and threatening rain, from about half way there, so I allowed myself a little hope that it would remain so for long enough to get the portal frames bolted together.

Four finished frames

About twenty minutes after arriving, having sorted out the materials and just teetering on the cusp of getting started the rain began, and didn't let up until half an hour before I reached the end of the work. Of course it remained sunny for the rest of the afternoon and didn't start raining again until the evening. Funny that!

Whilst it was wet I still managed to get the frames bolted together, now they're all resting waiting for next weekend. I've got a small crew together to help out with putting them up, so as long as the weather is nice we should have the worst part of the job over by this time next week. I don't enjoy trying to get things square, level, parallel and in tune with the environment, it takes a lot of fiddling and back and forth measuring and adjusting. I certainly appreciate the need for it, but I can't bring myself to find any joy in it, it's a frustrating job of push-me-pull-me, inching slightly closer to perfection until a slip shifts the whole lot out of place and demands we begin all over again. I should stop now or I'll talk myself out of the project LOL!

Back on the home front the Chinese Tallow seeds I put in a while back have all started to sprout, eleven of them are pushing up above the soil. I had to collect the boys from school last week, so grabbed another pocket full of them. I'd despaired of finding any after searching the Orange cemetary for the trees that had been there many years ago, but failing to find them, and was most pleased to find that there were three trees right outside the kid's school gate. Talk about having your eyes painted on...

Chinese Tallow trees, future bio-diesel plantation

We've also got a lot of cuttings in the glasshouse that are coming along well enough, and as long as this latest spell of wet weather doesn't bring the frosts back we should be able to start planting out the tomatoes and other frost sensitive vegetables which are growing nicely in the warmth. Outside in the greenhouse areas we've got 9 lovely new oaks coming up (we're going to have one big oak grove out there!) and all the other stuff is growing nicely, even after being trashed by the chooks on Saturday. We'll need to pot a lot of stuff on for the season as there is no point trying to plant it out now with the heat of summer to come (if indeed it does...) so we've got a bit of work to do there. It will save us a bit of time in the end as the worst of the pot-bound plants are needing water every day now.

The new oaks and a couple of pots of weeds saved from last year...

The duck eggs in the incubator should hatch in two short weeks, and as you can see below the silky chooks we hatched out are growing swiftly (though not 'big-ly')

Four of the new chooks.

Monday, 19 October 2009


It's official, sort of! The first ever permanent construction (or part thereof) has been completed out at the new block. It was a tight race to the finish, with just enough material available to finish off the last hole for the footings, and it's all done.

We could commence construction of the shed next weekend, as that will have allowed the required 7 days of curing, but we're off to Sydney for a day to visit family, so apart from bolting a few of the portal frames together it might be a matter of spending time tidying up the site and getting the "floor" levelled. I don't fancy getting half way through putting the frame up and having to leave it for a week, it would only take one decent storm to lose the lot... Patience will prevail and I'll get as much prepared as possible for the following weekend, and I'll even draft in some helpers to get the critical elements up as swiftly as possible. Better make sure the generator works as well, sometime between now and then.

Seems like we're coming out of the winter weather at last, the recent rainy spell didn't result in the severe frosts that earlier ones brought trailing along, so it might be time to plant out the tender vegetables soon. Certainly hope so!

We've hatched out 8 new chicks in the incubator, then a few more for another friend, and we've now got some of the Indian Runners on the go which are progressing well. We're going to have to look into finding a new male from somewhere if we hope to breed any more of them up to avoid inbreeding problems, especially as we have no idea whether the current ones are closely related or not.

The DW has put on a test batch of lilac wine, whilst we wait in eager anticipation for the elderflower harvest to begin. Shouldn't be long now! We're going with champagne yeast following some good advice, we'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Anyhow, I'm off to enjoy some of the Daylight Savings inspired after-work sunshine. I'll try and get some pictures for next time, all this text must be hard on the eyes!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Post PE Insurance

Getting a liferaft up and running is a big job. It takes a lot of time, energy and resources, it involves a massive commitment and great changes. It's something that's obviously not for everyone, for a start there are many out there who don't really believe that this great edifice we've created, civilisation, will do anything but continue on it's merry way, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The belief in the magic of science, so often discussed in the pages of the Archdruid Report, soothes people's anxiety and allows them to continue on in the day to day drudgery of modern life.

One only needs to take a look over at Factor e Farm to see how hard it can be to get lifestyle changing enterprises off the ground. They solicit funding for their work in designing replicable technology that will hopefully assist people on the downslope of the resource consumption curve, and they have a job getting enough to do the work.

When it comes to less world-changing enterprises it's even more difficult. Most liferafts aren't intended for general consumption, the public perception is that you're looking after yourself and your family, and that you are operating from a defensive position against all of the consumers "out there".

As I've stated before, my vision is for a different kind of liferaft, one that is actually the seed for a future community.

Obviously if you are floating in the sea on a plank of wood after a maritime disaster you cannot fit all of the passengers onto your one piece of wood, but within reason a person would help as many as possible to survive. Sure, tough decisions would need to be made, but it's also obvious that selfishness inevitably leads to self destruction.

So it occurred to me this morning that perhaps there is a way forward for "liferafters" who share a similar train of thought, and who are resource constrained and feeling pressed for time. Liferafters are preparing for the worst, and the various shades between that and the best. They are unique in society in that they have the strength of conviction and belief in their understanding of the world situation sufficient to actually make changes to the way they live. The majority of people do not fall into this small demographic slice of pie.

No doubt we all have friends, family and acquaintances who, whilst concerned, do not share the same level of conviction, or the same feeling of impending doom. They are basically betting that things will continue on the way they are, at least for their lifetime.

Then there are those who are more serious, but are weighed down by the fact that in order to survive today they must exist within current society, must hold down jobs and work for a living. Not all of us are fortunate enough to be in a position where we can hold down a job and work on out liferaft from a suitable location (I try to thank my lucky stars as often as possible!)

So what's a citysider, who seriously believes that we are headed downhill, to do?

Enter Post PE (Peak Everything) Insurance.

Now, without a doubt, most of us are generous enough that when the chips are down we will take in any friends and family that straggle in from the cold. The only problem with this approach is that the resources on the liferaft would then be strained in proportion to the number expecting succour, and so everyone's chances of survival are reduced. What if there was a way that our city dwelling friends and family could contribute to the day-to-day development of their future salvation?

As we all know, insurance is a means to bet on the prospect of future disaster. What greater disaster do we face than the decline of civilisation?

If our city brethren were to enter into an agreement with a country liferafter whereby they contribute a small amount on a monthly basis as insurance against future problems, they would be covering themselves against disaster. This contribution would facilitate the advancement and preparation of the raft at an increased pace and level. I'm dubious about the potential for people to be able to sell off their city homes in times of crisis and buy into intentional communities at the last minute. Once the crisis hits such courses of action will be mostly unavailable. This offers a backup plan for those hoping to one day escape the rat race for their own piece of paradise.

Obviously there are a range of technical issues. For a start, what are they guaranteed to get on policy payout day? How is the trigger of the policy defined? How much should be charged, and what happens if they have a change of heart? What happens if they make it onto their own raft? What happens if they cannot make it to their chosen destination? What if you decide to pack up and leave the ranch prior to collapse?

The idea is in it's formative stages, but some of the following ideas may be headed in the right direction.

What do they get?

The most basic answer would be survival. Food, water and shelter. Any good liferaft will have systems in place for this, so the insuree would be guaranteed a share of these resources upon arrival. Shelter may be the most problematic, but a simple solution would be for the raft manager to keep a collection of tents, one for each family subscribed. Some form of communal housing might be more appropriate if the subscribers are generating a sufficient inflow of resources. In a crunch many peoples of the world pack more than three or four individuals into a single room, much less a three or four bedroom house...

Once the policy holders start to trickle in the labour force on the raft is increased, so work on more substantial accommodation can begin. Of course pre-prepared dwellings would be the ideal, but most councils currently frown upon starting new villages on farmland unless the landowner is willing to jump through hoops ad nauseum and sign away their soul and that of their children 7 generations hence. Once any form of disruptive collapse begins, sufficient to trigger the policy, then it would also be anticipated (perhaps too optimistically) that governing power's grip on our lives would be relaxed a little through simple inability to police such matters in more remote regions.

How is the policy triggered?

Given that there are already portions of society who have lost their homes thanks to the current economic downturn, it's quite conceivable that the week after next someone from your group of policy holders could face hardship to the extent that they need a place to stay. I would say that in the end it will come down to an agreement between the parties involved, and will depend on the stage of development of the property, the current regulatory environment, and personal willingness. I'm guessing that if you're the kind of liferafter who is willing to consider such a plan in the first place then you would be thankful for a few extra hands working around the place anyway, if some early dispossessed turn up on the doorstep.

Once there is any major disruption to food, water or similar resources, then we're going to see the majority of policy holders turn up ready for work.

What to Charge and a Change Of Heart?

Latter first, the simple answer would be to treat it the same as any normal insurance. If you opt out, you get nothing back. Insurance is a bet on the future, not a normal investment. This would need to be made clear from the start. In this way it provides certainty of title to the liferafter who may otherwise be concerned over partners opting out early in the piece to take a Caribbean cruise for instance, but does not rule out future arrangements in that regard as times get tougher.

The goal would be to set premiums at a level that the person paying them feels the same as they would about normal insurance. Charging enough that the person would be better paying off a mortgage on their own block of land will not really be conducive to success in achieving your policy signing targets.

On the other hand you obviously don't want to charge so little that you cannot achieve anything useful with the incoming funds. $5 a month will get a lot of subscribers, but it's not going to go anywhere toward setting up infrastructure to support that mass of people if they all turn up in a year's time.

There is a very good chance that your policy holders will be friends and family, so the idea would be to set the rates at mutually agreed and acceptable levels. After all, you are entering into an agreement designed to benefit both parties. They should understand the need for the investment, that the better you fare in preparing the place, they better chance they will have if things turn out badly. This must be balanced by the depth of their belief in what is approaching. If they don't see the value, they're not going to pay a cent, but then I doubt you'll be discussing this with them in the first place.

You could also offer other benefits to go along with the policy subscription. Perhaps an annual camping trip or farmstay, or a permanent camping spot for whenever they feel like getting away. Depending on how close they are you could even share the products of the farm, half a lamb now and then, box of veges fortnightly, you get the idea. Insurance with a CSA box drop as a sideline, better than a homeloan with a holiday thrown in!

It would also be good to consider having working bees with all policy holders so they can get to know one another (if they don't already) and so they can provide a bit of extra labour towards some of those larger projects, or the ones you normally wouldn't bother with if not for the festive atmosphere a working bee generates. It would be important to make sure they feel included in the development of the liferaft, and get plenty of chances to check on their future.

You would need to be clear about how much input they could expect to have before policy payout. If it's going to be a dictatorship, let them know from the start. In most cases I'm pretty certain they'd be willing to accept that you're running the show, at least until everyone makes use of the policy, when different arrangements would most certainly need to be made. And I'm equally certain that if they had a particular fondness for Cornish Aromatic apples you're not going to object to them planning ahead and planting a couple of trees in the corner of the orchard.

What happens if they make it onto their own raft?

This is another that can be answered by saying "it's insurance, not an investment", but once again that would be simplistic given we are talking about people we have some care for. This one does have a relatively simple answer though, so long as they make it onto a liferaft within reasonable geographical proximity.

Part of maintaining a seed style liferaft is building up a stock of organic materials that can be used as a seed to set up other people. There's nothing to say those people have to be right next door, so the obvious solution would be to guarantee a good stock of starter plants and livestock to anyone that has invested and ends up going out on their own.

In addition to that, one would hope that over the course of their insurance policy they've made a number of visits to your liferaft to pick up valuable practical skills they wouldn't have a chance to learn otherwise. In this way the policy can also be considered an educational subscription that has prepared them for their own adventure, all for a low subscription price with a free set of (hand forged) steak knives!

What if they can't make it?

We have no idea how things will turn out, and as always there are no guarantees. Perhaps it would be useful to formulate a plan to collect policy holders in the event of massive societal disruption. A number of plans might need to be put in place for various scenarios. A city locked down by the government to prevent unrest during times of food rationing is a different kettle of fish to one shut down by fuel shortages. The key here is communication, staying in touch with one another, knowing plans and sticking to them as best as possible. Further to that, knowing that if a person needs to deviate from the plans, that deviation will be along a predictable path so that there is a chance of meeting up is important. Arrange message hiding places, set CB frequencies in advance etc. In a nutshell, be prepared, but be prepared to be adaptive.

Most important of all, make sure they know you're going to help them out. I cannot imagine anything worse than sitting in the midst of a city gone mad, after investing hard earned money in salvation, thinking you'd been left adrift.

What if you decide to pack up and leave, before crunch time?

This one is a bit more difficult. We don't usually appreciate it when the insurance company holding our policy collapses and goes out of business, leaving us in the lurch. This will come down to an agreement between the parties involved, but I'd imagine some sort of reimbursement from the proceeds of the sale of the liferaft, if alternative arrangements cannot be made. After all, the property will have been improved in some measure by their inputs (combined with your own hard work, of course), so perhaps arrive at a mutually agreed termination figure to cover this eventuality. Remember, one day you might be knocking on their door for help...

If they put in $100 a month, then by the end of 5 years they will have contributed the princely sum of $6000. If you have 10 families subscribing, that's $60,000. As long as you haven't wasted that money you might realise at least 30% of it in asset-type improvement in value, or mortgages paid down, so could consequently offer that back. Remember, it's not about making a profit, it's about improving everyone's prospects.

In Conclusion, In Collusion

I'm sure there are many more issues to explore with this idea, but in it's initial form it offers a number of advantages to the socially isolated liferafter who has remote accomplices who are not ready to bail out on modern society. It's not quite an intentional community, and it's nothing like doing nothing at all. It's a way for those who really are concerned to make some concrete efforts to help save themselves. As mentioned before, you'd probably take them in anyway, but perhaps they will see some value in entering into such an agreement. For those that don't bother and rely on turning up when things turn sour, well, ultimately, you get to decide who does which job... be creative in your choices...

Conditions "out there" are getting more troubled. We might not have ten or fifteen years to get a place up and running, so added streams of resources would accelerate development and improve survivability for all involved. It's a win-win situation for those who are seriously concerned.

You're not going to take this idea to all of your friends and family, but if you're anything like us, you know a few firm believers who are just not in a position to make the move, so they may leap at the chance to make some concrete arrangements without having to give up everything they've got and head out bush.

I'd also advise only discussing it and entering into agreements with those who possess that inner certainty about our destination. None of us need legal battles or family fractures on the eve of societal decline, things that might arise by taking on people who don't truly appreciate the full spectrum of issues and potential futures. At the very least make sure they're willing to write off the loss...

Comments? Further issues? Extra ideas? All welcomed!!