When Composting Becomes Essential

John Michael Greer describes how composting will gain status in the ecotechnic future — when fossil fuels are no longer feasible for fertilizing crops. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: A Theology of Compost.

What makes composting such a useful template for an ecotechnic society is precisely that it highlights the ways such a society would have to differ from the way things are done in today’s industrial civilization. Some of the crucial points of difference that come to mind are these:

First, where industrial civilization converts resources into waste, composting converts waste into resources.

Second, where industrial civilization works against natural processes, composting works with them.

Third, where industrial civilization requires complex, delicate, and expensive technologies to function at all, composting – because it relies on natural processes that have evolved over countless millions of years – thrives on a much simpler and sturdier technological basis.

Fourth, where industrial civilization is inherently centralized, and thus can only function on a geographic and political scale large enough to make its infrastructure economically viable, composting is inherently decentralized and can function on any scale from a backyard to a continent.

Fifth, where industrial civilization degrades exactly those factors in its environment that support its existence, composting increases the factors in its environment that support its existence.

Finally, all these factors mean that where industrial civilization is brittle, composting – and future ecotechnic societies modeled on the composting process – are resilient.

From the contrast between the monumental absurdity of industrial society’s linear transformation of resource to waste, on the one hand, and the elegant cycle of resource to resource manifested in the humble compost bin on the other, it’s hard to avoid moving on to challenging questions about the nature of human existence, the shape of history, the meaning of the cycles of life and death, and the relationship of humanity to the source of its existence, however that may be defined. The practicalities of composting can’t be neglected in any sense – nor, of course, should the romantic dimension, when that shows up! – but the insights made available by a philosophy and a theology of compost may yet turn out to be at least as valuable as either.

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Ann and I watched Who Killed the Electric Car? recently. This documentary is both intriguing and infuriating. The synopsis below from IMDB.com is a good overview. After I watched it, I began to question free market solutions to big problems. It certainly appears that huge corporations colluded to stop a threat to their cash cows.

Link: Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) – Synopsis.

"In 1996, electric cars began to appear on roads all over California. They were quiet and fast, produced no exhaust and ran without gasoline………..Ten years later, these futuristic cars were almost completely gone."

‘Who Killed the Electric Car’ is a documentary which unfolds a complex set of events around the development and demise of modern electric cars stemming from California from the early 1990s to 2006. The film maker, Chris Paine, has woven together interviews and archival footage of over 65 people involved with the events. The time line of events in the film moves back and forth several times but this is not to the detriment of the storyline.

The movie starts with a brief history of the first electric cars created in the early twentieth century, and how they were killed off nearly 100 years ago as gas powered cars became cheaper. The movie then paints the current picture of gas car problems being smog and related health problems, CO2 emissions, global warming. Later, the use of the US Military in the Middle East is also mentioned, but the loss of life and financial costs are not mentioned.

The film then moves back to 1987 when, with the SunRaycer, General Motors won the World Solar Challenge, a solar electric car race in Australia. GM’s CEO Roger Smith challenged the same design team to build a prototype practical electric car which became known as the Impact when announced in 1990. The project expanded to small scale production vehicles with the aim that it would give GM several years lead over any competitor car companies.

The Californian Air Resources Board (CARB) saw this as a way to solve their air quality problem and in 1990 passed the Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate. The ZEV Mandate specified increasing numbers of vehicles sold would have to be Zero Emission Vehicles. "For the car companies there was only two options. Comply with the law or fight it. In then end, they would do both."

The movie continues to reveal what the car companies and other participants did to kill the concept and reality of the electric car, plus the efforts of EV supporters to save their EVs.

Sandhill Cranes Migrating North

For the last three weeks, flocks of sandhill cranes have been passing over our neighborhood on their annual passage to the North.

I feel fortunate to work from home, so I can run outside and enjoy the sight and sounds of these beautiful birds as they pass over.

Click on the link below to watch the slideshow picturing a sandhill crane family.

Sandhill Crane Slideshow

Links to sightings

Democracy, Politicians, and War

Another wake up call from Atanu Dey, who continues to aim economic intelligence at the leaders of the world’s largest democracies. He wants us to see the light before it is too late. I fear we’re on the razors edge now.

Atanu (India) and I (US) both live in countries where we can criticize the leaders without persecution. We both want free societies to survive and prosper. Acknowledging a problem is the first step to a solution.

Link: Your Vote for My Money

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury.
– Alexander Tytler

Some numbers are well beyond human comprehension. We can talk glibly about millions and billions of this or that but we cannot intuitive grasp what they actually mean. Evolution has equipped us with fine brains but those brains never needed to deal with thousands — leave alone millions — of anything. So we have to do some mental gymnastics to get a fleeting glimpse of what very large numbers represent.

Here’s a way of realizing how large millions, billions, and trillions are relative to a thousand. One thousand seconds passes in less than 17 minutes. A million seconds takes around 13 days. A billion seconds takes a bit over 31 years. We humans live for something between 2 and 3 billion seconds. A trillion seconds is over 31,688 years. We don’t really know what thousands of years mean, of course. Human civilization is not a trillion seconds old.

The US war in Iraq has been estimated to cost around $3 trillion. That is, $3,000,000,000,000. Details are in Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes’ new book, “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.” See The Cold Price of Hot Blood in Salon for more on that. The total cost globally could well be over $6 trillion.

…It is the very nature of democracy that creates the perverse incentives for the politicians to implement policies that help themselves at the cost of immense harm to the country. Those who make the policies enjoy the indirect benefits of the policies — votes from specific groups — without paying any of the costs.

There is another asymmetry. The direct beneficiaries of the policies naturally have a concentrated interest in voting for the politicians. The costs are diffuse and poorly understood by the rest of the population. So while they bear the costs, they do not connect it with the policies and the politicians.

In the final analysis, a country is only as rich or as poor as its collective wisdom allows it to be. The politicians can be expected to make those decisions that are good for them, just like you and I make self-interestedly rational decision in our daily lives. However, we get to play with whatever little money we have; the politicians can play with billions and trillions that do not belong to them. So they are understandably less careful with billions than we would be with our few thousands.