Peak Moment - Locally Reliant Living for Challenging Times
"The next twenty years will be totally unlike the last twenty... We’ll face the greatest economic and physical challenges ever seen by our country, if not humanity.” So opens Chris Martenson's much-viewed online Crash Course illuminating the relationship between economy, energy and the environment. Starting with the power of exponential growth, he tidily sums up our economic problems: Too Much Debt. Chris discusses the implications if we continue the status quo, and ways to prepare. He believes that “if we manage the transition elegantly we can actually improve things.”
"My full name is Pawatsqwachitl. I come from Ahousaht on the west coast of Vancouver Island." Following the indigenous custom, Pawa Haiyupis introduced herself, her people and territory. She thanked the Coast Salish people and territory where we were videoing (Victoria, B.C.) This First Nations woman works with youth, elders and spiritual leaders to practice their culture and "activate their blood memories," as one elder calls it. She says: "We're going on medicine walks, we're doing sweats in safe spaces, and we're learning about our creation stories and sacred sites in our culture." She gives a glimpse of a different way of relating to one another and the earth from a culture that has been sustainable for many thousands of years.
“Today we’re looking at a ten percent world,” says J.B. MacKinnon, author of The Once and Future World. “What we think of as nature today has been depleted by 90% in many cases.” Diaries of explorers reveal an abundance of sea life, birds, and animals like bison in numbers far beyond our imaginations: “It’s almost like visiting a different planet.” Our urbanized population has become disconnected from our roots in nature. MacKinnon advocates rewilding by actively building the wild back into our living spaces. We also need to regain the cultural understandings necessary to live alongside the natural world. He asserts, “We NEED the natural world…Not only is it good for us, but it’s good in ways nothing else can provide.” To rewild ourselves, we can start small: sit down and actively see nature again. “Once I began paying attention, what I experienced was so wonderful, that it was easy to keep doing it. It’s so easy to fall back in love with the natural world.”
Amidst cob-wall plastering in the background, co-director Stacey Denton relays the story of the first years at White Oak Farm and Educational Center in Oregon: Acquiring the 62 acres of food and pasture and protecting it through conservation easements, creating their non-profit organization. See food baskets for their CSA (community supported agriculture) program, visit their abundant permaculture-based farm; attend a workshop in natural building; and delight with kids in an educational program "down on the farm."
Trathen Heckman takes us on a step-by-step tour of how to make a safe, ecological and legal suburban home graywater system. Follow the water as it drains from the bathroom tub (and sink and laundry) through a unique valve leading into the backyard garden. It flows into an optional wetland and underground pond for filtering. The water is then piped below ground to several destinations in the yard, where it will supply water for plants growing above it. Trathen discusses the process with local government agencies, the system design and construction (with pictures), costs, resource books, and why to undertake a graywater system in the first place.
It all started with neighbors meeting to save money and share information around energy, water, food and more. It has grown into shared projects, shared tools and deepened friendships. Residents joined brushes to paint a wall mural with unique neighborhood themes, spearheaded by artist Lori Garcia-Meredith. "Eggnabler" Janet Riddell hatched a Chicken Coop Co-op to encourage others to raise chickens, and they now host an annual "Tour de Coop." Patti Parkhouse and friends planted a community orchard and several veggie beds on the boulevard (street-side city-owned land). After meeting with an energy auditor, several families purchased heat pumps to save on heating costs (shown by Jack Meredith and Warren Walsh). And that's just the beginning. Episode 297.
Wanting to live a "reasonable, comfortable life" in tune with nature, Ann and Gord Baird are building a "net zero energy" home on rural Vancouver Island. Their plans: a thick-walled cob house with passive solar heating. Wind and solar panels to provide electricity. Solar thermal hot water for domestic use and radiant heating. Composting toilets to enrich the earth for orchard, gardens and chickens. Rainwater catchment and a well for domestic and irrigation water.
Former energy analyst Jan Lundberg opens by singing "Have A Global Warming Day" and closes with "Schoolmaster." In between is an unabashed look at climate distortion, peak oil, and declining ecosystems, all bringing a necessary collapse of our "pigging out" economy. He envisions a future with radically curtailed energy use, and people coming together groping for local solutions.
Artist Ezio Cusi’s house is a work of art —and also built smart. The cob house with timber-framed upper stories is made with mostly local natural materials. For the cold winters, it has an annualized geo-solar system (AGS) which in summer transfers hot water from solar panels to storage in the ground. In the cool months the heat flows back into the house, warming especially the periphery. It’s comfortable even in the top story. A hand-sculpted dragon provides whimsy as well as warming in the masonry rocket stove — which burns far more efficiently than a wood stove as well as offering a nice warm bench to sit on! Art is embedded in walls while many windows are graced with original stained glass. Enjoy the blend of beauty and functionality.
"We've alienated ourselves so much from nature that our whole way of producing food is by trying to dominate nature. We're not really connected." Dan Jason, owner of Salt Spring Seeds (B.C.), points out how corporations now control most of the seeds and food products worldwide. They are poisoning plants, us, and the planet with pesticides. He passionately advocates our reconnecting with nature by gardening and farming "heirloom" and "heritage" plants started from open-pollinated seeds, just as our ancestors have done in 10,000 years of agriculture. Decades ago he helped start "Seedy Saturdays" for garden-loving people to swap seeds and information. His latest venture is a local Seed Library where people can borrow seeds, and return them at the end of the season complete with growing notes. "It's about love," he says. "Appreciating and enjoying and sharing life. It's about giving, not getting."
“This place is famous. People loving coming by here because at any time of year you can get something to eat.” Architect Mark Lakeman, co-founder of the City Repair project, gives a tour of the corner sidewalk outside his Portland office building, where a food forest is bursting with life. A diagram shows where over 80 plants are located in six or seven vertical layers. Tall fruit trees, flowers, a grape arbor, herbs, berries, small vegetables, and ground cover are abundant. This demonstration project is a haven for insects, and a provider of shade on hot days and the sun’s warmth in winter, which keeps utility bills down and the carbon footprint small. In addition to demonstrating permaculture principles, Mark notes that in this lush garden “what we’re doing here is letting the earth burst forth with self-evident meaning and wonder, so people can just stand here and be appreciative.”
“Each of us was born to do something unique on this planet, and to give our gifts. That all comes from heart and soul and spirit. Without those in [our] work, we cannot really feel satisfied or fulfilled or truly rewarded…” Ellen Hayakawa, author of The Inspired Organization — Spirituality and Energy at Work, delineates four pillars to help us find our unique gifts. Values are what are important to you. Your Life Purpose is with you throughout your life, regardless of how it might be expressed. Visions and Missions can change over time, and may involve working with other people on a shared mission.
If the trucks stopped rolling, how long could locally-produced food sustain your community? A farmer friend of Whidbey Islander (WA) Vicki Robin calculated “Two weeks in August [peak harvest time].” Vicki went on a one-year 10-mile diet, building relationships with her neighboring producers of meat, milk, eggs, and produce. This led her to learn about large-scale food systems which have largely replaced the local food economy.
After a terminal diagnosis, Steve Hamm asked a circle of friends to be with him in his dying. With guidance and support from end-of-life caregiver Kippi Waters, Judy Alexander and other friends were deeply changed as a result.
“If we’re going to really be present in this predicament, we’re going to have to befriend all of our emotions. So we teach some tools for how to do that. Being present with your body. How does the body fit in with all of this? Then, we teach some tools for how do we really see each other?” Carolyn Baker and Dean Spillane-Walker continue with specific tools and practices they’re offering as part of “Living Resilience.”
“Every single metric [of abrupt climate change] has been accelerating since I took on writing the book [The Impossible Conversation] in 2014,” says Dean Spillane-Walker. “But … the calling of our times, is: who will be together in the face of these predicaments?” Dean and Carolyn Baker are offering “Living Resilience,” an online body of resources, workshops and a supportive space for sharing inspiration, learning, and community. They support participants to reconnect with their deeper wisdom, with one another, and with the Earth in the context of the unfolding global environmental and economic crises. As Carolyn says, “…so we can build resilience. Not so we can build survivalists, and store lots of beans and bullets… so we can be truly resilient physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in every way as we navigate this unprecedented experience that humanity has not had to face before.” Episode 331. [carolynbaker.net, livingresilience.net]
“Nature knows Best,” says Cate Shanahan, M.D. “Just do what people used to do….” For their book Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, she and her partner Luke researched early American cookbooks and worldwide cultures with intact cuisines.
Every year for the past two decades, the neighbors near Sherrett Street in southwest Portland repaint their colorful street intersection. Resident Mighk Simpson gives us a tour on painting day. On the sidewalk corners are spacious cob benches (with roofs), a children’s playhouse woven from tree branches and found materials, a beehive-shaped dispensary for the monthly neighborhood newsletter The Bee, a 24/7 Tea Station, and the first-ever “Little Free Library”, an innovation which has now gone viral around the world.
Plant breeder Carol Deppe is passionate about making seeds available for all growers, rather than being in the control of a handful of corporations. “If we want to control the kind of food available and the kind of agricultural system that we want, we have to do our own breeding,” she explains. “What Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) does is create a pool, a protected commons, of germ plasm which will always be available for breeding.
“I ask the groups that hire me to pay me what feels good and right and fair to them, an amount they can afford, and that they can give joyfully… I basically trust them.