Tuesday, March 30, 2010

INEX: bringing necessary change and preparing leaders for the world’s major challenges


“The basic question is, what vision do you aspire to? “
Abraham Maslow

People want to do more than to bring home a paycheck. Human beings respond to values, ideals, dreams and exhilarating challenges. It’s our nature – and much too often totally ignored by modern society. INEX has been created to bring necessary change and prepare leaders for the world’s major challenges.


We will identify, inspire, educate and empower thousands of change makers by 2014*.
*2014 being the official ending of the United Nations Decade for Education on Sustainable Development

Core Values and Beliefs

1. Path to personal flourishing.

We value Sustainability as a personal path of development and see people with love.
Your personal path towards a more sustainable lifestyle for yourself and your surroundings will take you out of your comfort zone. You will realize that you do have the choice – and the responsibility.  Letting Sustainability into your life will develop your personality, skills and social capital, broaden your horizons. It is not about giving up things, it is about gaining back happiness and love.

2. Sustainability as a whole.

We value a holistic approach to Sustainability, enjoying the interconnectedness.
You may start connecting the ecologic, economic and social aspects and you will discover even more complexities and dualities – you will learn to let yourself go in the first and overcome the latter.

3. Everyone is part of the puzzle.

We value every little contribution to a more sustainable world, since nobody has the one and only answer.
By finding out what really inspires you, you will be able to get out of the rat race for more material goods. Contributing your share will suddenly be easy since strategies to satisfy your needs are exchangeable. You will start feeling secure and snug, connected to people, animals and plants.

4. Learning for Change.

We value education that reaches brains and hearts as an incubator of change.
You will discover new aspects of learning, shedding a different light on education. You will learn and teach at the same time, you will explore your environment and internalize experiences gained by all senses – on top of memorization and instruction.

5. Connecting the boxes.

We value unconventional solutions that build bridges over wild waters.
It takes quite a bunch of courage to implement innovative ideas. Trough acquired credibility and trust, you will learn how to connect exactly those people who would never have lunch together – and make them respect and value each other, up to developing common ideas.

6. Work and Self-respect.

We value commitment to hard work, paired with the due self-respect and financial sustainability.
No secret about that: only hard work will take you there. And certainly you will need to finance your life. But you won’t be selling the 23rd brand of toothpaste nor repair televisions anymore: you will find meaning. Reduced anxiety and stress, a more balanced and healthy life-style and improved social relations will be your benefits – leaving time to focus on the real challenges surrounding us.


INEX promotes human flourishing as a path towards sustainable development.

Ethical Framework: Earth Charter

The Earth Charter is a widely recognized, global consensus statement on ethics and values for a sustainable future. Developed over a period of ten years, in what has been called the most extensive global consultation process ever associated with an international declaration, the Earth Charter has been formally endorsed by over 2,500 organizations, including global institutions such as UNESCO and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.”

Urban gardens key in times of crisis

Landscapes that provide a lot of one services, such as pig production, can be costly because they have fewer of the hidden services, such as the regulation of nutrient pollution, which are also important to people. Photo: M. Edman/Azote
Seeing the hidden services of nature
Researchers develop new approach for managing ecological trade-offs.
C. Raudsepp-Hearnea, G. D. Peterson, E. M. Bennettc. 2010. Ecosystem service bundles for analyzing tradeoffs in diverse landscapes. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Published online before print March 1, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0907284107
William Raillant-Clark
Media Relations
McGill University
william.raillant-clark@mcgill.ca Ellika Hermansson Török
Media Relations
Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University
+46 73 707 85 47
Following an intense study of agricultural ecosystems near Montreal, a new tool that enables the simultaneous analysis and management of a wide range of ecological services has been developed by Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne of McGill University´s Department of Geography, Elena Bennett of the McGill School of Environment, and centre researcher Garry Peterson. Risk of missing hidden ecosystem services
Environmental management typically focuses on nature´s resources like food, wildlife and timber, but can miss hidden ecosystem services such as water purification, climate moderation and the regulation of nutrient cycling.
The researchers show that ecosystems that maximized agriculture offer fewer hidden ecosystems services than more diverse agricultural landscapes. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on March 1, 2010.
- Landscapes that provide a lot of one services, such as pig production, can be costly because they have fewer of the hidden services, such as the regulation of nutrient pollution, which are also important to people, Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne says.
They also show that in some areas high amounts of agricultural production can go hand in hand with the production of other ecosystem services. The researchers framework can be used to help identify “best-practice areas" and contribute to developing effective resource policies.
Trade-offs and costs must be recognized
Bennett believes Quebec manages its environment fairly well, but that there are still trade-offs 

Allotment gardens have been around since 1904 in Stockholm. The Swedish Federation of Leisure Gardening was founded in 1921 and represents today more than 26000 allotment and leisure gardeners. Photo: J. Lokrantz/Azote
Urban gardens key in times of crisis
In-depth analysis of management of ecosystem services in cities.
Barthel S, Folke C, and Colding J. In press. Social-ecological memory in urban gardens — Retaining the capacity for management of ecosystem services. Global Environmental Change.
About the authors
Stephan Barthel is employed by centre-partner Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics. His research revolves around the social-ecological features that influence management practices.
Carl Folke is Science Director at the centre and as extensive experience with ecosystem dynamics and services as well as the social and economic dimension of ecosystem management.
Johan Colding serves as a theme leader of the Urban social-ecological systems and globalization  theme. His research areas include ecosystem management, institutional analyses and social-ecological system interactions.
Allotment gardens have often been sources of local resilience during periods of crisis. During World War I the number of allotment gardens surged from 600,000 to 1,500,000 in Britain, supplying city people with food and other ecosystem services.The gardens were planted in parks and sports fields, and even Buckingham Palace turned up the earth to grow vegetables. After declining abruptly in the 1920s and 1930s, World War II saw a new explosion in the numbers of allotment gardens in cities of Britain and other parts of Europe.
Analysis of social-ecological memory
The story above is told in a new seminal article by centre researchers Stephan Barthel, Carl Folke and Johan Colding.
The article, which is in press in an upcoming issue of Global Environmental Change, investigates where and how ecological practices, knowledge and experience are retained and transmitted in allotment gardens in the urban area of Stockholm. It is the first study ever to really analyse in-depth the concept of “social-ecological memory" as the carrier of ecological knowledge and practices that enable sustainable stewardship of nature.
Linking back to the story of allotment gardens during the World Wars, the specific aim of the new study has been to explore how management practices, which are linked to ecosystem services, are retained and stored among people, and modified and transmitted through time.
- In the case of Stockholm, social-ecological memory in urban gardening is maintained and transmitted through imitation of practices, oral communication and collective rituals. It also resides in physical gardens, artefacts, metaphors and rules-in-use, Stephan Barthel explains.
Time to include citizens in stewardship
Barthel and his colleagues performed surveys and interviews with several hundreds of gardeners in the Stockholm urban area over a four-year period.
They found that the self-organised groups of allotment gardeners support critical ecosystem services that both underpin the production of crops and flowers and spill over to a much larger portion of the metropolitan landscape.
- This calls for policy makers to appreciate and actively include citizens that engage in the actual stewardship of urban ecosystem services, whether it is about sustaining urban green areas or designing new ones, Barthel says.
Pockets of social-ecological memory
Today the city of Stockholm contains about 10,000 individual allotment garden plots, occupying 210 ha of land and involving about 24,000 people.
As concluded in the study by Barthel, Folke and Colding, these allotment gardens serve as “pockets of social— ecological memory" in the urban landscape and constitute a source of resilience for generation of ecosystem services while counteracting ecological illiteracy.
Without such physical sites experiences of stewardship of ecosystem services, or “social-ecological memory" could easily dissolve. Now when we are entering the so-called urban millennium, with more than 50 % of the global population living in cities, planning for sustainability needs to take these green spaces — and the social-ecological memory they maintain — seriously into account.
Source: Barthel S, Folke C, and Colding J. In press. Social-ecological memory in urban gardens — Retaining the capacity for management of ecosystem services. Global Environmental Change.

Six Signs You’ve Become Disconnected from Nature & Reflections on Civilization

disconnected1. You view nature as a “resource.”

Nine thousand years ago, when human beings began to cultivate the ground and grow their food on a more organized and systematic scale, we began to see ourselves as being in control of the land and of nature. For our civilization, it was a turning point. Agriculture and animal husbandry allowed civilization to flourish and develop. We began to tame the forests and prairies and build expansive cities where great minds could invent and explore and innovate.
However, in the process of all this so-called “progress” we’ve become convinced we are somehow separate from nature. We’ve somehow forgotten that we, too, are animals and that we need a healthy and thriving ecosystem in order to breathe, eat, feel content and safe. We are not exempt from the laws of biology and physics.
Like animals, we need to eat and take shelter. But unlike animals, we take much more than we need and we enslave and marginalize those of our species that we see as inferior or undeserving. We compete instead of cooperating. We spoil and poison the land where we live.
We have forgotten that everything is connected; that when we blow off a mountaintop in order to extract coal, we pollute the waterways and air and cause suffering in other ways; that when we kill off the predators in an area to protect our livestock, we see an explosion in the population of herbivores, who soon decimate the landscape with their foraging.
If you know you’re guilty of seeing nature only as food or a “resource” to be exploited or used up, you probably need to spend a week enjoying the beauty of nearby wilderness, to see how there is intrinsic value in nature, not just economic value. Because without a healthy ecosystem, you yourself will become diseased.

2. You have no idea what the native plants and animals are where you live.

This is because you don’t go outside enough to have a chance to see them, or you simply aren’t aware of what grows naturally outside of the pristinely maintained shrubs and lawns of your suburb. (By the way, most of the weeds on your lawn are not native; they were imported many decades ago as seeds in cargo ships and on the clothing of travelers and pioneers.)
If you spend a lot of time outside, whether on daily walks or just relaxing in your backyard, you’ll notice some things. You’ll notice what time the sun rises and sets each day, and you’ll look forward to the solstice and the shift toward longer days. You’ll know the average first day of the first frost, or exactly when in the spring trees start to bud in the spring.
If you know all this, you’ll be aware when the climate changes and things start to go awry. You’ll see more or less of a bird species and you’ll realize that a warm winter and a sudden spring freeze means no fruit from your plum trees in the summer. You’ll know that less fruit year after year means less birds and animals.
When you’re aware of the ebb and flow of the natural process where you live, you know immediately when something isn’t right, or is out of the norm. Not only that, but you’ll know the effect those changes will have on the wildlife and landscape in your city. Not many people can do that. Maybe that’s one reason why some climate change skeptics might think temperatures getting a little warmer (or colder) is actually a good thing.

3. You feel an underlying sense of despair about what’s happening to the Earth.

You watch the news, you see the kind of books that are appearing on the bestseller list year after year, and you’ve seen documentaries that have enraged and depressed you. You know that we’re experiencing a rate of species extinction that is so pervasive and accelerated, it’s rivaled only by what happened in the Permian era, or maybe the Jurassic era that wiped out the dinosaurs. And yet, no comet has collided with our planet. The source of the impact this time is humans.
You’ve heard about climate change and peak oil and you’re disturbed and frightened by what you imagine might happen to civilization a decade or a century from now.
And yet, you have to live in this world and participate in society just like everyone else. You still have to drive to and from work. You eat food you know is probably tainted with GMOs and imported from ridiculous distances away. You feel like you need to own certain things in order to function in this world—like cell phones or computers—but these things are making you feel more stressed and disconnected.
You know things have to change, but you don’t know how. You want to do something, but you don’t know what. You feel a vague sense of doom and despair that never quite goes away.
If you’re feeling this way, the best remedy might be to shut everything off for a while and go spend a weekend in a natural setting. When you spent time in the woods or in the peace and solitude of nature, you realize that there still is a sense of order and sacredness in the world.  You feel aligned with the world in a way that’s ancient and unshakeable. The despair dissipates for a while, because you sense that whatever happens, that mountain will remain in its glory centuries, even millennia from now.
Another remedy is to do something—join an organization that is working toward changing the paradigm of our culture.

4. You’re feeling down and you don’t know why.

Human beings need a connection to the natural world in order to feel mentally healthy and whole. Whether that connection is a pet, a garden, a tree or a nearby park—it doesn’t matter. Studies have shown that spending time in a natural setting can be psychologically healing and relieve stress. One study in particular done in the U.K. concluded that individuals who spent the same amount of time walking in a park each day reported feeling less depressed and stressed than another group that spent the same amount of time walking in a mall.
So if you’re feeling down and you don’t know why, take a walk outside, preferably somewhere with plants and animals and the sound of birds chirping. You’ll feel a little bit better, and if you do this often enough, it might just keep the blues at bay.

5. You saw the movie “Avatar” and now the real world seems gray and depressing in comparison.

A recent article on CNN reveals that some people who saw the movie “Avatar” feel depressed and even suicidal over the idea that the utopian, beautiful world of Pandora does not exist on Earth. One moviegoer posted this on an Avatar forum:
“When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed … gray. It was like my whole life, everything I’ve done and worked for, lost its meaning. It just seems so … meaningless. I still don’t really see any reason to keep … doing things at all. I live in a dying world.”
While I haven’t seen the movie myself, I’ve heard from several people that it has “ecopsychological” undertones. It appeals to our desire for a better connection to our world, for a more sustainable relationship with the Earth that would allow the possibility of the kind of beauty and prosperity that’s depicted in the movie.
If Avatar depressed you, you probably need to find a beautiful place in nature and spend a little time there.

5. If you had an acre of land and you suddenly had to grow all your own food, you know you’d starve.

If things got bad economically and there were food shortages, or if you couldn’t afford store-bought food for some reason, you suspect you’d be in trouble.
Not just because you may not own enough land to cultivate, but because you wouldn’t know what to do with that land if you had it.
That’s because you have no idea about how to mend the soil, how to grow food, and how to save seeds. It’s not your fault, really. Agriculture and animal husbandry isn’t something that’s taught in public schools, not even rural ones.
Blame it on the industrialization and globalization. Even people living in the West knew how to be self-reliant probably up until fifty years ago. During the Depression many of those that survived and thrived did so because they were able to grow their own food. Victory Gardens that sprang up during WWII provided 40% of the American population’s vegetable and fruit needs. When Cuba faced an oil crises in the early 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most people lost an average of 20 pounds because they were eating less and walking more. Fortunately for Cubans, they didn’t starve en masse because many city dwellers still remembered how to cultivate the soil and grow food, so when the government mandated that every available inch of ground be used to plant crops, an urban revolution took place. Empty lots became community gardens and rooftops became lush with edible plants. People knew what to do, and if they didn’t, they had relatives and friends who did.
You don’t have to grow all your own food now. You don’t even have to have land. But it’s good to learn how, whether through renting a plot in a community garden or volunteering at a local CSA.
It’ll make you appreciate the soil, the climate and the land where you live.

6. Your idea of a good time is Las Vegas, Monday Night Football, and spending the entire day at the mall.

Hey, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy watching sports once in a while or letting it all hang out when you’re on vacation. I enjoy shopping and entertainment just as much as the next person. It’s when you rely on those things for your sense of fulfillment and joy that it becomes a problem.
What happens when the TV stops working for some reason or you’re unemployed and can no longer afford to go shopping? What happens when vacations become staycations due to budget constraints and you’re faced with an entire week at home with no money to spend on outside entertainment?
The bigger question is—are any of these activities really contributing to your physical and psychological wellbeing?
There is such joy in seeing mist float over a lake. The sound of rain dripping off trees or the wind combing through a meadow can put you at ease. A deep red desert canyon is both mysterious and timeless to contemplate. None of these things—short of the resources it may take to drive to where they are—cost money to enjoy. You can even find a trail near your house and spend an hour watching birds. Nature is everywhere. You are nature. You belong to this Earth, you just need to find your place in it.

Reflections on Civilization: Dialogue with Carolyn Baker

civilizationA few months ago, I struck up an online friendship with the acclaimed author and academic Carolyn Baker. It was clear that we were both writing about similar things, but I didn’t realise quite how similar until I had the fortunate opportunity to review her latest book, Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse. This fine text, and her generous appreciation of my work, was the catalyst for the ongoing dialogue that this article presents.
The dialogue is not yet complete, but rather than wait for a natural end, I thought it would be nice to publish the text now, and keep adding to it as the questioning process progressed.

December 9, 2009

Keith Farnish: Carolyn, thank you very much for agreeing to this “back and forth” interview. With your book Sacred Demise very much still in my mind, I would like to ask what led you to take such a pragmatic approach to the collapse of Industrial Civilization; in other words, what makes you so sure it will happen soon?
Carolyn Baker: You ask why I take such a pragmatic approach to the collapse of civilization and what makes me so sure it will happen. In order to answer that question, I must give you some background. First, I was an adjunct professor of history for over a decade, and I authored a book called U.S. History Uncensored: What Your High School Textbook Didn’t Tell You. Some people have called it “Howard Zinn on steroids”. In the year 2000 I was introduced to Mike Ruppert’s From The Wilderness website and a couple of years later through his site to Peak Oil. At about the same time, he began writing about a coming economic collapse, somewhat but not entirely, related to 9/11. He featured articles analyzing the likelihood of an impending housing bubble and a global economic meltdown. The site also explored climate change and its relation to Peak Oil and economic meltdown. In fact, as a writer for From The Wilderness mid-decade, I began using the term “toxic triangle” to explain the relationship between Peak Oil, climate change, and economic meltdown. For almost a decade, I have been researching how we got to the current state of affairs. In 2007 the most powerful documentary I have yet seen on these issues, specifically the reality and certainty of collapse, “What A Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire” was released. Superbly researched (all sources may be found at the movie’s website at whatawaytogomovie.com), this documentary removes all “yes-but’s” about collapse.
In Sacred Demise, I cited “What a Way to Go” numerous times, but I avoided going into the research validating the inevitability of collapse because the intention of the book was not to “defend” collapse but to assist the reader in preparing emotionally and spiritually for it. At the end of the book I presented a list of reading and viewing resources for any reader desiring additional resources on the topic of collapse.
That said, the real issue is that collapse is not a future event; it’s happening as we speak. At least 80% of what was forecasted by From The Wilderness in the past decade is now occurring. As Mike Ruppert states in his current magnificent “Collapse” movie, it’s a waste of time and energy to debate the reality of Peak Oil and climate change because they are happening as certainly as is global economic meltdown. So in summary, I’m certain that collapse is happening and that it will only exacerbate in the coming months and years.

December 11, 2009

Carolyn Baker: In Time’s Up! you have wisely distinguished between hope that is useful and harmless, and hope that abdicates responsibility. I’d like to hear more about this distinction and in terms of the ten Tools of Disconnection. As you know, the current president of the United States sealed his electoral fate by running on a platform of “hope” and “change”. Almost two years later, we are now seeing the pathetic results of those two shibboleths in terms of what’s happening on the ground rather than in the vacuous minds of Obama enthusiasts. Please elaborate.
Keith Farnish: “Vacuous minds”, I like that! As you know, in modern civilized cultures we hang on to the idea of Hope as though it has some kind of innate power; I described it in my book as “Secular prayer”. Its use in the Obama camp up to the election and now in the wake of the Copenhagen summit has been in this very form, taken to its apotheosis by writers like Bill McKibben who seem to feel that simply by hoping hard enough for a positive outcome, along with a series of time-wasting symbolic actions, the corner will be turned. As your previous answer spells out succinctly, a corner has indeed been turned, and we are headed down Collapse Street. In the face of a series of ever-worsening news items, the latest being evidence of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet melting, it is actually not that surprising people feel powerless. As I see it, this powerlessness is being exploited by both the political system and the environmental mainstream to ensure we continue to support the “business as usual” agenda—and yes, I am saying that Bill McKibben and the 350.org team are supporting business as usual; why else would they ask us to appeal to “our leaders”.
The Tools of Disconnection were something I laid out to simplify to methods that Industrial Civilization uses to keep us disconnected from the real world (in essence, the natural world of which we are part) in favour of a synthetic creation that exists to create wealth, and give power to the latest people who crawl their way to the top of the global hierarchy. Among these tools are things we are very familiar with, such as advertising (“Sell Us A Dream”), authority (“Exploit Our Trust”) and violence (“Abuse Us”). Hope is the tenth, and possibly the most powerful of these Tools, because it is a practice carried out by so many different groups of people, some of whom we consider to be on our side.
I have no problem saying to someone “I hope you have a nice day”, but I will never say to someone “I hope we have the energy and commitment to make things better”. That’s worse than naive, it is dangerous. As Derrick Jensen wrote, so clearly as he always does: “When hope dies, action begins.”

December 18, 2009

Keith Farnish: As collapse starts to take hold, what will you be doing?
Carolyn Baker: What I will be doing as collapse takes hold is what I’ve been doing for many years. The first activity and the one that started my awakening was and is to become and remain informed about what is actually happening as opposed to what the media of civilization is telling us is happening. I have done many things logistically to prepare—things like food storage, creating a community of allies around me, and of course, relocating to a more sustainable and conscious part of the United States. My most significant relationships are with people who are collapse-aware and with whom I am able to talk about the inevitable—people who are also preparing. Above all, I see the world these days through the lens of collapse which causes me to appreciate all of the modest comforts I have, the supportive people in my life, the food I eat, the clean water I drink, and the health I’m privileged to enjoy. I am consciously preparing myself emotionally and spiritually for the unraveling. I know that some have a difficult time with the word “spiritual”, but actually, what I mean by that is beautifully echoed in one sentence in your chapter in Time’s Up! on “Being Ourselves” when you say that “If you are prepared for it, then the journey and the eventual destination can show you what it is really like to be human.” For me, that is the essence of “spiritual.” Civilization has robbed us of our intimate connection with our own humanity—something that I sometimes call our “indigenous self”, and like indigenous people revolting against colonization, collapse is offering us the opportunity to uncolonize and reclaim the indigenous self within us.
Another part of preparation—and it is of course fundamental to the reconnection of which you speak—is my connection with nature. That connection, if deeply felt and viscerally experienced, will inform our priorities, our relationships, our parenting, how we eat, travel, spend our time—virtually every aspect of our lives. A fellow blogger, Guy McPherson names his blog Nature Bats Last. I endeavor to live my life listening to nature and allowing it to have the last word in my life as much as possible. Of course, that doesn’t mean that if I’m in the forest and see a bear, I’m going to run toward it and embrace it, but it may mean that after removing myself from its territory, I reflect on the encounter and what nature might be trying to communicate to me. And while I admit that imagining myself in a post-collapse, post-petroleum world is difficult, I know that my current logistical, emotional, and spiritual preparations will serve me well and far better I hope, than the person who refuses to look at what is actually happening to this planet and its inhabitants.

December 20, 2009

Carolyn Baker: I’d like to hear your thoughts on the recent Copenhagen circus and how that relates to what you’ve written in Time’s Up! Even mainstream media is using that phrase (time’s up) in relation to the farce that Copenhagen has proven to be. Please elaborate.
Keith Farnish: There was a part of me that, at least for a while, thought the insertion of the phrase “Be aware that authority figures within the system, such as political leaders and corporations, will attempt to provide you with ‘green’ advice: this advice is designed to ensure that civilization continues, and should be ignored,” in the Eco-Meme was a little long-winded and even too obvious to include. It has sadly turned out to be right on the button. Given that the watching public had their expectations wound up to a screaming frenzy with phrases like, “Copenhagen is our last hope”, it is clear that—in the wake of its utter failure to deliver anything substantial—the world has once again been duped. This blame lies not only with the Corporations (who lobbied like fury to ensure there was disagreement and doubt) and the Politicians (who simply did what they were told by the system they a part of), but also to a great extent the absurd behaviour of the environmental NGOs, filling us with a false and dangerous hope—precisely what I alluded to in my previous answer.
Jim Hansen, eminent climate scientist at GISS, said of the Copenhagen Summit: “any agreement emerging from the summit is likely to be deeply flawed; suggesting that the best way to tackle global warming may be to let future generations start from scratch.” This was, of course, decried by the civilized world as flying in the face of reasonable opinion, whatever that is; clearly there is nothing reasonable about condemning the Earth to a mass ecological die-off, but in order to prevent such a scenario, we have to “condemn” the world to economic failure. What came out of Copenhagen was a big thumbs-up to economic growth, and a big “F*** you!” to ecological survival. No wonder a growing number of people are realising the folly of trusting our future to politics.
In as far as the actions towards the end of my book go; the Copenhagen farce simply reinforces the need to undermine the system, because clearly we don’t have a future if we allow it to remain.

December 24, 2009

Keith Farnish: In your book, Sacred Demise you are keen to stress that there is a better world after collapse if you are prepared to embrace it. I wholeheartedly agree, and wonder if you see encouraging the collapse process to be a corollary of this view.
Carolyn Baker: I absolutely believe that encouraging the collapse of industrial civilization is desirable and necessary. Some would disagree and argue that that would lead to more suffering and loss of live. I’m not sure that the suffering and loss of life resulting from civilization “running its course” would not be as bad or worse and quite simply be a wash. Derrick Jensen has given us voluminous evidence that civilization is like the perpetrator of abuse in a family system. The entire system is set up to protect the abuser, and everyone in the family has bought into the belief that the consequences of busting the abuser are much worse than remaining silent and allowing the perpetrator to continue abusing. Occasionally, a member of the system “buys out” of it and blows the whistle by screaming the secrets within and/or outside the family. This is profoundly liberating for the person breaking silence and ultimately, whether they realize it or not, helps liberate the family. In such cases, even if abuse continues and some of the family members defend and enable the perpetrator, the system can never be the same and will slowly or quickly implode.
I have to say that even now, I see signs of this same dynamic occurring in civilization. Millions of people are buying out of it, even as millions more are waiting for a “return to normal.” Recently, I attended a meeting of the New Unemployment  here in Boulder, Colorado in which people are networking and dialoging about the “gift” of being laid off or being unable to find a job because they now finally see through the capitalist system and realize that it is taking them and the earth nowhere except to death and destruction. These folks are using their unemployed time to first of all, discover what it is that they really want to do with their lives, and also using the time to create things they have wanted to create all their lives. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have bills to pay; it doesn’t mean they aren’t scared and anxious about how they will pay them, but it does mean that they will now move forward to structure a livelihood that departs from the values of industrial civilization in ways that will bring meaning and purpose to their lives.
I believe that we can assist the collapse process by both buying out of civilization and by actively undermining it as you explain so articulately in your book. In my recent Winter Solstice article, I talked about indigenous cultures in which the elders or wisdom leaders of the tribe or clan, have two very important roles. One is to speak the truth about whatever they see that is wrong or right with the community. They are not concerned with being liked, but only with speaking the truth so that the community continues to adhere to its values so that it can sustain itself. The other job of the elder is to help create things of beauty. In that way, he or she is both a prophet and an artist. I believe that this is what we must be in our efforts to undermine civilization. Moreover, I believe that we must be discerning and stealthy in our efforts to undermine, and you refer to this as well in Time’s Up! It is very important that we speak the truth when that is appropriate, be discreet, and create as much beauty in our lives and communities as possible.

December 31, 2009

Carolyn Baker: My next question for you has to do with the second suggestion you make on Page 221 of Time’s Up! in which you admonish us to live in ways that do not contribute to the global economy. Would you elaborate and give specific examples of what that would look like for most people.
Keith Farnish: This is a very timely question indeed, for two reasons: it coincides with a variety of reports that the global economy is starting to pick up again in the aftermath of the global recession; it also comes shortly after a comment was made on the Orion Magazine web site, in response to another great article by Derrick Jensen. The comment was made with regards to the possible ways we can help undermine Industrial Civilization:
“Do nothing. The industrial complex thrives on activity. It churns activity like corn in a mill. If you do nothing (not buying stuff, not watching tv, not doing overtime) you remove the paste from the millstone and the wheels destroy themselves in a great roar of economic hunger—no help needed.”
I don’t claim anything I write is other than common sense, so for me to say this comment was inspired by anything I have written would be boastful, although these words are reflected in what I say in my book, which makes it particularly heartening to see someone else writing almost exactly the same—I guess it means I must be onto something:
“Your place in the system is as a component in a massive food web. Like all food webs, it is driven by energy; physical energy sources like oil, gas, coal and radioactive materials drive the machines that ensure money keeps floating to the top of the vat where the Elites skim it off to add to their wealth. If you are resourceful or in a role that holds some status, you can have some of this wealth too, and the material trappings that come with it. Without the energy that drives the web, though, there is no money, and there is no web. It is not just the oil, gas, coal and various sources of radiation that keep the web operating though—people are equally vital, more so, in fact. Unless people run the machines, staff the shops, build the products, drive the lorries, create the advertisements, read the news and enforce the law, the web will collapse upon itself, bringing the entire hierarchy down with it.”
In that respect, the answer to your question revolves around the idea of, initially, a clear recognition that much of what you do is actively contributing to the larger process of global ecological destruction, simply by virtue of your being a part of the system; and then progressively withdrawing from the system so that you (a) don’t play your part in this destructive process and (b) weaken the system that requires your input to thrive. The “recognition” stage is the trigger, and is very difficult for most civilized people to attain due to the “Tools of Disconnection” keeping us active contributors; but once this stage is attained, the “withdrawal” process can proceed with aplomb.
I would probably recommend, if I was forced to be prescriptive, the following first stages of withdrawal:
  1. Reduce your consumption of new, non-perishable items to an absolute minimum, which will require a certain level of willpower and tenacity, particularly if you have children and live in an urban or suburban location. Combine the reduction in “newsumption” with the purchase of pre-owned items and the repair of existing items, and this becomes a lot easier.
  2. Localise your activity, including where your food originally comes from (if you grow it yourself or communally, then you cut out all sorts of economic ties); how far you travel to obtain goods and services – including how far people providing these to you have to travel; how far you travel to “work” (see later); and where your energy comes from, so if you can generate it yourself, so much the better.
  3. Taking the first stage into account, if you can reduce your expenses to a bare minimum, then you will almost certainly need to do less paid work, and can potentially work for yourself rather than for the Man. Not only will you have a lot more time to spend with your family, friends and your own efforts to make your life uncivilized; you will also be out of the industrialised “work-play-work” loop, which determines to a great extent how people live.
Of course there are many other things you can do, but that’s already quite a lot to be going on with for the average civilized, commerce-soaked individual. Anyone reading this will no doubt be able to work out many other withdrawal activities they can carry out and, just as importantly, help and encourage others to also take part in.

January 4, 2010

Keith Farnish: In your latest article on Speaking Truth To Power—a brilliant analysis of the relevance of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the industrial world—you touch on the way that many activists throw themselves into work in order to avoid facing up to the reality of the situation. This is, effectively, the first and most potently destructive stage of the Kübler-Ross Grief model, i.e. Denial. Speaking as a psychotherapist, how important to you feel a pragmatic attitude to bereavement is, in the face of the world we are now facing?
Carolyn Baker: In the face of the world we are facing, I believe that authentic grieving is more important than it has ever been. Psychological research repeatedly confirms that “good grief”, that is grief that is fully felt and allowed, is healing, cleansing, and empowering whereas blocked grief is terribly toxic and leads to depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Grief is another one of those realities in industrial civilization that has repeatedly been swept under the rug as not worthy of our valuable time which should be spent colonizing someone and making a profit off of something. In fact, on one blog (which shall remain nameless) where I posted my article on Transition Trauma, I received, (exclusively from men I might add) comments like, “Rubbish! We need to grow up, grow a pair, and pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and not rely on ’support’ from other people.” I was appalled because I thought this was 2010 and that John Wayne was dead. But this is the legacy of civilization. In fact, I would not hesitate to declare that blocked grief is one reason (besides cheap and abundant oil) that industrial civilization has been so wildly “successful” until recent years in which many humans and certainly all other species recognize what a nightmare it really is.
Now more than ever, we need to grieve, and if we think there is much to grieve now, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Paradoxically, grief, while it might appear to “weaken” us, if fully experienced, empowers us to rise up and say, “No more!” One classic example I can think of is Cindy Sheehan here in the U.S. When she allowed herself to go to the depths of her grief regarding the loss of her son Casey in the Iraq War, she rose up in wizened rage to stop the war machine and the politicians waxing fat and happy from it. Hell hath no fury, you might say, like human beings who feel the depths of evil and injustice in the fibers of of their guts. So rather than grief paralyzing us so that we can’t act, it has the capacity to take us to passion and fervor that we never knew we had. In this sense, grief is now more “pragmatic” than it has ever been. Through allowing ourselves to experience it, we reclaim the humanity stolen from us by civilization, and accessing that treasure, I believe, gives us the compassion, spine, and deep conviction to resist and stop civilization’s madness on behalf of ourselves and the entire community of life.
So I say, bring on the grieving—now more than ever.

January 8, 2010

Carolyn Baker: As I look at the world in the first days of 2010, I see anything but a pretty picture—more real or bogus threats of terror attacks, a widening war in the Middle East—I won’t bore you with the list because I know you see it too. Yet what I see among most members of industrial society is mind numbing, insipid apathy and mediocrity and the delusion that things will somehow return to normal in 2010—or at least by 2011. This is frightening to me, and I am inclined to believe, given the state of the world, that a dramatic event of gargantuan proportions will be necessary to alter this apathy. In fact, I believe that if we don’t receive some kind of wake up call in 2010, we can pretty well kiss our butts goodbye. I hope this question isn’t too open-ended or broad, but I’m wondering what you see in that regard.
Keith Farnish: This is a fascinating question for all sorts of reasons, but particularly for me because it is something I have had at the back of my mind since October 2007; this was when a friend of mine sent me a report about a drought in Atlanta, Georgia, to which she appended this comment:
“The ominous lesson: if most people can’t understand something as immediate and simple as seeing their own reservoir for drinking water going bone dry, they won’t change for any less obvious threat.  They have to experience seeing their grass and trees die while they drink bottled water and go unwashed. Anything mechanical needing water won’t have any, such as turbines in power plants.  (And the southeast relies heavily on coal for electrical power plants.) Like you say, they are totally disconnected from the natural world and how it sustains them.”
It resonated like a gong in my head, yet I hadn’t been able to find an appropriate place to reflect on this until now. My initial response was harsh, but I expect quite a few people will have sympathy with it:
“Wow! What a thought! You may not have said it directly, but what we need is real sufferance that is the direct result of human activity—sufferance  that doesn’t take the rest of the ecosystem with it but acts as a big pointy stick to the people causing the problem. Localised droughts are certainly that—wouldn’t you love to see Las Vegas run out of water or have a huge blackout?”
What would be the reaction to Las Vegas running out of water? It’s a difficult one to call, but have no doubt politicians and corporations will clamour to gain advantage from the situation; blame will be apportioned, authorities will be sued, profligate businesses may even be held to account so long as the concept of “Las Vegas” can somehow be maintained. New pipelines will be constructed with the Bechtels of this world getting the contracts; wells will be dug deeper and rivers will be sucked dry…the machine must keep turning, the people mustn’t know it is fallible! There will be water riots, most likely, and some people might just realise that things are not how they should be.
I never made it to the end of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine—it was simply too bleak, and the point had been awfully well made within a couple of chapters. Klein’s analysis suggests that a disaster of any type that presents an opportunity for further social suppression and free-market economics will be seized upon by those best placed to do so. If this sounds bleak then it shouldn’t do, because—as was seen so vividly in post-Katrina New Orleans and as is being seen as I write across the Northern Hemisphere in this period of uncharacteristically heavy snow—in periods of crisis people become remarkable resourceful; they return to basic human instincts of co-operation and survival. I believe that even though such events are exploited by the system for the benefit of its elite members, they can also be times where the best in humanity is revealed.
If those among us that want to rid the world of the hyper-exploitative industrial consumer culture are ready to act in times of hardship, then the fuse for genuine change may be lit at times like this. It would be morally wrong to hope for truly distressing events—we should not hope for anything—but when they do come, we must be ready to hold peoples’ hands and tell them that there is another way to live.

Carolyn Baker is a historian, psychologist and practising psychotherapist. She runs the website Speaking Truth To Power (www.carolynbaker.net). Her latest book is Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse.

The Local Food and Farming Revolution

[Note: This presentation was developed for the Colorado Agriculture "Big and Small" Conference in Brighton, Colorado, on Feb. 26, 2010]

Ethanol plant, Yuma CO
Before I get into the presentation, a few words about where I’m coming from. As it happens, I grew up in a little farming community in northeastern Colorado—Yuma—where my family owned the local drug store (complete with soda fountain).
I’m a journalist and communicator at heart, and I started working for the local newspaper in Yuma when I was in the sixth grade. I watched the landscape and the town change with deep changes in agriculture.
For nearly the last five years I’ve been working on relocalization in Boulder County and more recently across the state, working towards our communities being able to meet their essential needs locally, and in the process to become more resilient and self-reliant.
To begin this presentation, I’m going to give the briefest possible summary I can of the situation, our potential response, and what’s possible—maybe five minutes—then back it up with some details. Then I’ll talk about the involvement of the Transition movement in food and agriculture, along with some of the things we’re working on in Boulder County. Afterwards, I hope we can discuss all this together for a little while.
I’m probably going to step on a few landmines here, maybe break some taboos. But I ask for your patience.
Here’s my quick, thumbnail sketch of the situation, the highly condensed version:
Because the way we eat and the way we grow our food is a major contributor to climate change and global warming…
Because industrial food production is so energy-intensive and so dependent on oil for fertilizer, pesticides, planting and harvesting, processing, packaging, and transportation…
Because global oil production likely peaked in July 2008, which means that energy will be increasingly expensive in the future…
Because the age of cheap fossil fuels has come to an end…
Because the economy has been based on an abundant supply of cheap fossil fuels…
Because therefore food prices will soon increase dramatically, and food shortages will begin to happen—even here—perhaps in the next couple of years…
Because the U.S. is becoming a net food importer…
Because humanity is now consuming more food than we are producing…
Because industrial agriculture—like the globalized economy—is at a crossroads and is about to go into an unexpected decline…
Because much of the food that industrial agriculture produces is destroying our national’s health …
Because the way we grow much of our food is destroying and washing away our precious topsoil…
Because we can no longer conscionably support a food system that causes hunger, starvation, and disease in other parts of the world…
Because the way we eat is destroying our connection with the earth, with the natural processes and cycles of earth and sky, with those who grow our food, with the essence of life…
Because the way we eat has seriously weakened our communities…
Because maybe less than one percent of our current diet is local…
Because in Colorado we spend more than ten billion dollars on food each year, almost all of which is fleeing outside the state, lost to our local economies…
And because we know all this…
We must learn everything we can about our food predicament. We must all learn to grow at least some of our own food. We must all support the revitalization of local agriculture. We must end our dependence on fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, and mechanization in our food production. We must commit to healing and rebuilding the soil everywhere we can. We must dramatically increase local food production for local consumption.
We must rebuild the local food infrastructure for processing and distribution. We must stop supporting and consuming non-local food. We must support local farmers, local producers, local grocers, and local restaurants.
We must learn how to eat seasonally. We must learn how to preserve and store food. We must plan how we’re going to build food security in our communities, and plan how we’re going to feed our people when things get tough. We must be prepared to share what we have to eat.
We must develop new skills and knowledge—composting, vermiculture, permaculture, soil-building, seed-saving, cultivating, canning and preserving, cooking, nutrition planning, herbal medicine.
We must make our foodshed as local as possible.
And we must do all this rather quickly.
If all this sounds like hard work, well, it is! But what would happen if we did this?
Our health would improve greatly, especially the health of our children. We’d feel more connected, more alive, more engaged, living more meaningful and more satisfying lives. We’d be devoted to rebuilding the soil in our farmlands. Our local farmers would be able to buy the land on which they farm. We’d transform the landscape. Our agricultural land would mostly be used for food production for local consumption. We’d produce thousands of new jobs; our local economies would be robust! We’d dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation. We’d be sequestering carbon in the soil, in plant growth. We’d have plans and food stores in place to feed all our people in times of crisis or emergency. We’d all have a far greater degree of food security and food sovereignty; major corporations would no longer be in control of what and how we eat. Our foodshed would be resilient and self-reliant.
This would be a revolution!

The Food and Farming Predicament

Okay, now let me back up and go into a little more depth.
We face a daunting predicament with the way we’re producing and consuming our food. We could frame the heart of our predicament around a key concept that we’re all learning about these days: sustainability. Now, mostly we’ve been forced into learning about sustainability because modern industrial agriculture has some real problems here, and these have kind of crept up on us. We didn’t see all this coming, but here’s some of what we’ve been discovering (of course, most of you already know these things; I’m just trying to put it into some kind of context):
First, industrial agriculture is having serious and unexpected environmental impacts: fertilizer runoff has created dead zones in our oceans; the search for more arable land has devastated our forests; irrigation methods have depleted surface and ground water; the way we farm is eroding our topsoil and reducing soil fertility; pesticides and herbicides have polluted our air and water; monocropping has resulted in loss of habitat for many species.
And agriculture has become a major contributor to climate change. If we consider the manufacture and use of pesticides and fertilizers; fuel and oil for tractors, equipment, trucking and shipping; electricity for lighting, cooling, and heating; and emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other green house gases—the total impact of farming and food production may be between 25 and 30 percent of the U.S.’s collective carbon footprint.
If we add to this the carbon sequestration that is lost every year through deforestation to increase land for agricultural use, the total contribution of industrial agriculture to climate change is simply enormous.
At the same time, it seems that much of the food we have been producing has actually been decreasing in quality. Food is too cheap! We spend only 10% of our income to feed ourselves; we don’t value food enough. We’ve seen an epidemic of obesity and malnutrition (in Boulder County, 49% of our residents are overweight or obese), along with a dramatic increase in chronic food-related diseases and food-borne illnesses.
These impacts are serious enough, but may not even be the most significant impacts of industrial agriculture. We’ve also witnessed the loss of the web of connections at the heart of our society. Our towns and cities do not function as communities any more. People are disconnected from food, from the people who grow it, and from the land. There is a profound lack of public awareness of environmental costs and health consequences of processed foods. Rural economies have been left in shambles, as agricultural outputs are shipped to distant markets. Our communities can no longer feed themselves.
At the same time, on top of all this, there is a growing global food crisis that is symptomatic of our predicament. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen runaway inflation of food prices, growing inequities in the availability of food staples, food riots in at least 30 nations, and scientists calling for a moratorium on biofuel production.
The food crisis is also local. In 2008, we witnessed 40,000 people show up at the Miller Farm by Platteville when they opened their fields for gleaning. Hunger is on the increase even in America, and it’s extending well into the middle class. Poorer families often have to choose between food, medical care, or heat. They just can’t afford them all.

The Coming “Perfect Global Storm”

Gleaning at Miller Farm
Most of us know in our bones that a sea change is coming in agriculture. But the biggest driver of that change is not going to come from the issues that I’ve mentioned so far.
The biggest driver is going to be the increasing cost and decreasing availability of fossil fuels, especially oil. Because agriculture is so dependent on oil, the entire system is extremely vulnerable to oil depletion—and to oil price spikes.
The situation brewing on the horizon regarding oil compels us to begin rethinking how we grow our food, and even how we eat.
The application of fossil fuels to the food system has supported a human population growing from fewer than two billion in 1990 to nearly seven billion today. In the process, the way we feed ourselves has changed profoundly.
The population is expected to grow to about nine billion by the middle of this century, and there is great concern about how we’re going to feed all those people. The system is already straining to keep up.
What’s not on the radar of most people—including governments and industry—is that our supply of cheap oil on which we all depend (most especially in agriculture) is shrinking.
We’ve likely already reached the peak of global oil production, and are facing an irreversible decline rate that will be somewhere between three and nine percent per year. We’re at the tipping point right now.
So, the bottom line is not good news: Oil is going to become increasingly scarce and increasingly expensive over time—beginning very soon. This will fundamentally change how we farm and how we eat, and the local food and farming revolution is in many ways an attempt to anticipate and prepare for what’s inevitably coming.
Of course, it’s not just farming that’s going to be impacted, because our entire globalized economy is based on an abundant supply of fossil fuels, especially oil. The economic downturn we’ve recently experienced is directly related to this dynamic. In 2008, oil rose to $147/barrel, precipitating a global recession, and we’re still reeling from it.
There are now 98 oil producing nations in the world—and at least 64 of them have already reached their peak in oil production and are in decline. That is fundamentally why oil prices have been rising so dramatically.
Yes, it’s true that there is a bit more oil to be discovered and developed and produced in various parts of the world. But oil discoveries peaked globally around 1960, and have fallen off dramatically despite plenty of investment in exploration. We’ve already picked all the low-hanging fruit, the easy inexpensive oil. From here on in, oil is going to be increasingly expensive and harder to get out of the ground. All the cheap oil has already been burned.
And in a way, this is a very good thing. Because if we had unlimited quantities of cheap oil to burn, and continued doing so, we would quickly overwhelm the atmosphere with carbon to the point that it would be very difficult to grow anything anywhere. Climate change at that level would be devastating to all life on this planet.
Peak oil is an enormous predicament. Our ability to grow food to feed our population has been based on cheap fossil fuels. In fact, our entire global economy is based on cheap fossil fuels. And now we’re bumping into a very fundamental resource limitation that will force us to change how we do almost everything. Worse, though most economists don’t want to consider this yet, peak oil signals the end of economic growth. We are learning that economic growth as we have known it is profoundly unsustainable.
The implications for food and agriculture are staggering, and they are urgent. Last year, the Soil Association in the UK published a key paper, “Food Futures: Strategies for resilient food and farming.” In that document, they say:
“Over the next 20 years we must make fundamental changes to the way we farm, process, distribute, prepare and eat our food. Global food shortages will be inevitable unless we act now to change our food and farming systems.”
One of the key researchers in this area is Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow at Post Carbon Institute, author of a number of important books that have helped us understand our predicament. Last year, he co-authored a very important paper, which I highly recommend to you, “The Food & Farming Transition: Toward a Post Carbon Food System.” Here he maps the pathways to a much-needed revolution in agriculture.
Richard is one of the most grounded and most incisive researchers and communicators in the world regarding these issues. I’ve come to deeply trust his perspective and his insights. In a paper titled, “What Will We Eat When the Oil Runs Out?,” Richard says,
“To get to the heart of the crisis, we need a more fundamental reform of agriculture than anything we have seen in many decades. In essence, we need an agriculture that does not require fossil fuels…”
A non-fossil-fuel agricultural system! Well, the situation we’re facing does mandate radical changes. Heinberg continues:
“The transition to a fossil-fuel-free food system does not constitute a distant utopian proposal. It is an unavoidable, immediate, and immense challenge that will call for unprecedented levels of creativity at all levels of society.”
This is all part of a convergence of global crises—fossil fuel depletion, climate change, and economic turmoil—which James Howard Kunstler has called “The Long Emergency.” We need to understand that The Long Emergency is not a problem that can be solved. It is a predicament, a long-term consequence of our own actions to which we must now adapt.
Now, at first this might all sound like a disaster. But it doesn’t have to be. It might turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to food and agriculture.
Albert Bates, author of The Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, says
“The Long Emergency is an opportunity to pause, to think through our present course, and to adjust to a saner path for the future. We had best face facts: we really have no choice. The Long Emergency is a horrible predicament. It is also a wonderful opportunity to do a lot better. Let’s not squander this moment.”
As Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition movement, says:
“Inherent within the challenges of peak oil and climate change is an extraordinary opportunity to reinvent, rethink and rebuild the world around us.”
In the face of all this, one of the most important things we can do—and must do—is to completely rebuild our local foodsheds—from multiplying backyard and frontyard gardens, to converting our local agricultural lands to growing food for local consumption, to rebuilding local food storage and distribution systems, to training people to learn farming as a wise and essential—and sustainable—career choice.
Not only will all this help reduce the amount of fossil fuels embedded in today’s food from fertilizer, pesticides and transport, but adopting a more local organic diet will greatly contribute to our health, and our children’s health. It will also reconnect us with those who grow our food, with the land that supports and nurtures us, with the seasons, and with the natural processes and cycles that are fundamental to all life. In the process, we’ll rediscover what community really means. And for most of us, that will be an unexpected and inspiring revelation.
Of course, what I’m pointing to here are qualities of sustainability that can’t be measured, but which we know in our hearts are essential to humanness—qualities and experiences that have been lost to our communities for a long time.
This means that we have no choice but to quickly transition to a world no longer dependent on fossil fuels, a world made up of communities and economies that function within ecological limits. The age of economic growth driven by cheap fossil fuels is over.
And the age of agriculture driven by cheap fossil fuels is over, too.
The Worldwatch Institute recently published its report, 2010 State of the World: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability. In this book, in an article titled “From Agriculture to Permaculture,” Albert Bates and Toby Hemenway (both farmers and teachers of Permaculture) say:
“Humanity now confronts a critical challenge: to develop methods of agriculture that sequester carbon, enhance soil fertility, preserve ecosystem services, use less water, and hold more water in the landscape—all while productively using a steadily compounding supply of human labor. In short, a sustainable agriculture.”
Another perspective is from Sharon Astyk, a farmer and mother and writer. In her latest book, A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil, she writes:
“Oil has replaced people in industrial agriculture, and now people have to come back and replace the oil.”
Sharon calls for a food and farming revolution that is based on simply choosing to change the nature of what we grow and what we eat.
“It is a call for more participation in the food system—100 million new farmers and 200 million new cooks in the U.S., and many more worldwide.”
Agriculture is entering into a profound transition, and fundamentally it’s an energy transition that will be unfolding over the next 10 to 15 years—and there probably will be some pretty big bumps along the way. We will have less available energy in the future. And renewables will not be able to come on stream quickly enough or at sufficient scale to avoid fairly drastic changes.
The opportunity we have is to design our descent down this energy curve. Now, the transition to a non-fossil-fuel food system will take some time. Nearly every aspect of the process by which we feed ourselves must be redesigned.
But if we do this right, we have an opportunity to build a food and farming system that is economically viable, environmentally sustainable, resilient and self-reliant, that ensures food security and sovereignty for all, that contributes to the health and happiness of our citizenry, and that revitalizes our communities across the nation.
If we do this right, as Sharon Astyk says:
“Not only can we cease to do the harm that industrial agriculture does, but we can replace it with something better—a better way of growing and preparing food—and also a democracy of the sort that Thomas Jefferson imagined for his nation, a democracy that is not vulnerable to being stolen or sold, as our present one is.”

The Transition Movement

While you’re digesting that, I now want to shift gears for a moment and tell you a little about the Transition movement.
In the fall of 2004, in Kinsale, Ireland—the oldest town in that country—Rob Hopkins was teaching the world’s first two-year Permaculture course at a community college there. On the first day of class, he did two things that rocked his world, and his students’, and which led to the birth of an international movement that is focused on designing our way down the energy descent curve.
The first thing Rob did was to show a brand new documentary film to his class, “The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream.” Has anyone here seen it? The film lays out the coming oil crisis in very compelling terms, and for many it comes as quite a shock at first—as it did for Rob and his students.
The other thing he did was to invite a guest speaker into the class, Colin Campbell, a highly-respected petroleum geologist who happened to live just up the road from the college. Campbell spent decades working for some of the biggest oil companies in the world, and he founded the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO). Well, Campbell pushed Rob over the edge with his analysis. Here’s a brief sample:
“The second half of the Age of Oil now dawns and will be marked by the decline of oil and all that depends on it, including financial capital. It heralds the collapse of the present financial system, and the related political structures… I am speaking of a second Great Depression.”
As Rob and his students explored the implications of what they had seen and heard, they began considering how vulnerable the town of Kinsale was to the coming energy shocks, and economic shocks, and even food shocks. Rob had the insight that it might be possible to apply the principles and ethics of Permaculture to design a plan for the community to transition off of fossil fuel dependence, learn how to meet its essential needs locally, and in the process become more resilient and self-reliant. Designing such a plan became a very ambitious class project.
As they took it on, they envisioned what a truly sustainable Kinsale would look like, set a target of the year 2021, and through a process of backcasting began figuring out what would need to happen each year to get to that goal.
They did an impressive job, and put it into an historical document, the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan. In fact, they did such a good job with this that the town council adopted their plan as the plan for the town of Kinsale, and that plan is being implemented there today.
This experience got Rob Hopkins thinking. In fact, it got a lot of us thinking, who were looking at the coming challenges, as we were here in Colorado, watching what was going on in Kinsale. Rob saw that it might just be possible to use the principles and ethics of Permaculture to empower whole communities—even entire cities—to enter into an inspirational community-wide process together to design their own energy descent plans and become resilient and self-reliant.
In 2006, he began prototyping that process in Totnes, England in 2006. And now the Transition process he developed there is being replicated—more or less officially—in more than 280 communities in 16 nations. And informally, there are at least another 2,000 communities who are experimenting with the process. Transition is a bottom-up, grassroots-to-grasstops movement that is rapidly expanding, and generating enormous interest and enthusiasm around the world.
Hopkins’ book, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependence to Local Resilience, published in March 2008, has been a powerful force in galvanizing this movement.
Hopkins says we must quickly make our communities more resilient, less vulnerable to the profound changes that are coming, because we’re learning that resilient communities—“self-reliant for the greatest possible number of their needs—will be infinitely better prepared than those who are dependent on globalized systems for food, energy, transportation, health, and housing.”
The essence of resilience is relocalization, which means moving steadily in the direction of local production of food, energy and goods; local development of currency, government and culture; reducing consumption while improving environmental and social conditions; and developing exemplary communities that can be working models for other communities when the effects of energy decline become more intense.
In May 2008, our organization became the first officially recognized Transition Initiative in the U.S.—and the first in North America, for that matter. By that time, we had already for three years been working towards relocalization in Boulder County.
The movement in the U.S. has grown significantly, and as of today there are 58 officially recognized Transition Initiatives in the U.S., five of them here in Colorado.
Meanwhile, we have become a statewide hub to catalyze, inspire, train and support the adoption of the Transition process in communities across the state (some 20 initiatives are already under way in Colorado).
Nearly everywhere that Transition is getting traction, we’re all working on the relocalization of food and farming, the rebuilding of our local food systems, our local foodsheds.
After the Transition Handbook, the first book published by the Transition Network was Local Food: How to Make it Happen in Your Community. It‘s an inspirational and very practical guide for rebuilding a diverse, resilient local food network, drawing on the experience of dozens of Transition initiatives and other community projects around the world.
Rob Hopkins and his co-author set the tone for Local Food early on in the book. They say:
“…By collectively demystifying the contents of the global pantry and by sourcing, growing and producing food independently of centralized, fragile and detrimental food trades, we are rediscovering our own worth as community members—people capable of interacting with and shaping the food landscapes around us… We are bringing our food culture home because we have to. And while we know we can’t move mountains, we are remembering that we can plant seeds.”

Bringing It Home

Let’s bring it back home to the state of Colorado.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006 we Coloradans spent nearly $10 billion on food per year—$9.5 billion, $5.4 of which was food to eat at home (we eat out a lot).
97% of food consumed in Colorado is imported from outside the state. Very little of what we consume is organic.
Nearly $2 billion of our 2006 food budget for home consumption was on meat and dairy products, more than a third of the total. (Since that time, our meat consumption has of course increased.)
In Boulder County alone, we spent more than $660 million on food in 2006, almost all of which went outside the local economy.
If we could increase our local food purchases, particularly organic food, this would not only have profound benefits on our health and greatly reduce our contribution to global warming, but would also greatly boost our local economies.
I think we’re severely underestimating the economic power of local organic farming. This is part of what we’re thinking about in relocalizing food and farming.
To be sustaining and sustainable, agriculture must make the transition from an oil-based industrial model to a more labor-intensive, knowledge-intensive, localized, organic model. This means a radical reduction of fossil fuel inputs, accompanied by an increase in labor inputs and a reduction of transport, with production being devoted primarily to local consumption.
A key strategy for building a resilient food and farming system is relocalization. It’s not the only answer, but it’s a powerful step forward. Other strategies include: converting farms to powering with renewable energy; increasing soil fertility through crop rotation, recycling nutrients, natural fertilizers; shifting consumers to local, seasonal diet; switching to diverse multi-enterprise farming systems; adopting organic and biointensive methods of farming; shifting to labor-intensive methods; increasing the number of farmers; seed-saving; rebuilding local processing and distribution systems.

Permaculture and the Transition

As it happens, the entire Transition process of relocalization is based on a deep understanding of a particular form of agriculture—called Permaculture, which you’ve now heard me mention several times.
So what’s Permaculture? It’s a contraction of two words, permanent and agriculture. It’s really about permanent or sustainable agriculture.
As Wendell Berry says, “A sustainable agriculture is one which depletes neither the people nor the land.”
You could say that Permaculture is the art of making it possible for humans to live in harmony with the Earth, with the biosphere, and with each other.
Essentially, Permaculture is a design approach based on a deep understanding of the principles of how living systems naturally work; it shows us how to design and build (and rebuild) human systems based on those same living systems, and to do that in such a way that sustains human life and the life of the biosphere.
Permaculture shows us how to restore the balance between human life and the biosphere, which as we now know has gotten wildly out of balance.
Permaculture was first developed in the early ‘70s, by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia, largely in response to the oil crisis of that era, drawing upon indigenous wisdom from all over the world. Now it’s being practiced by farmers small and large, tens of thousands of them, around the globe. And all of those practitioners together have been evolving an enormous body of knowledge and experience that I believe is going to be extremely important to all of us in the coming years.
As many of you may know, when in 1990 Cuba’s supply of oil was cut off almost overnight with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was the Permaculturists who stepped forward to completely transform that country’s agricultural system to feed its people. They demonstrated how farming could be done on a large scale without fossil fuels and synthetic fertilizers. They converted the nation to an 80% organic, mostly vegetarian diet in 18 months. Urban gardens there now produce 50% of the nation’s produce.
There’s a powerful documentary film about this, “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.” Significantly, to make the rapid transition from fossil-fueled agriculture, Cuba involved 15 – 25% of its population in food production.
When we started our relocalization work in Boulder in 2005, we could only find two people who were teaching Permaculture. Now there are at least 32 Permaculture teachers in the county, who are training scores of new practitioners every year. How many people in this room have taken a Permaculture course? Get to know a Permaculturist!

Designing the Transition (Boulder County Case Study)

In Boulder County, we’ve been asking, “What will it take to build a resilient, sustainable, localized food system? What will replace industrial agriculture?”
Here’s some of what we think it’s going to take: more Open Space acreage devoted to crops for food (not fuel or silage); more farms producing food; more biointensive, organic food production; more farmers (a lot more); more CSAs; more/bigger farmers’ markets; more local infrastructure for storage, distribution, and preservation; more local financial resources; more education and training; more backyard and frontyard gardening; more community greenhouses; more commitment by our communities to bring new awareness, energy, and vitality to the local food system, promoting closer connections between members of the community and those who grow our food
In short, we know we need to relocalize our local foodshed, and begin acting as if that local foodshed is just as important as our local watershed.
But how could a grassroots, community-based movement possibly help to accomplish all this?
Well, one of the principles of relocalization—and Permaculture—is that you begin in your own back yard. And a lot of people are doing just that. I love the story of Boulder’s Kipp Nash, a city-bound school bus driver who so desperately wanted to be a farmer that he finally began persuading his suburban neighbors to let him plow up their yards to grow vegetables.
I think it’s fair to say that he had no idea what he was getting into. He now has a thriving neighborhood CSA—he calls it an “NSA,” neighborhood supported agriculture—and has been selling produce at the Boulder Farmers Market. He’s a real farmer now, all right—an urban farmer, with all the challenges that rural farmers face. And what he’s doing is contagious. Transition Louisville, for instance, is implementing the same model in their community with a series of “urban farms.”
And hundreds of other people in the area are learning to grow some of their own food, from renting small plots in a community garden, to plowing up their yards and sheet-mulching on an ambitious scale, to raising chickens. Now, we might be slightly amused by all of this, as we witness a whole lot of people suddenly taking up gardening. But there’s something far deeper going on here.
Municipalities such as Longmont and Greeley have had to change local laws recently to accommodate growing public demand to be able to raise chickens. And arcane water laws are being challenged as more and more people are learning that they could greatly reduce their water consumption for backyard and frontyard food production by catching and storing water. “Illegal!?” they say. “It’s what makes the most sense!”
Also, we’ve got the likes of Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, Joel Salatin, Wes Jackson, Richard Heinberg, Sharon Astyk, and a host of other authors and documentary filmmakers working hard to change the way we all think about food and agriculture, and the way we eat and the way we grow our food.
And we’ve got local people like Ann Cooper who is determined to bring healthy, organic, local food into school cafeterias throughout the Boulder Valley School District, and others who are working to infiltrate other institutions like our hospitals and corporate cafeterias.
And we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of restaurants who are serving truly local food—more than 70 that we’ve identified in Boulder County so far, probably a ten-times increase from 2006. More and more chefs and restaurateurs are building gardens, and some of them are actually investing in farms.
We’ve also seen an enormous increase in the number of CSA subscriptions in Boulder County. Nobody knows the number today, but when we started in 2006 we could identify only about 150 available CSA subscriptions. Now we have individual farms in the county that have more than 300 CSA subscribers, and Grant Family Farms is going for thousands of subscribers. This is a big change! I think we could call that exponential growth.
Meanwhile, farmers markets are growing and multiplying…
A local food system gets built from the ground up, starting at the grassroots level. All of us have something to contribute to this process, and our skills and knowledge and passion are very much needed now—for the current realities are sobering:
Approximately 34,000 people in Boulder County are food insecure (don’t know where next meal will come from). That’s almost 12% of the county population. As energy prices increase and the economy slides, more will join their ranks.
In 2006, our food working group calculated that with the current food and agriculture system, we could feed only about 20,000 people in Boulder County.
Then they looked at the upside. They estimated that with greatly expanded individual and community plots, greatly increased farming for food, bio-intensive methods, reduced calorie intake and simplified diet—basically, doing everything we could think of to increase local food production—this maybe could be increased to ~185,000 people.
But the Boulder County population is 300,000 people. So we know that we’re vulnerable, like most communities. (We heard from a farmer recently that an entire season’s sales at the Boulder Farmers’ Market would only feed Boulder County for half a day!)

EAT LOCAL! Campaign

So, at Transition Colorado, right now we’re focusing both on expanding the market for local consumption and rebuilding our local food production capacity in Boulder County. It’s a kind of classic chicken-and-egg challenge, for we certainly can’t have one without the other. So we’re trying to build both at the same time.
On the market side, we’ve launched a public education and awareness campaign under the theme of EAT LOCAL!
A key strategy in this is our EAT LOCAL! Resource Guide and Directory, now in its second edition, published just a couple of weeks ago with 10,000 copies being distributed throughout the county. Copies are available here in the back of the room (please take several and share with others).
This is all supported by a rapidly-growing and continually-updated website (www.EatLocalGuide.com).
Through the Guide, and throughout the EAT LOCAL! Campaign, we’re explaining why eating local is so important, and connecting people with all the available sources in the county in a comprehensive directory so they can find what they’re looking for—whether it’s local food producers, or local food supporters. This directory is online, too.
But giving people the reasons and the sources isn’t enough. So we’re helping to provide some incentive, through a 10% Local Food Shift Challenge and Pledge.
And we’re showing people some of the many things they can do to increase their local food consumption and help support local agriculture.
We’re also helping people learn new skills, because shifting to lower-carbon, mixed-farming organic systems that are less dependent on oil and chemicals will require a lot more people with the right skills working on the land again. So we’ve launched an ambitious Reskilling program—providing instruction in the basic practical life skills we have largely lost, from growing, cooking and canning food, to permaculture design courses. We’ve delivered about 10,000 people hours of Great Reskilling instruction in the last two years.
At the same time, besides driving the market for local food, we’re working to help increase local food production capacity by:
  • Getting people to see local organic agriculture as economic development.
  • Encouraging people, especially youth, to consider farming as a viable and sustainable career choice.
  • Training people in food production, especially Permaculture.
  • Helping to organize and support a Boulder County Farmer Cultivation Center.
  • Working with the Boulder County Food and Agriculture Policy Council and the Parks and Open Space Department to find ways to convert much of the county’s 17,000 acres of open space ag land to food production for local consumption, and to develop or change policies to support and encourage local agriculture.
  • Working with county and municipal governments as they reconsider their comprehensive plans and land use policies, to ensure that local food and agriculture are supported by those plans and policies.
  • Working with Slow Money, the massive capital pool being organized by Woody Tasch, an effort to direct local capital into financing local food and farming enterprises.
  • Working with local entrepreneurs to exploit new opportunities that are emerging as we seek to rebuild local infrastructure of distribution, storage, processing, and marketing.
  • Working with companies like Farmland LP and organizations like Post Carbon Institute, who are developing a far-reaching program of buying conventional farmland and converting it to organic food production as a significant investment opportunity.
  • Collaborating with Everybody Eats! and other stakeholders to cultivate a county-wide coalition of governmental and non-governmental agencies, farmers, businesses and individuals to plan and implement a local food and farming system. Call it a local foodshed alliance, if you will.
All this is a massive process that’s going to take some time. Transition suggests a systematic approach that we’re doing our best to follow. But we’re not in control of the process. The community itself is. We’re acting primarily as a catalyst for collaboration, and as a provider of information, insight, and inspiration. It’s an experiment, and as Rob Hopkins says in his “cheerful disclaimer”: We really don’t know if it’s going to work. But we do know that if we wait for the governments or big industry, it’ll be too little too late. And if we just act as individuals, changing our lifestyles, it’ll surely be too little. But if we act together, as communities, it might be just enough just in time!


Clearly, the food and agricultural revolution is already getting underway. Fundamentally, it’s not about simply about lifestyle choices or mere differences in values. It’s arising in response to a growing predicament that is at the heart of our industrial agriculture system and the heart of our globalized economy.
This transition is coming whether we like it or not, whether we’re ready or not.
I know there’s a lot of controversy around all this, and a lot of emotions. I suspect a lot of dust is going to get kicked up along the way.
Much of the debate seems to hinge around the goals of sustainability seemingly interfering with farmers’ and industry’s goals of profitability. But sustainable agriculture must of course include economic viability. And that doesn’t necessarily mean “big.”
We sometimes hear “small farming” used as a pejorative term. Small organic farmers often get pigeonholed and tossed aside as a probable relic of the past.
But at the 19th annual Farming for the Future conference in Pennsylvania earlier this month, Bryan Snyder, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture said something very significant, and I want to close with his words. He said:
“People like to hear about lots of acres or large numbers of animals and bushels of corn per acre measured in the hundreds. But models of farming that can gross $50,000 to $100,000 on a single acre—or CSA programs that, in some cases and on relatively small acreage, are able to count their customers in the thousands and bank $1 million or more in the spring before even planting a seed—are anything but small!”
Snyder’s conclusion is exactly what we have come to at Transition Colorado:
“We must encourage everyone, wherever they are and as a priority, to eat food produced as near to their own homes as possible. Secondly, feed thy neighbor as thyself. From this perspective, local food not only can feed the world, it may be the only way to ever feed the world in a healthy and just manner.”