Monday, June 20, 2011

Permaculture: Design, Practice, Evolve

Way back when I first learned that cheap oil was the underlying foundation of our economy and lifestyle, and that oil was due to peak and begin a decline somewhere between five and twenty-five years, I searched for signs of hope.

The picture was grim. I found that industrialized agriculture depends on oil and fossil fuels, and people across America have forgotten how to garden, farm, preserve food, bake, even cook. I realized that most cities are designed for cars, not people, and so people live far from their work, entertainment, and shopping, making them car-dependent. Our collective health was declining in a crisis of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, with health and insurance costs ratcheting up every year. Our financial system, based on an ever-increasing cycle of debt and bubbles, seemed poised to explode. All the environmental indicators - topsoil, water, bio-diversity, ocean life, pollution - were (and still are) in a downward spiral.

Yet even amidst the signposts of doom, hope was working quietly in the wings in the form of grass-roots re-skilling movements, organic agriculture revitalization, localization, small-scale appropriate technology development, environmental and social activism, and permaculture.

Permaculture, a sustainable design system based on working with and harnessing the forces and processes of nature, rather than fighting them, seemed to be the most revolutionary. Permaculture's foundation of ethics and principles make it applicable all around the world, in a variety of different climates, eco-systems, and cultures. Ever since I encountered this system, I have been searching for a way to take a full-scale permaculture design course, but every course I found was far away and would require an extended time away from my family.

My luck has changed. Now, Transition OKC is bringing Scott Pittman, of the respected Permaculture Institute, to Oklahoma City for a full-scale, 72-hour design course, taught alongside guest instructors including Oklahoma City's own rebel permaculturist Bob Waldrop. The course will be spread over four weekends in August, September, October, and November of 2011. Class topics include design principles for sustainable living, permaculture techniques, natural building methods, dryland restoration, renewable energy, rainwater harvesting, food forests, community building, and more.

Transition OKC has even been industriously seeking out grants and funding to cut the cost of the course to make it affordable during a recession. Because of these grants, the cost of the class is only $750 if you register one month before the course begins on August 4th, $800 thereafter. Applicants who want to apply for a half-tuition scholarship from Sustainable OKC should act NOW - applications for the four scholarships are due by June 30th.

In my view, permaculture could be a vital contributor to a transition to a more sustainable and resilient system of living, working, and interacting with our communities. Knowledge and application of permaculture will make a difference in a world with less energy, fewer resources, and increasing inequity - the difference between poverty and sufficiency, the difference between continuing to degrade our habitats, or the ability to help heal them.

But permaculture, despite the potential, cannot be learned overnight. Learning permaculture requires work, study, practice, and customization to each eco-system. I'm looking forward to my opportunity to continue learning with Scott Pittman this fall, in Oklahoma City. The sooner we start, the better.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Retired Marine opens ninth Peak Oil Boot Camp

Jan. 1, 2013 -- Somewhere, Texas --

Retired Marine Master Sergeant Jasper Sweet today announced the opening of his ninth Peak Oil Boot Camp - this one in Somewhere, Texas. During the opening ceremony, Master Sergeant Sweet spoke about his calling to open the Camps. "After thirty-two years serving my country, I realized America needed people every bit as tough as soldiers - she needed farmers. And by God, I'm going to give them to her, even if I have to wipe the snot off the nose of every last pansy-a$$ juvenile delinquent in Texas."

Parents send their frequently over-priveleged, occasionally criminal, teenagers to the camps to learn specific skills such as growing food, scavenging parts, first-aid care, and baking bread, along with fundamentals like hard work, cooperation, and planning. They pay handsomely for the service, which boasts a success rate of 93% felony-free graduates three years after completing the program.

John Franks, a mid-level manager from Connecticut, confided, "I knew my son needed to learn a few things when I realized he was afraid of earthworms. And roly-polys. Maybe this camp will toughen him up a bit - right now, the only callus he's ever had is from gripping his Wii too tightly."

During the four-month program, camp attendees build a passive-solar house, plant a fruit and nut orchard, start and maintain a garden, and learn how to jerry-rig everything from washing machines to windmill-powered battery systems to blenders. POBC recruits rise at 6 a.m., practice calisthenics and strength training, attend classes and work, clean camp, and go to bed at 10 p.m., after a dinner grown and cooked by recruits on-site. Until the first group house is completed, the group sleeps on the ground outside, huddling together like puppies for warmth.

Drill Sergeant Eric Harrison, who teaches in Camp Wakeup, Alabama, discussed the content of the intensive permaculture, organic agriculture and perennial polyculture courses studied by all recruits. "Pesticides? Herbicides? If you know anything about peak oil, you know that $#it ain't going to be around in twenty years. Besides, until I see some Monsanto m#$%&*%^$#&s swig a big gulp of that $#it they're selling, I'm not spraying it on food eaten by my kids."

Scholarship graduates of the camp, which includes room, board, and health care, spend two years of service working to build community gardens, mini-farms, and community centers in cities across the country - all of which are prepared to weather blackouts, tornadoes, ice storms, heat waves, oil shocks, currency devaluations, hyperinflation, economic collapse, and hell or high water.

"You've got a lot of sheep out there still living in denial," said MSgt. Sweet. "They're still clutching their entitlements, their comforts, their cushy jobs where they sit on their a$$es all day. What are they going to do when the $#it hits the fan and sprays all over their comfy assumptions? Come running for help, that's what, and we've got to be prepared to give it to them. Because this is America, by God, and I'm not going to stand by and watch three-year olds starving in the streets."

While some criticize Sgt. Sweet for his take-no-prisoners style and particularly foul mouth, Boot Camp graduates stand by their founder with pride. Murphy Bryant spoke from her office in Virginia, where she recently opened a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. "Three years ago, I didn't know an artichoke from, armpit. I was clueless in every sense of the word. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I couldn't even spend half an hour away from my iPhone without withdrawal. Now, I can plant an acre of fava beans without breaking a sweat, harness ten different kinds of power, organize a crew of forty farmworkers, and bandage a tractor wound."

Ms. Bryant concluded, "And maybe most importantly, I CAN handle the truth."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Live Webchat on Energy Bulletin

On Monday, June 6th, Kurt Cobb and I will be co-webchatting (not a verb in the Oxford dictionary...yet) on Energy Bulletin about presenting peak oil with humor and fiction. Kurt is the author of Prelude, a novel about peak oil, and a founding member of ASPO-USA. He blogs at Resource Insights.

Energy Bulletin asked me to join Kurt on the chat for my work in the fictional short form, including the A Day in the Life series and my Onion-style satires: The Gathering Hordes, The iFinger, Radically Honest Man Tarred, Feathered, and Hell Announces Pilot Colonization Program.

If you've got a burning desire to ask me or Kurt a question about presenting peak oil with humor and fiction, act now! Submit your question to Energy Bulletin before the live webchat, or just join us on Monday. Toss me a few softballs, ok?