The Future must be MADE

I love Monday’s.  They, like all my days, start before sunrise.  But on the weekends (I work Tues-Fri) I prepare the day for my family: coffee, tea, hot breakfast, etc.  I try to give myself a 30 minute cushion before the bussle of the day hits with the young’ins and their boundless energy.  It is a good time.  Then they are off to school and Mia and I often get several hours to ourselves – at least a few hours to recharge our relationship with time just for us – at a coffee shop, at home, or shopping in Madison.  Today was the latter, which also involved us seeing a banker about funding the New Revolution before all the money’s gone (more on that later –I hope!).  The afternoons are more focused, with a standing invitation to our Community Supported Energy group for workdays at the farm.  And that is the subject of today’s post as we ramp up on our second Gen 2 gasifier, so I headed North.

The weather is warming, which allows for outdoor work and more workstations to happen at once.  I pull as far into the drive as my low slung VW Golf will let me after the 8″ snow this weekend and am amazed at the scale of work laid out before me.  Opening the door, I am met with a cacophony of productive noise: my buddy that runs the sewer utility is hard at a sheet of steel with a saber saw cutting out burn plates.  After a hearty back slap, I go into the greenhouse/workshop to see “Brother Dick” working hard at a section of salvaged pipe with an angle grinder kicking up an impressive amount of dust as he clears it of corrosion.  Ourimg_7265 electronics expert is giving a piece of 6″ steel pipe the old “what for” with our 14″ cut off saw and spraying the area in a slightly concerning display of sparks in the process.  Further in, the farm owner is hard at a propane tank we cut in half last week as he welds on various braces and legs… I love the smell of welding rods in the afternoon!   There is enough active testosterone in the room to power a Hummvee – you can almost hear Tim  the Tool Man laughing wryly somewhere in the distance.  I pull the farmer off the tank long enough for him to point me at some steel that was cut earlier and he chucks me a big az Milwaukee Drill meaningfully.  My job awaits…

As we stare down the future that we are desperately trying to envision for our children there is so much to do. This blog has changed mightily in its 3 years.  It started as a journal of our struggles to live lighter here in HOA Middle America.  In that regard I guess it is still the same, but my answers to those struggles certainly have altered.  3 years ago I was focused on using our .4 acres to showcase “Green” living.  Cutting waste streams, native landscaping, and reducing energy by buying new appliances, changing lightbulbs, etc while growing some organic veggies for our kids to eat.  Pretty sure there is even a post in there about where to buy organic clothes.  But the whole time I was reading: Permaculture, Natural Capitalism, Sustainable Ag, Smart Growth, and success stories like Small is Possible and dozens more. The more I read, the more inspiring options I saw.  And  then I started hitting books like David Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles, books on Peak Oil and others like James Martin’s The Meaning of the 21st Century.  Books that inspired me; books that scared the hell out of me.  I watched the Crash Course and read all 600 pages of David Blume’s Alcohol can be a Gas.  My answers to the Big Problems morphed as I became more fully aware of how awesomely BIG those problems truly are.  I still reduce energy, but now I am more focused on making it.  I am less concerned about promoting “green” energy, than I am about finding ways to link energy/food/economic systems into processes that are carbon negative, yet produce surpluses of both fuel and food while actually building fertility.   I went from native landscaping to edible landscaping to permaculture designs that need no inputs and create surpluses at every turn.  But back to my “hairy man” fest.

Here we are, 5 men that may or may not have much in common.  Our ages span almost 5 decades from youngest to eldest.  Our interests and specialties range from treating sewage sludge to designing remotely operated underwater vehicles to draft horses to organic agriculture.  But we are all linked by our heartfelt belief that the current path we are on is all effed up and that we need a better future.  But more than that, we are committed that this future must be MADE. There is no waiting around for Obama or Hydrogen or Kyoto II.  If those things work that will be awesome, but for me –for us– the best way to predict the future is to help create it.  Literally in this case.  We are turning hundreds of pounds of salvage steel into gasifiers as we work to perfect our systems.   I am looking at buying 8 acres of agricultural wasteland on the edge of town to make this crap happen.   We are a group of “do-ers” and we are getting busy.  And so are thousands of others across this nation.  If you are busy doing the Good Work – I thank you on behalf of my children.  If not, there is much to do and we need more people doing it.

We’ve had bumper stickers on our cars for years.  It is time to put the slogans into practice.   Hand me that drill, I’ve got work to do.

Be the Change.

-Rob

De-Centralized Thinking

When I consider the litany of challenges facing us in the next 20+ years I see a few common threads.  Of course there is the growing realization that Fossil Fuel is at the root of many of our ills – from Global Warming to Globalization with all its economic and social issues.  But what is equally concerning to me is the paradigm shift that all that cheap energy has done to our thinking.  Since the rise of Coal and Oil, the mantra that “Bigger is Better” and sayings like “Economies of Scale” have become completely ingrained in our collective psyche.  Why produce your own energy, when it is so much more “efficient” to get it from a giant coal plant?  Why work in the town you live in when it is so much “cheaper” to commute 20 miles each way?  Why eat food in season if you don’t have to?  Hell, why would you even consider growing it yourself when it is so much less expensive to just go out and buy it?

As recently as 2 generations ago, these questions would have sounded as ludicrous as  I a truly believe they are …if we de-centralize our thinking.  Only the false accounting of this Global Era allow it to seem reasonable to buy salad greens trucked in from 2000 miles away or December strawberries from 7500.  While these actions are certainly awful from a Health of the Earth point of view, what I am most concerned with now is how our having lived with them for 50 years has damaged our thinking and thusly our ability to pull ourselves out of this mess.

My Grandfathers were farmers and entrepreneurs.  That is nothing special – the majority of men 80 years ago were still rural and living off the fruits of their minds and energies; they had to be innovative and efficient to survive.  Also, compared to us, they lived remarkably less cash dependent lives that were, by necessity, much more localized.  I want to be very clear that I am not some luddite revisionist pining for a complete reversion to some Glorious Past, there was also a litany of problems from discrimination and prejudice brought about by overly localizedand undereducated  lives,  to physical and health hardships that can now be avoided.  

Rather, I am focused on the loss of that feeling of self confidence that used to be such a trait of “being American”.  If my Grandfather (who fittingly also happens to be my namesake) encountered a problem on his farm, or in his business, he dealt with it: he made a new gate hinge, added a flat bed to his Ford truck, or grew enough oats to tide his horses through the winter.  When electricity arrived at the farm, he learned how to wire his house and barn and how to use electric pumps for the well.  Why?  He would have been dumb-founded that you even asked!  Why?  Because doing things yourself was how things got done.  For the majority of our history we failed or thrived due to our degree of Self Reliance.  

So much of our society – even some of those individuals that are coming to grips with the issues we are facing- has become accustomed to “them” providing for us.  Sure, we have big issues, but [insert one or more:] Technology, The Market, Industry, Innovation, or Obama will find a solution.  But look around your life right now.  Seriously – literally look around the room you are in and think for a bit.  How much food is in your home if the grocery store wasn’t there?  Right now I have about a week at most.  How much heat can your home produce on its own?  In January my Natural Gas heated home would be uninhabitable within 24 hours of the grid shutting off as the pipes would freeze and burst.  How would you make money without your commute intensive job?  I have taken large steps to augment that and can still only cover 20% of my gross annual expenses.   We are ALL in a pickle right now due to the Centralized Thinking that has permitted us to place so much of our lives into the hands of others.  

But that is what it is and continuing to dwell on it after you have come to grips with it isn’t really productive, and I write this blog to help myself and others become more productive.  So here is my point,  the solutions to the challenges we face will not be solved by Big, Centralized Solutions.  We cannot move blithely forward thinking that solar or hydrogen will allow the continuation of business as usual.  We will need to turn the “economies of scale” on their head – to begin to understand that there are definitely economies of scale – that smaller is better.  It is better for lots of people to make a little food; it is better for lots of homes to produce a little energy.  And it is certainly better for lots of people to take a stand to become a little more Self Reliant.  Nature thrives on redundancy -on having thousands of different organisms doing essentially the same thing.  We have erred greatly in not heading that lesson.

So maybe there are Big Solutions – and I believe in the depth of my soul that the true Big Solution is that enough people need to change their thinking to understand that smaller really is better.  Smaller brings accountability back into our lives, so that when we turn on our lights we have to live with the  repercussions of the energy it takes to light our lives and cannot live in blissful ignorance of the severed mountains of West Virginia because we had to grow and cut the willows to power our gasifier or pay one of our neighbors to do so.   Nor when we open the toy on Christmas morning can we avoid the living conditions of those who built it- because the toy factory is in the town down the river and Aunt Molly works there.  Smaller can also bring back other aspects of our lives.  Growing and preparing food with family is an amazing experience.  The confidence and pride earned  by child who spends their Sunday morning making the pancake batter herself, using strawberries that she picked in the yard the day before is so much greater than the child who sits and watches cartoons or goes to McDonald’s.  

When I was born, I was named after my grandfather.  When I grow up, I hope to become as capable as he was at providing an enduring legacy to his ancestors- his farm is still a bountiful “Land of Milk and Honey”.  I firmly believe that there are solutions to the challenges of our generation.  I also am convinced that if we do it right, we can fulfill the dream of all parent’s: that our children will live a better, more fulfilling life than we do.  One of the first steps to making that future a reality is in de-centralizing our thinking; believing that Small is Possible and that we –each of us!- has the power to Be the Change we wish to see in the world.  

Be the Change.

-Rob

Biochar – agrichar – Terra Preta

This is exactly what we are doing with our CSE project. Very well done video. Only 11 minutes, please watch it!

Focus

I’ve got a pretty eclectic music taste, but it is highly dependent on my mood.  Much of January I was listening to alot of George Winston and William Ackerman.  The first waves of the New Economy were coming to bear on the shores of My World.  Cutting the hours of my team and being unable to give them Real Answers to the poignant questions of “How long?” and “How Deep?” threw me into a Big Think.  When I think, I need instrumentals – Winston’s “Summer” got me through most of my level 400 Philosophy classes.  But the Big Think is passing for a bit.

Now as the world begins to awake from Winter’s Rest I can feel my psyche ache for action.  I spent a few weeks turned very deeply inside, and now that the strength has gathered it is time for action.  First off, I can hardly stand to have a book in my hands – a sure sign that my brain is full and its time to Get Busy.  Next Ackerman is no longer a go to – in the last week Non Point, Clutch, Breaking Benjamin, Rage, and Soundgarden have been almost constant companions.  Hell yes, its time to get busy!

Seeds are ordered -double the spuds of LY-, but  the energy within needs more than farming for release and that leads to energy projects in abandon.  This weekend will see me  beginning to learn to weld as I build what will likely be a butt ugly, but functional stand for holding drums of grease for drying over a syngas flame.  Plans are being drawn up for the Tilapia/BioDiesel/Gasifier Greenhouse-a-workshop.  I have every intention of making Biodiesel by April or sooner, and hopefully have built my own gasifier by then to literally fuel my future projects.

The future is getting to be as Real as we have always thought it would be.  In my world- that is about 27 months too early.   So much of my life is moving from the armchair to reality -and I am struggling to keep up.  I spent much of the past month freaking out at how quickly Change was Coming – and how unprepared I was (granted I have REALLY high expectations for preparedness).  Now its time to start filling in those gaps.  

I see myself spending less time on getting other people “on board” and more time finding dirt in the nails solutions to the Big Questions: low energy/capital solutions to Food/Energy/Employment.  If the past 6 months is any predictor of the future – assuming We have Real Answers, getting people on board will not be a problem.  I’ve got focus, now the challenge is metering out the execution to prevent fatigue and collapse -making it through The Funnel will be a marathon, not  a sprint.

Be the Change

-Rob

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