This is a reoccurring theme in my life right now, and hence keeps popping up on my brain dumps here.  I am firmly convinced that we are in the throes of the converging crisis of an over stressed Ecosystem caused by over consumption of Cheap Energy leading to an overstretched Economy.  More importantly, I believe we are currently in overshoot – that the crisis of the past year in both Energy and Economy are only the first signs that we have, in fact, overshot the holding capacity –or Peak– in these areas.  Overshoots are permitted by what is essentially enertia allowing the momentum of a course of action to continue to produce expected results even though the sustainabilty of those actions has been exceeded.  This is exasperated by tendencies of complex systems like our global Carbon Cycle to be slow to show visible change until the buildup causes that change to be radical – we can dump CO2 into it for a half a century before we begin to see any measurable result at all – and at that point irreversible temperature increase is inevitable.  That is Overshoot.  

Economic Bubbles act in a very similar way.  For decades we have all blithely consumed and bought bigger houses/cars/dogs as we all marched along to the tune of unceasing Progress and Prosperity.  But for most of early 21st Century the housing market was in Overshoot (Bubble), with prices climbing higher and higher until the system could no longer sustain it and it came crashing down. That is another trait of overshoot.  The build up typically goes unnoticed, humans are seemingly designed to blindly accept good fortune. Because of this, the decline (Crash) comes as a shock like a 2×4 to the head.  In something as psychological as Economics this shock further adds to the problem by causing a panic.

The problem with Overshoot scenarios is that the disruption to the cycle often causes deeper lows than would be seen in a more stable system.  The panic of the Great Depression forced the world through a much tougher time than a more gradual descent if they had made corrections BEFORE the crash.  The Carbon Cycle will be the same.  Had we made the changes necessary 30 years ago at the first soundings of alarm, hell even at Kyoto, we may have avoided the incredibly critical Tipping Points like the melting of arctic ice and the lose of the Albedo Effect.

Then there are the more personal forms of Overshoot.  I am very prone to throwing myself into worthwhile ventures – local food, local energy, community building… if it looks like it will build a better world and is actionable, I’m in.  I’ve got alot of energy, and I only go to work 4 days a week, but of course everyone has limits.  I overshoot mine about every 4 months on average.  I overcommit to the point that I have to shut down for a week or three to recharge.  That’s not a very stable system, so I am working on that.  Of course, if you have read this blog much you know that I am failing on keeping myself in check more than ever.  If you need to wonder why, reread the first paragraphs of this post again – we got some Big Problems staring us down right now.  Having spent much of the past 3 years working on these issues, it is very hard to say no when so many people are coming calling now that the sh/t has hit the fan.  Suddenly everyone wants to know more about growing food on little inputs or producing energy with little capital from local resources.  It is virtually impossible for me to say no to all the people calling for action, for talks, for committees.  But, of course, I can’t do it all and I am burning out.  Worse than that, even if no one else was coming calling, I am by far my own worst enemy.  I want to do it all – grow more food, start making biodiesel and ethanol and make pellets and raise tilapia and learn to weld, and… and… burnout.  

And how does one choose?  I used to think I could let life help me choose.  What is right would be what Gaia cleared the way for.  But now I have more “clear” options than I can clearly wade through.  Without much effort I could be making biodiesel, growing 10x more produce, or erecting greenhouses powered by gasifiers on shared land.  With a bit more effort I could be doing them all on my own thanks to the bottom dropping out beneath the price on ag/commercial land around here.  But I have to choose.  And right now the CSE/Energy is winning.  Growing local food seems to have a smaller skill set needed than producing local energy.  Gaia has given me a slew of options, but when I look at what is unique to me – to my *now*, it is the incredible group of individuals in my CSE group.  Engineers, Electronics specialists, Permaculture Pros -people that get personal emails from John Ikerd and David Blume.  People that have worked on Antarctic research stations.  People that are smart and skilled enough to be able to do just about anything they damn well put their mind to and more importantly don’t care if no one has done it before.  And best of all, they don’t mind me coming along for the ride.

I will likely still try to do it all.  But when I weigh the pros and cons – the energy side is winning.  That means that the Market Garden will need to run on the same or less energy – I still think I can eck out almost double the harvest by focusing on the Big Vigorous Veggies that can deal with my neglectful farming practices.  but I also want to firm up the home front, so the permaculture aspects of the home plot will not go neglected, and I gots to pay for all this somehow so the LLC will get more time too.   Crap, this is a mess!

But Monday’s are Energy Days.  This week we are touring our local Municipal Sewer Utility to look into the feasibility of implementing a gasifier on site to burn off their processed waste to create heat/energy/biochar from good ol sh/t.  Its carbon, it’ll burn.  Never though I’d say this, but I am looking forward to burning some crap tomorrow.

Take Care, and try to maintain sanity a bit better than I am .  This will be a marathon, not a sprint.  We need runners, and we need runners that will finish strong.  Be the change.


3 Responses

  1. Overshooting in the personal arena is also a big issue in my own life… so many things, all plausible, all important, all urgent, all incredibly interesting and enticing …. perhaps it is irony that, of all the people i know and know of, the ones who seem to manage themselves the least sustainably are self same group of people who are individually striving for more personal and global sustainablility. I think you have (once again, thank you Rob) captured in few words a major stumbling block to Being the Change; that to be a real change means being for a long term – short bursts in erratic directions can cause chaos in a system that has developed over millions of years. And so we perhaps need to focus ourselves, as you seem to be doing, avoiding loss of the momentum in some areas that can come from the emergence of a new, more immediately novel, area.

    That’s my waffle – which was so difficult to coherently piece together that it may well signify the need for a bit of regrouping of my own.


  2. I think you’re right on both counts. The CSE group you’ve got there is indeed something special. Frankly, I’m envious. And you are a being of only finite energy and time, so yes, you do need to prioritize. Don’t burn out on us. I suspect we’re going to need the things you discover and invent. But do take comfort in something (I believe it was) George Washington said, “It’s astonishing what one can do if one is always doing.” Or something to that effect anyway. It’s all about balance, as I’m sure you know.

    Do please keep us posted.


  3. Wow. Lots of good stuff here. Where to begin?

    I like your method for prioritizing: “What is it *I* am uniquely qualified/positioned to do right now?” And I agree with you that the CSE is the clear answer to that question.

    I also think there is value in exploring low-energy farming. The time may come soon when ALL of us are too busy with something else to put 80 hours a week into growing food. So, what gives you the most kCal per Kwh?

    Finally – remember that all waste is an input somewhere else. If you need to drop the food production side, is there someone else in your area who’d love to step into your place, make use of your 2′ deep potato windrows, and take over deliveries of a hundred pounds of guinea pig poop every week? Many of us salivate at those resources you’ve lined up. Hand them off to someone else, build the community, keep the resources in play, and you’ll still be facilitating the accomplishment of your original food-growing goal.

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