Archive for September, 2010


FALL BOOK SALE – New Releases 25% Off!

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Consumer Watchdog’s Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide To Raising Hell: How to Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws, and Get the Change We Voted For, has been making the rounds in the media lately. He’s debated members of the Tea Party on live television, defended his organization’s Jumbotron advertisement in New York City’s Times Square, and tirelessly rallied progressives to his important cause.

“The Tea Party doesn’t have a monopoly on anger, progressives are mad as hell too,” says Jamie. “The Tea Party is asking us to turn the reins of government over to people who would destroy it and that’s insane. The power of the government is our collective will to deal with the corporate abuses at the heart of the 2008 election.”

Watch a video, below, of Jamie debating conservative singer and Tea Party member Pat Boone on Fox 11 News.

Fall Book Sale!
Our newest releases are 25% off until the end of the month.

The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell
By Jamie Court
Change is no simple matter in American politics—a fact that Americans have recently learned well. Elections rarely produce the change they promise. After the vote, power vacuums fill with familiar values, if not faces. Promises give way to fiscal realities, hope succumbs to pragmatism, and ambition concedes to inertia. The old tricks of interest groups—confuse, diffuse, scare—prevail over the better angels of American nature.
The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer
By Joel Salatin
Foodies and environmentally minded folks often struggle to understand and articulate the fundamental differences between the farming and food systems they endorse and those promoted by Monsanto and friends. With visceral stories and humor from Salatin’s half-century as a “lunatic” farmer, Salatin contrasts the differences on many levels: practical, spiritual, social, economic, ecological, political, and nutritional.
Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares
By Greg Marley
Throughout history, people have had a complex and confusing relationship with mushrooms. Are fungi food or medicine, beneficial decomposers or deadly “toadstools” ready to kill anyone foolhardy enough to eat them? In fact, there is truth in all these statements. In Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares, author Greg Marley reveals some of the wonders and mysteries of mushrooms, and our conflicting human reactions to them.
Masonry Heaters
By Ken Matesz
Masonry Heaters is a complete guide to designing and living with one of the oldest, and yet one of the most revolutionary, heating devices. A masonry heater’s design, placement in the home, and luxurious radiant heat redefine the hearth for the modern era, turning it into a piece of the sun right inside the home—and it is an investment in self-sufficiency and freedom from fossil fuels.
Adobe Homes For All Climates
By Lisa Schroder and Vince Ogletree
Contrary to stereotypes, adobe is perfectly adaptable for use in cold, wet climates as well as hot and dry ones, and for areas prone to earthquakes. With its efficient use of energy, natural resources for construction, and minimal effort for long-term maintenance, it’s clear that the humble adobe brick is an ideal option for constructing eco-friendly structures throughout the world.

Q&A with Greg Marley for National Mushroom Month

Monday, September 27th, 2010

September is National Mushroom Month, and what better way to celebrate than with Greg Marley’s brand new book, Chanterelle Dreams and Amanita Nightmares: The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms.

Chelsea Green Publishing: This book is a great read (with some fascinating stories) that also happens to exhort Americans to develop a different relationship with fungi. What do you think needs to change about the way we regard mushrooms?

Greg Marley: From childhood on, most Americans are raised to fear wild mushrooms, and to assume that all wild mushrooms are poisonous and not to be handled, much less eaten. Yet the dominant mushroom-fearing (or mycophobic attitudes) found here are not the norm across the world. Many cultures embrace and celebrate mushrooms and integrate them into varied aspects of daily life. Collecting and eating wild mushrooms is the standard in those mushroom-friendly cultures, not the exception. But many of us have lost the connection our immigrant ancestors had to wild mushrooms and lack the confidence to use the abundant edible and delicious fungi in our forests and fields.

I see this book as a way to being the process of restoring that relationship. As Americans gain familiarity, or intimacy with mushrooms, I believe they will seek to regain their connection with them.

CGP: Have you ever experienced this?

Greg Marley: Actually, yes, I personally see this transformation take place every season with people who accompany me on walks, or attend my talks, or sit in my classes about mushrooms. As they relearn the stories about mushrooms, beyond the theme of mushrooms as gastronomic boogiemen, they take steps into mycophilia, loving the beauty, flavor, value, and the mystery of the mushrooms in our world.

CGP: How do you know if a culture is mushroom loving and how are these traditions passed down?

Greg Marley: Mycophilic cultures are easy to spot. If you look at an area’s traditional recipes or ethnic restaurants and see a lot of mushrooms, you are probably looking at a land that embraces mushrooms. That includes China, Japan, Italy, France, parts of Germany and most Scandinavian countries. It would also certainly include Russia and all the rest of the Slavic countries. In these regions, especially in rural regions, whole families with 3 or 4 generations take outings into the forest annually collecting and preserving mushrooms for use year-round. Children learn the mushrooms from their parents and grandparents and, though they may never know the formal names or the biologic relationships between species, they are confident in their knowledge and bring that confidence into adulthood.

A great example would be a Slavic country like the Czech Republic where something like 80% of adults spend at lease one day a year collecting wild mushrooms for food. I would be greatly surprised if even 5% of Americans collect and eat wild mushrooms.

CGP: Among the great and little-known stories (including those in this book), which is your favorite fungal tale?

Greg Marley: So many stories . . . I love the appearance of mushrooms in Russian folk tales, especially those featuring Baba Yaga, a forest dwelling witch-woman who can appear either as evil and violent or as gruffly benign. In one clear Cinderella tale called Vasilisa, Baba Yaga saves the maiden from her evil step-mother. Mushrooms play a distinct role in many of the illustrations in this story and in other tales of Baba Yaga. But there are lots of other anecdotes in the book. My hope is that Chanterelle Dreams will bring these stories to a broader audience, help erase old fears, and allow more people appreciate mushrooms for the marvels they are and for the myriad and essential roles they play in our lives and in the forest ecosystems.

CGP: Can you describe one of these roles?

Greg Marley: Sure. Most trees, shrubs and other green plants form mutually beneficial relationships with fungi where the fungus acts like an extended root system for the plant and brings mineral nutrients to the roots of the tree. In return, the tree shares a portion of the sugars it makes with the fungus. These mycorrhizal or “fungus root” relationships occur in every forest on earth and are a key element in the health of the forest.

The Indian Pipe and certain orchids and other pale plants, acting as parasites, tap into the feed trough and steal food from the fungal mycelium. There is some indication that the Indian Pipe may provide some benefit to the fungus, but we aren’t sure yet if it does.

CGP: You write in depth about the role of mushrooms in the ecosystem and how fungi are really ubiquitous in our lives, even though we barely perceive them. What’s one example of how mushrooms are beneficial to our lives that might surprise people?

Greg Marley: Life—as we know it—would be almost impossible without mushrooms. Fungi have evolved to be experts at breaking down dead plant matter. In every living ecosystem, they are busy doing just that 24/7. Without fungi breaking down the cellulose and other complex organic compounds that make up vegetation, within a few short years the leaves, twig, branches and trunks of dead plants would build up on the forest floor. What is worse, very soon all the nutrients from the soil would be bound up in dead tissue and the living plants would die from the lack of nutrients. Can’t get more basic or essential than that!

CGP: What’s your favorite mushroom to eat and how do you like to use it in cooking?

Greg Marley: Wow, that’s kind of like asking a choco-holic his favorite truffle (no pun intended. One mushroom consistently in my top trio is the Black Trumpet, a dark gray forest-dwelling mushroom in the same family as the Chanterelle (another favorite). The French call these Trompette de la Mort, or Trumpet of Death. I think the misnomer is deliberate and serves to scare people away from collecting and eating this very distinct and incredibly tasty mushroom. If ever you try it, you will know that it’s delicious. In fact, a basket of them have a distinctly rich odor reminiscent of chocolate. As you can imagine, it’s a favorite of all my family.

Black Trumpets are also great because they are easy to dry and almost as good to use in many dishes dried as well as fresh. We frequently have them in eggs, or with chicken in a cream sauce and they are a wonderful topping for a traditional or white pizza.

CGP: You’ve been a volunteer specialist for your regional poison control center for years and have been called in to consult on many suspected mushroom poisoning cases. What’s the one thing you wish people knew about poisonous mushrooms?

Greg Marley: Actually, I have two things. First, most mushrooms are not toxic (they may not edible, but that doesn’t make them poisonous) and despite what you may have heard, there are actually twice as many edible mushrooms as those that are poisonous (although there are several common mushrooms that are toxic). That leads to the second thing everyone needs to know. The best way to avoid becoming sickened is to be absolutely, 100 percent confident of the identity and edibility of any mushroom you consider cooking to eat. When in doubt, throw it out!

Most of the calls to Poison Control involve toddlers who put mushrooms in their mouths—along with everything else they find. Most of these kids never get sick. Many of the other calls involve cases of mis-identification through haste or lack of effort; someone who eats a mushroom simply because it looks good. The most severe cases often involve immigrants collecting and eating a deadly Amanita in the mistaken belief it is an edible mushroom they previously found in their country of origin.

CGP: So how dangerous are poisonous mushrooms?

Greg Marley: During the past 30 years, an average of 2 people per year have died from mushroom poisoning in the entire United States. Compare this with lightning strikes at about 100 deaths per year and you can see the number is really quite small. Still, the incidence of mushroom-related deaths may be going up as more people eat wild mushrooms in America.

CGP: You also write about cultural attitudes toward hallucinogenic mushrooms. Do you see any changes in our views of psilocybin and other hallucinogens?

Greg Marley: Many researchers had developed strong evidence of the appropriate clinical applications of hallucinogens, especially in Europe and the Americas, during the 1950s and early 60s. All this came to a screeching halt in the late 1960s when Timothy Leary muddied the waters with his pop slogan “Turn on, tune in, and drop out” and his popularization of group LSD gatherings. Though LSD was seen as the dominant and most potent of the psychedelic drugs, all hallucinogens were banned.

Only recently, have clinical studies begun again, such as those at Johns Hopkins Medical Center and a few other institutions, using the mushroom hallucinogen psilocybin. When used in carefully controlled clinical settings, it shows great promise for treating anxiety and depression in patients with terminal illnesses. We are, I think, on the edge of a new age, where the thoughtful use of psychedelics will return, one that brings back the sense of reverent ritual to the place and time of their application.

Greg Marley is the author of Chanterelle Dreams and Amanita Nightmares: The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms.

Jamie Court Takes To The Airwaves!

Monday, September 27th, 2010

The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell is getting a lot of attention these days, thanks to its bold author Jamie Court, who’s been making the rounds on radio and television shows, debating the Tea Party and spreading the book’s timely message.  Check out three new interviews with Jamie, below.

Portland, Oregon’s KPOJ progressive talk radio interviewed Jamie Court about the Tea Party, Consumer Watchdog’s Jumbotron advertisement in Times Square, and more on September 21st. Listen to the interview here.

Jamie went to the other end of the political spectrum when he was interviewed by Fox News on September 24th – watch the video below.

And another Fox affiliate, Fox 11 News, pitted Jamie against conservative American singer and Tea Party member Pat Boone this weekend, in advance of a Tea Party rally in Hollywood hosted by Boone. Click below to see the heated debate.

Jamie Court is the author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell: How to Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws, and Get the Change We Voted For, available now.

Announcing: The Resilient Gardener

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Just in time for harvest season, and the perfect book to read as you’re planning next year’s garden, we’re proud to announce the release of The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times by Oregon-based plant breeder Carol Deppe.

Scientist/gardener Carol Deppe combines her passion for gardening with newly emerging scientific information from many fields — resilience science, climatology, climate change, ecology, anthropology, paleontology, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, health, and medicine. In the last half of The Resilient Gardener, Deppe extends and illustrates these principles with detailed information about growing and using five key crops: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs.

In this book you’ll learn how to:
* Garden in an era of unpredictable weather and climate change
* Grow, store, and use more of your own staple crops
* Garden efficiently and comfortably (even if you have a bad back)
* Grow, store, and cook different varieties of potatoes and save your own potato seed
* Grow the right varieties of corn to make your own gourmet-quality fast-cooking polenta, cornbread, parched corn, corn cakes, pancakes and even savory corn gravy
* Make whole-grain, corn-based breads and cakes using the author’s original gluten-free recipes involving no other grains, artificial binders, or dairy products
* Grow and use popbeans and other grain legumes
* Grow, store, and use summer, winter, and drying squash
* Keep a home laying flock of ducks or chickens; integrate them with your gardening, and grow most of their feed.

The Resilient Gardener is both a conceptual and a hands-on gardening book, and is suitable for gardeners at all levels of experience. Resilience here is broadly conceived and encompasses a full range of problems, from personal hard times such as injuries, family crises, financial problems, health problems, and special dietary needs (gluten intolerance, food allergies, carbohydrate sensitivity, and a need for weight control) to serious regional and global disasters and climate change. It is a supremely optimistic as well as realistic book about how resilient gardeners and their gardens can flourish even in challenging times and help their communities to survive and thrive through everything that comes their way — from tomorrow through the next thousand years.

Watch: Naomi Wolf on Fox Business “Money Rocks”

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Naomi Wolf, author of the bestselling book, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, took part in a panel on the Fox Business “Money Rocks” show last week.

Also featured was Velma Hart, the ordinary-citizen-cum-”American hero” who boldly confronted President Obama in a town hall forum in Washington, DC this past Monday.

Stating that she was “exhausted” from trying to defend Obama and “deeply disappointed” by the failed promises of his administration, Hart became, according to the current news cycle – which can’t seem to get enough of her, an outspoken representative of the frustrated American masses. Watch the video below and see how Naomi weighs in.

See the video “Days of ‘Dogs and Beans’ On the Horizon for Americans” here.

Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America, a New York Times Bestseller published in 2007 and available in our bookstore.

The Transition Handbook in Yes! Magazine

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Whenever I’m feeling depressed about the current state of the world (and let’s face it, these days this is quite often), I am instantly cheered and encouraged by reading about the Transition Towns movement. If you’re not yet aware of Rob Hopkins’ brilliant, empowering work in Totnes, England, and its resultant movement now spreading all over the world (including several initiatives here in the United States), don’t waste a moment and head straight to The Transition Handbook page to get started.

Transition is about relocalizing communities and cultivating resilience in the face of both climate change and peak oil. Thankfully, the good folks at Yes! Magazine have caught on to the incredible potential of this movement as well, and decided to highlight the Transition movement in the following article.

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Ciaran Mundy, a successful high-tech entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in soil ecology, started a website to update people on all the “terrible news about climate change.” But after a while, he felt it wasn’t working—that it would never work. “It took me years to realize there’s no point in putting up more facts and figures,” he says. “They just bounce off people.”

Then he stumbled across the Transition Town movement, which was just picking up steam in his city—Bristol, England. When Mundy attended a training session on Transition Towns, he found a group of people addressing the big problems of our time, and doing it with optimism and a sense of celebration.

The Transition movement is built around making the transition to a world after peak oil—the time when world oil production reaches an all-time high, then goes into irreversible decline. Oil prices will spike and the economy will stop growing, wreaking havoc in our society, which depends on petroleum for nearly everything, from growing food to maintaining economies. The Transition movement aims to prepare communities for peak oil—or climate change, or economic meltdown—by reclaiming lost skills, teaching new ones, and fostering local self-sufficiency.

The movement’s approach and attitude, as much as its goals, galvanized Mundy. “It’s not about being angsty, and doing worthy things. It’s about celebrating,” he says. “I like parties—I’m a bit of a party animal,” he adds with a grin. “So it’s perfect for me.”

Starting the Transition
Transition Towns started in 2005 as a community project led by Rob Hopkins, who was teaching permaculture in a rural Irish town called Kinsale. The year before, he and his class watched a new movie, The End of Suburbia, that said peak oil will completely transform our lives. “It greatly focused the mind and came as a great shock to everyone—myself included,” Hopkins writes in The Transition Handbook, the movement’s bible. He added a project to his course to imagine how Kinsale “might successfully make the transition to a lower-energy future.”

Hopkins moved to Totnes, a town in southwestern England, and launched the first official Transition Town. He rallied people to devise an “energy descent plan”— which has become the core of the Transition movement—for scaling back energy use, sourcing food and other goods closer to home, and otherwise aiming for local sustainability.

Hopkins’ Handbook argues that these steps are essential to avoid undermining the planet’s ability to support humanity, regardless of when the effects of peak oil kick in.

But these efforts could also strengthen communities and improve people’s daily lives. There’s no downside to eating fresher food, getting to know our neighbors, and avoiding maddening commutes. Those are all solid preparation for energy and food shortages, economic shocks, and climate tempests to come—and they may help us avoid such a bleak future.

Transition Bristol
Mundy’s party-loving enthusiasm seems infectious. Transition Montpelier, Mundy’s local group, has been in many ways the most successful in and around Bristol. Besides organizing street parties, they’re growing food in allotments—city-owned garden plots that people can sign up to use—and in planters they’re building along the streets. They’re assembling a buyer’s group to build their own renewable power mini-grid, getting solar panels for the neighborhood at a discount, and then divvying up the electricity. And they’re devising their own local currency for Bristol, to support local businesses and strengthen the whole local economy by keeping money circulating in the community.

It’s no surprise that, in 2007, Bristol became the first large city to start the Transition process—it was the 11th official Transition group—it’s regarded as one of the country’s greenest places. A progressive city near the ocean, its hills are dotted with pastel Victorians. In its neighborhoods, the main streets feature organic food shops and cafes serving fair trade coffees. The city council’s sustainability office is in a revamped, energy- efficient, former tobacco warehouse, and out front they have a model home that’s hyper-efficient.

“You can have lots of people who understand how to do stuff–gardening, home energy saving, bicycle repairs … but the magic lies in helping communities get together.”

More than a dozen Transition groups have sprung up in Bristol’s neighborhoods and surrounding villages, like Portishead and Clevedon. “Our approach [for] how to take Bristol through the Transition process … is to see the city as a network of villages,” says Transition Bristol’s official website. The approach seems to be taking off. Each neighborhood or village group has only a handful of core members, which makes meetings tractable and maintains a focus on a small part of the city that the members know well. A central group for Bristol, and another emerging for the wider area, are clearinghouses for experiences and coordinate efforts among smaller groups.

As of this writing, nearly 300 communities in more than a dozen countries have started their own Transition Town initiatives. The bulk are in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but groups are also springing up in Portugal, Italy, Japan, and Chile.

Many have come to Transition groups on a path similar to Mundy’s: They were worried about the environment and wanted to be sustainable, but they didn’t feel they were making much of a difference. Now, instead of worrying, they’re actually doing something.

That’s how it worked for Bill Roberts, a music teacher who’s turned his whole backyard into a garden. He started a Transition initiative in his village, Long Ashton, on the outskirts of Bristol. “I thought for years of joining my local Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, but I never did,” Roberts says. Those organizations, he says, are “really top-down.”

But Transition is “bottom-up,” Roberts says. For him, that makes all the difference, putting “the importance and power of it at the community level.” When he first heard about Transition Towns, he “found it very inspiring—that to be green, we could actually have a better life.”

A local book publisher is letting the Long Ashton group use a piece of land to start a community vegetable garden. When they wanted to break the sod, a Conservative Party district councilor brought his draft horses and plowed the plot. It was tough work, even for the stout horses, but now Transition Long Ashton is planting crops and building a chicken coop.

Although these neighbors put in a lot of effort to create this garden, they enjoyed it, Roberts says. It’s the same feeling that reeled him in to the Transition movement in the first place. “It’s not that you give something,” he says. “It’s that you’re coming together and you get something.”

Mason Inman wrote this article for A Resilient Community, the Fall 2010 issue of YES! Magazine.  Mason is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.  He focuses on climate and energy issues, and blogs about resilience at Failing Gracefully.

This article appeared originally on Yes!

Rob Hopkins is the author of The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, available now. Watch Rob’s TED talk video here!

BioCycle World reviews Holy Shit

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Gene Logsdon’s Holy Shit garnered the following review in the September 2010 issue of BioCycle World – a publication dedicated to advanced composting, recycling, and renewable energy. 

Logsdon Shouts “Manure” From The Mountaintops
Contrary Farmer Gene Logsdon’s most-recent title Holy Shit: Managing Manure To Save Mankind (Chelsea Green, 2010) may sound a bit irreverent at first blush, but nothing could be farther from the truth. With characteristic wit and humor, Logsdon draws extensively from his wide and varied background as a farmer, scholar of anthropology and archeology, agricultural journalist and longtime BioCycle contributor to make a solid case for not flushing and forgetting about one of the world’s most precious resources. “Most people, even farmers, do not have really good grasp of the food chain,” says Logsdon, whose book offers chapters on such varied but complementary topics as pitchforks and their proper use, maintaining and operating a small manure spreader, animal husbandry and manure management, recycling grey water for irrigation, and composting cat, dog and human waste.

“Nothing prepared me better for writing this book more than working for BioCycle,” says Logsdon. “Before that, I never thought about waste at all — most of us don’t.” Logsdon says what was initially planned as a small volume on handling barn manure soon took on a life of its own. “I realized all the stuff I learned at BioCycle fits into this book,” he adds. Logsdon, who grew up on a farm, contends that Western civilization is consumed with an unnatural paranoia about excrement and thus goes to great expense and folly to keep it out of site and out of mind. This includes expending an estimated 58,400 gallons of water a year per household to flush it away. Meanwhile, the author points out, synthetic fertilizer costs skyrocket while farms are left devoid of organic material and the beneficial microbiology — or as Logsdon put it, “livestock” — that comes with it.

Logsdon’s historical and personal anecdotes are equal parts entertaining and informative. For instance, the author informs us not far into Chapter 1 that once upon a time in China, “The polite thing to do after enjoying a meal at a friend’s house was to go to the bathroom before you departed. I am not making that up,” he promises. “Manure was treated like a precious gem because it was a precious gem.” When Logsdon reveals over polite dinner party conversation with some “Very Nice People” that he “manures” his garden ever year, the reader can almost hear the gentrified jaw drop.

No subject is taboo for Logsdon including his exploration of applying treated biosolids to agricultural lands. “Humans discharge from their bodies something approaching 50 million tons of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium per year,” he writes. “We’re talking $50 billion a year in biosolids fertilizer that we are mostly throwing away, after spending incalculable amounts of money to do the throwing.”

Whether you keep a couple of backyard chickens, run a small truck patch, operate a dairy or sometimes just get the urge to sit and think deeply about things, you will no doubt find many nuggets of wisdom between the covers of Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

Gene Logsdon is the author of Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind. Head over to our bookstore to learn more.

Excerpt: How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

I had just finished writing a story about the “soldier of the future,” and I was on the bus to Heathrow Airport when I heard the news on the radio. The reporter explained that, according to Swedish experts, a high level of radioactivity that could have arisen from a nuclear-power station accident had been detected in that Scandinavian country.

It was April 28, 1986, the day after the Chernobyl accident. For me, that news suddenly reawakened a feeling of forgotten urgency. Ten or fifteen years before, I had read Ivan Illich, La Gueule ouverte (“Open Mouth,” the first environmental magazine, founded in 1972), Le Sauvage (another ecology magazine, associated with Le Nouvel Observateur, that came out in 1973), and had been enthralled by ecology, which seemed to be the only real alternative at a time when Marxism was triumphant.

Then life pushed me in other directions. As a journalist, I was immersed in the microcomputing revolution. At a time when Time magazine crowned the computer “Man of the Year,” I, along with my colleagues from Science et Vie Micro, was discovering the arcana of the first Macintosh, Minitel’s messageries roses (literally, “pink messages,” an online service of France Telecom) that prefigured adult Internet forums and chat rooms, and the adventures of a young guy named Bill Gates who had just concluded a smoking deal with IBM.

Then suddenly, Chernobyl. There was an overwhelmingly obvious need: to think about ecology. And there was an exigency: to report about it. I began to do just that. Since then, I have always been guided by two rules: to be independent, and to produce good information that is precise, pertinent, and original. Also, I held back from doomsdayism. While I was among the first to write about climate issues, the genetically modified organism (GMO) adventure, and the biodiversity crisis, I have never exaggerated. It seems to me that the facts, presented with tenacious attention to such obviously important subjects, are sufficient to speak to our intellect. And I believed that intelligence would be sufficient to transform the world.

However, after having believed that things would change, that society would evolve, and that the system could improve, today I make two observations: First, the planet’s ecological situation is worsening at a speed that the efforts of millions—but too few—of the world’s citizens who are aware of the drama have not succeeded in slowing down; and second, the social system that presently governs human society—capitalism—blindly sticks to its guns against the changes that are indispensable if we want to preserve the dignity and promise of human existence.

These two observations led me to throw my weight—however minimal it may be—onto the scales by writing this book, which is short and as clear as possible without oversimplifying. You will read an alarm here, but above all, a double appeal upon which the future success of everything depends: to ecologists, to think about social arrangements and power relationships; to those who think about social arrangements, to take the true measure of the ecological crisis and how it relates to justice.

The comfort in which Western societies are immersed must not conceal us from the gravity of the moment. We are entering a time of lasting crisis and possible catastrophe. Signs of the ecological crisis are clearly visible, and the hypothesis of a catastrophe is becoming realistic.

Yet, in reality, people pay little attention to these signs. They influence neither politics nor the economy. The system does not know how to change trajectory. Why?

Because we don’t succeed in seeing the interrelationship of ecology and society.

However, we cannot understand the concomitance of the ecological and social crises if we don’t analyze them as the two sides of the same disaster. And that disaster derives from a system piloted by a dominant social stratum that today has no drive other than greed, no ideal other than conservatism, no dream other than technology.

This predatory oligarchy is the main agent of the global crisis—directly, by the decisions it makes. Those decisions aim to maintain the order that has been established to favor the objective of material growth, which is the only method, according to the oligarchy, to make the subordinate classes accept the injustice of the social situation.

But material growth intensifies environmental degradation.

The oligarchy also exercises a powerful indirect influence as a result of the cultural attraction its consumption habits exercise on society as a whole, and especially on the middle class. In the best-provided-for countries, as in developing countries, a large share of consumption answers a desire for ostentation and distinction. People aspire to lift themselves up the social ladder, which happens through imitation of the superior class’s consumption habits. Thus, the oligarchy diffuses its ideology of waste throughout the whole society.

The oligarchy’s behavior leads not only to the deepening of the crises. Faced with opposition to its privileges, with environmental anxiety, with criticism of economic neoliberalism, it also weakens public freedoms and the spirit of democracy.

A drift toward semi-authoritarian regimes may be observed almost everywhere in the world. The oligarchy that reigns in the United States is its engine, using the fear that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks elicited in U.S. society.

In this situation, which could lead to either social chaos or dictatorship, it is important to know what is right for us and for future generations to maintain: not “the earth,” but “the possibilities of human life on the planet,” as philosopher Hans Jonas calls them; that is, humanism, the values of mutual respect and tolerance, a restrained and rich relationship with nature, and cooperation among human beings.

To achieve those goals, it is not enough for society to become aware of the urgency of the ecological crisis—and of the difficult choices that preventing the crisis imposes, notably in terms of material consumption. What is necessary is that ecological concerns be articulated in a radical political analysis of current relationships of domination. We will not be able to decrease global material consumption if the powerful are not brought down and if inequality is not combated. To the ecological principle that was so useful at the time we first became aware—”Think globally; act locally,”—we must add the principle that the present situation imposes: “Consume less; share better.”

Herve Kempf is the author of How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth.

Su Casa Magazine reviews Adobe Homes for All Climates

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Su Casa Magazine included this complimentary review of Adobe Homes for All Climates: Simple, Affordable, and Earthquake-Resistant Natural Building Techniques, in a fall round-up of newly released building books.  Although Su Casa is based in the Southwest, don’t forget that (as authors Lisa Schroder and Vince Ogletree explain) adobe can be used in any region or climate!

The following review first appeared in the Autumn 2010 issue of Su Casa Magazine.

New Mexicans are so possessive about adobe construction, you’d think we invented it here. The truth is, as authors Lisa Schroder and Vince Ogletree point out, people around the world have built with mud bricks for more than 5,000 years, and earthen material for 10,000—remember Jericho? Today, they claim, half the people in the world occupy an earthen home, and with good reason. Adobe is cheap, dirt is plentiful, and building with bricks lends itself to construction by beginners—which also lures many first-time owner-builders to start laying their own walls. Further, Schroder and Ogletree contend, adobe isn’t just for arid climates, as the book’s examples in New Zealand and England attest.

Adobe Homes for All Climates aims to be an instructional manual for novices, owner-builders, and experienced builders switching to adobe or seeking to learn new techniques. Hoping to encourage and inspire, the authors include fairly detailed chapters about making and laying adobe bricks, installing lintels and making arches, putting in conduits and pipes, installing windows and doors, attaching top plates and putting on bond beams, and applying plasters and other finishes.

New Mexican adoberos, who might rightly claim to have experience with the material second to none, will find a few challenging—or at least different—approaches on these pages. The authors don’t typically insulate their adobe walls, while most New Mexicans now insulate the exterior. Schroder and Ogletree advocate an 11 ¼-inch by 11 ¼-inch by 4 ¾-inch brick versus the typical New Mexican brick of 10 by 14 by 3 ½, the thickness of which accommodates making them in a frame with standard 2x4s (which aren’t really 4 inches). Furthermore, the authors use a sand/clay mix augmented by 5 to 7 percent cement, and they only occasionally add aggregate or fiber like straw. Their bricks, however, will cure even when it’s raining—can’t do that with a pure mud/clay mix—and weather much better in a wet climate.

Maybe the most dramatic difference, though, is Schroder and Ogletree’s patented “Adobe Madre” reinforcement and scaffolding system. They mold their bricks into a variety of shapes, each based on the basic square brick but with cutout holes and channels. Some look like a U, some like a square doughnut, some like a squared C. When stacked appropriately, these shapes accommodate a reinforcing steel bar, plumbing, or electric wiring run vertically through the wall. A channeled brick works with scaffold pipes, allowing you to build up removable scaffolding as you work higher up the wall. When you’re done, you slide out the pipes and fill the holes. Way cool.

If you’re in the target audience—curious newbie or open-minded professional—you’ll want to add this to your reading alongside the other classic adobe books. You’ll find these on most mud-heads’ shelves: Adobe: Build It Yourself by Albuquerque builder Paul Graham McHenry Jr. (University of Arizona Press), which was the bible for a generation of new-to-adobe builders in the 1970s; the classic plan book Adobe Architecture, by Myrtle and Wilfred Stedman (Sunstone Press); Passive Solar House Basics by alternative energy pioneer Peter van Dresser (Gibbs Smith, Publisher); and the more recent Adobe Houses for Today, by Su Casa contributors and home designers Laura and Alex Sanchez (Sunstone Press).

Check out Adobe Homes for All Climates by Lisa Schroder and Vince Ogletree today!

Q&A with Philip Ackerman-Leist: Up Tunket Road

Friday, September 24th, 2010

For seven years Philip Ackerman-Leist and his wife, Erin, lived without electricity or running water in an old cabin in the beautiful but remote hills of western New England. As they slowly forged their farm and homestead, Philip and Erin embraced the joys of simple living while also acknowledging its frustrations and complexities. In his inspiring book, Up Tunket Road, Ackerman-Leist shares those adventures, foibles, and epiphanies.

Chelsea Green Publishing: The title of your new book, Up Tunket Road, is a bit of a play on words. Where is Tunket Road and how did you get there?

Philip Ackerman-Leist: Yes, “Tunket” is a curious word—an old word with an unclear origin. But it does appear in old texts as a mild epithet, a toned-down curse word that replaces a somewhat stronger word. The classic example seems to be “What in the Tunket?!” Essentially, “What in the hell?!” A book of old Vermont place names that I found several years after settling into our homestead actually used the example, “Why in the Tunket would he want to live there?” The irony, I guess, is quite clear.

As for how we ended up there, it’s pretty much what I would tell my students not to do when looking for a job or a piece of land. I took a job with no contract and I found a piece of land by following my gut more than my head. My wife, Erin, and I came to Vermont at the invitation of my old friend, Tom Benson, who was the new president of Green Mountain College and was in the midst of transforming the college into his vision of an “environmental liberal arts college.” I came to build a college farm and a sustainable agriculture curriculum. I didn’t realize how controversial an idea that was until I’d arrived. Erin and I decided that regardless of how things worked out at the college, we’d found a captivating region to settle down in, so we decided to choose a place that would work for us no matter whether my vision for a college farm came to fruition or not.

When I talk to my students about finding a piece of land where they can farm or homestead, I always suggest that they look long and hard, comparing real estate values and options, checking soils maps, and visiting parcels in different seasons, if possible. But I just got up one day and decided it was time to find a piece of land. I left Erin and her mom that morning and said I was going to go find a place to live. They laughed and let me go my merry way. But I actually found it within hours of setting out. In fact, our place up Tunket Road was the first real estate ad that I circled in the local flyer that morning. And, at less than $40,000, it was the only place we could afford that had some semblance of an inhabitable building on it!

CGP: The book opens with a scene of you in a classroom at Green Mountain College asking your students what it means to homestead. And you revisit that question throughout the book. Following your 13-year experience building a homestead in Vermont with your wife, Erin, what conclusions have you come to about what it means to homestead in the 21st century?

P-AL: Well, it ain’t what it was for Thoreau, or even for the Nearings—even though there are valuable vestiges of both in our cultural assumptions about why one should embark on such an adventure. It’s still about not only searching for a meaningful existence, but also carefully crafting it. It’s still about wanting to be connected to the natural world. And it’s still about pushing against the status quo in a relatively quiet manner. But some things strike me as very different in the 21st century.

For starters, we’re much more distant—chronologically and often geographically—from homesteading traditions. Our culture is quickly casting aside basic skills and invaluable parts of our human inheritance. For example, as we rely on industry to produce our food, clothing, furniture, and even our entertainment, we lose the skills we need to produce those things for ourselves. As that happens, we also lose other valuable things that go along with those skills: heirloom vegetables with niches and stories, old tools that make ecological sense, livestock breeds that offer hope for sane and humane animal agriculture, ways of looking at the forest for sustenance, ways of learning that involve patience and humility instead of credits and certifications, a waning work ethic, and even an innate sense of satisfaction of what we’ve accomplished at the end of any given day.

But perhaps the most distinct thing about homesteading in the 21st century is the fact that we face an unprecedented swarm of interrelated ecological crises…and I’m neither a pessimist nor a conspiracy theorist. I’m just someone who cares about how we treat our collective ecological inheritance and each other. It’s not simply the scale of these crises that makes homesteading in the 21st century so different from previous eras—rather, it’s the fact that homesteaders can no longer afford to be reclusive individualists. In essence, ecology—the science that we love to tout—has smoked us out of our holes and hermitages. We’re all in this quandary together, and the idea of retreating instead of stepping out and up is no longer viable in my view. If we believe that we have ideas and lifestyles relevant to countering our current ecological and social crises, then we need to step out of the shadows and offer what we can to help find solutions. If we’re good ecologists, then we can no longer pretend that we’re somehow separate from the problems. We’re part of the problem, but we can also be at the vanguard of the solutions. That said, we also need to be humble and recognize that there’s a lot more to learn once we engage public processes toward change—not just about process and leverage and open-minded persistence, but also about the interdisciplinary complexity of the problems we’re trying to tackle.

CGP: You’ve also lived in very different regions from Vermont (the South Tirol in Europe, North Carolina). How much is homesteading a localized thing, based on the specifics of place? Are there any universal principles you’ve discovered that seem to apply to any setting?

PA-L: Homesteading, when it’s rooted in place, is probably serving one of its most important functions in our modern world: preserving cultural traditions and conserving a region’s resources, ranging from specific livestock breeds developed and adapted to the region’s ecological niche to stewarding the land out of deep respect and humility. Homesteads harbor native knowledge through living practices. But homesteads are also sites of experimentation—living laboratories, in some ways—places where homesteaders try to wed the parts of a place’s history that still make sense with new ideas and technologies that help us confront our current ecological and social challenges.

That said, there are plenty of homesteading principles and practices that seem to transcend place: a focus on growing healthy food, generating renewable energy, living lightly (not living-lite), balancing independence with interdependence, and making conscious technological choices. In some ways, it’s more about intent than it is about place.

CGP: As a professor, you’re very much a part of the academic world and yet this book is also about the education you received outside the classroom from some old-time Vermonters. What was the most valuable lesson you learned and who taught it to you?

PA-L: It’s a toss up, I guess. Living in Vermont is an ongoing experience in weather extremes. You go from minus twenty degrees one day to unfathomable mud a few weeks later. And when I say mud, I mean mud—mud that will trap a truck or a cow in ways you’d never imagine. Our dairy farmer neighbor, Donald, taught me an important lesson that I don’t think he ever quite articulated—I’ve just watched Donald and his family live it. Mud, snow, rain, drought, mechanical failures—all of the things that can seem insurmountable at any given moment—eventually you work your way through all of them. Sometimes it’s a matter of just waiting it out, knowing that things will work themselves out before too long, and other times you just have to work like hell to fix the problem with a balance of brains and brawn.

And then there was Carl, who deservedly earned his own chapter in the book. Carl was dogged in his determination to make sure that I got to know the people and the terrain that we academics don’t always pay enough attention to unless it’s through a survey, a piece of literature, or some sort of spatial analysis. Academics tend to be very comfortable in confronting local people and places in abstract ways, but we don’t always do such a good job at building relationships with our neighbors and our local terrain—and Carl knew that. He felt like anything I did—whether it was on my homestead, in the classroom, or on the nascent college farm—had to done with the wisdom, lore, and backdrop of the people and places surrounding the college.

In the end, I owe most of my success as a teacher in Vermont to Donald’s quiet lessons and Carl’s famous “Monday night tours” through the region to get me educated and up to snuff.

CGP: You and Erin have faced and surmounted some incredible (and incredibly funny) challenges. What was the biggest challenge?

PA-L: Probably the biggest challenge was building two barns and then a house in the face of winter. Inevitably, with each of those big building projects, winter loomed, even in June…just the thought of how to get any building to the point of being roofed and enclosed before winter was on my mind at the beginning of the summer. There are days you can forget about it and relax, but there’d better not be too many of those days, or you’re gonna end up in trouble come late fall. The epitome of that was the Thanksgiving following the summer that we built the frame of the house.

Erin’s family was here with us, and we had that weekend to get all of the windows and doors installed. As fate would have it, there was also a huge storm that blew in at the same time. So not only were we facing gale-force winds while installing all of those glass-laden wind foils, but the incessant driving rain causing severe flooding that then created a breach in the dam of our new pond. Erin’s folks were troopers on all counts, half of them helping to get the windows and doors installed with sleet flying through the openings while the rest of them were helping to levee the pond and dig out the spillway. Sometimes I wonder why anyone ever returns for a visit…

CGP: What has brought you the greatest joy up Tunket Road?

PA-L: Probably any number of evening meals with family and friends after a long day’s work—or sometimes a long day of play, although the two often seem to go hand-in-hand. Nothing rivals the fellowship that follows a good hard day of tangible work.

Clearing out my email inbox gives me very little satisfaction. But clearing rocks or brush from a pasture or even cleaning out the chicken house every few months—those jobs I find deeply gratifying…and particularly fun when done with friends and our kids. There’s nothing that brings me deeper contentment than watching our children find ways to amuse themselves either by helping or by playing on the periphery of a job. The kids learn about work while they teach me about the spontaneity of discovery.

CGP: You suggest in the end that homesteading is more of a state of mind than anything else. The popular vision of going “back to the land” is still very attractive to some people. But is it just as possible to make a homestead in the suburbs, or even in a city?

PA-L: Absolutely. In fact, it’s vital that we readjust our cultural understandings and expectations of what homesteading is and where it can take place. When we look at the demographic shifts throughout the world—more people now living in cities than in rural areas, a burgeoning global population, and increased fragmentation of our landscapes—we have to begin to reassess our cultural assumptions about what homesteading is. Is it about a close association with nature? Sure it is. But that close association can come in many different forms, and I think that we need to open up the homesteading tradition so that others can join in.

One can lead a life closely linked to the seasons in any environment. Think of the power and pleasure that comes from container gardening—maxing out the ecological potential of a balcony or a backyard patio to produce food. That kind of experience can be as intimate and rich as much of what I do here in the backwoods of Vermont. In fact, one can make the argument that such a life might have a smaller ecological footprint than mine. The key is what we do and why—not where.

Actually, I think that suburban and urban homesteaders have a lot of things to teach people like me!

Philip Ackerman-Leist is the author of Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader, available now.


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