Archive for July, 2011

Environmental Activist Diane Wilson on The Rag Radio

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Listen to Diane Wilson, eco-activist extraordinaire, on The Rag Radio.

The Rag was an underground paper from Austin, Texas that was published for eleven years starting in 1966. It lives on as The Rag Blog, and the radio show. For more about this fascinating, fertile little instance of resistance, go here:

From their site:

From coverage of antiwar marches to Black Panthers, from expose’s on the UT Regents to incidents of police brutality, from poetry espousing sexual liberation to the source for critical news about the South Texas Nuclear Project, The Rag became a weekly reader for a wide swath of Austin’s counterculture, peace movement, feminist movement, coop movement and the nascent anti-nuclear movement. And it became a “must read” for the established powers as well.

Chewing it Over

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

This is reposted from The Australian, where you can read the original.

WE’RE told we could solve many of the world’s environmental problems if we stop eating meat. But is it true?

That’s the question Simon Fairlie — a self-described “agricultural worker, smallholder, environmentalist journalist and hippie” in the UK — sets out to answer in his book Meat: a Benign Extravagance.

“I embarked on it,” writes Fairlie, “because I like eating meat and keeping livestock and I wanted to address doubts I had about the sustainability and environmental justice of my way of life.”

When I learnt that environmental journalist George Monbiot – who’d made a well-publicised conversion to veganism – had sunk his fangs into flesh again after finishing this book, I had to get hold of it. I wanted to examine Fairlie’s arguments, where possible, from an Australian perspective.

The issues of feed and water are key in any examination of meat production. Two statistics are relentlessly waved around like banners at a protest march by agricultural scientists, vegans and journalists. The first is that it takes 100,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef. The second is that the feed conversion ratio for producing animal protein from beef cattle – meaning units of nutrition fed to an animal and amount of nutrition produced when that animal is eaten – is (on average) 10:1. That means 10 units in, only 1 unit out. If true, this would mean that beef farming is undeniably unsustainable. (The conversion ratios given for other animals are 5:1 for pork, and 4:1 for poultry.)

Let’s look first at Fairlie’s interrogation of water use. That figure of 100,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef is cited in many papers published by Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University in the US. But to get through that amount of water, a pasture-fed steer would need to consume 12,500 tonnes of water in the 500 days of its life – that’s 25,000 litres per day.

Such a figure, even when applied to feedlot cattle, taking into account the amount of water needed to raise the grain eaten in that feedlot and the water used in the abattoir, is ridiculous. How did Pimentel arrive at it? Fairlie traces the history of the calculation, which “takes into account every scrap of precipitation that falls upon the area of land a beef cow might occupy”. And it doesn’t take into account the vast quantities of very useful fertiliser deposited on the land when cattle pee.

Now let’s look at that feed conversion ratio. While Fairlie certainly doesn’t support the feeding of unsustainable quantities of human-edible grain to animals in feedlots, he points out that in arriving at the 10:1 formula, a lot of important stuff has been left out, such as the higher nutritional quality of meat protein, and the value of all the by-products, including the hide, collagen and waste meat used in pet foods. The value of these by-products reduces by at least 15 per cent the 10:1 ratio.

But another statistic ignored or overlooked by the proponents of the 10:1 “grain in/protein out” ratio for cattle comes from a 1997 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation census on all livestock. This calculated that of the 966 million tonnes of human edible cereals, roots and tubers produced globally, 74 million tonnes is fed to livestock. From that meat, milk and eggs which “contain 53 million tonnes of protein” is produced. This pegs the global aggregate conversion ratio of human edible grain to human edible meat back to 1.4:1 for all meat and meat products. And because all of these figures are comparing grain in to protein out, it should be noted that in Australia we send only about 30 per cent of our beef cattle to grain feed lots, mostly for only 60 to 100 days. This means that 70 per cent of the beef produced in this country eats mainly grass – a food inedible to us – as per their original design. Even the 30 per cent grain-fed cattle spend much of their lives on pasture. And, very important in this country, while eating grass they drink rainwater.

Then there’s the magic pig: While cattle eat what we can’t – grass – pigs, throughout history, have eaten what we won’t: discarded human food, known as swill. But swill is not permitted to be fed to pigs in Australia, even though we throw out three million tonnes of food a year (around 136kgs each). Why can’t this be recycled to the pork industry?

According to Dr Robert van Barneveld, consultant in nutrition to Australian Pork Limited, “it’s all about food safety. Technically we could examine the swill content [and process it for consumption by pigs]. But the issues are making sure those waste streams comply with the relative state laws which are there to prevent exotic disease”. By which is meant foot and mouth. Meanwhile, pigs are fed industrial feed containing human-edible grain.

This may change, though. Barneveld cites work being done to produce edible algae as a base for pig food,  “taking advantage of Australian sunlight and nutrient outflow to produce a food that doesn’t compete with humans”.

Then there’s the issue of grazing. Many farmers and scientists argue that grazing cattle, even in Australia, is not only harmless to the land but beneficial in a number of ways – by storing carbon in the soil, for example.
Successive theorists – from French ecologist André Voisin, author of Grass Productivity, to biologist Allan Savory – have evolved their theories based upon the behaviour of wild ruminants. In his book Should Meat be on the Menu? Australian journalist David Mason-Jones writes that while studying desertification in Africa, “Savory realised that, in the natural state, wild ruminants, held tightly together by abundant predators, intensively grazed in small areas for short periods. Then they moved on. The intensively grazed section of grassland rested and recovered abundantly”.

That process of short bursts of intensive grazing sets in train a combination of complex mechanisms which, its advocates maintain, increases soil carbon. And Australia needs more soil carbon. Between 1839 and 1843, the explorer Paul Edmund De Strzelecki collected 41 soil samples around southeastern Australia. The top ten samples had an average of 20 per cent organic matter (soil carbon), the bottom ten an average of 3.72 per cent. Today, the average in Australia is around 1 per cent.

Mason-Jones has studied the effects of these intensive grazing methods and claims “some farmers are lifting [soil carbon] from 1.3 to 1.6 – that’s a 20 per cent increase in a relatively short space of time.” In various parts of the world, including Australia, there are now soil carbon markets which pay farmers for the carbon that they store.
Fairlie is against the practice of trading carbon, but not the idea that good grazing practices can improve pasture. “There is nothing to be lost,” he writes, “by encouraging mavericks to experiment with ways in which nature can store carbon whilst releasing in greater abundance the nutrients we need.”

All things considered, can we continue to eat meat? It would appear, with some reservations, yes. But we must eat less, and drastically change the way we farm it. Factory farming is not only cruel to animals but also wasteful of resources. Chemicals used in farming are degrading the environment and the most precious resource we have – soil. And, while it is not mentioned in Fairlie’s book, I’m sure he would come down against the practice of exporting live cattle by ship for any number of reasons to do with animal welfare, and for crimes against natural ecosystems.

Fairlie’s preferred form of farming is permaculture, and he quotes the English author of The Earth Care Manual, Patrick Whitefield, who writes that “at root [permaculture] means taking natural ecosystems as the model for our own human habitats”. That being the case, Fairlie points out, “All natural ecosystems have animals that eat the vegetation as well as one another, and are integral to the ecological balance”.

Meat: a Benign Extravagance is a complex and thought-provoking book and I would hope that those who are in charge of our food supply – farmers, agricultural scientists, politicians and those who care about what they eat and how it is raised – read it thoroughly.

Meat: a Benign Extravagance is published by Permanent Publications in the UK and Chelsea Green in the US.

Guess What? We Won!

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

We’re thumping our chests with pride to announce the awards and recognition that Chelsea Green authors have received so far this year. It’s edifying to know that the important work our authors do is being appreciated out in the world. It’s more inspiration for them to keep it up, and for us to keep up the search for the next great activist-writer!

In celebration (and congratulations to our authors), we are putting the following award-nominated and-winning books on sale for 25% off until August 15.



Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables


Michael Pollan calls her one of his food heroes.

Barbara Kingsolver credits her with shaping the history and politics of food in the United States.

Now, the gutsy instigator of the nation’s food fight speaks out on life, love, and aging in a moving memoir about growing older on a changing planet.

Growing, Older begins when Gussow loses her husband of 40 years to cancer and, two weeks later, finds herself skipping down the street—-much to her alarm.

With humor and wit, she explains her new-found sense of liberation after her husband’s illness and death, and shares poignant stories from a life well examined.



Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture 

The first edition of Gaia’s Garden sparked the imaginations of America’s home gardeners, introducing permaculture’s central message: working with Nature, not against her, results in more beautiful, abundant, and forgiving gardens.

As Hemenway demonstrates, it’s fun and easy to create a “backyard ecosystem” by assembling communities of plants that can work cooperatively and perform a variety of functions, including:

  • Building and maintaining soil fertility and structure
  • Catching and conserving water in the landscape
  • Providing habitat for beneficial insects, birds, and animals
  • Growing an edible “forest” that yields seasonal fruits, nuts, and other foods


“The world didn’t come with an operating manual, so it’s a good thing that some wise people have from time to time written them. Gaia’s Garden is one of the more important, a book that will be absolutely necessary in the world ahead.”

—-Bill McKibben



Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks,

and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout



Disaster on the Horizon delves into the worst oil well accident in US history, which killed eleven men and led to the current environmental and economic catastrophe on the Gulf Coast.

With thirty years of experience in oil and gas operations, insider Bob Cavnar provides a candid, engaging, and chilling look at the industry, its resistance to regulation, and the government concessions that are now putting people and the coastlines in jeopardy.

Cavnar calls out his own industry for ignoring safety improvements and lobbying to end the moratorium on off-shore drilling as quickly as possible.




International Association of Culinary Professionals Jane Grigson Award, & 2011 Finalist, IACP Culinary History Category

Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares: 

The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms

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. This fascinating and fresh look at mushrooms—-their natural history, their uses and abuses, their pleasures and dangers—-is a splendid introduction to both fungi and our human fascination with them.

“This book is an enticing invitation into the fungal realm, accessible and a pleasure to read.” —- Sandor Ellix Katz, Author of Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved  

Save 25%


A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama’s Promise, 

Wall Street’s Power, and the Struggle to Control our Economic Future 

ON SALE NOW – 25% off!


Can Barack Obama redeem his presidency?

When Barack Obama took office, he had an unprecedented chance to do what no other recent president could: seize the nation’s financial reins from the corporate elite and return them to the American people. But that is not the way things turned out.


In this hard-hitting, incisive account, Kuttner shares his unique, insider view of how the Obama administration not only missed its moment to turn our economy around, but deepened Wall Street’s risky grip on America’s future. More importantly, Kuttner shows how we could—-with swift, decisive action—-still enact real reforms, and how Barack Obama could redeem his promise.  


Best Book of February 2011

Sex and the River Styx 


ON SALE NOW – 25% off!


Called the best essayist of his time by luminaries such as Philip Roth, John Updike, and Edward Abbey, Edward Hoagland is in a class of his own and brings readers his ultimate collection.


Here we meet Hoagland at his best: reflecting on aging, love, and sex in a deeply personal, often surprising way, and bringing us the wonder of wild places, alongside the disparity of losing them—-and always with a twist that brings the genre of nature writing to vastly new heights.

“One of the greatest prose stylists of our time, he is 78, and this is his best book-great God, I am stunned at this accomplishment!” —- Garrison Keillor

Even Birds Have Withdrawn from Afghanistan

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

This September marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11/2001. That’s probably when you first started thinking about Afghanistan, but the longer history of the troubled nation reveals much more than the influence of Al Qaeda. Edward Girardet’s fascinating new book Killing the Cranes is a crash course in Afghan history.

Read the book’s first review, from David Swanson.

This is reposted from David Swanson’s blog, where you can read the original and post comments.

Comparing the brain sizes of migratory birds and U.S. presidents may not help explain this one. Birds have been avoiding Afghanistan for some years now. Afghans with higher educations have been leaving for decades. War profiteers, and occupation profiteers, and “reconstruction” profiteers seem to know their way out. But imperial rulers, whether British or Soviet or U.S., seem utterly incapable of withdrawing other people’s kids from Afghan wars until no other option remains.

Speaking with Afghans via Skype over the weekend, I heard their top concern as avoiding a “strategic partnership agreement” that includes permanent U.S. military bases. This concern seems not to diminish in the slightest if the bases are called “enduring” or “stable” or anything other than permanent that means permanent. The top concern of the Pentagon, and of the President who works for it, and of the Congress that does what the President tells it, is clearly the exact opposite: establishing permanent bases. Americans fantasizing that President Obama has said everyone will be gone in 2014 need to go back and read the transcripts of his speeches.

The desire of the majority of U.S. citizens, on the other hand, seems to be to end the “war.” If the occupation could last forever, but involve less financial cost and less cost in U.S. lives, even if Afghans continued to die and hostility continued to build, I’m not sure my country wouldn’t favor that. We’re against particular wars when the patriotic pomp wears off, but are we against the ever-growing and ever-weakening empire of bases we fund without comment smack in the middle of a manufactured spending “crisis”?

I’ve long been a huge fan of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” but only recently did I read Chris Harman’s “A People’s History of the World.” Harman starts with what we can discern of prehistory before describing the first civilizations. Long before he gets to what we call the year zero, and then building ever more through the end of the book, a pattern emerges not entirely unlike that in Paul Kennedy’s “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.” As civilizations in various ages, on every continent, develop, they often grow top-heavy. They stop investing in what made them grow. They stop caring for their infrastructure and for the mass of their people. They start dumping more and more of their resources into an extremely wealthy minority and into wars. This is not some sort of natural cycle. Some cultures do it right away, some not for millennia. Some start to do it and pull back. Some slide slowly into it. But eventually, if you wait long enough, everybody seems to get there. Whether increased awareness of this pattern can help prevent it remains to be seen.

Empires’ path to the graveyard may be examined particularly well in the graveyard of empires, Afghanistan. Edward Girardet has been reporting from Afghanistan since 1979, and has just published an account of that entire period, called “Killing the Cranes: A Reporter’s Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan.” I highly recommend it. Girardet’s focus is on Afghanistan, a nation whose fate was dramatically worsened by the Soviet invasion, again dramatically worsened by the Soviet withdrawal and what followed, and yet again devastated by the U.S. occupation. Afghanistan just cannot seem to catch a break. But the flip side of this story is the damage that the USSR and US have done to themselves in the process.

Girardet’s story of national tragedy begins pre-Soviet invasion, with Kabul an international city, its people fashionably dressed in western clothes, rock music blaring out of cafes. One could have imagined the 1980s as a time of tourism rather than what it was, a time of genocide. The Soviets deliberately made conditions unlivable in Afghanistan, so that its fourteen to fifteen million people would leave, die, or obey. Sayed Abdullah, the Khalqi commander of Kabul’s Pul-e-Charki prison, announced in a party speech: “A million Afghans are all that should remain alive — a million communists. That’s all we need.” Girardet witnessed and reported on the exodus to Pakistan, the accompanying atrocities, and the growth of Afghans’ armed resistance. On April 20, 1979, the communists executed over 1,000 men and boys at Kerala. Girardet’s narrative constantly jumps back and forth in time (for example, to point out that many members of the Afghan government both in the 1980s and now were/are well known supporters of the resistance), but he fails to mention or suggest any comparison between Kerala and the Dasht-i-Leili massacre of 2001.

Back in 1979, “Western interest in media reports from Afghanistan reemerged during the Soviet-Afghan war,” Girardet writes, “only when the United States seriously upped the ante by supporting the mujahedeen in what became known as Operation Cyclone. Well over three billion U.S. dollars (some put the figure as high as eighteen billion) of military aid was supplied, including the Stinger anti-aircraft missile. Highly favorable coverage of how successful the United States was in helping the mujahedeen was orchestrated by Washington. In one case, the CIA invited the publishers of Newsweek and Time for lunch. The next week embarrassingly similar stories lauding the U.S. role appeared in the two magazines.”

Girardet describes his encounters and conversations with numerous key figures. In one incident he is nearly lynched by a crowd in Pakistan that has mistaken him for Salman Rushdie. In another tense scene, he and Osama bin Laden are arguing with each other, standing at some distance in the mountains, as groups of supporters gather behind each of them. But before bin Laden and other Arabs arrive on the scene, two leaders loom largest in Girardet’s account: Ahmad Shah Massoud and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Girardet describes them:

“Massoud was Tajik, and Hekmatyar Pushtun. Massoud was a shrewd and persevering guerrilla commander whose heroes were Charles de Gaulle, General Giap, Che Guevara, and John F. Kennedy, and who had proven himself in battle. Hekmatyar was a calculating, deceitful politician whose inspiration was Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, but who had started out as a communist.”

Massoud also befriended Girardet, while Hekmatyar tried to kill him. Massoud appears in this book heroic, noble, and larger than life. He makes it a priority to avoid civilian deaths. He welcomes foreigners. His word is solid, his followers love him, and he risks his own life to try to achieve peace. The United States fails to seriously support him. Al Qaeda kills him two days before the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Hekmatyar, who is still alive, was funded by but hated the West (the United States gave him at least a half a billion dollars), sacrificed the lives of others recklessly, attacked Afghan rivals as much as Soviet occupiers, and looked out primarily for his own selfish interests. Girardet suggests that the Pentagon may have preferred Hekmatyar largely because he spoke English. Massoud, who spoke Dari, Pushto, Urdu, Arabic, and French, was clearly a savage barbarian who could not communicate in a civilized language. Another theory Girardet cites is that the United States did not want the Afghan resistance to be too effective and end the war too quickly.

Girardet does not hold back about his feelings for these two men. He recounts admirable actions by Massoud, and the time when Hekmatyar ordered Girardet killed. The reporter immediately went to Hekmatyar’s house to confront him. Massoud deployed several men to guard Girardet.

So, this story is very personal, but the author also employs Massoud and Hekmatyar, the lion and the hyena, as representations of all that was best and is worst about Afghan culture. The arrival of cable television in the 1990s and early 2000s, he writes, ended the function of travelers as bearers of news. But the arrival of foreign fighters most deeply damaged codes of hospitality and honor, introducing suicide killings and vicious religious hatred to Afghanistan, and eroding the idea of a unified Afghan nation. The drug trade and prostitution have taken their toll as well. The United States turned a blind eye to Saudi trafficking in human beings. Added to these influences, the brutality of the U.S. occupation, with its disappearances and torture, has fueled horrific violence, just as earlier missteps fueled the attacks of 9-11.

Girardet faults Afghans for where they have gone wrong, as well as faulting the Saudis and the Chinese, but be reserves the most blame for Americans and Pakistanis: “By 2000, Massoud was trying to persuade the West to understand that without Pakistani support, there was no way the Taliban could continue.” But in April and May 2001, Pakistan was sending 30 trucks a day across the border. “On Vice President Cheney’s orders, the U.S. government also provided the Taliban with a grant worth forty-three million dollars. While U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft later relentlessly pursued the ‘American Talib’ John Walker Lindh, a twenty-year-old Californian, as its scapegoat for consorting with the enemy, no action was ever taken against those within the Bush administration who supported the Taliban financially or with other means — including American intelligence ‘observers’ operating with the ISI.”

In 2001, Massoud made his first trip to Europe. He warned both publicly and in private meetings with U.S. officials that al Qaeda was preparing a significant strike against the West, and that Pakistan must be pressured to end its support for the Taliban. “The Taliban would not last a year without Pakistan’s support,” he said.

Also, four months prior to 9-11, Girardet recounts how ABC News was informed that al Qaeda was planning to hijack aircraft to attack the West. “ABC never used this information because of pressure brought by a ‘certain intelligence agency,’ presumably the CIA which wanted the runner [the informant] returned [to Afghanistan].”

In recent years, rather than trying to improve on its understanding of Afghanistan and avoid deadly mistakes in the future, the U.S. government has put resources into trying to silence people like Girardet, including hiring the Rendon Group to draft a press release for the Afghan Ministry of the Interior accusing him of financial crimes. A better use of U.S. resources would be paying someone to read “Killing the Cranes.”

Girardet’s book should be read for the fascinating accounts of his reporting adventures — as good as or better than “The Photographer” by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre, and Frederic Lemercier — but also for the richness of the understanding he conveys of how Afghan culture has been changed by these decades of war, and in particular by the foreign jihadists imported to oppose the Russians. Girardet writes with some authority when he arrives at a similar conclusion to that of just about everybody not in the pay of the Pentagon:

“Not unlike their Red Army counterparts during the 1980s, the Americans and their military allies are increasingly perceived by ordinary Afghans as an unwelcome foreign occupying force. Their behavior and lack of cultural awareness often emerge as affronts to Afghan customs and their sense of independence. . . . The growing resentment of Afghans toward the Western presence is not because Afghans necessarily prefer the Taliban and other insurgents, but because they have always resented outsiders, particularly those who insist on imposing themselves. Even more disconcerting, many Afghans no longer differentiate between soldiers and aid workers. Western policies have largely undermined the recovery process by usurping the traditional humanitarian role through the deployment of military Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and the deployment of foreign mercenaries and private contractors with little or no understanding of the country. Afghans also legitimately question the purpose of the United States spending one hundred million dollars a day on its military effort given that such funds might be better spent on recovery itself.”

Read the original review over at

The End of Cheap Oil: An Opportunity to Create a Better World

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Here at Chelsea Green we spend half our time worrying about what’s going to happen when the resources our society depends upon become so scarce we can’t afford them anymore…and the other half getting excited about the unreal opportunity that kind of scarcity represents! Authors like Rob Hopkins of the Transition movement are favorites because of their realistic optimism. Blogger Christine over at 350 or Bust feels the same way. From a recent post:

As a species with the creativity, adaptability and opposable thumbs that enabled us to create an Oil Age in the first place, we can be pretty certain that there will be life beyond it. Similarly, we may be able to prevent the worst excesses of climate change, and indeed the measures needed would almost certainly make the world a far better place. However, the point is that the world and our lifestyles will look very different from the present. It is worth remembering that it takes a lot of cheap energy to maintain the levels of social inequality we see today, the levels of obesity, the record levels of indebtedness, the high levels of car use and alienating urban landscapes. Only a culture awash with cheap oil could become de-skilled on the monumental scale that we have, to the extent that some young people I have met are lucky to emerge from cutting a slice of bread with all their fingers intact. It is no exaggeration to say that we in the West are the single most useless generation (in terms of practical skills) to which this planet has ever played host. However, the first step to the creation of a localized, low-energy-abundant future is actually visioning its possibility.”

So writes Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition movement and author of “The Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience.” I’m halfway through this inspiring and practical book about how to embrace climate change and peak oil as the impetus to creating a better, healthier, more community-oriented way of being on this planet. The changes that Hopkins is talking about are not simple changes, like deciding to recycle; they are significant changes in thinking and in “business as usual”. But as he (and many others) point out, inevitable and profound changes are ahead, whether we are prepared for them or not. What Hopkins, and the Transition Movement, do is to provide a roadmap for navigating those changes. As Hopkins writes:

I do not have a crystal ball. I don’t know how the twin crises of peak oil and climate change will unfold – nobody does. I don’t know the exact date of peak oil, and again, nobody does. Similarly, I don’t know if and when we will exceed the 2 degree climate threshold, and what will happen if we do.

What I am certain of is that we are going to see extraordinary levels of change in every aspect of our lives. Indeed we have to see extraordinary levels of change if we are to navigate our societies away from dependence on cheap oil in such a way that they will be able to retain their social and ecological coherence and stabillity, and also live in a world with a relatively stable climate. In terms of looking forward, many people have set out different scenarios for what the future might hold. I have trawled through a lots of these for insights as to how life beyond the peak might be.

 Read the rest of Christine’s thoughts here.

Rob has written a new book for the Transition community, The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times, which hits our shelves this October. Check it out!

VIDEO: Fermenting Vegetables with Sandor Katz

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Here’s a video from our friends at Natural Health Solutions — Learn how easy it is to make your own sauerkraut, kimchi, and other vegetables at home from Sandor Elli Katz aka Sandorkraut, author of Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods. Video directed and edited by Matthew Feliss.

Click here to see the original posting

‘Permaculture,’ ‘organic’ and Felder all provide surprises

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

The article below appeared originally online at Clarion Ledger about Felder Rushing’s newest book Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Season.

A reader asked, “What you do, this ‘deep or pure organic,’ is more like permaculture, isn’t it?”

I’d have to say that’s a pretty good stab at an explanation, but only part of growing organic.

The term “permaculture” was coined by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, one of his students, to incorporate two concepts: “Permanent Culture” and “Permanent Agriculture.” Mollison said the concept came to him in 1959 while watching two marsupials browsing in the rain forests, seeing how flora and fauna worked together to be sustainable.

Since then, the term has grown to include a lot more than agriculture or gardening, embracing even political activity and international problem-solving.

One of the leaders in the field is Portland State University Professor Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (2000, updated 2009, Chelsea Green, $29.95) which I highly recommend.

So, what is a permaculture garden? Let me say that, the clearest way of understanding the concept would be to consider alternate phrases that essentially mean the same thing, such as eco-gardening, or creating an ecological or biodiverse garden with few human interventions.

Many of the practices of organic farming, such as nurturing natural insect, fungus and bacterial life in the soil, promoting vegetative decomposition and encouraging beneficial insects to keep balance in the garden, are elements of permaculture.

But, while organic gardeners may attempt to till the soil as little as possible, disturbed ground is anathema in permaculture, since it allows nonnative invasives (or opportunistic plants) to spring forward altering the ecosystem.

In our organic garden, we rotate crops, add amendments, and are constantly working the soil with compost to return the nutrients lost in crop production.

But in permaculture, the goal is to recreate dynamic, vibrant landscapes found in nature, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem with little if any human intervention.

So, they share some processes and aim toward the goal of sustainability and natural balance, but differ in degree and kind.

It’s not “all or nothing,” however. One can incorporate elements of permaculture in one’s food or flower garden.

See Hemenway’s book for photos of some wonderful garden designs that can incorporate permaculture in your backyard.

Felder’s book to be a classic! Speaking of good reads, our own fellow local garden columnist Felder Rushing has a new book coming out in July titled Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Seasons (Chelsea Green, $29.95).

I was sent a review copy, and I’m going to tell you the absolute truth: What a great book!

It covers everything a beginning – and expert! – gardener would need to know, including such “exotic” items as growing a “green” roof, creating a backyard wildlife habitat, secrets of fertilizing and more.

Perhaps the greatest gift of this book is that it lays gardening out as not a hard-to-do chore or activity of “experts,” but something everybody and anybody can do, without much fuss or muss. The purpose of gardening, as Felder points out, is to have fun. How often we forget that!

The photos are incredible, the book laid out well, with large type, and lots of easy-to-follow instructions. It reads like an old friend, sitting on the porch, rocking, sharing ideas.

Contact Jim Ewing at (601) 961-7036 , email [email protected], on Twitter @OrganicWriter, or Facebook:

The Transition Movement – Preparing for a World After Peak Oil

Monday, July 18th, 2011

The article  below appeared originally online at ThomasNet News about The Transition Movement.  Make sure to check out Rob Hopkins’ – co-founder of the Transition Network – book The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience.


How will the world function if fossil fuels become scarcer and their consumption becomes increasingly regulated to fight climate change? How will people live with less oil? What will communities be like?

The advocates of a social movement called Transition think the world is now entering just such an environment of oil-scarcity. Transition organizers think the time is ripe to create new systems to make communities more locally self-sufficient and less dependent on long-range transportation, a globalized economy, non-renewable energy, and industries that damage the environment.

According toTransition Network, a support body for the movement based in Totnes, Dover, UK, the number of official Transition Initiatives worldwide has grown during about the past five years to 374 as of this writing (mid-2011). Most initiatives are operating in Europe (particularly the UK), North America, and Australia. (Photo: Local foods, Transition Town High Wycombe. Credit: VidyaRangayyan)

Local transition groups take on a range of activities, from simple projects such as workshops teaching people to grow their own food or arranging clothing swaps, to more complex undertakings, such as developing a local currency or devising a long-term community transition plan called an Energy Descent Action Plan, a road-map toward local energy independence (see Totnes’ example here).

The concepts of peak oil, climate change, and permaculture are critical to an understanding of the deeper motivations of the Transition Movement. Widespread concerns about climate change have been discussed extensively in the public forum (for an overview of public attitudes, see our story “Does the Public Really Believe Humans Are Causing Climate Change?”  However, peak oil and permaculture are less well understood, so let me explain those ideas.


Peak Oil: Are We on the Downward Slope?

Peak oil refers to the point of maximum worldwide extraction of petroleum, which would be followed by an environment of increasing scarcity and cost. Some researchers think the world has already reached that point, some think it will come in the near future, and some critics say it will take a long time or might never come at all. (Photo: Offshore oil platform. Credit: “Mike” Michael L. Baird)

Many observers think peak oil could result in large-scale economic disruption. Dire predictions abound. While admittedly speculative, the 2010 “United States Joint Forces Command Joint Operating Environment” (JOE) report warns in its section on peak oil that


A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment.

For an entertaining and accessible explanation of peak oil, integrated with a frightening overview of economics, see Chris Martenson’s “Crash Course.”

The Transition movement asks, What does peak oil mean for people’s lifestyles and local communities? What changes does it require, and what can individuals and communities do now to prepare for and cope with a world of declining oil?

In an interview with Global Public Media in 2007 (audio interview here), Andrew McNamara, then newly-appointed Minister for Sustainability, Climate Change, and Innovation in Queensland, Australia, gave his thinking about the appropriate response to oil depletion, sounding very much like a Transition advocate:

There’s no question whatsoever that community-driven local solutions will be essential. That’s where government will certainly have a role to play in assisting and encouraging local networks, who can assist with local supplies of food and fuel and water and jobs and the things we need from shops. It was one of my contentions in the first speech I made on this issue in February of 2005… that we will see a relocalization of the way in which we live that will remind us of not last century, but the one before that. And that’s not a bad thing. Undoubtedly one of the cheaper responses that will be very effective is promoting local consumption, local production, local distribution.

In a 2008 video, Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Network and Transition Town Totnes, says peak oil makes populations very vulnerable. As an example, during a 2000 lorry-drivers’ strike in the UK, he says, “we were about two days away from a food crisis in this country. It became clear that we’ve dismantled a lot of the resilience that has underpinned our food system up until now and replaced it with very fragile and long supply chains.”

Transition helps to restore that resilience, Hopkins asserts:

Resilience is an idea which emerges from the study of ecology, which is that a system, whether it be an ecosystem, a community or a town, when it experiences a shock from the outside, it doesn’t just fall to pieces. It has built into it the ability to adapt and change to its new circumstances.

Hopkins describes a Transition initiative as “a process which acts as a catalyst within a community to get people to explore themselves, [to respond] to peak oil and climate change,” helping community members “develop a really attractive, enticing vision of how the town could be beyond its current dependence on oil and fossil fuels.”

Permaculture: Designing Sustainable Human Habitats

Permaculture is a methodology for designing sustainable human habitats, modeling them after natural ecosystems. The permaculture model emphasizes a move away from industrial agriculture toward a small-scale, diversified, and localized system of food production. In “The Essence of Permaculture,” David Holmgren, one of the originators of the concept, defines permaculture as

Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organize themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.

(Photo: Permaculture project, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. Credit:planet a.)

More precisely, though, Holmgren sees permaculture as “the use of systems thinking and design principles that provide the organizing framework” to implement that vision, so that

… permaculture is not the landscape, or even the skills of organic gardening, sustainable farming, energy efficient building or eco-village development as such, but it can be used to design, establish, manage, and improve these and all other efforts made by individuals, households, and communities towards a sustainable future.

The Transition movement grew in part from Rob Hopkins’ permaculture teaching activities. On his Transition Culture blog, Hopkins writes that a key tool for success in Transition is “the ability to embed good design thinking” in the effort. He believes that “permaculture design offers the clearest and most practical tool for doing so.” Thus permaculture design should underpin the thinking and planning behind a Transition project and any hands-on activities. He cautions that

Although many people associate permaculture design purely with local food initiatives, it ought to be seen as central to the larger process of strategic thinking which the initiative is building up to.

Hopkins likens permaculture to a glue, “a ‘design glue’ if you like, which is used to stick together all the elements that will make up a truly sustainable and resilient culture.” He continues,

If you think of the ingredients that such a culture will depend on, such as local food production, energy generation, skillful management of water, meaningful employment as well as many other elements, what permaculture brings is the ability to assemble those things in the most skillful and beneficial way possible. It has also been described by someone else far more succinct than me as “the art of maximizing beneficial relationships.”

Hopkins thinks that “having at least one person in a Transition group who is steeped in permaculture can make a huge difference to the group… Make sure that some members of your core group have done a Permaculture Design course, and try, where possible, to weave permaculture training and principles through the work of your Transition group.”

Transition Town Totnes, started in 2005, is one of the oldest and most developed Transition efforts. The organization supports nine groups organized along such themes as Building and Housing, Business and Livelihoods, Energy, Food, and Transport. Nearly 40 projects are underway in Totnes, many focused on food, housing, and energy. As an example, one project aims to make Totnes the “Nut Tree Capital of Britain,” says Hopkins in the video mentioned previously. A project group is “planting nut trees within the urban fabric of the town, both as an awareness-raising issue and as a food security project.” (Photo: Permaculture Herb Spiral. Credit:Samuel Mann)

Diane Wilson, Accidental Activist and Eco-Outlaw

Friday, July 15th, 2011

The article  below appeared originally online at OpEdNews by Joan Brunwasser about Diane Wilson’s newest book Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth.

My guest today is accidental activist, Diane Wilson.  Welcome to OpEdNews, Diane. Your new book is now out: Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth. Tell our readers a little about yourself, please.

I am a fourth generation fisherwoman, mother of five, activist and an author. Six generations of my family have lived over 100 years in this small, rural part of the Texas Gulf Coast.  Our fishing community, Seadrift, has 1,000 people, no red lights or fast food joints–and the only thing we are known for was the fact that the magnificent 7 foot Karankawa Indians were massacred on our mud flats and that in the 1920s, outlaws Bonnie and Clyde use to hide out in Seadrift.  I have been on a boat since I was eight years old and have been a sea captain most of my life.  I’m typically a very quiet and shy person.  Speaking is totally out of character for me.

Well, for a quiet, shy person for whom speaking is totally out of character, you’ve certainly had a lot to say over the last few years, Diane. What was it that energized you to move outside your comfort zone and to a more public one?

I have lived my entire life next to the water and my family has fished and shrimped these waters around Seadrift for over 100 years. You might say I have an acute ‘sense of place’.  Another  thing is that my grandpa on my daddy’s side was a Cherokee Indian who grew up on Black Jack Island, a peninsula not far from Seadrift.  He  believed he could communicate with the dolphins and the fish.  Then, my mother’s side of my family were holy rollers; believing in speaking in tongues, holy ghosts flickering in the rafters, and spirits of all kinds (demons and otherwise) hanging around us.  So, not only did I have an acute sense of place, I also had a firm belief in the ‘unseen’ world.  I knew there was more than met the physical senses.  When I was five years old, I remember going to the bay and seeing the bay as an Old Woman.  I remember that she had long gray hair and a long dress that flowed out with the tide.  I especially remember her personality.  It felt just like a grandmother.  And this old grandmother loved for me to come to the bay.  She always seemed so glad to see me.  I have never forgotten this vision.  To me, the bay is alive.  She is real and vibrant and I especially (and still) feel her when I go out on a boat.  So when I realized that the bay was threatened in 1989 (with the Toxic Release Inventory data), I reacted out of character.  I spoke up.  And normally, I did not speak up.  I was very very quiet.  I took speech for the first six years of elementary school because I didn’t like talking.

What are you referring to, Diane? What happened to the bay in 1989?
On the night of February 3, 1984, Union Carbide had a horrific release of  methyl isocynate gas at their experimental pesticide plant in Bhopal, India.  There are varied estimates on how many Bhopalis died that night. The Bhopal survivors say that over 8,000 people died those first several days.  There were so many bodies in the river that there was the equivalent of a body jam at the bridge.  It is estimated that 30 people a month still die from the consequences of that horrible day.

Because of that incident in Bhopal, the US Congress passed the Community Right to Know Law, in essence the Toxic Release Inventory, making certain industries report their toxic releases to the communities that live around them and also to the public.

In l989, the first Toxic Release Inventory was made public and while I was working at a fishouse on San Antonio Bay, I read an associated press story in the Victoria Advocate (a nearby local paper) that Calhoun County (where I had lived my entire life) was #1 in the nation for toxic disposal and that Calhoun County accounted for half the toxic waste generated in Texas.

That information and the fact that our local bays had suffered numerous algae blooms (green, brown, and red tide) and that we had been having some very bad shrimping seasons ( it was so bad that i had tied up my boat the “SeaBee” and was working at the fishhouse ) followed by one of the largest dolphins die-offs in the Mammal Stranding Network’s history made the dots all connect….I realized that the bay and my home was under a horrible siege and I was moved to do something..

So what did you do, Diane about it? How did you wage a one-woman fight against Union Carbide? Did you ever feel outgunned?

My gut reaction on finding out we were #1 in the nation for toxic disposal (and sorta connecting the dots that had happened on the bay) was to do something I normally would not have done at all.  I just picked up the fishhouse phone and called City Hall in Seadrift and asked to use their community center room for a meeting to talk about the TRI information. It was actually pretty simple.  I was extremely naïve; I had zero experience on talking and calling meetings and had no knowledge of environmental agencies or permits or even the names of the chemical plants in my county.

Within several days, the bank president came down to the fish house and wanted to know if I was starting a vigilante  group that going to roast industry alive.  He had already learned of the request for a meeting.  Shortly after that, the secretary for city hall showed up and asked me to move the meeting out of city hall–in fact, to not have it at all.  The city had requested the secretary come down and get me to do this.  Then, the economic development director called my brother and told him to get me to be a good citizen and call off the meeting.  Then, I had the county commissioner come down and then the plant manager and then the senator sent his aide.  Don’t do the meeting…Well, I did do the meeting, but i found out very very quickly that just ASKING for a meeting to talk about industry was going to be very controversial and that it was not going to make me popular.

I was actually dealing with a number of chemical plants in my home county: Formosa Plastics, Alcoa Aluminum, Union Carbide, Vistron, and Dupont, but the chemical plants that took front and center very fast were Formosa Plastics and Union Carbide.  Formosa Plastics, a multinational corporation whose home base was Taiwan, was bringing down a $3 billion chemical expansion that had been ‘kicked out’ of Taiwan (because Formosa was such a polluter).  Every politician from the mayor on up to Congressman Phil Gramm, who was running for President of the US, was on the bandwagon to get Formosa down to Texas.  It was the biggest chemical expansion that Texas had ever had–and by a notorious polluter— and not one single question had been asked about their environmental record.

And here I was, calling a meeting and asking questions.  The word got out very fast that I wasn’t really a fisherwoman concerned about her bays and the pollution of the county.  I was a SPY, hired by the state of Louisiana to get the Formosa project kicked out of Texas so it could go to Louisiana (which was almost as bad of a state as Texas for disregard for the environment).  Just bring the jobs was their bottom line. Everything was an economic bonanza.

So, my fight was a one-woman fight because it was so controversial. No one would join–and if they did join, they quickly left.  There were three reason I think it was so controversial. 1) because of industry’s sacred cow position in the state, because I was a (2) woman and I was a (3) fisherwoman.  This wasn’t only an environmental fight. it was a gender and class fight.  I got blasted for all three issues and I learned very, very fast that going the regular route –  working inside ‘the box’ was not going to work down where I lived on the Texas Gulf Coast.  Nobody told me this or counseled me on this (in fact, they counseled me against it). But I realized that if I acted like a well-behaved little citizen, asking permission and speaking nicely to my elected officials and playing the regular game in town, my bays and the fish and the dolphins and the shrimp and the pelicans and the fishermen were gonna get creamed.

You are a thorn in many corporations’ side. You’ve been arrested dozens of times for working outside the box. What has your first-hand experience taught you about our legal process?

My first hand experience has taught me that politicians (at least the ones in Texas that I knew and met and dealt with), agencies and the legal system are working with industry because it is mutually benefiting all of them.  For instance, the mayor, justice of the peace, sheriff’s department, ambulances, and state senators in my area were either getting new defibulators, new police cars,new computer systems or had construction and cement contracts with the companies they were suppose to be watching.  My state senator who had previously been a cop in the next town over had a security business and Formosa Plastics had given the senator’s security company an open-ended (meaning the company could set the price) contract at the facility and admitted in a memo to basically buying off the senator.  When the supervisor of security at the facility found out and tried to put a stop to it, the plant manager told him that he could have the supervisor killed.


The DA’s office  told the supervisor who came to him frightened for his life that he wouldn’t prosecute the plant manager because the sheriff’s office was getting a whole new computer system from Formosa.  When the security supervisor went to the Texas Rangers with his complaint, the Texas Ranger told him it was just good business sense on Formosa’s part and that it was his word against the plant manager at Formosa.  That is when the supervisor came to me with the taped conversation of the Texas Rangers, confidential documents of the buy off of the senator, and he was carrying a gun for protection.

I had state environmental investigators in Corpus Christi district office pull me aside, yank out documents from a file and give them to me,  telling ME that I should do something with them because they couldn’t get the state or the feds to do anything about it.  The inspectors said they didn’t EVEN want to think what was going on there.  The documents showed groundwater contamination of very toxic priority pollutants in the hundreds of thousands parts per million—and this groundwater flowed to the bay and was in the vicinity of water wells.  I took the documents to the county commissioners court and gave it to the judge and the commissioners and also the state representatives and these guys were furious at me.  The county judge told me that those ‘were little bitty numbers’…  he had called Formosa and Formosa had told him that and he didn’t doubt their word at all.

The EPA knew about instances of wrong doing (for example, Formosa was discharging toxins into the bay without a permit) and the EPA lawyer told me that they knew it was illegal but it was up to their (EPA’s) discretion what they wanted to do about it—which was nothing.

When I gave an EPA criminal investigator both documentation and the actual witness (a 25-year supervisor of the PVC unit) to an unreported 16,000 pound release of vinyl chloride (vinyl chloride is a carcinogen and will give you liver cancer) that is across the street from a schoolyard, the investigator did nothing.  He said the courts would throw the case out.  He said he wasn’t spending his time on something like that. It was a waste of time. If he was going to spend all the man hours on an investigation, he was going to do it on a worker that was dead.  Like in the Texas City BP explosion.  Dead is dead.  You can’t argue with that.

Other problems are that there is no political will, no enforcement, little budget to do the job, the companies are self reporting. This country is ruled by corporations and they are above the law.  I have saw this over and over.

How do you work within a system that seems to be rotten to the core, Diane? Is there anyone out there who’s not corrupt?

One part of me works to help alleviate very immediate issues—and more short term (for example, injured workers from the chemical companies that are coming to me with stories about bad safety conditions or unreported releases–these stories are filed with Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) or EPA criminal investigators, even though I am personally frustrated with their lack of response.  I have also organized these guys into Texas Injured Workers where they put their stories on their own website and it at least gives them a voice and a feeling of empowerment (in a place where there are NO unions) and we are currently trying to test the workers for vinyl chloride exposure.

The other part of me works on something that I feel is more long term and is for the future of our planet.  I sincerely believe we need a revolution in this country.  The problems I think we are all facing is so huge that it would take another hour to just express them.  I’m sure you’ve heard them before, over and over and over.

And is there anyone I trust out there???  Well, i think the system is corrupt and even though men and women may enter the system with the best of intentions, i believe it twists and distorts and eventually corrupts their message and makes them ineffective.  But then I have never (well, the last 15 years, anyhow) looked for leadership from our so-called political leaders.  I look for leadership among the people.  And there was one man in Texas that I trusted:  Jim Hightower.  He was Texas Agriculture Commissioner for a short while.  How he managed to keep his integrity I’ll never know.  He didn’t last long, though.  Now we have the likes of Mr. Good Hair as Molly Ivins used to call Rick Perry, our fancy dancy governor of Texas.
Your actions have regularly landed you in jail. You claim that this country would be a different place if all its citizens spent two weeks behind bars. That’s certainly a provocative comment. What did you mean by that?

I mean it a couple of ways; 1) Justice in this country can be very brutal, and given the fact that l.6 million people are in prisons and another 800,000 in jails (making the United States one of the tip top incarceraters in the world) that is a lot of brutality.  The US jails at six times the rate that Britain does and seven times the rate of Canada.  African-Americans are seven times as likely to be locked up as whites and they go to prison at twice the rate they go to college.

I personally believe that the reason why nearly 80% of those jailed are African-American and Hispanic is because the age of slavery is turning into the age of incarceration.  Something is fouled-up big time in our justice system  when half of the people in jail have mental illnesses and half have not seen a lawyer or a judge and have no idea why they are being charged.  It is fouled big time when people in county jails die because the jails withhold their medicine or that a young woman commits suicide to get out of a situation where a sheriff is using the inmates as prostitutes and running a drug ring through the jails.  Jails say something about how our democracy has failed the worst — with people who have the least to give.

I think everyone needs to spend some time in jail to view this first-hand.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t believe how our country sweeps lives under the steel rug. And 2)  There is a quote by Dan Berrigan ( I say it in the book, too). “There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war–at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.”

I think people are very afraid of going to jail.  Their fear rules them. Their love of normalcy dominates them.  So they do actions that are half-hearted, half-muddled, and half-baked.  I think if we did every action with the clear intention of going to jail then we would be infused with  enthusiasm to REALLY commit ourselves to an action and then, who knows what we could really do in this country?  We just need to go to jail and get over that fear.

I suppose we don’t know how we’ll react until we find ourselves in jail that first time. You certainly got over any second thoughts about it.  What’s it like to live in a small Texas town where you have the reputation as a rabble-rouser? Have family and friends been supportive or do you often find yourself in a party of one?

Most of my family is very conservative (Republicans) and religious orientated and I think their eyes kinda widen when they hear some of my antics but they now know me well enough to not say anything.  We generally do not say anything at all about what I do. It’s like the big pink elephant in the room.  But if someone asks them point blank, “Well, what does the family think of Diane?” my sister told them, “Well, as long as we don’t have to bail her out of jail, then she can do what she wants.”…Ha. pretty funny.  When I go off to do an action somewhere, I tell my 95-year old momma (who has been poor a lot of her life) that I’m off to sell a LOT of books…and she says, “Will you make a LOT of money???” and I say, “Oooooooh, yes!!!”   So, I tell my momma all kinds of lies.  It’s a little mutual arrangement we have.

And the rest of the town:  as I said, mainly in Seadrift, they see me as a rebel, but I am a SEADRIFT rebel.  And therein lies all the difference.   Some people in the county see what I’m doing and understand but I don’t have many takers who will take up the cause. Some act like I’m a walking stick of dynamite.  Now, the folks who really like what I do are in Houston and Dallas and San Antonio, etc. etc.  Distance seems to help.  Now, if there are local folks who are in need of some kind of assistance, when it gets real personal, THEN they call me.  But its usually just me and the fence post.

You have a bunch of kids. What do they think about what you’re doing? Do they wonder if you’ll be there in the morning to make breakfast? Principles are one thing but a major disruption in family life can be another thing, entirely.

And the kids, ahh  the kids.  My kids were my demonstrators.  They got drug from hither to yonder.  I can remember going to a press conference in Austin and my autistic son Davy Crockett was climbing the stones of the Texas capitol in the background!…I’ve met whistleblowers out in parking lots in towns fifty miles away and while I was exchanging documents with a worker who didn’t want to be seen, my two youngest were tearing my old Sears van (I had bought it at an auction for $1000) apart, for real.  They took apart the tail lights from inside and a cop stopped us on the way out for no tail lights!  But sometimes they just wanted things normal.  Even when what they pictured as normal was nothing we had ever been.  Maybe they were looking for safety in that normalcy because it did get kind of crazy.  I remember one of my youngest in grade schools took home a picture she drew and it was a home being bombarded with bullets–thick as rain. That was right after a helicopter landed in the front yard and shot and killed our dog.

I think my kids have always understood (most times!) what I was trying to do but they also got afraid…such as times I went on hunger strikes and times I got jailed.  Once–not long ago–my oldest daughter (then 32) went to visit me in a bad county jail and they threw HER in jail.  No lie.  That traumatized her like you wouldn’t believe.  When she thinks I’m going to go to jail, she gets very very upset…but one of my daughters has been on hunger strikes with me and also did a nude action with me in down town Houston at high noon.  My autistic son David is fascinated by inventions that would make the world utopian and futuristic.  He made his own bumper sticker for his old car (and one for my truck too) sayin:  Who Killed the Electric Car?

I doubt anybody in Texas understood what he was talking about but he was very very well versed on electric cars…But on the flip side, I have had my sister-in-law (who I think was being a little sarcastic ) say, “Well, you have to be given the mother of the year award!”….She was a home economics teacher and believed if you didn’t make homemade bread and cakes for the kids, then you were one bad mom.  Also, the Texas Chemical Council (the organization in Texas that included almost all of the petrochemical and oil industries) use to make statements in the paper when I was on a hunger strike like “Who is keeping her kids?!”  and my response was often, “Did they ask Caesar Chavez where his kids were when he was on a hunger strike?”

I thought a lot of the comments were very sexist.

Agreed. What else would you like to tell our readers before we wrap this up, Diane?

What I would tell the readers is that we ALL have a destiny.  Not just some of us.  All of us.  And I believe that our path to our destinies often lies on little bits of information that we get during the course of our lives. But it is what we do with those bits of information that determines the rest of our lives…

So true. I don’t think you’ll ever run out of targets to protest, Diane.

Thank you for writing this piece, Joan.  I appreciate it very much.  Hope to meet you one day. Adios!

Thanks for taking the time; it was fun. I hope your book is a big hit.

Well, I have enjoyed this, too!  You asked some very interesting and thought provoking questions!  I am very grateful and humbled by your attention to my story.  Thank you very much, Joan. I can’t wait to read your piece.

To read the original article click here. 

Join an Online Conversation with Transition Co-Founder Rob Hopkins

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Join Rob Hopkins for a conversation on Monday, July 18th. Rob needs no introduction, but if you are new to the concept of ‘Transition,’ then this is a great opportunity to learn from the source of this important movement to build community resilience in the face of major societal challenges confronting usfrom climate change and shrinking supplies of affordable, clean energy. Rob is the author of The Transition Handbook and co-founder of the Transition Network. Join us for this special event!


Monday, July 18,  - 11:00am - 12:15pm EST

Please register online, and mark your calendar.


Rob Hopkins is the originator of the Transition concept and co-founder of the Transition Network. He spent many years teaching permaculture and cob building, mostly when living in Ireland. Now based in the UK town of Totnes, he is a member of Transition Town Totnes, works part time for Transition Network, publishes, is author of the ‘Transition Handbook’ and generally spends far too much time thinking about Transition stuff. He is also a Trustee of the Soil Association, the UK organization campaigning for planet-friendly food and farming.


We’re delighted that Richard Heinberg, author and Senior Fellow-in-Residence at Post Carbon Institute, will be hosting this call.




Most of us avoid thinking about what happens when oil runs out (or becomes prohibitively expensive), but The Transition Handbook shows how the inevitable and profound changes ahead can have a positive outcome.These changes can lead to the rebirth of local communities that will grow more of their own food, generate their own power, and build their own houses using local materials. If your town is not a transition town, this upbeat guide offers you the tools for starting the process.


Rob’s newest book  – The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times – is coming out soon and available for preorder.

Follow us
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By