February 6, 2008

7th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

Have had to start a little fire every morning in the “Cave” stove during this cold spell. The Cave is a twenty foot Cargo Container (sometimes known as Sea Cans) which we buried in a side hill to serve as a combination root cellar and emergency housing facility. Besides the potatoes and carrots, which keep very well there, there is also a wood stove, solar lighting, a bed, table and chairs and a supply of emergency items … candles, firewood & kindling, matches, saws, axes, blankets, several cases of beer, a gattling gun, a case of hand grenades, etc.

When the ambient temperature is greater than zero degrees F, the temperature inside the Cave stays above the freezing point, without auxiliary heating. In the summer the temp stays around twenty to thirty degrees below the ambient temperature … nice place for a snooze on a hot summer afternoon.

The Cave during construction.

Current Rant:

With the economic downturn now looming in the United States, it is highly unlikely that the policy changes necessary to ensure global ecological sustainability will be enacted in the near future. But it may actually be better for the economic collapse to come now rather than later because continuous economic growth is deadly to the ecology. Our throw-away consumption tradition and explosive population growth are only possible by using up fossil fuels and destroying ecosystems. So far we have proven to be unwilling and unable to address climate change, and other environmental threats, with the haste and drive that is required. The longer we wait to take action on such things as reducing coal consumption, forest depletion, population explosion, renewable energy implementation and emission reductions the harder the job will be for future generations and the more severe will be the consequences.

Seventh Excerpt from “Farmageddon”:
(My latest unfinished book)

Peak Water

A third of the world’s population presently faces some form of water scarcity. Physical scarcity, as opposed to economical scarcity, occurs when the water resources cannot meet the demands of the population. Economic scarcity occurs when the cost or water exceeds the return on investment. Arid regions are most associated with water scarcity. Physical scarcity is exacerbated by “artificial” or “created” scarcity, which is the result of self-indulgent waste.

There is a sickening trend in increasing artificially-created scarcity. The thousands of private swimming pools found all over North America and the ubiquitous artificial oases called golf courses, so familiar in desert areas, are good examples.

Worldwide, agricultural activities consume more water than any other enterprise. Agriculture consumes up to seventy times more water than is used in drinking and other household purposes, including cooking, washing, bathing and flushing.

The inevitable results of excessive water consumption are dried up and polluted rivers, declining groundwater and regional shortages. Egypt, with its great Nile river, imports more than half of its food because it does not have enough water to grow it domestically. Australia is faced with major water scarcity in the Murray-Darling Basin as a result of diverting large quantities of water for use in agriculture. The shrunken Aral Sea, in central Asia, is one of the most visible examples of the effects of massive diversions of water to agriculture, causing widespread water scarcity along with an environmental catastrophe. The Colorado River water is allocated beyond its natural flow and little of the river, that once handled ocean-going vessels, now reaches the ocean.

One quarter of the world's population lives in river basins where water is now physically scarce. Another billion people live in river basins where water is economically scarce. As a result many people around the world, who are dependent on rivers, lakes and other wetlands, risk falling into poverty or starvation.

The Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies approximately 225,000 square miles in the Great Plains region of the Unites States, has long been a major source of water for agricultural, municipal, and industrial use. The usage of this once-thought unlimited water source, began at the turn of the twentieth century and has now greatly surpassed the aquifer's rate of natural recharge. Some places overlying the aquifer have already exhausted their underground supply as a source for irrigation. As long as high capacity pumps continue to be used, it may only be a few decades before vast areas of this aquifer are pumped "dry". If and when high powered pumps can no longer be used, because of energy shortages, irrigation will cease. Approximately one third of North America’s cropland is irrigated in this unsustainable manner.

We do not have the technology to replace the quantities of "fossil water" that have been squandered. Ocean water can be desalinized, but not in sufficient quantities to maintain the present population and their necessary crops. If global warming fears materialize, heat and reduced rainfall could exacerbate the problem.

The total amount of water used globally in crop production could increase from 1,725 cubic miles annually to as much as 3,240 cubic miles by 2050, if the world’s population growth continues at the present rate. Responding to the resulting increased food demand by diverting more water to agriculture and expanding the total area used by agriculture, does not appear to be a viable option.

To be continued next time…

Seventh Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

Grade School…

By the time school started in the fall of 1936, we were pretty well settled in our new home. There were three of us kids going to school by then. We caught the bus about a quarter mile from the house at 7:30am and returned home around 4:30pm. In those days, each school bus made two trips picking up and returning kids, night and morning. Our bus driver was a high school senior who lived just a short distance from us. Since the bus stayed at his place at night, we were the first kids he picked up in the morning and the last to be dropped off at night.

My third grade teacher was Miss Roley and I had a crush on her right from the start. I was very shy, but I always felt comfortable around Miss Roley. It was her younger brother that drove our school bus and she sometimes rode home with us. While waiting for the bus after school, I often erased blackboards for her and did other little things to help...but mainly it was just to be near her. She was very pretty.

One day after school, I was helping Miss Roley when a man, whom I had never seen, entered the room. Miss Roley introduced us, which made me feel very important. The man's name was Reggie Russell. He seemed almost as nice as Miss Roley and talked to me while she finished some paper work.

On the first day of school after Christmas vacation that winter, Miss Roley made an announcement as she wrote the words "Mrs. Russell" on the blackboard. She said she had married Mr. Russell and we should now call her Mrs. Russell. From their reaction, the girls apparently thought that was wonderful news but I was devastated. Mrs. Russell moved away at the end of that school year and I never saw her again until we happened to meet in a grocery store years later.

By that time I too was married and a parent as well. We recognised each other instantly. She was still very pretty and as we shook hands she told me I had been her favourite student. I blushed and stammered that she was my favourite teacher. I still have my grade three report card and the note Mrs. Russell wrote to my mother, which reads: "I want you to know how very much I've enjoyed working with Floyd. He is not only an excellent student, but also a wholesome, loveable all-around boy. Sincerely, Alice Roley Russell." When Mom showed me the note and I saw the word "loveable", I knew instantly that Miss Roley understood how I felt about her too.

To be continued next time…

Seventh Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

The Tragedy of the Commons…

"The tragedy of the commons", a term coined by Garrett Hardin in his science article "The Tragedy of the Commons", has become a metaphor to signify the misuse of public resources (the commons) by private individuals when their personal interests conflict with the common good. It is a metaphor that I use in this book as an aid to understanding the effects of certain behavioral patterns of both farmers and non-farmers.

The core of the tragedy of the commons concept is that, when individuals share a publicly owned property, there is a tendency for each individual to maximize his own benefits without regard for the whole. The best strategy, from the individual's standpoint, is to try to exploit more than his or her share of public resources. Obviously if every individual follows this strategy, the public resource becomes overexploited and that, of course, is a tragedy for all.

Consider a publicly owned pasture, that can indefinitely support a maximum of fifty head of cattle, which is used by a group of twenty five people each having two cows. So long as each individual pastures only two animals the pasture will sustain all of their animals indefinitely.

But as soon as some wise guy figures out that by grazing one extra cow he can make roughly fifty percent more profit, at an increased cost of only one fiftieth more to himself, the whole communal enterprise (the common) begins to suffer. This temptation for each individual to keep adding cattle for his own personal gain ultimately reaches a point which is beyond the capacity of the common to sustain them all.

Other examples of individual lack of concern for common property would include pollution of waterways, logging of forests, over fishing of the oceans and throwing trash from car windows. While each individual may only contribute a small amount, the combined effect of all individuals can become large enough to degrade or destroy the resource. (Obviously, two of these examples involve putting things into the common rather than taking something out.)
Individuals within a group have two options—they can either cooperate with the group or cheat. Cooperation means that every individual agrees to protect and preserve a common resource for the good of all … every individual agrees not to take more than their share. Cheating by greedy individuals who use more than their share of public resource eventually results in failure for all.

Two obvious solutions to the Tragedy of the Commons phenomenon are enforcement of the rules by an authority or converting the common ownership into private properties … thus giving individual owners an incentive to protect the sustainability of their piece of the pie.
If we think of air and water bodies as examples of commons, it is easy to see whether or not they are kept clean of pollutants without regulation. Obviously they are not, largely because controlling pollutant emissions works against the short term economic interests of someone … industries and cities for example. But eventually, when so much damage has occurred to these public resources that it becomes intolerable, legislation is passed to enforce their clean up and restrict further pollution.

I see a parallel between Winston Churchill's famous statement about democracy ("Democracy is the best form of the worst type of government") and private ownership of land, in that private ownership is probably the best of two bad options. Private ownership of land creates some incentive to look after the land while public ownership gives incentive to exploit the land. Unfortunately private ownership also affords an opportunity to misuse land if one is so inclined.

The logic of the commons has been understood for a long time, perhaps since the beginnings of agriculture or at least since the concept of private property in real estate. But even after the passing of decades and centuries, cattlemen leasing public land still don't seem to understand the consequences of pressuring authorities to increase the permissible numbers of cattle per acre to the point where overgrazing destroys the carrying capacity of the range land.

The oceans of the world are suffering similarly because of the concept of the freedom of the seas. Although it was once felt that the resources of the oceans were inexhaustible, species after species of fish and aquatic mammals are coming closer and closer to extinction because individual nations choose to cheat rather than cooperate. But that is beyond the scope of this book.

To be continued next time…

Have a warm day…


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