my heroes

January 6, 2013

charcoal burners

I love how their stances could be from a photo of 1900. Put them in shirt collars and flat caps and hey presto. How can such pride in work and love of work be communicated in a single-frame snapshot of body-posture? It cuts close to something deep and universal, something to do with integrity and fulfilment. I love this photo almost to tears, and the people in it more so.

“There, the personal control of each worker over his means of production determines the small horizon of each enterprise, a horizon which is a necessary condition for social production and the unfolding of each worker’s individuality.” Ivan Illich, Vernacular Values


waking up in a new place

January 6, 2013

Hi again.

This is a little morning waking-up groan. I’m turning round to this again, flexing, blinking eyes.

Blog wasn’t important for a while, now I think it might be again. You see I’d been thinking and re-evaluating and writing, and then 18 months ago I got off the internet and started doing stuff in the real world, and that was all-encompassing and frankly overwhelming. Or at least whelming. Now I think I’ve got the hang of it, and my little thinking questioning brain is starting to yammer again. So hi again. I’ve got some processing to do and some more questions.

While I wake up a bit more you should read this here piece by the PK. He is talking a lot of interesting sense with some other people, all about this crazy culture, conservation, mass extinction and techno-worship.


February 20, 2011

I just remembered this photo I took of a beautiful bunch of honey fungus growing out of a sycamore. <heart>

we are what we eat

February 20, 2011

been caning the old goo-tube in a weekend-long orgy of regenerative agriculture videos. feel stuffed like a foie-gras goose. who wants to eat my liver?

We Are What We Eat is just inspiringly depressing. An onslaught of bad news. Especially how they wimp out and leave responsibility at the feet of consumers, us as consuming beings. And the guy at the end who says “we’ve got to work out how to sustain civilizations.” Jeez.

A Farm For A Future is more like it! Good old chin-up British take on the agricultural world of doom. If you look hard when Rebecca is talking to that Heinberg chap over the interweb you can see her awesome bookshelf in the background including Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets and Derrick Jensen’s Endgame. Both volumes!

Joel Salatin is the front person of this band. He’s the lead vocalist and rightfully so. He talks about the slightly unbelievably amazing world of strip-grazing and the wondrous symbiosis of grass and herbivore. “It’s paradigms!” I especially like his rant in parts 2 and 3 of the “pigaerator” series. What a guy.


January 30, 2011

This autumn I fell in love again. This time with a mushroom, Armillaria mellea. It is known as honey fungus, and most people villify it. It can infect and kill trees and shrubs, and spreads to new hosts by its thick black rhizomorphs, which look like bootlaces. It fruits are beautiful, and are tasty, but should be well cooked.

My love emerged as I stumbled across it again and again. It was always on weak trees within healthy woodland habitats. This is really incredible – it does not destroy woodlands. It picks off the unhealthy trees and quickly, so quickly, turns them into soil.

That’s great, but it gets better. It does destroy plantations. It can decimate acre after acre of monoculture trees. What is thought to be the largest organism in the world is a honey fungus (Armillaria ostoyae) network spreading 3.4 square miles in Oregon, USA. It has fed on conifer plantations. And it is making soil.

Trees are not lone wolves. They are only healthy when they live alongside and with and around numerous other species, other living beings. They live well as part of a web. If the web is not very complex, then the trees will not be healthy. This is what is happening in plantations, and it is the perfect niche for honey fungus, which recycles these unhealthy trees into a rich foundation for more complex life-webs.

Honey fungus mushrooms emerge mostly in September and October. They release spores which travel on the air, but which can also be carried to new locations by birds, insects or mammals such as humans. Each mushroom produces billions of spores, all of which could help enrich the earth.

more biobastards

January 30, 2011

Another thread to pull from the last post is the global economic context in which the UK government is attempting to ‘dispose’ of its forest estate. There has been a lot of welcome debate around this, including some good analysis of some of the issues, and an encouraging amount of protest. However, there has been little, if any, discussion of the links between this sell-off and the increasing corporate investment in bioenergy and plantations.

The Forestry Commission owns 635000 acres of forest, many of which aren’t forest at all, but plantations. These are largely spruce monocultures – perfect for the production of industrial biomass. The current proposals are to sell it all off. Who will be the main purchasers of this land? Community groups concerned about their environment will be offered 25%. Some will go into the hands of new charities. And the rest? I would bet my bottom hobnob that the majority of plantations will end up in the hands of UPM Tilhill, or Shell Renewables, or any of the myriad companies like Plantation Capital (see their website for a laugh).

The Forestry Commission has a cringingly bad track record when it comes to woodland management, but big business has shown that it can get a whole lot worse. The State should not own forests, but multinational corporations certainly shouldn’t.

It’s not only that these plantations will come up for sale, but the sudden glut of land will push prices down. So business can buy up vast amounts of forest for super cheap. And, wtf, any idiot can see that forests and plantations will only get more valuable in the near future. And yet the government is clamouring for a speedy transfer to private ownership in order to help reduce “the deficit”. Which we know, along with the “necessary cuts” and the “age of austerity” is just a bullshit smokescreen. I smell a whole horde of stinking rats.


January 30, 2011

Blown away by this report on wood-based bioenergy from Global Forest Coalition. Please read it. Elegant, brutal analysis of the industrialization of biomass. Corporations and governments are not being lax in the face of peak oil. No way. They are busy extending their paradigms of abuse into ecosystems across the globe. Maybe it is this: that the end of cheap energy spells the end of cheap power. So cheap energy must be pursued at all costs. Those costs, of course, include land grabbing, land poisoning, destruction of communities, destruction of ecosystems:

The results are the expansion of forest monocultures in poor countries, the occupation and degradation of territories and productive lands, the installation of industrial plants in the South, the worsening of living conditions and quality of life in occupied territories, the violation of rights, particularly serious impacts on women and excluded population groups, concentration of power in corporations which control the right to property and technologies, as well as the risk of contamination to a degree which cannot be predicted. …It is very well-known, the companies of the cellulose sector and paper install their plantations in the countries of the South, where besides having the mentioned conditions – low costs and big quantities – the environmental, social and labor legislations are lax and they allow the violation of multiple environmental rights and of the communities. …[R]esearch on new raw materials for fuels, primarily cellulosic ethanol and genetically modified trees is carried out by universities or research institutes in industrialized countries and is funded by multinationals forest and/or energy, a situation which is repeated with the development of technologies, marketing and other stages of the chain. Thus replicates and maintains the colonialist model in terms of energy, technology and economics that has characterized North-South relations. ”

An added layer of disgusting interest is that this is done under the banner of saving the planet. It is renewable. It is sustainable. It is a carbon sink. All these things are, of course, untrue. The pivotal sleight of hand in this process of deception is the expansion of the definition of the word ‘forest’. More forest is a good thing, right? Everyone knows that. Except that under the definitions of various international climate agreements and accords, eucalyptus plantations are now ‘forests’. As are jatropha plantations. As are palm oil plantations. As are pine plantations. What I wish everyone did know is that these monocultures are not forests.

Heavily logged forests can recover naturally over time, just as our skin heals after an injury, but the damage caused by plantations is different. Instead of “healing” like the forest, they grow larger and spread their invasive seedlings into surrounding landscapes. Like a cancer they spread into near-inaccessible places on mountainsides and in ravines where they damage sensitive ecosystems.”

There are complex international carbon trading schemes to support this abuse. In Britain, taxpayer’s money goes to subsidise the building of biomass power plants because they are classed as “renewable” energy producers. This biomass will not come from the diverse, scenic oakwoods of this privileged island. Oh no. It will come from industrial plantations.

This is all neocolonialism with an environmental twist. It is eco-colonialism. I think it will become more and more prevalent and more and more normalised as the decades go by and I want to flag it up now as the bag of shit it is.

inspiration links

January 21, 2011

Enough blog. So great. Awareness of resources. Redistribution of wealth in a healthy way. Talking about privilege. Inspirational.

Encouragement. Gay Farmer. There is some support.

Susan Raffo’s awesome work around community healing, such as this, White Noise, about raising kids with an awareness of racism and what it means to be white and and and…


we will help you hide the bruises

January 21, 2011

Recently the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, gave a talk about the future of farming in Britain. I’m really interested in how the government are using their austerity and ‘necessary cuts’ narrative to promote corporate farming and what that means for us and for the land in general. She says:

“…Underlying all of this is the power shift from the centre towards local organisations – putting local people back in charge – a classic example of what we mean by Big Society.

This shift will change the way the department works. We want to see a greater degree of trust and collaboration when developing and delivering policy. This will allow you as an industry to shape your own destiny.

I think this last point is of paramount importance.  I see my job as helping you to become more profitable, innovative and competitive.  By creating the right conditions for the industry to raise productivity, to be entrepreneurial, to continue to develop strong connections with your markets and customers and establish robust links throughout the food chain. I’m really keen to do my bit but it will require you as an industry to step up and seize these opportunities. Sustainable intensification is an example, where fewer agricultural inputs results in less cost to you and the environment. A win-win situation all round…”

What if local people don’t want to be an industry? What if we don’t want to be more profitable, innovative and competitive? What if we don’t want to step up and seize the opportunity of “sustainable intensification” <which surely simply means abuse that can be continued indefinitely>? It seems so obvious that the dichotomy established by this government – big government bad, Big Society good – has a third presence, Big Business, which rarely enters the debate yet stands to gain handsomely. Strange, that.

“…But this hasn’t stopped us spending in excess of £2 billion of taxpayers money in pursuit of our objectives.  Of greening the economy.  Of enhancing the environment and biodiversity…”

Enhancement. Botox for the land. This is so polar opposite to the fight to remove the limits on the land regenerating itself.

“…An industry that embraces risk and manages risk. An industry that wants to deliver public environmental goods. That takes greater responsibility for animal health and welfare standards. And an industry that underpins the quality of rural life…”

Farming has been industrialised. We know this. Now it is being asked to become more corporate. “Deliver public environmental goods.” I wonder how she means “goods”? In the sense that corporate farming increasingly packages the environment into bitesize chunks for the public? Or in the sense that what is “good” about our (the public’s) environment – i.e. our deep, spiritual, animal connection with the rest of the inhabitants of the earth and the benefits that those inhabitants provide to us – must be mediated through corporate farming? Or maybe both. Very clever, Caroline.

And one last thing – you’re asking an industry to underpin and define quality of life? I don’t even need to comment. The statement critiques itself. And at the same time as industrial agriculture is made mandatory and the basis of rural life, tory voters across the countryside complain bitterly that they can hear tractors as they tend their rural manicured lawn. Or that the rural life should not include cows shitting outside their gate or in their view. Be an industry! But don’t spoil my picture-postcard view!

What is being done here? What is being attacked? There is so much defensiveness, there must be attack. I’m starting to see each of these strands as connected, yet with different targets. The conservative view – don’t change the countryside! – and the consumption of the land – let’s all play the Good Life! – both work to attack farmers and other people who make a living on the land. This process diminishes the life and vitality of the human-land relationship (and yes, that relationship is problematic). Landworkers are forced to make a living from markets and capital instead of grass, soil and the churning of life. This feeds directly into, and is fed by, the other strand: the urge to not only keep agriculture industrial but ‘advance’ to corporate farming. Which is primarily concerned with (to use Jensen’s words) turning the living into the dead. Beautiful individuals become units become commodities become money become figures in a graph. That is how the churning of life is converted into power.

This corporatisation of the land is not a pragmatic response to the global economic climate or the challenges of national food security, and it is certainly not a policy for the protection of farmers or the environment. It is an ideology. It is visible in the planned sale of half the Forestry Commission’s woodlands – likely to rich individuals wanting to avoid inheritance tax and timber multinationals such as UPM who are fascinated by biomass as profitable fuel. It is visible in the dissolution of the Agricultural Wages Boards and sending the ‘industry’ into the Minimum Wage Act so that farming behaves more like other ‘sectors’. It is visible in the encouragement of ever larger animal factories such as the 3700-cow Nocton dairy, and the 25000-pig farm at Foston which, if any bigger, would have to be classified as a power station due to the amount of waste produced. It is visible in the National Farmers’ Union: I’m not sure if there is a more pro-corporate, anti-worker union in the country. There are well-greased revolving doors between the boards of the NFU, corporate industry and government departments.

The message from the State is: intensify and corporatise, and we will give you money to “enhance the environment”. The message from the State is: become more abusive, and we will help you hide the bruises.

I hope you’re asking along with me: how do we resist this?

for lovers and fighters

January 21, 2011

People have been sending me amazing links recently. This is one of my favourites. Dean Spade writes about polyamory so wonderfully with much good insight. It links together many things I’ve been talking about on this blog for the past year:

“…Capitalism is fundamentally invested in notions of scarcity, encouraging people to feel that we never have enough so that we will act out of greed and hording and focus on accumulation. Indeed, the romance myth is focused on scarcity: There is only one person out there for you!!! You need to find someone to marry before you get too old!!!! The sexual exclusivity rule is focused on scarcity, too: Each person only has a certain amount of attention or attraction or love or interest, and if any of it goes to someone besides their partner their partner must lose out. We don’t generally apply this rule to other relationships—we don’t assume that having two kids means loving the first one less or not at all, or having more than one friend means being a bad or fake or less interested friend to our other friends. We apply this particular understanding of scarcity to romance and love, and most of us internalize that feeling of scarcity pretty deeply…”

Isn’t it great to read someone linking together love, capitalism, oppression and resistance?