Review of Meat: A Benign Extravagance by Simon Fairlee (2010, 322 pp.); and Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale Integrative Farming and Gardening by Sepp Holzer (English version 2011, 232 pp.)
While the Bush reign may be described as a war on privacy, Obama’s is clearly a war on food freedom.* As his Monsanto administration arrests organic farmers and distributors, seizing and destroying healthy foods privately contracted and sustainably grown, this tyranny is not unique to the United States. All over the world, organic, sustainable farmers are under attack by large agribiz actors who, through government and trade agreements, are regulating them out of business and destroying the environment in the process.
Two farmers arguing against ecocidal hyper-regulation and “conventional” and “orthodox organic” farming are Simon Fairlee of England and Sepp Holzer of Austria. Both have written seminal books that should grace the bookshelves of everyone who gardens, farms or cares about the impact of agriculture on the biosphere.
In Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlee successfully proves that animal husbandry must be part of any sustainable farm, but used under a permaculture system (that which mimics nature) – beyond organic. “Permaculture” is short for “permanent agriculture” – agricultural ecosystems that are designed to be self-sustaining. It practices natural anarchy.
Ohio farmer Gene Logsdon, who authored Holy Shit and The Contrary Farmer, wrote the forward to Benign Extravagance. In it, he agrees that food security “is being undermined by well-intentioned people of all persuasions who are demanding rules and regulations in food matters without enough knowledge.”
The use of animals for sustainable farming has long been supported in the alternative ag field. What’s new is Fairlee’s stunning conclusion that animals protect against greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), turning expert conclusions on their head.
He doesn’t reach this conclusion easily, and he agrees that fewer food animals are needed, but his research exposes the gross exaggerations made by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), oft-repeated in the vegan world. Instead, he finds that animals are being scapegoated by fossil-fuel users. To reduce GHGs, he charges logically, reduce fossil fuel use.
Though it focuses on the environmental ethics of raising animals, Benign Extravagance also chronicles the historical move away from a pastoral society to urbanized stockyards and monocultured farms that spread for miles. Today’s industrialized ag system has separated animals from vegetables, with a result of too much animal waste concentrated in one place, and not enough fertilizer in the other. This bifurcation creates toxic ponds at one end and the need for oil-based synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, as well as fossil-fuel using machinery, at the other.
An interesting tidbit reveals that Wall Street got its name because, at the time, imported pigs roamed free on Manhattan island, requiring a stockade to keep them off the farms. If only it were just as easy to keep the piggish banksters out of food speculation. Other tidbits include how the tsetse fly and the Bubonic Plague guided which animals and crops were raised where.
Much of the vegan debate for no animals centers on the inefficiency of land use in growing food to feed the stock animals. The oft-quoted and, he shows, erroneous figure is 10:1 – the amount of nutrients in animal meat compared to vegetables.
But when adding in food miles, the need for synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, and fossil-fuel machinery on farms that don’t use animals, and when subtracting the opportunity cost for secondary use of cattle in the trade of hides, value-added dairy products, plus the hard-to-calculate value of warmth and companionship provided by farm animals, the real efficiency figure is 1.2:1, he calculates.
“Food miles may not be over-extravagant in their energy use [accounting for about 10-15% of GHGs], but they are thickly implicated in a centralized distribution system.” It is in a decentralized system that food security is increased and GHGs are reduced.
His calculations and arguments span several chapters. Two refute the absurd and deceptive FAO claim that cow farts account for 18% of GHGs. Fairlee holds his own on this argument, but probably would have appreciated having Olivier De Schutter’s report, Agroecology and the Right to Food, which was published later. De Schutter is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food who rejects industrialized farming, instead showing how small, mixed farms provide more food and improve the land.
Part of his equation acknowledges that the world’s subsistence farmers – who are primarily women – all use animals to boost farm productivity (via manure), as draft animals instead of tractors, and to enhance their family’s food security by providing secondary products like eggs and milk, along with other value-added products. And, he points out, herding also saves the world’s landless nomads from starvation.
“While meat is a luxury of the rich, it is a necessity of the poor,” he writes. “Sixty percent of all rural households in poor countries keep livestock.”
Those who want to skip the statistical arguments and exposure of deceptions used to promote industrial farming should not miss Chapter 15: The Great Divide. It is here that an overview of the meat vs. vegan debate is laid out and cemented in common sense. Whether they are aware of it or not, vegans promote factory farms by opposing livestock.
Another paradigm shift he urges involves the concept of the “Tragedy of the Commons” that he refutes with the “Tragedy of Technology,” which is solely to blame for depleted ocean stocks. One fascinating chart reproduced in the book was originally prepared by David Thompson of the FAO, who exposed the gross inefficiency of industrial fishing compared to small fisheries. Below is a slightly updated version:
His final chapter details his vision of a permaculture economy where he sees more trees, fewer animals and a re-ruralized society. While much of his book is written with humor, and readers shouldn’t miss his continual references to GOOFs – global opponents of organic farming – it is this last chapter that reveals Fairlee’s genius.
He convincingly argues that famine is not caused by “inefficient animal husbandry displacing efficient” farms. “The conflict” he says, “arises when symbiotic land use is usurped for monoculture designed for export.”
Sepp Holzer couldn’t agree more. He has been described as the “European counterpart” to Australia’s Bill Mollison and Japan’s Masanobu Fukuoka – “as all three independently discovered ways of working with nature that save money and labour and that don’t degrade the environment, but actually improve it.”
In Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale Integrative Farming and Gardening, he provides practical hands-on instruction with a caveat: Each permaculture system is unique. The gardener or farmer must understand all the factors that go into completing a self-sustaining ecosystem, including water, wind, sun, soil, wildlife and terrain, as well as climate and nearby pollution sources that impact all of this.
His 110-acre alpine farm in Austria sits between 3,300 and 4,900 feet in altitude (1,000-1,500 meters). It supports 10,000 fruit and nut trees, 30 different types of potatoes, a variety of grains, mushrooms, vegetables, herbs and wildflowers, as well as domestic and wild cattle, pigs, chickens, introduced snakes and even alpine crocodiles at one time.
“Once planted, I do absolutely nothing,” Holzer told Reuters. “It really is just nature working for itself – no weeding, no pruning, no watering, no fertiliser, no pesticides.”
Having practiced his own brand of permaculture for 50 years, he knows of what he speaks.
Instead, he modified the landscape with terraces, giant stone slabs, and over 70 ponds to direct wind, water, solar energy, and the terrain to permanently support the system.
Not one square meter of Holzer’s ground hosts only one type of plant. Starting from the age of five, he learned that as plant variety increases, parasites are reduced and the ecosystem becomes stable.
As an adult, he realized that most of what he learned in agriculture college and books was destroying the farm he inherited from his parents. He rebelled.
His autobiography, The Rebel Farmer, chronicles his battles against ignorant regulators whose rules were destroying his farm. He has fought regulatory agencies for decades, being mired in litigation and fined several times, and threatened with imprisonment. One example that cost him in fines involved his refusal to prune his trees as regulated.
He noticed that the only apricot tree faring well during the winter, where temperatures can drop to -29 °F (-34 °C), was the one he had not pruned. The length of the uncut branches allowed them to droop enough to touch the ground, providing support while the snow slid off. The branches of the pruned trees broke under the weight of the snow, killing the trees.
Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture is filled with photos, diagrams and detailed instructions on every aspect of his mixed-farm system that increased his wealth and the quality of his land. It exemplifies “beyond organic” by mimicking nature in every aspect from natural roads and buildings to natural pesticides (like his homemade bone salve used to protect his trees) to companion plants to vermiculture, and much more.
Instructions aren’t limited to large farms, either. He describes and diagrams balcony gardens and small town gardens that can feed families or whole neighborhoods. And, of course, his theories apply to both farms and gardens.
Nearly everything he does is different from what most of us learn – even how to plant trees. Most of us buy a small tree with a root ball covered in burlap, but his are square with companion plants at the base of the tree. Among several free videos of or about Holzer’s techniques, this one is probably best.
One thing is clear from his book; Holzer would never farm without animals, as they are a part of the play of nature.
“Livestock play a large role in a permaculture system; they do not just provide high-quality produce, they are also industrious and pleasant workers…. The animals actually work for me by loosening the soil and tilling my terraces.” And, they bring the added fertilizer in the form of manure.
Like Joel Salatin on his Polyface Farm, Holzer rationally grazes his animals on various paddocks to ensure no one spot is over- or under-grazed. He also grows poisonous plants because he’s observed that animals suffering from diarrhea will deliberately eat them. He no longer has to worm his animals.
“The fact that it is actually necessary to become a ‘rebel’ to run a farm in harmony with nature is very sad!”
Many would agree. The joy comes in practicing a holistic approach when growing your own food, he says, giving you independence and healthy foods from an environment that is enriched rather than depleted. It is this very anarchy that will save the environment and feed the world.
Here’s a small sampling of articles revealing hyper-regulation:
Georgia cops bust 10-year-old’s lemonade stand
Michigan woman fined for growing veggies on her front lawn
Georgia farmer fined $5K for growing too many veggies
Kentucky Food Club defies illegal Cease and Desist Order from Health Dept
Elderly Man Evicted from His Indiana Land for Living off the Grid
UK family living off the grid evicted from their own land
Australia proposes ban on 1000s of plants including national flower
Urban garden that grosses $2,500 must buy permit for ‘several thousand dollars’
(Meat vs Vegan image)
“At this point, it’s almost certainly too late to manage a transition to sustainability on a global or national scale, even if the political will to attempt it existed, which it clearly does not. Our civilization is in the early stages of the same curve of decline and fall as so many others have followed before it. What likely lies in wait for us is a long, uneven decline into a new Dark Age from which, centuries from now, the civilizations of the future will gradually emerge.”
Who can we blame for $4.00 a gallon? Answer: every last one of us cotton pickin’ American gas guzzling 8-cylinder SUV drivers, trucks, trains, boats and planes! We burn 20 million barrels a day in the United States. The world’s humans burn 84 million barrels daily. That’s 29.9 billion barrels of oil annually worldwide! Whopping carbon footprint! Hey! Did you think a finite resource like ‘endless oil’ could go on forever? That’s like sucking on an ‘endless milkshake’ straw at the local diner! It eventually runs dry and you suck on air.
Are you upset? You gotta’ be kiddin’ me! The “Hubbert Curve” told us that “Peak Oil” would hit the United States in 1970 when geologist M.King Hubbert predicted a drop from nine million barrels to three million barrels daily. It came to pass!
Peak Everything: Facing a Century of Declines by Richard Heinberg tells us we face rapidly declining supplies of metals, water, oil, coal, minerals and most other resources we rape the Earth to acquire for our rapacious human activities. Are we preparing with such simple plans like 10 cent deposit/return laws on all metals, plastics and glass. Not a chance!
If you think $4.00 a gallon today hits your wallet, think again. Chris Steiner wrote $20 Per Gallon, which predicts with deadly accuracy a steady rise of prices from $5.00 to $10.00 to ultimately $20.00 per gallon before mid-century. Why? Answer: we may have only burned 50 percent of the Earth’s oil supplies, but it’s father down, harder to get at and more expensive to extract. Thus, costs rise!
Experts knew it would happen, but since 1970, we just kept burning oil like there was no tomorrow. Tomorrow happens to be today! How’s that big Ram truck with eight powerful cylinders doing for you at $4.00 a gallon. Peak Oil will prove a game-changer!
We failed to incorporate conservation in any form. We failed to plan. We failed ourselves and future generations.
“As we go from this happy hydrocarbon bubble we have reached now to a renewable energy resource economy, which we do this century, will the “civil” part of civilization survive? As we both know there is no way that alternative energy sources can supply the amount of per capita energy we enjoy now, much less for the 9 billion expected by 2050. And energy is what keeps this game going. We are involved in a Faustian bargain—selling our economic souls for the luxurious life of the moment, but sooner or later the price has to be paid.” Walter Youngquist, energy
“An immutable fact of expensive gasoline: Americans will find someone to blame,” said Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal. “We can expect in the coming months to hear many sober analysts attempt to explain the complex reasons for rising oil prices: inflation, Middle East tremors, growing demand. Expect, too, for all those reasons to vanish behind what most Americans will see as the far more obvious cause: President Obama’s regulatory assault on domestic oil and gas production.”
Obama, Congress and the American people dance around the fact that we failed to plan. We face an unsustainable “Peak Oil” consumption conundrum. We created a “Faustian Bargain” with the inevitable “Hobson’s Choice” for the final answer. That ‘answer’ forces us to take only two choices left to us: pick door number 1 and you get to walk over a cliff with no parachute; pick door number 2 and you fall into quicksand with no lifeguard.
In January 2008, candidate Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle that under his cap-and-trade plan, “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” Steven Chu, now Secretary of Energy, told this newspaper in the same year: “Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” Currently, $8.00 a gallon in UK!
In his book The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler, he predicted that China would burn 98 million barrels of oil daily by 2030. They stick six million new cars on their highways every year—so they will reach that burn rate in 19 years.
However, the planet will be coughing up only empty ‘stuff’ like you do at the end of your ‘endless milkshake’ when you suck on ‘nothing left’.
What can we do?
- Massive change-over to two and four cylinder cars
- Massive push for electric and solar cars
- Massive push for wind and solar energy
- Massive push conservation on all fronts
- Massive push for walking centric cities
- Massive push for mass transit
- Massive push to ride bicycles!
As the USA adds 3.1 million people annually, net gain, to rise from 312 million to 400 million by 2035—more demand, less oil—higher prices and lucky to have any oil at all! Finally, we need a massive push for population stability by the United States to lead the rest of the countries of the world. We cannot keep adding human numbers if we expect to survive the 21stcentury.
While Noam Chomsky surely needs no introduction, as they say, that doesn’t mean interviewing him has to follow a blueprint. So, after seeing him in a video called “Are We Running Out of Oil?” I decided to initiate a conversation about the future…or perhaps lack thereof.
What will happen if activists don’t kick things up a few thousands notches and provoke massive changes in the way humans currently live? Chomsky and I, of course, agree it’d be best to create such change and learn the answer to that question. On a few other points, we didn’t agree.
Our discussion went something like this…
Mickey Z.: I recently watched a video on climate change in which you were one of the featured interviewees. You talked quite somberly about the recent elections being a “death knell” for humanity and us “kissing our species goodbye.” I’ve read your work for decades but can’t seem to recall you using such language in this context. In your view, have we humans waited too long to take action? Do you believe we can/should downsize our industrial culture before it downsizes itself?
Noam Chomsky: If I said the elections are a death knell, I went too far. But I think it’s fair to say that they do threaten that outcome. Even the business press is concerned. Bloomberg Business Week reported that the elections brought into office dozens of climate change deniers, swelling support for Senator James Inhofe, who has declared global warming to be the “greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people” and feels “vindicated” by the election. He probably is also celebrating the ascendance of representative John Shimkus who assures us that God would prevent dire effects of climate change; analogues would be hard to find in other societies. And probably is also celebrating the fact that according to recent polls, barely a third of Americans now believe that human activities are a factor in climate change – very likely the result of a major corporate propaganda offensive, openly announced, to achieve this result. It’s important to bear in mind that those who orchestrate the campaigns know as well as the rest of us that the “hoax” is real and ominous, but they are pursuing their institutional role: maximizing short-term profit and putting aside “externalities,” in this case the fate of the species. Modifying the core institutions of the society is no small challenge. This confluence of factors should serve as a grim warning. If the US continues to drag its feet on addressing these grave problems, the rest of the world will have even less incentive to proceed with serious measures. I don’t think that entails downsizing industrial culture. Rather, converting it to sustainable form to serve human needs, not private profit. For example high speed rail and solar technology do not downsize industrial culture.
MZ: When I say “downsizing industrial culture,” I’m suggesting that any lifestyle based on relentless resource extraction is by definition, un-sustainable. So, I would counter that “serving human needs” is partly what got us in this mess in the first place. Considering that 80% of the forests have been destroyed and 90% of large fish in the ocean are already gone, maybe we need a more holistic perspective on “needs”?
NC: I’d still give the same answer. Human needs are served by a sustainable lifestyle, almost by definition, if humans include coming generations. And a shift to such technologies as high-speed rail instead of maximizing fossil fuel use, and solar energy, is not “relentless resource extraction.”
MZ: I guess what I mean is what about non-human needs? We can’t survive without a functioning eco-system and most of the accepted suggestions—recycled goods, CFL bulbs, etc.—are way too little, way too late. As someone who has surveyed the shifting tides of human culture, can you foresee Americans stepping up to make the kind of changes and sacrifices required to ensure “coming generations”?
NC: I’m not sure what you mean by “non-human needs.” A functioning eco-system is a human need. Are you thinking of the needs of non-human animals? Say beetles? They’ll probably survive whatever we do to the eco-system. I quite agree that the standard suggestions are too little. If they are too late, then it follows, logically, that we really can kiss each other goodbye. But I think that’s too grim a forecast. On whether Americans can step up, it’s hard to be optimistic. Certainly current trends are in the opposite direction, as I mentioned.
MZ: So, if you’re not optimistic about Americans stepping up, what it is that keeps you from maintaining as “grim” a forecast as I?
NC: Because not being optimistic falls a long way short of predicting that all is finished. There are still options. If you really think the game is over, what’s the point of even discussing these topics?
MZ: The only game I feel is over is the widespread belief that minor tweaks and changes can make enough of a difference. What I’m sincerely wondering is what, as you see it, are the options that remain?
NC: I think we agree on that. The options that remain are much more dramatic and far-reaching initiatives, and the sooner the better.
MZ: Which brings me back to my initial point about downsizing. High-speed rail requires unsustainable and toxic practices like mining, etc. Solar energy is obviously better than fossil fuels but isn’t truly sustainable if it’s solely used to replace fossil fuels in the name of supporting an unsustainable industrial/technological culture. As for those beetles you mentioned earlier, surely you know that valuable insects like bees are being wiped out by this same human culture. So what I’m asking is for a clearer idea of what you see as the dramatic and far-reaching initiatives we need.
NC: Bees are being wiped out, but beetles aren’t. The choice today is not between eliminating transportation and wasting fossil fuels, but between more and less wasteful forms of transportation. Same with regard to solar energy. There’s no point discussing options that haven’t even a remote chance of being implemented, and would be massively destructive if they were. What has to be done today is (1) large-scale conversion (weatherizing, etc.), (2) sharp change in transportation to greater efficiency, like high-speed rail, (3) serious efforts to move to sustainable energy, probably solar in the somewhat longer term, (4) other adjustments that are feasible. If done effectively, that might be enough to stave off disaster. If not, then we can give up the ghost, because there are no alternatives in this world, at least none that I’ve seen suggested.
Also, I do not see how we can rationally oppose high speed rail because of the environmental and other costs without considering the social and human consequences of the radical elimination of transportation that this entails.
MZ: I do so because I feel the “environmental and other costs” are virtually indistinguishable from the “social and human consequences.” Preserving the unsustainable system that has put all life on earth at risk, to me, carries far worse potential consequences than beginning the process of dismantling that system. Neither option is even remotely appetizing but only one option accepts the inherent destructive nature of the industrial infrastructure as it stands now.
NC: Your reply illustrates exactly the problem I see constantly. You are certainly entitled to this opinion, but merely asserted it cannot carry any conviction. I’m sorry that you don’t see that your comment does not address the issue.
MZ: I’m sorry that you can’t see how it does.
NC: Then we agree.
MZ: Although we continued talking at that point, this marked the end of our official interview. However, I feel I would be remiss if I did not voice my fervent disagreement that there are “no alternatives in this world” to the four options Chomsky lists above.
University of Illinois Experts Provide Us Little Known Solutions to Create More Economical Solar panels
By Shannon Combs
Even if silicon is actually the market common semiconductor in the majority of electronic products, which includes the photovoltaic cells that sun panels employ to transform sunshine into power, it is not really the most cost-efficient product available. For instance, the semiconductor gallium arsenide and associated substance semiconductors offer close to twice the effectiveness as silicon in solar devices, however they are rarely utilized in utility-scale applications because of their excessive construction cost.
U. of I. (http://illinois.edu/) professors J. Rogers and X. Li discovered lower-cost ways to produce thin films of gallium arsenide which also granted versatility in the sorts of devices they could be integrated into.
If you may decrease substantially the expense of gallium arsenide and some other compound semiconductors, then you could develop their own range of applications.
Usually, gallium arsenide is placed in a individual thin layer on a smaller wafer. Either the ideal device is made right on the wafer, or the semiconductor-coated wafer is cut up into chips of the ideal dimension. The Illinois group made the decision to deposit several levels of the material on a single wafer, making a layered, “pancake” stack of gallium arsenide thin films.
If you grow 10 layers in one growth, you only have to fill the wafer a single time. If you do this in ten growths, loading and unloading with temp ramp-up and ramp-down take a lot of time. If you consider what is required for every growth – the machine, the research, the time, the people – the overhead saving this solution offers is a substantial cost reduction.
After that the scientists individually peel off the layers and shift them. To achieve this, the stacks alternate layers of aluminum arsenide with the gallium arsenide. Bathing the stacks in a solution of acid and an oxidizing agent dissolves the levels of aluminum arsenide, freeing the individual small sheets of gallium arsenide. A soft stamp-like system selects up the layers, just one at a time from the top down, for transfer to one more substrate – glass, plastic-type or silicon, depending on the application. Next the wafer could be used again for another growth.
By performing this it’s possible to make significantly more material much more quickly and much more cost effectively. This process could make mass amounts of material, as compared to merely the thin single-layer way in which it is typically grown.
Freeing the material from the wafer additionally opens the chance of flexible, thin-film electronics produced with gallium arsenide or additional high-speed semiconductors. To make units which may conform but still retain high performance, that’s significant.
In a paper published online May twenty in the publication Nature (http://www.nature.com/), the group describes its methods and demonstrates three types of devices using gallium arsenide chips made in multilayer stacks: light products, high-speed transistors and photo voltaic cells. The creators additionally supply a detailed price comparability.
One more advantage associated with the multilayer approach is the release from area constraints, especially essential for photo voltaic cells. As the levels are taken away from the stack, they could be laid out side-by-side on another substrate to produce a significantly larger surface area, whereas the typical single-layer process limits area to the size of the wafer.
For photovoltaics, you want large area coverage to catch as much sunshine as possible. In an extreme situation we could grow adequate layers to have 10 times the area of the traditional.
Up coming, the team plans to explore more potential device applications and additional semiconductor materials which could adapt to multilayer growth.