Thursday, May 21, 2020

Participatory Community Development in Florida in the face of the Anthropocene: Will it hold?

The quest for Food Security in an age of more frequent and intense hurricanes, Covid19 strains of coronvirus, loss of ecological buffer zones and unpredictable extreme weather events and sharp economic downturns and supply chain disruptions.

Food security is an existential concern that today takes on heightened significance when disruptions in food supply, now completely imbricated in global supply chains,  can come from so many varied and often unpredictable events exacerbated by climate change, unpredictable disease transmission vectors, a reliance on vulnerable input intensive agricultural systems and a loss of biodiversity buffering systems and genetic variability.  The history of America shows periodic resurgence of "victory gardens", community agriculture and local farming movements during periods of war or economic downturns, only to see these movements and the infrastructure they inspire disappear once the crisis has abated.  This article examines 5 local food security and community agriculture education experiments in South Florida that the authors of the paper have been involved with through the lens of "participatory community development" to explore whether there is a higher probability of sustainability and endurance when the interventions are embedded in a culture of sustainability education and resiliency planning that expects disruptions to continue far into the future.

The authors of this article, Dr. T.H. Culhane and Dr. Joseph Dorsey, have both grappled with issues of food insecurity in the context of international development.  Dorsey worked on improvements in food production with the Peace Corps in rural areas in Africa and Culhane worked on Agroforestry in rural Central America  and both of us have an enduring interest in urban agriculture.

One of the biggest concerns we face today is "what will low income people, folks living paycheck to paycheck, do if there is a mandatory quarantine due to the Covid19 virus?  How many of us are prepared to spend a minimum of two weeks "grounded" at home?  It is assumed that wealthier people will be able to afford home delivery and the higher prices that are inevitable as demand for food outstrips local supply.  But for some of us, just as we say during the Hurricane, disruptions of normal supply chains and hoarding not only will make supermarket shelves bare, but delivery itself may be compromised.


The question becomes "what sorts of staple foods can one effectively grow that can supply vital nutrients during times of crisis?

Many people will turn to foods that store well and horde them if they can -- dried grains and pulses and canned goods are expected to fly off the shelves as people take stock of what is going on and stock up on them to get through lean times.  Things that "don't go bad" include stimulants like sugar and coffee and tea and flour.  But these are precisely the items that run out  in anticipation of a crisis.  The irony is that these are often the least healthy foods and experts are saying that one of the chief factors affecting mortality from the Corona virus is a compromised immune response.

Talk show host Bill Maher, when interviewing epidemiologist Dr, Anne Rimoin about risk factors for the virus bluntly stated "cut out the sugar, period" and while Dr. Rimoin didn't go that far, she stressed the importance of "lowered sugar intake and a healthy diet.".

The question begging to be answered is, "is it possible for a family or small community to produce all the food it needs to get through a crisis without any inputs from outside?  Just how closed a loop can we make it?"

At Rosebud Continuum Sustainability Education Center my wife and I tried an experiment in May of 2019 to see if we could live eating nothing but what we grew on the property for 3 weeks.  The mainstay of our diet were eggs from the 22 free range chickens on the property, supplemented with two Tilapia fish we had grown, and then papaya, bananas and salad greens from our raised beds, spiral garden and hydroponics system.

Needless to say, one things that stood out for us was how unsatisfying it felt to rely principally on lettuce, devoid as it is in fats and oils.   It made us question the promises of the plethora of articles stating that "vertical farming" and "aeroponics" and "urban farming" will help us feed a hungry planet. The notion is sound -- we do need to shift our food production to the centers of its consumption. The problem is that when you see these operations in practice (and when you look at the pictures used to illustrate the promise of this "soil-free gardening" technology, almost everyone is growing lettuce.  One would think we were a race of rabbits!

Creativity and Climate Change and how we are going to change our course in this course, Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

This fall we will be completely revamping and updating our Climate Change course at the Patel College of Global Sustainability.  The course was always called and was about "Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation" and we teach at Patel that part of the challenge for humanity is and always has been adapting to changing environments.  What has been slow to adapt, relative to the accelerated pace of the anthropogenic changes to our atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere, has been the education system that is supposed to help us address the environmental, social and economic  problems those changes have caused.

That is why we at the Patel have decided with our students and with experts and community leaders that we must change the climate of our course on climate change, that we must change course concerning how we run our course.

And we need your help.  We need your creativity.  We obviously  can't "stay the course" in this course; remember Einstein's famous definition of INSANITY:  "Yup, Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."  So while we don't want the climate to change we need our schooling to change.

A student who had taken our "Envisioning Sustainbility" class last semester, recently commented, "That class was focused on creativity so I am interested to see how to bring that element into these more "strict" science topics behind climate change."

And there is the challenge:  How do we put creativity in the service of good science when we have been misled for so many years to think there was a separation between the arts and the sciences that can not easily be crossed? 

In one of the seminal texts we use for the Envisioning Sustainability course, called "The Origins of Creativity" Harvard's Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Biology, my former teacher E.O. Wilson, makes a impassioned case for ending the division, saying that,

"“Like the sunlight and the firelight that guided our birth, we need a unified humanities and science to construct a full and honest picture of what we truly are and what we can become... Science owns the warrant to explore everything deemed factual and possible, but the humanities, borne aloft by both fact and fantasy, have the power of everything not only possible but also conceivable...“To express this increasingly complex subject as succinctly as possible, the ancestors of our species developed the brain power to connect with other minds and to conceive unlimited time, distance, and potential outcomes. This infinite reach of imagination, put quite simply, is what made us great.”

To make this course great so that it can be truly useful in the face of the great challenges of our times, we need to harness your brain power through connection with the other minds in and outside our class and use that infinite reach of your imagination to make connections and come up with solutions that are at once factual, possible and conceivable even when they seem to others outlandish.  For the imagination takes us into those outlands and brings what seemed foreign home where it can become part of the familiar.

This is a major theme of our new Climate Concentration -- bringing climate solutions -- ways of mitigating and adapting to climate change HOME.  And there isn't time to waste.  For most Americans, privileged in a cocoon of wealth and power, climate change effects did seem "outlandish" -- they were things that were happening "out there" in foreign lands plagued by poverty and unfortunate geography.  But now the changes we in the industrialized nations spewed out across the globe through our emissions have come home to roost.  Floods and fires and heat waves and deadly cold snaps, droughts  and intense storms are all now impacting the U.S. and other hypertrophically wealthy regions with catastrophic results.  And these dramatic changes should be enough to galvanize us into action...

Unless, that is..  the education system itself doesn't undergo dramatic changes that can help us lick this problem in time.  For we ARE running out of time -- and for many people who have died or suffered or have lost property and jobs and seen their environments degrade and livelihoods collapse, the climate change clock has already hit midnight.

It is because  of the urgency of this situation and its imminent and accelerating and expanding effects that we cannot afford to wait to change our educational system, starting with this very course, which is all about Climate Mitigation and Adaptation.  How absurd would it be if we kept doing "business as usual" knowing that the way we did things in the past are precisely the practices that lead to climate catastrophe? It doesn't take an Einstein to understand "Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them." ... um, even if Einstein himself is the one who said that.  Well, more accurately, Einstein said, in the context of averting a nuclear disaster, "“a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.”.  But whether we are discussing nuclear war or climate change, the point is the same -- we need a new kind of thinking, an new consciousness, and to get there we need a new kind of education system.

In short, we need imagination and the courage to combine creativity and scientific rigor to combat climate change.

So how do we do it?

Well, first off, we aren't going to be spending much if ANY time debating the reality of climate change.  It really is a waste of time UNLESS you really want to develop your debating skills so you can take on your climate skeptic uncle over the dinner table  at Thanksgiving.  That's on you, and you are quite welcome to use some of your time in this course working out the arguments and improving your rhetoric. I'll give you credit for it too.  But I personally won't be that interested in what you come up with.   My focus in this course is on climate change action, since the science has all been settled (most of it for decades if not centuries).  We'll keep the material in the course if you are still uncertain, but I personally am not invested in doing any "proving" that climate change is real and dangerous and mostly under human control.

What I will be focussing on this semester is HOW to combat climate change, how to mitigate its effects -- the ones that are still under our control -- and how to best adapt to the changes we can no longer control. And I will be focusing mostly on the personal dimension, on the home scale and community and regional scales, rather than the global scale.  Climate change is a global issue, but it was created by local actions -- what each of us did at the gas pump, on the way to work, at work, and at home.  We were the consumers who created the market for the producers in industry to sell us things that caused and are causing the greenhouse effect.  We were warned about it for over a hundred years.  But very few of us felt able to fight the tide.  Far too few of us made any real change in our lifestyles and practices.  Now we MUST truly "be the change".

To do that, in this class,  we have decided to use the Drawdown Project as our seminal text and material.  Drawdown asks us to move as fast as possible toward the implementation of the 100 top carbon drawdown/climate mitigation strategies and technologies already vetted by and agreed to by teams of top scientists and policy makers who have spent those decades debating the impacts of anthropogenic climate change inducing actions.

But what does that mean "to USE the Drawdown project?" Does it mean to read it? To memorize the words and concepts and principles contained within it? To take quizzes on it? To write essays about it?

Well, sure if you want to.  But it seems to me that we've all been doing something just like that all these years with all the course material we are assigned, and we have tons of experts and reams of publications.  If you want to be one of those esteemed publishing experts on climate change science and policy, we applaud you and support you.  But it won't be enough. Not hardly.  We live in a world where despite the ever growing number of academic and lay specialists on the problem, the problem is growing even faster.  Did you think because you are aware of renewable and alternative energy sources our net use of fossil fuels has been going down?  Not at all -- only the proportion of energy coming from non fossil sources is going up, which is a good thing,  while overall energy use, and the "population bomb"  continue their inexorable exponential rise. And those are bad things that outweigh all the gains on the good side. Deforestation, coral bleaching and habitat degradation are at an all time high and the species extinction rate is higher than ever before in geologic history.
And you thought learning these facts and getting A's on exams and applause for your essays on the deep S-H-I-T we are in was going to change that?

Of course you didn't.  But we played the game -- some of you were going to graduate with a Masters and go on to save the world by, oh, I dunno, urging companies to "go green" and "divest from fossil energy". Others were going to become famous by making gloomy documentaries about how those companies were after all just greenwashing and telling us we are screwed anyway, like the recent Michael Moore documentary, Planet of the Humans, while others of you would become academics and hope to make  highly paid keynote speeches that get you tenure and  make you career safe and allow  you to hire some company to put solar shingles and a Tesla battery on your garage to power your emission-free sports car.  A few of you were going to invent a new product, some technological marvel that would make you rich and the planet better off -- people, profit, planet, always in that order right?

And MOST of you were going to simply graduate and get busy with life and go back to business as usual. a business as usual that will keep the others in business for a while before collapse comes -- and the perverse logic of capitalism and socialism and communism will make it so that the more sustainability consultants and experts we produce at Patel, the more problems we will need to have -- after all, our Mastery of Sustainability won't count for much if everybody is doing things sustainably, right? Who would hire you once the crisis is over?  So we need most of you to pull for the status quo it seems.

You know the story, so I don't need to wear my cynicism on my sleeve, right? Especially since I'm NOT a cynic.

The way I see it, it is a good thing that climate change is anthropogenic.  Because if we caused it, if we changed the climate in a bad direction then WE can change it back.  That's a good thing.  Imagine if we were fighting space aliens trying to terraform the earth, like Charlie Sheen in that Sci Fi classic "The Arrival".  Now that would be bad.  Or imagine it is caused by sunspots or cosmic cycles.  Then we would have nothing to fight.  I feel bad for the people who will alive when the sun expands and swallows up the earth, as it inevitably will. Them's hard times.

What we have here IS  fortunately manageable, as your new primary text, Drawdown, shows us.  We just have to drawdown the carbon. The CO2 and CH4 and  chlorofluorocarbons... oh and the nitrous oxides too.  And yes, we have to keep them  down, once we stop spewing green house gases in the air, which means letting nature do its Gaian repair and self-regulating thing -- plants and algae are particularly important.  But you learned that in the third grade, right? So what are we doing in graduate school?

Business, as usual, says we gain mastery by saying simple things in ever more complex ways, mastering more Greek and Latin and German terminology, and developing a more sophisticated way of presenting our ideas.  We are also supposed to become clearer thinkers, ever more skeptical and able to discern between "truth" and "falsehood".  And so you could graduate into our tribe of scientific thinkers knowing that YOU have truth and justice on your side and hang out with us on our side of the Titanic, the richer and ever-rising side, watching with dismay as those on the other "side" , the lower side, slip underwater, still refusing to acknowledge how their support of a bad shipbuilding industry and lax safety standards led to the collision with the iceberg.  At least you knew better even if you couldn't turn the ship around in time...

But it doesn't have to be this way.  You COULD --- I'm not saying you will -- but you COULD use this semester to get the lifeboats ready and help as many people off the ship as possible. I don't mean to use the semester arguing with the crew or the other passengers.  I mean spending your time building resilient lifeboats and life vests and lifebuoys and testing them on YOURSELF first and proving their effectiveness and one by one reaching out and helping others get on board.  I mean doing this from a point of conviction because you yourself have LIFE-TESTED the Life Boat or Life Buoy.  I mean you yourself have tried a Drawdown solution or improved or implemented a Drawdown solution and then SHARED YOUR EXPERIENCE.

That is what is going to get the other passengers to stop fiddling on the deck and get to work building their own.  So THAT is the emphasis of this course, as far as I'm concerned. 
But since you are a passenger on this rapidly sinking spaceship earth you get to have a say.
I can't and won't FORCE YOU to put your theories and ideas into practice -- I'll still give you traditional credit for traditional work -- for learning the "facts" and faithfully regurgitating them, for doing your research and writing position papers and making policy recommendations and saying "ain't it awful" and sneering at climate skeptics. I am not the sort of person to play dictator and hope for a happier outcome.  The idea that all we need is a stronger leader and stronger laws is appealing but at the same time appalling.  Dictators can dictate rapid change but they set up and perpetuate a system where they ultimately make lots of people unhappy and usually at some point get overthrown by yet another dictator who simply undoes everything the previous dictator does. Such is the nature of political rivalry.

In this course I'm asking us to move past that -- to investigate and implement and report on solutions that transcend rivalry and obviate it.  Among the 100 solutions compiled in Drawdown there are plenty that are win win win in most situations.  You can find ones that are fairly easy to put into practice and which won't threaten or offend anyone.  And there are even more solutions that YOU can work on in your life and community that didn't make it in the book because their MACROeconomic impact wasn't considered as high as the ones they chose to fit in the format of a readable book.  And yet, we each live in our own MICROeconomic bubble where the equations for impact and efficiency and economy are different.  So find solutions YOU believe to be a win-win for your that give you the most bang for the buck, and OWN them.  Make them a part of YOUR PERSONA here at Patel College so that people turn to YOU for advice and expertise when they consider "being the change" themselves.

So that is the first thing -- you being the change and documenting and reporting on it.
In my courses I consider each of us to be "scouts" who explore and then come home with things we can try.  That is your first order of business in this class as it is being reconceived.
It is a course about CLIMATE ACTION.

The second thing is to turn the scarcity model for climate action, where you are part of a "special" cadre of visionaries and do-gooders and caped crusaders, into the "social proof" model, where taking climate improvement action is just one of those everyday, normal, common sense things we all do, like brushing our teeth and washing our hair.  And the way to do that beyond living it, is to advertise it broadly and simply, the same way they do in the soap commercials, so that "if you tell two friends and they tell two friends and they tell two friends", as the advert goes, we will all be using the climate action equivalent of Clairol Herbal Essence Shampoo.

We need YOU to create snappy, compelling one to two or three-minute vignettes on each of the drawdown solutions you are involved in and are exploring so that others don't have to read Drawdown or take our course.  You have to be the amplifying and broadening public voice of the Drawdown solutions.  As we say in my courses "we're the folks that do the reading and studying and experimenting so that YOU don't have to!".  The you in this case are all the people NOT in our course.  They need to be able to rely on us to get the drawdown message in a way that doesn't interfere with their busy lives.  You cleared this time to go to school and become a master of sustainability, so we depend on you.  Everyone else has a full plate.  And if they don't, well, it is OUR responsibility to help them put the right food on that plate.  So we need recruitment videos and advertisements and public relations material, made by YOU.

Third thing:  We who are in the good fight already have our plates so full with activism and engagement and advertising and creation and sharing and living and striving to be the nexus that WE NEED HELP.  And this is the only valid place for what you think of as "assignments".  You should feel free to be creative, use your imagination and implement or  come up with your OWN "life-tested" climate solutions and find your own best way to communicate them.  But there is also a critical need for people to help those of us on the front lines of changing climate change do OUR JOBS. 

As your professor I already have so many potentially impactful projects that I can hardly breathe and I certainly can't get them all done.  If you trust me to have done all the traditional schooling and come to the right conclusions, and you are past the point of your own climate skepticism and indecision and self-defeating participation in the status quo, but you would like some direction as to where to apply your energies then I strongly advise that you jump on one of my projects (or projects of Dr. Brooke Hanson or Joseph Dorsey, as we are working together on this and overlap). You can earn almost all your "credit" by doing this so-called "work for hire" if you like, freeing you of the burden of primary creativity and allowing your imagination and creative juices to flourish in the structure of our well defined project goals.

For example -- at the Rosebud Continuum Sustainability Eco-Science Center where I live, we desperately need people to create well conceived educational signage about each of the Drawdown solutions we are putting in place on the property so the schoolkids and community members who come can go on self-guided tours (especially in the age of physical distancing due to the pandemic!).
We need people who can design the signs and create the files in Instructables Easel Software and then run the X-carve CNC robotic routing machine we have to actually make them. Then we need them mounted.
We also need people to design content for the Zappar Augmented Reality codes that the USF Office of Innovative Education has given us an expensive license to use so that each sign can trigger a video, an animation, 3D content, audio or weblinks and additional information. That way people can walk around the property and point their mobile phones or tablets at the signs or exhibits and watch them come to life, augmented by great content.
And then we need people to CREATE THAT GREAT CONTENT.  We need those snappy Life Tested Drawdown solution promotional videos and 3D content and web content so that we can link it to the Zappar codes on those signs.

That could easily take you the entire semester and would be a great way to collaborate with each other and learn the drawdown solutions in a meaningful and enduring way. You would be earning points for working as a "climate solution action production team" -- 1st by researching, selecting and  life testing drawdown solutions on your own, 2nd by creating content that communicates your findings to a wider audience, and 3rd by creating signage and augmented reality material that links that material to real geographical social and environmental spaces of "social proof"  where audiences can see the solutions in action.

So that is what I propose for the re-design of this course.  We start with the solutions most relevant to YOURS and MY habits and locations of interest.  That means starting wth Rosebud.  And when we finish with Rosebud, we need the same sort of content for Fat Beet Farm and for all the other locations -- schools, classrooms, meaningful sites around the community -- where we can reach people about how to halt climate change. It will take years and we have less than a decade. 
And of course any other ideas you have for accelerating and multiplying the force and impact of our drawdown work are welcome and will be credited.  But this is a start that fills  a need.
Won't you join me?

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Who WE Conservatives ARE

"Who WE Conservatives are
By T.H. Culhane
Sept. 11, 2019
(This is a script for my Irish American alter-ego “Rough Limerick” -- a true American conservative, responding to Rush Limbaugh’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and connecting the 11 core principles of American Conservatism to our much needed action plans for environmental stewardship and climate crisis mitigation and adaptation.)
Let me tell you who we conservatives are… I mean we real conservatives, not the neo-cons and the paleo-cons who are actually in my mind both actually pseudo-cons -- and that is how I will refer to them -- as PSEUDO-CONS and let me tell you how we true conservatives think of climate change and what we need to do about it.

Before we get started, I want to tell you what being a conservative has traditionally been defined to be, so you can see why I can confidently claim to be a true conservative, a traditional conservative and then further claim that people who depart from these principles are actually “Pseudo-cons” -- are actually CON-MEN, and con-women, stealing and distorting the conservative label for their own selfish or political agendas, among them denial of the science of climate change and our moral duty to mitigate and adapt to it. .

When you look up Conservatism in America on Wikipedia you find 11 core principles that guide us as conservatives in America, very clearly stated:

A conservative defends Family values: “the ideology that puts priority on family and family values through a Familialism that prioritizes the needs of the family over the needs of individuals, and advocates for a welfare system where families, rather than the government, take responsibility for the care of their members.

Such a conservative would help his or her own family and community of families self-provision. We help each other create better welfare in our neighborhoods through neighborhood watch programs and hands-on learning programs and backyard wildlife programs, rewilding our communities, growing our own healthy food alternatives so our children grow up strong and healthy and providing our own local energy in microgrids so our homes are inflation resistant and natural disaster resilient.

A conservative defends a Free market:

“a system in which the prices for goods and services are determined by the open market and by consumers. In a free market, the laws and forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government or other authority and from all forms of economic privilege, monopolies and artificial scarcities.”

Such a conservative would never conscience the site of people buying up cases of bottled water before a hurricane when the tap water is perfectly fine to drink and the coming rain storms, with a little bit of rain capture implemented -- perhaps just a bucket or basin placed outside -- would provide plenty of water. Such a conservative would never allow so few companies to dominate the energy and waste markets that we would ever feel trapped into paying high rates for electricity or garbage pick up or other utilities, or overprice decentralized energy generation devices so that we would ever have to worry about the effects of a “blackout”.

“ Proponents of the concept of free market contrast it with a regulated market in which a government intervenes in supply and demand through various methods such as tariffs used to restrict trade and to protect the local economy. In an idealized free-market economy, prices for goods and services are set freely by the forces of supply and demand and are allowed to reach their point of equilibrium without intervention by government policy."

No conservative would ever use protectionism to protect inferior technologies or bad practices at home or restrict our adoption or use of better technologies and practices from abroad.
A conservative defends Free trade: “a trade policy that does not restrict imports or exports; it can also be understood as the free market idea applied to international trade. In government, free trade is predominantly advocated by political parties that hold liberal economic positions while economically left-wing and nationalist political parties generally support protectionism, the opposite of free trade.”

We conservatives are not left wing, so why are we flying around in circles over this issue, and blaming the “liberals” for trying to regulate pollution and restrict the bad effects of the bad technologies -- the negative externalities -- that crony capitalism, as opposed to true free market capitalism - has forced us into purchasing or using or depending on? What we true conservatives want is a de-regulation of the goods and the good that good goods can give us, and instead regulation of the bad effects of the backwards technologies and practices that interfere with our sovereign liberties and hurt our families.

So let’s explore another tenet of traditional conservatism in America:

A conservative defends Classical liberalism: This is much different from the “social liberalism” or “leftist liberalism” which advocates government intervention and control to fix problems and from which we get the current term “liberal”.

“CLASSICAL LIBERALISM is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom.”
You and I should have the economic freedom to choose paper over plastic, to buy products that aren’t wrapped in single use plastic, to choose healthy food over unhealthy food at a BETTER PRICE, because ultimately it is cheaper to produce sustainable products since they have fewer inputs. We shouldn’t have to pay ridiculous taxes to the government that cause severe market distortions by providing gross subsidies to the petrochemical industry and the agroindustrial companies and the weapons manufacturers. The increasingly moribund and dirty coal industry, according to Rick Perry’s plan, is now getting subsidized to the tune of some 10.6 billion dollars over the next ten years. (see

This is not at all what the early economists had in mind when they developed the theories of capital accumulation and its “invisible hand” benefits that guided American business. The kind of Classical liberalism that conservatives champion is:

“Closely related to economic liberalism, it developed in the early 19th century, building on ideas from the previous century as a response to urbanisation and to the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States. Notable individuals whose ideas contributed to classical liberalism include John Locke, Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Robert Malthus and David Ricardo. It drew on the classical economic ideas espoused by Adam Smith in Book One of The Wealth of Nations and on a belief in natural law, utilitarianism and progress.

Despite this, America, under the guise of pseudo-conservativism, is falling behind rather than progressing. And regarding our founding conservative principles of utilitarianism, well for that we need to examine what utilitarianism really means -- and no it doesn’t mean that everything in nature should be used up by people.

According to wikipedia “Utilitarianism is a family of consequentialist ethical theories that promotes actions that maximize happiness and well-being for the majority of a population.” A majority, not just an elite.

“ Although different varieties of utilitarianism admit different characterizations, the basic idea behind all of them is to in some sense maximize utility, which is often defined in terms of well-being or related concepts. For instance, Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, described utility as

"that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness...[or] to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered.”

“Utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism, which states that the consequences of any action are the only standard of right and wrong. Unlike other forms of consequentialism, such as egoism and altruism, utilitarianism considers the interests of all beings equally.”
This is consistent with deep ecology, defeats the nasty and ultimately Nazi notion that the end justifies the means, and moves us toward a deep consideration of the larger consequences of each thing we do to preserve our individual rights and freedoms.

Classical liberalism thus frames the larger conservative ideal of following another important principle of conservativism which is,

"A conservative defends Natural Law: which is “ implied to be objective and universal, existing independently of human understanding, and independently of the positive law of a given state, political order, legislature or society at large. Historically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature to deduce binding rules of moral behavior from nature's or God's creation of reality and mankind."

This principle of conservativism is important in that we are steadfast in our commitment to science and reason, refusing to do things based on fear or reflex or knee jerk reactions or in a panic. As true conservatives we can never reject science. Our belief in the value of reason and study is also consistent with our application of our rationale observations of cause and effect to ensure consistency with our over-arching spiritual values, which guide the rest of our core conservative principles like .
A conservative defends Judeo-Christian Values: We Conservatives believe that we find moral guidance for the application of our reason-based policies through our faith in a gospel that preaches the existence of and possibility for a personal relationship with a loving God who promises grace and forgiveness. This in turn then suggests another principle:

"A conservative defends Moral absolutism, ”an ethical view that all actions are intrinsically right or wrong. Stealing, for instance, might be considered to be always immoral, even if done for the well-being of others (e.g., stealing food to feed a starving family), and even if it does in the end promote such a good.”"

As Moral absolutists we as conservatives cannot ever claim that the end justifies the means, and we conservatives are duty bound to try to find alternative moral paths to a good outcome if confronted with a shortcut that seems promising and expedient but nonetheless could cause harm. Cheating is not allowed.

This then leads to another conservative principle:

"A conservative defends the Rule of law: “The authority and influence of law in society, especially when viewed as a constraint on individual and institutional behavior; (hence) the principle whereby all members of a society (including those in government) are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes."

Because we abide by the rule of law, no person, no matter how rich or powerful can ever be considered above the law, and no institution or corporation can engage in or be excused from doing things that violate the law or cause harm. A true conservative can not with good conscience allow elites to get away with lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating, polluting, or destroying the global commons or public lands or allowing activities on private lands to contaminate or negatively influence connected or down-stream communities, environments or ecosystems or cause suffering, extinctions or disruptions to natural systems.

This leads us to this principle:

"A conservative defends Limited Government where the government is empowered by law from a starting point of having no power, or where governmental power is restricted by law, usually in a written constitution. The United States Constitution presents an example of the federal government not possessing any power except what is delegated to it by the Constitution — with the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution making explicit that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government are reserved for the people and the states."

Too often the pseudo cons preach limited government while manipulating the legal system to interfere with our local and individual rights and compromise our sovereignty through paid mercenary threats from private hired security companies, such as we saw at Standing Rock during the native people’s peaceful prayers against oil pipelines that were threatening their waters, and through covert and overt police and military threats and actions when people try to protect the forests and ecosystems and life support systems they depend on from destruction by mining and ranching and drilling and real estate development interests.

A conservative defends Republicanism.

 That doesn’t mean we become card carrying members of the now hijacked “Republican party”.

I, for example, as a conservative, have always been skeptical of our football team like political party system and have remained an independent voter my entire life. True Republicanism “stresses liberty and unalienable individual rights as central values, making people sovereign as a whole; rejects monarchy, aristocracy and inherited political power, (so no family dynasties, and no mixing business and governance)...

 Republicanism “expects citizens to be virtuous and faithful in their performance of civic duties, and vilifies corruption. American republicanism was articulated and first practiced by the Founding Fathers in the 18th century. For them, "republicanism represented more than a particular form of government. It was a way of life, a core ideology, an uncompromising commitment to liberty, and a total rejection of aristocracy."

In this total rejection, a true conversative would never cozy up to totalitarian leaders or tyrants or dictators or arrogant uber-rich business tycoons whose wealth comes from unsustainable and unjust practices. We fought a revolution in 1776 to break free of such systems. We true conservatives aren’t compromising now.

Finally, we have a principle of conservatism that has been grossly misunderstood and misapplied:

"A conservative defends Tradition."

That doesn’t mean we ever defend stupidity or inefficiency or cruelty or unsustainable practices or any of the things our parents or grandparents or even ancestors may have done that messed things up. Those aren’t traditions -- they are mistakes that we learned from and, having made those mistakes for too long and seen the awful consequences, rightfully rejected. Why would we ever defend a practice that ultimately hurt anyone? And how could we even consider bad behavior “traditional”, no matter how many people or, better said, “SHEEPLE” got caught up in doing it or how many years the suffering a given practice caused until we overthrew it? Just because people who came before us did something for many years, like, just to give a seemingly trivial but actually rather harmful practice, bagging and burning leaves in the fall, or destroying biodiversity and poisoning our land and water for the sake of a manicured lawn, doesn’t make that kind of barbarity “tradition”. True conservatives don’t conserve such short sighted actions, no matter how long they persisted in a corrupt and badly educated system. We call these practices “bad historical legacy issues”

The word tradition itself derives from the Latin tradere literally meaning to TRADE, to transmit, to hand over, to “give for safekeeping” and conservatives, true conservatives, see conservation values as the things to conserve and pass on, safekeeping our wildlife safekeeping our air and water and landscapes for generations to come… these are the truly traditional values we conserve. Tradition “emphasizes the need for the principles of natural law and transcendent moral order, hierarchy and organic unity, agrarianism, classicism and high culture, and the intersecting spheres of loyalty.” It does not include loyalty to Monsanto or its shareholders.

Though too often distorted by the pseudo-cons, our true conservative interest in tradition dovetails nicely with today’s ideas about sustainability and best practices -- the traditions we champion, often embedded in the best of our churches and other religious institutions and in family lore and education systems, are things that have been proven to work, things that persisted for many generations because they represented the transmitted wisdom of the ages. We conservatives look to traditional agroforestry and silvopastoral practices encoded in the wisdom of our first nation’s peoples and indigenous people around the world. We look to ethical traditions of animal husbandry without cruelty, or plant-based diets grown organically in polycultural permaculture plots as traditions to upkeep or reintroduce.

The problem with “traditional thinking” as harped on by the pseudo-cons is that the things they call “traditional” are usually rather recent in origin, and are mostly not things that worked at all, like humanity’s recent historical experiments with gender inequality and oppression of women and minorities, which may have operated in some psychotic aristocratic societies for thousands of years, but which have always been indicative of the kind of tyranny we reviled in our constitution and broke with Europe to get away from two centuries ago, though it took us 150 more years to erase its toxic influence on us and we are still feeling the effects of these cruel practices of intolerance and racism and gender prejudice.

 These are not traditions, these are aberrations kept alive by despots and tyrants and uneducated mobs. As anthropology and archeology shows us, egalitarianism and cooperation and respect for natural law and ecosystem balance are what characterized most human societies for most of human history. War mongering city states with citizens addicted to deforestation and monoculture techniques and grain agriculture, mining resources faster than their replacement and expanding through raping and pillaging, conquest and slaver -- these are recent inventions that have almost always led to the collapse of the civilizations that blundered into them.

 It takes tyrants to continue such cruel stupidities, and propaganda and threat and a bad education system to make people believe these are normal and traditional parts of the human condition.
True traditional values, the ones that have lasted through the wisdom of the ages and that will last, and which define sustainability, are actually the “inalienable rights” that our founding fathers enshrined in our constitution. Read again, what it says in the preamble to understand what it means to be a true conservative who values our constitution and the traditions that created it:

It reads,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and by extension, wo-men) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (and that would include destructive of our planetary ecosystem based life support systems of climate homeostasis and biodiversity) , it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

And here is where the long staying power, the sustainability of tradition becomes important to think about. The constitution says,

“ Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes;( certainly not for the enrichment of or the whims of a given political group or individual or corporation) “ and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

And I would argue as a conservative that this is where we are today, suffering under a long train of abuses and usurpations -- having been abused and usurped by those I am calling “pseudo-cons”, these con-men and con-women, people who misquote the scriptures of our Judeo-Christian theological tradition for selfish ends, who I therefore say are not REPUBLICANS at all, but are rather “WRONGBIBLICANS” -- wolves in sheep’s clothing who have hijacked the original republican anti-slavery party by using willfully wrong interpretations of the Bible and mis-appropriations of scripture for evil and selfish purposes.

 These wrongbiblicans are in fact using the wrong bible as the source of guidance -- wrongbiblicans take us back to the time of Leviticus in the old testament to defend their dubious moral compass, often defending its documentation of humanity's worst intolerance and violent and extremist behaviors, rather than turning to the wisdom and grace of Christ’s words and those of his disciples in the new testament, which superseded and completed the old testament. Only a truly wrongbiblican would eschew the new testament and its hope inspiring promises. Only a wrongbiblican would ignore the life affirming sustainability promised in our true Gospel, our good news compass that guides us through our lives through love and with love. The WrongBiblicans, ignoring Christ and using the wrong bible passages to instill loathing and fear and doubt and shame and guilt are not conservatives, but con-men, and they are can not be true Republicans, faithful to Lincoln’s call for freedom and unity, as they are not dedicated to that “uncompromising commitment to liberty” that our founders fought and died for.

And so, when we speak of our conservative commitment to liberty we have to talk about our conservative commitment to adult responsibility, to a commitment to quit whining and complaining like babies and passing the buck about the environmental damage we have done, to commit to effective climate change mitigation and adaptation, to the best practice traditions that can drawdown the excess carbon dioxide and methane, and chloroflurocarbons and nitrous oxides that our activities have irresponsibly and criminally put into our common atmosphere, and the toxins our activities have irresponsibly and criminally poured into our waters and landscapes.

Lastly I want to quote, of all people, the pseudo-con commentator Rush Limbaugh from his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference to comment on what was right and wrong about the perspective he is propagandizing. Limbaugh said,

“Let me tell you who WE conservatives are… we LOVE people. “ And he was right about that. He went on, “ When we look out over the united states of america, when we are anywhere, when we see a goup of people such as this or are anywhere , we see Americans, we don’t see groups, we don’t see victims, we don’t see people we want to exploit, what we see is potential! “
I agree with this too, though I am also responsible enough as a conservative adult to acknowledge the damage and suffering my actions have caused. Only children try to shirk responsibility and claim there have been no victims to our irresponsible behaviors. We don’t see people as “victims” but we do want to stop harming others.

Limbaugh rightly said,

“We do not look out across the country, and see the average American, the person who makes this country work, we do not see that person with contempt, we don’t think that person doesn’t have what it takes, we believe that person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations, and too much government.”

And I agree with him, except he targets the wrong taxes and regulations and government, just as wrongbiblicans keep targeting the wrong parts of our holy books to make their arguments. Conservatives like ME indeed think we should not be taxed for items or practices or equipment that can help us become more self-sufficient, we shouldn’t be paying more for healthy food and should not have regulations that prevent us from turning our lawns into victory gardens, should not have laws that prevent us from growing food in the suburbs or the city, or laws that prevent us or hinder us from producing our own power at home, going off the grid or helping the community micro-grid and contributing to the national grid through de-centralized independent power production and purchasing agreements. 

We don’t think the government should be putting tariffs on solar panels from China or India or Germany or doing anything to limit our freedom to trade our goods, when they are truly good, for the goods of other lands that are good. We don’t want nanny state government or even municipalities to “take care” of our production and consumption residuals -- what you may still call “garbage” and “sewage”, we expect every family and neighborhood and community to man and woman up and “take care of our own shit”.

We believe in fostering a nation of adults who take responsibility and therefore have the freedom and choice and rights to defend ourselves and our families and property and community and take care of them, and who, in doing so, also DO NO HARM, neither with our guns or our practices.

Limbaugh went on to say, “We love and revere our founding documents, the constitution and the declaration of independence. We believe that the preamble of the constitution contains an inarguable truth, that we are all endowed by our creator with inalienable rights, among them life, liberty… freedom… and the pursuit of happiness. Now those of you watching at home may be wondering, why is this being applauded. We conservatives think all three are under assault…”

And then the crowd cheers, but the pseudo cons out there, also cheering their vague comprehension of our declaration of independence, don’t seem to understand what is really assaulting our freedoms and rights -- our near total dependence on oligarch controlled fossil fuels, whether foreign or domestic, our unconscionable daily combustion of those vital strategic assets and stored sources of hydrocarbon energy and material wealth for trivial things when other forms of renewable energy are readily available but blocked by restrictive government and lobbyist controls and disinformation and price fixing… the fact, for example, that in China and India solar electric panels and vacuum tube solar hot water systems and biodigesters can be purchased almost anywhere at a price even they can afford, and superfast electric trains and electric cars and motorcycles make public transit a joy, while these same amenities are made by tariffs and price fixing and regulations here so expensive and burdensome that very few Americans think they will ever be worth it.

The pseudo cons make up weird fantasies suggesting climate change is a Chinese Hoax meant to destroy us so they can prosper by selling us solutions to what pseudo-cons swear is a fictional problem , assaulting our freedoms for getting good information and getting a good education and getting good durable, sustainable goods into our own economy or manufactured in our nation.
Real conservatives, WE conservatives, love people, all people, and we love all of God’s creation, human and non-human, all beings great and small, and we don’t make victims of them, and we take care of our own shit, and we don’t give people shit, and we don’t destroy what God created. We conservatives believe in a government of the people, by the people, for the people, with liberty and justice, and sustainability, for all and for all time. That is what it means to be a conservative in the anthropocene, the age of climate change. And these are the values we must conserve to be sustainable."

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Every one can...

I've been obsessed with simple ways to transform used waste and  aluminum cans into useful things for nearly a decade now, ever since a trip to Mt. Everest Base camp working on sustainability issues with Dr.  Alton Byers, the incredible director of Science and Research at The Mountain Institute, when Alton took a picture of me standing knee deep in a garbage pit filled with discarded aluminum high in the Himalayas that nobody felt worth hauling down to Khatmandu for recycling, despite the value of and ease of aluminum transformation.

 Alton explains the problem of trash on the trails leading up to Everest in this great article (with great pictures of him too standing in a sea of unnecessarily discarded aluminum cans)

We were on an National Geographic expedition to look at conservation strategies for the delicate alpine ecosystem and saw many examples of great renewable energy practices:

We learned that many of the solutions to the so-called "waste problem"  were all already there, but poorly implemented, communicated and deployed, particularly by Western tourists who seem to turn a blind eye toward their own responsibilities and somehow refuse to "#TakecareofyourownS#!t"!.  

For example,  on the Khumbu trail the Nepali Sherpa people have  had a long standing tradition of using compost toilets to derive nutritious fertile soil for their potato fields and to help heat the house with the heat generated from the thermophilic pile, but that on the Hinku trail in many Rai villages nobody used composting toilets (they use pit latrines) and so fecal material was contaminating the river.

Composting toilets in Nepal are so hot that they are used to heat dwellings and occasionally we would stop and stick our hands in the composted poop and rhododendron leaf piles to warm them up!

 We also learned that the trekker population of foreign tourists and the agencies running the tours seemed to have no idea about the Khumbu local tradition of using composting toilets and that Everest trails were inundated with fecal contamination.  

As a compost toilet builder for several decades (in my apartment in Los Angeles and all over the world) I was stunned to find that a practice so well known in the villages along the Khumbu trail was never transmitted to or picked up by the foreigners or by the villagers of the Hinku, despite constant communication about other issues and constant visits and constant complaining about the fecal contamination issue. It appeared that most people are so fecophobic they can't wrap their minds around how easy it is to turn human "waste" into human value!  

It also stunned me that there was so little conversation about the simple ways to turn "aluminum waste" into metal value.

During my visits I was able to install solar hot water systems and photovoltaic systems and wind systems that we brought with us, and I gave workshops on biogas and compost toilets and ways to derive energy from aluminum cans, but until this day the penetration of these ideas has been lamentably slow for what I can only determine are deep seated cultural issues, both among westerners and easterners.  For those of us who are circular economy zero waste practitioners who have eliminated most of our "garbage" it really is disturbing, because none of this is rocket science.

 My quest to eliminate all waste at the home and community scale began to get attention and support  a decade ago from the National Geographic Society:

Throughout the decade I've been blessed with the opportunity to share many of my adventures in zero waste living.  One thing I was able to demonstrate in Nepal during my second National Geographic Expedition to the Everest region was how to make a flashlight powered by aluminum can waste using a joule thief circuit:

The video we took in Nepal using the flashlight (the Culhane aluminum "tab torch" ) is here:

To get to a zero waste future all we really need is to get the word out of how easy it is (which we thank National Geographic and Coors for helping us do on their website)  and then get students all over the world to simply do it so a new generation graduates with the LIFE TESTED knowledge that, "YES WE CAN"... particularly when it comes to aluminum cans!

To do just that, at the Rosebud Continuum Sustainability Education Center, we have recently been turning our LDPE and Polystyrene "waste" into oil with our BLEST Plastic-to-oil machine, and melting our aluminum cans and turning them into ingots and objects and, most recently, using our new student and teacher assembled X-Carve Robotic CNC Router, recycled aluminum and HDPE plastic signs for our exhibits.

Why waste it?

With our students LIFE TESTING these solutions, we hope now to transmit this knowledge to everyone we can around the world.  The Hinku and Khumbu trails could certainly use signage for conservation in addition to more natural fertilizer and heat and clean energy that all can be derived from what is now being wasted.  We can do this. 

No one has to, and everyone CAN eliminate the waste. All of it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Seven Deadly Sins of Plastic Recycling?

My wife and I have gone to the extreme.

As Solar Punch, the renewable energy powered band I performed with in India with the India Youth Climate Network sang, "Plastic, It's Getting very Drastic".

We now have a separate plastic bin at home for all seven "species" of plastic.  We made a pledge on our our one year wedding anniversary that we wouldn't take out the garbage for a year at a time, not until our next anniversary.

Because all of our food waste and toilet and shower and dish and clothes washer water waste turns into fuel and fertilizer for cooking and heating and growing food via our home biodigesters, everything else we bring home stays at home, for a year at a time, until we
can turn it into something valuable or trade it or sell it to a qualified upcycler.

That means really knowing the polymer resin codes and the different density and melting point characteristics of the plastic "garbage" we are responsible for.

Why are we doing all this now?
This summer, when I was speaking about our off-grid lifestyle at National Geographic at the Explorer's Festival my wife and I took the "planet or plastic" pledge to eliminate all single use plastic from our lives.   WE CHOOSE PLANET!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

My apartment in the slums of Cairo

From 2005 until 2009 I rented an apartment in the slums of Old Cairo being renovated by the Aga Khan Foundation for Culture at the edge of Darb Al Ahmar's Al Azhar Park, a place that had formerly been a huge landfill/garbage dump, transformed by international teams and local experts into a beautiful recreation venue with botanical gardens, playgrounds, waterfalls and restaurants.

This gave me an opportunity to live among the impoverished communities and experience the same deprivations they did in electricity, hot and cold running water, heating and cooling and municipal services like trash pickup.  To live well I challenged myself and my neighbors to create our own solar hot water systems and biogas systems and other amenities.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Intrigo for Module PhLB: the Anthropology of Waste I: The Garbage Man

Intrigo for Module PhLB: the Anthropology of Waste I: The Garbage Man
By T.H. Culhane

When we lived in Germany and my son was about 2 years old all he could think about and talk about were garbage trucks.  Of course we had to get him a toy one big enough for him to sit on and to ride around on. When I would take him in his stroller, his favorite thing to do was to be pushed up to the recycling bins and throw something in and then kick them with his feet. He had to touch every bin on the street before he would let me take him home. And his heroes were garbage men.  Whenever the real garbage trucks rolled into the neighborhood with what I considered to be the most annoying, horrible shrill beeping noise he would run to the window with delight and point breathlessly and insist that I take him outside to greet the guys, decked out in their dayglo yellow and orange outfits, and watch them load the recycle bins he had kicked from his stroller  into the truck. His highlight was getting to sit up in the cab with them, pretending to be a real “Müllmann”. Garbage men might as well have been superheroes as far as he was concerned.
4 years later my two year old daughter went through the same phase.  It apparently isn’t just a boy thing, although we noted that in Germany, where we lived, there were no grown up garbage women.
Loving garbage people and being fascinated by the waste management cycle, and particularly the trucks, actually seems to be a universal thing; when you start buying children’s books for garbage truck obsessed toddlers you find a plethora of offerings in almost every language. One American mother living in Germany wrote a blog listing all the books for all the other parents with similar kids, from “Bei der Mullabfuhr” to “Heute kommt das Mullauto”, saying as her opening “ You might be surprised just how many German kids books are written about garbage”.  Since my kids are German-American with ¼ Arab thrown in the mix, we’ve found them of course in English and Arabic too. From “Buster the Little Garbage Truck” to “I am a Garbage Truck” and “I stink” one could spend an entire childhood reading about nothing but garbage trucks and garbage men.
Yet despite this early anthropologically universal fascination with garbage and its handling, it isn’t long before children’s idolization of the people who deal with dreck turns into disdain or revulsion or some other kind of class biased prejudice.  
Taking out the trash becomes a chore, and devoting your life to taking out and dealing with other people’s trash becomes a job not for superman, but for the those who did worst in school.
There is a stigma associated with garbage people.
I remember when I was a kid, during the heady 1960s and 70s era with our civil rights and women’s rights and environmental movements, using the moniker “garbage man” fell out of fashion.  People in the profession of waste management started referring to themselves as “sanitation engineers”. It was a way to sanitize the profession socially, even as health and justice groups lobbied to have its image and practice cleaned up environmentally.  After we landed on the moon in 1969 and saw how small and fragile spaceship earth looked, after Earth Day in 1970, and on the heels of the publication of “Limits to Growth” in 1972, recycling was supposed to be in, and throwing things out was supposed to be out.
Nearly half a century late we know we haven’t gone nearly far enough toward zero waste through complete recycling, but the image of the garbage man has improved somewhat in the eyes of adults. Even I got invited as a garbage obsessed urban planner to be a National Geographic Explorer and to  join the Clinton Global Initiative because of my work in collecting and transforming smelly food waste and turning it into fuel and fertilizer. President Clinton actually put his arm around my shoulder to take a picture of the two of us with our “commitment to action” sign and said, “Now Thomas, YOU KNOW there is treasure in that there trash -- let’s do this!”
 Real sanitation engineering principles -- systems thinking principles -- are being put in place in waste management and exciting new startups are starting up to mine the treasure in that there trash.  It is slow going, but at least the stigma is gone. There are as many opportunities for well educated garbage men and women as there are combinations of elements on the periodic table.
This course, and this module,  is one place to start!