Saturday, January 31, 2015

VIDEO: Re-Greening a Mountain

by Ecofilms, The Permaculture Research Institute:

Re-Greening a Mountain video trailer. See the full version on

When Geoff Lawton says this is the best Permaculture demonstration site on the planet, then you have to stop and listen.

“Where is it exactly?” I asked, as I’ve never heard of this place. I didn’t know the Chinese were even into permaculture. “Kadoorie Farm” he said and he insisted we go there and film. “It’s in Hong Kong on a massive mountain. The whole place has been redeveloped. You gotta see it”.

Geoff was teaching there four years ago and was blown away by what they managed to achieve. He described it as a “Permaculture Disneyland” that was very neatly manicured.

It had been completely re-vegetated into a food forest with numerous water falls, ponds, rare turtles, terraced gardens on steep slopes, a compost and biochar system, a waste-water treatment plant and wetlands and so much more. It is an amazing site that was built so far ahead of its time with an emphasis on teaching local people.

Two brothers, Lawrence and Horace Kadoorie in 1951 took on an idea to redevelop a trashed and degraded mountainside on 148 hectares with the emphasis on helping people to help themselves through training, supply of agricultural inputs and interest-free loans.

The end result of our trip is a 16 minute video you can watch on that has Geoff as your tour guide, take you down the mountain slope, from the very top, through a forest system where the water is captured and irrigated down the steep terraced slopes, to the very bottom of the wetlands and nursery system.

Geoff stumbled across an ingenious potting system they were using with great success that he dubbed the “airpot” as it allows plant roots to grow out laterally, and not be constrained, allowing faster growth once replanted in the natural system (Nursery Quality to Tree Planting Success). Check out the video that explains it all in greater detail.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Explainer: Wilderness, and Why it Matters

The Franklin River is in the Tasmanian Wildern...
The Franklin River in Tasmania (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Brendan Mackey, Griffith University and Nicole Rogers

The Tasmanian government this month released a draft of the revised management plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which proposes rezoning certain areas from “wilderness zones” to “remote recreation zones”.

The changes would enable greater private tourism investment in the World Heritage Area and allow for logging of speciality timbers.

At the centre of the debate is how we define wilderness - and what people can use it for.

For wildlife or people?

“Wilderness quality” is a measure of the extent to which a landscape (or seascape) is remote from, and undisturbed by, modern technological society.

High wilderness quality means a landscape is relative remote from settlement and infrastructure and largely ecologically intact. Wilderness areas are those that meet particular thresholds for these criteria.

The word’s largest wilderness areas include Amazonia, the Congo forests, the Northern Australian tropical savannas, the Llanos wetlands of Venezuela, the Patagonian Steppe, Australian deserts and the Arctic Tundra.

The Amazon rainforest is one of the largest areas of wilderness in the world. CIFOR/AAP, CC BY-NC-ND

Globally, there are 24 large intact landscapes of at least 10,000 square kilometres (1,000,000 hectares). Wilderness as a scientific concept was developed for land areas, but is also increasingly being applied to the sea.

Legal definitions of wilderness usually include these remote and intact criteria - but the goals range from human-centred to protecting the intrinsic value of wilderness. Intrinsic value recognises that things have value regardless of their worth or utility to human beings, and is recognised in the Convention on Biological Diversity to which Australia is a signatory.

In the NSW Wilderness Act 1987, for instance, one of the three objects of the Act is cast in terms of benefits to the human community: “to promote the education of the public in the appreciation, protection and management of wilderness”.

The Act also states that wilderness shall be managed so as “to permit opportunities for solitude and appropriate self-reliant recreation.” Examples of formally declared wilderness areas in New South Wales are the Lost World Wilderness Area and Wollemi National Park.

Intrinsic value is evident in the the South Australia Wilderness Protection Act 1992 which sets out to, among other things, preserve wildlife and ecosystems, and protect the land and its ecosystems from the effects of modern technology - and restoring land to its condition prior to European settlement. South Australia wilderness areas include the Yellabinna Wilderness Protected Area.

Indigenous custodians

Our understanding of wilderness and its usefulness has changed over the last century as science has revealed its significance for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services. We have also accepted the ecological and legal realities of Indigenous land stewardship.

The world’s rapidly shrinking areas of high wilderness quality, including formally declared wilderness areas, are largely the customary land of Indigenous peoples, whether or not this is legally recognised.

Significant bio-cultural values, such as Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of biodiversity (recognised in Australia’s federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act), are dependent on these traditional relationships between people and country.

In many cases around the world, wilderness areas only remain intact because they are under Indigenous stewardship. In Australia, these facts were regrettably ignored in the past and were the source of much loss and harm to Traditional Owners when protected areas were declared without their consent.

Australian deserts are among the world’s largest wilderness areas Brian Yap (葉)/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Lessons have been learnt, some progress is being made, and the essential role of local and Indigenous communities in the conservation of wilderness areas is now being recognised and reflected in Australian national and state conservation and heritage policy and law.

For example, in 2003 the Northern Territory government agreed to joint management with the Traditional Owners of the Territory’s national parks.

What is wilderness good for?

By definition, wilderness areas exclude modern industrial land uses and intrusive infrastructure. Commercial logging and mining are typically not compatible because they have negative environmental impacts on wilderness quality, reducing an area’s remoteness and ecological intactness.

Nature and culture-based tourism and education can be broadly compatible with wilderness. This, however, depends on what type of supporting infrastructure they need which can range from simple walking trails through to the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in the Wet Tropics of Queensland’s World Heritage Area.

Encouraging more people to visit a wilderness area - even for the best of reasons - can ultimately detract from its wilderness quality as this can lead to, among other things, increased demand for roads, accommodation and other facilities.

Consequently there is some tension between the competing management objectives of presentation and protection and conservation of World Heritage areas, as required under Article 5 of the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, when such areas have high wilderness quality.

Queensland’s Wet Tropics Skyrail is one way to see wilderness areas but at a cost to wilderness quality Niklas Morberg/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Why do we need wilderness?

Wilderness areas support important biological, cultural, scientific and recreational values. Biologically, wilderness areas provide refuge for species and ecosystems from many threatening processes including habitat degradation and the spread of disease and weeds.

Large, intact landscapes provide the best chance for species and ecosystems to persist in the face of rapid climate change.

Ideally, protected areas should be large enough to absorb the impacts of large scale disturbances, including fire and the changes to fire regimes resulting from global warming.

Large, intact areas have greater resilience to external stressors, provide more options for species in space and time, sustain critical ecological processes such as long-distance biological movement, and maximise the adaptive capacity of species.

Wilderness areas are also important for climate change mitigation as, for example, protecting the dense carbon stored in primary forest ecosystems avoids significant carbon dioxide emissions. The human population, now at 6 billion, is projected to rise this century to over 9 billion, and with it ongoing industrialisation to meet growing demand for food, water, fibre, energy and habitation.

Given this reality, we can be sure that large, intact landscapes and seascapes of high wilderness quality will become an increasingly scarce asset.

Whether we conceive of wilderness protection in terms of its intrinsic value or, within the framework of inter-generational equity, in terms of its value for future generations, there is a strong imperative for today’s generation to protect wilderness areas from incompatible activities.
The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Shift in Conversation: From Fossil Fuels to Renewables

by rmontpellier - BoomerWarrior:


The following article (by David Suzuki, entitled Energy Shift Requires Shift in Conversation) has been circulated by email by the David Suzuki Foundation. “Where is the political leadership and will to confront climate change?” asks Suzuki. I’m pleased to publish it on BoomerWarrior (Rolly Montpellier, Managing Editor).

Shift in Conversation

Abundant, cheap fossil fuels have driven explosive technological, industrial and economic expansion for more than a century. The pervasive infrastructure developed to accommodate this growth makes it difficult to contemplate rapidly shifting away from coal, oil and gas, which creates a psychological barrier to rational discourse on energy issues.

The ecological and true economic costs of energy use force us to scrutinize our way of living. And because our infrastructure doesn’t allow us to entirely avoid fossil fuels, we must face the contradiction between how we should live and constraints against doing so.

Canada has no national energy plan, other than governmental desire to be a fossil-fuelled energy-export superpower.

Given the consequences of human-induced climate change already hitting home, you’d think the highest priority of governments at all levels would be to decide on the lowest-emission energy path. But politicians focused on election intervals have difficulty dealing with generational issues.

Real, important conversations and decisions are instead delayed by diversionary and often irrational arguments and tactics: accusing critics of being hypocrites, claiming foreign money drives environmental agendas and labelling activists as eco-terrorists or enemies of Canada among them.

In place of true progress, we get consolidated political power and greater corporate profit and control. Enough already!

Sustainability requires conservation and abundant energy employed with minimal ecological upset. Yet the inability to consider the need to shift quickly from fossil fuels means governments and industry look to mega-technologies like carbon capture and storage to justify inaction on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while dismissing solar and wind as impractical, too expensive or unable to meet energy needs.

Nuclear power may be an alternative to GHG-emitting fossil fuels, but it’s extremely expensive and would not be online were it not for enormous subsidies. Nuclear fuel is also finite, so costs will rise while the problem of radioactive-waste disposal remains unsolved.

The Shift in Conversation: From Fossil Fuels to Renewables, boomer warrior

As a northern country, Canada is especially vulnerable to climate change. Polar regions heat faster than temperate and tropical zones - Inuit have noticed the growing impacts for decades. With the longest marine coastline of any country, we’re also subject to sea-level rise.

And our economy relies on climate-dependent activities such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism and winter sports, all of which are already feeling climate change impacts.

Where is the political leadership and will to confront climate change? We’re seeing some from individuals, grassroots organizations and municipalities. But what about our provinces?

Just as the catastrophic loss of northern cod off Newfoundland warned against unsustainable practices, the destruction of $65 billion worth of B.C. trees by mountain pine beetles - once kept under control by winters with temperatures below -30 C for a week or more - should make the province take notice.

Where’s the leadership? Once lauded for policies such as the carbon tax and energy agreements with California, B.C.’s political leaders have now embraced liquefied natural gas, claiming industry expansion will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars to provincial coffers - never mind that no one in power now will be held accountable for these promises because they’re several elections from being realized.

LNG should be labelled LFG: liquefied fracked gas. Hydraulic fracturing - fracking - requires pumping millions of litres of chemical-laced water deep underground to shatter shale and liberate embedded gas.

It’s a short-term way to get energy with long-term ecological impacts on water and whatever organisms might be down there (it was once thought life disappeared at bedrock, but we now know bacteria are found at least 10 kilometres down).

Fracked gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas more than 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Studies reveal leakage around fracking sites may be high enough to affect climate change more than coal! Calling it a “transition fuel” between coal or oil and renewables is nonsense. And fracking is known to cause seismic activity.

B.C. is also planning the Peace River Site C dam, yet a report by the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association claims geothermal could generate similar amounts of power at a much lower cost.

If our leaders are serious about long-term health and prosperity, they need to stop focusing on short-term profits from rapid fossil fuel development and export and start engaging in serious conversations about our energy future.


Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a blogger and an Climate Activist.

Rolly has been published in several online publications - Climate Change Guide, World Daily, Examiner, The Canadian, 350Ottawa, ClimateMama, MyEarth360, GreenDivas, The Elephant, Countercurrents, Georgian Bay News.

Some of Rolly’s articles have also appeared in newspapers such as The Hill Times and the Kingston Whig. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Linkedin.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Last Eco-Warrior

Peter Berg and Judy Goldhaft at a North American bioregional gathering.
Peter Berg and Judy Goldhaft at a bioregional gathering
by Aaron Kase, Narratively:

As he watched other ’60s activists become political insiders and dealmakers, Peter Berg held fast to one belief, even through his dying days: only radical change can save our planet.

“I don’t want to beat it,” Peter Berg says. “I want to seduce it.”

It’s March 2011, and the ’60s radical-turned-ecological visionary is dying. A tumor has paralyzed one of his vocal chords, leaving his voice scratchy and distorted, sounding, in his words, like a gravel truck unloading. "I want to seduce it into leaving,” Berg repeats. “Get it drunk and leave it in the gas station bathroom."

Berg sits at the dining room table of his green house in Noe Hill, a steep residential neighborhood in San Francisco, sipping chai tea. He still has long silver hair despite months of chemo and radiation treatments, and wears a brown long-sleeved shirt over several layers in the chilly spring air.

He can feel the tumor pressing on his nerves, low in his throat. "It starts usually in the left scapula, in that shoulder, the left side of my chest, then the other side comes on," he says. "It can be so strong that I can't walk." Despite the pain, he refuses opiates, citing a history of drug use that left him wary. "Doctors don't know what withdrawal is, really. They don't know what it's like. I do."

Peter Berg spent his life fighting - for civil rights, to end the war in Vietnam, and for cleaner, more holistic use of the earth's natural resources. Stage three lung cancer would be one battle too many, and he passed away shortly after this interview, on July 28, 2011, at the age of seventy-three, leaving behind his longtime partner Judy Goldhaft, their daughter Ocean and two grandchildren.

Intense, charming, abrasive, driven, Berg was known by friends and adversaries for never giving up and never compromising, no matter how big the opponent or how insurmountable the odds. His mission: To save humanity from its pathology of self-destruction.

"I'm an extreme personality. I tend to think in extremes," he says in March. "It's a planet-wide natural disaster we're living through."

Is he daunted by the enormity of the challenge? Berg leans forward in his chair, squinting hard at the absurdity of the question. "No, I'm turned on by it," he answers firmly. "It is the challenge. Oh no no, small groups of people cause enormous changes. I've done it."
* * *
Born in Long Island in 1937, Berg grew up "up and down the East Coast." After he dropped out of the University of Florida and served a three-year stint in the Army, he hitched out to San Francisco in the early 1960s and joined the Mime Troupe, a counterculture theater group focused on civil rights and social justice.

He and Goldhaft lived together in their tastefully cluttered house beginning in the early 1970s. The interior is filled with potted plants, trinkets, bottles, candles and art from around the world, masks from Mexico, bowls from Asia. Out back is a messy yard with a small vegetable garden, flowers, apricot trees and a beehive.

Goldhaft carries herself with grace, her wispy gray hair pulled up in a bun. She cares for Berg in his illness, just as she's been by his side for decades, less of a public persona than Peter but a quiet partner in his life's work. She pops a cassette into the television in their the sun-filled living room.

Onscreen appears footage of the Diggers, their guerrilla street theater group that Berg co-founded in 1966 to oppose arbitrary authority, oppression of drug users and the Vietnam War. The film shows the Diggers taking over the San Francisco City Hall steps, playing music and messing with the suits.

A young Peter Berg with shoulder-length brown hair and a thin mustache confronts a Jehovah's Witness who was insulting the guitar player. "Who's a creep?" Berg asks him, staring with an intense squint.

The present-day Berg leans forward in his chair, an oxygen tube in his nose, watching his past with a grin. "I always told people that we were acting out the possibility of everything being free," he says.

The Diggers were behind the famous “Free Store” in Haight-Ashbury, and the group provided gratis food and shelter to the influx of pilgrims to San Francisco, striving for a society that functioned outside the confines of capitalism.

The film continues with scenes of the Diggers hanging off trolleys and tossing money to passersby, getting arrested and congregating at a "free theater convention" where Janis Joplin sings and the crowd dances, smokes pot, walks around naked, does whatever they feel like.

"I don't know whether you caught it so far, but this is anarchism," Berg says. "This is what anarchism is."

The scene crumbled when hard drugs and violence overtook idealism, and the Diggers carried a casket through the city streets to represent the "death of the hippy" in 1967. Berg left San Francisco and returned to the land, at the Black Bear Ranch in Northern California.

"A rather infamous place - free land, free sex sort of thing," he remembers. There, his thoughts turned to ecology - not a huge leap from street theater and activism, says former Digger David Simpson, seventy-four.

"One of the things that the Diggers really stood for is turf," Simpson says. "We could delude ourselves without a huge stretch that we were taking responsibility for our neighborhood and the place that we lived. That sense of responsibility for the place where you lived carried over."

Berg's time on the ranch sprouted the roots for the idea that he spent the rest of his life pursuing - bioregionalism. "Bioregionalism happened to correspond to the back to the land movement," Simpson says. "What we lived in, what we ate, wore and worked with was more a part of the natural land."

Berg took a road trip east across the United States, visiting various communes and creating an informal network of like-minded souls. In 1972, he traveled to Sweden to crash the first United Nations Environmental Conference, purporting to represent land-based communal groups.

Disappointed to be excluded from formal proceedings because he wasn’t representing a nation-state, he returned to California determined to pursue his own vision. Through collaboration with Berkeley professors Raymond Dasmann and James Parsons, the idea of a bioregion was born.

They defined it formally: “A distinct area with coherent and interconnected plant and animal communities, and natural systems, often defined by a watershed. A bioregion is a whole 'life-place' with unique requirements for human inhabitation so that it will not be disrupted and injured."

Berg discussing urban sustainability (date unknown).
Berg discussing urban sustainability (date unknown).

To truly live bioregionally would mean eating only local food, produced in a way that harmonizes with, rather than damages, local ecology: building with local materials. A dramatic reduction or elimination of fossil fuels. Reintegrating waste into the ecological cycle. Never compromising sustainable living in the name of profit.

"Bioregionalism is as fundamental as you can get," Berg says. "Restore and maintain natural systems. Find sustainable ways to satisfy basic human needs. Food, water, culture, energy, materials for producing, building and to support the work of becoming native to the place.”

In the 1970s, mainstream environmentalism was mostly focused on lobbying Washington D.C. for policy change, so Berg went grassroots instead. He funneled his vision through the Planet Drum Foundation, the organization he founded with Goldhaft in 1973 to promote ecological justice in San Francisco and around the world.

He started sending bundles of literature to the network he had formed on his trip across the country and created a newsletter, "Raise the Stakes,” which resulted in a small but dedicated group of North American followers who hold bioregional congresses every few years.

"It just sort of spreads the whole ecological movement, getting people hooked up to the things they need to know," says Mary Meyer, fifty-six, a congress organizer from the Ohio River Valley watershed. "It's almost spiritual, too, learning to connect with place. Looking at where you live as not just a zip code but relating to the flora and fauna of where you are."

Would-be allies weren’t always on board and funding was always difficult. "People who support our point of view don't have any money," Berg says. "Some people don't want it, because it's too far out, it's too disruptive of a middle class lifestyle to live bioregionally."

He has been called a “thorn in the side of the environmental movement,” a label he was proud of. "Lots of people in the environmental movement say Peter Berg's a fool," Berg says earnestly. “The environmental movement needs a couple thorns."

The bioregional movement never gained much traction under its own name, but its principles have distilled into a sustainability ethos that has gained popularity since the turn of the century.

"A lot of twenty-somethings, young folks starting families, are very receptive to the idea of building sustainable communities, growing their own food, making those connections to place," says Ken Lassman, fifty-nine, a founder of Kansas Area Watershed Council, one of the oldest bioregional groups in the country. "That message is very fertile for what all is going on these days.”

Berg with colleagues at the Planet Drum office in the 1990s.
Berg with colleagues at the Planet Drum office in the 1990s.

Berg's philosophies even found their way into electoral politics after a Green Party committee met during the first Bioregional Congress in 1984, planting the seeds for the political party. That's despite Berg's take on politics: "If you're gonna do something alternative, you have to do it outside society. You can't do it in the society. That whole thing of reform from within is bullshit."

He also found willing ears around the Pacific Rim. The Australian government created a map outlining the nation's bioregions as official policy. In Nagano, Japan, in 1998, Planet Drum worked with local communities to mitigate the disastrous effects of Olympics-related construction on the environment. And his greatest opportunity came in a small coastal town in Ecuador.
* * *
Peter Berg got one big chance to help build a sustainable city from the ground up. In 2009, he marched through the streets of Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, leading hundreds of residents walking with ecologically-themed floats.

Spectators watched from the roadside while Berg started a chant of “Viva la Eco-Cuidad!” He led the procession to a stage, and lauded the town for its progress - but warned that much work remained.

Berg and Planet Drum arrived in the small city of 20,000 residents in 1999. With gleaming white condos overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Bahía de Caráquez was once a thriving resort town for wealthy Ecuadorians, but was nearly obliterated in the late 1990s when a 7.1 earthquake toppled buildings and triggered massive mudslides on the steep hillsides, wiping out entire neighborhoods.

Newly homeless residents huddled in tent camps in the streets. "It was one of the worst-hit cities in all the West Coast of South America," says Patricio Tamarez, fifty-four, a native to Bahía. "We had seventy meters of mud in our highway."

Tamarez, an organic shrimp farmer, led a group to ask Berg to help rebuild Bahía as an eco-city. Planet Drum set up a volunteer hostel and transformed an unsalvageable barrio into a park.

To prevent future mudslides, ecologically-minded volunteers from around the world planted trees on hillsides in and around the city. Keeping with the principles of bioregionalism, only native species were used, like the thin but resilient Algarrobos, the massive and spiky Ceibos and the fruit-bearing Pechiches.

"Revegetation with native plants - that's a hell of a thing to do," Berg says, insisting the work not be called reforestation. “I really want to distinguish it from that crap. Reforestation serves the industrial logging interest. You're gonna plant nothing but pine trees because they're gonna grow fast and you can cut them down?”

Berg while working on a Planet Drum project in Ecuador.
Berg while working on a Planet Drum project in Ecuador.

Once or twice a year, Berg visited Bahía to check up on the work and meet the volunteers, greeting them with his particular abrasive style. One traveler wrote online, "I came to the conclusion that he must be mentally ill or a diabetic with extremely low blood sugar or something like that," after Berg insulted her when she wouldn’t commit for a set period of time.

Berg furrows his brow when reminded of the feedback. "I love it," he declares. "I hope it discourages anyone like her not to come. People don't understand the luxury of being able to volunteer. They come down thinking they're Jesus Christ."

In addition to revegetation, Planet Drum established a bioregional educational curriculum for local youth and a study abroad program for college students, and in 2007, Bahía was named one of the fifteen most ecological cities on the planet by Grist.

However, local officials still show little appetite for codifying ecological practices in policy, beyond what volunteers and concerned citizens are willing to contribute.

"It's gonna take some time before our country will look toward bioregionalism as a main source of planning and being able to sustain development and sustain life for future generations,” says Tamarez. “At least we're starting out now."
* * *
On March 20, 2011, Berg, Goldhaft and some friends drive out to the beach at sunset to welcome the vernal equinox, as they've done for decades. It's been a rainy week in San Francisco, but as if to personally accommodate the group, the sky clears above the ocean as the sun drops toward the horizon. Choppy waves wash up foam from the Pacific, jiggling in piles on the sand.

Berg is bundled in a black puffy coat and complementary black beret to combat the brisk evening air. Goldhaft wears turquoise, with matching plastic sunglasses. As the sun descends ever lower, Berg strikes a Japanese bowl and the chime rings out over the beach, clear and full, easily audible over the sound of the surf.

Slowly bobbing to the rhythm of the ocean, he chimes again as the others join in on tom-tom and harmonica. Berg grabs a conch shell and coaxes out its long, melancholy tone, then circulates apple brandy for warmth and morale.

Families, young couples and people walking dogs on the beach barely pay attention. The musicians are left alone as the sun sinks lower into the cloud band just above the ocean.

Berg's focus is on the big picture: where we go from here, what kind of world can be left to his daughter and grandchildren. "We have the same conditions imposed on us that all other species have," he says. "We die. We give birth. We have sex. We eat. We need resources.

Berg by a sidewalk garden of native California plants outside the Planet
Drum Office.
Berg by a sidewalk garden of native California plants outside the Planet Drum Office.

"We're actually the heirs of a tremendous legacy. Our species has been a magnificent species. That to me is wealth. That's aristocracy. That's nobility. Being a good human being is a good thing. That's the highest you could do. And being a good human being right now requires that you take a position of a consciousness perspective that's appropriate to living in the biosphere as a good species."

The dangers are myriad, and urgent: climate change. War. Natural disasters. Food and water shortage. Nuclear meltdowns. “We have to control ourselves. Not for puritanical reasons but for reasons of survival," Berg says. "I want to do that." Save the world. Save humanity from itself. "That's what I want to do with my life."

In all his battles, he never declared a full victory. Racism, authoritarianism and imperial wars persist. Our ecological disaster is ongoing. The eco-city exists more in name than in practice. But Berg recognized the struggles were far bigger than he was. If he could provide an example, that was worthwhile.

"We've got to do it ourselves," he says. "People will do it. Then whatever society they come up with, that will be the society they get."

Soon, the sun has disappeared and Peter returns to the car to escape the cold. Goldhaft drives through the Haight where so much of their young energy was spent, but which is now filled with apparel and faux-hippie trinket shops. She notes the serendipity of the weather clearing up for the equinox, a simple pleasure for the small beach celebration.

"Most solstices and equinoxes aren't too cloudy," she remarks, pulling away from a stoplight. "We usually get a sunset."
* * *
Aaron Kase is a writer from Philadelphia. See more at or follow him at @aaron_kase.

Photos courtesy Judy Goldhaft.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

VIDEO: How to Create a Permaculture Design

by , The Permaculture Research Institute:

Geoff’s new video on Creating Permaculture Designs, see the full version on

So you’ve always wanted to design a beautiful plant system in your garden, but baulked at the idea because, quiet honestly, you can’t tell a bean from a cactus or a legume from a walnut and don’t have the time or interest to devote to studying all this plant diversity stuff and biology bores you, but inherently inside you, you’d know that you would make a great designer.

Instinctively, you can spot a nice clump of trees together and you know you could do all this stuff if you could overcome this one small insignificant minor technical stumbling block - a lack of plant knowledge!

Well, like everything in the Internet universe, there is probably an app made for you right now. If there isn’t an app, then its time to head down to your friendly office supply stationary shop and buy yourself one of those little green plastic template thingy with a bunch of circles cut out for you that you used to have at school.

Buy that and some graph paper and a few pencils and a long tape measure, because this week’s lesson is with Permaculture Designer, Dan Halsey who swapped a career as a fashion food photographer to a full-time career as a Permaculture Designer. Dan used to photograph ice in sweet fizzy beverages. Fake ice was used as real ice melts under hot camera lights. A minor bit of useless trivia.

Anyway, Dan says, you need to overcome your lack of tree knowledge, that will always bog you down and the best way to start is by focusing on your pattern knowledge and work on your assembly of tree shapes.

Start with pattern shapes. Don’t worry what sort of trees you need for your garden design. Work on your shape clusters, from the big shapes, down. From the big Diva tree, then to the understory plants and all the way down to the tiny edging plants that create a nice aesthetic grouping. The mainframe shapes, the paths, access and water, ponds, structures and swales come first and then we pattern the landscape with our trusty little green stencil thingy and a pencil.

When it comes to filling in the small, insignificant minor details, the real biology of tree species, Dan has a database for you to enjoy - The Natural Capital™ Plant Database. You need to fill in the details.

What climate zone are you in? What size of tree are you after, the database will filter the details and offer you a spreadsheet for you to select a bunch of trees shapes that will fit your climate zone. Everything from deciduous trees to legumes are in the database. That’s the theory. The links are in the full video on

Watch the full 20 minute video where Geoff Lawton introduces Dan and takes takes you on a tour of his property and then explains his theory of Permaculture pattern design.

Further Reading:

The Natural Capital Plant Database
Practical Plants Database
The Natural Capital™ Plant Database

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Another Australian Animal Slips Away to Extinction

Bennett's Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus rufogr...
Juvenile Bennett's Wallaby, Tasmania (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Milena Kim, James Cook University and Bob Pressey, James Cook University

Last July, the federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, announced the appointment of Gregory Andrews as Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner.

His mission: to help avert the extinction of a growing number of native plant and animal species.

On Andrews’ appointment, a team of scientists was commissioned to go to Bramble Cay, an unstable 4-5 hectare coral bank in the eastern Torres Strait off the tip of northern Australia. The team searched for the Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent recorded nowhere else but here and not seen since 2007.

The team failed to find any trace of this species, suggesting that another Australian mammal has become extinct. Since European colonisation, 30 mammals (more than 10% of Australia’s mammal species) have shared this fate. Australia has one of the worst extinction records of any country.

The Tasmanian tiger was hunted to extinction after European settlement. The Wilderness Gallery/AAP

More than 1,850 animals and plants are listed as threatened under Commonwealth legislation (the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act). For more than 800 of these we know what needs to be done to avert extinction.

The problem is, given the limited funds available, which species to prioritise.

How much money

Australia was recently ranked among the bottom 40 countries for the funding of its share of global biodiversity, considering its governance, size and wealth.

Prioritising which animals and plants to save is controversial because it implies triage - giving up on some to save others. But it has to be done. One way would be to prioritise the species most threatened with extinction. However, the inefficiencies of this method have been well-documented. All states and territories have more complex ways of prioritising species.

We really need a national system; this was a key recommendation of the 2008 Hawke review of Australia’s environmental legislation. Commissioner Andrews is charged with developing such a framework.

The conservation challenge

Spare a thought for endangered grasses too. Australian Network for Plant Conservation, CC BY-NC-ND

There’s a tension between iconic species the public would like to see conserved (such as koalas) and critically endangered species that are less well known, but just as important scientifically, such as the mountain mist frog or most native grasses.

For instance, in January 2014 the Australian government committed A$3 million to recover Tasmanian devils, while the Queensland government is investing A$26.5 million between 2012 and 2015 to recover koalas. These investments inevitably draw funds away from other species at risk of extinction.

Iconic animals, such as koalas, often receive the most conservation funding because they are well liked and charismatic. G20 Summit/AAP

There are also other species, such as the dugong, seabirds and coastal dolphins, not listed as threatened but listed under international conservation agreements to which Australia is a signatory. Clearly, these species need attention alongside the ones listed as threatened in Australia.

Three red buckets for threatened species

Conservation funding should be split three ways. João Kim, Milena Kim and Bob Pressey, Author provided

Iconic and non-iconic species require different types of funding. There is also a third category, covered by environmental offsets. In New Zealand, funding for iconic species is explicitly separated from others, which acknowledges the political sensitivity of iconic species.

New South Wales is adopting the same approach. The Australian government could consider doing likewise. Threatened species receive funding from the public and private purse. Another source of funds is offsets. Developments that affect species listed as threatened (or migratory species) must offset the damage by ensuring protection elsewhere.

For instance, current and proposed coal-mining projects in the Galilee basin in Queensland will potentially destroy much of the habitat for the black-throated finch. Almost 170,000 hectares of prime black-throated finch habitat will be required to offset current development approvals.

Offsetting has been used to a limited extent, as in the case of the mallee-fowl in Victoria, and has been suggested for the koala. Using offsets would require a rigorous overhaul of offset policies at all levels of government.

Allocating species to buckets

So how should the different categories of species be funded?

The iconic bilby would ideally be funded from the iconic bucket, containing funds contributed by NGOs, private industry (Pink Lady sponsors Save the Bilby Fund through the sale of its chocolate bilbies), or public-private partnerships.

Not every threatened animal is lucky enough to be made into chocolate. Rose Holley/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

In contrast, many threatened species, such as nearly 1,300 listed plants, are unfamiliar to the general public and so will probably not attract significant private funding. These species could be funded from the non-iconic bucket, filled largely from the public purse.

Threatened species that are often imperilled by development proposals, potentially requiring offsets, are both iconic (koalas) and non-iconic (growling grass frog). Funding from the offset bucket should be directed mainly to non-iconic species or migratory species - the ones most reliant on limited public funding.

The use of offsetting and private funds should not reduce the government’s duty to threatened species. Rather, the level of resources in the non-iconic buckets should reflect the Australian government’s international commitments to threatened species protection.

For instance, Australia is signatory to several international treaties that protect species. These include the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and Wild Animals.

Such an overhaul of conservation funding could greatly enhance the prospects for Australia’s threatened species and contribute to halting our disastrous record of species extinctions. The commissioner has many opportunities to make a difference.
The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Motivates People to Save Energy? Surprise - It’s Not Money: A New Study Reveals That Most of Us Care More About the Environment Than About Saving Cash

(Photo: Tony Cordoza/Getty Images)
by , Take Part: 

Emily Gertz is TakePart's associate editor for environment and wildlife. full bio

It’s conventional wisdom that most people will change their behavior only when it saves them money.

That kind of price-consciousness makes Western consumers a tough sell when it comes to paying a premium for some environmentally beneficial goods, such as clothes made with eco-friendly fabrics or electric vehicles.

When researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, asked participants at the beginning of an energy-use study what information would probably get them to cut their electricity consumption, the participants answered that it would be messages on how much money they were saving.

They said environmental facts, such as how many trees it would take to absorb all the carbon dioxide their energy demand created, would be less persuasive.

It turns out, though, that those reminded only that using less electricity would save them money didn’t turn the lights off and the thermostat down, according to the study, which was published this week in the journal PNAS.

But those participants who were told that saving energy would cut toxic air pollution curbed their electricity use an average of 8%. Households with children were even more motivated, slashing their use by 19%.

“We’re finding that you have to bundle the public good with the private good,” said environmental economist Magali Delmas, the lead researcher on the study, in a statement. “Our message about health and the environment reminds people that environmentalism is also about them and their kids.”

That suggests that many Americans would use less electricity if informed of the environmental benefits, not just the economic. Increased energy efficiency at home alone could cut the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions by 7%.

Delmas and her colleagues argue that the environmental health message was motivational because it showed a dual good to reducing electricity use: lessening air pollution as well as the risks for illnesses associated with those pollutants.

To figure out how motivational financial versus environmental information would be in encouraging lowered electricity use, they created a competitive atmosphere between participating households, similar to gamification techniques that some energy companies have been using on their customer statements for the past few years.

After six months of establishing baseline electricity use, the participants got weekly updates for four months, showing how their electricity use compared with that of their most energy-efficient neighbor.

One group of participants were also told how many more pounds of pollution they were responsible for and were reminded about the links between air pollution and certain diseases, while the rest learned how much more they were spending on electricity compared with that neighbor.

To help make electricity use more tangible to participants, the researchers also created an online portal called “Engage” that provided more information on household electricity use - such as which appliances used the most power or how their demand rose and fell over the course of a day - and compared changes in electricity consumption habits over time.

A participant named Victor Pinto told UCLA that he “disliked the guilt trip” he felt from reading the environmental impact reminders. But participant Paulina Morales found they motivated her to act. “The message reminds you that you’re hurting people and the planet,” she said. “It made me more conscious of the energy I was using.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Poland's Shale Gas Revolution Evaporates in Face of Environmental Protests

Poland,MAJDAN SOPOCKI the first,06.12.2014,"Majdan Sopocki one" PGNiG/ Chevron drilling rigCommissioned for FOREIGN NEWS re. shale fracking
Shale gas drilling rig (Pic: Stanislaw Wadas/Demotix)
by Arthur Neslen in Zurawlow, The Guardian:

“Whenever Chevron organised anything, we demonstrated,” said Barbara Siegienczuk, 54, leader of the local anti-shale gas protest group Green Zurawlow in south-eastern Poland.

“We made banners and placards and put posters up around the village. Only 96 people live in Zurawlow - children and old people included - but we stopped Chevron!”

For 400 days, farmers and their families from Zurawlow and four nearby villages blockaded a proposed Chevron shale drilling site with tractors and agricultural machinery. Eventually, in July, the company abandoned its plans.

The Zurawlow blockade influenced the UK’s anti-fracking protests at Balcombe in the summer of 2013, and similar battles have flared across Poland since the country became Europe’s front line for shale gas exploration.

A soon-to-be-updated study by the Polish Geological Institute in March 2012 estimated that recoverable shale gas volumes under the country at between 346bn and 768bn cubic metres - the third biggest in Europe and enough to supply the country’s gas needs for between 35 and 65 years.

Bordering volatile Ukraine and heavily reliant on gas from Putin’s Russia, the promise of secure domestically-produced energy made politicians sit up. A year earlier, in September 2011, the country’s then-president Donald Tusk made a bold claim that the shale industry would begin commercial drilling in 2014.

“After years of dependence on our large neighbour (Russia), today we can say that my generation will see the day when we will be independent in the area of natural gas and we will be setting terms,” he said, adding that well conducted exploration, “would not pose a danger to the environment.”

But things haven’t turned out that way. Plans for a shale gas-fuelled economic revival appear to be evaporating as test wells have not performed as expected or have suffered regulatory delays. Foreign investors have pulled out and sustained environmental protests like that in Zurawlow have hampered drilling plans.

Officials privately talk of the shale experiment as a ‘disaster’.
In September, 3Legs Resources became the latest firm to call a halt on investments after disappointing results. Six weeks before, its chief financial officer, Alex Fraser, had said they were “potentially on the threshold of a very significant result,” involving “potentially hundreds of wells”.

“Companies’ expectations were very high and now we learn that this is a long term process,” said Pawel Mikusek, a spokesman for Poland’s environment ministry. “The experience of the US is that it also took a long time to reach industrial use - 10-15 years - so we need to be more patient. We don’t have such high expectations as two or three years ago.”

But with falling oil prices, continued supplies of cheap coal and EU pressure to increase cost-competitive renewable power generation, the shale gas industry needs positive results fast, and less controversy. 2015 will be a “pivotal” year for the Polish industry, according to industry group Shale Gas Europe.

Multi-billion dollar tax incentives are in the pipeline and a new law should soon speed up permitting processes that can take years. But this has already sparked an EU legal action for allowing firms to drill at depths of up to 5,000m without first assessing environmental risks.

Seven of the 11 multinationals which invested in Poland - including Exxon, Talisman and Marathon - have already pulled out, citing permit delays and disappointing results. Most shale activity is now being led by Poland’s state-controlled PGNiG, and by Orlen and Lotus.

Just 66 wells have been drilled to date - 12 involving horizontal fracking - and permits for a further 27 drills were put on hold in the southeastern Tomaszów Lubelski region last month, pending the outcome of a lengthy inquiry.

Analysts blame regulatory hold-ups for fraying investors nerves, but in Tomaszów Lubelski, which is home to a forest protected under Europe’s gold-standard ‘Natura 2000’ scheme and a proposed Unesco biosphere, environmental protestors claim credit for throwing a pitchfork in the industry’s wheels.

Poland,Zurawlow, 06.12.2014, Barbara Siegienczuk, Andrzej Bak during interviewCommissioned for FOREIGN NEWS re. shale fracking
Barbara Siegienczuk, leader of the local anti-shale gas protest group Green Zurawlow, with her husband and co-activist, Andrzej Bak. Photograph: Stanislaw Wadas/Demotix
Poland’s environment ministry says that shale gas is hugely popular but mobilisations against it were impressive and fuelled by claims that damage had already been done.

“Roads were damaged and destroyed when seismic tests were done with heavy machinery,” said Slawomir Damiluk, 50, a farmer in nearby Rogow. “The fact is that people’s houses had cracks in their walls afterwards. When Chevron tried to start up with their machinery, I was one who was involved. We blocked the entry roads.”

Supported by urban greens, anarchists, squatters and vegans, villagers set up a colourful protest camp - complete with a cinema, online live-streaming, samba bands and installation art - and occupied the site around the clock.

“The women who lived here began learning how to cook without meat because during the protest we had agreed that nobody would go hungry,” Siegienczuk said. “We opened our minds and hearts to people who looked and ate differently, from another culture.”

Dozens of protesters were arrested in the 14-month campaign, and many more were filmed by mystery cameramen whose stills were used in subsequent court cases. Siegienczuk believes that her phone was tapped.

“Once, I heard several people talking on the line and a male voice asked ‘are we going to tap this woman’s phone too?’ I was terrified and passed my phone to other protestors who heard the same voices. After that, my mobile phone turned off,” she said.

Poland,Zurawlow,06.12.2014,  place where people successfully within 400 days fought against drilling by chevron. text
Zurawlow, in south-eastern Poland, where people successfully campaigned against drilling by Chevron. The protest banner reads: ‘Poland has gas, America has profits.’ Photograph: Stanislaw Wadas/Demo
Sally Jones, a spokesperson for Chevron, told the Guardian: “Chevron respects the right of individuals to express their opinions, however it should be done within the law. Chevron remains committed to building constructive and positive relationships with the communities where we operate.”

But local people in the area covered by Chevron’s concession, claim that such relationships went beyond what might be reasonably termed constructive.

Villagers allege that one woman whose water well became polluted at the same time that seismic tests were being conducted in the area received a building renovation paid for by Chevron, and promptly stopped complaining about the issue.

Shortly after that, a local protest leader dropped out of the movement and took up work as a Chevron security guard, leading to accusations that he had been bought off.

Poland, Tomaszow Lubelski,06.12.2014, Mayor of Tomaszow Lubelski during interview with Arthur NeslenPolandTomaszow Lubelski06.12.2014Mayor of Tomaszow LubelskiinterviewCommissioned for FOREIGN NEWS re. shale fracking
Wojciech Zukowski, mayor of Tomaszów Lubelski town, south-east Poland. Photograph: Stanislaw Wadas/Demotix
Wojciech Zukowski, the recently re-elected mayor of Tomaszów Lubelski town, in Poland’s southeast, said that he saw no conflict of interest in accepting private or public gifts from multinationals. “I’m not trying to hide that some forms of sponsoring and support takes place here,” he told the Guardian.

“We are open for it,” he said, adding that a town sports club with 250 members would benefit from corporate sponsorship. Chevron declined to respond to the villagers’ claims but insisted that “we comply with laws and regulations in all counties we do business in.”

The company has donated to several charities in the US and Romania, where it has also invested in shale exploration. In southeast Poland, it has provided charity services to villages at Christmas and offered gifts to residents’ children such as fluffy tigers carrying Chevron logos, and sweets.

“We demonstrate our commitment to the communities where we operate by creating jobs, employing local workforces, and developing and sourcing from local suppliers,” a company statement said.

The Tomaszów Lubelski district has been hard-hit by unemployment and jobs have been a key persuader for the industry.

Close to the exploratory shale drill in nearby Susiec, Jacek, a 40-year-old shop worker said that the shale gas plans “are going to be good as there will be jobs for us and gas will be cheaper. It’s a jobs issue. Possibly my kids might have jobs there.”

The town’s pro-shale mayor ran a campaign on the economic benefits that shale gas could offer the depressed town, hanging a ‘Putinologists – bugger off!’ banner in the town square. But in a regional trend, he was deposed in favour of a more shale-sceptic opponent in November, who advanced an alternative geothermal energy-based plan.

“We don’t need shale gas,” said Maria, a 39-year-old worker in the same store as Jacek. “It’s one big scam. Nobody informed us about what’s happening. The ex-mayor was useless. He just promised work for everyone but there was nothing. We are not going to work on the well. The people who have agro-tourism businesses know that it’s not beneficial as the environment will be destroyed and people won’t come here anymore.”

Poland,MAJDAN SOPOCKI the first,06.12.2014, deer on the field next to
Deer run across an icy field in Majdan Sopocki, a village in Tomaszów Lubelski county, south-east Poland. Photograph: Stanislaw Wadas/Demotix
On the Natura 2000 site that borders the Susiec well, Narnia-style pine tree forests are frosted in ice and snow. Deers and eagles flit in and out of the fog like phantoms. But at the fence marking the shale well, the deer tracks abruptly stop and double back on themselves.
Fears that one of Poland’s last remaining redoubts of biodversity could be damaged have mobilised local feeling, as polarisation and bitterness have spread across the Tomaszów Lubelski district. Zukowski suggested that village protesters were being manipulated by dark forces.
“It could be said that their actions were inspired by the government of Mr Putin,” he said. “I don’t have such knowledge but [the protests] went hand in hand with the Kremlin’s intentions.

Gas and oil are a useful tool for Russia to get involved in other countries’ energy security. It is a proxy to pressure authorities to take certain decisions along the Kremlin’s lines. It is like a political secret. Everyone knows it but no-one wants to name it.”

Poland,MAJDAN SOPOCKI the first,06.12.2014,water tanks next to
A shale gas exploration drilling rig near Majdan Sopocki, owned by the Polish state-owned oil and gas company PGNiG. Photograph: Stanislaw Wadas/Demotix
Jones at Chevron described such claims as speculation. But similar accusations have been levelled by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary general of Nato, and by pro-shale officials in Romania and Lithuania, as cold war-style tensions have ratcheted.
But with falling oil prices, continued supplies of cheap coal and EU pressure to increase cost-competitive renewable power generation, the shale gas industry needs positive results fast, and less controversy.
But even the patriotic case for pressing ahead with shale gas has been dented by claims from campaigners in Pomerania that toxic waste from shale drills was dumped in a rural stream.

Environmentalists believe that water tainted by shale salts may have entered the Radunia river used for supplying water to Gdansk, the birthplace of Poland’s Solidarity movement.

Headquarters of the Zurawlow anti-fracking movement.
T-shirts and caps with anti-fracking messages at the headquarters of the Zurawlow anti-fracking movement. Photograph: Stanislaw Wadas/Demotix
In November, the French water company, Veolia, was ordered to stop processing shale effluent in a nearby water purification centre because of permitting infractions.

The Polish environment ministry denies that Gdansk’s drinking water was ever put at risk, but such allegations undercut the energy independence case for shale gas, and feed nationalist objections. “The people of Zurawlow might have liked shale gas investment but the issue was these were Americans,” Damiluk said. “We don’t want foreign investors on a land that belongs to us.”

Chevron, the last of the big multinational shale investors is still holding on to its sole concession in Zwierzyniec, which was extended for a year in December. However, the decision’s small print limits future drilling to a small parcel of land the company has already explored.

“If Chevron’s partner PGNiG wins permission to drill in Tomaszów Lubelski, I hope the people there will use the same tactics to block new drills that we did,” Siegienczuk said. “We are open and ready to give any support we can.”