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It takes an ecovillage…: some thoughts on ‘Going to Seed’

It takes an ecovillage…: some thoughts on ‘Going to Seed’

I enjoyed writing a book review for my last post so much that I’m going to write another one this time around. But whereas last time it was a long review of a very long book addressing itself to a large slice of human history, here I offer you a short review of a much shorter book about the life of a single man.

The man in question is Simon Fairlie, and the book is Going to Seed: A Counterculture Memoir (Chelsea Green, 2022). Disclosure: I know Simon a little, as I suspect do many people in England with more than a passing involvement in the movement for local, sustainable agriculture – testament either to the still regrettably small corps of people the movement commands, or perhaps more positively to Simon’s tireless efforts in making the case and spreading the word on numerous fronts. I’ve written for Simon’s excellent periodical The Land and there’s an endorsement from me inside his book. So, needless to say, I am not an unbiased observer.

Parts of Simon’s life story were therefore familiar to me as I read his memoir: cofounder of the influential low impact agricultural community, Tinker’s Bubble; land rights activist and rural planning expert; reviver of the fine art of scything; acutely perceptive agricultural thinker, whose book Meat: A Benign Extravagance is still the best-articulated vision of a just and sustainable small farm future I know. Other parts were newer to me: an upper-crust if unconventional childhood, dropping out in the 1960s and joining the hippy trail to India, 1990s road protesting and a brief stint in jail as a member of the Twyford Six (“an unwarranted honorific given the minimal degree of martyrdom we had to undergo”), work as a stonemason high aloft at Salisbury Cathedral…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A review of three books: Futuresteading, The Good Life and Costa’s World

It’s not often I comment on the constant flow of new books about green lifestyle, growing and wellbeing but three recently released titles had me thinking about the issue of communicating the good news to inspire and motivate people to adopt and adapt ideas for more resilient and low impact living.

As a publisher, it also had me thinking about the way books have changed over the decades. At Melliodora Publishing we focus more on dense content and a little less on style, although over the decades, my personal crusade against the drift to lighter content – in all areas of life! – has been moderated by colleagues proving to me that in a media driven world, presentation is as important as content. These books illustrate one of the directions in publishing that allow books to remain competitive for attention in a very crowded media space.

All three books arrived at Melliodora, partly through the normal promotion channels to reviewers, and partly due to personal and collegiate connection. All three have a colourful style with beautiful images, artful graphics and carefully balanced text and lots of white space, suitable for dipping in and out for ideas, practical guidance and inspiration. All three feature the authors, family and friends in ways that make you feel like you are part of their good life.

The first, Futuresteading; Live Like Tomorrow Matters by Jade Miles from Black Barn Farm in north east Victoria, arrived with the author and her partner Charlie on a visit to Melliodora after a local tree grafting workshop and book promotion event was cancelled (due to Covid of course). Instead Charlie did an impromptu grafting workshop for us Melliodorans, and Jade gave us an inscribed copy of her book…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Allison Cobb’s PLASTIC: An Autobiography

Allison Cobb’s PLASTIC: An Autobiography

Nightboat Books, April 2021, 352 pages, paperback $17.95, Amazon Kindle $10.99)

Early on in Plastic: An Autobiography, Allison Cobb recalls her fascination with a plastic-strewn Hawaiian beach. She and three others have arrived at Kamilo Beach–a site long overrun by debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–after an arduous journey over miles of treacherous rock. As they approach the remote shore, brilliantly colored plastic pieces of every conceivable size and shape greet them. Cobb is well aware of the damage being done to both animal and human life by the chemicals leaching off this vast slew of toxic detritus, having spent years researching them. Still, she’s consumed by the sight, finding it “kaleidoscopic, mesmerizing.” These same words perfectly describe her book.

Plastic is a beautifully written, intricate mosaic that weaves memoir, poetry, cultural and scientific history, chemistry, biography, etymology, journalistic reportage and self-reflection into a penetrating rumination on humanity’s relationship with plastic. While many of its narratives seem unrelated at first, connections gradually appear among them. Several entries into a detailed history of the development of the hydrogen bomb, for instance, we suddenly realize the bomb’s link to modern-day plastics: namely, that its byproduct, polyethylene, is the main culprit in today’s plastic pollution predicament. Unexpected ties like this abound throughout the book. Even in chapters that don’t directly mention plastic, it’s presence is felt, just as plastic’s long fingers reach into every facet of our modern lives.

A Novel

Cobb is a Portland, Oregon-based poet and writer for the Environmental Defense Fund whose investigation into plastic began years ago when she started collecting and cataloging plastic trash from around her neighborhood. She obsessed over this trash, regularly retrieving it from the bags where she stored it on her back porch. She studied it, arranged it into patterns and photographed it…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book review by AJ: Our One and Only Spaceship: Denial, Delusion and the Population Crisis by Eric Pianka & Laurie Vitt (2019)

Book review by AJ: Our One and Only Spaceship: Denial, Delusion and the Population Crisis by Eric Pianka & Laurie Vitt (2019)

Thanks to AJ for contributing this book review.



Publisher’s Summary

Ecologists Eric R. Pianka (University of Texas) and Laurie J. Vitt (University of Oklahoma) provide a scientific summary of the overpopulation crisis facing humanity and itemize its many consequences, including climate change (global warming), conservation biology, economic systems, energy and resource shortages, human instincts, immigration conflicts, politics, pollution, poverty, technological problems, and solutions needed. Their underlying thesis is that denial and delusion work synergistically to undermine our ability to confront these serious issues, and unless we undertake proactive measures now, overpopulation and its impact on resource competition and climate change will ultimately lead to the collapse of civilization.

Authors’ Overview

In Road to Survival 70 years ago, William Vogt tried to call attention to the human overpopulation crisis, but failed. Paul Ehrlich raised this issue again 20 years later but was also widely ignored. We wish to re-open this long overdue and much needed discussion about population, a toxic topic that politicians globally avoid. We have written a book “Our One and Only Spaceship:Denial, Delusion and the Population Crisis.” We are two well-known ecologists Eric R. Pianka (University of Texas) and Laurie J. Vitt (University of Oklahoma).

Our book is based on a great deal of research that we have conducted into the topic and on a course that Pianka taught. http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/THOC/

We have edited and written books together, both scientific and semi-popular. Using fact-based analyses, we make the case that human population size and growth is the greatest threat to human survival, and that most if not every major global problem (including spread of AIDS and other communicable diseases, wars and other conflicts, climate change and in particular global warming, food water and energy shortages, poverty, political unrest, pollution, extinctions, etc.) are all direct results of overpopulation.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

‘The Limits to Growth’ (1972)

‘The Limits to Growth’ (1972)

Published in 1972, and shrouded in controversy since that date, ‘The Limits to Growth’ is the most successful econometric projection ever made.

The idea of these of blog posts is to introduce people to some ‘historic’ books and reports, which I think should be more widely read. To start, I thought I’d pick a book that for years has been vilified or deliberately ignored. Any discussion of its content is shrouded in controversy. It’s the 1972 book, ‘The Limits to Growth’.

My version is a second revised edition from 1974. Its 200 pages are a little more beaten-up than when I bought it second hand, as I refer to it quite a bit in debates.

Paul Ehrlich’s, ‘The Population Bomb’, had launched a debate about humans and the environment. Problem was, that book is based on pretty poor data. To resolve that lack of evidence, a group of scientists decided to create a properly researched model to look at humanity’s effect on their finite environment.

At this time ‘systems science’, computer models, and computer-based projection, were a very new thing – relatively little understood by politicians and the public. This new application of mathematics had arisen out of Cold War strategic planning. Applying it to global ecological issues was, though, a revolutionary idea.

The group outlined its work on page 27:

The model we have constructed is, like every other model, imperfect, oversimplified, and unfinished. We are well aware of its shortcomings, but we believe that it is the most useful model now available for dealing with problems…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book review of Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild & Americas Plant Hunters

Book review of Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild & Americas Plant Hunters

Preface. Botanist David Fairchild is one of the reasons the average grocery store has 39,500 items. Before he came along, most people ate just a few kinds of food day in day out (though that was partly due to a lack of refrigeration).

I have longed to eat a mangosteen ever since I read this book, Fairchild’s favorite fruit, with mango a close second. But no luck so far.

What wonderful and often adventurous work Fairchild and other botanists had traveling all over the world in search of new crops American farmers could grow. Grains that could grow in colder climates were sought out.

Since 80 to 90% of future generations will be farmers after fossil fuels are gone, who will be growing food organically since fertilizer and pesticides are made from natural gas and oil, it would be wise for them to plant as many varieties of crops as possible not only for gourmet meals, but biodiversity, pest control, and a higher quality of life.

As usual, what follows are Kindle notes, this isn’t a proper book review.


Amanda Harris.  2015. Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild and Americas Plant Hunters. University Press of Florida. 

At the end of the 19th century, most food in America was bland and brown. The typical family ate pretty much the same dishes every day. Their standard fare included beefsteaks smothered in onions, ham with rank-smelling cabbage, or maybe mushy macaroni coated in cheese. Since refrigeration didn’t exist, ingredients were limited to crops raised in the backyard or on a nearby farm. Corn and wheat, cows and pigs dominated American agriculture and American kitchens.

Fairchild transformed American meals by introducing foods from other countries. His campaign began as a New Year’s Resolution for 1897 and continued for more than 30 years, despite difficult periods of xenophobia at home and international warfare abroad…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Alice Friedemann’s LIFE AFTER FOSSIL FUELS A Reality Check on Alternative Energy

Alice Friedemann’s


A Reality Check on Alternative Energy

Fossil fuels are the lifeblood of modern industrial society, and they’re steadily being depleted. Eventually, their rates of production will cease to grow and will begin to permanently decline, spelling disaster for a civilization dependent on ever-increasing quantities of ever-cheaper fossil energy. Their supposed replacements are pitiably inadequate, possessing nowhere near the necessary abundance, concentration, versatility, transportability and/or commercial viability. Given how long it takes to build an entirely new energy infrastructure, the time to begin doing so was decades ago. Since we didn’t do that, we now face not a continuation of our present lifestyles courtesy of alternative energy sources, but an involuntary “simplification” of every aspect of our lives, to quote energy researcher and author Alice Friedemann.

While many of the above facts are well known among those who follow the subject of fossil fuel depletion, they aren’t often presented as accessibly or concisely as in Friedemann’s book Life After Fossil Fuels. Friedemann excels at distilling the intricacies of our energy situation down into short, easily digestible chapters. Her writing is relaxed and witty, and she makes fine use of graphs, figures and future scenarios to illustrate her points. Her policy prescriptions are both eminently sensible and anathema to today’s mainstream sensibilities. (It’s difficult to imagine, for instance, a politician or pundit proposing the replacement of tractors with horses, no matter how great the benefit to fuel conservation efforts and the health of soils.) In short, herein lies a powerhouse of deftly conveyed information and insight into our current historical moment with regard to energy.

A Novel

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Rationing. Book review of “Any way you slice it” by Stan Cox

Rationing. Book review of “Any way you slice it” by Stan Cox

Preface. I can’t imagine that there’s a better book on rationing out there, but of course I can’t be sure, I don’t feel the need to find others on this topic after reading this book. As usual, I had to leave quite a bit out of this review, skipping medical care rationing entirely among many other topics. Nor did I capture the myriad ways rationing can go wrong, so if you ever find yourself in a position of trying to implement a rationing system, or advocating for a rationing system, you’ll wish you’d bought this book. I can guarantee you the time is coming when rationing will be needed, in fact, it’s already here with covid-19. I’ve seen food lines over a mile long.

As energy declines, food prices will go up and at some point gasoline, food, electricity, and heating as well, all of them ought to be rationed.

Though this might not happen in the U.S. where the most extreme and brutal capitalism exists.  Here the U.S. is the richest nation that ever existed but the distribution of wealth is among the most unfair on the planet.  When the need to ration strikes, economists will argue against it I’m sure, saying there’ll be too much cheating and it will be too hard to implement.  Capitalism hates price controls. That’s why “publicly raising the question of curbing growth or uttering the dread word “rationing” in the midst of a profit-driven economy has been compared to shouting an obscenity in church”.

Republicans constantly want to cut back the affordable care act and the food stamp program SNAP.  Companies keep their workforces as small as possible and shift jobs and factories overseas to nations with lower wages and fewer regulations…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book Review: The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy

In January, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its Budget and Economic outlook for 2020 to 2030. It is horrific reading. Federal budget deficits are projected to rise from $1.0 trillion this year to $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years.

Federal debt will rise to 98% of GDP by 2030, “its highest percentage since 1946,” the CBO says. “By 2050, debt would be 180% of GDP—far higher than it has ever been.” And that was before Covid-19 hit. Now those numbers will be much, much worse.

On top of this, politicians have been announcing grand schemes for further spending: $47 billion on free college tuition, $1 trillion for new infrastructure, $1.4 trillion to write off student loan debt, at least $7 trillion on the Green New Deal and $32 trillion on Medicare for All. By one estimate, these new proposals total an estimated $42.5 trillion over the next decade.

Adding these new spending proposals to the flood of red ink the CBO projects just from following the current path, the federal government is set to face a serious fiscal crisis in the not-too-distant future.


Or, perhaps not. There is an idea afoot in economics that, as Bernie Sanders’ former economic advisor Stephanie Kelton argues in her new book The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy, could revolutionize the field in the same way that Copernicus did to astronomy by showing that the earth orbited the sun.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) states that “in almost all instances federal deficits are good for the economy. They are necessary.” That being so, we don’t have to worry about this coming deluge of red ink, indeed:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Review of Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

Review of Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

Facing the Anthropocene


This review is a critique of Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System by Ian Angus. The review adopted a multi-theoretical framework that combines insights from socio-cognitive terminology theory (STT), legitimation code theory (LCT) and critical discourse analysis (CDA) to respond to some claims and a proposal discussed in the book. The review further appraises two essays in the appendix of the book that clarify some misconceptions and confusions on anthropocene discourse, particularly on whether the choice of the term anthropocene is appropriate. The review concludes with an analysis of the terms (climate change) and (global warming) with a view to show that: (a) the terminology of climate change discourse is also prone to variation and (b) the use of the terms (climate change) and (global warming) interchangeably in the book is indexical of growth in disciplinarity.


Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System describes a new geological epoch (the anthropocene) and its impacts on the earth system. The book further identifies the possible cause of the present crisis of the earth system (fossil capitalism) and discusses the effects of fossil capitalism on the earth system (environmental degradation, climate change). The book concludes with a proposal on what needs to be done (eco-civilization and solidarity) to address the environmental crisis caused by exploration of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) for economic gains. The book is a critique of fossil fuel economy that is underpinned with Marxist Ecological Thinking and backed with epistemic inputs from cutting edge research in the sciences (Chemistry, Geology, Atmospheric Science, Geophysics, Hydrology, Marine, Meteorology and Cosmology) and the social sciences (Neo-classical Economics, Geography).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

GROWTH: From Microorganisms to Megacities

GROWTH: From Microorganisms to Megacities

Vaclav Smil’s latest book explores growth in nature and society. It examines the rules and patterns of growth in four key domains, those of the living world; human energy consumption; human artifacts; and human populations, societies and economies. The author is a passionate advocate of quantitative analysis, and thus Growth is filled with numbers, graphs and mathematical notation. Yet it’s written to be easily understood by non-mathematicians, making brilliant but accessible use of statistics to illustrate salient features of growth in all its terrestrial forms (the book’s scope is limited to Earth). In short, Growth is a compelling read for statisticians and non-statisticians alike.

A favorite author of Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and a Foreign Policy magazine Top 100 Global Thinker, Smil is known for his multidisciplinary approach, energy-related expertise and penchant for packing his many books with all manner of fascinating facts. Growth‘s chapter on the biological realm supplies as fine a sampling of this latter propensity as can be found. Did you know that average dinosaur body volumes declined at the beginning of the final period of the Mesozoic era but then made a near-comeback to their previous highs by the time of the dinosaurs’ extinction? You will after reading this book–and if you’re as much of a nerd as I am, you’ll relish this and innumerable other scientific tidbits. You’ll also be awed by the 100-page bibliography and the fact that scarcely a sentence goes by without some bit of quantitative analysis or scholarly citation.

A Novel

Prehistoric trivia aside, Smil’s chapter on the living world rightly focuses on those life forms most necessary to humanity’s survival and the functioning of the biosphere. These include, of course, modern-day trees and forests, microorganisms, agricultural crops and animals.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Uninhabitable Earth.

The Uninhabitable Earth.

This is a book review that I wrote, which will be published in the journal, Science Progress, of which I am an editor.
“The Uninhabitable Earth.” DAVID WALLACE-WELLS. Allen Lane 2019 ISBN 9780241355213; xx + 310 pp; £20.00

As set in motion by human hands, the forces of the Anthropocene – a word coined to mark the scale of our intervention in Nature as numbering among those of previous geological epochs – are predicted to drive the Earth system in expressing climate change to a degree that for many of the almost 8 billion, let alone 11-12 billion predicted to be here by 2100, the Earth would have become barely tolerable, and for some, actually uninhabitable, depending on the degree of warming that prevails by then, and the attendant consequences to the natural commons of air, land and water, which would be manifest unevenly around the globe. Even if we could halt our carbon emissions, instantly and today, the intrinsic inertia of the Earth system would nonetheless unfold the rising of sea levels, the degradation of land, and other changes (some, as yet, unknown) for centuries, perhaps millennia, to come. The book, “Uninhabitable Earth”, begins with “Cascades”, and takes a look at some of the likely consequences of climate change, the magnitude of which will be tuned according to the degree of warming that is unleashed, including mass migration of climate refugees, water scarcity, famine, a more extreme climate,  wildfires, outbreaks of disease, and extreme “once every 500 years” events that become more the norm (“rain bombs”, mighty hurricanes), since the effects are not binary – “yes”, “no”; “on”, “off” – but exponential, and worsen over time, so long as we continue to produce, and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Demonocracy: The Great Human Scourge!

Demonocracy: The Great Human Scourge!

Review: Christophe Buffin de Chosal, The End of Democracy, Translated by Ryan P. Plummer.  Printed in the U.S.A.: Tumblar House, 2017.


One cannot speak too highly of Christophe Buffin de Chosal’s The End of Democracy.  In a fast paced, readable, yet scholarly fashion, Professor Buffin de Chosal* demolishes the ideological justification in which modern democracy rests while he describes the disastrous effects that democratic rule has had on Western societies.  He explodes the myth of Democracy as a protector of individual liberty, a prerequisite for economic progress, and a promoter of the higher arts.  Once Democracy is seen in this light, a far more accurate interpretation of modern history can be undertaken.  The book is a very suitable companion to Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s iconoclastic take down of democracy in Democracy: The God That Failed, released at the beginning of this century.  Buffin de Chosal has spoken of a follow up which will be eagerly awaited for.

Democratic Governance

The idea of rule by the people is a scam, one perpetuated by those who, in actuality, are in control of the government.  Through the “democratic process” of voting and elections, a small, determined minority can impose its will despite majority opposition:

We often hear it said that ‘in a democracy,

it is the people who rule. . . .’  Rule by the

people is a myth which loses all substance

once confronted with the real practice in

democracy.  [13]

Quoting from a Russian philosopher, Buffin de Chosal continues his criticism:

    The best definition [of democracy] was

given by the Russian philosopher Vasily Rozanov. 

‘Democracy is the system by which an

organized minority governs an unorganized

majority.’  This ‘unorganized majority’ is the

people, aggregated and individualistic,

incapable of reaction because disjointed.  [28]

He expands upon Rozanov’s theme:

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book Review: The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom: Commons, Contestation and Craft

The threat posed by global warming and environmental degradation are the most pressing examples of what has become known over the past several decades as the ‘tragedy of the commons’. In this book, Derek Wall explores the work of the late Nobel Laureate, Elinor Ostrom, on how humans can overcome this problem, and sustain the commons over the long term. Chris Shaw finds that this book is an accessible presentation of Ostrom’s ideas.

The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom: Commons, Contestation and Craft. Derek Wall. Routledge. 2014.

Derek Wall has been an important figure in the Green Party for a number of years and also works as Associate Tutor in the Department of Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. He has written extensively on the subject of green politics and green economics. In The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom: Commons, Contestation and Craft, he examines what the idea of the commons can contribute to the building of an ecologically sustainable future. He approaches this analysis through an overview of the work of the late Elinor Ostrom (who died in 2012), the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in economic sciences.

Ostrom’s principal interest was in how institutions worked or failed to sustain collective resource use. Ostrom noted that self-governing entities exist at a variety of scales and can be found in both the public and private sphere. The key question for Ostrom was: ‘How can fallible human beings achieve and sustain self-governing ways of life and self-governing entities as well as sustaining ecological systems at multiple scales?’

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

George Monbiot’s Out of the Wreckage; A friendly critique

Few have made a more commendable contribution to saving the planet than George Monbiot. His recent book, Out of the Wreckage, continues the effort and puts forward many important ideas…but I believe there are problems with his diagnosis and his remedy.

The book is an excellent short, clear account of several of the core faults in consumer-capitalist society, and the alternatives advocated are admirable. George’s focal concern is the loss of community, and the cause is, as we know, neo-liberalism. He puts this in terms of the “story” that dominates thinking. Today the taken for granted background story about society is that it is made of competitive, self-interest-maximizing individuals, and therefore our basic institutions and processes are geared to a struggle to accumulate private wealth, rather than to encouraging concern for each other and improving the welfare of all. Thatcher went further, instructing us that there is not even any such thing as society, only individuals. George begins by rightly contradicting such vicious nonsense, pointing out that humans are fundamentally nice, altruistic, caring and cooperative, but we have allowed these dispositions to be overridden primarily by an economic system that obliges us to behave differently.

He gives heavy and convincing documentation of- this theme. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with several indicators of the sad state of affairs. “ … this age of atomization breeds anxiety, discontent and unhappiness.” (p. 18.) “An epidemic of loneliness is sweeping the world.” (p. 16.) Chapter 3 deals with the way neoliberalism has caused the social damage that has accumulated over the last forty years.

But my first concern with the book is that disastrous as it is, neo-liberalism isn’t the main problem confronting us and likely to destroy us.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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