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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?

What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?

Fifteen thousand scientists have issued a dire warning to humanity about impending collapse but virtually no-one takes notice. Ultimately, our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome.

For a moment, the most important news in the entire world flashed across the media like a shooting star in the night sky. Then it was gone. Last month, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

This is not the first such notice. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world. In ringing tones, they called for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.”

This second warning contains a series of charts showing how utterly the world’s leaders ignored what they were told twenty-five years earlier. Whether it’s CO2 emissions, temperature change, ocean dead zones, freshwater resources, vertebrate species, or total forest cover, the grim charts virtually all point in the same dismal direction, indicating continued momentum toward doomsday. The chart for marine catch shows something even scarier: in 1996, the catch peaked at 130 million tonnes and in spite of massively increased industrial fishing, it’s been declining ever since—a harbinger of the kind of overshoot that unsustainable exploitation threatens across the board.

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

Hornshurst Forest Garden – growing food in a forest clearing

As many of you know, permaculture will often have you disappear down a rabbit hole, if not an entire warren. Or, in permaculture-speak, will take you off the well-beaten track to explore those infamous edges.
The Hornshurst Forest Garden is one such edge. It is an acre site, deer and rabbit fenced, within a much larger 160 acre wood. I have been designing it for the wood owner, Doro Marden, for about 3 years.

We are lucky to have relaxed time frames, allowing us to take a very slow and low-risk approach, doing things incrementally and also letting the design emerge over time – especially the people aspects. It is on a north west facing slope and is literally a clearing in the forest.

Trying to grow fruit trees on a newly cut pine plantation (a.k.a – an ecological desert) was never going to be easy and we certainly have had challenges to overcome. I now have some things to report that I hope will be of interest and help you.

Managing the Acidity

With an initial soil acidity of pH 4.1 in our clearing, I can now report localised changes – in some areas we have readings of neutral (pH 7).

How did we get there?

A number of elements have been working towards the function of neutralising the acidity.

  1. What I call my ‘mulch-making’ machines. Several young deciduous trees that had been growing amongst the tall pines were purposefully left. Sweet chestnuts, birch, rowan and oak have been shedding their leaves for three seasons. (Literally feeding the soil some salad leaves for its acid indigestion).
  2. Localised sprinklings of lime – in the major growing sites, about twice a year.
  3. Some localised addition of well rotted cow manure.

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

Tree Crops

Chestnut bud in spring day


For thousands of years, farmers have generally differentiated forestry and agriculture. Forests were either left alone or planted and maintained as a source of fuel and building material. In the best of cases, certain trees also offered forage for livestock and other farm animals. The farm fields were generally kept clear of any trees because farming was relegated to nothing more than the planting and harvesting of annual (mostly grain) crops.

The only trees acceptable to farming were fruit bearing trees, and these were usually planted on areas of the farm where the terrain was too steep or otherwise unfit for the tillage needed for annual grain crops. With the ever more obvious problems related to the annual tillage of the soil and annual agriculture in general, many people have begun to consider the possibility of growing trees as crops.


The idea of growing trees as crops is not a new one. Indigenous cultures around the world have been growing and managing diversified, edible forest ecosystems (food forests, in permaculture jargon) for thousands of years. From the multi-story tropical food forests of Mesoamerica to growing evidence that large swaths of the Amazon Jungle were actually human-controlled environments, indigenous peoples around the world have long understood the benefits of tree crops and perennial agriculture systems.

From the western perspective, however, it was J. Russell Smith in the 1920´s who first began considering the idea of trees as crops. Smith´s seminal work was published under the title of “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture” in 1929. In this book, he looked at several farming cultures around the world that, instead of relying on the annual tillage of the soil for grain crops, actually depended on carefully managed forest ecosystems that provided an abundance of edible foodstuffs.

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

How Forest Loss Is Leading To a Rise in Human Disease

How Forest Loss Is Leading To a Rise in Human Disease

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that the felling of tropical forests creates optimal conditions for the spread of mosquito-borne scourges, including malaria and dengue. Primates and other animals are also spreading disease from cleared forests to people.

In Borneo, an island shared by Indonesia and Malaysia, some of the world’s oldest tropical forests are being cut down and replaced with oil palm plantations at a breakneck pace. Wiping forests high in biodiversity off the land for monoculture plantations causes numerous environmental problems, from the destruction of wildlife habitat to the rapid release of stored carbon, which contributes to global warming.

But deforestation is having another worrisome effect: an increase in the spread of life-threatening diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. For a host of ecological reasons, the loss of forest can act as an incubator for insect-borne and other infectious diseases that afflict humans. The most recent example came to light this month in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases, with researchers documenting a steep rise in human malaria cases in a region of Malaysian Borneo undergoing rapid deforestation.

An area of forest in Indonesia that was cleared to make way for an oil palm plantation.

This form of the disease was once found mainly in primates called macaques, and scientists from the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene wondered why there was a sudden spike in human cases. Studying satellite maps of where forest was being cut down and where it was left standing, the researchers compared the patchwork to the locations of recent malaria outbreaks. They realized the primates were concentrating in the remaining fragments of forest habitat, possibly increasing disease transmission among their own populations.

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

The world’s forests will collapse if we don’t learn to say ‘no’

The world’s forests will collapse if we don’t learn to say ‘no’

An alarming new study has shown that the world’s forests are not only disappearing rapidly, but that areas of “core forest” — remote interior areas critical for disturbance-sensitive wildlife and ecological processes — are vanishing even faster.

Core forests are disappearing because a tsunami of new roads, dams, power lines, pipelines and other infrastructure is rapidly slicing into the world’s last wild places, opening them up like a flayed fish to deforestation, fragmentation, poaching and other destructive activities.

Most vulnerable of all are forests in the tropics. These forests sustain the planet’s most biologically rich and environmentally important habitats.

The collapse of the world’s forests isn’t going to stop until we start to say “no” to environmentally destructive projects.

Damn the dams

Those who criticise new infrastructure projects are often accused of opposing direly needed economic development, or — if they hail from industrial nations — of being hypocrites.

But when one begins to look in detail at the proposed projects, an intriguing pattern appears: Many are either poorly justified or will have far greater costs than benefits.

For example, in a recent essay in the journal Science, Amazon expert Philip Fearnside argues that many of the 330-odd hydroelectric dams planned or under construction in the Amazon will be more trouble than they’re worth.

Construction of the São Manoel Dam in the Brazilian Amazon. International Rivers/FlickrCC BY-NC-SA

Many of these dams will have huge environmental impacts, argues Fearnside, and will dramatically increase forest loss in remote regions.

This happens both because the Amazon is quite flat, requiring large areas of forest to be flooded, and because dams and their power lines require road networks that open up the forest to other human impacts. For instance, the 12 dams planned for Brazil’s Tapajós River are expected to increase Amazon deforestation by almost 1 million hectares.

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

The Rapid and Startling Decline Of World’s Vast Boreal Forests

The Rapid and Startling Decline Of World’s Vast Boreal Forests

Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the fate of the huge boreal forest that spans from Scandinavia to northern Canada. Unprecedented warming in the region is jeopardizing the future of a critical ecosystem that makes up nearly a third of the earth’s forest cover.

The boreal forest wraps around the globe at the top of the Northern Hemisphere in North America and Eurasia. Also known as taiga or snow forest, this landscape is characterized by its long, cold and snowy winters. In North America it extends from the Arctic Circle of northern Canada and Alaska down into the very northern tip of the United States in Idaho, Washington, Montana, and Minnesota. It’s the planet’s single largest biome and makes up 30 percent of the globe’s forest cover.

Moose are the largest ungulate in the boreal, adapted with their long legs to wade in its abundant marshes, lakes and rivers eating willows, aspen and other plants. In the southern boreal forest of northern Minnesota, moose were once plentiful, but their population has plummeted. Thirty years ago, in the northwest part of the state, there were some 4,000; they now number about a hundred. In the northeast part, they have dropped from almost 9,000 to 4,300. They’ve fallen so far, so fast that some groups want them listed as endangered in the Midwest.

Hare and Ritchie, 1972
The boreal forest extends around the earth at the top of the Northern Hemisphere.

Moose carcasses deteriorate rapidly before they are found, and so forensics has not been able to determine why they are dying. Some experts surmise it could be that tens of thousands of ticks that mob an animal and weaken it. Others think it’s a parasite called liver flukes, or the fact that winters have gotten so warm the animals can’t regulate their body temperature and die from heat stress.

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

The Politics of Timber Theft

The Politics of Timber Theft

Steal a Tree, Go to Jail; Steal a Forest, Meet the President

Republished here with permission is a chapter from Jeffrey St. Clair’s 2008 book, Born Under A Bad Sky. St. Clair has provided an outstanding report of corrupt government at work. Even environmentalists in the Forest Service who are appointed to protect our national forests are part of the looting corporatocracy.

The power of money can be stronger than the power of government. We can see the power of money in the looting of our national forests. Even the environmental agencies established by Congress to protect the environment have fallen under corporate control.

Elected politicians, even if they intend otherwise, end up serving the corporatocracy.

The impotence of government to serve the public interest and general welfare is an important lesson both for progressives, who believe in the curative powers of government, and libertarians, who believe that government is inimical to private interests.

As both parties serve the corporatocracy, elections can change nothing.

The Politics of Timber Theft

Stealing trees is as old as the King’s timber reserves. The sanctions for such sylvan thievery have always been harsh. In medieval England, it meant public torture and slow death. In the US, the levy was a kind of financial death penalty — triple damages plus serious jail time.

A couple of years ago, two tree poachers drove a log truck onto a small farm in central Indiana after midnight, cut down two 100-year old black walnut trees in the small woodlot, loaded the pilfered trunks onto their truck and fled across a cornfield. The county sheriff caught them when their truck stalled in the field and sank in the mud. It turns out that the men had been hired by a local sawmill owner, who was set to sell the lumber to a German timber broker. All three men were tried and convicted of tree theft.

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


The Fifth Wave (Part I)

The Fifth Wave (Part I)

[Chapter 25 of The Age of the Consequences]

“All things alike do their work, and then we see them subside. When they have reached their bloom, each returns to its origin . . . This reversion is an eternal law. To know that law is wisdom.” —Lao-Tsu

The First Wave

In the fall of 1909, twenty-two-year-old Aldo Leopold rode away from the ranger station in Springerville, Arizona, on his inaugural assignment with the newly created United States Forest Service. For this Midwesterner, an avid hunter freshly graduated from the prestigious Yale School of Forestry, the mountainous wilderness that stretched out before him must have felt both thrilling and portentous. In fact, events over the ensuing weeks, including his role in the killing of two timber wolves—immortalized nearly forty years later in his essay “Thinking Like a Mountain,” from A Sand County Almanac—would influence Leopold’s lifelong conservation philosophy in important ways. The deep thinking would come later, however. In 1909, Leopold’s primary goal was to be a good forester, which is why he chose to participate in a radical experiment at the time: the control and conservation of natural resources by the federal government.

aldo-leopold-with-horse                    Aldo Leopold as a new Forest Service ranger in the Southwest

Beginning in 1783, the policy of the federal government encouraged the disposal of public lands to private citizens and commercial interests including retired soldiers, homesteaders, railroad conglomerates, mining interests, and anyone else willing to fulfill America’s much-trumpeted manifest destiny. However, this policy began to change in 1872, when President Ulysses Grant signed a bill creating the world’s first national park—Yellowstone—launching the U.S. government down a new path: retention and protection of some federal land on behalf of all Americans.


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

Earth’s Second Lung Has Emphysema

Earth’s Second Lung Has Emphysema

Many consider forests as the ‘lungs’ of the planet — the idea that trees and other plants take up carbon and produce oxygen (the carbon and oxygen cycles). If we are to be fair though, the oceans store about 93% of the Earth’s carbon pool (excluding the lithosphere and fossil fuels) and oceanic phytoplankton produces between 50 and 80% of the oxygen in the atmosphere. For comparison, the terrestrial biosphere — including forests — stores only about 5% of the Earth’s carbon and produces most of the remainder of atmospheric oxygen.

So, there’s no denying that the biggest player in these cycles is the ocean, but that’s not the topic of today’s post. Instead, I’m going to focus on the terrestrial biosphere and in particular, the carbon storage and flux of forests.

Now it’s pretty well established that tropical forests are major players in the terrestrial carbon cycle, with the most accepted estimates of about 55% the terrestrial carbon stock stored therein. The extensive boreal forest, covering most of the northern half of North America, most of Scandinavia and a huge chunk of Russia, comes in globally at about 33%, and temperate forests store most of the remainder.


That is, until now.

A niggly issue with estimating global carbon stocks in forests is that quite a bit of it is stored underground. In tropical forests at least (not including the few peatland forests), most (> 50%) of the carbon resides in the living biomass above the soil; however, in boreal forests where peatlands are extensive, 95% of the carbon is found below ground in the peat and soils. While most of this subsurface carbon is found in the top layers of the soil and peat, if you don’t dig down deep enough, you might miss an important component of the total carbon stock.


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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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