sustainability IS gardening

Posted by on May 20th, 2013

A short follow-up to my recent post, Conservation ain’t what it used to be (WE NEED TO BE BIGGER)


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Conservation ain’t what it used to be (WE NEED TO BE BIGGER)

Posted by on April 21st, 2013

Avengers #3 (2013)

Attention Conservation Notice: long quotes designed to break open your Green mind

Developers can build on nature reserves – if they ‘offset’ the damage elsewhere, says Government review:

A “priority recommendation” from the Government’s Ecosystems Markets Task Force is for a new “biodiversity offset system” to let large developers would be given a right to build on one nature reserve or protected area, if they build one somewhere else.

The taskforce’s Government report said this was not “a license to trash nature” – although campaigners have warned that that is exactly what it is.

It said: “We need a system in which unavoidable net impacts on biodiversity of new development are more than compensated by restored and created habitats elsewhere through an efficient market.”

It is about better regulation, developing a well-defined market which delivers ‘net gain’ for nature which the current planning system has generally failed to do.”

In April 2012, six two year pilot projects were launched in Devon, Doncaster, Essex, Norwich, Nottinghamshire, and Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull.

The review said that it would “revolutionise conservation in England by delivering restoration, creation and long-term management of in excess of 300,000 hectares of habitat over 20 years” and “incentivise location of development at sites of lower nature value”.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson suggested that he would decide on whether to expand the scheme when the trials’ results come back next year.

He said: “We shouldn’t to choose between either improving the environment or growing the economy. We should aim to have both which is why I’m keen to see the results of these trials.”

But Neil Sinden, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said offsetting failed “to recognise the complex way in which wildlife systems are sustained and thrive”.

He told The Daily Telegraph: “You can’t wipe out wildlife habitats and expect to be able to create on that can achieve the richness and diversity of wildlife sites that have evolved over decades and centuries.

Now, our well-cultivated, knee-jerk Green reaction is to immediately cry “NATURE IS NOT A SUBSET OF ECONOMICS”.

The thing is, it’s actually far, far worse than that, as we forcibly free ourselves from the gravity of the Green Mythology.

In his looooong read Quarterly Essay Tim Flannery takes aim at the failings of “conservation”…:

Such is the depth of public ignorance about Australia’s extinction crisis that most people are unaware that is is occurring, while those who do know of it commonly believe that our national parks and reserves are safe places for threatened species. In fact the second extinction wave is now in full swing, and it’s emptying our national parks and wildlife reserves as ruthlessly as other landscapes. This is disturbing: national parks exist explicitly to conserve biodiversity, and their failure to do so is a failure both of government policy and of our collective will to protect our natural heritage. Paradoxically, biodiversity is sometimes flourishing more vibrantly on private land than in national parks, despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent annually by our governments on reserved lands.

The problem lies not with the parks’ staff, who are often dedicated and skilled at their work. Nor does it lie solely with budgets, although more funding rather than more cuts would always be welcome. Instead, the difficulties are at least threefold. First and foremost, the problem stems from the delusion that the simple act of proclaiming a national park or nature reserve will result in the protection of biodiversity. Parks must be proclaimed and effectively managed if biodiversity is to be protected. Secondly, the various government agencies responsible for biodiversity protection have allowed their scientific capacity to erode to the point where it’s hard to be sure how many individuals of most endangered species survive; and thirdly, the attempt to save endangered species involves risks that bureaucracies are increasingly unwilling to take. The first duty of the bureaucrat these days seems to be to protect their minister from criticism: thus it often seems preferable to let a species die out quietly, seemingly a victim of natural change, than to institute a recovery program that carries a risk of failure, however small.


I’m increasingly resistant to the notion of Sustainability… because what are we sustaining but the slow motion death of the life on Earth that has supported us? WE NEED TO ACCELERATE FORWARDS INTO THE FUTURE, DRAGGING ALL OF HISTORY AND ITS LESSONS WITH US.

Okay, that’s a tad hyperbolic… but there are a lot of legacy civilizational myths that need to be exploded. For starters, the crux of the Environmental Mythology, that the Amazon is some untouched Gaian Paradise, when the evidence points to it being a pre-Columbian garden that’s since ReWilded:

Unlike Europeans, who planted mainly annual crops, the Indians, he says, centered their agriculture on the Amazon’s unbelievably diverse assortment of trees: fruits, nuts, and palms. “It’s tremendously difficult to clear fields with stone tools,” Clement says. “If you can plant trees, you get twenty years of productivity out of your work instead of two or three.”

Planting their orchards, the first Amazonians transformed large swaths of the river basin into something more pleasing to human beings. In a widely cited article from 1989, William Balée, the Tulane anthropologist, cautiously estimated that about 12 percent of the nonflooded Amazon forest was of anthropogenic origin—directly or indirectly created by human beings. In some circles this is now seen as a conservative position. “I basically think it’s all human-created,” Clement told me in Brazil. He argues that Indians changed the assortment and density of species throughout the region. So does Clark Erickson, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist, who told me in Bolivia that the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet. “Some of my colleagues would say that’s pretty radical,” he said, smiling mischievously. According to Peter Stahl, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, “lots” of botanists believe that “what the eco-imagery would like to picture as a pristine, untouched Urwelt [primeval world] in fact has been managed by people for millennia.” The phrase “built environment,” Erickson says, “applies to most, if not all, Neotropical landscapes.”

“Landscape” in this case is meant exactly—Amazonian Indians literally created the ground beneath their feet. According to William I. Woods, a soil geographer at Southern Illinois University, ecologists’ claims about terrible Amazonian land were based on very little data. In the late 1990s Woods and others began careful measurements in the lower Amazon. They indeed found lots of inhospitable terrain. But they also discovered swaths of terra preta—rich, fertile “black earth” that anthropologists increasingly believe was created by human beings.

Terra preta, Woods guesses, covers at least 10 percent of Amazonia, an area the size of France. It has amazing properties, he says. Tropical rain doesn’t leach nutrients from terra preta fields; instead the soil, so to speak, fights back. Not far from Painted Rock Cave is a 300-acre area with a two-foot layer of terra preta quarried by locals for potting soil. The bottom third of the layer is never removed, workers there explain, because over time it will re-create the original soil layer in its initial thickness. The reason, scientists suspect, is that terra preta is generated by a special suite of microorganisms that resists depletion. “Apparently,” Woods and the Wisconsin geographer Joseph M. McCann argued in a presentation last summer, “at some threshold level … dark earth attains the capacity to perpetuate—even regenerate itself—thus behaving more like a living ‘super’-organism than an inert material.”

In as yet unpublished research the archaeologists Eduardo Neves, of the University of São Paulo; Michael Heckenberger, of the University of Florida; and their colleagues examined terra preta in the upper Xingu, a huge southern tributary of the Amazon. Not all Xingu cultures left behind this living earth, they discovered. But the ones that did generated it rapidly—suggesting to Woods that terra preta was created deliberately. In a process reminiscent of dropping microorganism-rich starter into plain dough to create sourdough bread, Amazonian peoples, he believes, inoculated bad soil with a transforming bacterial charge. Not every group of Indians there did this, but quite a few did, and over an extended period of time.

When Woods told me this, I was so amazed that I almost dropped the phone. I ceased to be articulate for a moment and said things like “wow” and “gosh.” Woods chuckled at my reaction, probably because he understood what was passing through my mind. Faced with an ecological problem, I was thinking, the Indians fixed it. They were in the process of terraforming the Amazon when Columbus showed up and ruined everything.

A clue lies inside Bruce Sterling’s book Distraction:

“We could integrate the natural world right into the substance of our cities. If we knew how to use our power properly, we could guide herds of American bison right through our own streets. We could live in an Eden at peace with packs of wolves. All it would take is enough sense and vision to know who we are, and what we want.” “That sounds wonderful, Senator. Why don’t you do it?” “Because we’re a pack of thieves! We went straight from wilder-ness to decadence, without ever creating an authentic American civilization.”


This shit is complicated and hard, and an app isn’t going to solve it, let alone any other form of Solutionism by itself.

Instead, we need to grow the fuck up. WE NEED TO BE BIGGER. To acknowledge what is broken, take stock and rebuild… towards rebirth.

Hands up who wants to construct a reality worth being near-immortal in?

– Comments intentionally disabled, trackbacks will work. Give unto the blogosphere your considered thoughts.

Dubai ‘ruins’

Posted by on January 6th, 2012

If it takes a Great Collapse to green Dubai, that’s fine by me:

by Jenovah Art

“Edunia” the plantimal

Posted by on April 14th, 2011

This may look like an ordinary Petunia, but it’s just a little bit more than that. This photo is taken from WIRED UK’s image gallery of the works on display at Dublin’s Science Gallery’s Human+ exhibition, and the flower has been created by Biological artist Eduardo Kac combining his DNA with the flower’s, using genetic engineering.

It’s best explained on the artist’s website:

The central work in the “Natural History of the Enigma” series is a plantimal, a new life form Kac created and that he calls “Edunia”, a genetically-engineered flower that is a hybrid of Kac and Petunia. The Edunia expresses Kac’s DNA exclusively the red veins of the flower. The gene Kac selected is responsible for the identification of foreign bodies. In this work, it is precisely that which identifies and rejects the other that the artist integrates into the other, thus creating a new kind of self that is partially flower and partially human.

Art today, tomorrow yet another ‘perfect gift for the person that has everything’. In fact, I don’t think it’s too morbid to suggest this could also be a way to honour the passing of a loved one, letting a piece of them live on in a family garden.

Skyscraper vertical farm planned for China

Posted by on December 2nd, 2009

From Inhabitat comes another dose of future-pr0n, a truly epic vertical farm project:

Urban Forest is a commercial high-rise building that takes the form of an urban mountain with over 70 floors, each one different and unique. Each floor is an abstract curved shape, layered slightly off-center to give the facade an organic look as it rises up into the sky. A central cylindrical core structure supports all the floors and hosts the mechanical systems and elevators.

Each floor is also covered in floor-to-ceiling glass windows, providing expansive views of the city. A walk-around balcony of differing widths hosts the green garden space, as well as pools, trees, and courtyards. Some floors are nothing but open space, while others contain offices or residential space. Each floor is seen as a separate and unique level of the urban forest and is meant to combine both nature and the urban metropolis.

Why do I keep blogging these crazy schemes? Because eventually one of them will succeed and I frankly can’t wait to go check out the one that does in person.

Speaking of ambitions, good news for Masdar City; the Dubai debt crisis shouldn’t affect it.

Grow Your Own Graffiti

Posted by on August 14th, 2009

A green form of graff. This I like.


  • Two handfuls (or more, get lots) of moss
  • 2 cups of yoghurt
  • 2 cups of beer (you can use water if you want, but beer seems to hold it together a little bit better)
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • Corn syrup (optional – for making it spreadable and sticky)

Wash/tease as much of the dirt from the moss as you can. Throw it, the yoghurt, beer and sugar into a blender and blend until a lovely smooth consistency. if it looks like it’s going to drip when you paint it, add the corn syrup to the mix.

When finding somewhere to paint, look for something porous (most older or rough concrete walls are perfect). Once you’ve painted your design, its suggested that you come back every week or to spray it with water, to help the moss along.

Check out Anna Garforth (her site is here), a dedicated moss artist.

A dragonfly inspired vertical farm for New York

Posted by on July 12th, 2009

From archiCentral:

Belgian firm Vincent Callebaut Architectures have designed a vertical farm based on the wings of a dragonfly. Located along the East River at the south edge of Rooselvelt Island in New York City the tower is a true living organism being self-sufficient in water, energy and bio fertilizing. Spanning 132 floors and 600 vertical meters, the dragonfly can accommodate 28 different agricultural fields for the production of fruit, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy.

thanks to cnawan for the tip-off!

Have Sprouts, Will Travel

Posted by on June 1st, 2009

Every now and then you’ll have a conversation with someone that will actually teach you something new.

This past week’s education came in the form of Travel Sprouting.

Mr T Chia Pet…not so much what I had in mind, but it’s still rather funny

Now, growing sprouts for …”fun” or “profit”, is not a new idea, but what I learnt was that there are people who grow sprouts in their backpacks. They have a couple of ways of doing this:

The ‘Easy Sprout’

Easy Sprout is 3 1/4 inches on the bottom and 4 1/2 inches on the top. It is 7 inches tall. It has a 1 liter/quart capacity. It is made of High Density Polyethylene (Fortiflex® T50-3600 HDP) – which is one of the few non-leaching plastics. The Easy Sprout is also Kosher – we kid you not.

It came to the inventor Gene Monson in a dream in the late 1970′s and he has spent much of his life since spreading the word.

And for those who prefer something more natural:

The Hemp Bag

Just dip and hang! Made from 100% pure hemp and flax fabric for long life and durability. Won’t mold, mildew or shrink. If you can dip a tea bag you can grow sprouts! So easy to use and convenient. Ready in only 3-5 days.

Grows all grains and beans, including: green pea, mung, adzuki, red pea, wheat, rye, soy, peanut, garbanzo, fenugreek, chia, shelled sunflower.

There seems to be a fair few different types of sproutables available for the on-the-go gardener, and all with seemingly quick turn around in growing time. I don’t, however, know how travel-friendly Mr T is. Which is a shame.

Some resources should you be enchanted by the idea of having your own portable salad bar:

-> SproutPeople: awesome for easy to understand and a friendly introduction to the idea. Their quick guide to travel sprouting is a must

-> NaturallyGreen UK: good products (was recommended by the guy who introduced me to the idea)

-> When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein: excerpt on Sprouting here, but damn that book is an interesting read.

seed bombs – delivering life from above

Posted by on May 24th, 2009

From Inhabitat:

seeds bombs

Doomsday devices they are not – these seed-sowing plant bombs are one design team’s weapon of choice in the fight against global desertification. Consisting of a biodegradable shell loaded with a potent payload of plant capsules and nutrient-rich artificial soil, Seedbombs are designed to be dropped out of planes to help slow the spread of desert regions that are growing due to deforestation and other man-made causes.

seedbomb payload

Chernobyl has given us plants hardened for space

Posted by on May 21st, 2009

From New Scientist:

More than two decades after the world’s largest nuclear disaster, life around Chernobyl continues to adapt.

To determine how plants might have adapted to the meltdown, Hajduch’s team compared soya grown in radioactive plots near Chernobyl with plants grown about 100 kilometres away in uncontaminated soil.

Compared to the plants grown in normal soil, the Chernobyl soya produced significantly different amounts of several dozen proteins, the team found. Among those are proteins that contribute to the production of seeds, as well as proteins involved in defending cells from heavy metal and radiation damage. “One protein is known to actually protect human blood from radiation,” Hajduch says.

Determining how plants coped with life after Chernobyl could help scientists engineer radiation-resistant plants, Hajduch says. While few farmers are eager to cultivate radioactive plots on Earth, future interplanetary travellers may need to grow crops to withstand space radiation.

How to grow your own air

Posted by on April 14th, 2009

This little slide show how easy it is, and the benefits of, growing air from inside the cubicle hell that most office buildings are today:

via MAKE

Dmitry Orlov on Managing Social Collapse

Posted by on February 14th, 2009

There’s no wonder the latest Seminar About Long Term Thinking was sold-out well in advance; screw the Long Now, this was all about The Now!

During the Bush Era it seemed to me (as an outsider looking in) that the US’s Future was heading for something a lot like Israel. I don’t think it quite qualifies as a Black Swan, but did anyone really expect it to turn into Russia in ’90s?

Dmitry Orlov lived through that and gave the standing-room only audience some tips for the years ahead.

I’m just cut’n'pasting in the summary from Stewart Brand now, from the Long Now mailing list; all emphasis is mine, etc:

With vintage Russian black humor, Orlov described the social collapse he witnessed in Russia in the 1990s and spelled out its practical lessons for the American social collapse he sees as inevitable. The American economy in the 1990s described itself as “Goldilocks”—just the right size—when in fact is was “Tinkerbelle,” and one day the clapping stops. As in Russia, the US made itself vulnerable to the decline of crude oil, a trade deficit, military over-reach, and financial over-reach.

Russians were able to muddle through the collapse by finding ways to manage 1) food, 2) shelter, 3) transportation, and 4) security.

Russian agriculture had long been ruined by collectivization, so people had developed personal kitchen gardens, accessible by public transit. The state felt a time-honored obligation to provide bread, and no one starved. (Orlov noted that women in Russia handled collapse pragmatically, putting on their garden gloves, whereas middle-aged men dissolved into lonely drunks.) Americans are good at gardening and could shift easily to raising their own food, perhaps adopting the Cuban practice of gardens in parking lots and on roofs and balconies.

As for shelter, Russians live in apartments from which they cannot be evicted. The buildings are heat-efficient, and the communities are close enough to protect themselves from the increase in crime. Americans, Orlov said, have yet to realize there is no lower limit to real estate value, nor that suburban homes are expensive to maintain and get to. He predicts flight, not to remote log cabins, but to dense urban living. Office buildings, he suggests, can easily be converted to apartments, and college campuses could make instant communities, with all that grass turned into pasture or gardens. There are already plenty of empty buildings in America; the cheapest way to get one is to offer to caretake it.

The rule with transportation, he said, is not to strand people in nonsurvivable places. Fuel will be expensive and hoarded. He noted that the most efficient of all vehicles is an old pickup fully loaded with people, driving slowly. He suggested that freight trains be required to provide a few empty boxcars for hoboes. Donkeys, he advised, provide reliable transport, and they dine as comfortably on the Wall Street Journal as they did on Pravda.

Security has to take into account that prisons will be emptied (by stages, preferably), overseas troops will be repatriated and released, and cops will go corrupt. You will have a surplus of mentally unstable people skilled with weapons. There will be crime waves and mafias, but you can rent a policeman, hire a soldier. Security becomes a matter of local collaboration. When the formal legal structure breaks down, adaptive improvisation can be pretty efficient.

By way of readiness, Orlov urges all to prepare for life without a job, with near-zero burn rate. It takes practice to learn how to be poor well. Those who are already poor have an advantage.

And just when we thought the Present was already Science Fictional, all the missing elements of Cyberpunk will be arriving soon enough it seems.

The full text of Dmitry Orlov’s SALT talk is posted at his blog. You can also check out the slides he used for a famous 2006 talk, “Closing the Collapse Gap“.

For the podcast favouring, check the LongNow site for the mp3 later in week, or just grab the feed.

farm fountain

Posted by on February 14th, 2009

Presenting Farm Fountain:

..a system for growing edible and ornamental fish and plants in a constructed, indoor ecosystem. Based on the concept of aquaponics, this hanging garden fountain uses a simple pond pump, along with gravity to flow the nutrients from fish waste through the plant roots. The plants and bacteria in the system serve to cleanse and purify the water for the fish.

The perfect water feature for a re-claimed McMansion turned artist’s colony. Or for the lounge of a low-gravity space habitat.

They’ve included full instructions and a video overview. It’s a simple, but powerful concept. Great work!

thanks to Nova for the tip-off!

seed bomb earrings

Posted by on February 13th, 2009

From NextNature:

You never know when an opportunity for planting might present itself. Be prepared with these tiny glass bottles filled with vegetable and flower seeds. Great for secretively planting in friends’ yards, medians, and those boring beds full of petunias outside your doctor’s office.

Get them here.

The end of Industrial-era specialization is here

Posted by on January 28th, 2009

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

With a bit of luck, we’ll have a new generation that lives up to this ideal; Future Mars Colonists, one and all.

Some good friends of mine opted out of a city life a few years ago and are now completely off-the-grid, yet still working in the same fields as before. If anything, they will thrive in the years ahead. And their daughter will learn to repair solar panels, maintain a garden and build a website.

They are the early-adopters. It should be clear to us all now that the Future involves nested utility systems, not top-down ones. The House of the Future will generate most of it’s power and water, and peer with it’s neighbours to share their surplus.

But we must feel a little sorry for the now hurting Middle Class, that backbone of the Status Quo. They were just blindly trusting the System after all.

From NYTimes:

After all, as incomes rose and gender roles changed over the last 50 years, families have become accustomed to outsourcing more and more of their household chores. No longer was it just the very rich who had “servants,” said Jan de Vries, an economic historian at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The way households function 20 years from now will probably be sort of surprising to us.”

A lot of the way we’d been living was all an illusion, a fantasy,” said Ms. Spada, who has also been cooking more and bathing the family dog instead of going to the groomer. “We’ve been asking ourselves: Can we replicate some of those specialized services, which normally we would outsource, ourselves?”

Yes you can!

Robot rice farmers

Posted by on January 6th, 2009

As Bruce Sterling called it “an autonomous urban taxi with passengers that are rice plants.”

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Agriculture’s about to become a game of Dune2.

TIME delivers Vertical Farming design pr0n

Posted by on December 16th, 2008

Do I have to rant again about how much sense it makes to grow your food in the city you’re supplying? K, cool.

Check out this beautiful concept art, cherry picked from TIME’s slideshow on Urban Farming:





This one is my favourite though:


And yes, they’d all look much better on Mars. But we have to practice here first.

via MAKE

For Sale: Mile of London Tunnels

Posted by on November 30th, 2008

Who wouldn’t want to buy a network of sekrit tunnels beneath London? It may be stuffy down there, but it would surely be better than the tube during peak hour.

“Built during World War II as bomb shelters for about 8,000 people and were designed to allow them to survive for five weeks shut off from the outside world.” It’s a bargain at $7.4 million!

More from

Appearing more like the set of a James Bond movie than prime real estate, the complex still has a bar and two canteens, not in use, and a billiard room, not to mention functioning water and electricity supplies…and a canteen kitchen equipped with potato-peeling machine, dishwasher and a menu board offering sausages and peas.


But seriously, massive underground hydroponic market gardens anyone?

via BoingBoing

Farm Fountain

Posted by on July 18th, 2008


Doctorow and Steffen present: The Outquisition

Posted by on July 16th, 2008

freakangels gank

The Outquisition, it’s the alterna-post-apocalypse:

Because if the ruins of the unsustainable are the new frontier, and if, as is already happening, the various economic and environmental transitions we face will leave many people unmoored from their familiar assumptions at the very least and, at the worst, cut loose from their jobs or driven from their homes, a huge number of people are going to need help forging new ways of life.

Even if we do a pretty decent job of hugging the curve, and bright green innovation brings prosperity and security to a lot of people in many regions, some others will still suffer from ecological shifts, political abandonment, economic collapse or some combination of all three. Unless things change dramatically, we have not seen our last Dust Bowl, our last New Orleans, our last Detroit. What do the people who are left trapped in degrading places, who don’t get the green collar jobs, do?

And we got on this riff about heroes who got the paradox of the moment: that abandoned people and places are sometimes the ones who most need radical innovation; that, these days, new tools and models are practically scattered all over the ground, just waiting for people to pick them up; but that those who most need them are those who least know how to find them.

What would it be like, we wondered, if folks who knew tools and innovation left the comfy bright green cities and traveled to the dead mall suburban slums, rustbelt browntowns and climate-smacked farm communities and started helping the locals get the tools they needed. We imagined that it would need an almost missionary fervor, something like the Inquisition (which largely destroyed knowledge) in reverse, a crusade of open sharing, or as Cory promptly dubbed it, the Outquisition.

Am I the only one that gets a vision of these emergent posthumans wandering the Earth: helping set up clean water, spread knowledge, settle disputes, trade tech and then vanishing once things are stabilized? Terraforming the Earth as practice for Mars?

Or dial it back a bit – and flash on Gibson’s notion of everting (from Spook Country), as the internet continues to swallow the “real world”. People start doing, instead of (mostly) just talking about it. New communities form, and blogs become ways for them to share their results, as they attempt to brute force the problem space of climate change.