Religion and rape of the Earth

Meadowcreek is roaring in anticipation of visitors this week.  Three new potential residents and the official state archaeologist are coming this week.  One of the new residents is a 17 month old child.  He will be fun to have in the community.

Hard to say who we are looking forward to most: the child or the archaeologist.  Talk about comparing apples and oranges.

the-rape-of-the-sabine-women-the-rape-of-the-daughters-of-leucippus-9Actually Meadow Creek is roaring from all the recent rain, but the arrival of our visitors will bring several days of sun.  Always love the bright sun after a rain.

We are blessed with so much water at Meadowcreek.  Contemplating how much of the world is desert, we feel even more blessed.

Once I did a long hike among hilltop villages in Jordan.  Hardy olive trees survived in depressions dug in the limestone.  All the topsoil was gone.

The same is true all through the Middle East.  In Syria, Iraq and Jordan the lack of water is due to the people’s destruction of their ecosystem through first cutting all the trees and then overgrazing. Their religions teach them to subdue the earth and that they have.

After destroying the natural ecosystems to feed their voracious cities, for eons they relied on water flowing in from the Turkish mountains.  The Tigris and the Euphrates both originate in Eastern Turkey and once fed a verdant valley known as the Fertile Crescent.  Now Turkey had dammed the rivers and is keeping the water at home.

Yet the monotheistic continue to run their goats everywhere and care not about nature, only about following the tenets of their destructive religions.  For an agnostic, it’s tempting to blame monotheism for the problems of the Middle East.  After all their sacred texts are replete with phrases like:  “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

The word “subdue,” in the original Hebrew, is kabash. Its meaning is irrefutable; it means “subdue” or “enslave”, and even connotes “molest” or “rape.”

But the agnostics and atheists are wrong.  The destruction of the land began long before anyone conceived of Judaism or Islam or Christianity.  These religion’s beliefs about ecology just reflected the dominant mindset which has ruled man and rules all species since time immemorial: use whatever is around you to help your species prosper and thrive.

This mindset is rooted in the brutal past experience of man learning to work with nature. In the search for food, life sometimes meant starvation and scrounging for anything edible. Our mastery of nature means that today’s corn and melons are thousands of times more productive than those of prehistoric man. Today it is easier to farm and our yields are greater thanks to those who came before us and their desire to subdue nature.

The attitude of dominating or subduing Nature has had the unintended side effect of creating pollution and destruction of entire ecosystems.  And when these ecosystems are destroyed, so is the society which was built on it.  Witness the thousands of dead cities and barren lands where civilization first arose in the Near East.

At Meadowcreek we focus not on conquering but on working with Nature.  All natural systems afford consistent and recurring opportunities for symbiosis, or mutualism. In order to manage a common threat, many systems of nature can and have become willing accomplices. They will always join with us in goals which also help them achieve their goals of reproducing, growing and maturing—e.g., fulfilling the adaptive cycle. We can unite with other species to create more productive, more resilient systems. When we enlist other systems, their resilience become ours, just as ours become theirs.

The basic problem with monotheistic religions and the cities which generated them is the focus on man as separate from nature.  Until they see man as a part of nature, they will continue to destroy.  Pagan originally meant country person.  The country people were the last to accept the monotheistic focus on man as the be all and end all.  Some never have.

One basic belief of many religions is that “the wages of sin is death”:  all was fine until sin entered the world and brought death with it.   In ecological systems, death is required.  All organisms are food for other organisms.  Man-based religions deal with this fact by trying to separate man and nature.  They construct theologies totally inconsistent with ecological reality.  They remove man from nature.

In nature, plants aren’t bad or good.  They all fit into certain situations very well.  We just have to use them where they fit and discourage them where they don’t.  We see plants as evil which poison us or barb us.  But sometimes such poisons and barbs are necessary when man and other animals are too plentiful and destroying the ecosystem. (If you want to see the extremes plants can go to to hurt and poison man and other large animals, see this link:

Identifying enemies or “the Enemy” and blaming them for what goes wrong will not lead to resilient systems.  Only understanding your opponents and the foundations for their behavior will enable you to put them to good use.

Ironic that religionists which say all is one and everything is of God failed for so long to see how the deep connections which undergird all life and which they are destroying.

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Such emergent qualities underlie all Nature.  When will the man-focused religions begin to focus more on the God–the great “I am” of which everything is composed and which they profess to believe in?



For more on working with nature (ecological integration) see Chapter 5 of our free online book at this link.


An alternative history: city folk vs. country folk

Thanksgiving weekend traditions in the country often include cutting firewood.  It’s great exercise after days of eating too much.  Cutting wood warms you up twice.  Once when you cut it and once when you burn it.

thanksgivingThis year it’s too rainy and besides we cut plenty earlier in the year.  Sure nice to have huge stacks of firewood ready to warm us this winter.

We accumulated these huge stacks by thinning a grove of elm trees which had grown up in a former pasture by the Delta outpost and were crowding each other out.  A bunch of city kids did a great job and even learned to distinguish elms and oaks.  Pines are much easier to discern.  We cut the pines out of the woods first.  They are no good for firewood.  Besides, they are way too selfish and discourage the hardwoods.

Much like any resilient people or tribe.  You know about white pine privilege, right?  Pines are like any resilient people.  They make it easier for other pines to survive.  They lay down a lot of high tannin needles which acidify the soil and make it difficult for oaks and hickories and elms to survive near them.  Azaleas and blueberries do fine cause they like high pH soils.  But the purpose of pines is to make the world better for pines.  Making a world where azaleas and rhododendrons and blueberries thrive is not the purpose.  Just a pleasant side effect.  An epiphenomenon.

Similar to what resilient peoples do.  They make a world where peoples like them can survive.  Waves of folks from Asia swept into what we now call the Americas in at least three mass movements.  First were the archeo-Indians.  These folks didn’t have a lot of technology.  But they had enough to survive.  They killed a lot of megafauna.  Drove many huge mammals into extinction.  They had the Clovis arrowhead and used it with deadly results.

Some evidence is they didn’t even make clothes since the last of their kind were spotted on the tip of the South American continent naked and kept warm by huge fires that gave Tierra del Fuego its name.

They’d been pushed as far South as they could go by the subsequent waves of Asians to invade the Americas.  These tribes transformed the American landscape even more.  They used fire to keep the forests back and help grasslands dominate and feed the buffalo they loved to eat.

These new waves of invaders developed technologies never seen before.  They domesticated weeds and turned them into potatoes, tomatoes, beans, corn, pumpkins and all kinds of other squash varieties.  They turned wild turkeys they found in Guatemala into delightfully delicious meat animals with wonderful plumage which made beautiful cloaks.

Then, as nearly all civilizations do, some of them forgot their roots in Nature.  They developed huge cities which could not survive when climate changed.  The abandoned ruins of the Anasazi in the American Southwest attest to both their sophistication and their lack of resilience.

Their mound cities in the Midwestern US didn’t meet that fate.  They were thriving when the first Europeans arrived.  DeSoto’s little excursion from Mobile Bay up to Arkansas encountered vast, productive towns and cities ecologically integrated with the land and thriving.

Unfortunately for them, they weren’t resistant to many of the viruses and diseases that the white folk had gotten used to in Europe and brought with them.  So DeSoto’s trip sowed the seeds of destruction of these civilizations–paving the way for a new wave of invaders from Northern Europe.

These new invaders from England and France were like the pines.  They created an environment conducive to propagation of their kind.  They killed off a slew of other species and turned vast areas into plowed fields, just like back home in Europe.  They almost exterminated the buffalo and brought in new grass-eaters that they liked better: cows, mainly.

The white tribes saw the turkey and corn and made them even more productive.  They turned the long-legged Indian turkey into a short legged huge meat animal which could not survive in the wild, but did fine as long as the white man fed them.

The white tribes turned also turned corn into a species which couldn’t survive in the wild, but did fine as long as the white civilization eliminated all weedy competition.

Another species domesticated by the Indians, tobacco, was an even bigger boon to the white tribes.  This species provided an alkaloid which Europeans loved and became addicted to.  Vast tracts of land were cleared and planted year after year in tobacco for export to Europe, making fortunes for the British Virginians and Carolinians and even up to Delaware and New Amsterdam.

As man is wont to do, however, these tribes depleted the soil resource and tobacco and corn wouldn’t grow in the depleted soils, so they moved west to find new ground to exploit.

They found means of building up depleted soils with high nitrogen guano from South America and manure from their cattle.  They created an environment where people like them could survive.

The white tribes built huge cities which extracted resources, but also produced inputs to keep the industrial agricultural system alive.

They were like pines, creating a system so that other pines could survive.  White city people created systems which helped white city people survive.  The Indian tribes didn’t do so well.  For some reason, the white city folk decided not to totally destroy the Indians.

Andrew Jackson gets a lot of blame for the Trail of Tears, but he loved the Indians.  He saw they would be destroyed unless they could be moved away from his rapacious country men.  So he found territories white men didn’t want and helped the Indians go there.  Many died on the way.  Others got adopted by families who took pity on them on their way West.

The white city tribes made alliances with black city folk in Africa. These powerful black tribes had a tradition called slavery which the whites had abandoned long ago, but saw reason to bring back.  So the dominant black tribes sold their slaves to the whites to bring to the US.  These folk sometimes fit into the world the white city folk had created and sometimes didn’t.  In Brazil and Florida, they took to the woods and created new hybrid tribes with the “native” Americans.

When technological advance made slaves no longer cost effective, the institution of slavery was abandoned in the Americas, just as it had been in Europe.  Some of the freed slaves adapted to the environment created by the white city folk.  Others didn’t.  As the white city tribes came to control everything on the continent, it was adapt or die.  No longer was escape into the wilderness possible.

If you didn’t like white cities, tough.  Many whites didn’t like the cities either, but they had no choice.  Either learn the way of the white citytribes or live on the margins, in the black economy, in the shadows.  Many whites and blacks still live there today.  Surviving on the fringe.  Not quite ready to adapt to the white cities, but having no choice—since that’s the only game in town.

Eastern Europeans and Asians saw the white cities and saw an environment where they could thrive.  They came in and lived in the white cities and did well.

They are like the blueberries and azaleas in a pine dominate forest.  The pines create an environment where other pines can thrive and inadvertently make space for some other species.  The white city tribes make an environment where other white city people can thrive and inadvertently make space for some other city people to thrive.

But cities all over the world nearly always lose touch with Nature.  They extract and don’t give back.  No such system is resilient.

Young people today are increasingly realizing that fact.  They want to escape the city and head to the country.  Some will survive and thrive, others will slink back to the cities, defeated and forlorn.

We’ll see who of this new crop survives.

IF/THEN conditionals and other nonlinear interactions

Do you really believe in cause and effect?

There is this concept called causality which is defined as the relation between one process (the cause) and another (the effect). In causation, causes always occur in the past; effects always lie in the future, where it can in turn be a cause of many other effects, which all lie in its future, while it lies in their past.

4causesAristotle realized that there are many ways to look at causes.

What he called the efficent cause is what most think of as cause.  Efficient or moving cause consists of something apart from the effect which makes the effect happen and without which it cannot happen. For example, the efficient cause of a table is a carpenter; according to Aristotle the efficient cause of a boy is a father.  The efficient cause is what did that. If a ball broke a window, then the ball is the efficient cause of the window breaking. Every change, from this perspective, is caused by an efficient cause. If your eye sees, then it sees because light from the object strikes your eyes and causes you to see what is there. Efficient causes answer the “what did that” question, but do not answer how it was done.  Did the ball break the window?  Yes, but the boy  who threw the ball is also a cause.  The rods and cones in your eyes cause you to see.  So what causes the rods and cones?  Isn’t that the real cause of you being able to see?

Here’s how Aristotle looked at those other types of causes.  Open your mind a bit and you will see there are many other ways to look at what “causes” something.

  • Material cause is what something is made out of. The human body of made up of cells. Wooden boxes are made up of wood. Computers are made out of transistors and other electronic components. The material cause also explains the general sort of properties of something. Wooden boxes burn because they are made out of wood. The human body needs oxygen because its cells need oxygen.
  • Formal cause is what makes a thing one thing rather than many things. The human body is human, wooden boxes are boxes, and computers are computers. The difference between a mere collection of cells and a human body is that a human body has properties and functions that come from a particular arrangement of the right kind of cells doing the right kind of things. A mere collection of cells is not the formal cause. A human body is the formal cause. One type of formal cause is the exemplary cause. An exemplary cause is the plan in someone’s mind that gave rise to a computer.
  • The final cause is why efficient causes do what they do and why formal causes do what they do. Why do balls break windows? The final cause says that because balls are hard and windows are brittle, they break. Why do rocks fall? Aristotle said that rocks fall because they are heavy. Air is light, therefore air rises. These are all pointing out the final cause of efficient causes. To ask for the final cause of formal causes is to ask why these things exist at all. Why do human beings exist? Aristotle says that they exist to make more human beings, because they are alive. Why do computers exist? They exist because people made them. They wanted to use them as tools in math, gaming and business. Why do rocks exist? They exist because the wind, sea and rain break rock formations to produce rocks.

But let’s not get too distracted by philosophy.  It’s tempting to live in the abstract, but not satisfying.  Besides, Aristotle was wrong.

Simple cause-and-effect relationships require an external cause to get an effect.  This works quite well for mechanical systems.  But in ecosystems, nearly all the factors which influence each other are inside the system.  Appealing to an external force for an explanation is not an explanation at all.  It’s just a way of escaping understanding.  It’s labeling the system as a black box and studying it without ever getting inside it.

Mechanistic approaches led folks to try to correlate changes in the sun’s radiation with diverse events on earth.  Or explain behavior with the zodiac.  Or with gods intervening.

All are dead ends.

All living systems are made up of complex adaptive systems which are composed of complex adaptive systems always adapting to and evolving with other systems with which they interact.

So trying to tease out cause and effect is just a sometimes-pleasant distraction from our goal: understanding resilience of living systems.

One basic problem in understanding any supposed causality in resilience of living systems is that effect always comes at some delay after a cause and lots of things happen during that delay.

Shigui Ruan made this clear in his 2001 Quarterly of Applied Mathematics paper: “The dynamics of delayed systems depend not only on the parameters describing the models but also on the time delay from the feedback.  A delay system is absolutely stable if it is asymptotically stable for all values of the delays and conditionally stable if it is asymptotically stable for the delays in some intervals.  In the latter case, the system could become unstable when the delays take some critical values and bifurcations may occur.”  Then he goes on for pages of equations without coming to any conclusion–except you have to make a lot of unrealistic assumptions to model any living system, since  critical values which induce bifurcations are ubiquitous.

Don’t make Ruan’s mistake and look for cause in mathematics.  Read our essay on quantophrenia ( and see if you don’t agree.

IF/THEN conditional statements may appear to endorse belief in cause and effect.  But they don’t.  All they say is that if certain conditions occur, then do this action.  All they endorse is followining rules of thumb.  Rules of thumb are what engineering is all about.  Mathematics may help you get close to an answer.  But engineering is not about figuring out cause.  It is about making things work.  That is, meeting the requirements of a customer.

And engineers do a fine job of that.  The problem comes when trying to understand living systems where innumerable systems are adapting to each other and each is composed of almost innumerable systems adapting to each other.

When you go down this path you may be tempted to say:  “Forget cause, it is a dead end.  You’ll never find it because all phenomena have multiple causes and you’ll never uncover them all.  So just accept reality and go on.”  And maybe you can deaden your brain with drugs or religion or philosophy and fool yourself into thinking you can live that way.

But you can’t.  You’ll always be looking for cause, its just the way you are.  Maybe that will lead you someday to appreciate the interplay of living systems as far beyond any simple cause and effect.

So keep trying to find the causes of resilience.  Just because it is fun.


Download Ruan’s paper at:

And look at a little dated (no mention of complex adaptive systems) but cogent book on coevolution of ideas and systems:  Richard Norgaard, Development Betrayed: The End of Progress and a CoevolutionaryRevisioning of the Future. London: Routledge, 1994.

Click to access Ruan-QAM2001.pdf




If you’re so smart, how come you ain’t President?

Pride goeth before a fall, they told him.  He didn’t listen.  He went right ahead and tried to develop a grandiose theory to explain the decline and rise of nations and civilizations.  His name was Jared Diamond.  He wrote Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005).  He was also Mancur Lloyd Olson, Jr. and wrote The Rise and Decline of Nations (1982).

1440x1440sr.jpgOr his name is Joseph Tainter.  His Collapse of Complex Societies (1988) is beloved by Brian Walker, one of the gurus of the resilience crowd in Stockhom and Sydney.   I like Walker pretty much, so I read Tainter.

Turns out Tainter’s thesis can be boiled down to four interlocking observations:

  1. As societies grow and develop, they confront problems that need to be solved.
  2. in solving them, they increase complexity.
  3. Complexity costs (through transaction costs and drop in flexibiility, etc.).
  4. When the costs exceed the benefits of the solutions, societies collapse.

Walker accepts this thesis unquestioningly.  They both miss a basic point that the originator of ecological resilience, C. S. (Buzz) Holling, makes repeatedly:  resilient systems are both conservative and creative.

Tainter stresses the conservatism of complex societies.  He stresses how societies grow rigid in their choice of solutions and pile new solutions on top of old, existing but worn out, solutions.

He’s certainly right about the United States Government.  It’s virtually impossible to get rid of a government program once it is instituted.  The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and multiple other groups have tried to consolidate and eliminate various federal agriculture programs, but the bureaucrats refuse.  Check out what they did when Congress clearly said to combine RBOG and RBEG in the last farm bill.  All they did was have two subprograms within one program.  Same with FMPP and LFPP.  Bureaucrats fight to keep their own program alive because they want to continue their jobs.  Long term bureaucrats are in government for job security, not for improvement of society.  Those who really want to improve society can’t stand government and all its creaking, slow, ponderous, inefficient ways.  And they get out and go back to the private sector.

The bureaucrats run our governments, not our elected officials.  And it’s getting worse.  The lobbyists know it.  In Arkansas a few years back, term limits were instituted.  The lobbyists in previous years had always had a private party for legislators at the end of each session.  These soirees would honor the House of Representatives one year and the Senate the next year and so on.  When term limits came in, the lobbyists knew power had shifted to the bureaucrats who had no term limits.  So the party was held in honor of the Legislative staff–the bureaucrats.

Tainter’s problem is that he thinks all societies inevitably get more complex and rigid and costly to run and eventually collapse.  He doesn’t believe that any civilization can be resilient and last.  Maybe he’s right, or maybe some civilizations transform themselves when things get too rigid and transaction costs get too high.  Certainly he’s right that societies which don’t have conservative innovation and periodic transformation will not survive.

How do societies stay creative, stay innovative, keep from getting rigid and hanging on to outmoded solutions?  One key is for leaders to just get out of the restricting worldview of their nation.  Get out of their own head and take on a different perspective.  Some folks cannot hold two conflicting ideas in their mind at the same time.  So they won’t be able to take in a conflicting new perspective without changing the old one.  And they should never be running anything.  They should maybe work in a factory  or on a farm and make stuff and be useful.  Nothing wrong with that.  In fact, we all should make stuff and be useful.  But in our leaders, it would be nice to have something more.

Conceptual pluralism (and its opposite, disciplinary tribalism) is Richard Norgaard’s term for this ability.  Check out his book:  Development Betrayed: The End of Progress and a Co-Evolutionary Revisioning of the Future (1994).

Norgaard believes that society and nature are complex adaptive systems interacting with each other and co-evolving.  If society destroys existing natural systems for some reason, nature will respond by not supplying what society needs to survive.  And the society will die.  So, co-evolve or die.

But you and your society can’t even evolve, much less co-evolve unless you can see a different way of thinking and acting in the world.

It helps me to pop out of the usual American way of looking at the world by travelling to other countries.  Especially those of the former Soviet Union and its colonies.  They have such a different perspective on life, the world, survival and collapse.

If you can’t break away and go to Ukraine right now, maybe look at some videos and get a taste of a totally different way of looking at the world.  Try the one which says: we can eat, we can drink, we can dance, Ukraine is not dead yet:

Maybe the Ukrainians know a little about survival.  Or maybe the Russians have the answer.  Or maybe the answer is just to always be innovating, but conservatively.  Keep the tried and true, but get rid of the costly, useless structures and ideas weighing you and your society down.


You can buy Jared Diamond’s fun book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005).   Or you can download it for free at:

You can buy a flesh and blood copy  of Tainter’s book for 40 bucks like I did or you can download it here for free:

Thanksgiving that rich city folk are so ephemeral

On a beautiful day after the recent rain, three of us were standing on the pickerel pond dam looking at the new greenhouse site.  My gaze wandered from the new beds to the cliffs and spires on Angora Mountain.  And I didn’t want to leave, ever.

cropped-selina-anna-leesa-fun.jpgBut then I did, because you should spend Thanksgiving with your relatives, they say, and that is fun.  But holidays in the country with family is even better.  Or just any time in the country with close family and friends.

Some politically correct types would banish use of family as a positive term since it is painful to many.  The anguish such a childhood can cause makes the empathetic among us wince.  But why wallow in your bad childhood and force others to join you in the pig sty?  I remember a planning session for a multi-million dollar foundation sustainability initiative being totally disrupted when an Amerindian woman made such an effort.   We all had to feel her pain of an abused childhood before we could get back to work.  The planning never got back on track and the foundation’s effort was eventually shelved.

Too bad something like that didn’t happen to some of the Gates Foundation projects.  I know Bill Gates has a lot of money and he sure had some insight on the best ideas to steal.  But he has no knowledge of agroecology or Nature or resilient systems and his money and his foundation are hindering progress toward a more resilient world.

Promoters of chemical-intensive agriculture and GMOs are fond of telling us all that traditional approaches to agriculture will not be able to produce enough food to feed the world. For example, the former UK environment minister flew to South Africa earlier this year to praise the apparent success of the ‘green revolution’ and to promote the supposed wonders of genetically modified (GM) crops. Paterson warned that a food revolution that could save Africa from hunger is being held back. He rounded on opponents of GMOs and chemical-intensive agriculture by stating:

Not since the original Luddites smashed cotton mill machinery in early 19th century England, have we seen such an organised, fanatical antagonism to progress and science. These enemies of the Green Revolution call themselves ‘progressive’, but their agenda could hardly be more backward-looking and regressive… their policies would condemn billions to hunger, poverty and underdevelopment. And their insistence on mandating primitive, inefficient farming techniques would decimate the earth’s remaining wild spaces, devastate species and biodiversity and leave our natural ecology poorer as a result.

Proponents of GM crops constantly claim that we need such technology to address hunger and to feed a growing global population. We are told by the GMO biotech lobby that GM crops are essential, are better for the environment and will provide the tools that farmers need in a time of climate chaos.

By seeking to denigrate traditional forms of agriculture, these guys are attempting to eliminate low cost, time-tested farming methods in favor of promoting high cost external inputs and proprietary technologies, such as GMOs, on behalf of global agribusiness corporations.  Only the rich with lots of equipment and access to industrial inputs will be able to farm if they have their way.

New research by the Oakland Institute shows Bill Gates, Monsanto and their ilk are willfully ignorant.  This report on 33 case studies show the success of agroecological agriculture across the African continent in the face of climate change, hunger and poverty.

Too bad Bill Gates has been taken in by such the tomfooleries of Monsatan and  its minions.  A fool with money can cause damage, luckily it disappears.  It never lasts.  But as long as the money flows, some will suck no matter how sour and non-nutritious the milk.

Agriculture based on expensive external inputs is aimed at making a profit–mainly for the input suppliers.  Profit is extraction without giving back to the system.  Just as high yield, without building the soil, is extractive and non-resilient.

Agroecology, and its successor, ecogically resilient agriculture, is aimed at ensuring we have a future.

When you move beyond agroecology to agroecological resilience, you will learn the tools we all need to enjoy wonderful productive work in the country.

You’ll need that work tomorrow after all the food you consume this Thanksgiving Day.  I hope you are enjoying it with family and friends in the country.  If not, maybe next year at Meadowcreek?


Learn about how resilience research improves agroecology by starting with Chapter 10 of our free online book available at:





Cold wind blowing from the East

With the moon so full right now, its hard to be anything but peaceful and calm.  Everything is still and quiet at the Delta outpost.  No coyotes howling.  Even the hound is quiet.  Maybe because of the cold wind from the East.  That usually means a storm is coming.

Yesterday, the cold weather up North was driving the geese and ducks down the Delta flyway.  Great to hear them calling to each other as they pass over in Vs.  Not so great to hear the cannon fire which erupts every morning as the city boys try to get a mallard or pinhead.

That popping in the distance is something you can put up with, if it’s a long way away.  Kinda like Chinese pollution.  Everyone knows they have made their country into a polluted nightmare where people can barely breathe the air or drink the water.  But now they are coming here.  Having cut down all their own forests, the Chinese want to come into Arkansas and put up a pulp mill.november-2015-full-moon

Do you know what a pulp mill is?  Pulp mills take all the growth from a forest.  Nothing is left to hold the soil.  Want to see really scalped land which then erodes away to desert?  That’s what happens when pulp mills come in.

Pulp mills are large industrial facilities that convert timber, wood chips or other wood products into wood pulp that is then used to produce paper, cardboard or other products. The manufacturing process uses a substantial amount of water and  produces large quantities of wastewater. Most use chlorine to bleach the wood pulp to produce white paper.

Because of the use of chlorine or chlorine dioxide in the pulping and bleaching processes everything removed from the pulp by the bleach is chlorinated.   Some of these chlorinated organic substances are toxic; they include dioxins, chlorinated phenols, and many other chemicals. In addition, the wastewater contains non-chlorinated organics, nutrients (phosphorous and nitrogen-containing compounds) and metals such as manganese. Wastewaters are also high in biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD) and total suspended solids.

In laboratory tests, mill effluent causes reproductive impairment in zooplankton, invertebrates (both these are food for fish), and shellfish, and genetic damage and immune system reactions in fish. Go to this site, for a recent review of the research.

Air emissions often contain highly malodorous compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide, and dimethyl disulfide. Other typical air emissions include particulate matter, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Steam- and electricity-generating units associated with the pulp mill using coal or fuel oil typically emit fly ash, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxides.

Arkansas not a hot bed of environmentalism, especially South Arkansas.  But come on!  Do you really want a pulp mill here?

Governor Asa Hutchinson likes ducks and duck country.  He seems to be an outdoorsman of sorts.  You can see him at Mac’s Prairie Wings and the Duck Festival in Stuttgart.

So why is he touting this Chinese company coming in to pollute Arkansas?  This pulp plant has been in the works for a long time.  Asa’s predecessor, Gov. Mike Beebe announced the possibility on a trip to China in 2012.

Even if you just forget about the environmental impact, a new pulp mill makes no economic sense.  Down in Camden, Arkansas, sits an abandoned pulp mill.  International Paper closed it down because the there was too much supply of pulp and not enough demand.  They refused to sell the plant to anyone else because they wanted to take it out of production to reduce supply when prices are low.  At least the people in Camden can breathe now.  Try doing that near the paper plant South of Pine Bluff.

So despite the horrible environmental effects and the lack of a market, the state of Arkansas is giving a Chinese company all sorts of incentives to come in.  Wonderfully ironic that a conservative Governor is using socialism to help a communist country’s industry come here.


I can’t believe Governor Hutchinson has really thought this one through.  Then again, politicians seldom do that, do they?  They have to show they can create jobs.  This effort might create a few jobs in the plant, more for trucks hauling logs on already deteriorating roads, and even more for the hospitals to take care of folks with respiratory problems and other diseases from pulp mill pollution.

I challenge you to go to China and not come down with some lung ailment.  Everyone who goes there these days gets sick.

Now we are paying them to bring their pollution here.

I’m glad Meadowcreek and the Delta outpost are both far from the new pulp mill.  Pulp mills like to chew up pine forests, so they’ll stay in South Arkansas.

And since its going to happen whether I want it to or not, I’m not going to worry about it any more.  I’m just going to enjoy this beautiful full moon and give thanks for God’s creation.  And trust that greedy people will not destroy it.



First day of deer season and wise babies

One of our residents was wearing an orange hat yesterday.  I stopped to talk to her as she was closing the gate to the horse rescue pasture.  She said she hated this time of year and was glad when I said I’d be patrolling at dawn to keep the hunters under control.

Wise-Baby-with-a-Beard-117075Another resident told me yesterday that we should post more “No Hunting” signs.  But they  all get torn down.  City  folk have absolutely no idea what happens out here.  They actually think such signs will have some effect. The rules are different in the country.

We get lots of city folk this time of year.  We have wild animals they want to kill.  Hunters have been driving their 4-wheelers to and fro looking for good sites to hunt for a couple of weeks.  But they are out in force this weekend.

It’s the first weekend of deer season and the deer know it.  They always get a little scared and scarce this weekend.  They’ll settle down and be more visible soon, but the blasts of the guns take some getting used to.  Even with 1600 acres, we still hear some gun shots on neighboring properties.  Meadowcreek supplies all the surrounding countryside with deer.

I wonder if young deer who lose their mothers get “wise baby syndrome.”   Children react to trauma in strange ways.  Some regress and never fully recover.  Others suddenly become wise beyond their years. Psychoanalysts, beginning with Ferenczi in the 1923, call the latter wise baby syndrome: the traumatized child suddenly wise beyond his years, appears mature, more mature than either his or her peers or even the adults who caused him or her to be traumatized.  This surprising rise of new faculties after a trauma seems like a miracle to those trained in the disease model of psychology and medicine.

In the disease model, exposure to bad things ought to lead to bad things.  So we should make sure children are never exposed to difficulties or negative experiences. Some say a whole generation of Americans have been raised that way.  Hovering helicopter parents try to protect their children from everything.  And when there is a lot of evil in the world, that kinda makes sense.

Except that its one of those things that make sense but aren’t true.  With the right assumptions, anything can make sense.  But sometimes you really need to question your assumptions.  The wise baby phenomenon makes us do that.

It’s as if wisdom is just lying quietly, waiting for some powerful threat to waken it.  C. G. Jung wrote of the “divine child”–an archetype which activates healing and intuitive understanding in children and adults.

Some say Ferenczi’s and Jung’s observations were the beginning of resilience research in psychology.  It was followed by the classic studies in Hawaii of children exposed to trauma.

Emmy Werner was one of the first psychologists to use the term resilience. She studied a cohort of children from Kauai, Hawaii. Personal histories and psychological testing was done every few years from when they were one year old to when they were 40.

The disease model says that there are certain risk factors which lead to emotional problems and bad choices.  These include: being born and raised in poverty, experiencing pre- or perinatal complications; living in families troubled by chronic discord, divorce, or parental psychopathology; and being reared by mothers with less than 8 grades of education. Two-thirds of the children who experienced four or more of such risk factors by age two exhibited destructive behaviors in their later teen years, such as chronic unemployment and drug abuse. However one-third of these youngsters did not exhibit destructive behaviors. Werner called the latter group ‘resilient’. In contrast to their peers, these resilient children were bright, outgoing, had positive self concepts; had close bonds with an emotionally stable parent and received support from their peers.

I like studies like these, but I’m not sure what we can learn from them.  Seek out resilient people and you’ll find many of them dismiss most psychology as mumbo-jumbo.  Don’t get locked into the world of words and talk.  That’s really all psychology is.

Resilient people get up, go outside and solve problems: fix their bike, water the garden, cut down some weeds, chase off city people.  That’s what I’m going to do right now.

Climate change and poverty

It’s easy to get upset watching the news. But why?  It has nothing to do with you.  It’s not real.  It’s just a story occurring out there somewhere that is definitely slanted.  You’ll never know the whole truth unless you reallly dig into the story.

Now and then we see articles with interesting headlines, such as

100 Million More People Will Be In Poverty By 2030
Without Action On Climate, World Bank Says

That appeared on Nov 8, 2015 in the Huffington Post.  Laura Barron-Lopez wrote this wholly fictional article.

It didn’t take much digging to find out she was lying.  The fatuous author had a link to a World Bank press release which said the exact opposite of her story.  Here’s the World Bank headline:

World Bank Forecasts Global Poverty to Fall Below 10% for First Time; Major Hurdles Remain in Goal to End Poverty by 2030
President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, greet Tom Fletcher's family in Inez, Ky., in 1964. Fletcher was an unemployed saw mill worker with eight children.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, greet Tom Fletcher’s family in Inez, Ky., in 1964. Fletcher was an unemployed saw mill worker with eight children.

So instead of poverty increasing due to cllimate change, the World Bank says poverty is decreasing and may even be ended by 2030.  I know it’s not nice to call someone a liar.  And maybe she meant well.  I mean, we are all against climate change and poverty, so maybe we should just give her a pass.  NO WAY!

People who ignore reality, make up stories to suit their political ends are just idiots who do nothing to advance solutions.  Here’s more from the World Bank story:

The World Bank projects that global poverty will have fallen from 902 million people or 12.8 per cent of the global population in 2012 to 702 million people, or 9.6 per cent of the global population, this year.

World Bank president says in World Bank press release dated October 4, 2015:
“This is the best story in the world today — these projections show us that we are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty,’’ Kim said. “This new forecast of poverty falling into the single digits should give us new momentum and help us focus even more clearly on the most effective strategies to end extreme poverty. It will be extraordinarily hard, especially in a period of slower global growth, volatile financial markets, conflicts, high youth unemployment, and the growing impact of climate change. But it remains within our grasp, as long as our high aspirations are matched by country-led plans that help the still millions of people living in extreme poverty.”

I’ve experienced some stark poverty in my life and I want to end it, as I know you do.  But I am getting more and more fed up with those who would destroy our ecosystems just to put a few more dollars in their pockets–even if they are poor.

In Kenya, poor villages live near wild animal reserves. I helped Kathekani and surrounding villages plan a cooperative poultry production enterprise to supply meat to the resorts at the biggest reserve, the Tsavo National Park.

On the weekends the cooperative president took me to visit the reserve to look at the elephants, zebras, giraffes and try to find a rhino.  We spent all of one day driving around the rhino reserve and encountered a dozen or so rangers, but none of the endangered black rhino.  I finallly called it quits so we could get out of the reserve before dark.

Another day we visited Mzima Springs which has a resident population of hippos.  After I enjoyed watching the hippos, the president told me of his belief that the water from the spring was being wasted on the animals and should be diverted to help his villages irrigate their crops.

Later in the trip he convinced me his family was in dire need of food and got me to give him money.  When I got back to Nairobi, I found out he is one of the richest men in his village.

Meadowcreek is a nonprofit organization and benefits from the same altruism which led me to help this cooperative and give money to a rich man.  Many researchers contend that we all have an innate need to help others.  They cite scads of supporting studies.

I’m not so sure that all societies instill altruism equally.  I visited Malawi in Central Africa to do an assessment for a rural development project.  There I found that all the hospitals were mostly staffed by nurses from Europe.   They trained dozens of Malawians as nurses every year.  The Malawians mostly left the country to take jobs in Europe and the US.

I still enjoy traveling to underdeveloped countries to help them improve themselves, but I think we might have taken altruism a little too far in the US and Europe.

In 1858, a German philosopher noted the need for a new term: empathy. An empathetic person is someone who can share another person’s feelings. If you tell an empathetic person that your heart is broken, she might touch her own heart and gaze at you sadly through moist eyes.

I wonder why it took so long for the term to be invented.  Maybe because people have to have a lot of free time and be raised in a basically all-Christian society for empathy to arise.

Some of us do help others in need out of genuine concern for the well-being of the other person.  If we feel the other’s pain or need, we will help the other, regardless of what we can gain from it.  This directly contradicts the standard model of evolution, but seems to work for a variety of charities.

When I left my small town for college I did have a little too much of this empathy/altruism.   I learned that some people will just take and take and take.  As long as you are willing to give.  So I try not to run myself ragged trying to help everyone I see anymore.

I think the nine parts Moses: one part Jesus approach works best. You may have heard of it.  It combines turn the other cheek and eye for an eye.  Say you are working to improve some situation. Everyone has something they can give, even those you are trying to help.  If they are willing to give to help a joint effort, I gladly give.  I even give willingly  now and then when they don’t give.  But if they consistently refuse to give, I do too.  If if they change heart, I start giving again immediately.    These simple rules have been shown time and time again to result in the highest levels of productivity in cooperative and competitive situations.

I try not to let my overdeveloped empathy/altruism get out of control.  I wish everyone was altruistic, but I know some aren’t.  Some folks are great at making you feel sorry for them or their cause.  But they are in it for themselves.  They take advantage of your altruism for their own selfish goals.

The same occurs with some minority groups.  They take advantage of the altruism of the larger society by making us feel sorry or even guilty for them and their cause. Yet they aren’t interested in giving, but only taking.  Time to apply the nine parts Moses approach.

Doing that with other people is tough enough.  What’s really tough is applying it to natural ecosystems.  Hippos are seldom going to be altruistic toward humans. Should we be empathetic/altruistic toward them?  What about when their needs conflict with the needs and desires of people?

I wanted to tell the cooperative president that the Mzima spring water shouldn’t be diverted to crop fields while the hippos died of thirst.  I didn’t.  It’s pretty tough to be accused of putting animals above people.

But from a resilience perspective, humans can’t survive without a healthy ecosystem.  We need other species to increase our own resilience.  Do we really need the hippo, the rhino, the giraffe, the zebra?  Or should they all be sacrificed so people can have more productive fields or more and more children.

It’s a tough question when you are trying to help some really poor people in Africa survive in a parched land and the animal reserve has plenty of fresh water.  But I vote for the wild.

Bad winter ahead?

We’ve had a couple of frosts already at Meadowcreek.  Ice day before yesterday.  Only down to 35 last night though.   But thanks to our hearty lumberjack chef and his cohort, the dorm is ready for the week’s visitors.  He built a great fire in the great room last night and the stove was still hot this morning.  All the visitors are looking forward to his great breakfast too.  I’m not sure we need anyone else here as long as we have him and his crew.

Then again, since we want to be resilient, we must cultivate redundancy.  So, I guess we should always be on the lookout for more lumberjack/roofer/chefs.  Things do look good for this winter, though.  Even if its a bad one, like some say.

As devotees of complex adaptive systems theory, we don’t hold much truck with predicting the weather–other than January will usually be colder than July.  And April is usually wetter than August in Arkansas.

It is fun to watch the signs, but hard to remember what the spoon in the acorn is supposed to mean.  There is one sign that is probably reliable though.  Bad weather in Siberia in October seems to predict bad winter weather for most of the US.

Last month, Siberia experienced record snowfall and the worst blizzard in a decade.

Above-average snow cover in Siberia is believed to affect the infamous polar vortex and send bitterly cold temperatures to the US. This happens when the Arctic Oscillation, a climate pattern, shifts.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes it this way: “Air pressure is higher than average over the arctic and lower than average over the mid-latitudes. The jet stream shifts southward of its average latitude.” That steers frigid, polar air southward into North America.

Above-average Siberian snow cover often means a negative oscillation pattern. But not always.  And it is especially not certain that will happen this winter. Myriad factors, not the least of which is the strong El Niño being experienced globally, come into play.

October snow cover was above normal in Siberia this year, but not as bad as the previous two Octobers. Moreover, Arctic sea ice extent remains below normal.

If you can figure out how to interpret it, check out the Arctic Oscillation reports that the National /Weather Service provides.  They do a 14-day forecast.

We’re not too worried, though.  Winter at Meadowcreek is delightful.  We seem to get more snow than just about any place in Arkansas.  It’s fun to come here with lots of supplies just before a big storm hits.  Then you can hole up and read and write to your hearts content.  And go tromping around in the snow and even do some sledding.  One great hill goes straight down to the pond for a nice ride unless the pond isn’t frozen enough.

Eight qualities of resilient systems fit the adaptive cycle of all living systems

For several years we have been trying to figure out how local food systems survive, in other words, are resilient.  How are they able to cope with disturbance and still keep on ticking?  Our working hypothesis is that eight qualities are necessary for such a system to be resilient, to last. Our hope is that some revision of the eight qualities hypothesis will explain and predict resilience at a variety of scales from soils to cities to nations.  However, we do recognize tight relationships between all the variables.

Specifically, we note that four pairs of qualities seem to mutually reinforce each other.

adaptive cycle 3 DConservative Innovation (CI) and Periodic Transformation (PT).  Innovation within a system is transformative on a smaller scale and is a quality all researchers recognize as necessary to resilience.  Some frameworks don’t make the leap to recognizing that sometimes the innovation required may be so extensive as to transform the entire system.  This limited embrace of transformation is illustrated by some conceptualizations of resilience, such as Rockefeller Foundation’s resilience index for cities which notes that resilient systems have mechanisms to continuously evolve, but does not go so far as to say they are periodically totally transformed.

Similarly, modular connectivity (MC) is required for local self-organization (LSO).  However, high modular connectivity can exist without local self-organization. LSO refers to the tendency of the system to create its own structures.  Whereas, MC is a quality of the interaction of components in the system.  Modularity does require local organization, but not necessarily self-organization.  The independence or modularity of a subsystem may be designed or organized at a higher scale.

Likewise, ecological integration (EI) and complementary diversity (CD) are also intimately related.  Both refer to the integration of diverse components in a resilient system.  However, the EI quality is manifested in meshing of farm activities with surrounding natural processes.  CD is manifested in a variety of components working together, feeding each other.

Finally, accumulating reserves and productive infrastructure (ARI) and maintenance and responsive redundancy (MRR) also are closely related.  As the farm maintains and builds infrastructure and reserves, it is also building redundancy.  However, ARI is the tendency of the system to accumulate productive features such as irrigation ponds, processing equipment, grain storage, etc.  MRR is the ability of the system to replace itself.  A system may have a high level of ARI, but be very low in MRR.  Some farmers are extremely resilient in every respect but one.  They have no process established for their farm to be maintained into the next generation.

These four related pairs of qualities fit the four phases of the adaptive cycle (Holling et al., 2002) which all ecological systems pass through.  The four phases are: a period of rapid growth, followed by a phase of maturation and stability, succeeded by a release of nutrients and biomass following a disturbance, and finally reorganization and renewal of the system, leading back to the phase of rapid growth.  This cycle has been observed in managed and unmanaged systems from soils (Dorren and Imeson, 2005), to businesses (Fath et al., 2015) to cities (Pelling and Manuel-Navarrete, 2011).  An annual cropping system follows the four phases with planting, rapid growth, maturation and harvest.

In resilient agroecosystems, LSO and MC are most apparent in the reorganization/renewal phase.  CI and PT are strikingly important in the release phase as the system responds to disturbance, though CI is also strongly expressed in the alpha phase.  EI and CD are most highly expressed in the fast growth stage of the system.  The maturation/stability phase highlights MRR and ARI.


Don’t you just love acronyms and buzzwords and jargon?  Of course you don’t, unless you really know a particular research area and see the value of terms which describe something real which has never been described before.  Then we need new terms, new jargon, to express these new observations.

If you want to learn more about these phenomena, you can read all about them in our online book which you can download for free at:

Or you can just ignore all this jargon and lapse back into a lazy stupor.