Friday, 21 May 2010

Simple solutions for survival issues in global communities.

This is the prologue to my book 'The Emergency Prevention Handbook'

The use of permaculture, sustainable design and indigenous knowledge.

Anyone who has ever read ‘the Story of B’ by Daniel Quinn will understand the concept of ‘disconnect’; that we have become as a species so disconnected from the comprehension of the consequences of our everyday actions that we are destroying our future.

In the past we were taught by our ancestors which plants we could eat and which would make us ill or even kill us. Not only did they teach us the subtle ability of differentiation which demanded high powers of observation they also taught us the methods of preparation and how to manufacture the necessary tools for supplying our basic needs.

Recently there has been a huge surge in the west for this ancient lore of survival. Individuals and families can be found around campfires deep in the heart of woodlands or remote mountain valleys practising the same skills of the tribe and nomads who archaeologists spend their time unearthing and endeavouring to re-enervate.

Meanwhile deep in the jungles of the Amazon or Papua New Guinea entire villages have lost that same knowledge in a generation as their reliance on these precious skills became dependence on the modern tools that they could trade for. Now making fire demanded a several day trip[1] up river to buy lighters and fuel and they no longer remember how their grandfather was able to rub sticks together and make fire. Their sisters cannot point out the plants that their grandmother would pick to prevent malaria or sickness and they must wait instead for the doctor’s visit.

It is the same the world over, simple survival foods that whole populations once relied upon to get them through the ‘gap’; the time before the harvest or before spring when food stocks had run low; these survival foods have been forgotten by all but the foraging enthusiast.

Universities struggled to find people who could thoroughly teach their students botany and mycology without jeopardising their students’ lives, as one expert remembers when he was offered to pick from their harvest of local wild mushrooms among which lurked a particularly deadly specimen, that they considered edible.[2]

In the Second World War a German family remember having to eat grass and other wild forage, and rather than succumbing to the malaise of the malnourished, they remembered being healthier and having more energy on this ‘grass’ diet.[3]

What has this to do with increasing adaptive capacity in the face of climate change; these examples reveal how not all our education is knowledge indeed some of it is ignorance, as is borne out by the systemic problems of soil erosion and poor food quality due to intensive agricultural practises, or flash flooding and forest fires. Indigenous peoples once improved their environments to the degree that they produced more than enough for themselves and could withstand the unpredictable traits of extreme weather change or land movements.

In Asia mountain sides were terraced and became rice paddies (today’s Rice Basin). Irrigation channels were carefully dug, and opened and shut according to need. Having been sent away to school, their returning children no longer knew how to maintain these irrigation channels and the land suffered.[4]

Deforestation, global dimming[5], and the alteration of watersheds as well as commonly understood climate change create crises such as flash floods, storm surges, extreme droughts, hail storms and pest invasions. To some extent the developed world is protected by their extensive international imports of basic staples only feeling the effects locally and for short periods. On the other hand it is the most desperate peoples of the earth who suffer, those who labour to feed the demands of sprawling cities and nations wealthier than themselves. Despite having been plundered by almost every country on the planet Africa is still considered indebted and it is individuals and very poor who struggle under this impersonal yoke. Since the financial crisis such a yoke is familiar in the wealthiest nations of the world where individuals pay the price of financial mismanagement with the loss of their homes and livelihoods. There is much despair in the air and many visionaries who have inspired solutions aren’t taken seriously or their solutions are obscured by the morass of information, global corporate advertising and strategic investing.

More recently a trend to make ecological lifestyles good business is worryingly favouring the wealthy. Patents have been snapped up for every ‘solution’ whether it is for the fossil fuel issue or reducing water flushed down a toilet, (some say you can simply put a brick in the cistern). While this means a company can produce such products for profit it also means that such simple designs can no longer be replicated without a price. In this way the Hydrogen car though invented almost forty years ago is only a ‘recent’ and might I say extremely expensive product, similarly despite the fact that the first cars ever built ran on peanut oil, bio fuels have only ‘recently’ come to light. Solar water heaters go for thousands when the actual design is as simple as a hose pipe resting in the sun heating the water it contains.

The solutions in themselves are simple designs, can be low cost or no cost and where there’s a will could be implemented on a massive scale immediately.

People are restless and more prone to discontent especially with recent local disasters such as floods, droughts, dust storms and diseases. Individuals and communities are setting up their own eco households, reducing utilities bills sometimes to zero – which is good for them but bad for business. As long as corporations are not run in the interests of all humanity and not their shareholders alone the road ahead will be long, steep and probably replete with division and derision. The term ‘natural variability’ prescribed to events like the dust storm in Sydney, Hurricane Katrina and rising global temperatures is one future generations will regret being used because it slowed the changing of our behaviour. The fact that there is no time left is very evident, how many hundreds of thousands must die from famine before the urgency of change is met by our personal will to make a difference. Surely one life lost to the effects of climate change is enough.

Political change is also slow, slow enough to delay reactions to genocide for at least fifteen months after such situations are evident and established. Perhaps it is politically favourable to react ‘after the event’ rather than before.

Conflict and climate change have been treated separately but they are interlinked, with the mining and theft of resources being the fuel for such malignant fires. Corporate involvement is also vigorously denied but obvious, where else do they get the coltan for use in laptops and mobile phones other than from the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo where those responsible for the genocide in Rwanda continue their atrocities with the protectionism of those in the electronics industry turning a blind eye to where their precious metals come from? The interests of countries and communities around the world are diverse. While there is a call for the reduction of global carbon emissions as addressed at Copenhagen; plans for new oilfields are under way, by every oil orientated corporation and country in the world. China and Russia are heavily investing in oilfields in Iran and so is the US elsewhere, to find out about this it is simple enough to google ‘oilfields’ and why not if they think they can use technology to offset their emissions.

Few people have mentioned the carbon emissions that come from the use of petrochemicals in fertilisers, a trillion dollar industry and one which rivals the emissions from transport. When there are renewable alternatives such as seaweed, nettles, comfrey and mulches that are better for health and cost the farmers less. But this is where the problem lies, ‘free’ is not good business, and nor is ‘low cost’. Abundance is not popular in a capitalist society unless it carries a price tag.

The degree to which the situation has regressed has meant that recently the World Food Program has been forced to phase out 12 programs to feed malnourished mothers and infants in Somalia. Programs that they would never phase out if they could help it; they are calling for more money from a financially strapped world. One of the reasons is piracy which has corrupted 90% of the food pipeline by sea to Kenya and Somalia but the other reason is that the nutritional supplement ‘Plumpynut’ which they use to help the mothers and their children is patented and comes at a high price. Yes, it is very effective, but its distributors are few and selective and the patent stops them producing it locally and at less expense. In these situations less expense equals more money for to save more lives. Issuing a patent for such life saving products is the same as issuing a death sentence.

In a similar manner the patenting of seeds by companies like Monsanto also puts a price on life. Ostensibly their products are ‘drought resistant’ but in fact from the very beginning ‘drought resistant’ has not been a priority. They have engineered crops that conveniently require their other patented products – pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers and consequently make a big buck on the backs of hard working farmers and at the expense of the health of both people and the ecosystems we live in; potentially at the expense of life itself.

The health industry also has a price on life; pharmaceuticals are engineering a massive takeover of the food and supplement industry with the recent ‘Codex Alimentarius’. Only specific laboratories and distributors will be able to sell supplements that we are used to seeing on the shelves at low prices and for an array of ailments. They will sell these at high prices and extraordinarily low and negligibly effective doses. This is already happening n certain parts of Europe. In France a women was recently arrested for supplying Vitamin C in 500mg tablets. Many of us have grown up conquering colds and mild flu with the help of supplements like Vitamin C , Echinacea and in older days Rosehip but it is likely that we will not be able acquire these things in the near future without paying dearly for the privilege.

It is the high cost of medicinal treatment that is fracturing the lives of people in the U.S whose health insurance or lack thereof fails to meet their needs. Indeed if there are certain things that should not be about profit, medicine is definitely one of them.

What does this mean for the future? Are we gaining or losing our freedom? That is a question which I regularly ask myself.

So in an effort to condense a lot of incredible wisdom and inspirational solutions for many of the major problems of our time I have written this handbook. It is not meant for the privileged alone but for all people. I hope that its use will alleviate at least a portion of the suffering in this world and that by writing it I may have stumbled on a subject many others will add to and become masters of in the future. It is these times that we are in that concern me and so these solutions are of the time, just as agriculture when it was first discovered propelled civilisations from hunter gathering to our present state of affairs, so I hope these simple methods will perhaps more gently propel us to a higher awareness of ourselves and our place in this universe. For though they might seem basic, mastery of our basic selves is the object of lifetimes of efforts. Perhaps with their implementation some floods might be thwarted and people’s homes preserved. Or through their use a day that a child may once have faced unfed will not come to pass and that child will have more than their fill. Or a disease which a body might have succumbed to, will never arise because our relationship to our waste will have changed, and we will know how to live upon this earth.

We must learn these lessons, it is not a question of if we should change but how long it will take us to change that will determine the results.

I am a survival instructor. I have come to understand what are our basic needs and the effort it takes to meet them. Many of us have outgrown our basic needs by a long way and consider that it would be ‘impossible to live’ without our power showers, our mobile phones, our cars and our HD televisions. But these things are not what it is impossible to live without. It is impossible to live without air, water, shelter and food and often left out is salt. A dawning understanding is arriving of the necessity of micronutrients for our health and wellbeing, the right mineral balance, the presence of zinc and vitamin A in our diets to alleviate sickness and sometimes death. It is not what we live with or without but how we go about our lives and procuring those things that we need.

We are as a people suffering from a barrage of ailments related to chemicals, poor dietary habits and lack of exercise. Our lifestyles have changed rapidly. An unspoken of threat of impotency and life threatening diseases has evolved from the multiple nuclear tests that were carried out in the last century. In many ways it could be said the nuclear holocaust has already happened; underground, under the sea and in so called ‘remote’ places.; except it is becoming all too apparent to all of us that there is nowhere ‘remote’ from anywhere or anyone else on this planet. The question is what can we do? What can anyone of us do in response to these calls to action; we are called from all sides; ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle; eat more vegetables, drink more water, don’t use carrier bags, have the flu vaccination, immunise your children, lower your cholesterol’. It is a veritable minefield out there; a minefield because it demands us to pay attention and to choose what’s really important, what are our priorities as individuals, as communities, as nations and as a planet. What is imperative?

All of us are ‘surviving’ in our own way. Meeting our basic needs now depends on how good we are at paying our bills, shopping for our kids and filling the car up with fuel. Survival is about our level of understanding when balancing our credit cards, or choosing a mortgage or an investment scheme. None of these are natural innate tendencies, we are not genetically built to sit at a computer or drive a vehicle two hours a day after dropping the kids off at school, getting to work and doing the shopping. The thing we must remember is that we have ‘created’ this world and if it comes up short any where we can re-create it, we can give it an overhaul. We have this opportunity everyday to choose differently, to evaluate; to re-write the foundations of our society.

Can we house the homeless by simply changing the way we do things? Yes.

Can we save a starving chid by simply changing the way we do things? Yes.

Can we thwart a catastrophe by simply changing the way we do things? Yes.

I can see a day when there are no more people starving, when there is no more conflict, when climate change has ceased to be an issue, when corporations are on our side…

…either we are all dead or we are all, very much alive.

Because previously we haven’t thought about the wider consequences of our actions our job is now one of mitigation. We are mitigating the consequences of the ignorance and enthusiasm espoused over the last few hundred years – let us hope that in the future we will be more cautious. I imagine it will be like trying to get a stubborn horse to walk backwards out of a comfortable stable.

[1] see Ray Mears teaching indigenous people’s how to make fire.

[2] See Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel

[3] Se wheatgrass and it’s benefits.

[4] See Ancient Futures Learning From Ladakh Helena Norberg Hodges

[5] See Global Dimming, BBC ‘Horizon’Production

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