Break the Cycle
(updated: Jul 30, 2009)
Here's a project of mine I started this year: a garden. This is a square foot garden. I have four 4ft x 4ft beds, and one 1ft by 10ft bed. The bed by the fence is mostly sunflowers that I helped the kids plant. I have four other beds by the garage where I have a few more tomato plants and some lettuce but it's mostly for herbs. I haven't even used all the space in the beds and here's what I've grown this year:
I'm using all organic techniques - no chemical or petroleum based fertilizers or pesticides. I make my own compost, and the results have been amazing. Making my own compost and recycling everything else has also greatly diminished the amount of trash my family generates. I don't have garbage service anymore - what would I do with those huge garbage cans? I couldn't fill one of those in a month.
The amount of food you can grow in a small space using square foot techniques is simply amazing. And it's less work too.
My next steps are to start making charcoal for biochar or terra preta. I still need to find a smaller steel drum to fit inside my 55 gal oil drum. And to finish building a cold frame for growing stuff throughout the winter, and also the grow light setup for the garage, so I can start seeds and grow stuff indoors. This will also help spread out the yield throughout the season, as I can continuously plant. I have also constructed covers which shield some of the sun's intensity during the hotter weather as you can see in the photo. This has really helped.
When I lived in CA I never road biked. I didn't even own a road bike. There were so many places to mountain bike that there was no time for road biking. I prefer mountain biking to road biking. Running errands where I lived was cake. I never had to get on a road, and I often took my son in the trailer. There were bike paths everywhere, connecting homes, shops, the schools and parks. It sucked to leave all this but I refused to pay insane valuations for real estate. Long before I moved I knew this could not last, and of course it did not. And I will explain what happened and what is going to happen next in a little while.
But when I moved to Wilmington I had little to no options for mountain biking, so I bought a road bike and adapted. I can't tell you just how many people I talk to said that when they moved here they hung their bikes up in the garage or sold their bikes, because there was no place to ride. In fact, this weekend at the Blue Clay Open House people were telling me Wilmington needs more bike facilities, and they were very grateful for Blue Clay.
Wilmington has a great environment for biking, and since New Hanover County is fairly small, could be a first rate cycling town. It can be done. And many people are for it. But this town is controlled by a small minority that makes the assumption that things will continue to be just like they have been since the 1950's. I have a serious problem with that kind of thinking. Obviously, GM and Chrysler thought that and you know what happened to them. If recent events such as the $147 oil and the bankruptcy of two stalwart automobile companies haven't convinced them that things are changing, then nothing will awake them from their happy motoring slumber until their constituents turn on them for not doing anything about it when the price of gas hits $5 a gallon.
So they go on building, for example, a school 16 miles outside of town and then force anyone that moves here to send their kids to it. Maybe they got the land cheap, through some development deal, or because it's only going to be 2 miles from the Titan Cement plant. But I'm sure the cost of transportation did not factor one iota in their decision.
There is one connection that people have failed to make on how this entire collapse got underway and why I believe we will never again achieve the same level of growth of the past few years (which was never real growth in the first place). However it is easily explainable when you consider energy. Energy, more specifically, liquid fuel, has been so cheap over the past 20 years or so that it allowed the incredible expansion of suburbia, roadways, and cheap goods from China, otherwise known as Globalization or sometimes called Wage Arbitrage, Outsourcing, or just Cheap-Ass Labor.
Which brings me to my key point - just because things have been a certain way for so long doesn't mean that they will continue to be that way forever. That's what needs to be driven in to our leaders' minds. They do not understand that the times we have been living in are anything but normal. We've been living in a golden age of abundant and cheap energy. Worse, we now believe that we are entitled to all of it. That age is now coming to an end. This economic slump is not just a blip in in our regular programming, i.e., the quest for ever increasing economic growth, or maybe just the next bubble.
So now we have Bill HR2751, Cash for Clunkers. Turn in your clunker, get nice fat credit, only to buy a slightly more efficient gas guzzler. Who is going to pay for the cost of this program? You the taxpayer. You are also paying for the auto companies to keep making cars, and for people to buy them, and for more roads that we don't need. The assumption here is that driving is the only solution. Worse, you are paying for bank bailouts so they can rig the market and store oil in tankers out at sea to sell to you at a higher price, thereby making you pay again! Really? Yes. Talk about getting in both ends.
Here's a better bike program: No government credit or rebate. No government bailouts. We all just save up our our money from working, and each fund the purchase of our own bikes 100% with our own money. Instead of a obscenely expensive government health plan where corporations force everyone to drive all the time, stuff you with processed food along the way, and then shove pills into you until they stick you in a hospice until your family is broke and you drop dead, the government puts in bike lanes and paths that connect everything together, so you don't have to get slaughtered by some pinhead on the road. If you have difficulty riding a bike there are electric bikes available, and mopeds. And there are still cars, but now you have a choice. Amazing, and actually possible.
We must break the cycle.
Then maybe the government won't need to spend $1.5 Trillion dollars on a massive health care program, because people would actually become healthier, instead of slowly rotting away sitting in a car all the time and eating crap convenience food because you have no choice. Hell, at $1.5 Trillion dollars the government could build bike lanes in every city and buy everyone bikes and still have money left over for health care. This would be a far better way to spend the money.
So let restate this one more time, because I have a hard time understanding this: our government wants people to keep buying gas guzzling cars, keep auto companies cranking them out, keep us dependent on foreign oil, dependent on credit from banks, and dependent on big agri-business, so that we can remain a sickly population so that the government can spend even more on health care because we're so sick as a result. And you pay for it all too. Seriously, is this some kind of joke? There is no net value being created here. It's simply a downward spiral.
Genetically modified food + chemical fertilizer + pesticides = Corn Syrup
Corn Syrup + Humans + Driving + Pollution = Sickly Population
Sickly Population + Medical care + Drugs = Bankrupt sickly population
We must break the cycle.
You have to ask yourself who is really running the government? Hint: it's not the people. Just follow the money. Who benefits the most from this particular health plan? Did you know that higher health care spending increases GDP? Sick unhealthy people is big business in this country. But the claim from the Administration is that we have to spend the money to save money. What??? That's like the shopaholic that comes home with bags and bags of stuff and exclaims, "Look at all these great deals. You should see the money I saved!". Yeah, show me this money you saved.
Putting in bike paths and lanes would pay for itself in health care savings, and give people a choice. People who will not be able to afford to get around when gas is $5 will be able to. Bike lanes may even prevent gas from ever rising to $5 a gallon. And we won't go broke either. But healthy people don't consume massive quantities of corn syrup and take drugs.
Ever see the movie Soylent Green? The government is made out of Goldman Sachs. Run into the streets screaming this. By bailing out the big Wall St. banks, the very companies that created the very mess we're in, the US has blown a huge opportunity and essentially bankrupted itself instead of letting the companies that should have gone bankrupt go bankrupt so we can get on with it. Shoveling aircraft carrier sized pallets of taxpayer money into the very banks that created the crisis and trying to vacuum up an open fire hydrant of toxic debt with more taxpayer money is a sham. As a result, every time a home is foreclosed or someone buys a car under the cash for clunkers program, guess what, you just paid for it. Every time you go to the pump to buy gas, invest in securities including stocks and bonds, you help Goldman increase their bonuses.
The system is now fully rigged. Why? Because they realize that growth is dead. They may be greedy but they're not stupid. No growth, no increasing the size of the pie. So how do you continue to increase your earnings growth? You steal it from the people. That's exactly what they've done and are continuing to do with the bailouts and associated Fed lending & buyback programs, the rigged stockmarket, and the upcoming health plan. Until the people stand up and say enough, it will continue to happen.
One day, we will realize this, but then it's too late. But because the government, and pretty much everyone else, believes that things will continue as before, it is putting it's fast dwindling ability to fund into the very things that can't be sustained. So the only thing that's going to force real change is when the price of oil goes through the roof, or shortages occur, which will happen, and then it's too late. The economy can no longer function without cheap oil.
Interest rates have been low for years. In fact, it's one of the major factors in the housing bubble (bankruptcy reform and repeal of Glass-Steagal were two other major factors). This is because home prices vary inversely to interest rates. The low rates of the last decade drove house prices up. But now that the government is on a mad spending spree, what is going to happen is that it can't issue this debt at the interest rate it wants to pay. So it has to increase that rate. It is simple supply and demand. Government wants to supply a massive amount of debt (i.e., money), and there is simply not enough demand out there for all of it. So it has to increase the interest rate it pays to make it more attractive to an investor (typically foreign central banks and other government institutions). So that is going to drive higher interest rates, and eventually higher inflation, as these foreign governments rush to roll-over their low interest rate paying bonds for newer higher paying ones. Higher rates means house prices will fall. So don't listen to anyone who tells you that housing is near or at the bottom. They are full of shit. And if they say home prices rise with inflation, that's only true if unemployment is low and there's a driver for growth, which there isn't. Unemployed people do not buy homes.
The other insidious thing about higher interest rates is that investors shift to commodities such as oil as an inflation hedge. Oil is relatively inelastic - people need to drive in this country, we took the concept of personal motorized transport to such an extreme. And since you can't have economic growth without gobs and gobs of cheap oil, expect oil to go up for this reason.
Dependence on fossil fuel for transportation, which represents 96% of all our fossil fuel use in this country, is the greatest risk this country will ever face. Forget about terrorists, disease, war, financial crises, DWIs, etc. They are all symptoms of the real problem, our unabated and increasing use of fossil fuels. We have to solve the real problem, now, before it is too late. By 2012 it will be too late.
80% of world oil comes from a triangle shaped area surrounding Saudi Arabia. In 2012 this area's oil production will go into terminal decline. Each year, they will produce less and less oil, and at the same time use more and more internally. Add on top of this the effect of higher interest rates and you have the next big crisis. The last oil crisis. We will never have growth like we saw in the 90's and 00's again. Every time things get going oil will spike and we will hit the wall again and crash.
It's too bad, but I'm good at calling these things. Oil is and has been way too cheap, and we waste it as a result. In a few years, we're going to wish we hadn't. If I am wrong, you can call me crazy and laugh. I've been called crazy before. Wouldn't that be great if that's the worst that came of it.
If you are a cyclist you are way ahead, whether road or mountain or both or something crazy like street BMX or Trials. In fact, if you are a mountain biker you have an advantage over roadies. Do you think we are going to have the money to fix the roads? They are going to get so bad that it will not be possible to navigate them on a road bike.
What can you do? You could start growing your own food like me. If you can't grow your own food or don't like it you can buy local produce, like from a farmer's market. Break the cycle. Bikes are going to play a larger role in the future. If you are in the bike business, you'll be way ahead of others. I'm also looking for controversial ideas on what to do to break the catatonic state of our local leaders before a crisis does it for them.
1. Jeff said...
Sounds like you have a healthy balance of the "bunker mentality" to compliment your social activism.
Plus it looks delicious!
Jul 31, 2009 @ 6:57 AM
2. rides-a-flat said...
Peanut and I have been trying to compost, and it was great in winter and spring. Between composting and recycling, we probably threw out one grocery-sized bag of trash a week, which is not too bad for 4 people. But summer is challenging due to the bugs. Did you make your own composter? Would like something maggot-free without paying out of the nose for it. Your veggies look great :)
Jul 31, 2009 @ 8:38 AM
3. Shane (Dawg) said...
We have an indoor composter... makes compost every two weeks & you can only smell it when you open it. Supposed to only use the same amount of electricity as a night light. We love it... no oder (except when you open it) & no bugs. Not super cheap though.
Jul 31, 2009 @ 9:44 AM
4. Stephen Squirrels said...
Sir Rides-a-flat, here is a simple and cheap compost idea. I dug a hole in the ground next to my garden and once a week I throw all food scraps (no meat) into the hole. I use a shovel to mix the scraps in with all the dirt. I water it occationally when I'm watering the garden. My garden doesn't look as nice as SBA's but every week when I go throw more scraps in the hole the previous week's scraps have all but turned rich dark soil and I have never seen a maggot. The key is to mix the scraps thoroughly with the soil, give it some water and the earth does the rest!
I would love to see a movie like Road Warrior except with bikes. They could all fight over water instead of the 'go juice'. What do ya' say Partner!?!
Jul 31, 2009 @ 10:02 AM
5. Dave said...
The website sustainabletable.org reports that "As a result, the average American foodstuff travels an estimated 1,500 miles before being consumed." Think about that when you take a bite or pick up something at the grocery store. In our yard, we have blueberries, tomatoes and a peach tree that has not worked out so well yet. I can only imagine the dent made in fossil fuel emissions if something to eat was grown in every backyard. Every little bit helps. Nice commentary. Who would have thought this was a mountain biking website?
Jul 31, 2009 @ 10:43 AM
6. SBA said...
Sometimes I like to post other stuff. I had 18
peaches from the small peach tree I planted last fall. They tasted amazing even though they were small. I have two apple trees with a few apples on them too.
Update on Cash for Clunkers: looks like the program will be ending early since it blew through the 1 Billion limit in only a week. Wow. No stimulous money for bike lanes but the Govt can blow a billion on cars. Not to mention $60B on GM.
Jul 31, 2009 @ 1:54 PM
7. rides-a-flat said...
squirrels, we used to compost by burying food scraps. Don\'t step in any spot in our backyard that looks freshly dug or you might sink :). The problem was with collecting enough food scraps in the kitchen to fill a hole. I will try the mixing idea. As long as I don\'t have the entire HOA coming down on my head for breeding maggots, hehe
Jul 31, 2009 @ 2:07 PM
8. Rock Head said...
This far south we have a great growing season. Its a no-brainer, we should take advantage of the amount of the sun's energy to convert it in to the form of food in our own backyards.
Aug 1, 2009 @ 12:03 PM
9. schulz said...
Nice discussion . you should run for public office. I agree with what you have to say, erol. I believe that change begins in everybody's back yard. Watch the movie Milk. Grassroot politics.The way i see it is that the problems facing the world today are philosophical in nature. Politics can not fix a philosophical problem. So perhaps more philosophers are needed in the cabinet. Never will happen though. Education, therefore is the key. Lots of us are living close to the bone right now. Somehow paying our bills and mortgages. Living moment to moment. If I or my wife gets injured or sick, well pal, thats it. I'll be selling my bike, and truck, and house.There's no dress rehersal for life. Each day is another challenge. Thank god for our little trail in the woods and front suspension.
Aug 2, 2009 @ 4:36 PM
10. SBA said...
Transportation reform is health care reform. No need to spend trillions on Obamacare and billions more on cash for clunkers. Reform land use patterns now!
Aug 6, 2009 @ 9:10 PM
11. joel said...
your countertop looks just like mine!
also, good work w/ the garden, but I used cedar for my raised bed garden to avoid the arsenic leaching into the soil from the treated lumber.
Aug 7, 2009 @ 2:20 PM
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