Monday 30 November 2009

And the waters prevailed

I might be repeating myself with so many water images, but that's what we're getting right now. Rivers that ordinarily creep gently under towns are now crawling the high stone walls that bind them. This is another photo of the River Liffey running through a nearby town, and you see how far the river has climbed up the trees.

Last week the floods were still something on the news, from the West Country and from England. Now some people have been evacuated in our own village, and we called friends of ours in the next village over to see if they are okay.

In one town, the river demolished a 300-year-old bridge, the only connection between the town's two sides. Rescue crews had to thread an emergency pipe across where the bridge used to be -- ironically a water pipe, so the villagers on the other side can drink safely.

I remember well living in Missouri during the Flood of '93, when hundreds of people worked to build a wall of sandbags between the river and Jefferson City. I remember driving with a friend through wooded country and having to stop the car suddenly when the trees ended -- there was water almost to the horizon, with telephone poles and electrical towers poking through here and there. I visited my old state in 2008, when highways across the floodplain were closed, covered either by the second 500-year flood in 15 years or by animals driven out of their habitat by the waters.

This is said to be Ireland's worst flood in 800 years, and while the country is much smaller in scale, this might be proportionately greater than those Midwest floods were.

In Missouri the river settlements and levees may only have been a few decades old, and people could chalk up a flood like that of '93 to the chaotic river's cycle. Here, though, towns date to the Middle Ages, if not to Roman or Celtic times, and the walls lining the rivers were set at their heights long ago and for a reason.

This is not just a rainy day. This is not normal.

I don't mean that this is a 2012-style deluge. Too many people, when writing about climate change, peak oil or other aspects of the Long Emergency, reflexively invoking Hollywood versions of the apocalypse.

The reality might look more like what we are seeing -- a few houses flooded that were never before. Towns slowly retreating from some rivers and most seashores. Christmas season a bit "worse" and more traditional than they used to be. I would venture that the Long Emergency might take lifetimes, long stretches of normal life punctuated by moments of crisis.

Perhaps next week the 800-year flood will recede, and people will return to their homes. And we will forget, and dream that we are in control.

Sunday 29 November 2009


A Republican friend of mine sent me a Youtube link a while ago – one that I can’t find at the moment, but that has been making the rounds in conservative circles. In it, a climate denier makes an impassioned speech against an unnamed upcoming treaty, which he said would force the USA to submit to a one-world government, signalling the end of America as a sovereign nation.

My friend, a good and intelligent man who was sceptical of these claims, wanted to hear my take on it. Here is what I wrote back:

He seems to be referring to the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, which starts Dec. 7. This is a big deal, because it could be the first treaty that really makes an impact on the worsening crisis.

First, a little bit about the climate situation. People have known for a hundred years that carbon dioxide from our civilization would cause carbon dioxide levels to rise and the Earth would get hotter. Arrhenius first predicted this in the late 19th century, and I have on my shelf a childhood science book, "The World We Live In," from 1955, which states that CO2 from cars and factories would make the Earth hotter in the 21st century. It was not considered a controversial statement.

In the last several years, though, three things have changed: first, scientific findings have begun predicting much worse changes ahead because of "feedback loops" -- for example, that scientists discovered that melting permafrost in Siberia would release massive amounts of greenhouse gas. Second, recent events have made scientists think they underestimated the speed of the change -- for example, the so-called Larsen B part of the West Antarctic ice sheet was not supposed to disappear for 100 years, and it took 30 days in 2002 to fall apart. Third, this has broken into public consciousness as a major issue.

Up until now, many people have criticised the USA as being not only one of the major contributors to climate change, but the big foot-dragger in signing treaties to control it. Now, with climate experts getting seriously worried, climate activism at an all-time high, and a new president ostensibly sympathetic to a climate treaty, many people are excited about what could be accomplished at Copenhagen.

As for the charges that this could infringe on US freedom -- well, I've skimmed over the treaty, and I'm not too worried. Here is a copy of it:

It’s hypothetically possible, but that would be true of any international treaty, and it never works that way. There are few specifics in the treaty, and what there is doesn't seem enforceable. The US government has generally gone its own way, even against world opinion, and as the US government has more military than the rest of the world combined, it would be difficult for anyone to force it to do anything it doesn't want to do. Most climatologists are more concerned that any Copenhagen agreement will be toothless and have no effect. Likewise, I would be more worried about things like the Patriot Act -- the US government having too much power, not too little.

Finally, if the US were obliged to cut back on climate emissions, or to give more aid to the poorest nations where hundreds of millions of people are starving -- well, those would be good outcomes. It wouldn’t mean that the USA need become a poorer nation -- European countries get by polluting half as much as America per person, and they are not necessarily less prosperous.

Photo: Clonlara in County Clare, underwater as Ireland suffers the worst floods, we are told, in 800 years. Photo:

Saturday 28 November 2009

Two things to read

I don't link much to other blogs, but here are two articles I recommend. The first is from Michael Bomford of Energy Farms, comparing the energy use and future self-reliance of Ireland vs. the similarly-sized state of Kentucky. Via Energy Bulletin.

The second is from Sharon Astyk, who distills everything I wanted to say about the anniversary of Sesame Street, and got there first. My daughter and I adore our downloaded clips of old Sesame Street -- with Joe Raposo's songs and Jim Henson's Muppets, they remain simple, wildly creative and thoughtful, instilling knowledge with an easy grace.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Wednesday 25 November 2009

FADA update

In the last week I have been very busy and preoccupied with unexpected health issues, and I appreciate your patience during the break – I try to put something on the blog once a day and a substantial article once a week, but sometimes need a week or so off.

We had our annual election for FADA last night. I’m still vice-chair, and the admirable Triona Muldoon is our new chair. We each talked about the projects that engage us, and we need to do that more often: it reminds us how much we are doing, and how much this dozen volunteers have accomplished in three years. In the last six months, for example:

• Thanks to one of our members, local people who recently lost their jobs are now earning educational credits by working on some local land, turning a bankrupt blueberry farm into crops. More on that as it develops.

• The community garden, Bia Linn, has been going strong for five months now, and we are continuing to have courses there and elsewhere in Newbridge.

• Our group created a new web site at

• We are hosting a course in herbalism over the next few weeks, showing people how they can use local herbs for everything from medicine to cosmetics.

• One of the heads of the local beekeeping organisation gave a presentation at Bia Linn on how to keep a hive of one’s own.

• We are hosting a course in organic gardening over the next few weekends, demonstrating how people can grow their own food.

• Our group is hosting a DIY seminar next month on making your own hot-water solar panels out of recycled materials.

• We have begun a food club to order food in bulk, so people here can pool their resources and buy high-quality, local and organic food without spending much money.

• Some of our members have enlisted local students to create an energy audit of the area, to see where we are wasting the most energy and how we can cut back.

• We are trying to compile information from area elders about how people here used to live, back when people lived on less.

• Our members have done several radio interviews with local and national stations, have continued to run a weekly newspaper column on living in the Long Emergency, and we have published articles in local magazines and church bulletins.

• We have continued to give talks to local organisations, schools and churches.

• The Feile na Samhna (Halloween Festival), which drew hundreds of people from the community. My end of it – the talks on local currency, local agriculture and peak oil – did not draw the numbers of people I had hoped, but other aspects of the festival went well and drew substantial crowds.

• Luka Bloom performed a benefit concert for us, which drew several hundred people.

• We have forged relationships with local Fair Trade organisations, local community groups and churches.

Most of this was not me personally, but all the same, I’m quite proud of what this small group has done in a short time.

I know many people around the world transforming their lives, restoring the old traditional communities and building a new, underground economy in their local chrysalis. It probably seems as tedious for you as it does for us, the accomplishments miniscule compared to the magnitude of what needs to be done. But then we stop, every so often, and look back, and see the road stretch to the horizon behind us.

Friday 13 November 2009


Re-run from last year.

Supporting yourself generally requires land, tools, weeding, composting, practice, and finally the months of waiting for things to finish growing. There is one kind of food, however, that can be grown by anyone, indoors, in any time of year, in a few days – sprouts.

I don’t mean Brussels Sprouts – nutritious as they are -- which are the buds of a certain type of cabbage. I mean seeds or beans – mung beans, broccoli seeds, radish seeds, alfalfa seeds -- that have been soaked and kept moist for a few days and have begun to turn into green shoots, as they would in soil.

The Chinese have sprouted for at least 5,000 years, and many Westerners have found growing sprouts an easy source of nutrition in lean times. Captain Cook used sprouting as a source of Vitamin C to avoid scurvy on long ocean voyages, as did soldiers in World War I and Indians during the famine of the 1930s. Sprouts are also high in protein – seven cups have an average person’s daily recommended allowance.

You can sprout the beans or seeds of most edible plants – the only common ones to avoid altogether are nightshade plants like tomatoes or potatoes, whose sprouts are as poisonous as the leaves of the grown plants. Mung beans -- for sale in most health-food stores for a euro or two a bag -- are a common and easy way to begin. School-children are often told to let them lie on a wet paper towel, but I get fine results just from letting them sit in a bowl-sized plastic tub or (unsealed) Ziploc bag.

Rinse the beans first, and then let them sit in a tub of water for about six hours or so. Then drain the water and let the beans sit in the damp tub for the next few days, rinsing them every eight hours or so -- the beans need to be kept moist but not swimming in standing water. Every morning before work, every day when you come home, and every night before bed, fill the tub with water again and then let it drain out. Take care that the damp seeds do not grow moldy – I found this to be a hazard with broccoli and alfalfa seeds, but never with beans. In three days or so the beans should have sprouted into white-and-green shoots, at their height of nutritional value.

Sprouts can be eaten in salads – I like to mix mine with shredded carrots and beets in a lemon-and-wasabi sauce. Many people eat broccoli, alfalfa or radish sprouts on sandwiches instead of lettuce. Soybean sprouts, popular in Chinese cooking, are the only ones that are better cooked.

As mung beans cost very little and keep for years, you can get all your protein and many of your vitamins for only a couple of euros a week. You might love them, you might not, but you should have them handy for emergencies.

Wednesday 4 November 2009