Friday, 9 November 2012

Food, Cover, Water, Space, Arrangement Part 2

This is a continuing post so if you are wondering about Food and Cover, please see Food, Cover, Water, Space, Arrangement Part 1 
Now for Part 2!


Water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink.

This saying is from the tall ships days, when sailors would go on voyages for months at a time. There are many dangers at sea (where worse things happen) one of the largest, even today, is dehydration. Salt water is not good for humans. In fact, drinking salt water will rob your cells of what water they have left and leave you much worse off. So the phrase above came about because of this need to remind green sailors that the sea is not for drinking.

These days however, there are vast areas of formerly fresh water that are now dangerous for humans and all other organisms too. The reasons are manifold, though one of the largest threats is now a result of our obsession with extracting the last possible non-renewable resources out of the earth e.g. Shale Gas Fracking and the Tar-sands. Super-storm Sandy has mostly left us alone here in New Brunswick Canada, but I can't help wondering how many of the tailing ponds along the east coast of North America - containing the most toxic sludge that you've never heard of - are now overflowing into river systems and catchment areas.

Water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink.

So what are we poor human beings to do?

Rainwater (except in the case of acid rain) is by and large fit for human consumption. When rain falls, it can be a source of fresh water for humans and animals alike. I know, there have been some opinions out there about how rainwater is not safe, its chemically unsuited to our bodies, yada,yada yada. Yes, rainwater is quite soft but, it is in fact one of the best forms of water we can drink. It's free from heavy metals and has, if clean, a stable pH of 7 (neutral). However, many places have reported more acidic rainfall due to the increased CO2 in the local atmosphere. How to remedy this? Plant more trees. But even with the increase in atmospheric CO2, the rainwater shouldnt drop below 5.5 which is still an acceptable level to drink. Just for comparison, Coke has a pH of 3, anything after that starts getting harsh.  

Incidentally, rainwater is also sterile. No microorganism is tiny enough to join the H2O molecule in transpiration.

The main health concerns regarding rain-water harvesting systems is about making sure that you're not unwittingly incorporating heavy metals or harmful bacteria during the channelling and storing of your water.  pH can be safely and cheaply monitored and altered on a continuous basis, or if you cant be bothered with that, add the appropriate filter. Using plumbing grade storage tanks and pipes to set up your system is a no-brainer and if you are that concerned about moicrobes (which I'm not, and I've been accused of being an Über-Microbiologist) add a UV filter before it hits your taps and you are covered (UV light kills all cells, as long as the system is set up right and the bulbs are changed when they need to be changed, you will not get sick). Rainwater harvesting for drylands and beyond by Brad Lancaster is a very informative read on the subject and he goes into detail on all the aspects of setting up your own system. His website also has plenty of info.

The other consideration, and it is a valid one, is the concept of returning the water to the catchments and not over-harvesting the rain so that the soil doesn't get replenished. That is a valid point in agricultural systems, (especially in industrial farming models), however most of the people that need this kind of free access to good quality drinking water in North America are in the major cities. Have you seen the emergency flood drainage systems of most major North American cites when they're at capacity lately? Now, if every building in a city had a water harvesting system that serviced all the needs of its inhabitants, how much storm water would not end up in the drain systems? How much relief would that give to the cities public plumbing infrastructure? Cities do not have great soakage capacity, they tend to gather water on their hard surfaces, channel it through sewers and storm drain systems and send it away in a huge rush. If the city is not directly on the sea or have some other landscape feature that can absorb this huge influx of water, then what happens? The land downstream of the last slab of concrete gets scoured away and the landscape is permanently damaged. And this happens every single storm. Sandy has probably carved out whole new gorges.

By setting up all sizes of water harvesting systems, from downtown to commercial districts to residential neighbourhoods, the inhabitants of a city can ride out seasonal fluctuations far easier. More available water in the dry times, less damage in the stormy times under the exact same principles as for stand-alone domestic homes. There's not very much info out there about water harvesting systems for larger buildings, but I think that's only because it hasn't been recognized as possible and viable by the mainstream planners. In time, with the right pressure, I can see it becoming a standard part of the Building Code, just because it makes more sense than ever in the changing and increasingly unpredictable climate that we find ourselves in.

Water, water everywhere, why cant we all just have a drink?


Of all the things that certain people believe separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, our flexibility with space and territory is, in my books, one of the more relevant.

You see, regardless of the amount of food, cover and water, many, if not most animal species cannot stand population density above a certain point. Once an animal starts feeling crowded by other members of its own species, it will look for a new place to go. This has to do with the territorial drive and even social animals like wolves will seek new territory once the population density goes too high, regardless of the availability of resources. I don't believe this applies to herd animals like wildebeest, caribou and buffalo but I'm certainly prepared to be enlightened on that. Species like the prairie dog I'm not sure about, I think that those guys widen out their towns (a prairie dog colony is called a 'town') when they get too crowded, but again if anyone knows better, please share the information in the comment box.

Humans are a lot more flexible about this, as I'm sure you are already aware. The spectrum stretches the full 180°, from the hyper-urbanite who cant function without being surrounded by people and noise and bustle, to the 'recluse' who deliberately finds the most isolating place possible (like Faustino in his Patagonia retreat. Look up the movie sometime.) and all the graduations in between. This ability to pick what population density you prefer is both one of our major evolutionary bonus points and one of our bigger social problems. What do I mean by that? You see, everyone needs a sanctuary. Everyone needs a place and time where they can let go of their burdens and have a stretch and an exhale that comes from their toes. People need to have that time of relaxation or they cant re-focus on what makes them an individual instead of a cog in a machine.This results in frustrated, unhappy people who don't even know whats wrong because they don't know what they're missing.

There is not much involved in getting this mental space, people have this notion that it takes hours of practise, or can only happen in a particular setting with special clothing or some other nonsense. If you're looking to start intensive yoga, or to flip straight from rat-race to isolated temple living then you will have to take extra effort and time and clothing. Cultivating the ability to reach your mental sanctuary is something that can happen at any time by anybody, anywhere. No, I'm not messing you about. It's called 'being in the present' and the easiest method to reach this state and understand what it means is through an exercise called the conscious breath. The idea behind this is that when you breath in, you notice the path your breath takes from your nose, down your throat, into your lungs, then out of your lungs, up your throat and out your nose or mouth again. It sounds kooky I'll admit, but doing this really does take you out of your worries and troubles and puts you in the present moment where you have the space to breathe. Here's a video explanation, and as he takes the conscious breaths, do it with him;

Do you see what I mean? That sense of peace and mental space? What difference would doing that on a regular basis make in your life do you think? If you simply said, every time I go to the bathroom, or every time I put down my coffee cup or, even just every morning before I start my day, could those moments make a difference? Trust me, it does and in several ways.

When you know what it feels like to be in the present moment, you find it easier and easier to reach in moments of stress. When you face a stressful, or about to be stressful situation, you move towards breathing deeply instead of shallowly. This habit of breathing deeply provides your brain with a much-needed burst of oxygen when it needs it most so that you can see many more solutions than the automatic 'fight or flight' options. This means you can remain calm and in control of your actions and this will feed back into your sense of confidence, other peoples opinions of you and will in turn create more opportunities for you to succeed. Which will re-enforce the deep breathing habit which will provide positive solutions to negative situations which will benefit your relationships and your life and the cycle will continue.

The other benefit of practising an at least daily conscious breath, is that your thoughts become clearer. Somehow, the conscious breath habit almost acts like a mental sieve. You know how when you shake a sieve some things fall through the holes and some stay in the sieve? Well, if you apply that metaphor, where the thoughts and habits and ideas and assumptions and mental grooves of other people that you don't actually agree with but have never examined are the small particles that fall through the holes and the thoughts, habits, ideas etc that are truely yours ie you examine them and say 'yes, I do agree with that, that does make sense to me' those are the lumps that stay in the sieve. So in a way, this is also what the conscious breath does. It gives you the opportunity to take your personal situations, assumptions and prejudices, current or historical, strip them of emotion and look at the facts in a clear light. The result of this is that you can often see the ridiculousness of some of the baggage you lug around with you. I'm not kidding! Many times I've stopped dead and burst out laughing because I finally saw how nonsensical some of the old shit that I've been dragging around was. And when you can laugh at your baggage, you've already tossed it overboard.

Yes, the getting away from it all is something I heartily encourage for everybody. Everybody and I mean everybody should have the opportunity to pack a small bag and spend a week in the stress-free locale of their choice but that's not always possible and even less so when you really need it. That is why the conscious breath is so important. This mental breathing space is what I mean by sanctuary and it is one of the most important and most ignored mental necessities of our species. Everybody needs a space in the day where burdens are dropped.

When was the last time you dropped your burdens?


The above 4 considerations, Food, Cover, Water, Space are only useful to you if you can access them. Does that make sense? There could be the tastiest, most nutritionally ideal food and drink right in front of you right now, but if you can't pay the price it might as well not be there at all. You might have an incredible mansion, but if your predator is right in there with you then you don't have cover and you probably never have space either.

It's the arrangement of these 4 habitat factors that makes the difference between a thriving ecosystem and a stumbling disaster-in-the-making. Our habitats, our living spaces are no different. When people cannot access what they need to be human beings then we don't have a habitat, or a living space. We have a ticking time bomb of deeply unhappy, deeply frustrated individuals who cannot be blamed for feeling the way they do. In many places in the US or Canada, if you don't have a car you are very limited in your way of living. Often the most basic things like grocery shopping pose an obstacle due to the fact that the nearest possible store is out of reach. People living in huge apartment buildings with paper-thin walls where privacy is an unknown piece of vocabulary. All designed with many thoughts in mind, just not humans. All the wonderful resources that we have can be rendered useless if we don't use them in the right way.

The way to change that is to bring back the traditional way of building human settĺements where people lived in neighbourhoods and every neighbourhood had everything it needed to function: grocers, butchers, doctors, pharmacies, cafes, bars, everything that the community decided it wanted and supported by spending money there. Local businesses run by people living in the community. The beauty of our modern technologies means that we can take the very best of the traditional method, the walking-distance measurement of services, the inter-dependant layers of community etc, with the very best of the modern era; the at-home office, the inter-connections possible between communities and people within them, high density housing options, Urban Permaculture (of course!) etc etc. Here, how about I just give you a link to a video that goes into all of this in detail (here). Personally I think they should have gone more into food supply solutions, but some research into Urban Permaculture projects that are happening in schools and neighbourhoods all over the world right now provide very achievable and sustainable food supply answers that can work for everyone.

It is possible to create a community and by extension, a world that works. It takes some ingenuity and some effort, but it is possible.

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