I am a Behaviour Change and Sustainable Systems consultant, developing the idea of Compassionate Systems to address the frustration and failure of behaviour change. It is not just you–if you are not achieving the change you need, I may be able to help. Email me.
My work groups into three main streams. Sustainability is the biggest picture, though many of the posts look at tiny details of a way of living that may be able-to-be-sustained.
Working on Sustainability confronts Behaviour Change. The posts are heavily influenced by my work on garbage and recycling, but will also have rants on unhelpful ways of thinking about behaviour.
The Small and Delicious Life is the result. When all else fails, grow beans.
These three streams each have their own category, so follow the topic that interests you. Or, if you don't want to miss even a bit of goodness, all three streams are found in The Whole Ball of Wax, spiced with some uncategorized and random digressions.
We live on top of the Cascadia Fault, so it is just a matter of time until The Big One hits. In case the odds are not in our favour we have a few different earthquake kits, which include water purification tablets.
In the event of a real big one it may be a long time before there is running water again, and so we bought a set of Berkey water filter elements.1 I actually bought these seven years ago, and was just relying on being able to find buckets and use a pocketknife to build a filter system if disaster strikes.
But the last time we got take-out from Big Wheel Burger2 I scored a stack of five gallon mayonnaise buckets from their recycling area, so I put together a filter kit.
First, buy a filter or two, and a spigot. Filters are now selling for CAD$168, but a Berkey Filter costs nearly $400 so this is a big savings.
Source two buckets, ideally of the same size and style.
Drill a hole near the bottom of one bucket, sized for the spigot shank. Step drills are an underappreciated tool that are excellent for safely drilling thin stock, including sheet metal. The downside, though, is that they can quickly make a hole too large.
Put the lid on that bucket, then stack another bucket on top.
Drill a hole or two through both the bucket and the lid below it, sized for the filter shank.
Nest the buckets, pack the filter in lots of newspaper or bubble wrap, snap a lid on, then duct tape the other lid on, and tape the two buckets together so you can carry them by one handle.
I also packed a surplus square of polyester sheer fabric in the kit, which was leftover from our cider press. This is useful for pre-filtering water to take out leaves or other debris.
Now store your kit somewhere accessible in case of disaster. In an earthquake our old house will probably fall down, so the kit is in a garden shed.
I will spend good money if there is a tool I know I will use. But if there is something I am unsure about, or something I feel is overvalued, I can be extraordinarily frugal. Such is the case with bannetons.
My usual strategy is to wait until I find the thing I am looking for in a thrift shop and then at least I am not offended by the price. Bannetons do not seem to come up in my local thrifts, so I proof boule loaves in various stainless or glass bowls. But when I wanted to bake elongated bâtards, the only thing I could find was a long presentation dish—one of my wife’s treasured (and ludicrously expensive) pieces of Astier de Villatte that she brought back from cooking school. I was getting pretty nervous about dumping bread from this delicate ceramic over a hot iron Dutch Oven—so I created a cardboard banneton.
This design nicely holds a loaf made with one kilo of dough, baked in a pan that is about 12” long and 8” wide.
I used waxed cardboard from a green onion box for this banneton. Waxed cardboard is waterproof, which is good since wet dough is proofing in it, and it is stronger than regular corrugated. To my surprise I found it was easier to work with and creased and cut smoothly. You should be able to find waxed cardboard behind a grocery store, or by asking the produce stocker. There is simply a stunning amount of waxed boxes used to ship vegetables around, and it is often just thrown away if there is not a composting system. Try to find a box without too many drainage and ventilation holes punched in it. I found a green onion box with tall sides and no holes, and even a pretty flower logo.
Print the pattern at Actual Size on 11 X 17 paper, or tile it on to two or three sheets of letter size paper. Use the printed rulers to ensure the paper overlaps in the right spot, and tape them together. Find a spot on your box with the fewest holes and take advantage of the features of the box. For my banneton I chose to lay the pattern across the “grain” of the cardboard. Across the grain is how cardboard kinks most easily, so I was concerned about the long edges buckling. But, I wanted one of the corner folds of the box to become one of the folds between the body and the end of the banneton, so I gave it a try. So far so good—and I can always make another one.
I cut a project like this entirely by just laying the pattern on top of the material and moving weights or stack of books around to hold the pattern in place while I make cuts through both pattern and cardboard. Using a long straightedge, cut both edges to width. Then cut the curved ends, and finally make the four short cuts that free the curved ends from the straight sides. When cutting patterns or stencils on a mat, it is always best to cut straight back towards yourself, so rotate the pattern as needed, or rotate yourself around the table the pattern is on.
Bakers often have a rectangular steel bench knife, and I found it was the perfect tool for folding the waxed cardboard, but you could also use a ruler, or a heavy spatula—practice on some scraps first. Just place the bench knife on the folding line and put your weight on it. Start by working around the rectangular bottom of the banneton, then by doing the radial folds of the ends. While you are leaning on the bench knife, use your other hand to bend the cardboard up to make a very crisp fold.
Then simply place the corners of the curved ends outside the body of the banneton, so marks A and B line up, and fasten in place. I used binder clips with the handles folded back, or I think you could quickly sew the corners in place with a few stitches.
Another fastening technique that might work here is to use a construction stapler with 1/2” staples. I do this when I want to staple the spine of pamphlets, or in other places too deep or thick for a regular stapler. Place the material you want to staple on something soft and thick, like several layers of cardboard, or on short carpet with a foam underlay. Shoot a staple, in this case from inside the banneton. Pull your project up off the soft stack and use needle-nosed pliers to bend the tips of the staple over.
And there you have your Cardbanneton! Line it with a tea towel, sprinkle the towel generously with rice flour, and lay your shaped dough in to rise.
When Carmen started guiding wilderness quests, we bought a couple of Mora knives, which are strongly recommended by Canadian bushcraft legend, Mors Kochanski.
I have never been a fan of v-grind knives, but I quickly became very impressed with the Morakniv.3 I also became frustrated with using a folding pocket knife for many work and garden tasks, so I thought I would try carrying a belt knife more often—but something a little more svelte than the rubber-handled and plastic-sheathed bushcraft knife.
It is handled with black walnut, from a tree my great-grandfather planted and my grandfather felled and milled. I have a few little scraps that I use for various projects, and a knife like this needs very little wood. I roughly chiseled a pocket for the tang in each side and glued the two halves together with five-minute epoxy.
Then I clamped my belt sander to my bench and started with the coarsest grit I had, just grinding and shaping to fit my hand. I did not guard the edge of the blade at all, which is not very smart, so I was very alert as to how I was positioning my hands and the work so I would not catch the sanding belt. I jumped quickly through a few grits of hand sanding, then soaked two coats of linseed oil into the wood.
With the handle shaped I started working on the sheath. This is a carbon-steel blade so I wrapped it in cling film to protect the blade and to add some bulk around the knife as the leather molded to it.4I cut a scrap of vegetable-tanned leather to a rough shape, then dipped it in hot water and folded it around the knife. The leather can be shaped by rubbing it with your fingers and a few bulldog clamps will hold it in place (and add more rust stains).
I trimmed the belt loop a bit more and skived across the end so it would stitch down smoothly, punched the holes and stitched it with waxed nylon thread. Then I punched the holes along the edge and stitched them down. I used a bit more hot water to mold the opening a bit more so it would not catch on the handle, and to flatten down the belt loop a tad. I trimmed a little bit more here and there to fair the leather edge to the stitch line then I rubbed the edges with beeswax and burnished them with the knife handle. Finally, a few applications of Obenauf’s Leather Oil, which the geeks online seem to think is a good leather conditioner.5
This blank is a carbon steel Mora No. 2/0, which has a three inch blade. It seems a bit small, so I might get around to making one with a No. 1 blade. They offer stainless and even laminated blades, and several different blade shapes.
And I haven’t mentioned the blade price. $9.
Nine dollars. Madness. You can get most blades for well under $20 including shipping from Amazon.
So this was a very inexpensive project, the blade being the only thing I did not have lying around. I found the leather stitching to be particularly satisfying, in that way that makes me wonder if we are literally genetically adapted to feel good when we sew leather.
I am very fond of knives—we even had a one-off6 holiday called the Sabbath of the Knives. I spent several weekends studying with a Japanese sword maker. Sometimes I think I could be happy just making chef’s knives and that I should abandon everything else.
This knife is not that. No metal was harmed in the making of this knife. But I found this little project very gratifying to work on, and I love the sensation of oiled leather and smooth wood in my hands.
Money is not wealth, money is simply a very elaborately printed IOU note. It has no value except in exchange for real wealth—like salmon, trees, cotton and wool.
Further wealth is created when labour smokes salmon, mills lumber and builds houses or furniture, and knits wool into sweaters or weaves denim for blue jeans—and all those labourers need to eat and be sheltered and clothed with more wealth from nature.
John Michael Greer introduced me to this insight of E.F. Schumacher, that goods produced by nature are the primary goods in any economy, and those produced by human labor are secondary goods.
Greer goes on to extend this framework to tertiary goods, which is simply the pushing of numbers around on computers.
But the thing is, we can’t eat money, and we can’t eat the numbers in the bank’s computer.
Money is simply a convenient, pocket-sized promise we make to trade for real wealth at a later time. Wealth only comes from nature, and from the application of labour to the wealth of nature.
Let me say that again for emphasis—wealth only comes from nature, and from the application of labour to the wealth of nature.
People become rich by extracting wealth from nature and from labour.
In our current economy, that means the rich get rich by killing ecosystems and exploiting people.”7
So dollars are just an IOU for an actual, real, material thing extracted from the ecosphere and modified by human labour.
And it turns out the actual, real material things add up to 92 BILLION tonnes per year—our food, metals, fuels and minerals. But we don’t just poke the earth with a syringe and suck up pure copper and refined gasoline. The situation is actually much more bleak, if we take a wander down resource extraction curves.
Marion King Hubbert became famous as Peak Oilers discussed his prediction that “for an oil-producing area, from an oil-producing province, a nation, or the planet as a whole, the rate of petroleum production of the reserve over time would resemble a bell curve.”
The reasons for this are simple. We live on a finite planet, and we always start with the easy stuff. So we cut down the trees on the flat land first. We collect the oil that is literally bubbling out of the ground. We find three tonne nuggets of copper just lying in a creek bed.
We walk up to an apple tree and pick the low hanging fruit. We never start with the hardest to reach fruit. Our first response is never to get out the orchard ladder. We don’t look at that bubbling pool of oil and decide the next step is invent horizontal drilling.
We pick the easy stuff, and if we develop a taste for it8 we move up the tree. Maybe we stand on a rock. Then we sew a picking bag, then build a ladder.
The picking bag allows us to harvest tens of pounds of apples without wasting time climbing down to empty our pockets, and the ladder gets us up to where the branches are heavy with fruit in the sunshine. We fill our boxes with ease, but then things start to get harder and—at the peak of our technological development—we pick the last apple.
Let’s look at that three tonne copper nugget again.
The Bingham Canyon Mine is largest and most productive copper producer in the world, and lies in the hills above my relatives in Salt Lake City. Each day 450,000 tons of material are extracted. And each year, 300,000 tons of copper are produced.
Are you following those numbers? That means that one of the finest copper mines in the world is digging up ore that is only 0.18% copper—that is a long way from a three tonne nugget. So, every day, 450,000 tons of the earth are dug up, of which 810 tons are the copper we need for our windmills, electric cars and smart phones.
So we just throw the other 449,910 tons of dirt somewhere else.
In the history of mining, lakes and river valleys have been a convenient place to dump, but it could be a grassland or a desert. Regardless, it is dumped into an ecosystem, the home of countless flora and fauna who used to live there before that mine came.
Now, not everything we extract comes at such a pitiful rate, but the pattern is just the same.
In British Columbia, where I live,10 many First Nations had productive river fisheries. The salmon would swim hundreds of miles inland to spawn, effectively delivering groceries right to the nets, weirs and jaws of human and other fishers lining the river banks.
But with colonization that wasn’t quite enough, and so technology took us up Hubbert’s Curve. Fishing boats with lines and nets, sail power, then steam, then oil. Ever larger winches and engines. And wouldn’t you know it, with this massive extraction from the ocean comes a lot of bycatch. It is not as poor a rate as copper mining, but according to the WWF, about 40% of what we haul on board is not what we were fishing for and much of that is tossed back overboard, dead or dying. I spent a summer purse seining for salmon on a small boat, mostly off Vancouver Island. In one tragic set we brought up a net full of rockfish. These fish are armoured with spines, and punctured a crewmate’s boot when he kicked one. They also live very long—easily a century—and are slow to reproduce. They dwell deep in the cold waters and when they are dragged to the surface, their guts turn inside out with the pressure change.
You shouldn’t eat rockfish, but they are delicacies on many fancy menus. We left hundreds of them dying in our wake.
Anyhow, Hubbert’s point is that we have to do more and more to get less and less, until finally it costs too much to do anything at all and we stop.11
And so let’s talk about that 92 billion tonnes that we extract each year from the ecosphere. As reported, resource extraction is the source of 50% of our greenhouse gasses and 80% of biodiversity loss.
At the rate of the Bingham Canyon Mine, for the 20 million tonnes of copper that are mined globally each year, about 11 billion tonnes of mine waste would be dumped into the ecosphere.
“Into the ecosphere” is a pretty smooth phrase. What I really mean is that 11 BILLION TONNES of copper mining wastes are dumped on TOP of animals and plants, rivers, creeks, marshes, glades, dens and nests. Just for copper.
For fish, of the 90 million tonnes of seafood caught each year—which doesn’t include the rogue, uncounted fisheries—millions and millions more tonnes are bycatch, thrown back dead or dying.
And of course this does not count the ghost nets, cut loose to entangle whales, the bottom draggers that rip up coral reefs or kelp forests.
So. 92 billion tonnes is a staggering number. It is probably double anything that could be vaguely considered sustainable. And it is just a fraction of the true amount we dig, and drag out of the planet, only to throw overboard or dump to the side.
As with all diminishing returns, it is only getting worse—but this is how we earn money.
This is how we pay for our roads and hospitals and schools and televisions.
It’s obvious that it costs a lot of money and energy to produce all the food we need to maintain our population at six billion. But there is an additional, hidden cost that has to be counted in life forms. As I’ve said, it’s conservatively estimated that as many as 200 species are becoming extinct every day as a result of our impact on the world. Put plainly, in order to maintain the biomass that is tied up in the six billion of us, we have to gobble up 200 species a day.
This—this shitty, unequal, unjust continent of strip malls requires 200 species a day.
So when we talk about growing our economy, when we talk about eliminating poverty, when we talk about expanding manufacturing, we are talking about more than 200 species a day.
And so I love the folks at Strong Towns who ask how we can build places that are productive, not extractive.
I love how they do the math—every roadwork, every arena or stadium, every fire hydrant has a cost. Where will the money come from? Most towns never produce enough money to pay for their own streets and water systems—they are just quietly mouldering into bankruptcy, hoping for the feds to send them a few species worth of infrastructure money.
I love it because they strip the conversation down to something that feels very real to me.
If a fox spends more energy chasing mice than it earns from eating mice, it starves to death and dies.
Where is the money for the Green New Deal, or the hydrogen highway, or total electrification going to come from? I am not fucking talking about who we are going to tax. It is going to come from wealth, extracted from nature and worked by labour. It is going to come at the cost of at least 200 species per day, every day.
The finest ideas of equality and justice cost 200 species per day.
I am right on board with lining the billionaires and industrialists up at Madame Guillotine. But I am not on board with using their billions to build electric cars kill 200 more species every day.
400 in two day. 600 in three days. 800 in four days.
In just five days, one thousand species are lost forever.
The people who should be my comrades foolishly drone that debt doesn’t matter,12 forgetting that some accounts can never be paid back—once they are gone, they are gone.
This is perhaps the purest source of my grief. I don’t see the world through rosy lenses, but rather as species, and ecosystems of relationships—so every time I read another godforsaken call for more good things for more good people I can’t help but weep.
I like dill pickles so much that each year as a child I would find a jar of Polskie Ogorkie weighing down the toe of my Christmas stocking.
Now I make litres and litres of lactofermented dill pickles every summer, picking the cukes while they are small and submerging them in a salt brine with fresh herbs and garlic.
Fido Jars make pickling effortless, and do a wonderful job of keeping pickles and sauerkraut crunchy, but we are now eating pickles from last summer…which means I can make soup from the pickles leftover from the summer before that.13
Russia has a pickle soup, but it seems that Poland is the true homeland of Zupa Ogórkowa. Recipes abound online, but I used this one as a base, lifted flavours from a couple of other recipes, and modified to suit our fondness for creamy potato.
Dill Pickle Soup
10 cups of chicken stock
⅓ cup pickle juice
150 gms. (1 ¼ cups) carrots, chopped small
1000 gms. (8 cups) potatoes, cut to the size of game dice
125 gms. (1 cup) celery, thinly sliced
450 gms. (3 cups) dill pickles, coarsely grated
3 tsp. grated garlic
pinch or two of dried dill weed
1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ cup milk
2 tbsp. flour
⅓ cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
Boil about half of the potatoes in stock until they are soft, then purée with a stick blender you’d get on unclutterer.
Add everything except the milk, flour, egg and sour cream and cook another 15 or so minutes, until the potatoes are just soft.
Stir together the milk and flour, then add a bit of hot broth and stir again. Add to soup and stir well. Bring the soup to a boil and stir until thickened.
Remove soup from heat. Thoroughly beat egg and sour cream together, and slowly add to the soup.
Serve garnished with fresh herbs or a dollop of sour cream.
Makes 12 hearty servings
So that is pickle soup, but I would like to just add a little bit of trivia down here…
We don’t often keep sour cream in our house, so Carmen quickly curdled some milk with lemon juice—one tablespoon of juice and four tablespoons of milk made a thick cream quick.14
Using lemon juice or vinegar is a rush job of what would traditionally be called clabbering, or letting dairy be soured…by the same lactofermentation that pickles our cukes or sauerkraut, and for the same reasons—to preserve food without refrigeration.
Lactobacilli produce acid as they eat sugars, and this acid creates an inhospitable environment for pathogens. We can assist our friendly bacteria by creating an environment in which they thrive. Mostly we do this by keeping them a titch warmer than room temperature, and, in the case of fermenting vegetables, by also adding salt.
This acid creates the pucker of pickles and the sour of sour cream.
I first ran across clabbered milk when I was researching the safety of drinking raw milk, and it highlights one of the big compromises we tend to make in our “modern” industrialized society.
Industrialization brought the milk of dozens of dairies together in one big tank, so pathogens from one dairy could infect the whole load.15 Perhaps because the milk run trains were running in the cool of the morning, the conditions were not hospitable for the protective bacteria which would have soured the milk. So the pathogens took over, and lots of people got sick.
The obvious thing is to abandon industrialization—naturally—and scale back to a convivial life lived in harmony with the natural cycles.
I am sorry. I mean the obvious thing is to cook the milk and kill everything in it—Pasteurization. But Pasteurization kills the lactobacillus as well as the pathogens, so when your milk goes off now it is greenish and foul—not what you want to leaven your pancakes.
Raw milk doesn’t go off, it just transforms into other food products: sour cream, yogourt, buttermilk, and sour milk. You can still make sour milk products from Pasteurized milk, but you have to reinoculate the milk with lactobacillus.
Anyhow. Clabbering is a thing—and it turns out it is a Gaelic word. Read more about it and find the Anglo-Saxon term at Cook’s Info.
Big Wheel is what fast food should strive for. Check them out.
And it turns out Mora made the inexpensive and sharp knife I used while salmon seining back in the 90s.
The blade still rusted a bit, which you can see in the picture.
Leather care is hotly contested. Traditional animals fats such as mink oil may degrade the fibres. As may petroleum products. Scientific papers are in short supply.
Every year I swear we will do it again.
Yes, I said, “In our current economy”, but all you bright green decouplers had best go read the full post before quibbling.
If we develop a taste for it. This is actually pretty important—the ancient Greeks used petroleum and had a basic steam engine. But they had no real use for them.
Hubbert’s Curve actually shows economically exploitable resources, and applies just as well to the apple trees. Even with advanced pruning and a light and strong aluminum ladder there are always a few apples left that just aren’t worth the effort.
Gratefully, on the territory of the Lekwungen speaking peoples.
This is why we should not be celebrating things like fracking as innovative triumphs, but rather hearing the portent in the dry rasp as we scrape the bottom of the barrel, and seeing the desperation that is driving us.
Another example—fish farming also should not be admired, but rather seen as a clear measure of how we have shirked our responsibilities in this relationship with the ecosphere. The fact we think the trouble of farm production compares in any way to simply catching a fish swimming by shows how far our baselines have shifted.