Monday, June 2, 2008

Musings: A Cooperative Approach

The Giant was green against a backdrop of gray, while to the south, the Haupu range stood blue against a pale sky when Koko and I headed out on this sultry, still morning. Along the way, the sun rose, or at least, I assumed it did, because although I couldn’t see it, the gray became infused with pink and spattered, Rorschach-like, with paler clouds.

And then the rain came, first misting over the Giant, then growing in intensity just as Koko and I returned to our house, only slightly dampened by that life-giving force.

During our walk, I couldn’t help but notice all the dead toads along the road, some of them so desiccated by car tires, sun, wind and heat that their skins have been tanned into little gray hides. And I wondered why it is that certain animals get a lot of our consideration, while others get none at all — especially on the road.

I often hear people say that despite the rising gas prices, folks haven’t curtailed their driving. But according to that isn’t true. Americans actually drove 11 billion fewer miles this past March than they did last March — the sharpest decline since the Federal Highways Administration began keeping records in 1942. So maybe we are changing our behavior.

It seems that kicking our addiction to oil is the only way to extricate us from some of our more nefarious military escapades, Afghanistan among them. I came across a very interesting interview with that nation’s President, Hamid Karzai, in the German Speigel Online International. Besides providing a compelling look into the politics of warlords and international coalitions, it served to remind me just how weak and puffy most American journalism is.

Speigel also had a fascinating interview with the UN's Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller on the growing food crisis, which delves into just how complicated the food-energy issue is. Here’s an excerpt:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is the main reason for food production no longer keeping up with demand?

Müller: Various factors, including very significantly the rising oil price. Traditional agriculture is itself very energy intensive: It needs oil for fertilizer, pesticides, tractors and transport. To get away from that, many governments are promoting fuels made from agricultural products. This is turn links the price of bread to the price of oil.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has the food crisis reached its peak?

Müller: Quite the opposite, we're only at the beginning. Unchecked climate change would lead to farmland drying out or becoming flooded. New animal and plant diseases are emerging; yields could fall. We have to produce 40 percent to 60 percent more food, while there is a marked reduction in the land available for cultivation in the south.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But agriculture is actually responsible for one third of CO2 emissions.

Müller: That is exactly what has to change very quickly, otherwise the system will devour itself. We want to highlight this point during the summit: climate protection is the same as food protection.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Germany's Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer claims biofuels have no impact on food prices, because their production takes up only 2 percent of the arable land.

Müller: Our specialists, as well as other experts, have come to a different conclusion: 20 to 50 percent of the hike in food prices is the result of the demand for biofuel plants. …. In any event, feeding the world has to take precedence over energy production.

Muller’s remarks caused me to reflect on my own recent efforts to cook the taro I grow. Although I’ve been making yummy poi and laulau, my propane consumption has greatly increased because both taro and its leaves need to be cooked for long periods to dissolve the oxalic acid crystals that otherwise give you itchy mouth and throat.

The Hawaiians dealt with this by preparing taro and other food in imu. Wood was used to heat stones, which then did the cooking slowly, in sealed pits. When I visited Rorotanga, they did the same thing, cooking food on Saturday for consumption throughout the week. And it wasn’t like every house had their own imu, either. People shared.

Farmer Jerry told me the same situation occurred in the Portuguese sections of the sugar camps, where every five houses or so shared an oven. Again, just enough wood was used to heat the oven, and the bread was baked through radiant heat.

So it seems that sustainability isn’t just about eating what can be grown locally, but taking a more cooperative approach to its preparation. Maybe that’s what scares some folks about the concept. They just can’t fathom the thought of interacting with others to meet our basic needs — even though we did exactly that for thousands of years.


Anonymous said...

In any event, feeding the world has to take precedence over energy production

Then why is the state letting Cowern grow biofuels at the Kalepa farm land?

Anonymous said...

uh oh back to the communal thing. maybe the community garden/kitchen/center trend will continue to recieve attention and support as a strategy for community building/development/sustainability. i hope so. time will tell.

Katy said...

I think it's important that we recognize, as Joan pointed out, that our move AWAY from sharing happened only very recently.

We can unlearn it, probably more easily than we think.

But it won't help if the image we have about it is the "hippy commune" image. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But you know what I mean...

Mauibrad said...

Nice, Joan. Community gardens are starting around the island. Northshore has one starting, meeting Wed. evenings at 6:30pm at Church of the Pacific.

Aloha, Brad

Anonymous said...

I was thinking more along the line of the farmer collectives and coops. From the kibutz to the grange hall, there's power in numbers. Do what you can with what you got; if we all do a little we can all do a lot. Nothing wrong w/communes, hippie or otherwise.

Larry said...

The difference between then and now (when these islands sustained themselves) is the population growth. Same for the world as a whole. What is it now (too lazy to look it up) 6.7 billion?

And in recent times, a growing class difference defines who will eat. The rich will feed themselves somehow, at least in the short term. Maybe armored cars will deliver actual carrots to gated communities guarded by Blackwater mercenaries.

For the rest of us, Soylent Green.

Anonymous said...

In reply to the soylent green comment, I recently read the book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" where the author (can't remember his name) pretty much flatly states that cannibalism was prevalent in areas of the world that didn't provide enough protein either through hunting or legume crops. I'll stick to just soy, thank you very much.

The same comment implies that food is a problem now because of the population. But on Kauai at least, I have seen figures of 100,000 to 200,000 historically, much more than modern times. I don't have any evidence, nor do I know if that's sustainable (for example fish depletion), but it is plausible.

I have heard that local chiefs were mostly food managers, making sure their subjects had enough to eat by planning irrigation and setting kapus to allow the land or sea to replenish itself. I don't know if that is supported by historical evidence or an assumption based on population estimates (ie in order to sustain the population that could theoretically live off the known agricultural surface, there must've been some sort of agricultural overseer). But the commoners weren't serfs, they were theoretically free to move to another place in search of better "management."

Anonymous said...

KALO! NUI ke kalo! No need soy! No need Malthusian disasta!