The Mycology of Santa Claus:
An ethnomycological journey into Christmas
by Douglas Barnes
Would Christmas be what it is without mushrooms? I’d like to put forward to you that Santa Claus himself owes at least part of his existence to the mushroom Amanita muscaria.
First, let’s have a look at Santa Claus. Santa is based on the Dutch figure Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas owes some of his legend to the patron saint of children, Saint Nicholas. Nicholas had a fondness for gift-giving, making him a popular figure in life and death.
But Sinterklaas also owes some of his essence to Odin, ruler of the Norse gods. Sinterklaas is known for riding his white horse, whereas Odin rides his flying gray horse. Sinterklaas has his mischievous black-faced helpers. Odin has his ravens. Children would leave carrots, hay or sugar in their shoes for Odin’s horse. In return, Odin would leave candy or gifts in exchange. Dutch children leave carrots, apples or hay in their shoes for Sinterklaas who, in exchange, leaves behind gifts.
Unlike Sinterklaas, Odin has one eye, having given up the other as payment for a drink from the well of knowledge. What one sees when one cuts the stem off an Amanita muscaria
and looks at its underside resembles an eye, much like the one Odin would have left in the well as payment. And our mushroom hero in this story is revered by many cultures as a giver of wisdom due to its psychotropic properties.
Odin’s chariot is visible in the night sky as the Big Dipper, which contains the North Star, which in turn shows the way to the North Pole. The North Pole, as we know, happens to be the home of Santa Claus.
I think I’ve made a decent case for connecting Santa to Odin, but not Amanita muscaria
to Norse culture, or Santa. Not yet, anyway.
Amanita is a mycorrhizal fungi, meaning that it forms symbiotic partnerships with plants, helping to supply the plant with water and essential nutrients, and helping it to share resources and information (such as warnings about impending pest attacks) with other plants. In return, it gets sugars from the plant.Amanita muscaria
is a striking red mushroom with white spots. This colour scheme is obviously relevant to the argument. It has a number of psychotropic properties owing to the muscimol and muscimol’s precursor ibotenic acid contained in the mushroom (mainly in the universal veil). Among its effects are visual and auditory distortions, impared balance, mild muscle spasms, and the sensation of floating or flying. Some clinical subjects have reported simultaneous states of wakeful consciousness and lucid dreaming. Another common report is a deeply moving spiritual experience. Considering this, it is not surprising that the mushroom is revered in many cultures around the world. It has a tradition of use among the Norse, some of whom took it in very large quantities to become fierce berserks or berserkers. Odin was said to have a berserkergang
of his own to follow him in battle. No doubt it was a relief to Norwegians when the berserk practice was outlawed in 1123 AD.
Across Siberia it was highly sought, and its rarity there saw it traded sometimes at a rate of one reindeer to one mushroom. This is a daring exchange to make, considering the fact that reindeer go crazy for this mushroom and will scramble to get at it. One might imagine that someone ingesting the mushroom and watching reindeer might just possibly see them fly.
The Athabaskans also have a tradition of using the mushroom as do the Afghans. In researching this, I came across a 1979 article in Afghanistan Journal in which one elder of the Shutul Valley in Afghanistan fittingly described his experience of the mushroom as thus: “Once, I thought I was a tree.” The Shutul people also use it as a treatment for frostbite and psychotic conditions. Considering that muscimol acts on the GABA-A receptor, it’s likely that this “psychotic condition” mentioned by the Shutulis is depression.
The late eminent ethnomycologist, Gordon Wasson, put forward the theory that “soma,” the sacramental substance mentioned in the Hindu holy book Rig Veda, was, in fact, Amanita muscaria
. This is certainly plausible, though the exact composition of soma was kept a secret to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
|From Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month|
There is another curious connection between Christmas and Amanita muscaria
. In Europe, it is very common to see Christmas trees decorated with Amanita muscaria
ornaments. While the colour scheme matches, it think there is a deeper cultural connection to the mushroom and makes it show up for Yule celebrations.
So let’s recap. We have this Santa Clause chap who happens to be dressed in Amanita muscaria
camouflage. Santa is based on Sinterklaas, who is based on Odin. Odin, with his flying horse, his acquisition of wisdom, and his berserkers, comes from a culture steeped in the mushroom. Santa travels via flying reindeer - the very same beast that itself has a remarkable affinity for the mushroom, as well as historically being swapped for it. Finally, we’ve got people making replicas of the mushroom and using it as a decoration to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year.
Believe what you want to believe. Me? I’m going to nod my head in respect for this mighty mycological miracle.
2:29 pm • 20 December 2011 • 8 notes
Compromise in Design
Compromise in Design
By Douglas Barnes
[The following is a writeup of a presentation given at the spring PermaCon in Toronto.]
My focus today is to look at a framework for design and the need for compromise within design. Projects that get abandoned due to inflexibility or unrealistic expectations are all too common.
To understand compromise in design we should be clear about the design process. The first step is creating a goal to work from. This goal should be put in as simple and as broad of terms as possible to get at the core of what you are trying to do. Think of this as the Twitter version of what it is you are going to do. Fleshing out comes later.
When dealing with permaculture, we are looking at creating some sort of sustainable system. A sustainable system is one that captures and stores more energy over its lifetime than is used in its creation and maintenance.
Consider an example that we will examine later in more detail: building a house. Faced with the need for housing and the desire to set up a permaculture research farm, I needed to design a home. Since it is in Ontario, I knew that it had to be a passive solar home. (Incidentally, this knowledge also led to my choice in property and location on that property for the home.) So my goal then became “Design a passive solar home for my wife and me with room for guests.” The goal was not “Design a passive solar tirewall home,” or “Design a passive solar straw bale home,” as those to provide specifics that are not important to achieving the primary goal of sustainability.
Putting on the guise of a 4-year-old and repeatedly asking why can help in this instance. Take, for example, the desire for a straw bale home. Why straw bale? If the answer is “sustainability,” then why are other types of sustainable building unacceptable? Is it aesthetics? Why? These questions can help to get at the kernel of what it is you really want.
This step is the core of any planning and subsequent action you will take, so it is vital to get it right. Without this clear statement of intent, you are leaving more room for misunderstanding and potential for the disappointment of not getting what you really want, or something that simply does not work.
A hint to finding if you have articulated your goal is to ask yourself if it actually sounds like a plan. Saying “My goal is to build a 2000 ft² straw bale home with a root cellar and 3 bedrooms” is too specific and has already moved into the planning stage.
With your goal in place, you are still not ready for planning. You are ready for the observation stage. Your task now is to gather data. You’ll need to find out all you can about the proposed site: temperature trends, maximum rainfall, length of drought periods, soil type, site aspect and slope, drainage, local vegetation, notable elements of neighbouring properties, etc. Ideally, you would want to observe a property for a long time, perhaps a year of more. But this is one stage where compromise creeps in. It might be that you don’t have a long time to observe a property before you need to act. In fact, it’s not uncommon. In such instances, even more careful observation is necessary.
To give an example, I was asked to do a water-harvesting project on semi-arid land in India. I was on site for 3 weeks, so long term observation was not possible. I made up for this and carried out a successful project through careful examination of the site, an understanding of the native, lateritic soils, and interviews with locals familiar with the property and climate conditions there.
The next stage is research. With the data you need, what sort of action could you take? Check to see if someone has done something similar and can advise you – even if you spend some money on this, you may wind up saving a bundle by not setting yourself up for further problems later. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to.
This period of observation takes a considerable amount of time to do correctly. One of my teachers, Geoff Lawton, is fond of saying that you need one hundred hours of thinking to one hour of labour. This is a nice saying that gets you thinking the right way, but with about 3000 work hours invested in my house so far, I promise you that I did not spend 300,000 hours or 34 years worth of thinking time designing house.
Now you are ready to move onto the planning stage. It is likely that during planning, you will find yourself needing to jump back into observation and research. With your goal in mind, you’ll look at the dictates of the local conditions to see what fits the site. You will identify and available resources you have to work with (A native tree stand might be translated into lumber, but in Canada, that means you will need to mill it yourself, when have an engineer inspect and stamp each piece of wood. Buying lumber and leaving your trees in place is going to be cheaper. It will also save that existing stand of trees, though at the expense of another.) Available funding will also determine what it is you are going to do. Local regulations may put a halt to certain plans as well.
Such constraints may seem like a hindrance, but working with constraints within a design actually makes design easier. Being presented with a blank canvas with which to work is more daunting than being faced with limitations on a site – which is something that always occurs in the real world.
As your plan takes shape, you will need to keep in mind Rule 1 in planning: Assume the plan is wrong.
Assume that the plan is flawed and requires observation of feedback and redesign. More problems are caused by neglecting this rule than anything else. The single greatest flaw you can make is falling in love with your idea.
I’ll give you a few examples to scare you off of falling in love with your own ideas.
There is a retired couple I heard of in Eastern Ontario who spent their savings setting up an apple orchard. Right at this point, they might have been saved from financial ruin had the question “Why?” been rigorously asked. Why set up a pest-prone monoculture for a product that has had its market thoroughly eroded by imports? But the story doesn’t end there. They established the orchard on land prone to flooding in heavy rain events. Flooding and fruit trees don’t mix. The end result was unfortunately financial ruin.
Does this mean the couple were stupid? Not at all. Or at least, considering the number of times I have fallen in love with my own bad ideas, I hope it doesn’t. They got stuck on an idea that they were sure they could pull off. Entire civilisations have done worse. More research and more observation might have pulled them out of their disaster before they were in neck deep. It at least would have stopped them from planning a monoculture and putting all their eggs in one basket.
Another example, roundly reviled, is the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal haphazardly scribbled on a napkin, then transferred to make poorly designed, grand old building into an even more poorly designed nightmare.
First, glass on the north side of a building – bad. Then sloped glass – bad. Then sloped glass that can result in snow and ice accumulation sloughing off and striking pedestrians – bad. I could go on in terms of functionality and lack of aesthetic quality, but we are here for permaculture and only here for one day, so I’ll stop at that.
The Sharp Centre for Design foolishly plopped onto the Ontario College of Art and Design is another example. First, it’s oriented north-south in a cold climate – foolish. Second, it is suspended on stilts, minimising thermal mass heat storage and maximising heat loss on a cold and windy location – foolish. Third, it has very little natural light inside and is reportedly unpleasant to work in – foolish. Fourth, it’s butt-ugly – unacceptable. Hardly surprising then that it won architectural awards for its design.
The phenomenon is not limited to people with too much cash on their hands. I’ve encountered a disturbing number of people who want to build “eco-homes” in cold climates that are round or have a rounded south-facing wall. I suspect it is because artist renditions of buildings of the future are very often round, but I’m not sure. Rounded on the shade-side of the building, where the shape doesn’t interfere with the building’s solar gain and where it minimises the surface area on the cold side, is fine. Round facing the sun just wastes potential solar gain and increases the need for additional heating.
Working with constraints within a design actually makes design easier. Being presented with a blank canvas with which to work is more daunting than being faced with limitations on a site – which is something that always occurs in the real world.
Working with compromise can allow you to complete beneficial action that would otherwise be abandoned in attempts to be a purist. Again, the metric is more energy captured and stored than used in the creation and maintenance of a system.
I have had to contend with compromise within my own site design. The target date to start construction was July, 2008, but technicalities interfered with the close of the sale of our old property, delaying the purchase of the new one. I did set to work designing a tirewall structure for the site, however. My aim was to make something very conventional looking but using tires as a building material. This was not to be an earthship. I paid a visit to the permitting office and was told “Not a chance.” The inspector then changed his mind and said I could do it if I had an engineer on site every day of construction. In other words, “Not a chance.” I could have fought this, but I was interested in building a home, not moving into a new community and getting embroiled in a legal battle. Someone else in nearby Prince Edward County felt differently and did get in a legal battle, winning and clearing the way for similar projects. Perhaps when it comes time to building a barn…
A friend who turned to straw bale consulting told me that the building code in Ontario had changed, requiring vapour barriers on straw bale homes, which is not only a bad idea, it could lead to the collapse of load-bearing straw bale structures. Then straw has the issues of extra footprint to accommodate the thick walls, the problem of acquiring quality straw, and that straw in an area that is naturally forested necessarily means that it comes at the expense of forest. Timber production is certainly open to criticism for its clear cutting and replacement of forest with tree plantations, however.
In the end, I chose Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). They have the benefit of ease of construction and an excellent R-value. In the final equation of more energy captured and stored than consumed in creation and maintenance, I knew that SIPs could be put to use sustainably.
My first choice of locations for the home was about 500 feet back from the road. This site, however, would have meant that I would need to run primary cable from the road to the house for electricity. It would also increase the cost of driveway construction and the amount of work to plough the driveway. This would have added perhaps $10,000 to the cost of the home. Instead, I chose a spot just on the limit before primary cable is needed.
I will soon be insulating the roof of the building. Wet-blown cellulose was my first choice. But I was informed by a local insulator that he no longer does wet-blown because he can’t stand being so cruel to his customers. It turns out that it uses an adhesive which has a foul smell that lingers for several years. No thank you. Dry cellulose is not acceptable to me as it settles over time leaving uninsulated blank spots at the peaks of the roof where it is most needed. Blown in fibreglass looks to be the better option and more sustainable in the long run.
I designed the home myself to be passive solar – to heat itself as much as possible with the heat of the sun. My real-world backup heat source is a thermal mass stove, which doubles as a thermal mass for the passive solar aspect of the building. Code, however, requires a mechanical heat source – a provision put into the building code by the banks. The cheapest to install is electric baseboard. I’m never going to use it, but its benefits are that it’s cheap and code requires more insulation, meaning that I won’t skimp on that end. The drawback is that I have to listen to everyone tell me how inefficient the heat source I’m never going to use is.
The building is not yet complete, but I am sure there are other areas that I will be forced to compromise with before I am done.
In summary, the key steps are to create a brief but coherent goal that states what it is you are trying to achieve. From there, one can begin observation and research to be able to move onto the planning stage. In planning, remember not to fall in love with your ideas. If reality interferes, yield to it. That will give you a happier outcome, even if you don’t realise it. And remember to assume that your plan is flawed and in need of feedback.
11:09 am • 8 August 2011
Come on out to the TPP-GTA PermaCon this weekend. I’ll be giving a seminar on design strategy and compromise in design and one on earthworks.
9:48 am • 7 April 2011
Permaculture in Disaster Areas: Tsunami
Permaculture in Disaster Areas: Tsunami
Approaches to lessening tsunami damage.
By Douglas Barnes
Special thanks to Steve Cran
The earthquake and devastating tsunami of March 11, 2011 shocked the world with images of widespread destruction. All during my13 years in Japan, I lived under the constant threat of “The Big One.” It never came while I was there, but when it finally did, its damage directly affected many of my family and friends living in Japan.
While no structure can be completely earthquake or tsunami proof, there are design elements that can be included that may reduce the damage caused by these events. I’ve already written on a simple design tweak to increase the strength of a building in an earthquake, now I’d like to look at strategies for dealing with tsunami.
After the 1998 tsunami that hit Papua New Guinea, permaculture aid worker Steve Cran toured the devastated areas to find out what strategies might be employed to deal with tsunami prone regions. One pattern that emerged was that areas with dense tree belts along the coast suffered less damage from the wave. Inland tree belts also assist in reducing the power of the wave and filtering our abrasive debris picked up by the wave that can lead to further damage of structures. Again, tree belts help, but as Steve Cran pointed out to me in a recent correspondence, “You can’t stop a tsunami but you can reduce its impact inland.”
Structures themselves can be designed to be more likely to survive tsunami. A boat-shaped wall at least 2 metres high with the “bow” and “stern” perpendicular to contour can help to deflect the wave. Additionally, buildings can be boat shaped and built on piers to better allow the wave to pass as it both comes in and goes out (both directions being destructive). Such a building shape could easily be achieved using concrete – a building material that is commonly used in Japan already. While concrete is an energy intensive material, it is durable and can be used sustainably. Existing earthquake dampening systems could be used in such a design as well.
For community design, Steve recommends compounds “laid out like bricks, offset, two over one so when the wave comes, the front compounds break the force of the wave as it moves inland.” In the case of Kessenuma and other ravaged communities in Japan, property is already marked out, making the brick-like pattern inapplicable. However, houses could still be built as described above to lessen the impact of the wave. Whether such a home would survive the over 10-metre waves that hit the coast is uncertain. They would, however, increase the likelihood of buildings surviving.
Many kind readers have asked about the safety of my family. My mother and father-in-law live in the mountains of northern Ibaraki and had to endure many quakes over magnitude 6. Despite this, their 150 plus year-old farmhouse survived just fine – a testament to the traditional home design and construction in Japan. Some earthen plaster did fall off one of the out buildings on the farm, but a little sand, some clay and straw and it will be good as new. They are about 70 or 80 km from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, but so far the radiation has not presented a problem.
This blog’s coauthor Scott Meister also safely but nervously road out many magnitude 6 quakes at his home 16 km from the summit of the slumbering Mt. Fuji. Expect an article on design for earthquakes from Scott when he is presented with some time.
5:17 pm • 1 April 2011
We Can’t Get There From Here
The following is a transcript of a speech given to the Belleville chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women in Belleville, Ontario on February 17th, 2011.
We Can’t Get There From Here
by Douglas Barnes
Tonight, we’ll be looking at the state of the world through the lens of sustainability. Then we will examine what are claimed to be our societal goals to try to unravel how we got where we are today. Finally, we will look at a methodology to put ourselves on a sustainable path along with a few examples of this methodology put into action.
Well, to talk about sustainability, we really are going to have to understand what it is. Otherwise ongoing attempts to reduce it to a meaningless marketing term will succeed. For instance, one infamous agrichemical company has marketed its glyphosate herbicide as a means of “creating sustainable pastures.”
The surfactant in their product is highly toxic to amphibians.
Glyphosate kills Rhizobium bacteria, which are the bacteria that live symbiotically with legumes and fix atmospheric nitrogen, nourishing the soil.
It kills mycorrhizal fungi which help plants attain calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and other minerals. They also help supply plants with water in times of drought. They allow plants to communicate to fight off pest attacks and serve as a network to allow plants to share nutrients. They also help sequester carbon and build up soil humus. Killing them off is an exceedingly bad idea.
Glyphosate is toxic to fish.
While not directly toxic to birds, it has been observed to reduce local bird populations due to its overall detrimental effect on ecosystems.
In humans, it has been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as well as being linked to liver tumours and thyroid cancer in rats.
If the word “sustainable” is to hold any meaning, it must not be left up to the world of marketing to define it.
Here’s the definition: A system is sustainable if, over its lifetime, it captures and stores more energy than it consumes in its creation, operation and maintenance.
In traditional peasant agriculture systems, the energy required to plant and tend a squash plant is paid back many times over by the harvest. Think of a bank account as an analogy. If you continually spend more than you earn, sooner or later you will reach a point in which you are out of capital.
There have been societies that spent more natural capital than they produced. Sumer, Rapa Nui, Rome and the Anasazi are all examples of societies that did this and collapsed.
But that can’t happen to us, right? We’re exceptional! We have technology.
Consider our industrial agricultural system. It now costs 10 calories of energy on average to deliver one calorie of food energy and that is only counting exosomatic energy, not energy from human labour. This is really bad news considering that we are about half way through our global oil supply, discounting the difficult to extract oil sands. Natural gas production, important for synthesizing nitrogen, peaked in North America a decade ago.
And industrial agriculture has destroyed more soil more quickly than at any other time in human history. We lose 75 billion tons of topsoil globally every year. The Great Plains of North America have lost 6 to 10 feet of top soil since the arrival of farming there; and 38% of Canadian prairie farmland has become significantly salinated. It is worth noting that no civilisation has ever collapsed that did not have loss of soil fertility as a major contributing factor. Soil may not be a sexy topic, but it is premier in importance.
Directly connected to soil loss is deforestation. We lose an area of the Amazon the size of Kuwait every year to soy and cattle farming, which are wholly inappropriate to the climate. Globally, we lose the size of Lebanon in forests every year.
To this I will add that global fisheries are predicted to collapse by 2048; and that global climate change threatens the climate stability that makes agriculture possible while acidifying the oceans, threatening the base of marine food chains.
In this context, we can see that sustainability is another word for survivability.
How Did We Get Here?
A key point in finding our way out of this mess is to figure out how it is we got into it in the first place. To find that out, it’s helpful to examine what it is one has been trying to do.
So, what are we trying to do? What are we trying to achieve? Let’s look at the common answers offered up.
Is the goal to maximise individual and societal happiness?
Happiness is tracked by economists as “Subjective Well Being.” (They call it this because it’s more impressive than saying “happiness.”) In 1974, economist Richard Easterlin asked a novel question in the field of neo-classical economics: “Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot?” The answer was yes… to a point.
More recently, Lord Turner, former head of the Confederation of British Industry (that noted group of left wing radicals) admitted that “All the evidence shows that beyond the sort of standard of living which Britain has now achieved, extra growth does not automatically translate into human welfare and happiness”
He was on the right track, but the material standard of living today in the West is much higher than the point at which is required to maximise happiness. A recent meta-analysis by Oxford economic historian Avner Offer confirms this, concluding that,
Since the Second World War, and especially since the 1970s, self-reported ‘happiness’ has languished at the same levels, or has even declined…. On any measure used, the rise of aggregate money incomes has done little or nothing to improve the sense of well being.
Indeed, it can be argued that the influence of monetary wealth on societal happiness has become detrimental. A 2009 study from the London and Harvard Schools of Business has shown that exposure to luxury goods increases self interested thought and decision making. This is counter-productive to a species that is social by nature.
Is the goal of our global society to maximise human potential?
Were this the case, we would expect to see literacy rates at 99%. We’d also expect the average reading grade level in adults to be higher.
The cost of a post-secondary education in the U.S. would not be outpacing the rate of inflation by over 4.5 times, were this true. (The case is similar for Canada with tuitions skyrocketing.)
We would have no national debate about the need to combat mental illness; we would be combating mental illness.
We would not be creating people incapable of relating to other people. The University of Michigan has been recording self-reported empathy among college students and has found it dropping since 1980 when the study started. Seventy-five percent of today’s students assess themselves less empathetic than their average counterpart from thirty years ago. Self-reported narcissism is at an all time high.
A study published in the February, 2007 Quarterly of Economics found that landless squatters randomly given title over land showed increased materialistic and individualistic beliefs, including – and I wish I were making this up – the belief that you can succeed on your own. It also made the newly entitled less trusting of the landless. Apparently, money creates a new paradigm that blinds one to irony.
Is the goal to meet the need for healthy food, clean air and water, and sensible housing?
In addition to costing more energy than it provides (not to mention costing more dollars than it charges – one investigation from the January 12, 1994 edition of the Financial Times found the cost of a hamburger in real dollars was $290 USD, not counting corporate subsidies), industrially produced food is lower in nutrition than traditionally grown produce.
For instance, pasture-raised hens produce eggs that are 7 times higher in beta carotene, 3 times higher in vitamin E, 2 times higher in omega 3 fatty acids, 2/3 higher in vitamin A, 1/3 lower in cholesterol, and ¼ lower in saturated fat than eggs from prison chickens. Sticking with chickens, dark meat has decreased 52% in vitamin A content and increase 54.4% in fat since 1963. Chemist Donald R. Davis has compared data spanning the past 70 years and found median declines of 5 to 40% or more in vitamins, minerals and protein in fruits and vegetables. There is less food in industrially produced food.
Deaths from air pollution worldwide are estimated at 2 million per year by the WHO. Were clean air a serious goal, the only air quality warnings would come during forest fires and volcanic eruptions.
Clean water? You can convince me this is a serious goal when you can safely and confidently brew a cup of coffee with water from every single major river on earth. Deaths from unsafe water are estimated at 3 million per year.
Sensible shelter? Well, shelter, at least, though not too sensible. It is available to most, but the misfits, the mentally ill and those hit by financial disaster fall through the cracks.
Is the goal long term survivability?
We know we are destroying the soil that human health is dependent upon, we know that we use far more energy to produce food than we get from the food and we know that energy is running out. Furthermore, we know that using that energy is threatening the climatic stability that agriculture is dependent upon.
And even if we discover some wondrous new source of energy, it is clear from what we have done with cheap, abundant energy that we would most likely destroy the ecology that makes our lives possible. While survival as a species is likely, if likely hellish, survival as a global civilisation is not in the cards.
No, if these were our goals then we as a species are either grossly incompetent or incredibly stupid.
Looking empirically at outcomes, it appears to me as though the goal of our current system is to accrue and secure financial power for those clever enough, educated enough, lucky enough and/or devious enough to get it and hold on to it. As the saying goes, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
How Do We Get There?
If the global society is to survive, it needs to have a coherent and overt goal that encompasses sustainability. The good news is that there are precedents of societies that have successfully pulled themselves back from the brink and are surviving to this day. One example is Japan, which faced a serious crisis from deforestation. This was turned around by imperial decree during the Tokugawa era. More fascinating for me as an environmental designer is the example of the tiny Pacific island nation of Tikopia. At 4.7 km2, Tikopia has long been at risk of overpopulation. Environmental destruction has always been a risk, threatening starvation. Yet they have been able to overcome serious challenges that have arisen over the millennia and are still going strong 2900 years after first founding the nation.
To achieve what those nations did, we first need to establish a holistic goal that answers the question, “What are we trying to do?” Perhaps that goal will be the pursuit of happiness, or perhaps it will be to maximise human potential, but it must be clear and it must address human needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a pretty good model for determining human needs, and the diagram here is patterned in large part, though not exclusively, from it. I’ve put together some of the needs that I’ve seen have empirical evidence to back them and avoided the influence of spiritual, political or economic ideology as best as I could. For simplicity’s sake, this is not an exhaustive list of human needs, just a sampling of important needs.
The importance of a holistic goal is summed up in the following analogy. It is near impossible to arrive in Burbank, California from Belleville, Ontario if all you know is that you need to drive 33 hours to reach the destination. You have to know where you are going if you want to get there.
Once a goal is in place, the next step is to draft a plan to achieve that goal. A vital step that most planners fail to do is to assume that the plan you create is flawed. It is too easy to fall in love with one’s plan and near impossible to create a plan that will not need adjustment over time to achieve its goals.
At this point, it is vital to know the eight most important words in sustainable design: Design action around energy, not energy around action. In other words, don’t plan what it is you are trying to do then scramble at the end to get the required energy. Determine your actions based on locally available sustainable energy. It is typical for a single property design to place elements relative to their distance from the house and the frequency with which you must visit them.
With the plan based on the holistic goal, it can now be implemented. Then observe the feedback and make adjustments to the plan accordingly.
I’d be remiss if I did not caution against looking to technology as a panacea for our problems. In the words of 2004 Massey lecturer Ronald Wright,
Our technological culture measures human progress by technology: the club is better than the fist, the arrow better than the club, the bullet better than the arrow. We came to this belief for empirical reasons.
He points out, however, that “[o]ur practical faith in progress has ramified and hardened into an ideology – a secular religion which… is blind to certain flaws in its credentials.”
Technology may solve a given problem, but it opens up new problems requiring ever more technology to solve. We’ve had all the technology we’ve needed to make global civilisation sustainable for decades.
Now I’ll give the promised examples of this approach in action.
In May of 2009, I visited the small farming village of Talupula in Andhra Pradesh, India and the invite of a local organisation, the Green Tree Foundation, which provides trees to the region at low or no cost. Historically a dry tropical region, biotic pressure and climate change has turned the region into a semi arid zone, with the threat of desertification very seriously looming (desert has sprung up 100 km to the west). The goal in my case was to design and implement a water harvesting system to revitalise a section of land to serve as a demonstration site.
My initial plan had been to establish a system involving a small earthen dam fed by swales (swales are water harvesting ditches dug on contour) along with patterned ripping with a subsoiler to assist in allowing easier infiltration of water and even irrigation of the land.
Well, remember that it is important to assume one’s plan is wrong. While building a dam was an exciting prospect for me, the lateritic soils there made it an unrealistic option. The soil, hard as concrete in the dry season and as squishy as a mattress in the wet season did not lend itself to the kind of dam I had in mind, nor the patterned ripping with the subsoiler. The plan changed.
We settled on a 7-acre patch of hillside that a local organic farmer had abandoned to pigeon pea farming and nothing else. I knew that swales were a good option for the site and could assist in establishing a more water-hungry and more valuable crop of mango trees.
Inspecting the site, I calculated the size and spacing of the water harvesting swales needed and had the site mapped out by a survey crew. With three levels of contour mapped out and with the aid of a backhoe and a labour crew, we dug out 4 swales spanning over 400 metres. These swales capture rainfall that would otherwise wash down the hillside, eroding it, and store the water in the ground, making it available to plants and recharging the water table. When completely filled, the swales hold over one million litres of water. The total cost of the work to make this happen was $650 CND.
The staff at the Green Tree Foundation includes ethnobotanists who grew up in the region, so I left tree and ground cover selection in their very capable hands. This image just six months after I left shows the top swale with nitrogen-fixing Cassia siamea, which helps stabilise the soil along with enriching it. C. siamea leaves and pods can also be cooked and eaten, and helps fight colorectal cancer. It can also be used as a good fuel source.
Here we see mango trees that have been established without the use of irrigation. I knew the swales would have a marked effect, but I never imagined mango trees without irrigation.
Directly below the second and largest swale, there was a large tamarind tree that I would frequently seek shelter under (and it no doubt saved my life on the 45oC+ days we had). The tamarind fruits during the monsoon season and typical crops are like this one on a tamarind very close to the site but on the opposite slope.
Here is an image of the crop from the tamarind directly beneath the swales. The difference is night and day. Considering the tree saved my live several times over, this is the least I could do for it.
I had predicted to the team that within 3 years, springs would appear at the bottom of the hill below the swales, if only during the rainy season. Well, slightly to the side below the site, the farmer had dug a well for irrigation. When I was there, the water level was 3 metres down and inaccessible without a hose. Here, six months later, the same well was full, they say as a direct result of the swales.
My confidence in the effectiveness of this technique came from learning of the experiences of one of my teachers, Geoff Lawton. In 2000, he was invited to Jordan by NICCOD, a Japanese NGO and the Hashemite Fund for Human Development.
On a ten acre site in the Jordan River valley, 10 km from the Dead Sea, he led a project to establish a demonstration site for sustainable design. Rainfall at the site comes in 2 or 3 large events and amounts to only 100 to 150 mm per year. Regular hot, desiccating winds contribute to severe evaporation on the site. The soil is very infertile with little organic matter and extremely high salinity. Soil to a depth of 30 cm was found to have 98.1 dS/m, and soil from 30 to 60 cm deep registered 101.7 dS/m, making it extremely salty. [A dS/m, or decisiemens per metre, is a measure of electrical conductivity which can be used to measure soil salinity. The United States Department of Agriculture considers soil over 4 dS/m to be “saline soil.” The soils at the Kafrin site are above this level by more than an order of magnitude!]
To capture every drop of rainfall possible, the site was surveyed to provide a detailed map of the site contours. Once the contour lines were identified, swales were planned for the site to capture as much of the runoff rain to allow it to sink into the ground where it is most easily stored for the benefit of soil life and vegetation. Nitrogen-fixing trees were planted and drip irrigation was used to help establish them, although the site used 1/5th the irrigation of the surrounding farms in the area.
Eighteen months later, the site looked like this.
Geoff’s wife Nadia Lawton used similar permaculture techniques to design her family’s garden in Jordan. At the start, the site was very dry. They dug in a swale to capture rainwater and shunted greywater from the sinks into the swale. Before the trees were planted, the site looked like this.
The next year, the site was unrecognisable.
It’s not just applicable to arid regions, either. Before I left for India, I designed a passive solar home for my wife and I and have been building it myself since the end of 2009. As opposed to active solar, which is used to generate an electrical current, passive solar is a means of utilizing heat from the sun.
At 45° latitude (north or south) there are 957 Watt hours per square metre available for heating on a winter day. We can use this energy to assist in heating rather than relying totally on external sources of heat.
Taking advantage of free solar heat will not only save money, it will also help in making a building sustainable over its lifetime.
South facing fenestration allows us to capture solar energy where it is stored in the concrete pad and the thermal mass of the masonry stove that also serves as a backup heat source.
Though I was busy during the summer with construction of the house, I did take some time to establish 160 square feet worth of garden to supply us with fresh vegetables. In just that little area, I was able to grow about $400 worth of produce. Finding people to give the surplus away to was the main challenge. I will admit that we did need to water the garden a few times during the summer, but when it came to weeding, I report in all honesty that I spent less than 30 seconds weeding the entire summer. Similarly, we had no problems with pests whatsoever, so my recipes for drinkable insecticides were unnecessary.
Design is not limited to individual properties, either. I have recently worked with Transition Toronto, which is part of the Transition Movement. The Transition Movement seeks to assist communities in dealing with the challenges faced by declining energy levels. This includes creating action plans to provide food and energy for people as well as developing commerce strategies for a world that will surely see cast economic changes.
A colleague and fellow student of mine who is from Colombia has taught an entire village design and assisted them in designing a sustainable village for themselves in the mountains of Colombia.
And another piece of good news before I wrap up. It has taken us a tremendous amount of effort and energy to do the damage we have to the Earth. As we can see, if we pattern our actions in harmony with nature and make nature a partner rather than an opponent, positive response is instantaneous.
Once we can establish a sensible goal for ourselves and create a sustainable plan that involves working with nature, we can turn our planet on a dime. So, don’t panic.
(References will be added soon.)
12:09 pm • 17 February 2011
Designing a Livable Passive Solar Home
The following is a writeup of a workshop given at the fall 2010 conference of The Permaculture Project - GTA.
This guide is aimed at helping you to design an energy efficient, passive solar home in a temperate environment. However, there is more to consider when designing a home than just energy efficiency. The interior of the home must also be functional and inviting. Fortunately, this can be done without compromising on the gains derived from passive solar design.
What is Passive Solar?
As opposed to active solar, which is used to generate an electrical current, passive solar is a means of utilizing heat from the sun.
At 45° latitude (north or south) there are 957 Watt hours per square metre available for heating on a winter day. We can use this energy to assist in heating rather than relying totally on external sources of heat.
Taking advantage of free solar heat will not only save money, it will also help in making a building sustainable over its lifetime.
Passive Solar Design
Firstly, good solar access is necessary for passive solar design. A suitable site will need good access to the winter sun from at least 10 AM to 3 PM to be effective. While deciduous trees minimize the amount of shadows compared to evergreens, they still reduce the amount of solar gain and really interfere with passive solar design.
Slopes that face the sun (southern slopes in Canada) are good candidates, though flat sites will works as well. North-facing slopes are poor sites for passive solar unless the slope is very gentle.
The building itself will be oriented perpendicular to the sun at midday so as to maximize the exposure to the sun. If the building is slightly off, the loss is negligible.
Solar energy is let into the building through its sun-facing windows (south windows in Canada). However, having too few windows will will lead to insufficient heating, whereas having to many will lead to overheating in the day and heal loss at night. The simple rule of thumb is to match the percentage of window coverage on the sun-side wall with the latitude. So, a home at 45o north latitude would have about 45% of it’s south wall covered in windows.
The energy gained from the direct sunlight will be lost after the sun goes down if it is not stored. We store it by means of a thermal mass. A thermal mass is simply a dense object such as rock or concrete that will store the sun’s energy.
The easiest was to do this is by making the building’s foundation a monolithic slab on grade. In other words, the foundation is an insulated cement pad that the building rests on. The good news in that a slab on grade foundation is simple to build and avoids the problems of a leaky basement by eliminating the basement altogether.
The slab is insulated to retain the heat within the building. It is also a good idea to put “frost protection,” or “frost wings” around the perimeter of the foundation to help reduce heat loss.
Here, “frost wings” have been added in addition to the perimeter insulation.
Additional thermal mass can come from structures such as a brick wall inside the house or a masonry heater.
This house in Melbourne, Australia interior brick walls in the kitchen to store solar heat.
A masonry heater such as this one can provide a backup heat source while also being a thermal mass to capture solar heat.
Additional gain can be achieved by using reflectors to direct sunlight into the house that would otherwise be lost. This approach is somewhat limited as the sun sits very low in the sky in Canada during the winter and the pitch of roofs is generally too steep.
Two additional approaches to capturing solar heat are the trombe wall and the thermal siphon. From the outside, a trombe wall looks like a window built over a wall, but it is a very effective passive solar technique. A thermal mass wall is built then covered with glass to trap the heat it stores.
The thermal siphon is simply a window over an object that heats up (such as a piece of steel painted black) with vents to allow the heated air to escape into the house.
Something to remember is that not everyday is sunny, and that a backup heat source is necessary. Masonry heaters (mentioned above) make excellent backup heat sources. Unfortunately, building codes in Canada require a mechanical backup heat source, meaning that, unless you are building a cottage, you are required to install a conventional heating system. Though electric baseboards are the most expensive way to heat, they are the cheapest to install and will not be needed in a well designed passive solar home anyway. Code will also force you to have a better insulated home, if you are using electric heat, and that never hurts.Room Layout
The building will ideally be a long, thin structure with the long edge perpendicular to the sun. To maximize solar gain, keep the sun-facing edge of the building a flat wall. Angled or rounded shaped decrease solar gain.
Generally, you want to position the rooms so that their usage throughout the day follows the sun. So, the kitchen will be in the east, receiving the first sun of the day. Most people do not mind sleeping in cool rooms, so locating them on the shade side of the building (the north side in Canada) frees up sun space for other rooms used during the daytime. That said, an east-facing bedroom (perhaps on the northeast corner) is a glorious thing.Setting the Roof Overhang
The maximum and minimum sun angles during the summer and winter solstices respectively are found with by the following formulas.
Winter sun angle “A”:
A = 90° - (your latitude + 23.5o)
Summer sun angle “A”:
A = 90° - (Your latitude - 23.5o)
Knowing this, you can use trigonometry to set your roof overhang so that you let sun in during the winter and keep it out during the summer.
There is good news if you don’t want to muck about with trigonometry, though. You can have your rafters cut at a suitable length by nailing two pieces of wood together at the angle of the winter sun. Then place this guide flush against the wall at the top of your window and mark the point on the rafter that the guide intersects it.
A guide set to the same angle as the winter sun can be used to determine where to cut the rafters to set the overhang.
With Canadian latitudes, this will mean that the eaves of the house are set rather large - on the order of two feet or even more. While this means more material cost in the roof, it also means the building will be better protected from the elements.Making It Functional and Beautiful
While the techniques covered so far can help you to build an energy efficient, passive solar home, they won’t guarantee that it will be a home that you would want to spend any time in. There are architectural patterns that will assist in designing a livable home, however.
First, recognize that your home is both a place to meet people and a sanctuary to get away from the world - and it can be both simultaneously. Design your home with spheres of privacy from the public, where you can greet people stopping by, to the semi-private, where you can invite guests to sit down, to the private, where only the family goes.
Next, a good home has a flow to it. Movement through the home takes place through rooms rather than through hallways or passageways. This makes the rooms social and inviting.
There should be a central common area that the major flows of traffic through the house intersect.
That common area will be improved if it has its own semi-private areas where people can sit off to the side but still be apart of the common area itself.
A room will be much more pleasant to live in if it has natural light coming in from two sides.
Crenelate the edge of a building. This will create usable and inviting spaces both inside and outside the building, increase airflow in the summer, and help to create rooms with natural light coming from two sides.
Having different ceiling heights in different rooms creates varied atmospheres in a home ranging from lively to more intimate. Such effects are easy to achieve in a 1.5 story house, which also happens to be the most efficient home to build in terms of building material.
Finally, a large, sheltering roof that the home is built into is both functional and aesthetic. Make at least one slope of the roof visible from the ground; and, if possible, low enough to the ground in places to touch. If this is done on the north side (in Canada) it will help the building to deflect cold northern winds in the winter.
9:29 pm • 17 November 2010
Workshop: Make Compost in 18 Days!
Learn to make compost that is ready in just 18 days!
Fee: $10 per person or $12 for 2 (Refreshments and workshop notes provided.)
Time: July 10, 1 pm - 3 pm
Location: 231 Rusholme Rd., Toronto
Please register HERE: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that space is limited to 30 participants.
10:03 pm • 4 July 2010 • 1 note
Selling Big Ag
Selling Big Ag or: False Dichotomies Are Fun!
By Douglas Barnes
I just had the misfortune of reading Robert Paarlberg’s article Attention Whole Foods Shoppers in Foreign Policy in which he pooh-poohs what he thinks is “sustainable” agriculture. What is the prescription from this political scientist who sits on the Biotechnology Advisory Council to the CEO of Monsanto? Why, more industrial agriculture, of course! While I find many faults and outright falsehoods in the story, I shall reserve my critique to only the most egregious of errors in the piece to avoid making a book out of this.
First off, I suppose that I should praise Paarlberg for having the courage to so publicly demonstrate that he has no clue as to the meaning of sustainable. He makes the claim that
“[S]ustainable food” in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn’t work. Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals, so their food is de facto organic.
For the benefit of the reader, I shall give that definition in a manner that is clear and concise and has a useable metric behind it: A system is sustainable if it can capture and store more energy over its lifetime than it consumes in its creation and maintenance.
A system can be organic and still be unsustainable, and many are, especially when externalised costs are properly included in the calculations. As far as the modern farming he advocates goes, it is virtually always, if not always unsustainable.
Why is that important? It is important to realise that the word “sustainable” can also be traded for the word “survivable.” Modern conventional agriculture is wholly dependent on fossil fuels to exist. In fact, ten kilocalories of exosomatic energy – energy outside of human labour – are needed to provide a U.S. consumer with one kilocalorie of uncooked food energy
Now, I fully admit that I am not an accountant, so take the following with a grain of salt. It seems to me that if a system relies on consuming over ten energy units of a finite energy resource to produce one energy unit of an item, that system is neither sustainable nor survivable in the long term. I say “over ten times” because when losses from cooking, soil and water degradation and the documented adverse health effects of the modern food system are factored in, the costs increase.
I have trouble with Paarlberg’s the assertion that we have two choices for our future: The energy-intensive approach to farming in the so-called developed world, or traditional agricultural approaches. It is worth pointing out that many of these “traditional” approaches are the not-quite sustainable approaches developed in the temperate world and exported inappropriately to tropical, sub-tropical, arid and semi-arid regions of the world via colonialism.
While this does make arguing the case easier, it is a logical fallacy known as a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is an argument that reduces an argument to just two options, ignoring all other options. In this case, it offers only labour-intensive approaches to farming or energy-intensive approaches. Totally ignored is a design-intensive approach to farming. More on this later.
Paarlberg writes of “bringing improved seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers,” but what are these “improved seeds”? Many of them are genetically modified seeds that he has advocated elsewhere. These crops have never been tested for long term health effects on humans, although the amount of research finding harm to animals fed GMOs is increasing
. This is to say nothing about the hubris of randomly jamming transgenes into crop DNA when the science of genetics is just reaching the point where we understand that we don’t really understand what a gene is. In other cases, it means promoting the spread genetically homogeneous seeds. Luckily, this project is not complete. If it were, we would not have the 100 or so varieties of wheat resistant
to the strain of Puccinia graminis tritici
that popped up in Uganda in 1999, more commonly known as Ug99 - a fungus that threatens world wheat supplies.
And then there are the synthetic fertilisers he wants to bring to “traditional farmers.” I’ve written about this before
, so the question is, why does he want to destroy soil organic carbon content, particularly when that is so vital to soil fertility and the ability of soil to hold water?
Coming back to design-intensive approaches, let’s look at Africa, since Paarlberg is so intent on focusing on it. No, agriculture there isn’t sustainable. There systems are bleeding energy on the whole. Consider the case of Striga hermonthica
. S. hermonthica
is a fascinating genus of plant that actually parasitizes other plants, tapping into their roots for nutrients and water. Now, the folks Paarlberg work for propose a solution: genetically modify your crop so that it resists herbicides that would kill Striga. But Striga is actually a useful plant, in that it is an indicator plant. When it starts to appear, it is saying, “Hey Bozo, stop farming the wrong way!” You see, Striga only survives in conditions with very low available nitrogen. So, if you are repeatedly farming corn, a nitrogen-demanding crop, and are in a region such as East Africa that is prone to Striga, you will have a problem if you don’t take soil health seriously.
So, the solution could be spend millions on research to develop a proprietary technology
(i.e. GM crop) allowing plants to survive dousing with expensive and dangerous herbicides, ignoring the problem (neglect of soil health). Or the solution could be the one that has actually been put into practice
: Treat soil fertility seriously by inter-cropping corn in an alley-cropping regime such as the Taungya system, inter-planting with nitrogen-fixing trees such as Leucaena
that can also provide fodder, wood and fuel. The use of nitrogen-fixing plants, green manure and mulching are an effective way to address fertility without relying heavily or solely on animal manure, which Paarlberg asserts organic agriculture is dependent upon. Additionally, human wastes can be composted and returned to the land. This closes the fertility loop while tackling the water-borne disease problem so prevalent in Africa. Unfortunately, the latter, sustainable approach does not make money for industrial agribusiness.
Paarlberg also writes of “learning to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural systems we’ve developed in the West.” Well, no one who knows me or has read my articles in this blog would accuse me of being unappreciative of science, but it is true that I do not appreciate Western agriculture. Why would I appreciate a system that has ruined more soil more quickly than at any time in history, reduced nutrition (more on this later), contaminated groundwater and riparian systems, ruined farming as a way of life, while subjecting an unwilling population to ongoing experimentation that may be making them infertile, among other things (i.e. GM crops)? All for a system that is so inefficient that it requires 10 units of external energy (not counting human labour) to produce one unit of food energy and cannot survive without massive public subsidy? No thanks. You can keep that system.
He also asserts that organic has been found to be no more nutritious than conventionally grown produce and provides two sources to back him. I’ll provide two of my own. The first is a study by chemist Donald R. Davis published last year in HortScience in which it was found that
Recent studies of historical nutrient content data for fruits and vegetables spanning 50 to 70 years show apparent median declines of 5% to 40% or more in minerals, vitamins, and protein in groups of foods, especially in vegetables.
The second study was also released last year by the UK’s Food Standards Agency. The study omitted numerous studies showing higher nutrition in organically grown food and made the claim that there are “no important differences in the nutrition content , or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food.”
So, why am I citing this as support for my argument? Because despite the FSA’s characterisation of the study, the study found
that organic produce had 53.6% more beta-carotene, 38.4% flavonoids, 13.2% more phenolic compounds, 12.7% more protein, 11.3% more zinc, 10.5% more sulphur, 8.7% more sodium, 8.3% more copper, 7.1% more magnesium, 6% more phosphorus, and 2.5% more potassium. It sure would help us to form a reasonable opinion about the issue, if the people presenting the evidence were even remotely honest. But I digress.
Without a shred of evidence, he makes the claim that “Organic field crops also have lower yields per acre.” Well, the Rodale trials don’t square with that claim very wall. They found that
After a transition period of about four years, crops grown under organic systems yield as well as and sometimes better than crops grown under the conventional system. Moreover, organic systems can out-produce the conventional system in years of less-than-optimal growing conditions such as drought. [The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial: The First 15 Years, The Rodale Institute, Kutztown, 1999]
As mentioned, Paarlberg assumes that the only way to address soil fertility is through animal manure, which would require more forests to be cut down in order to provide for the animals, saying “Mass deforestation probably isn’t what organic advocates intend.” Actually, increased trees cover through agroforestry is what I intend, though I don’t speak for organic agriculture.
Our simple monoculture approach to production is a product of simple thinking. It’s time to stop burning those calories on either back-breaking labour or on producing synthetics and the machines to spread them around, and start spending it on brain power as outlined in the approach to Striga above.
7:04 pm • 29 April 2010
The Winter That Was
The Winter That Was
By Douglas Barnes
We had been bizarre winter here in Ontario, Canada. For most of Canada, the winter was rather anemic. While it did ease the home construction I did over the winter, it also threw us for a loop. So, imagine my surprise when renowned scholars such as real estate magnate Donald Trump made comments like this one: “”With the coldest winter ever recorded, with snow setting record levels up and down the coast, the Nobel committee should take the Nobel Prize back from Al Gore.”
The coldest winter ever recorded? Really? Well, the popular myth goes that the very wealthy are very wealthy because they are very intelligent and very knowledgeable. But let’s have a look at what happened this winter nonetheless.
The combined global average of land and sea temperatures for December, 2009 made it the eight warmest winter on record; and the month came in 0.49°C above the average for the 20th century. The following image shows the temperature anomalies for December. The more an area was below the average, the larger a blue dot it has. The higher above the normal, the larger the red dot it has. The map is very red.What was really bizarre was the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic taking a detour and heading towards Western Greenland instead of Europe. I would suspect that this under-reported phenomenon contributed to the cooling from the arctic oscillation that kept Europe and the eastern seaboard of the U.S. so chilly this year.
This phenomenon continued more or less right through the winter as can be seen in the Mercator reports over the winter.
The story for January was a little different. Whereas 2009 had the eighth warmest December on record, 2010 had the fourth warmest January on record with temperatures 0.60°C above the 20th century average for combined land and sea temperatures. The picture for January looks like this:
Yes, yes. But what about February when it was so cold in the eastern U.S. and when Trump made his comments?
Well, I have to admit, there is a gotcha. It was only the sixth warmest February on record with the combined land and sea temperatures 0.60°C above the 20th century average. Incidentally, the sea temperatures for December, 2009 through February, 2010 were the second warmest on record at 0.54°C above the 20th century average. The picture for February looks like this:
As for March, this year was the 34th year in a row where March was above the 20th century average. The combined average of land and sea temperatures were 0.77°C above normal making it the warmest March on record ever. March looked like this:
So what happened? Donald Trump and too many pundits were wrong? How can that be? Simply put, they made the shockingly common error of assuming that where they happened to live was the entire world when, in fact, it is only a tiny corner of the world.
The figures for April aren’t out yet, though I know that the region I live in is a full month ahead of where it was last year and will be showing up as a large red dot on the map when it is released. Stay tuned…
5:27 pm • 27 April 2010