Category Archives: Ecologia

EQC INQUIRY

PUBLIC INQUIRY into the EARTHQUAKE COMMISSION

SUBMISSION TO THE INQUIRY

 

BACKGROUND:

I am a professional engineer practicing in the field of Natural Environment engineering, including the assessment and mitigation of natural hazards, mostly concerning flooding, erosion and land slipping. For the last 30 years I have worked as a consulting engineer on catchment and river management issues throughout New Zealand, including hazard assessment, design and construction of works, water and soil resource investigations, the evaluation of environmental effects and economic impacts, and the management of assets.

I am a Fellow of EngNZ for: “his role in designing flood management schemes that harmonise with the natural environment. He has led the development and dissemination of an approach based on working with nature by understanding natural behaviour and the form of waterways, and then adding channels or fairways that augment rather than modify the natural behavoiur.”

I also provide a permaculture design and advisory service, and facilitate and tutor permaculture courses and workshops. I initiated the forming of a permaculture emergency response team, and was part of a small team that responded to the Christchurch earthquakes by providing information and guidance on compost toilets as an option, given the damage and disfunction of the city sewerage system.

With my partner, we manage a small 50 hectare property, with a diverse range of farm and forest activities, following the practices and methods of organic and biodynamic agriculture.

My academic qualifications are: Bachelor of Engineering (Civil – Hons 1st), Bachelor of Science (Physics) and Master of Commerce (Economics – Hons 2nd).

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PATTERNS

NATURE’S PATTERNS

SPIRALS OF CONNECTION

A pamphlet about the patterns of nature that guide our perception and our understanding of the world we live in.

 

It starts with the following prologue:

The patterns of nature are all around us, and we have the ability to perceive and understand these patterns because we are a part of nature.  Or we should be able to.
But our world has been greatly modified by our technology and the power and control it gives us.  The world many of us live in is, thus, a very constructed and artificial one, of an urban-industrial world.  The world we live in and learn about has, then, a manufactured character where the rules (about knowledge and behaviour) are set by cultural conventions and beliefs
Central to this constructed world of humanity are beliefs about progress and growth, human-centred growth of material consumption and comfort, based on attitudes of exploitation and individual self-seeking.  ‘Nature is outside of us, and there to provide resources and services for us.
This presents us with a dilemma if we want to understand the ways of nature, of the world we do, in fact, live in.  To appreciate and understand the patterns and processes of nature we have to have an intimate engagement and awareness of the world around us, as a fully connected being of that world.  To be fully connected and intimately engaged, however, we have to appreciate and understand the patterns and processes of life on Earth, the place we inhabit.
Humanity has, though, studied and reflected on its place, for a long time, and there are guides and aids that can assist us in re-connecting and really engaging with the world we share with so many life forms, which are all inter-related in very complex and diversified ways.
Writing about the patterns of nature is an intellectual activity using the formalities of language and cultural conventions.  It can only provide some mental aids, but this can be a starting point for a real appreciation of the natural world we are part of.
We do have a natural ability to live in the world we are born into, and we can reclaim our natural heritage, to become a people of the place we live in, understanding and sharing it in a compassionate and responsible way.  Our technology does not have to be alienating and destructive, or our culture one of control and domination.
We can un-learn and re-learn, reclaiming our place in the natural world and our role as a connected and responsive part of the greater scheme of things that is life on this planet.

Reconnecting and experiencing our world in all its wonderful diversity and vitality is not only possible, it is a really practical way of bringing about a transformation in our lives, to a more balanced, healthier and creative way of living.  We just need to start doing it.
Then we will change, our worldview will change, and we can be part of the solution instead of the problem.

Download as a PDF

4P-Patterns-A5

PART 2 — “LIVING IN OUR WORLD”

NATURAL ECONOMICS

LIVING with SENSITIVITY & RESPONSIBILITY — PLACE & PEOPLE CONNECTED

What is our relationship with the world that sustains and nourishes us, and how do we act and interact in a healthy and productive way?

 

The second of three pamphlets outlines a possible and internally consistent economic system based on the patterns and processes of nature, where we are one part of a much greater whole.

It starts with the following prologue:

There should be less spending on weapons of war and more on humanitarian development.
There should be enough food in the world to feed everyone.
There should not be any poverty.
Kids should not go to school barefoot and hungry in an affluent society.
There should be a restraint on the use of fossil fuels, and a reduction in our output of carbon to the atmosphere.
We should reduce our ecological footprint and protect the habitats of other species.
Food should be nutritious and healthy.
We should be able to swim in our rivers and fish in our seas.
Governments should listen to their people.
Legal systems should be just.

There are lots of ‘shoulds’.

But wishing or desiring is not reality, and is not realising.
There are good reasons why things are the way they are, and much of it has to do with the economy.
“It’s the economy, stupid.”
But it is a rapacious and highly exploitive economy with an in-built driver of economic growth.
An economy controlled and managed by corporations for private profit, where everything is a commodity to be bought and sold.
An economy driven by financial power, to give excessive wealth to a few from unearned income.
Without fundamentally changing the way the economy works, all attempts at social redress and a fairer sharing will, sooner or later, fall flat. Repeatedly.

There is a disconnection between our way of life and the economy that provides it, and the ways of nature and life on planet Earth.

To understand an economy that allows and encourages us to live in partnership and with respect and responsibility, we have to understand nature.
This means we have to reconnect.
Then we can envision a natural economics, of healthy sustenance and good living for all.  
An economy that is constructive and regenerative, providing sufficiently for our needs, while maintaining the ecosystems and habitats of our environments.

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3P-Natural Economics-A5

CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKES — COMPOST TOILETS

This article was written about our actions in Christchurch after the damaging earthquakes, as a voluntary response, to bring information we had about compost toilets to people who were unable to use their flush toilets because of the damage to the centralised city sewer system.

It may well be useful to you if you find yourself in the same circumstance!

 

COMPOST TOILETS

THEIR USE AS AN EMERGENCY RESPONSE IN CHRISTCHURCH

 

INTRODUCTION

There have been many responses to the earthquakes in Christchurch from people outside the region.  A network of people interested in a permaculture response to emergencies was initiated following discussions at the annual permaculture hui in Raglan during April last year.  Within 6 months, the first large earthquake affected the Christchurch area.

Following the devastation of the February earthquake, there was an informal and personal response by some members of the permaculture emergency response network to demonstrate an emergency use compost toilet to local communities most affected by the loss of the city sewer system.  A simple bucket method was developed, which was easy to use with locally available materials, and contained the human manure until it was well composted.  Simple, contained, hygienic and recycling our ‘wastes’ as beneficial resources.  A website was also set up: www.composttoilets.co.nz to provide and share information.

There was major damage to infrastructure services in Christchurch, with the sewer system in particular suffering major and very extensive damage.  There was not going to be a quick return to normality, and ‘flushing it away’ could be to your own garden or to the street or nearby waterway.

An emergency kit includes stored water and food, among a range of personal items, but when we take stuff in, other stuff comes out.  Toilet paper and a bucket is about as far as most preparedness advice goes for our most basic ‘call of nature’.  So what do you do when the municipal sewer system is busted apart, and the ‘flush out of sight’ no longer works?  This has been the case in many parts of Christchurch for over six months now.

Over time, requests from local communities resulted in a series of workshops on emergency compost toilets, with increasing interest from people (and the media).  Recently, there has been some real interest from local authorities and organisations.

These workshops have been organised and undertaken by the following members of the emergency response network (in no particular order):  James Bellamy, Lisa Johnston, Matt King, Gary Williams and Felicity Yellin.  They have been supported directly and indirectly by many other people, not least their families and friends.

From this experience, the workshop approach and content has been refined, and is now being taken to other communities around New Zealand, starting with Whangarei and Wellington.  The workshop includes a practical hands-on demonstration of the emergency compost toilets.

The permaculture emergency response network now has a project on its books, and the start of a track record.  This project was undertaken on a voluntary basis by everyone involved, as neighbourly assistance where a real need was evident and we could provide a realistic and practical option.  The direct travel expenses have now, though, been covered by a generous donation from the members of the permaculture movement, through its coordinating council.

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WATER — Medium of Life & its vitality

The basic (physical) necessities of life are air, water, food and shelter.  We can live only a very short time without air to breathe.  Water we need regularly, while we can live for weeks without food, if necessary.  Our bodies are mostly water, and water is used to mediate all our bodily exchanges, transporting life-giving nutrients to all our organs and cells, while carrying away toxins and wastes.

Air and water are the great transporting and mixing media of life on planet Earth, that allow plants to thrive, while staying in one place.  Air blankets the Earth as an atmosphere of gases, which circulate through the heat of the sun and climate processes.  Water circulates through the processes of the hydrological cycle — as water vapour in the air, as liquid water on and under the surface of the Earth, and as solid ice or snow at high latitudes and altitudes.

Air and water are both energised and purified by these circulatory processes, and these processes and the nature of air and water can be adversely affected by the pollution of excess.  There is also an essential inter-connection between these physical processes and the ecological systems and networks of life.  The nature of the air and the complex states of water on the planet arise from, and are dependent on, living processes and eco-systems.  Water can have many ionic states, and form molecular links and networks that reflect the substances in it.  Water is the most universal of solvents.

The burning of fossil fuels over the last couple of hundred years, and the accelerating rate at which we have burned them, especially oil in the last 50 years, has changed the gas composition of the atmosphere globally.  The cheap energy this has provided has been used to build an industry and urbanisation that spew vast amounts of concentrated wastes and toxic materials into waterways and the oceans.  This water pollution is most obvious locally, but there are global impacts through the circulations of rivers, the oceans and the atmosphere, as there is with the pollution of the air.

The vitality, purity and availability of water is directly affected by the loss of forests and the degradation of soils by agriculture — which also affects the air, locally and globally.  The loss of riparian vegetation and habitats along the margins of rivers and streams alters the nature of the waterways, and affects the transport of sediments and nutrients, and their exchanges with groundwater and across floodplains.

Natural systems are full of exchanges, transitions from one state to another and storages, level on level, in a repeating and interwoven way.  Our human systems, to be healthy and sustainable, must be part of and mimic the natural systems that contain and support us.  Thus our water supplies and re-use of ‘waste’ water should consist of multiple systems at different levels, with different types and size of storage and a diversity of re-use through different processes.

Urban areas need some large central supplies and a distribution network, but the supplies should be diverse, including rivers, reservoir storage and groundwater, as well as direct rainfall collection.  For a robust water supply the distribution network needs to have in-built redundancy, with looped or multiple primary feeders and mains, connected to the different supply sources spread around the network.

The best storage is natural groundwater, which is facilitated by forests.  It provides a vast reservoir and distributes itself, through its flow through the ground.  It is a diffuse rather than a concentrated source, which can be taped into for small supplies spread throughout a town or agricultural area.  In dry climates and near the coast it is vulnerable to salination, and the removal of forests lowers groundwater levels generally, while also bringing the salts in the soil close to the surface.  Groundwater away from forested hills, and especially on alluvial or coastal plains can be very variable in quality.

Storing rainwater directly from hard surfaces in rainwater tanks or storage basins provides small-scale distributed storage, which can be used on gardens and for washing etc.  However, hard surfaces should be minimised, and shrub and tree areas maximised.  Mulching of gardens increases ground storage by improving rainfall infiltration and the retaining of soil moisture.

Rainwater is slightly acidic and is best used for washing our bodies, as our skin moisture is slightly acidic.  The best water for drinking is slightly alkaline (like the water in our bodies) and mineralised.  This water is supplied naturally by ‘relief’ springs, which arise from base rock materials as dense cool water, and by the forest enclosed streams that flow from them.  Drinking water is then better supplied separately from appropriate sources, and not as part of washing and industrial water.

The re-use of water, following washing and industrial uses, can be diverse and multi-functional, by having distributed and varied re-use at different scales.  The type and degree of treatment required before re-use depends on the initial use, for instance when natural and biodegradable cleaners are used, and the re-use.  Water used by a single family for washing and then re-used on their own garden has a very low parasite hazard, while the combined washing water from many households sent to a central treatment plant has a much higher health hazard, due to the mixing of microbes from many sources.

Thus, greywater from a household can be simply drained to mulched vegetation beds, following minimal storage for sediment deposition and scum removal.  Runoff from roads and paved areas can be directed to grassed or vegetated swales alongside, or to vegetated infiltration areas.  Contained wetland areas, with or without naturally contained sand filtration areas, can be used to treat road runoff and the greywater from a group of houses or ‘high quality’ industrial ‘waste’ flows, to allow re-use in community gardens and reserves etc.  As far as practical, re-use should be designed around gravity flow systems, with a cascade of ‘units’ along and down the contour.

This re-use fits in very well with the growing of food in towns, in either family or community gardens, and as public ‘orchards’ or food forests along reserve land and waterway corridors.

Toxic waste streams must be carefully treated, being mixed and diluted and then adequately treated before discharge to the natural environment.  Loading and the concentration of harmful substances is the critical issue, but in the end it is natural systems, mainly the reducing microbes, in the natural environment that will transform the ‘wastes’ and make them available for re-use again.  Maintaining healthy and robust eco-systems to do this is then essential for effective processing and re-use of our output ‘waste’ streams.

Air and water are common ‘resources’, which flow across private property and state boundaries.  Their management for our use and enjoyment must, therefore, be handled through community decision-making processes, which allow fair sharing and appropriate care.