The data is clear: humans are overtaxing the world’s ecosystems at an accelerating rate.
How can society wean itself away from its business-as-usual practices of natural resource extraction and depletion? What steps can we take to be agents of positive, regenerative change?
Paul Wheaton, proprietor of the websites Richsoil.com and Permies.com, has just published a Kickstarter-funded book replete with solutions that most of us can start implementing today. It’s titled: Building A Better World In Your Backyard (Instead Of Being Angry At Bad Guys)
In this week’s podcast, Paul provides a romp through a wide swath of the insights within his book, from rocket mass heaters to going ‘poo-less’ to hugelkultur — with a large side helping of his infectious humour.
His main point is that there is a TON each of us can do to reduce our impact on nature while boosting our quality of life, while having fun along the way.
There was a woman here recently who said, “Well, I want to be part of the community, but I can’t afford buying the land and getting started.” And so, then I said, “Well, but you can consider PEP.”
PEP stands for “Permaculture Experience according to Paul”. That would be me. I came up with the idea like four years ago. We’ve been fleshing it out, and now there’s a whole bunch of people that are getting certified for some of the smaller things and are working their way up. So, we’re just getting started on this.
Basically, the core of PEP is that there are these old people all over America–millions of them–sitting on 200 acres or more–and oftentimes, they have two houses on the property, they’ve got a damn fine truck and a damn fine tractor, and they’ve got like $90 to $100 grand in the bank, and they want to will it all to somebody. But they just need to have somebody worthy to will it to.
We’re trying to set up a program that’s totally free, so that way, you can build new experiences that would impress such a person into willing over these assets. You might think, “No one’s going to do that,” and it’s like, “Oh yeah, they will.” They hate their kids because their kids are going to just sell the land and pocket the money. But they think, “I put my life into this land, I want to see it continue on into the future being something farmesque. I don’t want my kids to just liquidate it. I want to see it move forward after I’m gone.” They so desperately want to find somebody who will continue caring for the land.
Let’s say there’s an 18-year-old and they’re contemplating going into college. How much debt do you take on to go to a public school these days? Something like $80 grand? It’s crazy. It’s like 10 or 20 times more than when I went to college.
Basically, they want to saddle you with $80 grand worth of debt. And then you’re stuck in the rat race. It takes 23 years on average to pay up your student loan. That’s amazing. Twenty-three years! When you’re 18 and you decide to go to college, then your commitment is greater than your lifespan to-date.
All right, so then what happens? Well for many, when you graduate, it turns out that you picked the wrong degree and no one wants to hire you–unless you get an MBA. But that’s two more years in school and a bigger ticket, too. But also, an MBA, that’s boring, man. That’s hard. You’ve got to stay awake in those classes.
Anyway, the key is like, alright, you’re 18 years old, you’ve added 23 years to that, now, you’ve got to finish paying off your house, and your car, and all these other debts you’ve accumulated–maybe you’ve got another ten years on that. So, what does that make you? If you add all that up, you’re 50-something years old. Now, you start looking at retirement. And what are you going to do when you retire? Maybe what you want to do is to get 200 acres with a house or two on it, et cetera, and retire living the permaculture lifestyle.
How about a shortcut? How about if you skip all that other stuff, you get PEP-board certified, it takes three years, and then you inherit 200 acres of land complete with the trucks and tractors, and whatever else–and a bit of coin–and you go right into the permaculture lifestyle? Ta-da!
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Paul Wheaton (86m:05s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome, everyone, to this Featured Voices podcast brought to you by PeakProsperity.com. I am your host Chris Martenson, and it is July 23, 2019.
The data is clear. The world. is headed for trouble--and especially the natural world. Humans are overdoing it and the ecological stresses are clearly mounting. And the data is equally clear: people are tired of hearing that and they want to know what they can do. So, how can we wean ourselves from a system from extraction and depletion? What steps can we take to be agents of positive change?
Well, here's the good news: there are lots of things you can be doing. Heck, I'll go further: there are a lot of things you should be doing... there I go straying into the judgmental territory. But it's absolutely true: if you can do better, why wouldn't you at this day and age?
Well, today's guest has made it his life's mission to dodge the blame game and land firmly on the solution side of the conversation. Paul Wheaton explores, experiments, implements, tests, re-implements, and then teaches and shares practical solutions to millions of people who both want to and are ready to be agents of positive change. Paul is a contemporary permaculture theorist, a master gardener, software engineer, and disciple of natural agriculturalist, Sepp Holzer. He operates the website Richsoil.com and also Permies.com. You can also find him on YouTube where you can find videos on topics like super-efficient rocket mass heaters and maybe respectful chicken harvesting.
Now, a lot of you have been asking to have Paul on the program, and here he is. Paul, welcome to the program.
Paul Wheaton: Hi, Chris, I'm glad to be here. I'm always glad to infect brains with gobbledygook.
Chris Martenson: Well, let's start big then. In your view, if humans stay on the current trajectory of prioritizing economic grown over ecological health and diversity, what lies at the end of that road?
Paul Wheaton: I don't know. I'm glad we're having this chat. [Laughter] I think that it looks scary, I'm worried about a lot of things, I do think, though, that when you start talking about bad people being bad. But if you live in a city, you better really keep an eye on that, and you better get a hyper-focus on what the politicians are doing, because one bad step and you could find yourself dying of starvation.
And so, it's critically important to pay attention to that. But of course, if you're living the permaculture dream out in rural areas, all that stuff really doesn't matter very much--I mean, it still matters, but it's like it's kind of small and far away. You've got your own home that's paid for, you've got a large garden, you go to town maybe only once a month to change the scenery, maybe, or something like that. But all those problems are very small and far away.
So, when we talk about like, what are the big issues, there are--there are a lot of extremely serious issues. I love the guy who said something to me about that whole thing about preparing for the zombie apocalypse is really silly. And he pointed out like, if you prepare for the zombie apocalypse, even though that's funny and silly, you're actually preparing for all of the other things that are yet to come. And so, it's a little more fun to fun to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse than say, total currency drop, or nuclear annihilation, or something like that.
Chris Martenson: Well, I'm absolutely agnostic as to the why somebody does something. So, I had an experience a while back; I was planting, I think, fruit trees. I'm doing it because I'm worried about food security and I actually like higher nutrition, and so I'm planting fruit trees. So, this is really in my becoming-resilient arc. And a neighbor, an old guy, comes over, and he's asking what I'm up to, and I told him I'm planting fruit trees, and he happened to really like the apple blossoms that were growing up. So, he planted some for different reasons. It didn't matter at all to me that he shared my particular concerns, but it did matter that he was taking action.
Paul Wheaton: True. True. And for a lot of the things that... hey, I wrote a book. [Chuckles] But the thing is a whole of our problems is, "Plant more trees." It's amazing how that just kind of fixes everything--you just plant more trees, it'll solve everything.
And then, of course, take a lot of the trees that we have now that are undesirable trees, and rather than setting them on fire or something like that, "Hey, here's a thought: let's build some things out of them or make a large stack, or let's bury it... let's do something useful with this that keeps that carbon around."
Now, where are you on carbon footprint?
Chris Martenson: Not that good, if you look at the amount of trash that goes out at the end of my driveway, or that I still drive around--I've got a hybrid. But honestly, I'm a United States citizen, so in the scheme of the world, I'm way up the bad end of scale--and there's not a lot I can do about it, to be honest, because of the culture I live in. Some of it is structural.
Paul Wheaton: Dude, I want to make it so much easier--you're going to be so happy when we're done here. Because you already said to me that you planted an apple tree, right?
Chris Martenson: Uh-huh.
Paul Wheaton: Now, first of all, you're saying like, "Okay, well, I'm only driving a hybrid, I'm not driving a Tesla," I think I heard you say that.
Chris Martenson: Well, I'm not driving a bike around, for my daily use.
Paul Wheaton: Or a bike. Sure. Sure. But I think a big part of my book is about how do you have a more luxuriant life, while simultaneously addressing these things rather directly? So, first, let's get the real numbers out. So, your carbon footprint. The average carbon footprint of an American adult is 30 tons/year, and that's their personal footprint that they're doing directly and their indirect footprint--which includes all of industry, because we've got to take ownership for that. Now, what we can do is go out and be angry at those guys, "Hey, you guys are screwing everything up," wag your fist to people, and volunteer for dysfunctional organizations, and there's all kinds of things you can do.
But if we just take ownership of it, like, "Okay, we're at 30 tons, that's what we've got to beat, that's what we've got to correct." If you switch to bicycle-only or if you switch from a standard American gas-guzzling car--and I shouldn't say "gas-guzzling" because the average American car to a Tesla that reduces your carbon footprint by 2 tons/year. Now are you in a cold climate or a warm climate?
Chris Martenson: Massachusetts. Kind of cold.
Paul Wheaton: Kind of cold. Okay. So, now, what kind of heat do you have in your home right now?
Chris Martenson: Well, a good question. It's all oil furnace at this point in time--New England residual, and I put solar hot water on this past spring, which reduces my oil footprint by about a third.
Paul Wheaton: Okay, alright. I want to talk about solar hot water in a minute and talk about legionella bacteria, but let's set that aside, that's another discussion for another day, perhaps.
But the big thing is that... let me pretend for a moment--why don't we start with saying. if a person has electric heat--which hardly anybody has--but a third of the United States uses electric heat. But if you switch from electric heat to a rocket mass heater--which you mentioned at the beginning of the show, you will reduce your carbon footprint by, I believe it's 27 tons.
Chris Martenson: Whoa, that's a good place to start.
Paul Wheaton: So, if you switch from your current vehicle to a Tesla, that reduces your carbon footprint by 2 tons. But if you park the car completely and just didn't go anywhere, that would reduce your carbon footprint by 4 tons. So, basically, switching from electric heat to a rocket mass heater would reduce your carbon footprint as much as parking seven cars or switching, I guess, 14 cars over from gasoline vehicles over to Teslas.
So, I'm realizing now that I'm saying Tesla like it's the Kleenex of electric cars, I guess--which is probably is the electric vehicle, which by the way they're lovely. Have you ever been in an electric vehicle?
Chris Martenson: I have. I've been in a couple of Teslas a long time ago, back when they were--before they were--
Paul Wheaton: Very quiet, very nice... I heartily wish to encourage everybody to explore this path, it's definitely a move in the right direction. But I can do so much more. And it's like electric vehicles are kind of expensive. And I want to paint a picture of a life that's so luxuriant and so wonderful that you just end up not using your vehicle very often. And so, even if it's a vehicle that doesn't get particularly great mileage, you end up using it so rarely that you've actually making less of a carbon footprint than if you switch to a Tesla and continue living your old lifestyle.
Chris Martenson: Well, this is good. And part of what I'm really interested in are things that can be done at scale by average people. Because, look, half of households--median households in the United States--can't scrape together 500 bucks. So, a $60,000 Tesla is probably out of reach. So, as much as I'm a fan of electrifying things, I'd actually rather electrify subway trains, things like that first--maybe buses--as a choice, but it's not up to me always. But what can the average person do? You've mentioned--we've both mentioned this thing called the rocket mass heater, let's decode that. I bet not everybody knows what those words mean in that combination.
Paul Wheaton: So, this is going to be something that uses wood. Now, of course, a lot of people are going to shun wood heat because of the smoke, but this is something where the design of it uses the smoke as a fuel, and so what comes out of the exhaust is generally steam and CO2, and so it's kind of like... it's very clean; the total pollution might be similar to burning a candle. And it is vented outside, and so...
But you generally--if you were to compare it to a conventional wood stove, you would heat your home with one-tenth of the wood, and it would probably put out like one-hundredth to one-thousandth of the smoke. You can heat your home--I live in Montana, probably a little colder than where you are. I heated my home a couple of years ago--we measured it very carefully. It's a three-bedroom house--I heated it--and it's not a particularly well-insulated house, it's... let's just call it a standard-issue house--with 0.606 cords of wood.
And so, to give you an idea, if you had a box that was 4 ft³, so 4 ft. X 4 ft. X 4 ft., and I just threw the bits of wood that fell off of trees in my yard into this box this summer, I could use that box with heating, that would be the amount that I would use to heat my home through the winter--and this is not like, "Oh, I'm heating it to just something barely tolerable by polar bears or something like that," this is keeping it around an average of 69°. So, when you get it up like 72 during the day, and two days later, it would be down to 66, and so we would build another fire.
Chris Martenson: So, let's talk about--so this rocket mass heater, so there's mass involved, and there's an efficient combustion process, because you said basically, there's no smoke. So, we're burning everything that can be burned. But how is it so much more efficient than a standard wood stove?
Paul Wheaton: That is like the best possible question. Because when you go to the woodstove store, it's like, "Oh, look at these wood stoves. They say they're 75 percent efficient." Well, when they say they're 75 percent efficient, the government allows them a 16 percent to add on to what goes up the chimney. So, actually only 59 percent efficient. And then on top of that, 59 percent efficient was the best they could get in the lab that did the testing; so, they would have performed like a dozen different tests using kiln-dried wood and special conditions to give that very good, good number.
But the thing is when you bring it home, you're probably operating it at 30 percent efficiency or less--and at night, the way most people throw big logs into the fire and turn the dampers down, they're probably operating it at 5 percent or less efficiency. Thus giving us a lot of room for expansion.
A rocket mass heater generally runs at 93 percent efficient, but even more than that, while the exhaust of a conventional wood stove, the smoke that goes out the chimney is going to be--is legally required to be 350 to 600°, that's a lot of heat going outside. Whereas the rocket mass heater, the exhaust temperature is somewhere between 70 and 140°; we're keeping a lot more heat indoors. So, we burn more efficiently and we keep a lot more heat indoors, and we have a mass. And the mass makes it so that--because, with a conventional wood stove, a lot of people have to get up in the middle of the night to stoke the fire. So, they're sleeping and then they wake up at 2 am because it's gotten so cold--and if they don't get up, the pipes in the house would freeze. So, they have to do that.
Whereas with the rocket mass heater, the mass was warmed up, and the mass slowly radiates heat back out, and so usually, you go to bed and it's 72 and you wake up and it's 69. So, it keeps putting heat out throughout the day. Now, we could get it even more efficient if the house is far more insulated, or there's passive solar, or if you've got a structure that happens to use _____ [00:15:14].
Chris Martenson: We're going to get to that topic in just a second, but first, let's talk about the complete deal-breaker: zoning, permits, local people in inspection boards who have no clue what "rocket mass heater" means when you put those three works together. What have you found there?
Paul Wheaton: Good news and better news. So, the good news is that I think reading an article recently, and 70 different boards now recognize rocket mass heaters. And I've heard from at least three different insurance companies that recognized rocket mass heater. So, there's progress in that space. I've also heard of people that are doing it without permission, and more power to those people for having that kind of courage. Where I live, it's not a problem, there are few places in the United States where it's not an issue, you can do whatever the hell you want--at least so far--I mean, that could change, right.
And the better news is that we're seeing a lot of people, there's been so much more demand that the regulators are now catching up to the demand. So, we're seeing hundreds of thousands--we might be a point now where it's beyond a million people that have put in a rocket mass heater. I mean, think about it: right now, you've got a listener that's living in a highly regulated space, and they're just thinking like, "Okay, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to go ahead and do this, because I can save $2000 a year on my heat costs." And it's like just the idea of saving the money is worthwhile to them. So, they make the leap.
And so, it's possible that that could end up being some kind of problem down the road, but generally, it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. What I've heard stories of is when people build it and then the regulators come, the regulators are actually quite excited about it for a bunch of reasons. And the number one reason why insurance companies and regulators are excited about it is because here is a form of heat that has almost zero chance of causing--the number reason it's a problem, why insurance companies hate it--I mean regulators hate wood-burning things because of the smoke. And the insurance companies hate wood-burning things because of the creosote--it'll start a chimney fire. And so, like the... you talk to somebody who works for a rural fire department and the number of times they're called out for a chimney fire is immense.
And so, basically, one of the things the rocket mass heater is doing is domesticating the chimney fire. We try to make a chimney fire with every burn, and use that creosote effectively as fuel to heat your home, rather than burning your house down in a chimney fire.
Chris Martenson: Well, and the No. 1 cause of fires out here is people putting ashes out in a burnable paper bag or a plastic trash can on the porch--that happens all the time. What's the cause of coal/ash situation with the rocket mass heater?
Paul Wheaton: You're going to have extremely low coal because the fire burned extremely hot and fast. So, usually, you're going to get your coals from a fire where you turn the dampers down. So, you put generally a large log--oftentimes a wet long on the fire to have that all-night burn in a conventional wood stove, and then turn the dampers down. But with a rocket mass heater, there are not dampers to turn down; you can't have a slow burn. In fact, you don't want a slow burn. I mean, a lot of times, what they're doing is they're doing that late at night. Like it's ten o'clock at night and they're getting ready to go to bed, they're going to put a couple of big, slimy logs on the fire and turn the dampers down to get through the night with a bit of a burn.
But with a rocket mass heater, you had a fire this morning, and that fire went out hours ago, and the house is still very warm. You're not running a fire at night, generally--I mean, you could if you wanted to, but most people don't.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, I'm really sensitive to the idea of not wanting more wood stoves going, because here is an experience: the place I lived a few houses ago was in a little valley and there was some gentlemen--I don't know--ten houses away, had one of those outdoor wood furnaces things that he would--I think he was burning tires--I don't know what he was doing. But anyway, when this guy would fire up on a cold morning, he could fill the whole valley with smoke. It was amazing.
Paul Wheaton: Yeah, we've seen lots of places like that. Whenever you live rurally, there's always somebody who's got... it's like are they burning brush? I mean that's a lot of smoke--no, it's coming out of their chimneys. Or you're right, it's one of those things that's outside and it's just polluting the whole county, and it's like, "Yeah, those are not cool."
Now, here's the thing to keep in mind--and I don't know about where you are, but where I am, we get forest fires--wildfires. And so, then the wood gets burned up in an inefficient way. And then when it's not getting burned up, then people are out there--mostly the Forest Savers--and they're trying to burn wood intentionally so it doesn't have... so, there's less chance of this area having a forest fire later--and they're burning it very inefficiently. And so, it's kind of like the great thing is, "Let's go grab that wood before they burn it and we'll use it for a variety of things-- including heating our homes--instead of creating all this smoke which is just putting it up into the atmosphere."
Chris Martenson: Yeah, so let's imagine--this is the perfect situation for me: I'm sitting here, I'm in Massachusetts, I've got a place in the living room where I could put wood stove, but I'm sitting over--there's a large basement underneath all that, if I just have standard 2x10 16 on center joist, would I be able to put a mass heater there on that floor--would I have to bolster that somehow? How much mass is involved?
Paul Wheaton: I think you should expect to have something on the order of 10x. And so, yeah, you're going to need to bolster that somehow. I know that the house I'm in right now, I needed to have support underneath the house for the mass of the rocket mass heater, and that's what we did. But when you're talking about you have a basement, that can be managed in a lot of different ways. But it's up to you which way you want to go about doing it. Do you want to put an extra pole there, or do you want a sister on your joist or what do you want to do? There's many ways to go about that.
Chris Martenson: Alright. So, let's imagine somebody is very interested--do people sell these things or are they all kind of homebuilt? How does one go about acquiring one?
Paul Wheaton: There are some people that sell the cores, but I haven't seen any of them that I would endorse. Most of it is going to be self-built at this time; I have heard of some people that will come and build them for you, but the big resources at this time is going to be... Ernie and Erica have a book out, The Rocket Mass Heater Builder's Guide. And so, there's that. I also have an eight-DVD set that kind of helps to paint a picture. In fact, the main example in the builder's guide is the same rocket mass heater that is in my single-DVD, Building a Cob Style Rocket Mass Heater. So, that's a little... it's a little cheap quick thing there.
Chris Martenson: Well, that sounds excellent. And at the end of this program, we'll get to all the ways people can access all these materials, including a DVD set. So, carbon is one thing people could worry about; it sounds like taking care of the heating is one of the largest single things you could do for a household. But now, let's imagine city dwellers that don't know what to do if they have no access to land--but for everybody else, whether they live rural or suburban, what are some of the next things they might begin to do if they're concerned with say, I don't know, biodiversity or eating more healthily?
Paul Wheaton: Oh, now... so, the minute you say that, I'm thinking about gardening, because you limit based on how much space they have--how much space do they have?
Chris Martenson: Well, I'm really interested in what a half-acre solution might look like, because I think that would apply to the most people; but, if we wanted to then say what you would do with five acres, that would be a separate conversation.
Paul Wheaton: That's true. That's true. So, let's start with the half-acre. I mean, basically, throughout this book, we focus most on carbon footprint, petroleum footprints, and toxic footprints.
Chris Martenson: And that book, by the way, is Building a Better World in Your Backyard.
Paul Wheaton: Yes. Instead of Being Angry at Bad Guys.
Chris Martenson: Yes, I love that part.
Paul Wheaton: I mean go ahead: be angry at bad guys all you want. But let's provide the other part too.
Chris Martenson: Alright. It's both.
Paul Wheaton: And the big part of the book started with... Al Gore came out with that movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and then a year later, Derrick Jensen wrote a book called As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial. And basically, one of the things he points out in that book is to talk about like... if you did everything Al Gore suggests you--like if everybody--everybody in the United States--does every Al Gore suggests: we have cut our carbon footprint by 22 percent, but we need to cut it at least 75 percent if we're going to stop global warming.
And the next thing is like, okay, everybody has done everything, so that cuts it 22 percent, but we add two percent every year. So, in 11 years, it's a loss. And so, my philosophy is that the recipe that Al Gore provided was really weak--and of course, Derrick Jensen, he goes off on a whole other direction.
Chris Martenson: It gets a little dark with Derrick, but yes.
Paul Wheaton: Yeah, so, that's not my style. And so, I want to come up with a much better recipe, and so I want to make it so that if 10 percent of the people did it, that we can have a 200 percent solution. And so, that's what the book is about. Let's have much better solutions.
Now, it turns out that when it comes to petroleum footprint, more than half of your footprint--if you include industry--is your food. And with food--if you look at carbon footprint, it's about 35 percent, and so it's kind of alright. And of course, with toxicity, it's about 70 percent is in your food. So, it's kind of like... really, taking care of your own food is a big, big, big part of it. And I do have a chapter in the book that's how to grow twice as much food with one-tenth of the effort. And so, half an acre will be great. Let's start there.
I think that the average urban lot is about a quarter of an acre, and I have a YouTube video I took years ago, where it really focuses on, "If you're not bringing in inputs--which a lot of people are bringing inputs and there's a lot of problems with that, and that's a whole nother book right there on why you don't want to bring in input. But if you're not bringing in input, how much food can you grow, and so basically, one of the conclusions was, there was a family, a couple living in Portland, Oregon, and they had been doing permaculture for about like five years, and they felt that if they could go five more years--and they were intensively working this standard urban lot--that by the end of ten years of super-duper, heavy-duty effort, that they would be able to grow enough food on that plot to feed one small adult. That's without any further input.
Now, of course, if you're going to bring all kinds of stuff in, there's more you can do, but you don't want to do that because of reasons--especially if we're talking about health, which I believe you mentioned.
So, I want to explore space of like what makes for good food? If you're going to grow carrots on a field and you're going to grow organic carrots, then it's kind of like, "How good are those?" I mean, they look the right color, they look the right shape, they look fine, they taste fine, but I kind of feel like... have you ever tasted a carrot that wasn't grown in a monocrop? Much more flavor, much more delicious--and I mean sometimes you say, "Oh, it has more flavor, " and that's not necessarily a good thing. It's like, "Man, it tastes like dirt."
Chris Martenson: But it is earthy [?].
Paul Wheaton: Hard to digest... it's not exactly palatable. But "palatable", I think, is a huge part of what we're looking for. Now, I kind of feel like not only do we want to have rich soil--and that's going to be such a key component--and I think I would suspect that you probably already know a lot about that, but I want to go a step further. I want to go rich soil, and then let's talk about polycultures. So, every plant produces an exudate. And so, we're talking about a carrot, we can refer to it as... not exactly, but kind of sort of, carrot poop.
And then, every plant has stuff that it wants: water, air, and stuff from the soil. And so, it turns out that if you create a polyculture--and there's been tests that have been done where it's like they would put a radioactive substance into one plant, it'll show up 30 ft. away within a few days, because that plant had this stuff put into it and then it exuded something, the next plant over took up that exudate, and then it processed it and took the things it liked, and then it had an exudate, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, all the way until 30 ft. away, some other plant has been able to pull this stuff up. So, what does a carrot taste like that's growing in rich soil and is surrounded by 40 different species of different plants? And it is taking in what's in the rich soil plus the exudate of these 40 different species. What does that carrot taste like?
Chris Martenson: Yeah, that's fascinating. We've had... other guests on our program, people we know well--Toby Hemingway--obviously, before he passed. And then Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farms, out of Sebastopol--and they are soil farmers, first and foremost--brilliant, just really dedicated, very smart people. And when I first visited their farm, the first thing I noticed was at least 30 species of birds, and that they had rows of inter-planted things. But the thing that got me, as a gardener of 30 year--who was doing it all wrong for 29 of them--was that their broccoli was just sitting there and there were cabbage loops all over it. And I didn't get that, and they had explained that they don't just do organic, they don't start any sprays, even Safer Soap or something or aphids, because they as soon as you knock out the aphids--those are the prey species--what happens? Well, you lose the predators. And who comes back first? And all that.
So, they had this really complex integrated thing, but it was about the soil. And a very long way of introducing this, but in order to run their CSA operation, they had to bring inputs in. Twice you said, "Don't bring inputs in." What's your caution there?
Paul Wheaton: Alright. I think that the No. 1 caution is going to be persistent herbicides. I mean, if anybody has read Ruth Stout's amazing book, wonderful techniques, so much to learn from that, it's really the path to go in 1980. And now here we are, damn near 40 years later, and so what Ruth Stout did was, is that rather than tilling our garden and tilling in manures like all the other people did in her neighborhood, she went and just got hay, and she laid the hay out on her garden, and then she just plopped feeds in between the bits of hay or underneath the hay or whatever, and that was it. She didn't even irrigate, and she has a magnificent garden. You can't do that today, unless you're able to not only find organic hay, but make super, duper sure it doesn't have any spray on it, because of the persistent herbicides.
So, let's say you go out and you get a standard bale of hay and you do this. First of all, all your garden dies, and so it's all dead--except for the grasses because these persistent herbicides are broad-leaf herbicides; so, grasses do fine. And then the hay is oftentimes a grass hay, so what happened was is that the farmers spread the persistent herbicide, and it was presented as, "Oh, it's so eco," because you only spray once every five to ten years, you don't spray it three times a year like you do with the other herbicides. And so you're thinking like, "I'm eco, I'm doing environmentally-friendly things." But the thing is is that if a cow comes and eats that, it passes right to the cow; if you take that and you put it into a compost pile, it survives the composting process. And so, which is why all commercial compost contains persistent herbicides--all of them.
Chris Martenson: I can confirm this. I bought this beautiful stuff at _____ [00:33:23] and it's made by this local firm that they bring in a lot of inputs from wherever, and then then they compost it. I bought this two years ago, and I have spots where I spread it where seeds won't sprout--two years later. Nothing. We call it the Black Death in our household, but there it is. And I didn't know what was wrong, but I suspected a herbicide or something--or some biocide. I don't know what's wrong still, to this day.
Paul Wheaton: It's probably a persistent herbicide. It has a half-life of seven to 11 years, depending on which one was used. Aminopyralid, Clopyralid, Tordon--there's quite a few. And then the thing is that as soon as we ban one, they come up with another one. So, it's kind of like... it's a mess, and it's very problematic, and it's in everything. And then the other thing is when you get commercial compost, not only is it going to be laced with persistent herbicides--guaranteed, it's just a matter of like, is it so little that it's only going to stunt the growth of your plants, or is it enough that it's going to kill everything?
But even more than that, it's like most of the compost you get as some form of industrial waste, if you get the stuff that has--that comes from _____ [00:34:30] plant, it's going to contain a variety of heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, et cetera. But the heavy metals are the big problem with that, but they still contain the persistent herbicides.
But now, they're getting to the point where certain industries are discovering that they can put even more varieties of industrial waste in the compost and get rid of it. And so, they're suckers. And so, I don't know how many times I have found myself--I don't know how this happens--like I'm presenting somewhere and then somebody shows up and they say, "Hey, I'm the scientist that did the test, and I'm here to say that it falls well within the government guidelines." And I said, "Fuck the government guidelines. The important thing is: would you put that on your garden and you eat it?" "Oh, well. No." [Laughter]
Chris Martenson: "What? Drink this glass of Roundup? No. No."
Paul Wheaton: "No, no." And so it's kind of, "No, it's got such insane levels of toxic dirt." And when it comes to _____ [00:35:26], I can probably go on nine or ten hours about that and solutions in that space, but that's probably not what you want to talk about today.
Chris Martenson: No, but it's an important bookmark because it's really critical. But let's imagine that you--you've got your half-acre--I want to get back to this half-acre--let's say you want to do gardening, and you know you have to build the soil up. What are you recommending here?
Paul Wheaton: Okay. Well, first of all, I'm a cold climate guy. And so, in a warm climate, you're probably going to go with something really different where I'm not able to recommend. But I'm going to say hügelkultur--I'm sure this is not the first time you've heard the word.
Chris Martenson: I have heard it, but let's explain it for everybody else.
Paul Wheaton: It is soil on wood. And so, if you stack it to be 7 ft. talk, any stuff that you plant in your garden and stuff like that, you've effectively doubled your growing space, because now it's kind of a pyramid shape, right?
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
Paul Wheaton: And so, what used to take up 7 ft. on the ground, now has one side that goes up 7 ft. and another side that goes up 7 ft.: you've doubled your growing space. But on top of that, let's pretend for a moment, that you don't get a whole lot of rain, in which case now this is something where you no longer need to irrigate. And as an added bonus, everything that grows on there is going to be far more delicious, because most food that you get or that you grow in a garden taste bland because people water it too much. And so, now, we're going to have something that tastes far more delicious because it has not been irrigated. But it got all the water needed from all of that hügelkultur that's underneath it. When it's that big, then you'll have all kinds of logs and branches on the inside that are rotting; and as they rot, they create parking spaces for nutrients and water.
So, there's much, much more to this. But what I'm trying to say is that if you've got half an acre, I want you to grown hügelkultur, I want you to do polyculture, I want you to have diversity, I want you to do all kinds of wacky things and grow lots and lots of food. And it might not be enough to feed your whole family, but I hope that it's something that's extremely simple to do and it might dramatically reduce your family's food bill. And with that food bill is attached a very significant carbon footprint and an even more significant petroleum footprint.
Chris Martenson: And toxicity too.
Paul Wheaton: And the toxicity. I mean, that's where most of your--that's your biggest toxicity, that's your... have you ever seen that YouTube video of the little girl, and she looks like she's about eight, and she's growing a sweet potato, and she talks about how a sweet potato never grows. She put it in there and it doesn't grow, and she goes back to the grocer and she says, "Why didn't my sweet potato grow? I put the toothpicks in, I put the water there... it should work." And I said, "Oh, well, we found that people didn't like to buy sweet potatoes where they had roots sticking out of them. So, they've all been treated with bud net.
And since bud net is something that grows in the plant, it's systemic, you can't wash it off. But what you've got to do is get something that doesn't have the bud net.” So, she went to the organic grocery and got it, and she managed to get a little tiny bit of green growing out of it, and then she talked to that grocer, "Why isn't it bigger? Why is it so pathetic? Why is it...?" And he said, "Oh, oh, even organic has bud net, just not as much. Because our customers would tolerate a little bit of root, but they still don't want those bunch of roots coming out of it."
So, then she went to a local farmer and got one that hasn't been treated with bud net and then, of course, it grew into this giant shrub almost instantly. So, what a magnificent example: even organic--because basically, our organic systems today, are conventional farming where certain toxins have been replaced with more natural toxins. And so, they're allowed to still use certain toxins that are not even natural--for example, bud net.
And so, it's like it's--then the next thing is coming to the more political thing where it's like, "Well, it's not really organic, but we're going to give you the organic certification anyway, just this one time. And I know we've said 'just this one time' the last 157 times, but I'm sure that we'll get it all straightened out soon." So, it's kind of like the organic at the grocery store is certainly better than non-organic, but still leaves a lot to be desired; there's a lot of room there. So, when we're talking about toxicity in our food, then the standard is weak.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, and we did a piece a while back--two pieces--with a gentleman from Food Democracy Now! and they actually bother to go out and test for Roundup, they were looking for glyphosate on foods, and--spoiler alert--they found it on organic brands. It's still there, it's still pervasive, and like you said, the definitions are evolving like, "Oh, no, we didn't use this an herbicide; oh, we used it as a desiccant." That falls within the organic guidelines or something. I don't know what the story was, right?
Paul Wheaton: Yeah, "You totally violated the standard, but we're going to let you go this one time."
Chris Martenson: Yeah. So, this is something that, of course, I think is just... a good friend of mine, Jim _____ [00:41:17], he said that what we're doing is running rackets on ourselves. And food is a giant racket, of course, and the food system itself, is laced with all these things that are designed to metabolically upset and capture us. But at the same time, even if you're trying to eat organic--which is better--there's still just... my trust is broken irretrievably on this. So, the idea that I can pick something that I have grown, at least I know what I've done, I have some control on it.
Paul Wheaton: You know the story; you know the truth; you know what's really going on. Unless, of course, some fool, two years ago, brought in commercial compost and spread it on everything, and now he gives it the name of like, "This is the spot where nothing shall ever grow again."
Chris Martenson: [Crosstalking] So, hügelkultur. I guess--again, people can refer to your materials, I don't want to try and recreate the whole thing here. But the idea is you would gather logs, branches, hopefully, some bark in there maybe for some extra nutrients, you pile whatever soil you've got on top of that, and over time--question one: do you arrange those north-south or do you do east-west where you get little valleys with shade and brighter sun? And two, do they collapse over time?
Paul Wheaton: Number one, I prefer to make hügelkulturs go in all kinds of squiggly wiggly directions. Be an artist, make it go in all kinds of wonky--make them curvy, don't make them straight lines. The mighty, the glorious, the amazing ... Sepp Holzer originally said something about, "You want to make them be perpendicular to the general direction of the wind." And then when I met him in 2009, I proposed this idea of wriggly stuff that would fit next to each other so the wind couldn't possibly get in from any direction.
And I don't speak any German, and he doesn’t speak any English, but he did learn one word to share with me that day--one English word, and that was "catastrophe" which is what he said for anything I had to say. But we got to be good friends anyway.
And then when his book comes out, what do you see? Lots of curly stuff. [Laughter] Straight line are done. I guess he got past that whole "catastrophe" thing.
Chris Martenson: Maybe it's the same word in both languages, we don't know.
Paul Wheaton: I've heard him say it in German and it's "katastrophen".
Chris Martenson: Oh, that's close enough.
Paul Wheaton: Good enough, right? So, like when he talks about the government, he uses the word "dummkopf", I think I've heard of that one.
Chris Martenson: I know that from Hogan's Heroes, so I've got that one.
Paul Wheaton: Oh, okay. There's this great big word that's this old, old VHS movie of him, and he is pointing across the valley, at a bunch of conifer trees, and he's pissed, he's angrily shaking his fist and pointing over there, "What's going on?" And normally, throughout the whole thing, you hear the English translation kind of overdubbed everything and he says that for some reason, he's going on, and on, and on. And in German, if you're going to be pissed off, I think that might be the very best language to ever be pissed off. [Laughter] [German Imitation] And it just goes on... and it's like, what is the English translation. And finally, there's English translation, and it’s “The government doesn't understand."
Chris Martenson: So, in this book--which by the way, I'm a kickstarter for, a lot of people from my site kicked in--in fact, somebody alerted me from my community about your Kickstarter! --so, in this book, what are people going to find in there?
Paul Wheaton: You're going to find a lot of silly, and it's there's going to be a lot of practical solutions. There's going to be... I don't know... and it's like we tried every... when started writing the book, the book was just getting crazy massive, and it's like, "There's no way anybody is going to read a book this big."
So, what we decided to do was try to provide clues to things--just enough information to get you really tasered up for it, without going into the full detail--and we put tons of footnotes throughout the book so people can go and get more information about all the little bits and buds. But we tried to present in little--so there's 32 chapters and each chapter tries to cover a particular kind of angle or aspect on things, and it's about solutions. And we put a powerful focus on just the solutions--I think there might be two or three in there that would cost money or would be less than luxuriant. But most of them that we put in there are like, we only wanted stuff that would save you money and make your life more luxuriant. And if you don't mind, I'll give you a quickie example, which I suspect you've probably talked about. Have you talked about going poo-less?
Chris Martenson: Uh-huh, it's been mentioned. Let's go there.
Paul Wheaton: Alright. So, here's a simple thing everybody can do: try going a week without soap or shampoo in the shower. And the thing is what you might find, is at the end of the week, that your hair is far more luxuriant that it has ever been. And on top of that, like if you say, "Oh, well, then I'm going to stop buying this toxic gick and rubbing it all over myself in the shower," you'll find that, okay, you're saving money because you're not buying that stuff anymore, you're healthier because you're not rubbing toxic gick all over yourself anymore; and on top of that, your shower time--the average American shower time is seven and a half minutes. But when you're poo-less, you'll find that your average shower time is a minute and a half, and this is the number one place that you use hot water. And so, your hot water bill would drop dramatically from going poo--less.
And so, this is something where your life is more luxuriant and you're saving money, and you're lowering your energy footprint, and lowering your toxic footprint, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, it's an example of a simple thing, and all it takes it a little bit of knowledge, suddenly, the world is changing before your very eyes.
Chris Martenson: And if we did--if collectively, if in all of these chapters, people found things to do... so, here are a couple of complaints: people often say, "Hey, I can't afford to do all of these things, they sound expensive." Because often, in a consumer culture, guess what, you want to do something that costs money, right? So, "I need solar," tons of money; "I need a Tesla", tons of money. So, these are all ways to sort of purchase your way towards happiness. Of course, in many cases, those are actually counterproductive, if you peel them back far enough.
So, are these things that you can imagine that mythical median and below household that we were just talking about?
Paul Wheaton: Oh, yeah. Easy. Easy. I've got all kinds of--hey, we talked about heat earlier, right?
Chris Martenson: Uh-huh.
Paul Wheaton: And speaking of what... people going and buying their way into environmentalism, what's the number one that people think that they're doing that's helping the environment where they go out and they spend about five to 20 bucks?
Chris Martenson: I don't know... what would that be?
Paul Wheaton: Light bulbs.
Chris Martenson: Oh, yeah, light bulbs. Well, Al Gore said to do that.
Paul Wheaton: "Al, Al. We got on a jet, Al. Me and you."
Chris Martenson: Well, he was too busy on one of his three private jets, going to one of his other four homes. So, he couldn't have a conversation.
Paul Wheaton: Well, you know what? I want people to do all the traveling they want to do; I want people to do all--I mean, there's a whole big thing about, "Should you order pizza because of all the environmental footprint of having pizza delivered?" I want people to have all the pizza they want, and I want them to do all the things they--if Al Gore wants to tour around in his jet, I want to make a world where he has fun doing that. And it's like, at the same time, I want to solve all the problems. And I think we can do that.
So, let's go back to the light bulb thing for just a moment. First of all, pretty much everything everybody--if you're in a cold climate, then pretty much everything you've been told isn't going to work the way you think. And I want to point out that... 63 percent of the cold-climate Americans' energy consumption--energy bill--is for heat. And so, that's the place to start, really. Lightbulb stuff, 4 percent. So, 63 percent versus 4 percent.
Now, here's the amazing thing is that I want to--first, I want to talk to people about how to use the light bulb stuff properly, as opposed to like, "Let's put 20 light bulbs in the ceiling 20 feet above us." And it's like, "How about if we move those light bulbs way closer and we only need one or two, rather than a whole bunch?"
But here's an engineering fact: let's suppose that it's January and you live in Montana, and you've got baseboard heaters, and you're going to have an electric heat bill that month of $200--I just made the number up. But then, what you did was is you turned on all the lights--so, one January--January 2018--then you lived a normal life with the electric heat, and it was $200.
And let's say that the weather and all the condition and everything was exactly the same in January 2019, only you turned on all the lights in the house, and you just left them on 24/7. What is your electric heat bill or your electric bill? So, say, your electric bill was $200 was in January 2018, in 2019, I'm just going to proclaim exactly the same. And that's because now, all of those incandescent lights--because I'm saying that they're incandescent--sorry, I put threw that in a little late--all those incandescent light bulbs are throwing off heat. But whatever kind of light bulbs you're using, those are also throwing off heat. And so, basically now, with all the light bulbs in the house on, your thermostat isn't coming on as often, so the baseboard heat isn't running as often.
So, that's something to keep in mind. Now, let's do this magical mysterious thing: let's bring the lights closer to human beings. If there's a couch, mount the light bulbs close over the heads of the human beings. And then, if it's going to be a desk, let's move a single light bulb close over the head of a single human being that's at that single desk. So, wherever there's going to be people, let's do smart lighting--and it's all incandescent.
Now, what happens is that whenever it happens to be dark outside--like in January--people are turning on the lights. And then, what happens is you get the thermostat set at 72°, and then somebody says, "It's too warm in here," because they've got that light so close to them; it's heating them. And with the _____ [00:52:33] heat is far more efficient than the type of heat you're going to get from that baseboard heater--radiant heat. Radiant heat is far more efficient than convective heat.
And so, now, you're getting this extremely efficient light. So, then you--and first of all, whenever you're not in a room, all you've got to do is turn off the lights when you're not in that room--but under this scenario, you could leave them on.
But I'm going to say--I want to make a scenario that's even more efficient. So, you're turning off the lights in a room that you're not in, and thermostat for the whole house is controlled in one location. And the next thing you know, it's set to something like 64; because wherever the lights are one and whenever you're there, you're getting drowned in this very efficient form of radiant heat that's warming up the people, instead of the whole house--the whole house has been dropped down to 64, but you still feel just as comfortable as if it was 72.
Now, your heat bill has dropped to possibly 40 percent less; you're saving far more money than if you switched to LED bulbs. Tada! How's that? You were making a presentation on how to save money, right?
Chris Martenson: Well, that's a great way to start, because oftentimes if you're saving money, you're doing something that's more energetically-efficient--quite often. In business, that's true.
Paul Wheaton: So, this is something we cover in the book a fair deal--a little bit. I think it's just part one chapter, really.
Chris Martenson: But the incandescent bulb has been demonized; you're upending 15 years of programming.
Paul Wheaton: [Chuckles] Yeah. I wonder why it's been demonized. I've got a video up on YouTube I put up there... I don't know, like eight years ago, called "Mr. Stinkypants," and it's basically talking--it talks a little bit about the invention of the incandescent light bulb, and then it talks about the Phoebus Cartel--have you talked about the Phoebus Cartel on your show?
Chris Martenson: No.
Paul Wheaton: So, the Phoebus Cartel is where all light bulb manufacturers got together and said, "You know what? If we shorten the lifespan of our bulbs--all of us--and we're all saying incandescent can't last more than 1000 hours, then we'll sell more light bulbs." So, that's what they did, they all agreed to that; and they had penalties between organizations, that "If you make one that lasts longer, we'll penalize you." Now, keep in mind, I'm sure you've heard of the Centennial Bulb.
Chris Martenson: Yes, that awkward bulb that's still burning somewhere... Brooklyn? I don't know where.
Paul Wheaton: It's been going for, I believe, 120 years now, and it's an incandescent bulb--incandescent bulbs can be made to last an extremely long time. But we're artificially shortened their lifespan, so that way the light bulb companies could make more money.
Now, what would happen if a CFL actually costs $20 to get it here? Because, I mean, right now, you could get an energy audit. And when they do an energy audit, do they not bring by a ton of CFL bulbs?
Chris Martenson: Sure they do; they're throwing them at you.
Paul Wheaton: Yeah, and they're sticking them in closets, they're free, right? And do you really believe people from China send you love and kisses, like, "Oh, we love you so much, we're delivering them to you personally, and we'll install..." No, they're not doing that. No. So, the reason why is because somebody is getting rich. Now, I believe--and I could be wrong, but I've done a little research, and I think I am right--and that is that I believe that with the CFLs, they got like 40 to maybe 100 different subsidies from different branches of government, to the point that they were getting like, maybe, 40 to $50 per light bulb. And they're paying something like $12/bulb to get them to our shores. So, they're making bank.
And now, they're just taking that same recipe and moving it over to LEDs. Now, LEDs, there are other stories there, there's a lot of other stuff happening, but basically, it's the same company--which you'll notice when you get that energy audit, it's still the CFLs and not the LED bulbs, and it's kind of like, why don't they bring you a clothesline? I mean a clothesline would save you far more money per year. In fact, if changing your light bulbs our makes really any significant difference to your power bill, then really, I think we need to talk about how you got too many lights on or something. I mean it's like... I don't know how many times I've seen people with really bizarre lighting habits.
In the book, I talk about the lonely boat, somebody who's got--I used to live in a place where there was a neighbor, he had a boat in its own little garage, and it had this single CFL burning 24/7, 365 days a year, just to keep the boat company. And so, it's an example of energy being wasted. I also talked about a scenario where somebody had a porch that has a whole bunch of those little, tiny incandescent fancy bulbs. And so I calculated that he used 720 Watts, whereas a single floodlight at 350 Watts, appeared to be about ten times brighter than all of those fancy bulbs. And so, there's a lot of truth to that; the thing is if you have one bulb, it puts out more light than two bulbs that have half the wattage. And so, when it comes to smart lighting, we shouldn't be talking about that kind of stuff.
But the bottom line is that with the CSL, the light bulb manufacturer has a huge profit per bulb; but for the incandescent, they don't. So, when incandescent light bulbs got banned, who were the lobbyists? It was the manufacturers of light bulbs.
Chris Martenson: It makes sense. And that brings us to this idea of a gap of what should happen and what will happen. So, I live in an area where there's still some growth going on; we had some houses parked in an alfalfa field, just an absolute waste of a very nice piece of soil. And these houses were plunked in direct orientation to the road, north-south, their glazing of windows was just willy-nilly, it was standard, looks like something you would find in a brochure, and they were both with 2 X 4 stick--as I watched them go up--and just fiberglass insulation.
Now, we know so much more than that, right? Just tip them all in the south direction, use 2 X 6, insulate them well, and the energy savings off of that home would pay for that house over the course of its lifetime.
And we're still not doing it. So, in this story of--you've got a lot of things that we can do, you've also been at this a while. So, in the decade, I'll say--or however long you've been at this--how is the momentum going? Are more people actually gravitating to this? Do you still find yourself swimming upstream--against the stream of ignorance? Where do you personally feel we are in this story right now?
Paul Wheaton: I think it's a little Column A and a little Column B. There's a lot of swimming upstream, but at the same time, there's a lot more people that are swimming with me. And at the same time, you mentioned earlier like Toby Hemmingway, and it's like--he certainly made a big dent. And I kind of feel like the recipe isn't to try to appeal to people's sense of like, "Do it for the earth or we're all going to die," because that almost universally falls on deaf ears, or even worse, they don't want to hear about it because they already bought the light bulbs so they're all good--they did their part... which drives me crazy, it's like, "No, you made it worse."
And so, I kind of feel like the thing to do is appeal to their wallets. I mean, you're talking about... okay, they built these houses with 2 X 4s, and crappy insulation, and stuff like that, and it's kind of like you go in and you're like "Why? Why would you do that?" And it's like, because it's 10 percent cheaper than a house that was built to the specifications that you just outlined. And I think that, if we're going to solve these problems, we have to appeal to the checkbook. And a lot of these things, we can--we can totally appeal to the checkbook.
But of course, when we do that, when we convey a message that appeals to the checkbook--which I'm just realizing people don't use checkbook anymore--appeal to the coin--and I think "coin" might be a more powerful word today than it was ten years ago--to appeal to the coin, then it's like where's the profit motivation in that? Who's profiting off of appeal to the coin?
I mean, we've just talked about the light bulb manufacturers--they're making more coin if you can part with more coin, or if you can buy into what they tell you. I mean, they put the wore "Eco" right on the box, and they're done it so much that now when we talk about "Eco", most people believe that those light bulbs are the most eco thing that there is. In fact, they believe it so good, that if they just simply buy the light bulbs, they can be all done, like that solves everything. And when they hear about something like, "We're all going to die from whatever" they're like, "Why don't more people just buy those light bulbs? That's what I did." They're so convinced that that's the end story. And it's like, wow... whoever did that marketing did an amazing job, and that's like the perfect, ultimate example of greenwashing.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, I watched some videos of Sepp Holzer in preparation for this, and like many people who are--like your light bulb story, there's complexity--as soon as you start really observing something and you dig in, you find there are relationships, there's more complexity than you thought. The light bulb, to buy a CFL and feel like I'm done, is to just have a simplifying aspect of this story. But otherwise, we have to be aware that we're in a complex system, this is a highly complex environment that we're in. It might be as complex as needing to track all the different possible things that could go wrong if I bring an input, if I dare to bring luxurious, brown, good-smelling compost onto my property, I might bring an actual trauma.
So, it's getting very difficult to sort of operate in that environment. We can appeal to the pocketbook, we can appeal to, maybe, the old guys who likes apple blossoms in spring, and that's his--whatever the reason is, there are things that people can do to begin to right that ship, and some of those things--I like this idea of luxuriant environmentalism. I live in a very--if you came to my house--half-acre, that's why I picked that number--in Greenfield, Massachusetts--you would see... I've got elderberries growing, I've got all these different pollinator species--it's beautiful.
And I think people walking by my house would say, "Hey..." I hope somebody walks by and says, "Jeez, I'd like to have flowers too." I'm planting for very specific reasons, but beauty is one of them, and I feel like a lot of our culture is militating against thinking about things in terms of longevity, in terms of next-generation, in terms of the long term, in terms of beauty itself. So, guess what? Young people say, "I have no meaning or purpose; I don't get the story, I've lost the plotline."
Paul Wheaton: And there's many flavors of beauty, and a lot of people argue against permaculture because they believe it looks too rough or too wild. And I think that it has its own beauty, and that said, it's a whole other path to appreciate when it's done well.
It can be done as well as your typical landscaping--I kind of feel like a lot of landscaping is people putting their boot on the throat of mother nature, instead of trying to develop a romantic relationship with mother nature.
Chris Martenson: Well, I planted elderberries because--well, they're a great medicine, but I have a lot of jewelweed growing natively. So, he said, "Oh, wet feet. I want something that likes wet feet, and I want it." So, that's as complex as I've gotten with it. But just notice what's already growing, and then probably other things can be encouraged. That's what I love about the permaculture idea, is that we can use our brains for all kinds of things, but one thing we can do, is we can speed up mother nature's already robust processes by applying a little bit more thought and effort. So, that's what I love; I love being a part of that dance rather than against it.
Paul Wheaton: Here's a good one: a lot of your listeners aren't legally required to grow a lawn. And for whatever reason, they've decided they're going to do it. And it's like… so, let's see if what I can do--if I can say some magic words, and it would save them $100 per year, and save them maybe 4, 5 hours a year, and they can have the most magnificent-looking lawns on their block.
And really, 90 percent of this is covered in two words which 90 percent of you listeners still won't believe me when I say it--no matter what. And that is "mow high". All you've got to do is set your lawnmower as high as it'll go, it'll solve 90 percent of all of your lawn-mowing needs, you won't have to irrigate as often, you can eliminate the need for your weed and feed, there's a long, long list of benefits from moving high.
And people errantly believe that if they mow low, it'll be long until they have to mow again. But actually, if you mow high, it'll be longer until you have to mow again. And the reason is that when you mow low, then the grass plant, itself, needs to do the photosynthesis dance, and so it has to grow blades of grass really, really, really fast. And then, so then it comes out uneven again, and now you've got to now it again. Whereas, as long as it looks like it's got a crew cut, it's fine.
So, when you mow high, then the grass plant focuses on making more grass plants, not with--because these photosynthesis harvesters are working good. When they're 4 inches tall, or 3 inches tall, something like that--working good, and we don't need to panic and grow a bunch more of those really fast. So, you get to kind of keep that crew-cut look where everything is mowed at the same height. It stays that way longer, and it puts out more plants thus making your turf even thicker, and it looks even better, and better, and better.
Chris Martenson: Wow, great one. As we are coming to the closing parts of this, I have an important question which is, for all the millennials, Gen Xers, the younger generation people out there who are got locked out thanks to central bank policies turning them into renters, they feel like they don't have a place to call their own. What are the things that they can begin doing? Maybe what's in your book for people who feel dispossessed, as it were, in this story?
Paul Wheaton: Oh, that is... I've got so much to say.
Chris Martenson: Well, three words.
Paul Wheaton: Is it okay if I talk about PEP?
Chris Martenson: Sure.
Chris Martenson: So, with PEP, the thing that I was experiencing--in fact, I just had somebody here, we had the PVC and ATC here recently, and there was a woman that was talking about things like, "Well, I want to be part of the community, but I can't afford buying the land and getting it started." And so, then I said, "Well, but you can consider PEP." And so, basically, the core of PEP is that there are these old people, all over America--millions of them--sitting on 200 acres or more--and oftentimes, they have two houses on the property, they've got damn fine truck and a damn fine tractor, and they've got like 90 to 100 grand in the bank, and they want to will to somebody, but they just need to have somebody worthy to will it to.
And so, we're trying to set up a program that's totally free, so that way, you can build new experiences that would impress such a person into willing--and you might think, "No one's going to do that," and it's like, "Oh yeah, they will." They hate their kids because their kids are going to just sell the land and pocket the money, but they're going like, "I put my life into this land, I want to see it continue on into the future being something farmesque. I don't want my kids and just liquidate it. I want to see it move forward after I'm gone." And so, they're desperate, they so desperately want to find somebody.
So, you're talking about somebody... like let's say they're 18-years-old and they're contemplating going into college. And now, I don't think we even have--do we even have colleges anymore? I think they call them all "universities". It's like somehow, we've become embarrassed about the word "college". But anyway, the thing is like, how much debt do you take on to go to a public school these days? Is it 80 grand? I heard it's crazy. But it's like ten or 20 times more than when I went to college.
And so, basically, they want to saddle you with 80 grand worth of debt, and then you're stuck in a rat race, and then when you finally--and it takes 23 years on average to pay up your student loan--thanks to Google for that one. That's amazing. Twenty-three years! So, by the time--when you're 18 and you decide to go to college, then your commitment is greater than your lifespan to-date.
And it's kind of like--alright, so then what happens? So, it's like when you graduate, it turns out that you picked the wrong degree and no one wants to hire you--unless you get an MBA. But that's six years in school, that's a bigger ticket too. But also, an MBA, that's boring, man. That's hard. You've got to stay awake in those classes. Well, maybe some people are like driven--I don't know.
Anyway, the key is like, alright, you're 18 years old, you added 23 years to that, now, you've got to finish paying off your house, and your car, and all these other debts you've accumulated--maybe you've got another ten years on that. So, what does that make you? If you add all that up, you're 50-something years old. Now, you start looking at retirement. And what are you going to do when you retire? And so, it's like maybe what you want to do is to get 200 acres with a house or two on it, et cetera, and retire and _____ [01:11:33].
And it's like, how about a shortcut? How about if you skip all that other stuff, you get PEP-board certified, it takes three years, and then you inherit land complete with the trucks and tractors, and whatever else--and a bit of coin--and you go right into the permaculture lifestyle? So, basically, you get to do what Chris is doing on his half an acre, but you've got something closer to 200 acres. Tada.
Chris Martenson: That sounds fantastic. What is that--"PEP", what does that stand for?
Paul Wheaton: Permaculture Experience according to Paul. That would be me. Now, I've set it up so-- there are 25 other letters in the alphabet, so we call it the PEP Program, and different people can set up their standards for what they think is good, because mine is going to be cold climate stuff. But this is something that I came up with the idea like four years ago, and we've been fleshing it out, and now there's a whole bunch of people that are getting certified for some of the smaller things and are working their way up. So, we're just getting started on this.
But when you're saying what is do I advise to young people? It's this: I think--and it's free, it costs nothing, you go ahead and get those experiences however you're able, and then post a picture of like, "Before, during, and after, here I am getting this experience, and I get certified for those experiences and they add up," and then once you get enough, you're PEP-certified.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. And a lot of people are looking for it, they want to the community, and the old people have the capital--in whatever form that's in. But it's not about just that anymore; people want to be able to be a part of something and get that sense of meaning and purpose and belonging.
Paul Wheaton: And that might be what you're asking, but I went a different direction.
Chris Martenson: That's fine too.
Paul Wheaton: But you're right: in the book, I talk about... and I only give one chapter on this, because this is worthy of a library of books. How do you get 20 people to live under one roof without stabbing each other? And it's kind of like, no, it's true. For all of the problems that we have, one of the very best solutions is going to be community--community living, sharing the kitchen, living under one roof. And the thing is, the upsides are that you can live in far more luxuriant environment for one-third the cost. But it comes with a massive downside, which for all those listening to this right now, who are in college sharing the house with buddies or something--some of those worked out, just a few--most of those didn't work out and there's a reason why people tend to live in an apartment by themselves, or with their family, or in a house with just their family and not with 20 other people. And it's because of the drama--it's death by a thousand little dramas, and it's like, after a while, you just can't stomach it anymore.
Because like right now, if you wanted to go into your neighborhood and rent a room in a nice house, it would probably be roughly one-third the cost of whatever you're living in right now. Accurate?
Chris Martenson: Yeah, roughly.
Paul Wheaton: And you don't do it because of the drama.
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
Paul Wheaton: So, it's kind of alright. So, I'm putting an enormous amount of work into trying to solve the drama stuff. And it's a big, tall order. I'm working on a book on it, and basically, the book is going to say--this is not "the" book, it's a book talking about trying to get to the book. And it's going to be--because I think this is going to take me another ten years to get sorted out to even something that just works some of the time.
Chris Martenson: Well, good luck--you've got a moving target you're trying to hit, because the boomer generation you're talking about that's currently retiring, is so different from the people who were raised on smartphones and with a very orientation. Every generation varies anyway, but the social graces, niceties, abilities, and community requires real skills. It's inner work, it's owning your own stuff, it's understanding how to negotiate and be a part of something... that's a moving target in this culture right now.
Paul Wheaton: Absolutely. And so, I kind of feel like what happens if you have a friend who is happy and everything is going great for your friend, and everything sucks for you, and you're going to ask your friend like, "What are you doing? What's so special?" I mean, isn't that somewhat motivating? And I think that that's where it all begins. And so, for example, here at my place, we offer the permaculture boot camp, and it's like--so, we call it the "Permaculture Bootcamp" for a very specific reason. I mean how many of your millennials or--I'm not even sure what to call the people that are 18. How many are 18-year-olds? How about if we call them that "18-year-olds"?
Chris Martenson: I think they're calling them Gen Z, because it's the last one--I'm not positive on that, though, it's just the theory.
Paul Wheaton: Well, are we going to stop breeding?
Chris Martenson: I guess. Unless we get this right. So, how many 18-year-olds are going to sign up for something called a boot camp? And like our model is you learn permaculture through a little hard work, and they work 40 hours a week. But the cool thing is that the people that show up now, for this, are quite industrious, and they're willing to put the work in. In fact, they probably do an extra ten or 15 hours on top of the 40 hours a week of their own projects and stuff.
And so, it's kind of like... it appeals to different sets. And you're right: when you are living in a household and you hate your parents, and so, you're leaving that, and you go out into the big world, and the big world kind of seems to hate you too... I mean, my understanding is that the suicide rate is extremely high right now--is that accurate? I think that is.
Chris Martenson: It is. It's all-time records right now.
Paul Wheaton: Yeah. And so, I think there might be a connection here somewhere. And I kind of feel like there's... I don't know... 100 hours of things to talk about our modern society in this way, but I kind of don't want to. What I really want to talk about are how do we make things better? And I kind of feel like if somebody is like, "Yeah, I've got my own house that I built myself, and I grow all my own food," and so we start talking about _____ [01:18:44], I don't know who that is, and it doesn't really affect me.
I mean, I kind of feel like there's a lot to be said for that, "Oh, what did you do?", and it's like, "Well, I'm involved in permaculture," and next thing you know I've built my own house and I now grow so much food that I can't possibly eat it myself. And so, I'm traveling this path and I spend my days basically retired, and I'm 25." It's like... I don't know... that's kind of a sweet-sounding package, ain't it?
Chris Martenson: Uh-huh. Yeah. And a lot of people are, obviously, turning away from... here's the thing about a culture like ours--and to get back to that side of things for a second--is that once you begin to question it, you're going to find a lot of flaws in it, "Oh my gosh, look at what we're doing to ourselves," with our sick-care system, or our food, or whatever those things are, and you can say, "I don't want any of that." But saying, "Not this," is insufficient, you also have to say, "Well, then, what am I moving towards?"
People have been adrift on that, and that's what I like about the solutions that you're offering, because there's a way for people to get involved, and I love this quote--I was watching a TED talk on addiction, and a guy said, "The opposite of addiction isn't sobriety, it's connection." And that's really what permaculture, to me, represents, it's the connection, it's sitting down and trying to puzzle out what is going on here, and, is there any way for me to participate in this dance that's already going on, and work with it?
And so, I like that idea, and I think that's what a lot of young people are beginning to gravitate towards, and it's the idea of, "I want to belong to something that's tangible, meaningful, and has beauty--has some other aesthetics in it besides, "Does this only make money? Can I figure out a better way to make a light bulb last for a predetermined short amount of time." Hey, that's for some people, not for everybody.
Paul Wheaton: "Who am I and what's my thing?"
Chris Martenson: Yeah, absolutely.
Paul Wheaton: Have you read my stuff about Gertitude, the whole Ferd and Gert thing?
Chris Martenson: No.
Paul Wheaton: So, a lot of people are talking about, "How do I make $1 million with permaculture?" And I can spell it out. I've got a bunch of podcasts about that, I've got presentations I've done about that. But really the thing is what we call--what we now call Gertitude. And so, I try to tell the story of Ferd and Gert. Ferd works a job, he's getting paid so much money per year, and he gets his food by going to restaurants and going to the grocery store, et cetera. Gert has achieved the permaculture dream, and she's basically retired--but she does once a year, or throughout the fall, basically, she does put a little more effort on her food systems because she's trying to preserve it, and put it up so she can have food to eat through the winter.
But the thing is is that Gert earns very little money compared to Fred. So, Gert is--she makes some money because she grows an excess of food and some people buy that food. She does a couple of other little things--I mean, basically, it's kind of tied in... well, so many things. But let's just say Gert is the same age as Ferd, but she's effectively retired, and she's living the permaculture dream, she's got her own little house, she's got her garden, and she lives in a community, there's a bunch of other Gert-like plots around her, and these are the people that she hangs out with. And she does stuff with.
And, of course, Gert's got her special thing that she does, that makes it so that she does a little bit of consulting here and there, and she does help with people with some design, and this and that. And that's her thing, and that's what defines her. But for the most part, she's self-sufficient--she owns a pickup truck, but she finds that she only goes into town like once every three months for a little change of scenery. She can go into town as often as she wants, she just doesn't feel like. This is the story of Gert--I mean, there's a lot more to it, and it's in the book. But it's in the book about financial strategies, and next to it, not only do we talk about Early Retirement Extreme--all the material written by Jacob Lund Fisker-- but Jacob went through the chapter with us. We also talked about Rob Roy's works on Mortgage Free!, and we talked about passive income streams and kind of mixing all those together.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. Those are the topics we cover quite a bit, looking at the fire movement and how people go about that--the pros and cons, it's not all panacea. But then the idea that an unexamined spending lifestyle is one that's very easy to fall into, and if you just cut back, and do it thoughtfully, and set some goals, I think it can be become a very different experience for people. And so, I feel terrible for all the young people who got sold into the idea that you out of high school, and you go into 100,000 in debt, and you have yourself a nice, liberal arts degree from somewhere. It's not a path to anything anymore, and shame on the counselors who said it was because it hasn't been for a while.
Paul Wheaton: It's the past, it's... can we call it slavery, is that okay?
Chris Martenson: It's okay, Yeah, we do that. We do that.
Paul Wheaton: You're a slave to your past choices.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, well, when you think about how the debt is created in the system, and that no work was involved in creating debt, the banks just clicked a few keys on the keyboard. But now, your output is now tied to that for 23 years. I can't imagine what other word besides "slavery" actually applies in that particular example. So, it's just--
Paul Wheaton: Slavery with extra steps?
Chris Martenson: One step removed, that's all it takes for humans. We're not very complicated. The PG&E engineer is like, "Well, I put the water down into the water table--I didn't pour hexavalent chromium on the kid's cereal. Cut me some slack." So, it's just how it works; it's one step removed. That's all it takes.
So, gosh, we've taken up so much of your time, and obviously, it feels like we could go for a lot longer and still barely scratch the surface. So, I know, Paul, that you have a lot of this material on your websites which I mentioned, but please, help people locate all of your fine work that's out there to be found. Where would they go?
Paul Wheaton: I'd say if you're going to go to one place, it's Permies.com. It has... most of the stuff that's going out to the forums where we--I mean, forums are pretty much done with today, but ours is still growing. And I think it's because we have a different way of doing communication than most forums do. But that would be lined up for the DVDs about rocket mass heaters, as well as the World Domination Gardening DVDs, which is basically the kind of earthworks that you might do to do gardening.
We've got a new DVD out now about rocket ovens, and when Christmas time rolls around--and boy we sure sell a lot of those permaculture playing cards.
So, those are the products. But mostly, there's free, free, free stuff all over in the forums, and I think that you'll find--we focus on what we call perennial discussion, so there's a lot of discussions that has been going on for ten years, where you can jump in at any time.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. So, people, please follow those links, we're going to have them here, of course, at the bottom of the podcasts, like we always do. Read and digest as much as you need to take action, because it's time to take action. We're almost out of time in this story, if you look at some of the measures I'm looking at. Everything hinges on you doing everything in your own backyard, in your community, in your own neighborhood.
This is Chris Martenson signing off. Paul, thank you so much for your time and your expertise today. Very generous.
Paul Wheaton: Thank you, Chris.
Chris Martenson: Alright, everyone. May you create abundance and prosper.