Monday, July 30, 2007

Carbon Bumper Stickers

Better late that never.

Last weekend, 21 & 22, I went down to Melbourne for an IT workshop.

While there I was park behind little red Hyundai. It had a big bumper sticker with “This vehicle’s emissions have been offset”, and in small print “Men of the Trees WA Inc”.

First thing I wounded was “Is that for this year's carbon or last years?” Normal Rego stickers have the year of coverage is printed in big black letters on the sticker.

I had a look at their web site, it’s hard to tell, but it looks like their project are what I call ‘percentage coverage’ projects. Timber lines, clumps and alike. Good stuff.

What worries me is project that cover the landscape from fence to fence, creating a monoculture of a given tree mix. Not a mosaic of cover and open country.

My number one option is alternate energy schemes. That is, not to burn fossil carbon in the first place. For me, tree coverage should be a decision driven by the custodian’s knowledge of the land, not by some carbon exchange on Wall Street, The City or Chicago.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Romans: Water engineers

There is a scene from Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ that I really love. It’s the "what have the Romans ever given us" scene.

Reg And what have they ever given us in return?
Rebel2 The aqueduct?
Reg What?
Rebel2 The aqueduct.
Reg Oh yeah, yeah. They did give us that. That's true, yeah.
Rebel3 And sanitation.
Loretta Oh yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like.
Reg Yeah, all right, I'll grant you the aqueduct , the sanitation are two
things the Romans have done...
Mathias And the roads.
Reg Well, yeah. Obviously the roads, I mean the roads go without saying,
don't they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the
Rebel4 Irrigation.
Rebel2 Medicine.
Rebel5 Education.
Reg Yeah, yeah, all right. Fair enough...
Rebel1 And the wine.
Rebels Oh, yeah
Francis Yeah. Yeah, That's something that we'd really miss, Reg, if the
Romans left, huh.
Rebel6 Public baths.
Loretta And it's safe to walk the in streets at night now Reg.
Francis Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let's face it, the only
ones who could in a place like this.
PFJ Huhuhuh. Huhuhuhuhuh.
Reg All right. But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education,
wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system, and
public health... What have the Romans ever done for us?
Rebel2 Brought peace?
Reg Oh, peace. Shaddup.

I want to focus on a group of the related systems: the fresh water system, irrigation, the aqueducts and sanitation.

SBS TV have just shown a 3 episode of documentary titled ‘The Roman Empire’.

The second episode includes a study/poke around the World Heritage listed ruins of the Roman city of Timgad in North Africa.
2: Timgad: Roman Africa – 1 July

The city of Timgad in North Africa is a perfect illustration of the Empire’s impressive system of expansion. It is testimony to the Roman method of cultural domination and assimilation. The program takes a look at this showpiece city, whose purpose was to instill in the natives of Mauritania the desire to become, and remain, Roman citizens. Every stone bears witness to an intense, exhilarating lifestyle, like the traces left by games of hopscotch or marbles, or the telling anonymous graffiti which reads: “Hunting, bathing, gaming, jesting – this is the life”.

The part of the episode covers the city’s water systems.

The city had a water collection and conservation system which provided water for its 15,000 people, plus numerous public fountains and baths. This included 27 public and numerous private baths. The city also had an extensive sewerage system, of a standard only surpassed in the last 250 years.

The city’s primary supply was via aqueducts from springs 3 miles away. Rainfall within the city was captured for drinking and other uses. Storm water run off was also harvested and filtered for reuse.

Other aqueducts carried water greater distances for irrigation of wider farmland areas. Some parts of these aqueducts are still in use today.

These local water systems were integrated into the fibre of the city. The city included house site up to several hundred metres square. This means, site large enough to include permaculture zones one, two and three. Site plan from the 'House of the ship Europa'(named for the wall drawing of a ship) in Pompeii, confirm the use of grape vines, fruit trees, olives, nuts, vegetables, cisterns (water tanks), terraces and plant nurseries (presence of grafting pots & crushed lava together) within a townhouse compound[i].

In a world with cheap energy (oil & coal), the cheapest/easiest way has been to use the low material/high energy solution of building big dams and pumping the water over distances.

In a world where the labour energy cost ratio have reverted to a pre 1750 balance. Material intensive solutions like those used by the Romans make sense again.

In a post peak oil/global warming world, permaculture mean embodying large amount of labour and materials in long lived infrastructure.


[i] Kevin Green, Archaeology of the Roman Economy, Batsford, London, 1986, p. 97 via G.H. Leigh, The World's Greatest Fix - A History of Nitrogen and Agriculture, Oxford UP, New York, 2004, p. 48.

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