Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Paul Jasinski’s Foundation Books

The other day in an earth science class that I was teaching I mentioned that there are a number of books that I regard as my “foundation books”. These are the books that have shaped (or confirmed?) the way that I look at the world, how I interpret it, and how I respond to it. Some people in the class wanted me to post a list of the books. For better of for worse here they are:

Ishmael – An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, Daniel Quinn
The Story of B, Daniel Quinn

What makes Quinn’s books interesting is his ability to step back and see things that we are so immersed in that they seem to be the natural order of things. He is like an alien anthropologist examining the earth and its inhabitants. These books deal with how and why our culture is destroying the world. Ishmael has a really interesting take on the Garden of Eden creation myth and how it ties into what we call the agricultural revolution, one that really makes sense. Another important point is that it is not humanity that is flawed, but our civilization. There is a difference between the two.

It think Daniel Quinn’s other books are better written that Ishmael but I would still start with it, as it is a quick read with some really deep concepts. The Story of B expands on these concepts in a much better literary fashion. All of Quinn’s books have something to offer.

Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
I like this book because it is kind of scientific parallel to Ishmael and deals with how civilization has developed over the last 13 000 years. He discusses the preconditions that were necessary for the agricultural revolution and why it didn’t happen in other areas of the world.

Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond
I think it is kind of funny (well not really funny) how our society seems to have an “it could never happen to me” attitude to disasters and cultural collapse. There have been many societies that previously flourished and then collapsed due to combinations of climate change, resource overuse, and a lack of societal response to warning signs of an upcoming disaster. This book provides several examples of these collapses. It is a good follow up to Guns, Germs, and Steel, which focused more on the build up of civilizations.

Shovelling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop them All, Brian Czech
A great book looking at economics from an ecologist viewpoint (and there really is no other way if you want to have a planet to live on). This book basically says something simple: you can’t have unlimited growth on finite resources. He argues for a zero growth or steady state economy. Besides linking the economic and ecological systems, he also discusses how changes in societal perceptions and choices could help overthrow our current system. What would happen if rich people, instead of being looked upon as powerful and successful, were regarded as wasteful and as resource/Earth destroyers? What if this was part of the “mating game”, where people did not want partners that were rich because they had an understanding of what this actually meant to the Earth and the rest of society? Well, for one, I would likely be a hell of a lot more popular.

Permaculture – A Designers Manual, Bill Mollison
Switching to the applied and practical, permaculture is a design system for constructing sustainable (i.e., can survive (and thrive) through time) human settlements and agricultural systems that use principles derived from observing natural systems. This is the classic permaculture “textbook”. Even after having it for years I am always finding new stuff in it or reinterpreting things that I have already read before. The key point of this book is the word “design”. Let’s design something that works. Right now our systems are not working and they don’t seem to be led by design. Also key in this book is The Prime Directive of Permaculture, which is, “The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children”. What would happen if all of our decisions and designs were shaped by this directive? Get this book and start designing and implementing a positive, sustainable future.

I also suggest reading David Holmgren’s books including Permaculture – Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Holmgren is the co-founder of permaculture and offers a bit of a different viewpoint. The Earth Care Manual – A Permaculture Handbook for Britain and other Temperate Climates by Patrick Whitefield is another good book. In fact, I think you should read them all.

Gaia’s Garden – A Guide to Home Scale Permaculture, Toby Hemenway
This is the book that I would have liked to written. It is permaculture at the garden scale and shows how to design a garden that mimics natural systems for maximum outputs and minimal inputs. Learn about no-dig gardening, polycultures, garden layers, importance of biodiversity, edible weeds, garden guilds… A must have for any gardener.

The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, Masanobu Fukuoka
This book outline’s one mans journey from scientist to a sort of farmer/monk. He developed a system to grow rice and grains with no pesticides or fertilizers. While his methods would have to be adapted to other crops and regions, the point is that food can be grown in a sustainable, non-destructive manner. To me his philosophical outlooks are just as important as his farming techniques:

“If we do have a food crisis it will not be caused by the insufficiency of nature’s productive power, but by the extravagance of human desire”.

“And the scientists, no matter how much they investigate nature, no matter how far they research, they only come to realize in the end how perfect and mysterious nature really is”.

So these books (along with perhaps The God Delusion and Zorba the Greek) pretty much sum up my viewpoints and perspective of the world. It should now be pretty easy to figure out my motives for wanting to transform my yard into an urban garden and why I don’t really care what the neighbours may think (in fact, I would argue that those who are not urban gardeners are either not thinking or are simply uniformed). As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts and views on these books or the subjects contained within.