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Portugal fire resilience Chris Mallorie Maureen Boustred Nigel Stewart

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Letter from Portugal

From Chris Mallorie

I’m in Coimbra, where the massive fires swept through in the aftermath of Hurricane Ophelia in October 2017. Everywhere, I see remnants: the charred landscape; a scattering of fire damaged farms and land for sale online; images of the fire filling the news on it’s anniversary. We stayed with some good people who were affected, still traumatised, they kindly opened their doors to us as they rebuild.

Last October’s fires were unlike those that ever came before; more terrifying and traumatising. Flames filled the sky, whirling tornados, the sound of ‘a deafening droning hairdryer’ whipping around in a search for ever more fuel. One extreme event was compounded by proximity to another; climate chaos - heavy on the chaos, I cant help wondering.

Recovering from fire - hillside near Coimbra
One year on from the fire

I’m not sure how big an area burnt; many hundreds of square miles of rural and forest land throughout Coimbra and beyond, I would guess. A slow-burning issue remains, equally chaotic, of farmers who are still waiting for compensation claims to be processed amid allegations of corruption and nepotism, beginning to catch the attention of journalists. The reported extent of this is that only 8 of 380 families have had claims settled in the Tabua area in the 12 months since the fire. I hear reports of retrospectively-applied terms and conditions being imposed by local government, even though the EU has already funded these claims and cash is supposedly on hand. So close but yet so far from where it is needed. This adds ill-feeling and accusations of authoritarianism to the trauma. Again, a sign of things to come to the next place hit by climate chaos?

A bit of background: Portugal grows a lot of monoculture Eucalyptus (Blue Gum) primarily for the EU paper industry. The properties of its fibre when pulped are suited to the production of opaque paper and have turned it into a cash crop for landowners of all scales over the past 50 years or more. So it is widely popular and marketable. This is an exceedingly fast growing species and offers a harvest within 9-13 years of planting. Compare that with up to 40 years for Pine, 55 for Chestnut, 65 for Cherry and even 120 years for Oak. Eucalyptus has been so popular that it is estimated 25% of all Portuguese forest is Eucalyptus plantation.

So what’s the link with fires? The trees were just innocent bystanders, weren’t they? Eucalyptus is, in fact, incendiary due to the explosive mix of oils it produces and its shed bark shading out undergrowth. Not only that, it actually thrives on fire - the heat triggers seed germination; this mischievous tree wants and brings fire for the sake of its progeny. As I said, it is farmed as monoculture and on huge scales as far as the eye can see in some places, so you can imagine the scenes last October. These trees are what Nassim Taleb would describe as Anti-Fragile, like the mythical Hydra: cut off one head and seven more grow in its place.

Eucalyptus seedlings in portugal
Eucalyptus regeneration

Those who introduced the tree didn’t have the tools to understand or care how they might negatively impact future communities. They couldn’t have predicted the compounding effects of climate chaos. In response to that fact here I am looking at the hillside that inspired me to write this in the hope it would be some kind of cautionary tale to, well, I don’t know who. I hear the hill used to be dominated by pine, with only a single, tall and lonely Eucalyptus tree poking up above the canopy. After the fire swept through, the pine is all gone and thousands of Eucalyptus seedlings - vivid blue-green and with menacing connotations - are racing away and forming a dense blanket, the unfolding of the worrying anti-fragile pattern.

Some people do care. A lot. I heard an account of some beautiful land that had been terraced, cultivated and irrigated by hand-dug spring-fed borehole, having fed generations of a local family for many decades, at least. The son inherited responsibility for the land from his father and soon enough planned to plant Eucalyptus. His father was so displeased with the idea that he never spoke to his son again as long as he lived. The old man and the son are both gone, the eucalyptus persists and the sandstone casing of the borehole remains, although now punctured the eucalyptus roots and the water level is likely lower.

Like the Blue Gum at the heart of this tale, the Permaculture Institute originated in Tasmania and spread across the globe, although the tree had a head-start of about 100 years. From that place, Bill Mollison and his colleagues have done much to help prepare those that would listen for this kind of chaos that he saw coming. Time will tell if we have developed as anti-fragile a pattern as the Blue Gum but it is still early days and its all to play for, after all we can only work with what we have.

I’m grateful of the time spent in Coimbra during which I was able to put this picture together and share it with you. I hope all those affected are able to recover from the effects of the fire and become stronger than before.

Fire ravaged hillside near Coimbra
The hill with the eucalyptus is in the background

From Scotland - Thoughts from the 2018 Gathering

Krysia Soutar

I had a really good time at the Permaculture Scotland gathering last summer, for many reasons. The one dearest to me was the venue - Craigtoun Country Park, near St Andrews. St Andrews is one of my favourite places. I have fond memories of my time as a young student midwife based at Craigtoun Maternity Hospital which was situated within the park. I lived and worked here in a remote and beautiful old Scottish turreted building surrounded by woods and parkland. It was so peaceful, all the women from the surrounding villages used to enjoy their birthing experience in such lovely surroundings.

How sad was I then to see this wonderful old Scottish stone building and gardens abandoned and in a state of neglect. Someone had visited and left a single red rose outside the building, perhaps someone with good memories, or even sad memories, had left it there. The land was sold off to a company who have since built a new modern Golf Course complex, including a new hotel, leaving the old building to fall apart.

It made me reflect on our modern culture where money and golf come before caring for pregnant women and newborn babies. I believe pregnant women living in St Andrews and nearby villages now have to travel to Kirkcaldy or Dundee!

We used to have good local community facilities, now they have largely vanished. Good permaculture designs for bioregions will re-introduce local birthing centres.

Mount Melville House, Craigtoun Country Park
Currently on the Buildings at Risk register for Scotland

From Australia - Degrowth in the suburbs

Maureen Boustred

Dear Angus

On the theme of regenerating suburbia, Ted Trainer was on the staff of the University of New South Wales. He originated the Simplicity Collective and I get the newsletters, one of which is here.

In it is a link to a short film on 'Degrowth in the Suburbs'. Aussie suburbs are far greener than suburbs here so they are off to a better start in winding down the current way of life. Also in their not-too-distant past is family pioneer thinking. The same with New Zealand. When we got there we quickly had to learn to make our own clothes.

The film shows an array of gadgetry which seems 'over abundant' in that small space, but I suppose is justified as being part of a demonstration area.


These people look fun

From Brussels

There is a great catalogue at Graines Et Vie

Happy purple tomatoes! All wrapped up in Tachyon healing stuff - a bit like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz.

Purple tomatoes

All the best to all


The Peak Prosperity Resilience Challenge

From Peak Prosperity in the USA

We're pleased to announce the first-ever Peak Prosperity Resilience Challenge.

Over an upcoming weekend in January 2019 (specifc dates to be announced soon) participating individuals will turn off their electricity from Friday at 7:00pm to 7:00pm Sunday and subsist entirely off of their existing preparations.

We’ll be seeking community input over the next month as we refine the particulars of this challenge; but the intention is to stress-test everyone’s current in-place emergency plans. So when the weekend arrives, no going out to the store to get new batteries, more firestarter, or a hot coffee.

A number of Peak Prosperity members proposed this idea to us in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Florence. During those storms, a lot of folks learned their emergency preps were much less robust than they had initially anticipated.

We agree this challenge is a great idea. Working out kinks and shortcomings during a practice-run like this will increase our odds of persevering through a future emergency.

Which is why we’re picking a cold winter month (for those of you in the northern hemisphere) to really push ourselves out of our comfort zones.

What will you eat? How will you stay sufficiently warm? Will you have to take steps to keep the pipes in your house from freezing? How will you communicate with the outside world? Do you have sufficient nighttime lighting? How will you occupy your time?

Are you in?

Chris Martenson

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