Monday, February 19, 2018

seven generations

The Great Law of the Iroquois is said to be the origin of the admonition to think of seven future generations in any decision made now. More generally, deliberations of the leaders are to consider the whole community, the whole nation, and not be swayed by relatives or other personal benefit. To a rough approximation, this was considered 140 years. Seven generations might be a bit longer here in the developed world right now, as people are waiting a bit longer to start families. Let's say 150 years.

When political and economic policy discussions circle around to "sustainable" these days, I think we have become too lax in confirming that we all have a common definition of "sustainable". When you start trying to pin it down, lots of assumptions have to be made. The devil is in the details, as always. But what if we used 150 years for a thought experiment.

All the infrastructure, all the manufactured goods, all the energy sources, all aspects of our busy, comfortable lives would need to be fully replaceable ( and presumably with no reduction in ability to continue replenishment)  over 150 years if we were to try to meet this criteria.

Does anyone think we are on track to meet this target? Of course, we aren't even on a stable, level track of population, consumption, or average consumption. In my estimation, if we ( it ain't going to happen, but IF we did) stopped growth right now, and merely projected current population, resource use and impact on our planet, could we make it 150 years? The answer is no, in case you were not sure. Forget fossil fuels, which draw the most attention. Many other key inputs in to our economy are nonrenewable resources, with dwindling easily obtained stores. Many metrics on the state of the ecological health of the planet are trending down, and some are close to collapse.

For those thinking that raised costs will bring newly economic resources to market, this only works to a point. Demand for some items is inelastic, and there are some resources that don't react to the substitution effect like the economic alchemists and philosophers would like to think.

So current lifestyle in the developed world, and especially the U.S., is not sustainable by this seven generations definition. Probably by any definition. To reach that level would be the end of the world as we know it. And yet, Some cultures in the past lasted for centuries, though they eventually declined. Life would not have to be nasty, brutish and short, but would be quite a bit different. We have the germ theory of disease now! Maybe we could figure out a way that was not so bad?

Nah, probably not going to happen. Not sure if it is too late to change course, though many are sounding the alarms and trying to do so. I wish them luck in grabbing the wheel and pulling a hard u-turn.

My personal response to the dilemma we face is to plant trees. Trees can be used for building materials, stabilize soils and moderate microclimates, they suck CO2 from the air, produce food for humans, as well being the backbone of a system that provides food and habitat for a complete ecological community. All for free!

Here is a Handy list of average tree lifespans. It's for Virginia, so my neighborhood in Wisconsin would be a bit different, but close enough.

The white oaks I'm planting live an average of 300 years, and as much as 600. The chestnuts live 100 years, and as much as 300 years. Sugar maples ( next year's project) live from 300-400 years.(lifespans are probably a bit shorter here in the north)

Plant trees. Your great, great, great, great great grandkids will appreciate it.

Some of the oaks I planted in tree tubes last year. Without the tubes, the deer will kill them all.


  1. Hi, Steve!

    You are so right and thank you for reminding me. Though I live in the woods, we need so much more diversity here. I have sugar maples on my list, too. I have hawthorn seeds planted in pots and my potted osage orange trees have yet to be planted. Deer are my biggest enemy. I haven't tried tree tubes - do they really work? They look so much easier than the chicken wire things I build around saplings.


  2. Thanks for the comment Pam. Yes, tree protection is a hot topic for me lately, and every year, I tend to do a bit more to get them off to a good start. Opinions vary on tree tubes, but I now think they are the way to go. The down side is that the protection costs more that the tree if you are starting from one or two year old bare root seedlings. I'm ok with that now, as each tree has a much higher chance of making it.

    I have done wire protection as well, but the key thing is that they need to be high enough to get past the deer. Other wise, they will just eat the growing tip each year as the tree grows up past the enclosure. Five feet should do it.

    Doesn't show well in the picture, but they need a good solid stake to keep them upright, and reducing stress from grass and other annuals is important also. Some carefully use roundup, but so far I've been trying to use wood chip mulch, or just trim back the grass a few times each growing season. I'm still refining my methods, and don't consider myself an expert.

    Just curious, where did you get your hawthorn and osage orange, and what species of hawthorn did you plant? I have planted some of both for a hedge, but am looking to plant some more maybe next year.

  3. Steve:

    I ordered my hawthorn seeds from Strictly Medicinal Seeds in Oregon. The species is just English Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata. I don't have any growing yet. I have just planted them in pots. Last year I planted some in pots, but did not understand that they may need an entire year to germinate (depends on whether or not one plants them in the fall, I think) and after a few months I assumed that they were not going to grow and so used their pots for something else. This year patience is the byword!

    There is an osage orange tree at the beginning of our dirt road, so I just picked up one of the "oranges" in the fall and set it on the front porch on top of a tub of dirt and watered it enough to keep it generally moist. After the winter (about now) it has all turned to mush and the seeds can be separated out and planted in their own pots. The stratification is very necessary, I think. I planted 38 last year. All sprouted, but I kept 36 on the front porch (we have a big front porch!) and set 2 out in the garden and completely neglected the garden ones (except for watering). All on the porch died, the 2 in the garden are still thriving. The garden ones have set down taproots into a bed, which is undoubtedly why they have survived. I shall have to cut the plastic pots off from around them. They are one year old, 4 feet tall, and have the neatest thorns.

    I must certainly look into the tree tubes. And thanks so much for the reminder to stake trees. I almost always forget that, which is why some of our trees look like they belong in the funny house . . .