Opinions Are Not Facts – Failing the Aircraft Test
A wild apple tree, on the side of the road
Not far from where I live, there is a wild apple tree. It is an old, well established tree that is in such an odd location that it can only have ended up there by pure chance alone. As you can see from the photos, it reliably produces plenty of apples, which are crisp and tasty. A few days ago I picked about 10kg of fruit and have since begun converting them into the very useful product apple cider vinegar. Even so, there are still more apples remaining unharvested on the tree.
Apples are a staple fruit here with a variety of uses (apple cider vinegar is just one example) so I included 26 different varieties of apples in my own young food forest. The food forest itself has about 300 mixed fruit trees. In the past year or so I have occasionally opened the farm for visits with the local seed savers and food producers groups. It is always a pleasure to share the farm with them and hear their feedback.
However, a number of recurring observations about fruit trees seem to come from members of these two groups, including:
- They are hard work;
- They require constant watering;
- They require annual spraying as a preventative against various pests and diseases;
- They require regular applications of fertiliser;
- They require annual pruning; and
- They require netting otherwise you will be unable to harvest any fruit.
This all sounds a bit discouraging, really. But then I think about that wild apple tree, which receives none of those services, exhibits none of the problems and yet in only a few minutes I managed to harvest enough fruit to produce a 20 litre bucket of apple cider vinegar.
The only conclusion I can take from my observation is that people can confuse facts on the ground with opinions.
Ordinarily, this way of thinking wouldn’t present a problem because I’m still harvesting plenty of yummy wild apples (let alone the apples produced at the farm here) despite people’s opinions about fruit trees. However, it is a problem when this way of thinking is applied to larger issues, such as global warming.
I’ve noticed over the past few years that articles on the permaculture news website regarding extreme weather events, climate or climate trends tend to attract a fairly predictable response from commenters denying the existence of those trends, or questioning the validity of the facts presented in the article.
Without rehashing all of the boring details and the to and fro arguments, I’d have to suggest that those deniers comments fail what I like to call the aircraft test. The aircraft test is as follows: If 95% of experts suggest that an aircraft is likely to crash on its next flight, would you get on that flight? The aircraft test is a blunt but useful tool when a person has a need to assess risk.
Deniers generally shop around until they find an opinion which tells them what they want to hear and then they repeat that opinion. As an observation, I’d also have to suggest that deniers are insecure in those opinions, otherwise why would they frequent a permaculture news website?
If deniers were secure in their opinions, they could simply let the facts on the ground prove those opinions to be correct and there the matter could rest.
Yet like the wild apple tree and its reliable production of fruit, contrary to people’s opinions, the facts on the ground regarding global warming are disproving those deniers’ opinions.
At this point it is worth mentioning the three permaculture ethics:
- Earth care;
- People care; and
- Return of surplus into the system.
I would imagine that the people who read this permaculture news website have an interest in permaculture, so by extension I would imagine that they have a greater than average interest in earth care and people care.
To be a denier of climate change when the evidence points that the change is occurring, shows a lack of both earth care and empathy for people who have to deal with the pointy end of these changes.
The facts on the ground for the farm here in the south-east of Australia are:
- 2013 was for Australia the hottest year on average since records began. At one point in that season, the Bureau of Meteorology had to introduce a new colour gradient to their maps to be able to record these new temperatures, which broke records in every state;
- In addition to this heat, between mid-spring of 2012 until late February of 2013 the usually historically reliable rains failed here; and
- This summer which is not yet over, had even more 40+ degrees Celsius days than the previous record breaking summer (currently standing at about 9 of these hot days). Some of the days were just shy of 45 degrees Celsius. As I write this article, the month of February 2013 has been 4.3 degrees Celsius hotter than the long term average.
The picture that I am presenting above is that the facts on the ground are consistent with global warming, and to deny these facts is insulting.
It is very difficult to be involved in working with natural systems whilst at the same time ignoring the indicators that unusual things are going on in those same systems. Therefore, I challenge the climate change deniers to get off their computers and get active in the natural world and start telling us their stories about actual activities promoting or practising permaculture (or sustainable agriculture or other related systems) in the real world.
Despite the extreme conditions, there is much that can be achieved.
The truth is that a properly designed and established food forest takes very little work to maintain. I spend less than a handful of days per year maintaining that system. What does take most of my time is: developing and improving the built infrastructure at the farm here; trialling and propagating various new plants, guilds and systems for resilience to the changing climate; animal systems; and involvement with a few of the locals and community groups. At the same time the return of surplus goes towards spreading useful information to interested people about what is working and what isn’t as well as accommodating the often not considered local diverse wildlife which calls this farm its home.
Resilient infrastructure takes time and effort
Just in case I was not blunt enough before: People, get off your couch and go and do a PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate course) and get involved. Go and plant something and observe its growth cycle and interactions with the rest of nature. Go spend some time in a natural setting. Get some animal husbandry skills. Join a community group involved with plants and/or animals. There is just so much that people can actually be doing.
Talk, as the Chinese proverb goes, does not cook the rice.