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Episode three of the Permaculture Smackdown continues with Paul and six of his patrons – Katie, Kyle, Elliot, Julia Winter, Opalyn et al. to review up to page 16 of Sepp Holzer’s Desert or Paradise.

Chapter 1 - Reading Nature - continued:
“Only cool soil absorbs rainwater, so if the soil is warmer than the rain, the water will roll over the surface of the ground” When Katy first read the title, she incorrectly assumed that the book was about how to turn a desert into a paradise, instead it’s more about how any place can be a desert, and how a lot of apparently “natural” deserts are actually man-made from centuries ago.  Are such desert ecosystems worth preserving if they can be improved?  If so, how much?  “All of it” can be seen as destroying an existing ecosystem, “none” seems like either wasting potential or refusing to fix a past mistake.

“Water is the key to a stable climate”  Sepp’s somewhat purple views on water aside, his methods work even if his methods are completely new to current water scientists.  Treating water as a living system is comparable to treating a car or ship as a person - it may be completely inaccurate, but it may well lead to better understanding and taking care of it.  Just because something seems purple or magical, it doesn’t mean it’s inherently complete nonsense, just that science doesn’t understand it yet.  Or it’s utter dingbatism.

“Food should be our medicine – the solution is always the same to me, we need an all-embracing ecological rejuvenation of our planet” It seems that whenever Paul talks about his book outside of Permies, some people crop up to tell him that he should be angry at the bad guys instead.  Even with 100 angry people, it seems that only 1 will actually go out and write letters to politicians or attend a protest, while those that try to improve their own life are reliably doing good, even if only a little.

“… Regions that were covered with mixed forest are now bare monocultures, or agricultural deserts”

Relevant Threads

Desert or Paradise thread
Desert or Paradise documentary by Sepp Holzer

Sepp Holzer forum

Sepp Holzer's 3-in-1 Permaculture documentaries (Farming, Terraces, and Aquaculture)

Hugelkultur forum

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Some quick commentary...

The idea that dry, hot soil can't absorb cold, flowing rainwater struck me as odd at first; but after thinking about it I realized it's probably pretty true. I lived for a short time in Oceanside, California because I was a US Marine at the time. This is a little North of San Diego, and definitely a semi-arid desert climate.  I can remember seeing the evidence of water flow in the dry, cracked earth; like Geoff Lawton talks a lot about; and the technique of using swales to hold water would also force the water and the dirt to equalized temps, whereas flowing water would eventually cool the earth enough to soak in, but it wouldn't happen immediately.  And I have seen rain in Oceanside; it's short & fast, and the next day the hills are that green color of new leaves. But it's also true that certain places simply didn't ever soak in more than a half-inch or so; and the water was diverted away and gone before I ever had a chance to see it.

And later in the podcast, the idea that water is "alive" also made me think a great deal as well. Obviously, water isn't alive in the scientific sense (consumes energy, reproduces like kind); but perhaps more like a virus is alive, in the sense that moving water (as an energy medium) does convey information.  But certainly not deliberately, or with any intended purpose.  Of course; bacteria don't have intentions either, but most certainly are alive.  I imagine that Sepp's meaning here is more about information than simply transport for particular minerals (or oxygen); as both the presence and concentration of minerals (and oxygen) are information.  Sometimes that information is useful to lifeforms  (including ourselves) sometimes it's not; but purified water does taste weird. I prefer tea.
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