Prolific advocate, Albert Bates is famous for his work promoting Biochar and much more, Here he talks about his 4 stages of life and how he stays hopeful. Each stage of our lives has is a unique facet. Many of the key elders in the Permaculture movement began with an awareness, grew hopeful, then skilled and empowered. Finally they seek to be sharing and nurturing others. Here are Albert Bates 4 stages of his amazing life – in his own words.
Highlights of his career so far
Albert says his life is a work in progress. “I just turned 76 a week ago and I figure I got another 25 years So I got a quarter of my life still to go. And I’m having to figure out what can I do that would be different. And better. How can I do a a fourth act here. And up my game.
The Game of Life – Stage 1
So, let’s go back first stage of the game childhood through you know holding onto your mother’s skirt up to where you’re able to cause real trouble and then um I went to law school with the idea of being perhaps a one of the first cannabis attorneys who would uh who would redirect the legal system to make uh psychedelics legal that didn’t pan out all that well they didn’t Legalize It by the time I got out of law school so a lot of my courses that I took were wasted. But I got out of law school and I decided to put the city out of my blood get away from it for a while.
Walking in Elders Footsteps
So. I hiked the Appalachian Trail from north to south. That’s a trail that runs down to eastern North America along the Appalachian Ridge 200 miles. And this formed a circular perspective because my great great great great great great great great great great grandfather [Seven Generations removed] was Issachar Bates who was a Shaker poet.
Issachar was a revolutionary war soldier with George Washington throwing off the British yoke and he then fell in love with the Shakers and started to dance. He was a fife and violin player, a dancer and singer. And he wrote 400 Shaker hymns and became a missionary for the Shakers. The Shakers sent him on these long treks out to talk to the colonies. Out into the distant wilderness. He walked the Appalachian Trail [probably the same route I took out into the Ohio Valley]. This was in the late part of the 18th century.
He set up two utopian communal colonies in the wilderness. And had a confab with the prophet who was the brother of Tecumseh and was thinking about throwing off the American yolk. He was a protector of the native peoples, as well.
I found that I had these commonalities in my life. And I was recapitulating my ancestors journey through life. Editorial note: Lucky for Albert Bates, the family did not stay celibate, else he would not have been born.
Common Trails with Ancestors
Here was I, walking the same Mountain trails, starting utopian communities in the wilderness, learning to make friends with adversaries [in our case the redneck Tennesseans who didn’t understand hippies]. And so, I was finding myself in my second phase age 25 to 50.
Second Life Stage – Building Community
Life in that Community Building phase, I was developing the the farm as a village. We were developing businesses like our mushroom people business that was doing medicinal forest mushrooms. And our second Foundation was a charitable organization. And our Plenty which is our International charity. I had no use as a lawyer it at first. But after several years at the farm we started noticing that there were these things called nuclear plants popping up like mushrooms after a rain around us.
And I said we had to do something about that. Those are pretty nasty and so I got asked to go out and stop that stop that nonsense. I I handled nuclear cases as a law project it was called the Natural Rights Center. And we fought four times in the United States Supreme Court. We ended the Tennessee Valley Authority’s nuclear program which had had 20 reactors scheduled. And we fought them to a standstill in North America.
I then left out of stress and got more into my mushroom business. I found the law office thing was fine for a number of years. Then, I was like the warrior in Bill Mollison’s ‘Travels in Dreams’.
After my life as a lawyer I got into regenerative agriculture. And back into the the basics of of agroforestry. And I started working with Chris Nesbitt down in Belize Maya Mountain Research Farm. Chris is a big agroforestry guy using traditional Mayan style that a lot of has gone extinct. But Chris is revitalizing it for climate resilience. So, I’m still working with Chris. Even today doing Ridge to Reef programs to restore the Mayan coral reef.
Life Stage 3 – 50 years Young and Beyond
In this stage I was focused pretty much on climate change full time. I began to live as an emergency planetary technician. So, they’ve you know they dispatched my ambulance to this particular planet. And I’m doing triage. I’m figuring out what we got to do here to stabilize the patient. And I’m using all of the various means of drawdown that Paul Hawkens talks about.
Natural Climate Solutions
I have a full kit of natural climate solutions in my jump bag. And the main thing that I’m probably best known for is biochar. I’ve written a number of books on it. Mexico is my Hemingway machine, my writing space for this age of 76 and beyond.
A number of years ago I wrote Climate in Crisis forwarded by Al Gore. This was my first book on climate. It came out the same year as I met Bill Mollison 1990. I probably had it with me when I saw him. And then, the next book I’m known for is the biochar solution this one came around 2010 after I went to a permaculture gathering in Brazil.
Biochar and Me
Andre Suarez introduced me to Terra Preta – the dark earth of the Indians and that led me to the biochar solution. Then more recently we started looking at the non-agricultural uses of biochar. Which led us to this book Burn : Using Fire to Cool the Earth which is now out in German. By the way, if you want to understand the German word for burn is cool down. That’s the translation! Soon it’s going to be translated into Chinese and Italian. And during the run up to the Paris agreement [I was going to the U.N regularly to the conferences], I wrote the story of how they got to the Paris agreement .
Planetary Technician Processes
While I’ve been in here in Mexico I’ve come out with a book number of series on planetary technician processes. One of those is transforming plastic. It is about how to take plastic and turn it from a problem to a solution.
And as this relates to the oceans, I wrote the dark side of the ocean which talks about the so-called blue economy or blue carbon. The idea that that the oceans are infinite. But they’re not. And how we’re actually destroying them. But we don’t see the destruction. It talks about alkalinity and salinity, sea level rise and extinction of of marine mammals.
And because it’s so interesting I decided we needed to create some children’s books. So I started making books for middle school. You could learn about the ocean, and cuddly sea animals. And understand the effects of pollution and maybe what you’re doing what you’re what you’re sending down the trash chute. And then, I wrote a book called Taming Plastic for kids – how they can do reduce their microplastic footprints. Showing how they can separate their different kinds of plastics and find things useful things to do, shaping a new future by using the recycled plastic.
Finally, here, during the pandemic, I came up with a book on a history of plagues. And it’s also about surviving this one. And how we’re failing on the plague the same way we’re failing on the climate. I have problems with the ways millions of people are dying from stupidity.
Beginning the 4th Phase – Publishing
What I’m doing in my fourth phase is publishing. And a lot of why I’m anxious and eager and grateful to get it out to a larger number of people. So it doesn’t just die with me!
How do you stay hopeful?
Cultivating a sense of humour helps. As does a Buddhist non-attachment. You know, we may have been screwed before I was born. The trajectory we were on could well have been set well before I was born and I’m just along for the ride. Now, I have a bailing bucket in his sinking ship. So, I’m gonna bail. Because it makes me feel good to be doing something positive. As long as I have the ability to do something I’m going to keep doing it.
If we have just the slimmest of chances that maybe we can have more forest.
We can use algae. We can pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
And we can change our lifestyle. Lets do it.
At some point we will need to. So, it’s necessary that we we show the way. For that reason I stay hopeful. I know that it’s it’s more fun to get up in the morning with a spring in your step because you got something good you can be doing.
Make Life Fun
Part of the solution has to be making it fun. If it isn’t fun – nobody’s going to do it. So, finding solutions is one thing. But then, finding ways to make solutions fun – that’s even more important. And that’s why I write kids books. And that’s why I work with Chris Nesbitt at the Maya Mountain Research Farm. Because he has children’s programs. We do this in Tennessee – we have the Eco Village training Center with a lot of programs with the farm school. And we make it fun.
You know, we make it so that you can get into the mud and make Cobb buildings. And get all muddy. Get your face all muddy and have a party. All of that is is really important. Because if it ain’t fun – ain’t nobody gonna do it!