We Sold Our Electric Car

For three years we drove an electric car. We negotiated with many other electric car drivers during a period of sparse infrastructure. And we pioneered extreme range driving, by carting a tent and extra leads for long journeys. We also worked in industries to support electric vehicles and a greener culture. Regularly we zoomed past petrol stations only to sit and wait in a queue to charge slowly at remote charging stations. Now, we have waved the car goodbye…..

And we replaced it with another electric car with longer range. Here is a detailed comparison of electric and petrol cars showing efficiency and pollution levels.

The True Cost Of Electric Cars

How do electric cars differ from petrol or diesel cars?

The first thing you will notice is you use the brake a lot less in the electric car. When you take your foot off the accelerator of an electric car, it slows down. So, you only use the brake to stop faster than planned. Also, you drive differently, slowing down before you stop. Sometimes this frustrates the petrol/diesel drivers because in a petrol car we tend to drive until we have to brake.

The second major difference is the braking system. As you brake in the electric car, the engine recovers some of the electricity. Think of it like a spring rewinding, ready to be sprung again.

However, there is a third difference which is not so great for the environment. Because the electric car is more powerful it could cause more accidents (and subsequent social and environmental waste). It accelerates much, much faster.

These simple differences of braking and engine power make it possible, albeit costly, to convert a classic car to electric. In 2023 it costs about $60 thousand AUD for the basic kit to convert a classic car to electric. So, after paying specialised technicians, it is likely to cost about $100 thousand to convert your favourite car. This is a fast emerging business opportunity for mechanics and electricians.

Classic cars can be electrified

What to Compare

There is a lot to compare between Battery electric vehicles and petrol or diesel vehicles. We need to study the embodied energy. And the life cycle of all the parts. And examine the each of the spare parts. Do they get reused or can they be useful for something else? [For instance, the old batteries from Electric vehicles can be used as house battery and there are some vehicles that not only charge from the house, but send charge back to the home]

Then we look at the parts, some are reusable parts. But when it comes to the fuel, fossil fuel as an energy source is combusted and lost forever and there is often residual waste such as leakage from the oil lubricant and leakage from petrol stations.

There are hidden costs in electricity generation and distribution. Total fuel costs include extraction and distribution and waste. Despite there being less subsidies for fossil fuel than renewable energy sources, renewables are leading.

Next we would look at lost and wasted energy in conversion to movement. This is called the energy to wheels comparison.

Comparison of the number of parts plus how much wear and tear they get, extracted raw materials, Noise and air pollution, Social damage due to extraction and control of supply, Efficiency of energy extraction to energy applied to the road.

Those Boring Maintenance Costs

A fair comparison on vehicles also needs to include the cost of car repairs and fuel supply. Electric cars have less repairs because there are less moving parts and less wear and tear. However, there is cost in the generation and distribution of all fuels including electricity. Unlike fossil fuels from remote under-regulated regions, many communities can develop local capacity to generate their own electricity.

And even if the electricity is imported, it is more likely to be generated with renewable technology because renewables are cheaper than non-renewables. Next in the comparison, we would consider the losses in distribution system and here we see the benefit from generating clean fuel locally. Gone are the risks associated with transporting dirty fuel.

Fuel Infrastructure

Even today, the supply of fossil fuel is causing huge environmental and social degradation. And it is often a driving force behind wars. But there is also a cost involved in establishing electricity infrastructure beyond the home, to enable us to travel further than the range of one full tank. Fortunately, most communities that have cars, also have electricity. So, there is an established network of low-speed delivery points worldwide. However, as more and more people move to electric cars, the pressure on grid will cause noticeable problems. One solution is to lower the voltage of the grid.

The expense incurred by the network of high-speed chargers is an additional, yet purely optional running, cost. Our old electric car doesn’t use high speed charging. It didn’t have the capacity for high speed intake. That’s not why we sold it. Speed of charge is an occasional inconvenience we can live with. Total range between recharging stops was the deal-breaker for us. 220km range was challenging when travelling interstate and through rural areas. But as you are reading this, more chargers are being installed.

Better World Businesses

All these demands create good business opportunities. Anyone who can afford to buy an electric car, will have left over cash from not buying fossil fuels. This is more sufficient to pay for fuel at high speed charging stations. We know this because the electric vehicle charging industry has grown despite a lack of government subsidies. Research and development costs have been funded by the pioneering consumers.

Electrified Future

Everyone likes blue skies. And we all benefit from clean air. And governments like less health costs and take pride in their cities. Because the efficiency of Battery Electric Vehicles is more than double than of Petrol/Diesel, cars will become even more computerized and more electrified. People also like cheaper cars. Over time, the cars will become cheaper. The running costs already pay for the vehicle within 8 years due to cheaper fuel. The social inequity comes from high upfront costs and lack of public transport alternatives in poorer communities. Even the technology for the recovery and reuse of the lithium in the batteries will become streamlined.

Lithium is reusable whereas fossil fuel is lost forever.

Permaculture Mindset of Enough

Each of us has the power to cut consumption drastically and value what we have. Even if you cannot afford an electric car yet, lobby governments and public transport companies to go electric.

When we stop using non-renewable energy sources, we can create a circular economy. We stop giving money to companies that engage in harmful extraction and storage of raw materials. And, future generations can use these declining reserves of fossil fuels for important industries such as medicines.

King parrot eating pears
Some of the residents on our demonstration site

The ultimate goal is to drive less, walk more, support public transport and build great local communities that grow a lot of their own food and generate their own fuel.

Make Your Career in Permaculture

Richard Telford made a career in Permaculture by putting his values and ethics into his work. He works with a “just do it” passion and commitment to meet the need.

What Richard Knows

Richard knows “You can create a career for yourself in permaculture using your previous experience. Most people have some kind of Interest or career before they get into Permaculture. And then, they have some kind of crisis point where they go “what am I doing?… This doesn’t align with my values!”.

And so, rather than dropping a career, embody principles and ethics into your whole being. So that, everything you do aligns with permaculture.

First Step

Find somebody who’s practicing what you’re interested in and work with them. Gradually try and embrace it. Incrementally improve the way that you do things.

Richard’s Career Path

Richard tells his story. “Well I was working in advertising as a graphic artist in the early 90s. And I built up my skills and a career in that over a number of years. And found that the people I was working with, and things I was doing really didn’t align with my values. So, I just decided to hit the road and go exploring.

Richard and his Kombi Van

So I bought an old Kombi – a 75 VW Kombie van. And hit the road traveling around Australia with a plan to travel around for a year. I did some freelance work. As I was going, I came across permaculture. I actually saw a sign on the road that said Permaculture with an arrow on it so I followed the sign and saw another one another one and ended up at Bill Mollison’s place [in Tyalgum]. And Bill was teaching at PDC at the time I poked my head in. He gave me a grumpy old look. So, I had a look around and went on my way. I think that started my journey of interest in permaculture and I continued traveling around Australia.

Richard with his restored Kombi

Travelling and building skills

The plan was to go for a year and it ended up taking me about five before I got back. But I got involved with the Rainbow gatherings up in Cairns. And some of the protests from there. That was really amazing. Because it showed me that if you really want something to happen you’ve got a put in. And do it yourself. It was also my first real experience of intentional community.

We travelled across in a convoy after the Rainbow gathering to Darwin. And got involved in some of the protesting up there at Jabiluka. And I discovered the book ‘Introduction of Permaculture ‘ by Reny and Bill. I started to see suburbia in a completely different way and asking “why aren’t we growing food in the streets?”

Darwin Jabiluka protest

Questioning Everything

In the Jabiluka protests and that was really questioning the way society exploited natural resources. And I produced a zine we called ‘Tribe’. It was the first time I’ve really using the skills to do something that I believed in. So, I continued traveling around Australia and ended up down in the southwest W.A. (Western Australia). I became involved in the protest to save Karri and Jarrah forests in the southwest.

Finding Connections

Northcilffe Western Australia Lane Forest Protest

I made a connection between the Jabiluka protest and the saving the old growth forests. I saw that it was all part of the same problem. And one thing that I really got from the protest was it was quite aggressive. Coming from the protest side it was very confronting to be telling the timber workers that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. There were lots of really full-on protests happening. Forest workers coming into the sites and bashing people and things. And I just didn’t want to get involved in that.

Action – The Tree Sit

I thought a tree sit would be a pretty safe way to to approach it. And it gave me a ‘ticket in’ to go for respite at Carter’s Road. So that was the beginning of a whole other journey at Carter’s Road Community.

Meeting Leaders

I met up with Jody Lane and Chris Lee and a bunch of other amazing Margaret River forest protesters. And the house that they’d set up as a respite for Forest protesting became an unintentional community. It was a permaculture-based unintentional permaculture community. I guess it had a dozen residents or so. There were a whole bunch of other people coming through the place fairly regularly. When I arrived the core members were about to go away for a Joanna Macy retreat. They needed somebody to look after the place while they were away. So, I offered to do that for two weeks and ended up staying there for about two years!

Mentors

During that time David Holmgren was traveling down the west coast. I was really curious who this other fella was. Because, I’d only heard of Bill. And so, I went out to meet and hear David speak. I offered for David, Oliver and Su to come over and see what we were doing at Carter’s Road (now called Fair Harvest). We showed them what we’d been working.

I let David know that I wanted to do work if he needed help with graphics, graphic artwork or design let me know. David told me that he was putting together a book about the principles and wanted some help to design the icons. So, that was the first permaculture project that I did – the Permaculture principal icons.

Driven by Passion

My passion is really around visual communication. And helping people get an understanding on different levels. So, you get initial sort of grasp of what something is and then you can go deeper and deeper if you so desire and that sort of aligns really well with with visual communication and the way an advertisement’s set up because, yeah, sort of grabbing someone’s attention and layering depth into that. After doing the icons I was interested in how do you present that information in a way that’s a bit more digestible to people because the the book was pretty hard going. I think for a lot of people – especially as an entry level book. It’s not really suitable.

Permaculture Principles website

Seeing the Need

At the time I was searching for how to find out more about permaculture and everything I found on the internet was really around people’s projects and farms and things like that it wasn’t really anything that just explained what permaculture was. So I looked at incorporating the icons and work that I did and the work that David did and the essence into a website which is the permaculture principles website.

In 2008 David Arnold was working to put together the permaculture calendar. It was all about the same kind of thing – helping people get an understanding of what the design principles were. So, we worked together on developing the calendar. And have merged the calendar in with the website over the years the principal’s website. Initially it was really just sort of a summary of the principles and ethics. I worked with David and Su’s son Oliver Holmgren on a upgrade to the site and we started to develop a store for the Holmgren Design website. I was selling books from under my bed!

https://au.permacultureprinciples.com/product/retrosuburbia/

Achieving Goals

When RetroSuburbia came out, that’s when the business sort of really took off. So, we started employing others. We’ve got Christine Cahusac handling all of the sales and we’ve been developing the distribution side of the business for selling primarily David’s books but also other permaculture self-published books. And I’ve also been involved working with David and Su in producing doing the artwork for RetroSuburbia – quite a number of their titles.

https://au.permacultureprinciples.com/product/earth-restorers-guide-to-permaculture/

Earth Restorers Guide to Permaculture is the latest book – the most recent one that I was involved with. I worked with Emma O’Dell who now works with us as well. She handled the artwork but I was sort of directing that with her. So it’s managed to tie together all of my interests really particularly the RetroSuburbia project because the house that I’ve built here in Seymour – Abdallah House is one of the featured case studies in the book and lots of the things that I’ve been doing are in that book. It helps to tell my story. I’ve managed to do the artwork. And now, I’m distributing and selling. And it’s the whole box and dice in that book for me!

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The Late Phillip Gall – Integrators

spoof on Da Vinci Venturian Man

The late Phil Gall was one of the great integrators. He grew up in Tasmania in the 1950s and passed away mid-2023. He was a skilled architect of buildings and landscapes. And he was part of a generation of sharing people who built a knowledge and experience in Permaculture, Keyline, and Biodynamics.

In a conversation with Richard Telford (permacultureprinciples.com) he talks about how his generation were integrators. Phil Gall was proud that his generation shared ideas and collaborated. They questioned things, did the scientific tests, adapted, reflected and become resilient.

Phil said: “I introduced Bill Mollison to P.A. Yeomans one day”. [At first], “they refused to talk to each other. Alex Podolinsky (1925-2019) then said Bah! about Permaculture and Bill said Bah! about Biodynamics. And it took a generation of David Holmgren (I’m a bit older than David) to integrate ideas. We are the integrators for Yeomans, Podolinsky, Peter Bennett and Mollison.”

The late Phil Gall

After a Grand Vision, Careful Trials and Adaption Begin

Because “the visionaries were solo flyers that take no prisoners and have a single-minded focus thinkers on so, no one deters them from their mission. They can’t be persuaded and dilute their vision. And that’s fine, I think, when there’s a need for that and that passion and that single mindedness.”

Visionaries Need Integrators

Phil goes on to point out “beyond that it came for a time for application and adapting it on scale, adapting in different climates and integration. “

“So, for my generation it’s all about that. We would experiment saying “let’s use mineral fertilizers, let’s see what this about the magnetic benefits and different types of Rock Dust. Yeah, that’s interesting! And let’s use Soil- tests appropriately. And let’s not just take the fertilizer companies people advice on how much NPK you need. We said, we shouldn’t being doing it in the first place!”

the multitasked ganesha keeps everything for the current task ready at hand

We can encourage the soil to naturally release fertility to the plants. “And so, we went back to some of the old-fashioned, medieval and European ideas. Which biodynamics (also) borrows from the ancient traditions. Permaculture borrows from ancient traditions and tribal ways of doing things”.

Phil continued to point out “Permaculture offers a design method philosophy, a way of consciously creating landscapes and using the traditional techniques. And not just being bound by tradition but actually picking and choosing”.

How Does Permaculture Use Integration?

In nature, there is a complex web of relationships. We can copy this our designs by creating useful connections between the components. David Holmgren summarized this as integrating rather than segregating.

Firstly, we analyse some of the major components in the design such as the waste system, a growing area or a processing area such as a kitchen. Then we determine which outputs can become useful inputs for another component. And we find ways to make those connections. For instance, waste from the food preparation area can go directly to a worm farm, then the waste from the worm farm goes directly to a growing area.

The end goal is to create opportunities within your Permaculture Design for the components to have their needs met by another component through a beneficial connection. The permaculture design eventually creates a web of functional connections.

We can use a simple method of connecting the elements with considered placement of cards. Each card contains a analysis of an element. This approach makes the creation of functional links between elements easier. It is almost as simple as playing dominos.

An integrated Chicken house where the animal waste falls to the compost worms, the water flows to a pot.

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Albert Bates 4 Stages of Life

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.

Our interview with Albert Bates on his stages of life

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.

a hen looking back over her shoulder as she stands on a peak above a sea of mist

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.

Issachar Bates - A Charismatic Shaker
Issachar Bates

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.

The garden of earthly delights by Bosch

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.

Rooster warrior

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’.

Regenerative Agriculture

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.

Albert Bates – Climate in Crisis

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.

Charcoal pencils made inside our cooktop fire. Thanks to Albert Bates tip to use a loose fitting container.

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 [2015].

Albert Bates with his book BURN: Using Fire to Cool the Earth

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.

Dark side of the ocean book cover

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.

fostering a love of animals helps children develop empathy and understanding of nature.

Children’s Books

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!

Ecolution of an environmental mind

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!

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