My deep, dark descent into attempted sustainability

December 11, 2019

Growing up I was surrounded by people who cared very little for the environment. Most of the people I cared about in my life looked at nature as something to dominate and control and make into what they wanted it to be. The oil embargo of the ’70s didn’t make much of an impact on people, so even though the beginnings of global warming issues were coming to light, there was an arrogance that whatever came, we would deal with. When the ozone hole crisis hit in the ’80s, our beliefs were reinforced when we were able to come together as a planet in the interest of our own survival and save the ozone layer. This article is about my own recent awaking to the climate crisis and how I have decided to commit all of myself to try to undo the damage that my last 5 decades on this planet have wrought.

If you haven’t watched the Walruses fall from the cliff in “Our Planet” you absolutely should, it will haunt your dreams

The biggest shift for me happened when Trump won the 2016 presidential electoral college. It felt strange to have a climate denier in the Whitehouse trying hard to undo the last several decades of progress. I think whether you support Trump or not, everyone should be concerned about climate change. It’s crazy to me (and wonderful) that farmers are now meeting in secret behind closed doors to discuss climate change. I decided in 2016 to start shifting my life and lifestyle to be more sustainable and work towards undoing all the damage I’d already created though my own personal ignorance.

Everyone is so worried about this happening, that they don’t see the bigger picture

Every farmer is harvesting the same thing, the Sun

So I started to reframe the way I thought about farming and trees to see that every farmer is essentially trying to do the same thing. They are trying to take soil, water, seeds and sun and make some kind of food or energy source (biofuels). I think that even factory farmers for livestock at their root are really just farming sun. If you take a step back and look at the way we are farming you can easily see that laying the dirt bare to the sun, wind and rain for a majority of the year is a great way to deplete precious topsoil that takes 1000 years for every inch to grow. There is a Scientific American article done 5 years ago that shows that in 55 years at current levels of topsoil depletion (not factoring in climate change) there will not be any topsoil left. In the midwest, topsoil is depleting at 5-10x the normal rate because of the constant flooding the last several years have brought. Things look pretty grim for the future.

It’s no longer a question IF but rather WHEN

The ocean rising is not the biggest climate problem we are facing as a species

I find it ironic that the mainstream media focuses almost entirely on ocean level rise and displacement when that is by and far not the most serious threat facing humanity. If we lose Miami, NYC, and some other coastal cities, the economic damage will be a tiny speck when compared with the problem of not being able to feed the billions of humans on this planet. We need to start getting more of our calories from trees, and we desperately need to start planting these trees right now.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

– Chinese Proverb

So instead of despairing I just stopped working, stopped earning money and just started planting trees. I gave all my consulting clients to my son who were happy to pay $50 less an hour for his help. Orion is much better at dealing with people than I am, and after 30 years of computer support, the work was really starting to wear on me. I started working sun up to sun down in the fields and my wife and I planted over 500 fruit trees that were apple, pear, peach, plum, and cherry. With over 100 varieties of heirloom apples, we grafted everything by hand even though I had never grafted a tree in my life. This was when I started using ebikes to plant trees by throwing in them a 5-gallon bucket and cruising across the property with a shovel zip-tied to the frame. It looked stupid and insane, but it worked.

Looks insane, but it works and it’s fast as heck

To be clear, before we started planting those trees I had never grafted anything in my life and I had only planted about 50 trees in my entire life. Tree planting became an uncontrollable addiction, so the next year we planted about 1000 Chestnuts, Seaberries and Hazelnuts on another 2 acres. Much to my amazement, almost everything we were planting was not dying and some of it was thriving.

We also built a giant 750 sq foot greenhouse to grow food all winter even though we had never heard of anyone doing such a thing in our cold climate zone (5b). The greenhouse is in its second year of production and it makes way more food than we could ever eat (and I eat a lot).

So I decided to do something unreasonable

After planting about 1500 trees at my wife’s house I decided I was going to try to plant 10,000 trees on my property in one year without a tractor. By now I had moved forward with getting $25,000 worth of solar on my property and started my blog Tiny Chestnut Paradise to document my progress. I knew that no matter what I was doing I was going to need energy to do it. Although NY is not a particularly sunny state, electricity is extremely expensive so it makes solar feasible. I designed a way to charge my 2 tenants for their electricity cutting my solar payback down to <8 years and documented that as well to encourage other landlords to do the same. My tenants love getting their energy from the sun and they don’t care about paying me a little extra every month because their electricity bills are $20-$25 cheaper than they would otherwise be without the meter fee and taxes.

I rented this 30,000lb $160,000 dozer for a week for about $2000 without ever driving a dozer before, it was totally insane and stupid to boot

I needed more solar than what I bought

I put in a 7Kw system with 24 panels that clip the voltage with full sun. It quickly became clear that I would need more solar so I am in the process of signing up for another $25,000 worth of solar to be put in Q1 of 2020.

Here they are putting in the first 7Kw of solar at my house, but 7Kw wasn’t even close to enough for what I have planned

The Sur Ron was invaluable as a tool for tree planting

When I purchased the Sur-Ron Light Bee I planned on using it for riding trails. That never ended up happening (more than once or twice) because I preferred my ebikes for singletrack. The Sur Ron became my mule for tree planting and I started using it on a daily basis just to quickly get around my 42 acres of property with nasty bulldozed ruts and mounts everywhere. My crowning achievement with the Sur Ron was to plant 500 trees in a single day. I will never forget that day, or how sore I was. The last couple of years have been the hardest in my life, and yet I find myself happier than I ever thought I could be.

This electric dirt bike allowed me to live a ‘farm life’ without ever having been a farmer

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us

Marianne Williamson

Every time something seems impossible, I just remember the statistical improbability of my existence and do it anyway

Climate change feels overwhelming, anyone who things otherwise is still in denial about the size and scope of the problem. Ebikes are a central part of sustainability in this culture. If we want transportation that is green, there is nothing out there that is much more green than bikes and ebikes. Only a total ass would say “I’m going to trash this world as much as I can so my child and their children will have miserable lives”. Yet in our inaction on climate change that is EXACTLY what we are doing.

All farmers collect the same thing, the power of the sun

So every time I have a dollar to spend I have to think, am I going to spend this dollar to buy a stupid giant gas-guzzling truck that gets 10-13mpg or am I going spend my money on something that doesn’t dig us in a deeper climate hole. Every ton of CO2 I emit is one less ton than my children and their children can spend. Recently I tried to install a Mitsubishi heat pump which turned into a total clusterf*ck when I stripped one of the flares and couldn’t pull a vacuum. I ended up having to hire my friend to come out and fix everything for $550, but I learned a whole lot about heat pumps in the process, so it wasn’t a total loss. I’ll always be dumber than I think I am, but that should never stop me from making an effort to do the right thing.

Every single mile you use an ebike for instead of driving a car you are doing something good for your children and their children. I don’t know if it’s even possible to be sustainable and live in this country, but I’m going to try my best to do whatever I can, for as long as I can. That really is the best that any of us can do.


For more inspiration check out:

Our good friend Akiva has a book which I reviewed here
And a YouTube site which is what inspired me to start planting nut trees

Our very close friends Sean & Sasha from Edible acres are a huge inspiration for us

Mark Shepard’s book “Restoration Agriculture

The Agro rebel
Also has a crazy video

“The resilient farm and homestead” by Ben Falk who also has a youtube site

I’ll leave you with the prayer to myself that I read in a mirror every morning:

I want to live in love every day
I want to do whatever I can to help heal the earth
I want to be committed to positive change and be a creature of joy and light
I want to be the best version of myself I can be for everyone in my life
I want to show the people I care about how much I love them

I want these things because I believe that my existence matters
I believe I can make a powerful difference
I can lead by example and show others a better way to live
I want to become the best version of myself I can be

I am committed to giving all of myself to become the man I want to be
I am committed to overcoming every obstacle put before me without complaint
I am committed to being the change I want to see in the world
I will focus my energy and efforts toward improving the world and my place in it
I will follow the path that leads to my own self-realization and fulfillment
I recognize that I am a powerful and unique individual who can make a difference in this world

I will radiate light and love, I will do the work
All we have is the time we are given

Photo by Thilde Jensen

Karl Gesslein is a degenerate hooligan of the highest caliber living in upstate NY. His passion for e-bikes and all things sustainable causes him to be obsessed with climate change and finding solutions that will keep humanity from becoming extinct from our own hubris. His personal blogs include, &


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