Monday, 3 March 2014

A pragmatic approach

When you first learn about Permaculture, it can be pretty mind blowing, and when I finished the Permaculture Design Course it felt like I'd been broken down with the truth (scary), and rebuilt with the solutions (Amazing!).  Its a pretty intense experience. I think its the mixture of people, ideas, and knowledge, but underpinning it all is the fact that its just the beginning, and you return to the normal world a changed person, unleashed and brimming with enthusiasm. You start to see how badly designed most of our support systems are in every aspect apart from how they serve their owners. You begin to realise how unresiliant we are and how damaging lots of parts of our society are. It also teaches us in the same breath, how to undo many of these problems with the simplest of solutions. It took me many weeks after finishing to truly appreciate that the design principles and ethics are incredible, however underwhelming they may seem at first sight. In many ways this blog is me still wrestling with what I think and believe in light of this formative experience.

Cameron attempting to look, I think that's a mixture of macho and concern - who knows?

Every now and again we get a shock, like the bizarre weather that a lot of the world has been experiencing. Eventually a politician turns up to look to macho, thoughtful or worried (delete as appropriate) depending on what their spin doctor told them to look like. In the UK we had a lot of flooding, and entire counties cut off from the rest of the country. The problem is, politicians are not going to implement long term solutions because they operate within short term systems (elections every 5 years, the way we measure performance through GDP etc..). It feels like we are sleep walking into a worse world while simultaneously looking to the very people who sanctioned the problems to sort it out - kinda perverse eh?

And people do react to shocks like bizarre weather or catastrophe in different ways. Commonly people look to government to sort stuff out, angrily blaming and simultaneously asking for help. Looking forward, we often end up with polarisation of small minorities, with a large mass in the middle that keep with the status quo and struggle to take on board the problems we face. In many ways these patterns disempower people and keep the population dependent on the systems that cause the problems.

Its easy to see why you might not take these problems on board - its scary, for starters, its also not really encouraged. Corporations want you to buy their stuff, governments want you to pay your taxes and believe in them. If you carry out these tasks you are a good citizen, contributing to society, whether our society is doing the right thing or not. Thinking beyond earning money and materialism is often mocked and certainly undervalued.

Most marginal thinking is also heavily populated with a staggering array of opinion. Most of it is unpalatable to an ordinary, cocooned, western mind - when James Lovelock says we might as well not worry because global warming has already happened (and we are doomed) is just as unhelpful as a climate change denier like Lord Lawson (Holy Smokes, where do you start?) or an over zealous green activist who insists that we must never eat meat or drive a car. Add to this all the other clans and sects of alternative thinking and the piecemeal, confusing information channelled through the media, and its very, very tempting to ignore this stuff and return to the short term reward system that traditional consumerism and western society gives us.

But I like a bit of pragmatism, particularly the ethos that people like Larry Santoyo or Jack Spirko talk about. We build for a more resilient future, both personally and as a species not by expecting government to do something about it, neither turning from the world and systems you are in. Not by holing yourself up in a castle stacked to the eyeballs with canned food and enough ammo to hold off the zombie apocalypse. Not by withdrawing from society and living on beans, never driving a car and preaching from a pious position, but to take responsibility for yourself, for your food, energy and community by using the resources available and creating a position for ourselves where we are better able to cope with shocks, whatever they might be (more losing your job or getting sick than nuclear fallout). As a result, we could cut our dependency on the crooks and gangsters in government whilst we're at it. Lets not feed the illusion that they actually do anything for anybody other than themselves and their mates.

Spirko makes most sense when he begins to talk permaculture. It is the ultimate way of thinking when designing resilience, and the approach which Spirko and  Santoyo talk about is less pious and more practical - use all available renewable resources and design to maximise your resources available.

Because we have an opportunity. Oil will one day run out, but while we have it, maybe we should 'make our hand print larger than our foot print' (lets use oil - its a gift after all, but lets do good stuff with it) We could use these resources to make our futures more secure and resilient to crazy weather, energy and food shortages. We can terra form land to make it more productive. We can use our collective knowledge and wisdom to make our societies fairer. Its a bit of a journey that we need to make - the first part is for us to truly realise and understand that where we currently are - how we use the oil and the land and the food we have is unsustainable, (that's the scary part)- the second part entails the design of systems that build our resilience to an uncertain future - whether that is rising sea levels and snow in July, or breaking your leg and being unable to work. Its what I believe Permaculture is best at - designing our way back out of trouble, but lets not get wrapped up in extreme ideas, lets not panic, lets get pragmatic. And lets do it ourselves, now.

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