We are at a moment of paradigm shift, when the old and established is falling away so fast it is truly dizzying. I move between exhilaration, terror to a sort of dull blank feeling of inevitability.
We know we cant keep burning oil bu tour whole global economy is built on it. We know we could have had a phased transition over the last 30 years, but until we have put it off for so long nothing short of what will look and feel like collapse to many get us out of the cliamte nightmare headed our way.
It is 25 years since I studied my permaculture design course and 28 years since I last sat down and read the permaculture designers manual from cover to cover. Maybe it is time to back to the start and revisit the book that started it all off. Bill Mollison’s epic tome might turn out to be the most important book ever penned, OK a humongous and not-provable claim but let us look at it like this, through the words of Buckminster Fuller.
The world teeters on the threshold of revolution. If it is a bloody revolution then it is all over. The alternative is a design science revolution.. a design science that produces so much performance per unit of resource invested as to take care of all human needs
This idea is illustrated beautifully below. Consider the degree of improvement in the performance of water in this model. A few simple design interventions prevents water flow from cascading directly out of this system but instead by making it travel much further it stays in the system significantly longer and has the opportunity to nourish every part of the system. The same amount of water eventually leaves the system and flows to the sea, however by simply slowing down the potential yield of the system and its resilience is significantly enhanced. Now imagine this multiplied over huge areas.
A policy of responsibility – to relinquish power
Living in such tumultuous times leads us to question everything and permaculture is a discipline that takes one right back to the very start, what is it that we are even trying to achieve? In this world of abstracts and disconnection our goals seem to be more along the line of how many Twitter followers we can achieve or how many 0’s and 1’s can be generated on a computer screen to represent wealth creation in some way, intangibles that in themselves are affected by so many variables that they actually have no real meaning. Going back to source, to Bill’s original worlds in Chapter 2 of the Designers Manual we get a clear answer:
The role of beneficial authority is to return function and responsibility to life and to people; if successful design is to create a self-managed system.
“In life and in design we must accept that immutable rules will not apply, and instead be prepared to be guided on our continuing exploration by flexible principles and directives. While the sun (still) burns we are in an open system, if we don’t destroy the earth , open-system energy saving will see us evolve as conscious beings in a conscious universe.”
“Hard science such as we apply to material systems (physics, mathematics, inorganic chemistry) studiously avoids life systems, regarding as not quite respectable those sciences (botany, zoology, psychology) that try to deal with life. Rigorous scientific method deals with the necessity of rigorous control of variables, and in life systems, indeed in any systems, this assumes two things which are impossible.
1: that you know all the variables possible before you start
2: that you can control any of the variables without causing disorder in the life system.”
It seems apparent from the opening paragraphs of this remarkable book that we have to let go somewhat. A key lesson in our relationship with nature is that we are not in control, we cannot eliminate all background variables, especially not in understanding the dynamic complexity of living systems. We can at best be steered by nature, we must learn its lessons and decode its pattern language through a constant process of interaction.
We need to understand living systems much better because quite clearly we are destroying the one we are part of.
Permaculture’s core lesson is to study and learn the patterns of nature. That no two situations are exactly the same that we have to plan for diversity, to allow for designs to evolve and in that process inform the designer.
Embraced within these observations is a set of tools, techniques and strategies which enable the achievement of these goals. Permaculture design is not to be confused with the tool kit. Permaculture is not forest gardens, raised beds and compost heaps, however if properly thought through and well deployed they certainly can all be components or manifestations of a permaculture design process.
“Capitalism is a system that creates its own crises” says Yanis Veroufakis
In the short video above you can hear a summary of the ideas underpinning that statement. He gets much deeper into his analysis of the failure of capitalism below. One thing I think we must all realise is that at this point it is no longer about right or wrong, it is about recognising that the train which bought us all to this point, is no longer fit for purpose. Capitalism gave us the iPhone but it also gave us refugees, it created wealth like never seen before but it also created inequalities so extreme the whole system is set to topple and it has clearly failed to innovate on the ecological concerns despite having decades in which to bring about the necessary transformation.
Marx, in the labour theory of value explored what might happen when productive systems become fully automated, what is the value of a good if it is 100% intellectual property but created no meaningful work? Innovation in many ways is creating poverty, rather than freeing workers for meaningless toil it has destroyed once productive and meaningful ways of living replacing it with nothing.
Einstein feared that wealth disparity would lead to the ownership of media and communications by tiny elites who then would present only a distorted half truth, one convenient to those in power. This is clearly playing out today where dissenting voices are excluded from the conversation and window of acceptable debate constantly narrows.
The greatest failing of capitalism is climate change, the notion of market externalities, competitive, unrestrained capitalism leads to the externalization of the costs of production onto environment and society – instead of reflecting the true cost of production unintended outcomes such as pollution and social damage is hidden, masked or simply ignored. The market rewards the lowest cost producer and this is the mechanism which has bought to this place of unfolding catastrophe.
Those days are upon us already, so what must we do? Firstly I would argue it is time to recognise that this is where we are, say thank you for whatever trinkets and ball-balls the system allowed us and be ready to move on to what must come next, the transformation to a regenerative economy.
As the world stares the climate emergency in the face, ecological destruction on a scale hitherto un-imagined we must move into overdrive to head off the worst of the damage or the likeliest or soonest of the irreversible tipping points. Varoufakis touches on the need to address the crushing poverty affecting so many of by socializing the benefits of quantitative easing and banking trickery and by diverting 255 of GDP into a widespread and effective green new deal and finally by reversing the limits on freedom of movement for people people while putting much stricter limits on the movement of capital.
Permaculture is regenerative development. By that I mean it includes a specific objective of re-building soils, of harmonizing with ecology and society, investing in social capital and targeting social outcomes above cold hard numbers. Those numbers forgot to include the fragile interconnected nature of the environment, the source of clean air water and the resources which sustain us. We each must tackle this multi-headed crisis from where we are, but it will require co-ordinated actions and consistency over time
I started out as an economics teacher. A rather turgid, dry and uninspiring subject at school, i switched to ecology and the did a degree in sustainable development it was only years later that i realised permaculture sits at the intersection of those two fields of study. our ecological salvation lies in the re-understanding of the economic rationale that underpins all of our decision making.
A breaking away from the study of wealth and money might allow us to study instead more human forms of wealth and capital . the economic question has to be along the lines of how do we combine different forms of capital in a way that means both human and ecological needs as a specific objective. the idea that one may come at the price of the other should always have been an anathema for us.
Sector39 – as a training organisation is ready to lead. Rebuilding community, food security and habitat is central our experience and skill base. We offer a deep understanding of both economic and ecological theory and can bring a great many years’ of experience to bare in these area. We are keen to hear from anyone ready to work with us.
Over the course of 2019 Llanfyllin BRACE initiative held a series of regular bi-weekly meetings along the theme of community responses to climate change and ecological emergency. These meetings brought together a range of interested people and an overlapping of us ordinary folk trying to figure out what to do with the Llanfyllin town council, with special interest groups like Severn Rivers Trust, Powys CC roads and verges, with school governors, the church, farmers.
One of the outputs of this was a connection between the Llanfyllin town council, the public hall committee, where the town council meet and this eclectic group of citizens wanting to channel their frustration and energy into something positive and tangible. An important note in the Transition Handbook is don’t just have meetings but make sure to prioritize creating observable, visible outcomes and changes. Having such a coalition was the genesis of this community garden project.
Previously as a community we have been able to establish Cae Bodfach Heritage Orchard in the field behind our local supermarket, so with this as a track record and new friends and connections this new space became available, an odd, steeply sloping truncated piece of land behind the public institute. It had become to be seen a bit of liability, not really used or productive and costing limit budget for strimming and hedge trimming. All it really takes is a bit of vision and there is always a potential for a community group to develop in a way that meets community needs.
We were exactly at that point of project genesis when the opportunity to apply to the NGS scheme came along, and we hurriedly fired off an application. Things were delayed as the national quarantine happened, so we took the plunge and order a few items in advance so we could be ready to hit the ground running as the new season unfolded. We were all ready with a worked out plan to get the key elements such as the raised beds in place, and make rapid progress as the season unfolded and we finally heard the grant application had been successful.
Since those early days when a small group of people was driving this project forward it has quickly grown to achieve a momentum and shape of its own. In a few short months this has come together with what is really a small injection of capital investment, but precisely enough to set something in motion that can create its own energy to become self sustaining.
We are enormously grateful to the Llanfyllin Institute and Town Council and of course the National Garden Schemes for supporting this venture and helping us get started. Next to arrive is our tool shed and that will allow us to purchase tools and other things like propagators with the remaining funds from NGS.
The biggest thanks of course to every single person who has volunteered at the garden over previous months, Tuesday mornings is the key volunteer slot and anyone is welcome.
The global economic system, or predatory capitalism, the Neo liberal extremism that is taring the world apart has to stop. Listen to these voices: these are not conspiracies but voices from inside the system who have became appalled by its brutality.
John Perkins describes the methods he used to bribe and threaten the heads of state of countries on four continents in order to create a global empire and he reveals how the leaders who did not “play the game” were assassinated or overthrown. He brings us up to date about the way the economic hit man system has spread from developing countries to the US, Europe, and the rest of the world and offers a strategy for turning this around. “Each of us,” he says, “can participate in this exciting revolution. We can transform a system that is consuming itself into extinction into one that is sustainable and regenerative.”
John Perkins, ‘economic hitman’
“Lets get our corporations to clean up pollution, regenerate destroyed environments , to create an economic system that is in itself an renewable resource.”
“Use local community power, your power to change politics, to change the laws, we have to do that, its our job in a democracy”.
John R. Stockwell is a former CIA officer who became a critic of United States government policies after serving in the Agency for thirteen years serving seven tours of duty. After managing U.S. involvement in the Angolan Civil War as Chief of the Angola Task Force during its 1975 covert operations, he resigned and wrote In Search of Enemies, a book which remains the only detailed, insider’s account of a major CIA “covert action.
A note on John Stockwell, I wrote my development degree dissertation on the struggle for independence in Angola, back in 1984. His book ‘in search of enemies’ caught me unawares, and made me realise all the different development models we had been studying for three years were largely irrelevant because of foreign interference, corruption and economic terrorism such as described in the first video.
Jacobsen’s 2014 book, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America was called “perhaps the most comprehensive, up-to-date narrative available to the general public” in a review by Jay Watkins of the CIA‘s Center for the Study of Intelligence.Operation Paperclip was included in a list of the best books of 2014 by The Boston Globe. Space historian Michael J. Neufeld gave a negative review of the book: “I cannot endorse Operation Paperclip because: it is error-ridden, it produces no fundamentally new information, it is unbalanced, and its notes are poor.” Jacobsen contributed to the October 24, 2019 Throughline Podcast The Dark Side of the Moon podcast episode.
In partnership with Arkleton trust and the Permaculture Association of Britain
This is the beginning of a very big journey, one that we hope will create not only a network of permaculture demonstration and training centres in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda but also train and develop the careers of the students and graduates from those centres. We are calling this the S39 Permaculture Academy and work is already well under way setting these ambitions in motion.
We have identified three contrasting sites so far, each will serve as the nucleus for a training centre that over time will reach deep into its surrounding community. Experience has taught us the power of demonstration to draw in interest, the next step is to covert this into knowledge via a range of both practical and theoretical educational approaches. The centre’s will also serve as resource points, multiplying plants, tools other materials so that graduates and surrounding households can replicate and learn first hand from these permaculture techniques.
Early days, and this is my first post on a three week trip that feels like a mammoth journey really, we met and connected with so many people and places, i feel we are at the start of something very interesting. The potential to accelerate the uptake of permaculture across the region seems huge. Most people if not small farmers are still very much connected to the land, there is a strong local food economy and a great need to boost productivity and income in a way that harmonizes with both community and landscape. Permaculture is very close to an African way of thinking, or as S39 trainer Hellen Auyo put it, “its God’s way of farming.”
Paul Odiwour Ogola, overseeing the work in the above picture has already proved his incredible worth when after the 2016 PDC he went home to his native Kenya and opened his own training centre. He in turn has trained many hundreds of small farmers in the Homa Bay region and is now targeting reaching thousands more. He is one of the key inspirations for the Academy and demonstrates how ongoing support work with key educators enables the spread similar approaches to different regions.
Sector39 are planning courses for 2020 in Wales, Uganda and Rwanda as well as working on series local food initiatives here in Llanrhaeadr. This is your opportunity to get involved in this essential and rapidly growing global movement of permacutlure design. The video is of Sector39’s Steve Jones in Manchester from a couple of years ago, laying out the basic concepts and ideas permaculture is established on. There is one below for 2018 placing permaculture in the context of international development, presented in Nairobi at the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Breakdown of the six weekends of our Winter/Spring PDC at Dragons
The work of Roe morrow goes on. She was one of the first generation permaculture pioneers in Australia and is leading the way bringing permaculture in refugee settlements and using it as tool for displaced people around the world. We were very inspired by her talk at the 2015 International Convergence in London and reading her books was a great help in designing the Sector39 permaculture design course for refugees delivered in Uganda in 2018.
Permaculture training we had last year is really improving our life . thanks for da support
Droma Isaac, Adjumani
2020 has to be a big year for change. The commencement of the Paris Climate Accord and a full speed rapid transition to a low carbon economy. Permaculture has been putting down roots and spreading its mycelium around the world for four decades and more. It is time we brought much of what has been developing in that time to fruition.
S39 delivered 5 full PDC’s at Treflach between 2010 and 2012, when the farm was still at the beginning of its transition from a more traditional family-run stock farm to a hub for regenerative agriculture. In the time since we were last there they have invested in on-farm value addition, community activities, local food events and much more. The farmer at Treflach has joined the regenerative agriculture network and is exploring mob-grazing, silvo-pasture and many more initiatives. Permaculture has very much been a big part of the journey for the the and we are very excited to be returning there in July.
Permaculture gives you a framework to understand the much more complex patterns and process we see in nature and society. Permaculture is essentially an introduction to systems thinking and pattern language. it is based on observation and experience and requires no prior knowledge.
The course explores themes such as * Principles of natural systems * People dynamics and groups * Basic ecology, soil and compost, guilds * Gardens, food forests and integrated systems * Economic systems, money, co-operatives * Design: building consensus and how to communicate ideas
Heart felt thanks to everyone who came along and especially those of you helped with the book launch event in Llanrhaeadr on Oct 11th. Between the two sessions we had well over 70 visitors and so far we have distributed 300/ 400 of the complementary copies available for those resident or working in Powys.
The books tackles the challenge of our time, how to energize and inspire people to take meaningful action on the ecological emergency. The work is framed by permacutlure design, which co-ordinates actions to be in line with both community and the natural world. Combined synergistic actions could create all sorts of unexpected positive outcomes. It is via these processes we believe we have the potential tools to make meaningful inroads into preparing ourselves for our low carbon and climate disrupted future.