Rio+20 has been and gone, and, in the big scheme of things, has achieved little, or worse. With this post I’d like to take the opportunity to jot down some thoughts, and images, that might help us shake off disappointment, disillusionment and despair, and give us something we can all consider, adjust and rally around. Our ‘leaders’ are taking us ‘down the garden path’, but, unfortunately, in the proverbial, rather than literal, sense. It’s truly time to forge new beginnings, create new economies, and to prioritize natural and social capital with the goal of restoring ecological and social health.
The problem we as a race (particularly Anglo Saxons like myself) have, I think, is that when we think of nature, we tend to compartmentalize it. It’s that ‘reserve’ or ‘park’ that needs to be ‘protected’ from us. We tend to admit that we ourselves are destructive, but the central problem is that since we can’t see ourselves being anything more than destructive, we conclude that if we can just leave enough space ‘out there’ that we don’t touch, then it’ll all somehow balance out. This is a totally ingrained, but little recognised, failure of our modern culture.
Permaculturists look at the world differently – in that humankind are also part of nature. Not only that, and not only that we (as part of nature) deserve to survive, but we can actually be a beneficial organism in the picture also. If this capacity (which is proven) could be true of all humans, then it doesn’t matter where man lives, even if he virtually covers the globe, as he is an asset to the planet, and not a parasite. This of course can only happen if he learns to work with nature, and not battle it at every step, as he mostly does today. Where, for example, an agronomist can take a perfectly good piece of land and turn it into a desert over the course of a few decades, or even just a few years, a permaculturist can take a desert, and transform it back into a perfectly good piece of land, and can design it to be (like a natural forest) almost self-perpetuating whilst producing food.
But, putting that aside, I want to share something else with you. It’s essentially some logic that I find difficult to put aside, and which keeps me on track in my work and purposes:
- If you study soil science (as I have, and I could wish it was compulsory in schools) — and not just from a reductionist chemical standpoint as do the agronomists, but from a biological standpoint, where you’re observing the ‘magic’ of biological/chemical interactions and interdependencies — then you quickly become aware that the larger in scale you go with agriculture, the more compromises you begin to make in regards to working with nature. The more land you endeavor to take care of per person, the more you begin ‘forcing functions’ (trying to get nature to do something it doesn’t want to do — a bit like pushing water uphill). With larger scale, two things happen: 1) the larger in scale, the greater the detachment between the land-steward and his land — observing macro-level synergies and tweaking them becomes increasingly difficult to impossible, and 2) monocultures become a necessity to the automation required, and you end up putting more energy in, and getting less out, and you begin the input treadmill of labour, fertilisers, chemicals, etc., that are the inevitable result of trying to maintain what nature doesn’t normally allow. (This post gives a good easy-to-understand rundown on one example of this).
- You know very well that, with present systems, we’re using enormous amounts of fossil fuels to produce ‘food’ (‘food’ being in inverted commas, because it’s increasingly empty of nutrition). And, you know very well that we just don’t have that energy to burn any more. Additionally, because of our globalized system, we’re not eating plants we could, simply because they don’t travel well, so are sidelined by BigAgri (think berries, and all kinds of other plant varieties). The system that promised more diversity in our diet has actually reduced it dramatically. Even of that limited range of produce that is ‘approved’ by the BigAgri globalized model, around 25-50% of the food is wasted (according to the FAO) before it even reaches supermarkets (and lots more is wasted post-purchase as well!).
- The use of fossil fuels (pesticides, fertilizers) has not only increased our population manifold, but it’s simultaneously consumed our soil life at an escalating rate.
- The last three points all mean humanity is in a highly precarious position (dead soils, peaked oil, burgeoning populations). We’re heading into definite famine territory….
- Then add in climate change, which is seriously exacerbating our ability to correct the above problems. Much of this climate change is due to the above — the carbon that should be in our soils is now in our atmosphere, due to ignorance and greed.
- Add to the above that most people now live in densely packed cities, so are unable to work the land even if they wanted to, and even if they knew how.
- The above all inevitably mean two major things need to happen — a massive re-skilling/re-education movement, combined with a transition of people back to the land, for those who don’t have access to it.
- Given that in much of the ‘developed’ world, most of the land is held by large farms and even by a handful of very large multinationals (with farmers often little more than serfs on them — ‘managing’ their farms with a colour-by-numbers approach dictated to them by their corporate feudal lords), the above reskilling and transitioning back to the land is complicated with the very difficult necessity of land redistribution — something that historically almost never occurred without revolution and bloodshed.
- Where today we have economic incentives that favor large scale and Big Agri, if we are to work in the political realm then I think we need to target the need to see policies enacted which instead incentivise ‘get smaller or get out’, the very opposite of the policies of the last 50 years. Again, this will only work if people managing these smaller plots are educated in the how of it, otherwise instead of increasing resiliency and decreasing food insecurity, we can just exacerbate the situation.
- For urbanites, this is a good transitional option in the interim, where we relegate the lawn to its place as a short-lived entry in our history books: www.permaculturenews.org/2011/05/13/the-grass-isnt-greener.
- It’s key to understand the biology behind global warming — how the deforestation and mismanagement of our land started atmospheric CO2 increases long before we even began to mine coal and oil. If people would understand this better, rather than only approaching it from a fossil fuel emissions, reductionist standpoint, then we’d be one step closer to understanding the holistic solutions to climate change (reinstating carbon sinks, by way of food forests, and permaculture agricultural methodology — all of which also, themselves, free us from our addiction to fossil fuels). Read more…