Author Archive | David Holmgren

Permaculture, Collected Writings and Julian Assange

This website and all its posts are devoted to my permaculture life and work committed to creating the world we want. It is solution- and good news-focused. But my life’s work has always been informed by a rational understanding of the intensely political world we live in. Longer-term readers may have noticed that in recent years some of my writing has focused more explicitly on exploring the underlying nature of the problems we face to show why permaculture is a real strategy for addressing more than just personal well-being with a low ecological footprint.

For instance in ‘Money vs Fossil Energy: The battle for control of the world’ (2010, dedicated to the memory of my brother Gerard Holmgren) I used the ecological systems thinking that underpins permaculture to provide new insights and understandings of the titanic changes occurring as industrial civilisation collides with the limits to growth. ‘The Household Level Counts’ (2013) was a brief and early articulation of why permaculture design, activism and living should be taken seriously as a social and political change strategy. This underpins my focus on the household level in RetroSuburbia. ‘Crash on Demand: welcome to the Brown Tech future’ (2013) built on my Future Scenarios work (futurescenarios.org) and represented a further step into the role of positive provocateur in the debate about what constitutes effective environmental activism in a world of climate chaos and repressive governance.

These and other writings are currently being reviewed in preparation for the digital publication of the third volume of my Collected Writings that will include essays, reviews, obituaries and presentations from 2007 to 2018. As a package with the previous editions, it will mark 40 years of writings since 1978, the year Permaculture One was published. Inevitably, this retrospective consideration brings up the claim that permaculture may well be Australia’s greatest intellectual export – driven by the warrior energy of Bill Mollison. People who know me, or my writing, will know my scepticism of the warrior energy and its limitations in creating the world we want. However that scepticism does not take away from my appreciation and respect for what has been achieved by warriors devoted to true and noble “causes” (as my political activist mother called movements for social justice and ecological sustainability).

Reuters File Photo

Which brings me to Julian Assange, languishing in a unique form of detention in London and now under imminent threat of ejection into the fire of US imprisonment or worse. His treatment by national governments has been appalling, especially the US and the UK, but also Sweden (previously a symbol of fairness and good governance), Ecuador (plucky protector now succumbing to pressure), and Australia (meekly standing by while our fellow Australian is tried and found guilty by politicians and the pack of media hacks who resent Assange for showing up their own failures to shine a light into the backrooms of power). Assange, the technical brains, publicist and warrior behind Wikileaks could, for all I know, share some of Mollison’s personality flaws, but even if the worst of the claims about his personality are true, none of them take away from Assange being the most globally important independent journalist and publisher using the power of the internet to challenge the rapid rise in authoritarian power and propagandised media. That Assange is being treated as the sacrificial pawn in the chess game being played out in Washington around the fabricated Russia hysteria highlights the power of people creatively working outside of centralised systems.

By promoting Mollison and Assange as equally great Australians who have contributed to a better world, I may alienate some people for whom Mollison is a hero but regard Assange with suspicion or even as a “traitor” deserving whatever happens to him. This is a risk I am willing to take, especially as Mollison’s contribution is now a secure legacy whereas Assange’s is still unfolding but under mortal threat.

We should do all in our power to bring Julian Assange home to recover from his ordeal of these years – with no expectations about what he might contribute in the future. His sacrifice for shining the spotlight on the power behind the mask of representative democracy, and providing the inspiration for younger people to use the tools and capacities they have at hand to create the world they want now, has already been too great.

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Is David Holmgren on Facebook?

Is David Holmgren on Facebook?

The simple answer to this question is no. The reasons are complex and relate to his ambiguous relationship to new technologies through the decades. David has been inspired hearing about the thriving RetroSuburbia Community Facebook group and is very pleased that it is enabling people to share their stories, make connections and support each other in their retrosuburban journeys. However, he has decided that he will not be participating directly. He explains his position here.

 

Since my teenage years I have been skeptical of the faith that new technologies are always an improvement on the past. Further, my view of the future suggests that recently evolved technologies may be the first to fail as society is impacted by multiple crises from climate change and resource depletion to financial and geo-political instability.

But I have also long recognised that the spread of permaculture has been global and networked, rather than local and parochial, and that information technologies have greatly assisted in that process.

I have thus woven a path between skeptical disconnection from information technology and early adoption for strategic use in spreading permaculture thinking and solutions.

I grew up without television and my partner Su Dennett and I have maintained a television free household ever since. On the other hand, I adopted my father’s habitual listening to Radio National to stay connected to world news.

Su and I moved from Melbourne to country Victoria in the 1980s, long before the internet overcame the tyranny of distance. At the same time I became an early computer user and self-publisher using desktop publishing techniques.

In the nineties, my consultancy business, Holmgren Design, and the company that created the Fryers Forest eco-village, Fryers Forest Research and Development, operated without a fax machine, but in the late nineties I was an early adopter of email for business communications and created the first Holmgren Design website in 2000. With the publication of my Permaculture: principles and pathways beyond sustainability in 2002, our book launch tour of the east coast of Australia saw Su (temporarily) adopt a mobile phone even though she had always maintained a much stronger scepticism of technology than I. Around the same time, after more than a decade of innovative use of information technology on a shoestring budget, I handed the reins of IT admin to our self-taught teenage son Oliver.

Over those years we very deliberately minimised Oliver’s childhood exposure to computers, which may have accelerated his adolescent interest and expertise but led to self-regulation. In RetroSuburbia, I give the following strategic response sequence for dealing with children and adolescent exposure to media technologies and social media: ‘Prohibit’; ‘Limit’; ‘Negotiate’ and ‘Accept, but provide no support’. In Oliver’s case, this sequence was followed by a ‘Reward and collaborate’ stage, illustrating the oscillation between selective disconnection and wholehearted adoption that has characterised my relationship to information technology.

Oliver, Su and David at Melliodora November 2002. Photo: Christian Wild

These days Su uses her mobile phone to stay in contact with far-flung family, organise her food share, and take card transactions at RetroSuburbia book events, while I remain phone-phobic but am reluctantly considering the possibility of getting one rather than depending on Su.

Meanwhile my internet presence has grown and is now supported by colleagues with a far greater depth of experience. The complexity of the web design, maintenance and security for the book publishing and distribution systems is well beyond my comprehension and management.

As always, I have watched the rise of social media from my skeptical permaculture perspective.

Balancing time at the desk with time in the garden, farm, workshop and forest is always important to me. There are limits to how much time I’m prepared to be mediated through technology.

Even more important is balancing the power of social media to create and accelerate network community with its potential to inhibit the redevelopment of local geographic community. Long before social media in the early nineties, I would get the occasional casual contacts comment on my fame when recognising my name and connection to permaculture. To this I would reply:

Well, sort of. You know how back in the 60s Andy Warhol famously said that “in the future”, as in now [90s], “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” – a great insight into the rapidity of cultural change. Well my version of that is: in the future everyone will be famous to 15 other people. So yes, I am famous within a global permaculture network of perhaps many thousands of people at the same time that I am not, to more than a handful of people in our local community. That’s the world we are heading into – networks of interest groups that function like parochial residents of isolated mountain villages responding to each other’s social signals but ignorant of the rest of the world.

I feel this was prescient of first social media, and now, the breakdown of mainstream media into giant echo-chambers repeating competing and antagonistic views of reality.

From its beginnings more than a decade ago, I was aware of the potential of social media to empower a surveillance state. I have never been obsessed with personal privacy and I’ve always been upfront and public about my permaculture lifestyle.

Just as RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future is written for an Australian, even local, audience, I am always trying to use the power of global networks to stimulate their relocalisation in real geographic neighbourhood communities. Such neighbourhoods are essential if humanity is to have a chance of ameliorating climate change impacts, let alone adapt to an energy descent future where local will again be the norm rather than the exception.

Which brings us to the RetroSuburbia Community Facebook group set up and moderated by Meg Ulman, who manages the web and social media presence for Holmgren Design and Melliodora Publishing.

While I don’t contribute directly to the group, Meg keeps me updated and consults me on curly questions and issues as they arise. It is great to have such a social media savvy operator moderating the rapid growth of retrosuburban action and exchange happening on Facebook.

Meg and her partner Patrick Jones have themselves empowered and aided many people to live better lives by their radical home-based life (documented at Artist As Family), which has for a decade been a powerhouse of positivity through social media. Meg Ulman’s capacity to communicate practical permaculture at the household and community scale means I have great confidence in her ability to contribute, answer questions and effectively moderate in ways that reflect what I am on about.

On the technical side, supporting Meg and the rest of the team are Holmgren Design’s IT and website support Ostii Ananda from Flowji, and partners Richard Telford and Oliver Holmgren at Permaculture Principles who manage book distribution. With this depth of web and social media savvy business and activism all powered by permaculture ethics and principles, I’m confident that the social media side of my role as a public intellectual is in good hands without resorting to a fake presence as so many prominent people do by getting staff to ghost write on their behalf.

After a lifetime of applying DIY to everything in life and business, I’m learning that I don’t have to do everything and in any case, like the fax machine, if I hold out for long enough Facebook could be in the rear view mirror of history.

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David reviews Heartwood by Rowan Reid

Heartwood: the art and science of growing trees for conservation and profit

by Rowan Reid

Heartwood by Rowan Reid is a heartfelt story by one of the pioneers of blending forestry and farming in this country over the last 30 years. His story is told through chapters focused on tree species planted on his farm at Bambra in the Otway Ranges of Victoria. While this is a personal story focused at Bambra, Reid draws on his decades of experience teaching forestry at Melbourne University, facilitating farmer initiated tree growing through the Master Tree Growers courses and his local Otway Agroforestry Network. In Call of the Reed Warbler Charles Massy says that “Rowan Reid has dedicated much of his life to addressing the key area of increasing the knowledge, resources and confidence for farmers engaging in agroforestry. Along the way he has helped redefine the very concept of farm forestry”.
This beautifully produced book records the trees and the learnings that mark that life.

Each story is complemented by brief but informative science and practice pieces that provide the reader with knowledge to help shape their own tree growing journey. For those applying permaculture ethics and principles to growing trees for timber, Heartwood is one of the most inspiring and informative books about the subject, even if the only reference to permaculture is a passing one.

Reid’s journey as a forester amongst farmers, from youthful vision, applying science and trial and error, to teaching and collaborating across communities and landscapes is a remarkable one of achievement and lessons learnt. His major theme is that conservation and production are compatible and complementary rather than contradictory.

Like my own early co-authorship of Permaculture One (1978), Reid’s co-authorship of Agroforestry in Australia (1985) saw him driven to put into practice ideas outlined in that book. Even though integration of conservation and production values was taken for granted by the permaculture, agroforestry and landcare pioneers, this vision was corrupted by a number factors. Reid’s stories illustrated how the war over native forests as well as government sponsored Landcare programmes both contributed to the segregation of trees for nature from those for profit. Reid’s stalwart stand against this dysfunction and lost potential for transformation of our broadscale farm landscapes by more widespread tree planting for multiple values is clear through the book, but this is not the primary message of all his stories. They all show that the rewards to those with the passion and persistence in tree growing have been economic, environmental and emotional, despite the continuing dysfunction in this country’s relationship to forests and forestry.

My own passion for sustainable forestry over the decades since Permaculture One has been diluted by my jack-of-all-trades spread across the vast territory that is permaculture. Apart from his focus as more of a master-of-one, Rowan Reid has also used the resources and opportunities of his position as a teacher in one of the few Australian university forestry schools to leverage his vision and trials with scientific evidence that has been mostly lacking for those of us who have worked outside of the system. Although we have known of each other’s work from early days, our paths have rarely crossed. I found myself in heartfelt and at time furious agreement with most of Rowan’s stories and lessons, especially his examples of sustainable management of regrowth native forest by innovative land holders. His learnings in choosing native and exotic species at Bambra reinforced my own experience and observations, especially with Coast Redwood. I also had many a-ha moments as Rowan explains how trees grow and the effects of different management, much of it based on recent science by his colleagues and students.

Some permaculture folk might begrudge Reid’s failure to acknowledge permaculture as a broader conceptual framework for what he has demonstrated, but I know that Reid’s innovative work may have had less influence by being associated with permaculture through the dark decades of the 80s, 90s and 2000s. Hopefully those days are passing with both Reid and myself being included in Massy’s influential book about ecological land use in this country.

The only point of strong difference for me was his reinforcing of the nativist orthodoxy that naturalising willows are bad for the environment. Sometime I imaging having a long discussion with Rowan, and our mutual friend and long time closet permie Jason Alexandra about willows. The science about naturalising species is certainly open to on-going debate and many of Rowan’s stories illustrate how scientific evidence has been a constant factor in refining and redirecting his practice and teaching. But Heartwood is also a beautiful illustration of how passion, intuition, happenstance and art have been important factors in Rowan Reid’s life’s work with trees.

David Holmgren
permaculture co-originator

* * *

You can buy Heartwood from our online store.

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Vale Rod May

One of Australia’s ecological farming pioneers, and a close friend, passed away today. Rod May aged 63 died in intensive care after a road accident between Ballarat and his family farm at Blampied 5 days previously. Rod was a 4th generation farmer on 200 acres at the foot of Kangaroo Hills in the prime red cropping country of central Victoria. In the late 1970’s Rod returned to the farm motivated by interest in self reliance, organics and tree crops and “fell back into farming” as something to do in between starting the Central Victorian Tree Planting Co-op and getting elected to the very conservative Creswick Council.

Photo: Josie Alexandra

The Landcare movement emerged simultaneously in several regions across Australia in the late 70’s and early 80’s. One of those places was central Victoria and Rod May played a leading roll in it. In 1983 when Project Branchout received federal funding to employ people to plant trees on demonstration sites right across the Campaspe, Loddon and Avoca catchments in response to the threat of salinity, the committee fell on their feet in employing Rod and his crew from the CVTPC to manage the huge program. Rod had the same holistic vision of the committee, the ability to take risks, roll with the punches and engage with conservative farmers, and with some of the unemployed workers putting the trees in the ground. Most importantly he had dirt under his nails as both a farmer and tree planter.

Rod May, 1992. Photo: David Holmgren

Rod was not part of the first generation of organic farmers but he was one of the generation that integrated the new ecological thinking of the 1970’s including permaculture, and connected it to the emerging markets for organic produce that lead to organic certification in the late 80’s. As founding president of the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (in 1986) Rod May was at the forefront of driving the importance of links between ecological science, organics and the emerging sustainable development concept. At the same time he was converting his part of the family farm to organics, implementing large-scale plantings of shelter, fodder, timber, fruit and nut , still working for Project Branchout in their Bicentennial revegetation of the Captains Creek Catchment that included the family farm. As plantation designer I worked closely with Rod at that time and remember when he and I headed up the steep slopes of Kangaroo Hills overlooking the May family farm to get some of the shelterbelts in the ground. I had my two-year-old son Oliver to help us and that began a thirty-year bond between Oliver and Rod.

As organics grew in the 1990’s, Rod spent an increasing amount of time in meetings around the country and the world making the global linkages through the International Federation of Organic Farming Movements and doing some of the first organic certifications for farmers ranging from cranky older generation organic pioneers to coffee growers in East Timor and lake bed croppers in the semi arid zone. His keen observation skills, memory for facts, figures and protocols, his slow talking easy going manner and his enjoying a beer or, in the right circles, a joint allowed him to tackle novel situations and always learn something new.

Rod at home on the family farm, Blampied. Photo: David Holmgren

I remember when the diverse and disparate organic and biodynamic groups where having to work together with the Australian government to establish protocols for organic export trade. Alex Podolinsky, head of Demeter Biodynamics would not speak to any of the NASAA people except Rod “because he was the only real farmer”. I arrived early one day at the farm to have Rod introduce me to Alex Podolinsky, who immediately launched into an explanation of what was wrong with permaculture. After Alex left I asked what the visit was about. Rod said he thought it was an “informal biodynamic inspection.”

This understated diplomacy allowed Rod to work with the idealists and the pragmatists of the organic movement, even if his sometimes slap dash approach to getting things done in drafting a document or consigning pallets of veggies left his partners frustrated and sometimes having to pick up the pieces. Life at home with Viv and their daughters Stephanie and Carla, as well as his brothers Greg, Doug and their families on the family farm was not always smooth but as an outside observer, one of the ways in which Rod contributed to harmony was a tolerance of whatever others dished up for him. He and Viv lived fairly independent lives but their wide social circle and love of a party kept them going between their respective passions for organic farming and teaching.

I can remember Su phoning Rod’s father Maurice to find out where Rod was and the exasperated answer; somewhere in America and I don’t know when he’s back. But I also remember marvelling at Rod getting back from an trans pacific flight then the same afternoon jumping on the tractor to plough up the new veggie cropping paddock before the rains came. During those years of globe trotting Maurice provided a back stop for Rod and supported the organic methods which were adopted by brothers Greg and Doug. Like his father, Rod was a big bloke and worked like few of the baby boom generation could. Within the organic/green movement intellectuals he was as sharp as the best of us but in the spud paddock, no one I know could work day in day out like Rod. I remember when I had a chronicly bad back he told me in all seriousness that picking spuds was great for fixing a bad back. In his later years his knees began to give him trouble after all those years working across the furrows and mounds of several acres of irrigated vegetable he cranked out year after year.

Rod with PDC students. Photo: Ian Lillington

In the early 1990s we began taking our residential Permaculture Design Course participants to his farm to get a taste, literally, of a real organic farm that best illustrated permaculture principles supplying local and central markets with basic food. Rod’s seamless grasp of everything from soil ecology, tree crop potentials, organic marketing and mechanics and gadgets involved in farming, was immense. We would go out and harvest the veg that didn’t meet commercial standards and take it back to the farmhouse where Su would organise the roast lunch with Maurice helping cook the farm killed mutton.

While we promoted Captains Creek as a good example of permaculture, Rod never did. In a piece I wrote in the early 1990’s I said many ecological pioneers who chose not to describe their work as permaculture did so for one of three reasons; because of the bad examples they had seen called permaculture, because they didn’t want to alienate more conservative audiences or because they didn’t think what they were doing met the high ecological standards they associated with the permaculture concept. In Rod’s case I believe it was a mix of the three with the last being the most important.

Food Relocalisation in action. Rod delivering CSA veggie boxes to Su at the Hepburn Relocalisation Network food co-op. Photo: David Holmgren

During the 1990’s I watched the rewards and strictures of supplying central markets pushing Rod towards being a specialist broccoli producer supplying Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and even Brisbane markets in mid to late summer when it was difficult for producers in warmer districts to do so. Rod was surprised at his own success. He thought that once the market for organics became established, the big specialist vegetable growers would take over and that he would head the other way diversifying to supply local markets using methods he had seen working in Europe, Japan and the US including farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture.

Rod’s involvement in the international organic scene continued with his membership of the scientific advisory board, IFOAM and in 2005 in bringing the IFOAM international conference to Adelaide. But over time he started to organise his exit from organics politics and to encourage the next generation onto the board of NASAA including our son Oliver. Rod’s political focus shifted back to local government and in 2006 he was elected to the Hepburn Shire. Su recalls that Rod was rather slack about campaigning, but his charm, laid back style and ability to connect to the average person got him over the line.

Around the same time after some pestering by Su to produce boxes for local customers instead of all being shipped off to central markets, Rod asked her when she wanted to start. The next week Rod delivered 6 cardboard boxes full of mixed unwashed veggies to our place for pick up by the customers that Su had organised.

Over the following couple of seasons Rod turned his whole farming operation around to focus on boxes delivered to Hepburn, Castlemaine, Ballarat and Melbourne. In the same way that centralised markets reward monocultural specialisation, box schemes demand diversity from the farmer. The fact that Rod turned his relatively large production scale around to supply that diversity was testament to his skills as a farmer. Rod’s fields were rough and ready even by organic standards, full of weeds and some produce not making the grade but the productivity from limited and often erratic input of skilled labour was truly amazing.

Rod in 2005 at the IFOAM conference doing an Aussie farmer skit. Photo: David Holmgren

Apart from extra needs for catering for events and courses, we have always grown our own produce without the fuel and gadgets (Rod’s term for farm equipment) that sustained Rod’s farming operation but there were years where in disgust I thought I should give up and just buy from Rod. Whatever the season and the weather Rod just kept on delivering and at the end of the season the weedy fields full of left over veg was good to fatten the sheep after the gleaners had their share. My personal comparison with Rod led me to assert that I am probably a better ecological builder than ecological farmer but I know what the world needs more. We have enough buildings already but we need to eat each day.

On council Rod was a mover and a shaker, using his deep experience with negotiation and decision making, process and protocol to good effect but in a context very different from the parochial years on Creswick council in his youth. He championed a Climate Change and Peak Oil policy for Hepburn Shire, the second in the state and a number of other pioneering initiatives at a time when Hepburn was becoming famous for the first community owned wind farm in Australia.

After Viv died tragically in the Samoan tsunami in 2009 Rod poured himself into local council, and as mayor contributed to the growth of the local food culture as central to the tourist economy of the region. In 2011 he managed to get funding for an Energy Descent Action Plan for Hepburn shire but Rod’s vision and the consultancy that I delivered in response were too radical even for our progressive environmentally aware community.

On the home front Rod began to focus on the future with development of Viv’s Lang Road property and a vision for the farm into the future. After leaving council Rod threw himself into a farm redevelopment plan at the same time as he was active in the Greens, supporting his daughter Steph’s candidacy, and even stood for the Greens in the seat of Ripon.

He did try to engage me in a farm planning process but with my focus on teaching and writing, Rod couldn’t wait and in typical style he whipped up cabins, an autonomous power system, new fencing, a farm processing shed and other infrastructure necessary following the formal division of the farm between the three brothers following Maurice’s death. It was only around this time that I discovered my good mate had originally trained as a diesel mechanic and that his ability with machines was more than rudimentary but like everything else if a vehicle or machine was working, Rod’s energy was focused elsewhere. If machinery failed, like sheep getting into the crops, Rod could just cut his loses and move on.

Rod was also a motorbike rider, what a friend and local doctor called “a temporary citizen”. Just another one of the risks he took along with the weather, the crops, the politics and at times the law. But I know that while Rod had incredible energy he was not manic and not ever what I would call reckless.

When his luck ran out on the way home from Ballarat after getting a tool for current building projects, the wonders of modern intensive care gave the hope of a rebuild and another chance for my old mate Rod to at least pass on his incredible knowledge of the farm and life to the next generation. But that process was already well underway. After decades of working with and teaching volunteers, interns and community members the in and outs of farming, Rod had been working with his daughters on the farm future. Stephanie and her partner Oggy along with his bother Serge have been working to keep Captains Creek organics humming.

Hopefully the farm customers and especially all of us who knew Rod can support the May family to build on the vision and the legacy after the great man had to cut his loses and move on

To Rod’s family, daughters, Steph + Carla, and his brothers, Greg and Doug, we send our love and deepest condolence.

– David Holmgren, Hepburn, 30 May 2017

You can read the obituary Jason Alexandra and I wrote for Rod in The Age here.

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One of the best permaculture docos

The explosion of docos about sustainability in recent years includes a fair number that focus on permaculture and I have been interviewed in quite a few. The request to preview Inhabit and offer comment was just one of my “responsibilities” as co-originator of the permaculture concept. In the end I got to view Inhabit with 200 other permaculture activists at the 12th Australasian permaculture convergence in Penguin, Tasmania in March 2015. There was a standing ovation after the viewing.

INHABIT - Collage

I was impressed by the articulate explanations of permaculture by a few people I knew, many I had never met and some I had never heard of. The scope and balance of the examples chosen to illustrate the diversity of permaculture is excellent. The film gives me a great sense of the evolution of permaculture in the USA over recent decades.

Of course the art and beauty of this film will make it attractive to audiences used to polished media productions, but it is the substance underlying the beauty and passion that attracts me. The film can’t convey enough about the ideas and projects presented, for me to personally endorse every element in it as representing the best of permaculture, but I can endorse Inhabit as one of the best permaculture docos of the last thirty years.

Here’s the official blurb for the film.

Humanity is more than ever threatened by its own actions; we hear a lot about the need to minimize footprints and to reduce our impact. But what if our footprints were beneficial? What if we could meet human needs while increasing the health and well-being of our planet? This is the premise behind permaculture: a design process based on the replication of patterns found in nature. Inhabit explores the many environmental issues facing us today and examines solutions that are being applied using the ecological design lens of permaculture. Focused mostly on the Northeastern and Midwestern regions of the United States, Inhabit provides an intimate look at permaculture peoples and practices ranging from rural, suburban, and urban landscapes.

INHABIT: A Permaculture Perspective made by Costa Boutsikaris and Emmett Brenna is now available.

INHABIT Banner Thin

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Shades of Green(Lifestyle) Awards Reflection

logo-bigWhile gardening alone in the Spring busy period without the need to plan and direct volunteers, I have had more time for reflection. One of the subjects for reflection was my elevation to the Green Lifestyle Hall of Fame.

By chance I had just read a series of articles by Kari McGregor (part 1, part 2 and part 3) using a framework for thinking about green activism that seemed relevant to this award.

Kari McGregor’s categories of environmentalism Light Green, Bright Green, Deep Green and Dark Green made sense of my musings.

Light Green, is about relatively modest changes in our personal lifestyles that will collectively lead to a more environmentally sane and sustainable society.

Bright Green, is based on a belief that renewable and smart technology will create the next industrial revolution that will allow society to continue the path of progress that is so fundamental to our collective culture. Both these strains of environmentalism remain anthropocentric while Deep and Dark Green environmentalism assert humanity must develop an eco-centric culture to survive.

Deep Green environmentalists focus on protecting nature by direct action and radical political activism while Dark Greens focus on building the ecological successor culture now in the belief that industrial civilization is doomed to run its course and collapse either dramatically or slowly.

In this framework Green Lifestyle Magazine is primarily Light Green with a fair dose of Bright Green. I wondered where to position the previous recipients of the Hall of Fame award. Bob Brown might be more Deep Green while Olivia Newton John’s stellar celebrity and financial success might suggest a blend of Light and Bright Green (even though I know very little of her environmental activism). I fit more squarely in with the Dark Greens. While my Dark Green perspective may seem most removed from Green Lifestyle’s Light Green environmentalism, we share the focus on change the world by changing ourselves while the Bright Green renewable energy and climate policy activists such as Mark Descendorf, and Philip Sutton share the belief in changing the nature of the system with the more radical direct action activists such as Paul Watson (founder of Sea Shepherd) even if the methods used to bring about structural change are very different and that these activists can be placed on either side of the anthropocentric and eco-centric divide.

pip3The point of Kari’s essay was that all four perspectives have their strengths and weaknesses and that we should all do more to acknowledge the value of the perspectives. She suggests that commitment to social justice is a shared if not strongly articulated value behind all four shades of green that could be more strongly recognized and articulated. In this context I thought about how new PIP magazine which I have strongly supported is just a slightly more radical version of the Light Green environmentalism on show in Green Lifestyle mag.

 

Permaculture as a brand of Australian environmentalism does focus on what we can do to look after the environment and future generations as we become more self reliant, productive and resilient individually, in our households and communities. Maybe permaculture can be viewed as a low eco-tech version of Bright Green that will allow us to live fulfilled lives without today’s systems or consumption of resources. But my Future Scenarios work let alone my more recent controversial essay Crash on Demand; Welcome to the Brown Tech World have suggested to some that I have shifted from optimist to pessimist about the future of humanity. I don’t think my perspective has shifted that much other than a response to what I see as the declining options available to future generations as industrial civilization accelerates toward a collision with nature and its internal contradictions. In many ways Crash on Demand is a strong Dark Green critique of the Bright Green and Deep Green perspectives while I largely ignore the Light Green perspective as being far to weak a response to the ecological crisis.

Kari’s framework certainly helped me make sense of Green Lifestyle magazine’s award to me. As co-originator of the permaculture concept I was partly responsible for the positive can-do attitude to improving the environment, that is permaculture. My lifestyle of radical simplicity combined with household and communitarian sufficiency, is an uncomfortable one for most trying to do their bit to live a greener lifestyle. Compared to the two previous recipients of this award, Bob Brown and Olivia Newton John, I am definitely more of an extremist.   Still, I thought, it is normal in any network or subculture to look to radicals rather than moderates for inspiration. We acknowledge and respect those who go the extra mile to “walk the talk” even if that means a stronger ideological commitment or pig headed personality than most in the same subculture would believe reasonable.

Beyond this recognition of pioneering radicals, I thought my permaculture lifestyle of radical simplicity and sufficiency is more in line with mainstream consumer environmentalism than it is with mainstream political environmentalism. In the debate about the personal being political vs structural change to the “system” I obviously more associate with the first view while Bob Brown has devoted his life more to the second perspective which is characteristic of Kari’s Bright and Deep Green environmentalisms. Viewed through this lens my Crash On Demand essay is actually an appeal to all environmentalists to take seriously the idea that what we do in our own lives is potent but only if what we do is radical in its simplicity and abundant in its real biological and communitarian productivity. Thus there is a direct line of evolution of action from Light Green to Dark Green. I doubt whether Kari’s framework let alone my musings reflect the decisions of the judges at Green Lifestyle Mag but this award and Kari’s framework has certainly reminded me that all responses to the ecological crisis have value in ways that are not necessarily obvious.

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Great debate, the video

My essay “Crash On Demand” was the primary influence in framing this year’s Great debate at the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne,  so we felt that I had to make time to be there (in the middle of our Rocklyn Ashram residential PDC  plus peak fruit and honey harvest).

With an audience of over 250 it was an opportunity to explain the logic of bottom up permaculture activism in response to the energy descent future and hear some of the other perspectives presented. The dichotomy of the unwieldy title, the dreaded C word and the “vote” gave me the gripes, but it was good fun and an opportunity to catch up with Nicole Foss after our joint public speaking tour last winter.

Here’s yours truly kicking off the debate.

 youtube.com/watch?v=roO5FJZNmBM&w=560&h=315

For those people who want to see the whole debate (nearly 2hr long, but you should), here is the entire Great Debate (Nicole Foss, about 35 min mark. About 1.20 min mark begins the summing up, voting and Q and A).

[vimeo 119722889 w=500 h=281]

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Permaculture Activism and the Future

I was recently asked by “permaculture actionary” Delvin Solkinson to provide some words for a newsletter promoting the next Rainbow Serpent Festival at which I’ll be speaking (several times). Very normal that a previous participant at one of our Advanced Permaculture Principles Courses should be asking me for a piece for an event he has the job to promote. Except for the fact that Delvin is based in the rainforests of British Columbia, Canada and the event is Rainbow Serpent Festival, that is held each dry dusty January  in our bioregional backyard.elvishBYdesign

My reply was

“Delvin, You ask difficult questions. Attached are a few words for your “Trans Pacific Partnership” project producing a local festival mag from the west coast of Canada.”

Inevitably I said too much for Delvin to use in full, but he thought it should be available somewhere, so here it is.

 

 

What are the roots or foundations of Permaculture?
Permaculture emerged from the fusion and ferment of environmental thinking of the 1970’s. It can be thought of as applied systems ecology with a strong debt to the work of Howard Odum. In another sense it was a branch of the tree of organic agriculture, with roots in many industrialised countries, in the early 20th century informed by pioneering work on sustainable agriculture by F.H. King who wrote Farmers of  Forty Centuries; Permanent Agriculture in China, Japan and Korea.   The emphasis on perennial plants, especially trees, was strongly informed by Russell Smiths Tree Crops; A Permanent Agriculture and the resurgence in interest in Economic Botany (useful plants), and indigenous use of plants and land management.  As a social movement permaculture originated in the Counterculture  applying an activist strategy to create the world we wanted rather than fighting to stop the world we didn’t want.  Early “back to the land” self sufficiency efforts outside the mainstream economy provided a context for early application of permaculture concepts. Although not overtly political, permaculture was  influenced by  both Anarchist and Libertarian philosophies.

What is the best way to become a permaculture actionary or ‘get on the ground’ ?
There are many different entry points to becoming a “permaculture actionary”. For some it starts with books, for others it is social and practical immersion without over intellectualizing, for many it is a Permaculture Design Course. Whatever the starting point, it should become clear that the most important application of permaculture ethics and principles is to the self, through a process of self audit of our needs, wants, dependencies, creative and productive outputs and byproducts of our very existence. Getting grounded in this way is the start of a personal retro-fit or redesign process which does not require that we wait until we own land or are with the right crowd. We can be our own guinea pigs in creating a better world. It is not necessary to tell the whole world first up but it certainly helps to connect with like-minded people for ideas and inspiration in building skills and capacities to help ourselves and others adapt to a rapidly changing world.

What is the future of permaculture that you would most like to see?
My hopes for permaculture range from the most general to the most specific. As a concept I hope it continues to be informed and infused with creative thinking and activism that arises from outside its own self-referenced world . In this way it will avoid stagnation in thinking and action and continue to exhibit hybrid vigour that can respond to a rapidly changing world. This inclusive mentality that acknowledges like minded concepts and networks reduces the problems of “turf warfare” between pioneering concepts that colonise the psycho social margins of mainstream society.

This holistic “jack of all trades” scope of permaculture needs to be balanced by a “mastery of one”. For each of us the calling and contribution to a better world will be many and varied. My hope is that enough permaculture practitioners dedicate their lives to making the founding permaculture vision of truly productive bioregional tree crop agricultures a reality able to survive the rigours of climate change and energy descent. Can we do the hard yards such that reality can match the rhetoric?

These ideas are further explored in

About Permaculture

Reverence for the Bunya Bunya

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

Future Scenarios

Collected Writings

Essence of Permaculture

Or take part and learn in the Permaculture Design Certificate course.

 

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Reverence for the bunya bunya

One of the critiques of permaculture is that, in attempting to be a theory of everything, it has failed to contribute real progress on any of the manifold fronts it addresses. Had Mollison and I spent our lives planting, managing and selecting oaks and bunya bunyas, we might have made a greater contribution to a benign energy descent future. On the other hand, we have inspired many others, a few of whom have contributed significantly to the still very slow expansion of knowledge of, breeding, and use of tree crops. Peter Brew was one of those few, a keen observer, independent thinker and energetic practitioner whose potential to contribute to a better energy descent future for humanity through tree crops, was cut short by personal misfortune exacerbated by an affluent but ignorant society unable to recognise, let alone reward, his genius. When Oliver and I harvest the first nuts from the Spring Creek Community Forest grove, I will start a new nursery bed to contribute to the hybrid vigour of the future bunya bunya groves of southern Australia to honour Peter’s contribution to an abundant future.

You can download the article Reverence for the bunya bunya (full text).

 

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Bushfire from a permaculture perspective

Screen shot 2013-10-18 at 7.34.41 PMBushfire rages in NSW and a state of emergency is declared.

Are these fires unprecedented? Possibly so this early in the season.

Do these fires reflect human induced climate change so far? Almost certainly.

Were the weather conditions particularly bad? Not so far, compared with Black Saturday in Vic.

Would a massively expanded burning program have prevented house loss?  Maybe, but with costs and side effects; including more accidental fire damage to property

Does the number of houses burnt reflect ferocity of the fires? Not particularly.

What does it reflect? The terrible landscape position of most housing on ridge tops above steep slopes and the extremely high flammability of Blue Mountains vegetation growing in a high rainfall, but very infertile, region.

Is there anything that can be done by the householder from a permaculture perspective?

Lots. Most importantly, unattended houses were between 3 and 8 time more likely to burn than attended (Blanchi & Leonard Bushfire CRC) In other words,  residents who stay and defend, have a high chance of saving a house (and a very high chance of survival even if the house burns because almost all houses burn after the fire front has passed).

The picture above (from ABC website) is one of the many houses burnt during the recent fire showing the relatively unscarred native vegetation around the remains after a very hot house (rather than bush) fire.  Bushfires do not in general demolish houses. Instead they create an ember storm that accumulates around the house and most importantly enters the roof space leading to ignition and intense fire in undefended houses (mostly after the fire front has passed).


Here are some of the resources on our website for building up bushfire resilience for both your house and community at large.
From our online shop, the following publications have ample information on the subject.

The Flywire House:A case study in design against bushfire (1983)

Melliodora: A case study in cool climate permaculture

The Complete Bushfire Safety Book by Joan Webster

The Essential Bushfire Safety Tips by Joan Webster

The following resources may also be of your interest.

Bushfire Resilient Communities and Landscapes (report 2009)

Bushfire Resilient Communities and Landscapes (presentation in the Blue Mountains 2011)

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