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Permaculture Alternatives to Waste-to-Energy (W2E)

Kowhai Festival
 Photograph by author, Trish Allen.

Permaculture Alternatives to Waste-to-Energy (W2E)

Waste-to-energy (W2E), particularly incineration, is being promoted as a good alternative to landfills – it gets rid of all that plastic we use and generate energy, right? In this article I’d like to first outline what’s wrong with W2E and then talk about permaculture alternatives.

So What Is Wrong With W2E Incineration?

W2E is a continuation of the ‘take-make-dispose’ economy which lulls people into the belief that we can continue our wasteful ways without changing our behaviour. But we live on a finite planet and most environmental harm comes at the extraction stage – so why would we want to burn resources and get rid of them? It doesn’t make sense. We need to get away from an extractive to a regenerative culture.

There are multiple negative impacts of W2E plants, which are seeing many being decommissioned internationally. For example, the toxic ash that remains after burning still has to be disposed of in a landfill.  This can be up to 25% of the original volume of waste material, but with more toxicity. So incinerators don’t do away with the need for a landfill, instead they require a landfill for more toxic and dangerous waste.

Aside from the toxic ash, W2E incineration plants create an on-going demand for waste to fuel the incinerator. They are very expensive to build, have huge embodied energy, and once built, have to run for years to get a return, locking us into a destructive system.  Right now our planet’s ability to sustain life is seriously at risk. We cannot afford the luxury of investing in bad ideas.

Our young people are calling for Climate Action now and we have a major responsibility to urgently reduce emissions. Incinerators create emissions. New Zealand’s electricity is currently 80% clean (water, wind, solar, geothermal) so why would we want to start burning trash to generate power?  It just doesn’t add up environmentally, economically or socially.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Permaculture and Money – Part 3

Permaculture and Money – Part 3

The Practice of Being Open

In part 1(1) of this series, we explored the relationship between money, psychology and violence, while in part 2(2) we looked at some ways in which the stories we tell as a culture to do with money could be seen as encouraging destructive patterns of behaviour. Looby Macnamara would describe such destructive patterns as “spirals of erosion”(3) and this part will explore in more detail some practical ideas for how we can transcend such erosive behaviours and create “spirals of abundance”(3) instead.

Alternative Economic Theories

In parts 1(1) and 2 (2), I mentioned theories about the possibility of a moneyless society, or a society where money takes a different role, such as Sacred Economics(4) author Charles Eisenstein and Satish Kumar, who among other roles was a practicing Jain monk as a child(5).  Both of these writers can be said to be influenced by EF Schumacher, whose book Small is Beautiful (6), published in 1973, critiqued the unsustainable model of resource and profit-driven industrialised capitalism, and recommends instead a philosophy of “enoughness” and appropriate use of technology(6).  Schumacher was himself influenced by Oriental thinking and in particular Buddhist ideas of moderation (see for example ref 7). In modern society, we can see an example of “enoughness” in practice in the Thai concept of “sufficiency economy” (8).

Peace Pilgrimage

The above examples show some ways in which alternative economic ideas have been influencing the world, and are somewhat encouraged in some mainstream societies. Yet if money is the very problem, it seems we need to explore more radical alternatives.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Permaculture and Money – Part 2

Abundance
 Photograph by Author, Charlotte Ashwanden

Permaculture and Money – Part 2

Living and Giving Abundance

In part 1 of this article series we looked at the curious concept of money and how it can be seen to be contributing to the institutional violence of much of modern society. This part will look at some alternative ways of viewing and interacting with money, while the next part will begin to explore some practical ways in which we can all begin living more abundantly.

Stories For A New World

In part 1 we explored the idea of transcending current modes of thinking or behaving, in order to engage in new ones. As John Paul Lederach points out, if we really want to find new ways of living then we cannot simply create a vision of a different place – we also need to be aware of where we are right now (1).

As Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, put it,

“It is not merely our attitudes about money that must change…rather, we will create new kinds of money that
embody and reinforce changed attitudes” (2)

A Change In The System…

Some alternative economic theories include ideas such as the creation of local currencies like the Bristol Pound (3), non-centralised currencies such as Bitcoin(4) or bartering or exchange systems such as those put into practice using Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), for example in Australia with the Australian Community Exchange System (5). All of these can be seen to represent important options for those looking to put permaculture into practice by moving away from the monoculture of solely using money.

Or Of The System?

However, such alternatives can be seen to still be based on the premise of exchanging for a fixed rate which is decided abstractly and therefore they still hold within them the inherent disconnection from nature and subsequent destructive tendencies which using money carries with it (2, 6).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Permaculture and Money – Part 1

Permaculture and Money – Part 1

Cash, conflict and crisis: How is money connected to limited and violent beliefs, and how can we transcend these beliefs?

Permaculture design is about finding ways in which parts of a system can harmonise together, creating regenerative patterns and structures which can help us to develop as part of an interconnected whole(1). We can use permaculture design not only to help us to change physical systems such as in gardening, but also with less visible social structures. One of the most universal and destructive of these ‘invisible structures’ can be seen as the globalised, competition-driven economy, and more specifically, the concept of money which upholds it.

Back in 1949, physicist Albert Einstein said “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive” (2). Decades of environmental destruction, characterised by the perpetuation of a seeming disconnection between humans and nature, along with the current global “crisis” catalysed by people’s reaction to the Corona Virus, seem to show these words as more pertinent now than ever.

This article series will explore some ways in which money itself can be seen as the destructive element encouraging this disconnection. This part will look at some theories of how money, violence and psychology are closely inter-related, while subsequent parts will go into detail about alternative ways of using or relating to money, and some practical ways to achieve this in your own life.

Money & Mind

Many proponents of a moneyless society, such as Sacred Economics (3) author Charles Eisenstein and Moneyless Manifesto (4) author Mark Boyle, have theorised that money itself is perpetuating violent and destructive behaviour in human society (3, 4).  That is not to say that we should necessarily get rid of money, though there are many ideas for how we could do that (more about this in part 2).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Planting Seeds in Crisis

Planting Seeds in Crisis

Food and seed sovereignty in uncertain times

As governments of more and more countries introduce various kinds of lockdowns (1) during the ongoing virus “pandemic” (1), we appear to be experiencing what many would say is an unprecedented global “crisis” (see for example 2). This article will explore the opportunities inherent in such a situation, in particular with regard to food and seed sovereignty and, ultimately, the sovereignty of our own lives.

What is crisis?

There are many theories about the origins of the Coronavirus and the curiously strong grip its presence has on media and governments worldwide (3, 4, 5). For example, that the virus was made possible by factory farming (3) or our current mistreatment of farm animals (4). Or the theory postulated right here on Permaculture News by Nirmala Nair that perhaps it could be “a symptom of dwindling microbial biota – a result of the past 50 years of accelerated industrial food production, processing and movement of food around the world?” (5)

Regardless of the actual origin, at any time, the influence of media and government propaganda is something to be aware of. This seems a particularly important moment to be aware of news and actions aimed at inducing emotions such as fear and panic, and to provide a counterpoint of calm, reflection on wider issues, and compassion.

With this in mind, let’s look at the etymology of the word ‘crisis’. Though often used in a negative context, we can see that the roots of this word come from the Greek for “decide, judge” (6). A time of crisis, therefore, can be seen as a time for making decisions – for becoming aware of the choices we face as a species and a planet and to decide on a course of action. Though decisions could be scary to some, this time can be seen as an opportunity for us to decide, individually and socially, how we actually wish to be living our lives.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Permaculture as Philosophy

Permaculture as Philosophy

It’s almost spring – all right, it’s the middle of winter – and I’m reading about gardening. It’s my yearly ritual to keep hope alive in the dark months. I sort my seeds, draw up garden plans while standing by the snow-covered garden beds, and flip through the glossy garden porn that the seed companies mail me every January.

Some winters I’ve delved into more serious study. Recently I spent months reading about permaculture and talking with practitioners. I like their underlying concept of growing things in a sustainable and sane way, although I don’t see it as the only solution to our environmental and food production challenges. But, to quote Leslie Nielsen, that’s not important right now; reading about permaculture also led me to three related thoughts.

Permaculture, I’ve learned, is not only a method but a philosophy, one that emphasizes the relationships among all the elements of the environment rather than its individual parts in isolation. The opposite is big-farm monoculture. In monoculture, corn or soybeans are removed finally and completely from the environment where they were raised, leaving behind a barren field. In order to grow the corn or soybeans next year, external inputs of seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, irrigation, and petroleum-powered machines are necessary.

The goal in permaculture, however, is to have an almost perfectly closed system that reaches a natural maturity and sustains itself there with minimal human help. Once properly established, an ideal permaculture system fertilizes its own soil through a mix of deep-rooted plants that bring up nutrients and aerate the soil, nitrogen-fixing plants, plants that drop leaves as mulch, and animals that plow, fertilize, and control the plant and insect populations. This system stores water in its soil and loses very little to run-off. Because more of the plants are perennial, as opposed to monoculture’s annuals, plant populations remain in place and in balance – an ever-shifting balance, but a sustainable one – for decades.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Making The Most Of What We Harvest

 Photograph by Jill Wellington (Pixabay)

Making The Most Of What We Harvest

Secondary Uses for Common Crops

It’s nearing the end of our main growing season here in North Carolina. Halfway through October, our tomato plants are not much longer for the world, perhaps even living on borrowed time now. Summer squashes have given way, and winter squashes are strewn out waiting for the first frost.

We’ve also got some cold weather stuff in the ground. Cilantro has reseeded itself. We’ve planted rounds of carrots, beets, chard, kale, and radishes. Collard greens, a local favourite, are on the go. Kohlrabi is in the ground. Because we’ve been building our home, we’ve dropped the ball on getting some of what we’d like to have planted—broccoli, fava beans, leeks—this year.

But, what’s on my mind is more positive: It’s how much we’ve enjoyed our common crops this summer. More so, part of what we’ve enjoyed has been making the very most of them. We are steadily adding to our repertoire of possibilities, expanding our diets and production into new realms.

As dutiful permaculturalists, we’ve always sought out secondary (edible) uses for our harvests, ways to get more function from what we have cultivated. Here’s some of what has us excited this year, as well as some notes from the past and hopes for the future.

Carrot Tops

Common Crop Carrot Tops
Photograph by Rachel C IMP (Pixabay)

With our second growing season in North Carolina, we showed marked improvement in our carrot harvest. The roots have been the most flavourful I’ve ever eaten, and they’ve come out of the ground with a heft we didn’t get last year.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Without a rebellion there might be nothing left. The tide is turning and necessarily so.

Without a rebellion there might be nothing left. The tide is turning and necessarily so.

extinction rebellion

An international rebellion has begun. I am writing this as a call to action for humanity and permaculture enthusiasts everywhere. I want to take a few minutes to share my story, and perhaps you will be inspired by a world that is waking up. The sea is rising and so are we.

I will finish with some practical ways you can get involved in the rebellion and what you can do after.

10 years ago I did a course in Permaculture Design and it changed my life. I no longer felt alone in seeking solutions to global warming and ecological disasters like mass deforestation. I had found my people⎯ agrarian systems thinkers and community activists with a deep connection to the world around them. And much to my relief a network of curious people with the will to design a world that works alongside nature!

Permaculture designers have been acting to mitigate the climate emergency and ecological breakdown since the 70’s. The approaches used in permaculture have inspired a generation to redesign the places that they live. Permaculture networks, the Permaculture Association and groups like Transition Towns have done much of the groundwork for grassroots action for ‘systems change, not climate change’ in the UK and beyond.

The permaculture approach helps design intelligent systems which meet human needs whilst enhancing biodiversity, reducing our impact on the planet, and creating a fairer world for us all.

We will need grassroots movements like permaculture systems thinking and design to reinvent the way we design our society so that we can meet the our needs whilst working in harmony with our planet. Without approaching our challenges in this systematic way we do not have a chance to innovate and make integrated policy changes needed meet the Paris agreement or the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

David Holmgren: A Baby Boomers’ Apology

David Holmgren: A Baby Boomers’ Apology

Raphael The miraculous draught of fishes 1515

There are days, though all too scarce, when very nice surprises come my way. Case in point: yesterday I received a mail from David Holmgren after a long period of radio silence. Australia’s David is one of the fathers of permaculture, along with Bill Mollison, for those few who don’t know him. They first started writing about the concept in the 1970s and never stopped.

Dave calls himself “permaculture co-originator” these days. Hmm. Someone says: “one of the pioneers of modern ecological thinking”. That’s better. No doubt there. These guys taught many many thousands of people how to be self-sufficient. Permaculture is a simple but intricate approach to making sure that the life in your garden or backyard, and thereby your own life, moves towards balance.

My face to face history with David is limited, we spent some time together on two occasions only, I think, in 2012 a day at his home (farm) in Australia and in 2015 -a week- in Penguin, Tasmania at a permaculture conference where the Automatic Earth’s Nicole Foss was one of the key speakers along with Dave. Still, despite the limited time together I see him as a good and dear friend, simply because he’s such a kind and gracious and wise man. 

In his mail, David asked if I would publish this article, which he originally posted on his own site just yesterday under the name “The Apology: From Baby Boomers To The Handicapped Generations”. I went for a shorter title (it’s just our format), but of course I will.

Dave has been an avid reader of the Automatic Earth for the past 11 years, we sort of keep his feet on the ground when they’re not planted and soaking in that same ground: “Reading TAE has helped me keep up to date..”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

CRISIS, HOPE, AND PERMACULTURE

CRISIS, HOPE, AND PERMACULTURE

A “Green New Deal” is on everyone’s lips, but how do we actually get there? Our brand new “Green is the New Silver (Lining): Crisis, Hope, and Permaculture,” (http://bit.ly/hope-permaculture) the first of 4 videos in our free-to-view “Permaculture Masterclass,” offers one possible answer. And if we do this right, we can go far beyond organic, beyond sustainability — and towards building thriving communities of abundance. You ready?

Saving the Planet

SAVING THE PLANET

I have often found myself wincing as I hear people talking about saving the planet. It’s felt wrong!  I can hear the voices of condemnation screaming at me now … ‘What a horrible person you are not to agree with saving the planet.’… but let me explain.

I’m the same age as Geoff Lawton!  Though I think he’s doing better than me!

I was brought up in the 50s/60s. I had two dads, my biological one and my step dad. My father was a left wing, ‘why is the government giving money to the farmers just because they have a drought’ type of person. He was always railing against the government because it didn’t look after the poor people. He was also the one who would order me out of the room so he could spray DDT in the living room to kill the flies. We left when I was 10.

My step dad was right wing. He didn’t believe the government should be giving out free money to people. He believed in self responsibility. What can you do to get yourself out of the situation?  He was also a firm believer in organic farming, no poisons, and natural health solutions. (Yes, I know that sounds counterintuitive, but you’d be amazed how many right wing people believe in self responsibly and growing their own food!)

My teen years saw my parents growing all our produce organically and sharing produce with friends who also grew organically.

In Grade 10, a science teacher gave us a scenario. He explained that all energy can be quantified as BTUs, from the physical energy you put into something, to the energy it takes to make a product. He gave us an example…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Human Permaculture Part 3: Practical Communication Techniques

HUMAN PERMACULTURE PART 3: PRACTICAL COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUES

In part one (1) of this article I explored the possible efficacy of visualising our communication with each other as a invisible flow, less predictable than other energy flows in a Sector Analysis but still able to be mapped as part of a design; while in part two (2) I looked at what catching and storing such energy flows might look like. This third part is turning inwards from the pattern of the wider concept of communication flows, to the details of how we can use permaculture to help our own personal communication be more effective.

Changing the way we think to encourage Earth Care and People Care

 Following on from the idea that communication can be seen as an ‘invisible structure’, we can also see that within us we have our own invisible structures, made up of the languages which we use to think. We can use permaculture to examine these structures and possibly change them to help us communicate more holistically and honestly with ourselves, hopefully allowing for easier communication with everyone else.

One of the first changes which could be beneficial is that of changing how we speak about the natural world. A number of writers, scientists and philosophers – such as Alan Watts (3), James Lovelock (4) and David Abram (5) to name but a few – have pointed out the power of phonetic language to create abstractions within the mental realm. This means that it is very easy to imagine that we are separate from nature, and thus to allow the exploitation or destruction of our world. This abstraction is probably done more or less unconsciously, if the language one grows up with enables abstract thought in this way.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Excerpt From “De-Growth in the Suburbs, A Radical Urban Imaginary.” Part 3

EXCERPT FROM “DE-GROWTH IN THE SUBURBS, A RADICAL URBAN IMAGINARY. “ PART 3

The Limits to Capital

Are we at the threshold of the apocalyptic ‘next world’ that scientist James Lovelock (2009) speaks of? Put differently, is the human species now at the precipice of natural default and the massive societal change it must surely trigger? These are not new questions. The end of carbon-intensive capitalism has been long predicted: As Beck (2012: 90) reminded us, already, more than a century ago, Max Weber anticipated the end of oil-based capitalism when he spoke of a time when ‘the last hundredweight of fossil fuel is built up’.

The contemporary problem of overshoot has two faces: one of over accumulation and thus depletion of natural capital; the other a simul- taneous overabundance of financial capital and critical deprivation of social capital (‘planet of slums’ etc.). The built environment is now central to these twin crises of the age. Urbanisation is at the heart of overproduction and ecological default, but also central to the absorption of excess capital. The real estate sector has its own dynamics, and investment in housing is vital for capital accumulation, as Harvey has explained, yet all this takes place within a paradigm of growth capitalism that shapes and seems to impel these destructive and often exclusive modes of development. The massive contemporary infrastructure development push in world cities reflects both realities—absorption and depletion. The ricocheting spiral of these modalities defines the urban age. This indicates a convulsive instability at the heart of human prospect that contradicts the predictive confidence of popular urban commentary. As debt fuels what seem to be property bubbles in various urban centres—with the Australian capital cities of Sydney and Melbourne being particularly worrying examples—renegade economist Steve Keen (2017) warns that it would be prudent to prepare for the closing of the casino before these bubbles burst. The convulsion suggests a bad ending.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Permaculture Puts Food First

Why Permaculture Puts Food First

Had we heeded Malthus’s warning and kept the human population to less than one billion, we would not now be facing a torrid future.
There are seven popular food crops in this picture
 When I teach permaculture, and now having done more than 50 full design courses, I try to de-emphasize gardening. I do that because I know that most other Permaculture teachers do precisely the opposite; they begin with drawing a chicken and then make mandala gardens and herb spirals.
I don’t usually do that because to me Permaculture is much more. It is a regenerative design science. It teaches you to think ecosystemically: no waste; cyclical; nourishing body and soul; steady state. It applies to every aspect of your life, and of civilization; from how we brush our teeth to how we build our cities and exchange value for value.
But Permaculture is also about looking ahead, over the fence, up to the sky, into the forest, and observing the grander patterns. Anyone who takes that kind of moment these days will be bound to notice phenological signs and portents, the uptick in unusual weather events, a spreading refugee crisis, and some really nasty resource wars appealing to our ethnic tribalism.

“The switch from growth to decline in oil production will thus almost certainly create economic and political tension.”

 — Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrére, Scientific American (1998)
These times have been long predicted, from Malthus’ and Arhennius’ calculations of population and carbon dioxide, to Limits to Growth, The Population Bomb, and now decades of reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All of those, and more, are known knowns.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Two of Four)

Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Two of Four)

The last post introduced this weird and possibly confusing little diagram:1

The diagram frames a pathway from more conventional design processes toward what I believe permaculture is deep down really about. The conventional starting point I’m calling fabricated assembly. The radical alternative the diagram invites us toward is what I call generative transformation.

Generative transformation is really good stuff. I believe permaculture and generative transformation are meant to be together, just like orchid and wasp, legume and rhizobia, or carbon and nitrogen in the perfect compost. Indeed, I’d argue that generative transformation is in play when any permaculture project really shines.

Which leads us to a question.

WTF is Generative Transformation?

Generative transformation refers to the top-right section in the diagram.

Breaking it down, there’s the generative (or generating) piece and the transformation (or transforming) piece. Let’s start with transformation (and what it is an alternative to). We’ll come back to the meaning of generative in the next post.

Transformation

Consider the three options along the y-axis of the diagram. Starting with A. Assembling, we move to B. Partitioning, culminating in C. Transforming. I’ll here introduce and explain each as different approach to creating – as in bringing forth new form in the world.

A. Creating by Assembling

From an assembling perspective, how you go about creating (which includes both designing and implementing) is easy: choose some elements then join them into whole systems. Start with parts, stick them together and hey presto, there’s your whole!

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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