8 Forms of Capital & Pollution

8 forms of capital, originally published on Appleseed Permaculture and written by Ethan Roland & Gregory Landua in 2011, has become a core permaculture methodology. As an analytical tool it can help us map flows and exchanges between ourselves and the rest of the world. It broadens our focus from money alone, helping us see the wealth of connections that exist around us. 

Briefly, the eight forms are:

  • Social capital, such as influence and connections. 
  • Material capital, non-living physical objects, both raw and processed 
  • Financial capital, currencies and other tools of the global financial system
  • Living capital, living beings including plants, animals, and soil
  • Intellectual capital, knowledge learned from a book or school
  • Experiential capital, knowledge gained by doing
  • Cultural capital, shared knowledge of a community
  • Spiritual capital, religion, spirituality, or other means of connection

In my own practice I’ve found it useful to consider an additional aspect of the 8 forms of capital. When too much capital accumulates and stagnates it becomes pollution. Identifying, remediating, and resolving this pollution becomes a source of leverage in our designs.

The kind of pollution we all know and love.

Ways pollution could manifest in the 8 forms of capital:

  • Spiritual pollution, cults, dead world, “hollow” churches, new age thinking
  • Social pollution, being totally dependant on others to the point of parasitism
  • Material pollution, pollution as we normally think of it, wasted resources
  • Financial pollution, paranoia, control, solitude, lack of community
  • Living pollution, invasive species, ecosystem out of balance
  • Cultural pollution, colonization, disconnection from one’s own culture
  • Experiential pollution, adrenaline junky, all action with no contemplation
  • Intellectual pollution, ivory tower, undisclosed conflicts of interest clouding interpretations, book knowledge only with no real world experience

Capital is best as a flow, not an accumulation. Our interactions with capital need to focus on that flow. When we do have accumulations it is our responsibility to find the root causes and transform them back into alignment with nature and to remediate the problems those accumulations have caused.

Published by Milton

C. Milton Dixon is an permaculturist, forager, educator, and computer wizard. He is co-manager at the emergent Cooperative at Dawn Farm and teaches with Three Waters Permaculture. You can reach him at or 773.789.8887.

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