Permaculturists as Time Scouts

When we design, we are always building for future floods, future fires, future droughts, and planting a tree a few inches tall that will be future forest giants, throw future shadows. Future populations will need future soils and forest resources, shelter, security. So somebody needs to range ahead in time, scout out the next century. We are not daydreaming. We are time scouts. – Bill Mollison

Time scouts eh? I like that. We are looking to the future. Note that this implies that others are not, even worse they’re pretty good at it. 

It seems our culture needs a change. We need many time scouts to create a future worth living as opposed to where we’re heading now.   Will you be a time scout?

We need many people to plant trees, the shade of which they will never see…

Permaculture Flower II

I’m feeling really good about my new thinking on the permaculture flower, my thinking has congealed a bit since I first posted on it. All of a sudden I see what I previously perceived as a mundane categorization, as a valuable tool when examining and balancing any system.

David Holmgren, the co-originator of permaculture says “The permaculture flower shows key domains that require transformation to create a sustainable culture.” That is, each petal (or domain) represents a category into which we can apply permaculture in the world. But if you try to use the flower as a directional compass to orient yourself in that particular category, you’ll always find every domain simultaneously. Again and again there are always aspects of each topic that fit into each petal.

That is precisely what makes flower useful. Any subject, from something as general as farming to something as specific as a solar panel, manifests in all of these domains of the flower simultaneously. Together the flower represents the different facets of any single topic or object, therefore we can improve our designs by observing and interacting with each of these domains as we do our work.

As it manifests, permaculture is most obvious in the domains Land, Building, and Tools & Technology, in the physical world. It is less obvious in the other four domains of Education & Culture, Health & Spiritual Well-being, Finance & Economics, and Land Tenure & Community Governance. They represent what has been called “invisible structures” but perhaps is better called social systems as their patterns are quite visible, just often overlooked. An undeveloped petal would be a drag on any system, while conversely an over developed petal can not make up for the lack of development in the others.

In Practice

So for example, when we put up a gutter on a building not only does it interact with the flow of water and change the way that flow is distributed in a physical place(Land & Nature Stewardship), it is made of materials that were sourced and transported with a certain effect on the larger landscape (Building), and represents its own set of tools and concepts in its construction and installation (Tools & Technology). At the same time it also has a whole set of information about when and how we use it (Education & Culture), how it affects us physically and through our own vision of ourselves (Health & Spiritual Well-being), there is a whole economy behind that gutter as well as our means to obtain it (Finance & Economics), and finally there are certain regulations about what you can or can’t do in putting it up (Land Tenure & Community Governance).

In the example above, putting up a gutter may be no simple act when we consider all of the domains. It comes down to how wide of a view we’re willing and able to take. It also takes some prioritization to realize what is significant or what we can actually change. That’s where the ethics and principles or tools like the scale of permanence or the 8 forms of capital can help us to examine and connect to the different domains and create lasting, beneficial change in a healthy system.

The different petals together represent:

Land & Nature Stewardship – A specific place and its inhabitants, how they increase or decrease the ecology. What is the cause?

Building – The manmade environment. Specific structures and their construction. What is the total cost our effect over the whole life of the structure?

Tools & Technology – Physical objects that are required to manipulate the environment and concepts relating to how they function. What tools are commonly used?

Education & Culture – Specific, local ideas relating to how life is lived and how that information is transmitted. What is unique about the local culture?

Health & Spiritual Wellbeing – The effect that something has on its environment, both physically and mentally. What does it’s scale and demeanor tell us about ourselves?

Finances & Economics – How the materials are obtained and brought to a site vs how they are extracted. The larger flow of materials and its scale. How does it fit into the economy?

Land Tenure & Community Governance – How decisions are made about a space or it’s inhabitants. Who is included. In what ways do you or the world around you participate?

In the permaculture course with the GLPDC, in each of the topics we teach, we strive to fill our designs with all the domains of the petals.

Design Methods, Mapping & Process

Systems Thinking & Pattern Language

Ethics & Principles

Patterns & Pattern Application

Microclimates

Reading the Landscape

Water

Earthworks

Animals

Economic Systems

Invisible Structures

Pattern Language & Conceptual Design

The Design Interview

The Local Ecosystem

Trees, Forests, Plants, and Cultivated Ecologies

Tropical, Arid, & Cool Climates

Broadscale Landscape Design

Urban Permaculture

Ecovillage and Neighborhood Design

Climates/ Biogeography

The Built Environment

Energy & Appropriate technology

Garden Design/Seed Saving/IPM

Waste & Bioremediation

Climate & Biogeography

Home System

Soil

Aquaculture

Design for Catastrophe

Access to Land (Settlement Patterns)

If you’re interested in learning more about permaculture taking a PDC, especially a local one. Check out our PDC in the SE Michigan area at glpdc.info.

Thanksgiving Synchronicity

I had a small synchronicity leading up to and over the Thanksgiving holiday…

First, I showed up to harvest microgreens Tuesday before Thanksgiving and ended up listening to J. H. Kunstler interview Chris Martenson.  Kunstler is a bit of a cranky but eloquent old man, Chris Martenson is behind the Crash Course and has sort of an investor/scientist take on things. 

Now, a long time ago I had read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It’s a very good book and an easy read. The premise is an analysis the of the leavers vs. the takers, using the story of Adam and Eve to chart the move from a foraging to agrarian culture. I had forgotten about it but just recently had another of Quinn’s books, Beyond Civilizationshow up on the Face, so I checked it out using interlibrary loan for some Thanksgiving reading. This one is a set of simple premises that build, asking how does one exit civilization. 

At nearly the same time this Chris Martenson interview with Daniel Quinn appeared on my newsfeed. I’m particularly fond of this quote Chris pulls out from Beyond Civilization:

“If we go on as we are, we’re not going to be around for much longer. A few decades, a century at most, if we’re still around a thousand years from now, it will be because we stopped going on as we are.”  – Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization

So taken all together, I’m realizing these are excellent resources. A framing of the entire problem from Quinn contrasted with the mechanics of how it’s playing out from Martenson and a little cranky but eloquent old man thrown in for fun. I think I’m going to recommend this as one of my standard courses of study.

Leveraging a Job

“…Although people deeply involved in a system often know intuitively where to find leverage points, more often than not they push the change in the wrong direction.” – Donella Meadows

This morning I had a realization that having a job is a very important leverage point; there is so much effect that we can create by how we work with this one concept. In the past I had thought that we strive for the “right” job, one that fits our temperament and skills exactly. It would be even better if it doesn’t exploit the environment or people. Perhaps it even did some good in the world. But, what I realized in that moment is that using the word job sets us on a different path than if we say “what we do for a living”.

Having a job implies that you are going to sell your labor to the economy and then in return buy what you need from the economy.  It pretty much cements the loss of control, limiting your choices to ones that amount to dead ends. On the other hand, making a living implies that you’re working to live. As we are the person making the decisions about how we provide for ourselves, we have some control over what and how things happen. Having the right job is not going to make change, even thinking of what we do as a job pushes the wrong way. What we need is to craft appropriate lives that match to the reality of our environment.

Now think of all that we have that is dependant on a job. Where we live, what we eat, how we play, transportation, heat, electricity, internet, everything we have. Any one of these would be terrifying to lose. But each is a thing that exploits people and the natural world far and wide and each could be replaced with something more local that we can directly connect to and depend on to live. Any exploitation would be right in our faces, we would be more likely to suffer from our own actions, and we would at least have a chance to deal with it.

So, what is this state of being that we would be moving into? What would this alternative be like? We can imagine but just don’t know exactly what it looks like, as there is little space for that in the existing system. Much of it is illegal, someone with a gun would come and kill or arrest you if you didn’t comply with their demands. And, it’s something that we’re going to have to build from the ground up. Fit into the cracks of the existing order, always looking for new ones to appear, sort of a hybrid world. Keeping ourselves alive with the old systems, while simultaneously building a new world.

The less we identify with having a job, the more energy we can put towards the future. 

Design Intention

Permaculture seeks to impose thoughtful changes on both us and the land. Often these changes can require continual upkeep and burden us with chores. Perhaps that’s the lure of modern life, trading many little chores for a job and shopping.

Creating systems that work on their own or very easily cuts down on the to do list. However, it requires much observation and tweaking to get the system right. Perhaps it is a question ultimately of how do we want to spend our time? And also how much do we work on now, how much do we work on the future? It’s almost a stance or intention.

The more more accurate the design, the more it works on it’s own. If an intention is part of the system then we can design for it, make a choice about how we face the world. Set the intention and the rest can follow.

What sort of stance are you taking in your life? How much are you working for the now and how much for the future?

Iterative Design Process

Simple in it’s form, complex in it’s function. The iterative design process (IDP) works recursively and is best used fractally. Fundamentally it is observation of all interacting parties to find leverage points that move us in the direction of goals, the greater the depth of the observation the more accurate the design.

Goals & Ethics

What should the outcome be? What specific things need to happen? Use the ethics to create and check your goals. Write it down.

Resources & Limits

Your resources and limiting factors are your strengths and weaknesses, your in and out breath. Better make a list.  

Scale of Permanence

Know how much energy you’re committing  and the relative amount of effort and effect. Pick a place to start.

Zone & Sectors

Organize elements by their relative placement and identify incoming or outgoing energy flows. How does your element relate to the whole?

Principles

Use the principles to reveal ways that the resources or  limiting factors might be approached.

Action

I realize I have left out Action from the process. Take what you have learned through this process and put it into action. The larger and complex your change the more time and effort it will take to stabilize. 

Repeat

This may seem too facile but elementary things build up to make the most complex of systems. This process gets the momentum going.

I’m sure it would be useful to see some examples of it’s use, so here is one:

Rhonda Baird, William Faith, and I used a form of the IDP to start a project that would get us, three regionally adjacent permaculture teachers, together teaching a PDC. We’ve ended up forming the GLPDC and running an experiential design course for 6 weekends that has all the lecture frontloaded with short presentations on youtube and some accompanied reading.

Goals & Ethics

A clear and obtainable goal lead to continued forward momentum. Since the goal is guided by the ethics, it has the complexity to cause multiple beneficial effects. We ultimately want to build up the numbers of people who will have the skills, knowledge, and passion to implement high quality designs within our bioregion. 

Resources & Limits

Considering our goals within the context of our resources and limits lead us to use the nature of our lack of proximity as an advantage. We used skype and our recording knowledge to create short lectures, leaving class time as an active experience to increase the student’s momentum. We’ve constructed the course by combining the PINA curriculum with tools from the book “Liberating Structures“, Group Works , and other hands on activities. The experience we have between us gives us the ability to improvise as needed within the framework of our curriculum to give the students the best experience possible.

Scale of Permanence

We know that investing in each of our local bioregions is a long term proposition that can dramatically transform them on a larger time scale. It’s a long hard slog but the result would be worth the effort.

Zone & Sectors

Since the three teachers are up to a day’s drive apart we’re each working in the others zone 5 (the far edge of their influence) but by planning to move each full design course between the three locations we build up a local population of permaculturists, essentially pumping up our combined region with local systems thinkers.

Principles

Leveraging our limited proximity to record lectures is a long term process (small and slow solutions), but provides a new format for our current course (obtain a yield & creatively use & respond to change), and makes them available both for future use (catch and store energy).

Action

We have come together as the GLPDC to put on permaculture courses in each of our locals, benefiting from the strength of our diversity being brought to each of our locations. 

Repeat

As we have proceeded the formalness of the design has softened into something more organic. We continue to progress but new patterns have emerged to continue the momentum rather than get it started.