Permaculture economy

Discussion in 'The big picture' started by Pragmatist, Sep 27, 2012.

  1. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Junior Member

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    If permaculture is to have any hope of being anything more than a niche group hanging off our current mainstream, oil-addicted, fractional reserve banking economy then we need to have a viable plan of how a self-contained permaculture economy would look.

    There are two key factors when planning permaculture; personal planning and community planning. Most of us are (necessarily) mainly focused on the former. This thread is for the latter – how do we make an entire economy based on permaculture principles?

    A few aspects to be considered might include:

    • Population density limits (determine and remain within the number of people that a given piece of land can sustainably support)
    • Political system
    • Financial system (barter, bitcoin, fiat currency, etc.)
    • What is public/communal, what is private?
    • How to internalise those costs than are currently externalised
    • Finding the balance between individual liberty and common good
    • Energy systems and policies.
    • Transport (and associated infrastructure)
    • International trade implications (between different jurisdictions with different rules)
    Any starting thoughts?
     
  2. alexpollan

    alexpollan Junior Member

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    Hello, I wrote a lengthy response based on the old thread, and was going to start a new thread, but then I saw this one. I love your intention. I too, feel that we must create a completely new society to transition to and create opportunities for people disillusioned with the current system.

    If you'd rather not have this post included in your thread, then please tell me, and I will delete it and start my own.

    Without getting too political, I noticed you're from Australia. Have you heard of Craig Isherwood? I heard him while listening to the Vinny Eastwood show, and he was talking about channeling water from the north of the country into the center of the country in order to create more growing opportunities in the deserted outback?

    ---

    My original intention with the following post was to respond to the thread, “Permaculture – Getting paid vs. Paying to do it.” However, that thread was getting rather long and full of people complaining about how things are: “the evil bankers,” “capitalism is screwing us over,” etc. It looks like a good thread for people to vent their frustrations, however, I would like to start a similar thread but steer it in a more proactive, practical direction. Some good resources and links were mentioned in that thread, and it would be nice if those posters would repost them here.

    ---

    Some good points here.

    I'd also like to add an observation to that "unknown" element that is holding people back. Aspects of permaculture (agroforestry/food forestry comes to mind) take a considerable amount of time before the potential to turn a profit manifests itself. Even then there is still a considerable amount of risk involved. Such time and risk makes it hard to obtain a loan from anyone.

    Then there is the issue of measurement. Are there instruments and systems already established to analyze the exact benefits that food forests yield? “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, did that fall make a sound?” If a fruit falls in the food forest and no one is around, do you still make a profit? That drive to obtain the ever elusive “profit” is what influenced the creation of the green revolution and all of its mechanized components and consequences.

    The singular, one-dimensional, linear bottom line: profit.

    There are more yields to a food forest than what one can simply take to a farmer’s market and outcompete other growers with for the best deal. Can you quantify them monetarily? Can such quantifications be realized quick enough to satiate the myopic investment culture that operates on a quarterly basis, and then begins to charge outrageous interest thereafter? Do you trust financiers to make an honest deal? To see the larger picture? To not negate their’s and everyone else’s future?

    You have to balance your system: Start with smaller, shorter term crops/livestock production systems, and then gradually phase into medium and longer term projects. Otherwise, if you're only doing the small/short term stuff, then in my opinion you're not doing permaculture, but simply organic farming.

    What attracted me most about permaculture was the idea of food forestry: largely self-sustaining, edible, human-designed ecosystems using the indigenous ecosystem as the design model with regard to form. Ultimately I think large scale food forestry projects (with integrated humanure and animal manure composting) are what the earth is going to require in order to heal itself while sustaining humanity into the indefinite future.

    When I first got into permaculture I was soon disillusioned that no one had acheived self-sufficiency from a permaculture farm. Since then, some major steps have been made in that direction (hopefully)?

    I would expect such examples to be from humid, high-rainfall environments where the rate of ecological succession is fast. Yet, about 40% of the earth’s surface is dryland (https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol16/iss3/art3/) and we are clearly in the midst of a desertification trend in the world. So, that number is surely to increase.

    Here’s a rhetorical question: Is the solution to continue depleting the land, then moving elsewhere and eventually fighting over less and less arable land? Eventually, humanity must reverse the desertification trend by turning deserts into sustainable food production systems.

    On an ecological succession timescale, drylands are much slower than humid regions in reforesting themselves. Natural soil creation is a much slower process, and the replenishment of subterranean water is also slower in naturally dry climates.

    Now think back to my comments about myopic investors. I see a conflict of interest, which leads to the obvious question: How do we convince investors, donors, etc. to finance the sorts of projects that will actually make a long term difference on a large-scale if there is a “long” lag-time?

    My first suggestion is to approach investors from the standpoint of land regeneration as opposed to food production, because the food production is more of a bonus (at least for the first few years). The end goal could be stated as creating a topsoil-producing artificial ecosystem, which will (eventually) generate ideal conditions for organic food production. It helps to be able to point to real world examples and to be able to quantify the potential return on investment one would have from such real world examples. Does anyone know of some good food forestry examples that could stand up to such scrutiny? Any scientific studies relating to the example?

    One word of caution with this approach would be to watch out for native plant societies, invasive plant councils, etc. Someone on your team will likely need to run interference against such groups, since they might put up a fuss for choosing to use non-native species.

    So, my plan is clearly not foolproof, and there are many contingencies to consider, but my intention is simply to brainstorm here.

    Aside from that, I reiterate: You have to balance your system: Start with smaller, shorter term crops/livestock production systems, and then gradually phase into medium and longer term projects. Otherwise, if you're only doing the small/short term stuff, then in my opinion you're not doing permaculture, but simply organic farming.

    Real bootstrapping (i.e. starting with hardly any resources/capital) requires considerable patience and near-perfect planning.

    Step one: Draft your plan.
     
  3. Farside

    Farside Junior Member

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    You can definitely run a successful industrialised commercial operation based on permaculture principles but I think the most efficient business structure would be a cooperative as opposed to a single corporation.

    The reason is that there are so many interconnected, symbiotic systems. Each requires specific skills and knowledge and you end up with a mini village economy on-site.

    For example:

    You start with a brewery. You use the brewery waste as inputs into mushroom, aquaculture, and vermicompost operations. The outputs of these feed into gardens which supply a restaurant. The waste from the restaurant feeds back into the system while other waste is processed in a methane digester to produce energy to heat and power the enterprise.

    The New Belgian Brewing Company is a typical working model of such a system.

    As a cooperative, the essential, non revenue generating enterprises share in the profits of the revenue generating ones. The trick here is adding enough value so that the revenue generating enterprises are willing to join although the prospect of having a share of the profit from multiple income streams in different industries is a pretty attractive proposition.

    For instance, there was a serious worldwide hop shortage a few years ago which threatened the microbrewery industry. There is this peak bacon thing right now. Where I live, just getting good fresh produce is not easy and it seriously restricts what a restaurant can offer its customers.

    A system like this can support a marginally profitable (or non profitable) cell through hard times and so represents a much more robust business model.
    I would go so far as to include tech, engineering, medical and financial cells - a whole village operating as a closed economy.
     
  4. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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  5. mouseinthehouse

    mouseinthehouse Junior Member

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    How do iphones, computers, cars, cosmetics, appliances etc etc etc fit into a permaculture economy? If they don't then talking permaculture based economy is just an interesting intellectual exercise because I can't see hundreds of millions of people giving this stuff up until they are forced to give them up.....(not to mention the hundreds of millions in the rapidly developing countries like India, China etc who aspire to own more of that stuff) - at least that is my biggest question??
     
  6. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    Is there any evidence those things are sustainable or part of a sustainable culture? If not, then they will disappear whether people want them to or not. I don't think permaculture needs to solve the problem of how to perpetuate an unsustainable culture.

    Here's a video I like about permaculture compared to industrial culture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nLKHYHmPbo
     
  7. mouseinthehouse

    mouseinthehouse Junior Member

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    I don't think anyone here thinks that stuff is part of a sustainable culture. And there's the rub -

    Pragmatist wrote:

    'If permaculture is to have any hope of being anything more than a niche group hanging off our current mainstream, oil-addicted, fractional reserve banking economy then we need to have a viable plan of how a self-contained permaculture economy would look.'
    (my emphasis in bold)


    The biggest hurdle to implementing a permaculture based economy is co-opting others into permaculture. To do that a plan as mentioned above is vital but what I am getting at is that if that plan doesn't include all that high end industrialised product (as one assumes it wouldn't and shouldn't) then are we not pushing the proverbial uphill? The great majority of the global population who have any discretionary spending are not showing any signs of wanting to reverse the trend of high consumption. The fact that it is not sustainable is obviously not on the radar!

    So those of us who are pro-permaculture can and should continue to discuss and develop these plans but the status quo will continue I think (with a bit of fairly useless tinkering around the edges) until real limits to growth start to set in and have major impacts (yes they are having an impact in many third world countries already but the developed world is yet to feel any real pain) and then a whole new set of factors will come into play which may be very harsh, like conflict, war and political and social upheaval.

    The highly urbanised populations of first world countries are going to be the hardest hit and the least prepared. How do we turn cities of 10, 20 million people into permaculture economies?

    Any one/group/village already set up and relatively self sufficient and contained will be very vulnerable - heck now I sound like a doomsday prepper! LOL
     
  8. Grasshopper

    Grasshopper Senior Member

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    revolution through evolution
     
  9. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    Mouse, I'm a doomer myself. :) I agree with you that the status quo will continue as long as it can. I think we have to accede to that and continue with permaculture anyway. There's not a way, in my opinion, to suddenly change everyone's mind at once and we can't depend on being able to do so. The way I see it is, the status quo will continue as long as it can, but is already beginning to hit upon limits, both limits to oil production and limits to food production. So even though many people will aspire to having all the goodies of a wealthy developed world lifestyle, fewer and fewer people will be able to afford them, including people in the developed world. As it gets harder or even impossible to pretend one will be able to achieve that glorious lifestyle, people will begin to want something else. Here's where I see permaculture stepping in with the something else. For people in the developed world, permaculture can offer a "simpler" life with fewer trappings of wealth which offers more beauty and better health and well-being. For people in less developed parts of the world, permaculture may offer actual survival in the face of extreme poverty and the challenges of environmental degradation. For those people, permaculture will be a dramatic improvement in quality of life. What's important, in my opinion, is that there be enough examples of permaculture around so that people can see it as an attractive option. That's our role as permaculturists, if we're able to do any outreach at all, to offer living examples of permaculture. Doesn't have to be super 100% perfect permaculture either; it could be an ongoing demonstration of how to transition to permaculture. Some will be further along than others. And I think this is really beginning in earnest. Some parts of the world are more permacultural than others, some are just getting started. But we have to start somewhere.
     
  10. mouseinthehouse

    mouseinthehouse Junior Member

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    Ludi, thats a great reply and a positive and realistic outlook - thanks.
     
  11. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    Thank you! :)
     
  12. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Junior Member

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    Permaculture economy - technology

    Hi all - back again after a brief visit to the hospital to become a dad :) (now there's a fundamentally unsustainable activity...)

    I disagree that we either need to turn our back on technology or even that it would be advantageous to do so.

    Consider first, the technology that is essential in setting up and running a permaculture lifestyle. How many of us genuinely think that we could live without metal and glass (both products of significant technology)? Our tools (kitchen and garden) usually use metal and glass is used in our windows as well as in the kitchen. Preserving food through bottling still requires (away from our view) machinery capable of making the bottles and sealing devices. Clothing is very difficult to make without metal needles and the machines that use them. Even spinning wheels and wooden weaving looms still have metal components. If you are thinking that stone tools are a more sustainable option, remember that suitable stones for the tools don't exist in all areas and are a finite (if large) resource. At least metal and glass can be recycled with the addition of energy.

    Communication technology is an amazing enabler without which the permaculture movement would be nowhere near as bit as it is today. Engaging with this technology is an essential part of expanding and sustaining permaculture as a broader socioeconomic movement.

    What we must move away from is the way we treat devices of all kinds (including communication devices) as short-term, disposable consumables. Every part of every device is technically recyclable – it’s just currently not economically feasible to do this so we throw them into landfill and simply make more. It is also currently possible (but rarely economically feasible) to use plant-derived compostable plastics for applications where durability in a warm/wet environment is not required.

    On the other side of the coin, much of what we dig up from mines (except fossil fuels) becomes an enduring resource that could be recycled forever. Again, we don’t currently do it because it’s cheaper not to do so. In reality, the amount of resources already dug out of the ground is plenty for any foreseeable needs of a population that is small enough to survive sustainably on the world’s available arable land area. Therefore, as long as we recycle *all* resources, there is no need to turn our backs on high technology, even if we closed all our mines down tomorrow.

    The sticking point, as always, is energy; while-ever we treat it as cheap and endless (thanks to fossil fuels). Using genuinely renewable resources (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, biomass, etc.) we have the capacity here on earth to make a certain amount of energy in a way that is consistent with permaculture principles. That amount is a lot less than we currently use in our existing economy. When we talk about structuring an economy, the major decisions are effectively centred around how we choose to “spend” this energy.

    Unavoidably linked with the question of energy is that of population. No matter how much we attempt to reduce our per-capita environmental footprint, an ever-rising population will always doom our efforts to failure. At some point we need to stabilise our population in order to be truly sustainable. The actual level of population depends largely on how many resources (in the broadest sense of the word) that we want each person to have.

    The end result is that with a sufficiently low population, we could have all the high-tech plastic gadgets that our hearts desired while still being sustainable. At the other end of the spectrum, we could sustain a much larger (human) population by living what is effectively a subsistence life. Even at this end of the spectrum, we could not have an ever-increasing human population or even a subsistence life would not be sufficient to ensure overall sustainability. In the middle somewhere is a happy medium that is both sustainable and appealing to the broader community. Neither end of the spectrum is intrinsically more sustainable than the other – it’s just a question of how many people we want to be able to sustain on the plane.

    The reason most current permies try to minimise their footprint is (I guess) in recognition of the fact that the broader population is so unsustainable that the first priority of our overall community is to try to reduce that unsustainability. The best individual action towards that goal is to minimise one’s own personal footprint. An overall sustainable system need not be so spartan if we are prepared to maintain a lower, rather than higher, population.
     
  13. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    As humans we can't turn our backs on technology, because technology is part of being human ever since Homo habilis first chipped a flint (or even earlier). :) The question, I think, is what kinds of technology are enduring, and that's something which will resolve itself over time.
     
  14. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    Technology may well be advancing faster than we are evolving and adapting to the changes it brings.

    It strikes me that all the changes we as 'early adopters' of permaculture are envisioning are actually beyond humans as a species at the moment. It's not technology that is the problem per se, it's the creature using it. I think we need an evolutionary change, and history would suggest that evolution only really occurs when there is an external pressure to do so. We are seeing the initial pressures and the initial steps in evolution.

    At the moment permaculture (for me) would come under the heading of personal (and if your lucky, community) preparation for 'disaster'.

    I will be amazed and delighted if we manage to pull off a controlled decent.
     
  15. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    I personally don't expect it, but I'm pretty darn doomerific.....however, I don't see permaculture as something that is beyond us as a species, because humans have practiced horticulture for many thousands of years, longer than we've practiced agriculture. I think it is not something our culture is likely to adopt, because it is contrary to our cultural myths.

    I like this essay: https://kennysideshow.blogspot.com/2008/05/agriculture-or-permaculture-why-words.html
     
  16. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Congratulations, or commiserations. Whatever you prefer.
     
  17. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Junior Member

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    I'll go with the congratulations - thanks. She is very much planned and wanted :)

    Eventually I'll get some sleep again...
     
  18. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    You will never sleep again. Mine is 3 and I haven't had a sleep-in since the other one was 5 (the 3 year old is a consistent early riser, nevermind how much sleep she has had).
     
  19. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    My 3 year old is exactly the same S.O.P.
     
  20. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Quite possibly the worst sentence I have ever written.

    I have two, 3 and 5.


    I feel you, Grahame. I know those feels.
     

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