Permaculture politics—new pythagorean links

Permaculture early adoptor, Colin Ball, looks at permaculture's philosophy and politics

Synopsis

This paper considers the history of the philosophical ideas and political connotations of the environmental design system called Permaculture by the co-originators Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.

Analysis of Mollison and Holmgren’s major publications show shared, joint themes; of a change philosophy from consumption to production, an ethical framework, a primary urban focus, the taking of personal responsibility, developing self-reliance and regional self-sufficiency, creating eco-communities and intentional global affiliations.

Mollison posits that a new tribalism would become politicised through local lobbying, or by forming the party. He describes bioregionalism organisation as this new model and possibility. Is a resource index of ten primary categories a political agenda?

Paradoxically he also thought that current systems cannot solve the problems and in fact that political systems are temporary in nature and an impediment to effectiveness. Mollison believed that “political systems (if they are to survive) may follow or become as irrelevant as they now appear to be in terms of real solutions.” He saw no other solution (political, economic) to the problems of mankind and not for him the “futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens”.

Holmgren in refining permaculture principles takes a bottom up approach and critiques a moral personal responsibility of moving from consuming to producing, as the counter to the hegemonic power of scientific reductionism. Locating Permaculture as a transition strategy he cites the example of Pythagoras as the link between the disappearing Egyptian “mystery schools” to Greece and the origins of Western civilisation. Bottom up is also self-reliance which is political, and adapting to post-Modern Cultural Chaos is relocalisation associated with generational slow decline.

Mollison’s July 2007 divergent proposition of the Permaculture People’s Party is controversial, and expands the debate about strategies towards sustainable futures to include a brief analysis of globalisation as imperialism. The role of the state (governmentality) and the nature and effect of crisis is discussed.

The case of Cuba as a response to extreme crisis, is explored as a society that has developed a sustainable economic, social and political programme, similar to principles in permaculture.

Introduction

Permaculture is in essence an alternative construction to mainstream economic functions, as its innate nature is the antithesis to economic rationalism.

We only need to consider some philosophy and a few examples of methodology, including use of language descriptors, to illustrate this.

Permaculture (ecological rationalism):

  • wholistic philosophy
  • energy accounting
  • organic agriculture as - based on natural systems
  • polyculture
  • low capitalisation
  • high participation and ownership by many
  • Shelter as - energy-efficient design, ecological architecture
  • non-toxic
  • appropriate low scale, renewable technologies
  • recycling of materials, water, nutrients, no wastes

Mainstream economics (economic rationalism, Neo-Liberalism, Neo-Conservatism, globalisation):

  • reductionist philosophy
  • financial accounting
  • agribusiness as - based on artificial petrochemical, industrial systems
  • monoculture
  • high capitalisation
  • low participation and centralised ownership by few
  • Housing industry as -energy-intensive architecture
  • proliferation of industrial substances
  • all electric/gas supplied from centralised grids that contribute to fossil fuel depletion, global warming, pollution
  • lineal use of new products, organic materials and water from source to sink.
  • intensive waste removal and processing systems.

Permaculture is potentially as such, highly loaded as an economic, social and political programme. The question is how does this become legitimated as policy, is it legislated or does it evolve?

The originators of Permaculture, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, initially though critiquing modern society’s faults, did not outline any one cogent political direction on how to change it. Consequently practice strategies have ranged from guerrilla tactics such as establishing wild food gardens around leaking water pipes at Nectar Brook in the Flinders Ranges near Port Augusta, SA, to the constitutional, such as incorporating permaculture associations. Knowledge gained is knowledge free to use.

In the joint work, Permaculture One they describe the system as an attempt to improve extant agricultural practices and possibly as a synthesis for a world of rapidly depleting energy. The initial orientation was to small groups, ethically imbued towards different future lifestyles and regional self-sufficiency. It stated a belief that society cannot survive without values, direction and ethics and in doing so it offered a contribution towards taking control of future destinies. (Mollison and Holmgren 1978).

Bill Mollison

Bill Mollison

In Permaculture Two, Mollison defers to Fukuoka’s philosophy of working with, rather than against nature as basic to permaculture, then ends in reflection that...

"Permaculture One was, often enough, regarded as a political book…and if so it was a quantum leap away from existing political treatises by calling for regional self-sufficiency and world-wide communication". (Mollison 1979), (p143).

This theme will grow. He suggested that, "everyone has skills and strengths to offer and may form or join ecology parties or local action groups to change the politics of our local and state governments, to demand the use of public lands on behalf of landless people, and to join internationally to divert resources from waste and destruction…" (p143).

...and that what is needed, “is a working group of good-humoured people pledged to a world citizenship, self-reliance, and an ethic of social and
individual responsibility.” (p143).

A 1000 people sharing resources would have more than enough Mollison suggested.

At a micro level Mollison encouraged people to establish their modus operandi in their own fields of activity, much as he had done, and promoted the setting up of trusts and institutes to progress Permaculture. These would act independently and be financially sufficient from goods and service provision such as education, consultancy, plant nursery etc. This was more or less his business model, of becoming an ethical entrepreneur as well as developing model systems.

At the macro level Mollison advocated intentional groups of people to meet with like minded groups, to affiliate and create common policy, global in scope. He encouraged the strategies of grass root lobbying or secondly the idea of forming green ecological parties. He posited the bioregionalism organisation as this new model and possibility.

This is an association for residents of a natural and identifiable region with enough common sense and the will to do Mollison says. The aims of this party are ecological, socially egalitarian, grassroots democratic and non growth. (Mollison 1988). These aims are developed in a bioregional example for Northern Rivers, NSW, which outlines a regional programme containing a resource index of ten primary categories.

It is interesting to note these categories. They include food and food support systems; shelter and building; livelihoods and support services; information, media, communication and research; community and security, social life; health services; future trends; transport services and appendices, (p511). Is this the political programme for the party? Mollison believed that alternative financial and trading systems promoted in concepts such as right livelihood, Earthbanks, Ethical Investments and Local Economic Trading Systems (LETS) would co-exist in consumer market environments and eventually replace them. The intentional, designed village would be the vehicle to progress this.

On adversarial politics Mollison preferred long-term stability over power-centred politics and, to do this in an ethical and non-threatening way, so that the transition to a cooperative, (versus conflicting) global society is creative (not destructive). (p509).

He believed that current systems cannot solve the problems and in fact that political systems are temporary in nature and an impediment to effectiveness. Mollison believed that critical mass changes in individuals, neighbourhoods and regions, would be ethically based and active even without political theory and political systems (if they are to survive) may follow or become as irrelevant as they now appear to be in terms of real solutions. (p509).

In 1991 Mollison rationalised that new and effective local groups would represent a re-tribalisation of society. There was no mention of the party. He wanted people to create common global and ethically based policies through intentional affiliations. These affiliations would politicise through lobbying and be guided by shared ethics, policy and principles. To become the global village, the permaculture community, it is essential to change our philosophy from competition to cooperation, materialism to humanism, individualism to tribalism and from consumption to production before anything could change. (Mollison 1991).

He saw “no other solution (political, economic) to the problems of mankind” and not for him the “futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens”. (p177). His was just do it, action oriented, philosophical thinking.

David Holmgren

David Holmgren

Holmgren has stated that permaculture concerns facilitating individuals, households and local communities in self-reliance and self regulation. He says further that society needs a deep cultural revolution, a form of ecological rationalism which is permaculture. (Holmgren 2002). He develops refined principles that propose bottom up approaches rather than focussing on the behaviour of government, bureaucracy, corporations and the media” (p 80), which of course is a corporation too. He critiques a moral personal responsibility of moving from consuming to producing, as the counter to the hegemonic power of scientific reductionism.

Though he maintains "many environmental activists regard this approach as politically naïve and unrealisitic, or simply too slow, there are sound political, historical and ecological reasons for this emphasis … in permaculture". (p83).

Holmgren cites four reasons for the importance of personal responsibility.

  1. Firstly, that rapid energy descent makes our current behaviour potent on the future, and therefore we must act ethically, and make moral decision against the culture of growth.
  2. Secondly he suggests that when decadent cultural institutions decay and fail, “individuals and small groups come to the fore to adapt and carry culture.” (p83/4). He cites the example of the Pythagorean link from the ancient Egyptian “mystery schools” to Greece, eventually the origin of Western civilisation. Holmgren is therefore critical of the delusion of a durable and permanent multi-nationalism.
  3. His third reason concerns feedback mechanisms. Globalisation prevents this with calamitous consequences, but personal responsibility enhances it. A raised consciousness and “awareness of the whole and our relationship to it”, is “followed by the reorganisation of our lives to close the circle of cause and effect so that our needs are provided closer to home”.(p84).
  4. Finally he equates the self as a whole system that must develop whole system thinking that is central to design for energy descent.

Bottom up is also the self-reliance strategy which boycotts consumerism while it fosters and stimulates new local forms of economic activity. Yet, as its amorphous and informal nature makes it difficult to measure its effectiveness in undermining dysfunctional and dangerous economic systems, its invisibility confounds the efforts of the media, corporations and government to subvert it.

Holmgren states that, "(T)his resistance to subversion is one of the great strengths of apparently unorganised movements, which might be described as anarchistic in strategy if not in conscious philosophy". (p87).

Thus self-reliance is political action. Hence, Holmgren’s solution to modern industrial society setting itself up to play out Atlantis is to reorganise, that is, to build permaculture systems both individually and in groups, and in doing so becoming a new Pythagorean link at the fore, adapting to a new culture. Holmgren states elsewhere that Chaos theory and especially the concept of punctuated equilibrium confirms that gradual evolution is the exception, and that long periods of stable traditions, law and institutional forms have experienced rapid and apparently chaotic change where individuals and groups create new forms. (Holmgren 2006 {ii}). (p115). This chaotic change is the vortex of multiple paradigm shifts (p99), where the new forms have adapted and become a new culture. Examples of the fragility and collapse of established systems abound.

This message of late has wedded with the Relocalisation Movement that has gained momentum internationally. (www.relocalize.net 2007). Holmgren describes this as a recognition that energy descent futures will lead to, "the faltering and reversing of globalisation. A revitalisation, of some form, of local community economy and politics should follow". (Holmgren 2006 {i}), (p355).

His most positive scenario for adapting to post-modern cultural chaos is that of generational slow decline, as fossil fuels run out and people customise to the emergent properties of available energy. It is change culture to which modern society has increasingly been thrust into, only now it is to be a very much different change, to low energy futures. (Holmgren 2006 )

Holmgren proposes that gardening becomes agriculture. He sees a re-ruralisation of cities and large settlements by introducing gardening and urban agriculture and posits the relentless suburbs as the place to start. Energy accounting informs that we must all become producers.

Commonalities

Both writers converge on many points which is not surprising considering the initial collaboration and common joint interest here

They both agree that current mainstream consumer society is bankrupt. They both say that society needs a radical change in philosophy, Mollison’s common sense or Holmgrens’ deep cultural revolution, from economic to life systems, and with this, new understandings about how to care for nature and about how to live. In this it is not dissimilar to an earlier philosopher (Marx) who said that philosophy is not just to understand the world but to change it.

This new philosophy would be ethically imbedded and stand on a practical base of moving from a society based on consumption to one based on production. Ideas such as personal responsibility, self-reliance, regional self-sufficiency, intentional ecological communities and international affiliations resonate between both thinkers. And that the cities is where the most significant effort must be made is common to both.

Both make the assumption that economic and political structures will change, Mollison believing that mass consciousness and common sense will make old systems redundant, Holmgren thinking that permaculture and like practitioners will bide time while economic rationalism rushes headlong into energy descent scenarios and old superstructures collapse. His is about change culture and adaptation.

Divergence

On 20 July 2007 Tamara Griffiths listed a post supposedly issued by Bill Mollison that stated,

"Preamble: Many of us, and all of us trained in good design for houses and farms, feel disgusted with the present political systems, which seem to prefer war to peace, and want or hunger to plenty. We feel we must act to reverse this intellectual decay and consequent global deterioration.

"If we gather our friends, and students of good design, we vastly out-number the few who have joined left right parties. We can take control. We can legislate to restore the earth, to save and generate forests, to secure water and clean food supplies, and to live to assist all people to survive, not to war on them".

He proposes to create a political party, the Permaculture People’s Party, to participate in mainstream political processes such as standing for election to take control and legislate to restore the earth. He believes that “it is time to take charge of legislating for sustainable living”, as it “is madness”, to tolerate greed “and to subsidise destructive industries is stupidity.”

Mollison says, "Permaculture ethics require us to care for the earth. The permaculture lifestyle requires us to help others to care for themselves. Our ethics and lifestyle are the very best training for responsible government".

Also that, "policy must be based on well-researched, extant, working models, and constantly refined by feedback from all levels of users or consumers of that policy".

And finally, "We live to help our families and neighbours live a sustainable existence. This is what policy must be about". (Mollison 2007).

Discussion

Mollison’s divergence most markedly deviates from his previous written opinion in 1998 and represents a new proposition, that of, a Permaculture People’s Party taking on the old dichotomous parties in the adversarial-system, to vote them out and put permaculture policy in place.

Did his earlier, core political philosophy of dynamic mass consciousness, carry an assumption that adversary-oriented systems would move on without contention? He does not seem to believe this anymore, or it is going far too slow for him. Many would probably agree with this. Does his new proposal, to engage directly in the parliamentary electoral system, represent Mollison’s impatience with the osmosis-like transition of political systems to irrelevancy, as power-centred politic has not gone away? It shows no sign of doing so and Mollison’s Jim Cairns-like, new age vision of a down to earth outcome has not materialised.

But if elected, the Permaculture People’s Party to be true, must legislate and implement policy to constrain the energy producers, and users; the auto and white goods makers, miners, petrochemicalists, pharmaceuticals, militarists, agribusinesses, fishers, junk producers, bankers and investors etcetera and stop what they are doing?

That’s hardly going to happen. And that’s the dilemma. The Permaculture People’s Party will not get what Mollison wants. The modern legislature is designed to perpetuate the status quo and invests a lot of energy in risk management such as discrediting detractors. The media is a huge stakeholder in this, not forgetting that it has massive, corporate vested-interests in the status quo. Political systems are not detached from economic, or social or ecological systems nor do they become willingly irrelevant or defunct by choice.

Imperialism: the Dominant Discourse

The political-economic element of broad-based systems thinking and analysis is missing in Mollison’s approach, and hence his social and economic analysis ignores theories that inform about US imperialism as the most dominant discourse since the end of WW2. George Bush’s comment that America’s standard of living is not negotiable exemplifies this imperialistic world view simply as business as usual, no change.

Imperialism is the network of international economic and political relationships characteristically described as developing in the late 1800’s and comprising the critical development of world markets, struggles to control foreign sources of raw materials, competitive hunts for colonies and the tendency towards concentration of capital. (Magdoff 1969).

As these conditions change and adapt, other factors are identified such as shifting from expansionist colonialism to struggles against the contraction of US imperialism since (due to the US-Soviet super-power contention and cold war) and increasingly the implications of the internationalised control of technology in space, communications and nuclear power. Now we would also include bio-technology, agribusiness, big-pharma, information technology, etc.

The exploitation of fossil energy in the late nineteenth century with the consequential growth of scientific technological development required large amounts of capital and large production units. The phenomena for concentrating and centralising capital, monopolisation, was the growth of the vertically integrated, big business enterprise known as the corporation.(p32). The reach and power of the multinational, and now the trans-national corporation is global and globalisation is universally seen as the contemporary manifestation of this phenomena. Imperialistic geopolitical policy supports globalisation with widespread military bases and activities, protects resources (present and potential), safeguards its foreign markets and investments, conserves commercial transport routes, preserves spheres of interest, creates new customers and opportunities via military and economic aid and maintains the world capitalist markets for the US and its enmeshed junior partners in the industrialised nations.(p186).

Noam Chomsky, the famed American linguist, anarchist, political activist, historical-political commentator and critic of the foreign policy of the United States and other governments, has described at great length and depth the history of American imperialism, and his views of the internal and geopolitical concerns of the state, its authoritarianism and treatment of dissidents is extensively documented. (Stafforini 2006). In his critique of the Imperial Grand Strategy, so called in the 2002 US National Security Strategy, he deconstructs the ideology behind the invasion and occupation and reveals the real motivations of the U.S. global imperial plan, designed pre-Iraq, to extend permanently far into the future, unless we do something about it. (AKPress 2006).

Chomsky has previously claimed these motivations declare that the US, post September 11, will now maintain global hegemony permanently, a full spectrum dominance, and any challenge will be blocked by force. Ownership of space will be consolidated as forward deterrence, an anticipatory, boundless self-defence and preventive war, the use of military force to eliminate an invented or imagined threat, will be authorised. (Chomsky 2003).

Australia, a willing satellite nation-state and a junior partner, is also heavily implicated in this imperial strategy. Satellite governments in countries such as Australia form close and integrated links within the imperialistic discourse, often the players shifting between corporate to legislative governance and vice versa. Christopher Doran has described the Australian government 's role in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) set up after the invasion in 2003 to administer Iraq. Australia's main role was reserved for restructuring Iraq's agricultural sector, something it was deemed by the US well equipped to do. As well as other nefarious activities the Australian government was, "directly responsible for one of the most extreme of the CPA economic laws, Order 81, which introduced a system of monopoly patent rights over seeds". (Doran 2007).

Mollison has slipped into an exclusionist, or even reductionist type of thinking by avoiding the imperialist discourse. This thinking has compartmentalised, or separated significant interconnected disciplines by seeing political processes somehow, out there, but not involved in his ideal alternative of a world where they would not exist. Why then hasn’t the dominant discourse with its elite ruling class withered away, while the new tribalism establishes a new age? Why indeed. Mollison does not assess this and therefore his proposition of a political party, undeveloped, untested and lacking in policy seems naïve at the least and magical in the extreme.

Recent history of alternative legislatures, or states, detaching or deviating from these dominant economic relationships, such as the vicious Chilean coup in 1972, or our own maligned Australian, bloodless coup in 1975, are examples of just how resistant imperialistic power arrangements have been to such radical, though legitimate electoral changes. The oneness of the system does not allow for disengagement from it. Hence the economy (the corporation) prevails before the political (the party), the latter only being the system to maintain the former.

Crisis as the Change Trigger - Cuba as Archetype of Sustainability
This examination implies that as gradual evolution is the exception, then radical transformational change occurs as the result of major systemic crisis. Corporations and governments acknowledge risk but even grand plans for disaster management cannot contain uncontrollable dynamics such as peak oil or global warming, much less unexpected events like Chernobyl, Hurricane Katrina, terrorism or revolution.

The story of revolutionary Cuba is an exemplar of crisis and imperialistic resistance, as unable to be reconquered, least of all be persuaded to rejoin the global dominant system, it continues to be diplomatically isolated, vilified by oppositional states and media and embargoed by the US and its allies, of which Australia is one. Cuba’s successful break from imperialism in 1959 represented a crisis for capitalism but also presented the new regime with ongoing crisis as it rapidly had to adapt to the new circumstances of international isolation from the market economy. It responded to this by establishing a new rapport with another imperialistic power of similar ideological intent, the Soviet Union. The 1989 crisis brought about by the collapse of the Soviets ensured the loss of fossil fuel supply and threatened Cuba with starvation, as its agricultural sector had remained archaically based on export and agribusiness type technologies. As well as food shortages other energy descent crisis’ presented in the provision of power, transport and employment as well as even tighter embargos imposed by the US. (Millington 2006).

The Cuban response was shaped by the 1991–1995, “Special Period in Peacetime”, (Rosset 2000) in which governance combined the intellectual, scientific, human and environmental resources of the country to become, "the one country to implement sustainable agriculture". (Viverlatino 2006).

The Cuban education system had developed cadres of scientists and researchers who presented innovative solutions to overcome food shortages. (Rosset 2000). By adopting organic agriculture and permaculture techniques and based on small farmers and gardeners in rural areas and specifically in urban centres, Cuba transformed from a high carbon to a low carbon economy. It is described as the first country to experience post carbon energy descent.

The video, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, (Morgan 2006), vividly demonstrates the outcomes derived and still evolving from the Special Period. A breakdown of the video shows that Surviving Peak Oil meant Cuba adapted to survival agriculture for food security, particularly in urban agriculture . In 1993 two Australian Permaculturists arrived and established education centres based on local community and human relationships. As organic farming practices grew the amount of manual labour involved increased, farm sizes reduced and chemical soil damage was eliminated. The increase in soil health and rehabilitation took 3-5 yrs. Further techniques included extending the growing season with shade cloth, the use of crop inter-planting and oxen.

There was a land distribution and the formation of smaller farms (usufruct) requiring more people to move to rural areas and the creation of local economies. Also other structural changes developed in education (decentralized universities) and health (free health care, training more social workers, improved standards of health and an export of doctors in exchange for oil). In transport car use was reduced by developing a mass transport system with converted buses, car sharing, horses, mules and bicycles. There is adequate housing, a city revitalization and mixed use developments in the suburbs (relocalisation), and the use of energy alternatives such as solar, wind and hydro, and the use of crude domestic oil and crop waste are achieving energy sovereignty.

The producers of this video claim that the Cuban perspective is a model for surviving Peak Oil and commends the need to plan alternatives. The claim is that these island people have a sense of the finite use of resources and that if we can’t sustain society with just the sun then the problem is with the society. The conclusion is that we need infinite small solutions to think globally and act locally, and that crisis can trigger sustainability. There is an urgent need to change as there is only one world to share (Millington 2006).

Cuba as an edge concept

The concept of edge was described in early permaculture writing as the interface recognised by ecologists between two ecosystems, representing a third ecosystem and being the most biologically productive and active. (Mollison and Holmgren 1978).

Holmgren has extended the application of the principle of edge to human systems, in explaining why permaculture originated in Tasmania. He described Tasmania as a place where modernity and nature collide both destructively and creatively, away from the dominant paradigms but with the benefits of democracy, education and relative affluence. It is a geographical and conceptual edge, or margin where space provides diversity and innovation. Hobart as well, symbolises a proximity between civilisation and wilderness, between the natural/physical & the cultural /intellectual. It demonstrates Holmgren’s eleventh principle, that is to use edges and value the marginal. (Holmgren 2006{ii}), (p233/4).

Applying this principle to Cuba places it far away from dominant paradigms (since 1959) and on the edge of a large imperialistic system, and illustrates a political, social, economic and ecological environment that has been energised by crisis and which is developing sustainability through its own internal dynamics. The thinking implies that those on the edges will be the most able to adapt, develop and progress with appropriate sustainability when radical change is imposed by further collapse of decaying systems. And the assumption here is that they will collapse before legislated into common sense.

Conclusion

Permaculture is a change philosophy from the personal to societal levels, and what catches attention, aside from its utmost common sense, is that this is inherently political. Practicing it in whatever way develops groups of good humoured people, builds affinities, leads to intentional affiliations and the global village mentality. Political scientists might describe this as a united front for production over consumption.

Permaculture is fundamentally radical in challenging dominant economic discourses and it is avant-garde in its ideas and its ideology of saving the earth. The whole systems approach allows for guerrilla activity and demands community, but unfortunately the whole of community is not enabled yet, because it is still constrained by the dominant paradigm of globalised capital.

Mollison’s new embrace of conflict-politics with his permaculture party idea seems a distraction to some permaculture people, educationalists and activists. The permaculture political party idea has not been spelled out nor tested anywhere over the past 30 years. Some suggest that coalitions, or multiple coalitions of affinity groups and intentional affiliations sound better strategies, closer to the original message and actually part of people’s experience and feedback.

If permaculture participates in mainstream political electioneering will it diminish or scatter its own best asset, people? Would it undermine hard earned credibility and hamstring other diverse strategies and actions by permaculturists in many fields of activity? Some say to let the Green’s do it, to join them and help fine tune their policy more permaculturally-appropriate if that is what is required. To use what is already there and to not replicate and diffuse net energy availability is a permaculture strategy from longstanding.

This essay has attempted to show that Mollison has made a fundamental mistake in his political analysis, by failing to appreciate that the role of the state in advanced capitalism is to legislate for, and manage consumption on behalf of the economy. As that economy is global and imperialistic, the role of individual states, and the parties such as in Australia, is to maintain that economy. Without some unforeseen radical transformation of power relationships internationally, it is very difficult to see how an Australian Permaculture People’s Party would manifestly have any impact in policy much less implementation of permaculture policy. In fact it could be downright dangerous.

Holmgren in 1993 was insightfully prognostic, when referring to significant thinkers and proponents of alternatives in Australia including Yeomans (Keyline), Podolinsky (Biodynamics) and Mollison, he reflected, "The personal tragedy for these leaders is that their very strength of character and genius makes it difficult for them to accept progressive evolution and incorporation of their ideas into the mainstream. Incorporation without acknowledgement is the only success that any dissidents have ever achieved". (Holmgren 2006{i}), (p111).

Holmgren’s conclusion is to accept progressive evolution as the form whereby individuals and small groups adapt to energy descent by designing and implementing permaculture strategies, growing food and building community capacity at the fore. Society is in the vortex of shifting paradigms and the ongoing crisis’ of post-modern cultural chaos, (ecological, economic, political and social) will ultimately lead to collapse. Permaculture is the new Pythagorean link by which individuals and groups can transition to a new permanent culture. The keys are personal responsibility and self reliance. Holmgren predicts the collapse of empire due to global fossil fuel depletion and, combined with global warming, his analysis leads to assumptions that massive crisis will be the major transformation trigger.

The dissimilarities between the Cuban response in its Special Period and most other societies has been mentioned often. Yes its situation is unique, but Cuba responded to deep crisis to become the one country with sustainable development. The truly deep crisis’ in the west have not have yet arrived in this context, but when they do, are not many of the sustainability lessons to be learnt, Cuban lessons? In this case the revolutionaries already have gardens.

These are very perplexing and difficult times for many people. Though strategies (Permaculture) exist to clarify issues into perspective, and to put living more to ease, to implement them revolution is impractical and green electoral success seems utopian. In the meantime, new Pythagorean links continue to spread out along the edges, adapting, changing and contributing to future destinies.

Biographical note

Colin Ball is permaculturist and a student of political economy.

In the 1980’s he was a community activist and development worker in the Town of Hindmarsh, Adelaide, S.A. and instigator of the Urban Permaculture Consultants (UPC, the “Urban Trouble Makers”)
Colin was a founding member of the Permaculture Association of South Australia and of the Hindmarsh City Farm and co-authoured Sustainable Urban Renewal: Urban Permaculture in Bowden, Brompton and Ridleyton. (Ball 1985) with the UPC.

Colin has been an owner-builder, homesteader and a youth worker, and currently works on relocalisation projects in the Clare Valley, S.A. and on writing history.

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