Permaculture and a Global Nation - Intro
Permaculture's inventor describes how to build a society of peace and sustainability
How to Change the World is a weekly blog about reversing American decline. I will (1) study successful models of governance throughout history, primarily in the West, (2) highlight what’s going wrong leading to institutional decline or ‘political decay’, and (3) present models of democratic innovation that could lead us into a prosperous, peaceful and abundant 21st century.
Hello friends, lovers, acquaintances, arch-nemesis. I’m writing you from sunny Costa Rica where I’ve dusted off my old Permaculture book collection. The other night after getting home from partying with some friends I remembered that in Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Designer’s Manual (aka the Permaculture bible) there is a chapter in the back on how Permaculture principles can help build a new society. Like most good students of permaculture I had previously skipped it because it felt too far out. But it turns out it’s brilliant and practical. It transcends political divides. It reminded me that Mollison is indeed a visionary. And now that I’m doing this series on how to change the world, his ideas on society seemed not only prescient but spot on to me.
I spent the day on the farm fertilizing trees and planting grass so I’m spent and will have to keep this introduction short and to the point. I’ll put excerpts from the Designers Manual’s final chapter: The Strategies of an Alternative Global Nation, along with commentary.
The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy, and shelter, is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical, systems, or governments, to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves.
Please re-read that final sentence. Mollison is one of the great environmentalists / conservationists of the last century and here he’s making it plain that we are not to look to governments to solve our problems, but band together to solve them ourselves. The rest of the chapter is essentially an instruction manual on how to do just that.
A people without an agreed-upon common basis to their actions is neither a community nor a nation. People with a common ethic is a nation wherever they live.
One of the things he does early on is drive a wedge between our idea of a nation and a state. Since the purpose of the chapter is to create an Alternative Global Nation, what he wants to do is find aligned local people and connect them in a global network. It has many parallels to Balaji Srinivasan’s Network State, except he was thinking about it in 1988!
Systems of government are currently based on self interest, economic pragmatism, belief, impractical theory, and power-centered minorities, (religious, military, capitalist, communist, familial, or criminal). Almost all such groups set up competitive and "adversary oriented" systems.
Is it true that our political system is “adversary-oriented?” Yes! What I love about Permaculture is that it seeks to understand the entire system and why it functions the way that it does prior to trying to change it. Could it be that the design of our governance system and it’s emphasis on the two parties forces us to be “adversary-oriented” and hence much less cooperative that we could be?
We need to set about, in an orderly, sensible, and cooperative way, a system of replacing power centered politics and political hierarchies with a far more flexible, practical, and information centered system, responsive to research and feedback, and with long-term goals of stability.
Amen, Bill. Amen.
And with your appetite whetted I will have to leave you. My next post or two will give some insight into this how this Alternative Nation is actually built and what role you can play in it. Until next time.
Matt Harder runs the public engagement firm Civic Trust, where he helps cities strengthen their civic environment by helping residents, civic organizations, and local government work together to create public projects. Follow him on Twitter.