Posts Tagged ‘permaculture’
So the question of history returns. How do we act on what we know? The time has come when we have to solve this puzzle, because the future, from where we look at it now, is different than past futures. Before we just had to keep on trying to do our best, and we would be OK. Things seemed to slowly get better, for some people in some places anyway; in any case, we would keep trying things, and probably muddle through. This is no longer the case. Now the future is a kind of attenuating peninsula; as we move out on it, one side drops off to catastrophe; the other side, nowhere near as steep, moves down into various kinds of utopian futures. In other words, we have come to a moment of utopia or catastrophe; there is no middle ground, mediocrity will no longer succeed. So utopia is no longer a nice idea, but a survival necessity. This is a big change. We need to take action to start history on a path onto the side of the peninsula representing one kind of better future or another; the details of it don’t matter, survival without catastrophe is what matters. In essence the seven billion people we have, and the nine to ten billion people we’re likely to have, exist at the tip of an entire improvised complex of prostheses, which is our technology considered as one big system. We live out at the end of this towering complex, and it has to work successfully for us to survive; we are far past the natural carrying capacity of the planet in terms of our numbers. There is something amazing about the human capacity to walk this tightrope over the abyss without paralysing fear. We’re good at ignoring dangers; but now, on the attenuating peninsula, on the crazy tower of prostheses — however you envision it, it is a real historical moment of great danger, and we need to push hard for utopia as survival, because failure now is simply unacceptable to our descendants, if we have any.
* I hope someday my admirers are moved to unearth my terrible college fiction: Wes Anderson’s “The Ballad of Reading Milton” (1989).
* The true size of Africa. Also has the true side of Australia and the USA as a bonus.
* Liberal blogs are trotting out cell phone effect again. Looks like it’s time to call November for the GOP.
* “In these challenging economic times, it’s good to know you can get some financial protection for unexpected illness and injury to your pets,” the e-mail reads before listing the many benefits. Federal Employees Can Purchase Health Insurance For Their Pets, But Not Their Same-Sex Partners.
* Running it up the flagpole: Wheel of Fortune‘s Pat Sajak argues at National Review Online that public employees shouldn’t be allowed to vote in at last some state and local state elections.
* And in twenty years, we’ll need another Earth to sustain us. Time to get building.
Seven steps toward a sustainable society from Anne and Paul Ehrlich, recently submitted for President-elect Obama’s consideration via change.gov, via Dot Earth.
#1: Put births on a par with deaths.
#2: Put conserving on a par with consuming.
#3: Transform the consumption of education.
#4: Judge technologies not just on what they do for people but also to people and their life-support systems.
#5: Rapidly expand our empathy.
#6: Decide what kind of world we all want.
#7: Determine the institutions and arrangements best suited to govern a planetary society with a maximum of freedom within the constraints of sustainability.
We’ll eventually be doing a full writeup for our Indy article on energy issues in the Triangle and North Carolina, but for now let me say that Earthaven Ecovillage near Asheville is easily one of the more interesting and inspiring places I’ve visited in six years in North Carolina. Nearly fifteen years old, and one of the largest communities of its kind in America, the project serves as a model for sustainable living and alternative, off-the-grid mode(s) of life.
I’m not going to lie to you: I was thinking about Mars the whole time we were there.
I’ve been up since six, so that’s about all the coherent thought I can manage at the moment. For a lot more useful background on Earthaven, check Think or Thwim’s report from a year or so ago. (There’s always the Washington Post, too.)
Lots and lots of photos—over a hundred!—at my Flickr site. Just a few favorites below…
One of the many signs greeting you as you enter the community.
A painting inside the community’s Council Hall.
A characteristically Ecotopian home.
Also good advice.
Delicious solar-powered golf cart.
Sometimes this happens. That’s part of it, too.
The name of the main thoroughfare in the community and a succinct expression of their mission statement—there really is one. And in fact, as our tour guide was quick to remind us, emphasizing the diversity of the community and the many approaches to sustainability to be found inside Earthaven, there’s not just another way, but other ways.
On this Christmas Eve, Americans are having trouble paying off their credit cards, with 30-day-late accounts rising 26% to $17.3 billion and defaults rising 18% to nearly a billion. There’s a reason for all this, and you can find it in Bill Moyer’s PBS interview with Benjamin Barber (via MeFi), a Galbraithian analysis of capitalism’s production not of products but of needs themselves:
As a society becomes increasingly affluent, wants are increasingly created by the process by which they are satisfied…. Wants thus come to depend on output. In technical terms, it can no longer be assumed that welfare is greater at an all-round higher level of production than at a lower one. It may be the same. The higher level of production has, merely, a higher level of want creation necessitating a higher level of want satisfaction.
The orgy of Christmas shopping that continues unabated today—to be followed by deep-discount post-Christmas sales on Wednesday, and on and on—is only the clearest proof that this is what capitalism has become in the post-industrial West and, increasingly, elsewhere as well. Barber thinks the productive energies of capitalism might somehow be harnassed, through willpower and ethical living, for better ends, but I’m much more skeptical that capitalism can ever really move in a direction other than the one it has. What we need is a new logic, a new organizing principle. Call it sustainability or call it permaculture, call it environmental Marxism or environmental capitalism if you want, it’s all the same to me—what’s important is that the world figure out some way to stop doing the things capitalism demands it must. We have to stop consuming everything, resources, the future, ourselves.
BILL MOYERS: When politics permeates everything we call it totalitarianism. When religion permeates everything we call it theocracy.
BENJAMIN BARBER: Right.
BILL MOYERS: But when commerce pervades everything, we call it liberty.
(cross-posted to culturemonkey, which returns Jan. 2 with an all-new blogger and an all-new organizing principle of its own)
Michael Pollan has an article in The New York Times today about sustainability, especially when it comes to agriculture and food production:
To call a practice or system unsustainable is not just to lodge an objection based on aesthetics, say, or fairness or some ideal of environmental rectitude. What it means is that the practice or process can’t go on indefinitely because it is destroying the very conditions on which it depends. It means that, as the Marxists used to say, there are internal contradictions that sooner or later will lead to a breakdown.
The article goes on to focus on two stories in the news this year that suggest a sustainability tipping point could be upon us, antibiotic-resistant staph infection and Colony Collapse Disorder. Via Pandagon, which gets this right, I think:
Pollan argues that the word “sustainability” is losing its meaning, and it’s clear why—it’s incompatible with capitalism, and openly arguing for economic systems to replace capitalism is simply verboten in our society. Taboo, unacceptable, off the table. And it will be until it’s too late to reverse the damage done by the need for unchecked growth for profit.
Comparative Planetology: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson.
BLDGBLOG: In other words, your lifestyle may now be carbon neutral – but was it really any good in the first place?
Robinson: Right. Especially if it’s been encoding, or essentially legitimizing, a grotesque hierarchy of social injustice of the most damaging kind. And the tendency for capitalism to want to overlook that – to wave its hands and say: well, it’s a system in which eventually everyone gets to prosper, you know, the rising tide floats all boats, blah blah – well, this is just not true.
We should take the political and aesthetic baggage out of the term utopia. I’ve been working all my career to try to redefine utopia in more positive terms – in more dynamic terms. People tend to think of utopia as a perfect end-stage, which is, by definition, impossible and maybe even bad for us. And so maybe it’s better to use a word like permaculture, which not only includes permanent but also permutation. Permaculture suggests a certain kind of obvious human goal, which is that future generations will have at least as good a place to live as what we have now.
It’s almost as if a science fiction writer’s job is to represent the unborn humanity that will inherit this place – you’re speaking from the future and for the future. And you try to speak for them by envisioning scenarios that show them either doing things better or doing things worse – but you’re also alerting the generations alive right now that these people have a voice in history.
The future needs to be taken into account by the current system, which regularly steals from it in order to pad our ridiculous current lifestyle.