[Friday Five] Permaculture and politics (drum roll….)

Hi, this is Geoff.

Even friends that have zero interest in politics can’t help but follow what is being called, literally, “The Circus — also known as the US presidential election.

And even those who live hundreds of miles away from a phone, TV, or internet connection seem to know the latest about Clinton and Trump (except this guy here – who by some kind of extraordinary miracle has never even heard of either(!))

I think at this point, many of us envy his innocence.

As much as we might want to turn away, we can’t escape the implications of politics. Accordingly, this edition of the Friday Five addresses this dimension of permaculture (“people ethics”) more directly than I normally do.

Many of you may applaud the sentiments here, and a few might disagree. Regardless, this isn’t about me “pushing through” a 1-way flow of my own ideas; rather, the posts below are intended as conversation starters about how permaculture principles can inform the things that many of us get especially emotional about, and so I invite and encourage you to engage in a constructive, meaningful discussion in the comments section below.

Here goes…

Civil War? Is this the start of a new American civil war? It is (hopefully) just a mere, theoretical possibility, but if we’ve learned anything from the work of NYU professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb and “black swan theory,” things that look impossible before they happen all of a sudden look inevitable after they do. In 1906 Alfred Henry Lewis made a statement that has been quoted numerous times since: “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.” Rather than seeking salvation from national politicians looking after their own self-interest, perhaps it’s time to choose self and local reliance via permaculture?

Taking a stand at Standing Rock: The Dakota Access Pipeline project has garnered tremendous attention worldwide because it seems to pit two (seemingly) irreconcilable forces: Aggressive economic growth versus a regional population’s right (including a large indigenous population) to clean water and environmental safety. This is a simplified version, and there is much more to it than that, but it’s a start to understanding the issues at stake. More importantly, have the protests and principled opposition produced any results? Perhaps they’re starting to…

Not just local: To show that permaculturists can work both locally and at wider levels (nationally, internationally), I wanted to share some recent news: My mate Maddy Harland, editor and co-founder of Permaculture Magazine, has been asked to put together a timely document that has the potential for making real headway on the issues related to climate change: A draft Manifesto outlining guiding principles for climate restoration. The intended audience? The heads of the Commonwealth nations.

Something lighter: Think what you want of Russell Brand, but as one of my fellow countrymen, and one of my favourite celebrities, he expresses in the way that only Russell can, the surreal world of news and media manipulation. I of course don’t agree with everything he says, but I admire his down-to-earth style, and his courage in speaking his mind.  The dishonesty he highlights while cautioning against pessimism lines up with what seem to be twin recurring themes in permaculture: Be optimistic, and take responsibility for our own lives. And if Russell Brand isn’t your celebrity of choice, check out Leo DiCaprio’s new film. Or perhaps Shailene Woodley and her activism in North Dakota?

Oldie-but-(very)-relevant: There are a whole slew of articles about permaculture and politics. You can find dozens pre-selected here. And here is a recent one from Jonathon Engels titled, “Permaculture as a Political Act,” and another (also from Jonathon) that attempts to tie together the US election, Standing Rock and permaculture. If you enjoy these posts from our sister site, the non-profit Permaculture Research Institute, be sure to bookmark the site as several new articles go up weekly, or check out thousands of other past articles, here.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Anyone can sign up for the next batch.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Your friend,



Two free films you can watch this weekend:

The first is Leo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood film referenced above. You can watch it online here, for free, through November 6th.

The other is one that my team and I put together: Greening the Desert: The Unifying Video (a 20 minute clip combining old and new footage of GTD1, GTD2, updates, and forecast). It too is free to watch for 24 hours (Today, Saturday November 5th from 9 am EST until 9 am Sunday). And like Leo’s movie above, if you miss it during it’s “free screening,” the group sponsoring it (Mother Earth News) has put together a (paid) access option (for my GTD presentation plus 35+ other presentations related to homesteading and natural living).

If you have the time and flexibility to tune in tomorrow, then free access may be perfect. If, however, you know that other commitments might get in the way, or if you want to have access to all the other presentations, on-demand, then the paid option might make sense. It’s entirely up to you: My job is to share the information, and yours is to figure out which way best fits your time, schedule, and needs.

Finally, as I mentioned previously, after you register, the Summit folks may present you with a few of those old-style pages with different fonts and colors that seem to scroll forever. I know some of you don’t like that style (I must confess that I’m not exactly a fan of that format either), BUT, if you can look past the way it looks, the information itself is actually quite valuable, ethical, and transformative.

And I know many, many of you have expressed appreciation for the paid option, as it makes viewing on your own time much more convenient, as well as the pricing being more than fair (about $1 per presentation). We’re all adults here, and know what is best for our time, schedules, convenience, and priorities.

To register, free, click here, then ignore everything that comes after.

And to explore the paid option, simply follow the instructions on the page that comes after the free registration, or go here directly.  

Sorry for that long PS – have a great weekend 🙂

2016-12-13T11:05:40+00:00 Blog|10 Comments
  • Ian

    Thanks for those links and thoughts. Lots of good reading. Just before I read Friday Five I was looking at this – http://permaculturenews.org/2016/11/01/david-holmgren-social-political-underpinnings-permaculture/

    It’s a great time to talk with friends and colleagues about a better system, and that includes a political system that works for what we do want, not protests against stuff.

    • Hi Ian

      Yes from the outset permaculture has always emphasised to start defining what we do what as we all know what we don’t want.

  • Craig Hutchinson

    An interesting Friday Five. I disagree with your statement “… if we’ve learned anything from …Nassim Nicholas Taleb and black swan theory…” – which I’ve had the misfortune of wading through. I don’t believe we’ve learnt anything from it because in essence the theory is a theory of surprise; which is the surprise of the ‘mainstream’.

    Take the 2008 GFC, which is considered a black swan event because no-one predicted it. The problem is it was predicted well in advance – and I don’t mean by the the likes of the traders portrayed in the awful “The Big Short” and others. It was predicted by mathematical economists like Steve Keen (who wrote a book about it in 2001 called “Debunking Economics” – debunking neoliberal economics that is) – but these people were not ‘mainstream’. This is they key point. An event is only a black swan one if the mainstream didn’t see it coming (and/or it wasn’t discussed in the mainstream media).

    [As an aside bigger financial crisis is also predicted by these same non-neoliberal economists – based on their models; this time the mainstream are also predicting it (e.g. HSBC) – but they are looking at the trends. No doubt it will also be called a black swan event.]

    Regarding a US civil war, it has been predicted for years. The Dept of Homeland Security have predicted it (hence the purchase of roughly 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition – including sniper rounds and soft nose bullets). The US Department of Defence along with the US Government have predicted it (hence the use of armed predator drones domestically; the supply of military equipment to police; the various legislative changes in the US – such as changes to the Posse Comitatus Act, the Insurrection Act and the National Defense Authorization Act). Credible authors and journalists (like Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges) have predicted it.

    Many people know it’s coming. Sadly, the question is not if, but (just like the next financial crisis) when.Sadly what’s happening at Standing Rock is a step closer.

    Calling something a black swan event is really an out for people who look at the world a certain (and by definition the wrong) way.

    • Megs

      Craig, I’ve retired after over 20 years in financial advice and supporting ethical investing. You are absolutely right about the economists and black swans. Keen and a dozen others predicted the GFC not as a guess but as a calculated sure thing. At the same time “famous” commentators such as Alan Kohler, Shane Oliver of AMP and a few others confidently predicted another strong rise for share markets from late 2007 whereapon they fell by a third and 9 years later are still down more than 15% . But it was no black swan. But to admit that destroys their mainstream credibility.

      • Craig Hutchinson

        Hi Megs. As a Chemical Engineer (ME Dist.) I was surprised when I first discovered – 20 odd years ago – the shoddy assumptions and mathematical basis for much modern mainstream economics. As I dug deeper over the years my surprise has turned to being appalled.

        As a New Zealander who has lived under possibly the most extreme implementation of the neoliberal experiment – outside of that imposed by war, coup d’état or disaster capitalism (although in Christchurch, where I live, we’ve seen a bit of that since our two large earthquakes) – the wholesale capture of the west by this so-called model – which puts a price on everything and a value on nothing (especially the environment) – is one of the great con jobs of modern times.

        Prof. Keen and his colleagues are beacons and for those who want a generally accessible overview of the significant flaws in neoclassical economics I can’t recommend Debunking Economics enough. It’s got a tiny bit of maths but it can be avoided.

        If anyone is wondering what this has to do with permaculture, I say know your opposition.

  • Shannon McChuck

    Thanks Geoff, an interesting and important FF. On Russell Brand – he is a personal hero of mine who I don’t believe recieves enough credit for his activism….thanks for mentioning him in this weeks post! Reading Brand’s book Revolution caused a huge philosophical shift for me and ultimately led me to my newly found interest in Permaculture (thanks Russ!). I am excited to be part of a movement that presents such positive way forward for the planet and its species. I can’t wait for the online course to begin!
    PS: anyone interested in checking out more of Russell, his online news channel ‘The Trews’ is back and released on a weekly basis https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3b3OD0jLY-o

  • TonyPrep

    I’m not sure is there is a basis for optimism except that nature will eventually re-impose herself (not that humans ever really got the upper hand, though they probably think they did, and do), which is permaculture writ large. Di Caprio’s film is good though it doesn’t treat the subject in much depth and I find it remarkable that he found himself to be more optimistic after making the film. remarkable because there was precious little ground for optimism except for an unrealistic (IMO) opinion from Elon Musk (who is essentially pessimistic, which is why he’s doing what he’s doing in his many projects) and a fairly woolly statement by Piers Sellers about what might happen IF we stopped burning fossil fuels, which led di Caprio to comment that, therefore, there is still hope.

    It definitely feels like there is something in the air right now and most of it isn’t a pleasant smell. Permaculture will have an important role to play as our various predicaments play out but I’m not sure that it will be able to do anything to avoid a very degraded environment that our kids will inherit.

    Unfortunately, Russell Brand is always trying to inject too much humour in all discussions and doesn’t really get to grips with Paxman.

    Hmm, this was rather a grim comment – sorry about that; looking forward to the new course to re-invigorate me!

    • Hi Tony

      your right, I think we need a new terminology “solutionaries” for people with ethical, sustainable and tangible answers.

  • Joseph Ward

    Hey Geoff, I really appreciate these posts. I just wanted to point out some things about the standing rock situation because I’m afraid that a lot of well meaning people are interested in this for the wrong reasons.

    First off I would like to make it clear that I am not “for oil” or anything like that (I am a permaculture nerd who reads all your friday fives after all). I look forward to the day when we don’t need oil at all and we can power our world through renewable energy. That day seems close, but it is not today. We need to be focusing our energy on positive changes to out-compete oil (which is working), instead of trying to kill oil through hatred and negativity (Yoda teaches us that hate is bad)

    This seems to be a plot by anti-oil people to stop the pipeline at all costs. I am fine with them protesting the pipeline because they don’t like oil (Which is not a good environmental move anyway because trucking the oil causes much more environmental damage in spills and transportation costs) but it seems like they are using the native americans to get what they want instead of focusing on just hating oil.

    The concerns that are being put forth are simply not valid

    The pipeline is not going through their reservation and the oil company consulted with many native american tribes to avoid any sacred sites.


    The pipeline is going very deep under the river, through granite, so it can’t contaminate the river, and great pains have been gone through to make sure there is no leakage anyway.

    Also, they are protesting on private property owned by farmers and ranchers. That is not protesting, that is trespassing. I won’t even go into all the damage to livestock and property that is going on that is definitely not good for the environment or for those land owners. Would you want them protesting in your backyard? Stealing your food? Killing your livestock? (oops, looks like I went into it…)

    In my opinion, I think we should encourage pipelines until we can get renewables to the point where we don’t need oil anymore because pipelines are the most environmentally friendly way to transport oil.

    And even if I did hate the pipeline there still is no case that I can make to stop it which is why they are using the hatred and anger of the natives to make stuff up that wasn’t a problem when they planned the pipeline in the first place.

    I understand why these people want to stop the oil companies at all costs but it makes me sick that they are using the native americans to push their agenda. This is ruining hundreds of people’s lives and as much as I hate the oil companies, this time I don’t think it’s the oil company’s fault.

  • veganray

    We need of course no “theory” to determine the parameters of the “civil war”. The war in fact is not “civil” at all (not among men by way of violence – yet). Civil, in law, is the lowest ‘rank’ in the corporate enterprise of your country that you as a “Mr.” are assigned. The war is waged by corporate and corporate-government legislation upon Nature in its naturalness. And it is global, not just American…

    Anarchy in the Greek just means the absence of ‘governing control’ and the chaos inherent in Natural Law when out of kilter – the restoration of harmony or balance that establishes when ‘interference’ by way of falsely knowing better, desists in its course is anarchy. So you see that anarchy is not that there is ‘no law’ but that we live in accordance with what is natural about our own in the fullest knowledge of the rest of natures’ ways – its law (this would not be the law of the jungle): its all Greek you know. And this we are prevented from knowing and doing by the
    disease of propaganda that spools forth from hierarchical positions ‘up high’. It ‘prevents’ the “self and local reliance” from having ‘legal’ purchase so that commonsense can prevail.

    The base for the economic reality that needs to be established is that land cannot be owned but merely occupied according to the direct satisfaction of needs, not just to survive but thrive of a group of people. Nothing in Nature lays claim to possession of land and knows physical boarders or exclusive rights of occupation for a few of its number, but mankind. Stand in the Serengeti and ‘interview’ each animal as it passes – the lion would not want to keep out the zebra would it? Or the grass upon which the rhino would make a latrine of? Or the birds the presence of trees? Mans ‘mistake’ is to imagine that he needs to dominate Nature in order to be. A mistake that some men say they believe is the clockwork of his own being in full knowledge that it is a ‘lie’. They are the one percent of the one percent and they make the laws that bind all to “The Circus” and the same men who will destitute “the people” from the living planet.

    Economic growth has nothing to do with ‘money’ but everything to do with ‘what grows’ in Nature. America is bankrupt a thousand times over – it cannot even service its own debt interest by measure equivalence of what it is possible to produce let alone by any sustainable means. “Aggressive economic growth” is a concept in the very best of fictions – its predicated upon an impossible future. Its “force” is illusory (worry about what you eat tomorrow not how much debt your in). Economia is not about the servicing of fiscal requirement, economy is about the ‘management’ of home – this planet – to the benefit of all (not just us humans); that it is home to them too…

    I’m afraid the heads of “the Commonwealth nations” are well in the ‘pay’ of the corporations and legislate on behalf of their interests; eloquence of argument will, I think, not register or
    resonate with the ‘right thing needing to be done’. You will be treated only to a ‘seeming to heed’. Nothing sensible was agreed in Paris, as will nothing in Parliaments, be sensibly agreed.

    It may be of some note to realise that we, the British of Great Britain, do not have a monarch. The ‘legality’ of that position is forfeit since she has broken her “Oath” and requires the consent of the people to redefine her role – this she has not sought. Originally “monarchy” meant ‘one on behalf of’. Already the ‘Law of statutes’ has been successfully challenged in the Australian courts because statute law no longer has “the Royal Ascent”. Indeed the account of the Commonwealth countries to be nations at all is leaking all credibility. Still it gives each group of peoples to realise the real nature of sovereignty to declare themselves as “the nation”. The Sioux Nation by reference for instance, is them as a people not as a territory, which they merely occupy by settlement, though of course is of great importance to them. You want to be indigenous (and lay claim to your humanity) make this your declaration… as a sovereign people – that each be sovereign by their own Right of Nature. Claim Common Law jurisdiction.

    Politicians I’m afraid are under the spell, by degrees, of the “surreal world of news and media”. Yes listen to Brand but only in exposition of the ‘corruption of the men of power’ (that by humour he indicates that it is there) – hold no hope that change will come from above… it will be you in whom you should take heart.

    It might be something of a light shedding to know that “government” is from the Greek and is
    formed of two words which when combined means “mind control” (the legitimacy of propaganda is hereby revealed: governments are true in their purpose); and “democracy” actually translates
    as “rule of the people” – as in by the people. Why do you continue to imagine that one gives rise to the other? – democracy ends the moment you place an X on that ballot paper and that from then on your MP ‘speaks for you’ (this is the legality of the ‘contract’ between you and your representative): he ‘rules’ your opinion. Its why they imagine that they are “elected to power”
    – see how the obfuscation works: “elected” implying something democratic and “power” of an individual acquiring force over something else. The mischief of Greek and Latin is the oil of ‘legalese’. Go study…then know that you are the Law.