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Permaculture Future?: Part I

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon's Book
Recently, Dmitry Orlov offered a selection of possible topics for a talk he was giving, and several of them dealt with the ubiquity of permaculture as the articulated solution to our present crisis. Orlov’s point was that a consensus seems to be emerging that permaculture strategies - particularly the Transition movement - have emerged as the de facto solution to our collective crisis without a lot of public conversation or questioning. I didn’t get to hear Dmitry’s commentary on this subject (although I can guess what some of it would be), but it pushed me to begin a subject I’ve been gently avoiding for a while.

Now I am commonly described as a permaculturist, and I’ve no objection, in fact it rather pleases me - I generally don’t worry much about how people describe me, and this is one of the nicer ways. Officially, I’m not sure I qualify - I’ve never taken a full design course myself, and am mostly self-taught.

... I admit to some doubts about the political viability of permaculture as a solution for our collective crisis, doubts I’m going to articulate here, in the interest of promoting a larger discussion about permaculture, and about the possibility of movements in general as a strategy of mitigation. I do want to be clear that I am not trying to undermine the enormous efforts made by people involved in permaculture and Transition, nor do I want to see them discontinue their efforts. But I do feel that there are questions to be discussed and answered.

I should be absolutely clear here - all of my concerns about permaculture are about elements of permaculture’s presentation and emphasis - not about the overall goals of Transition or the permaculture movement. That is, even if I don’t qualify as an official permaculturist, even if I critique them, there is no question I want to work with permaculturists - their emphasis on scale, on integrating food production and local economies, their emphasis on appropriate technology - all of these things are, I think, absolutely right. The question is not whether permaculture is bad - I would deny that outright. The question for me is whether permaculture and its offshoots, as they are presented and emphasized now, can do what they would like to do - make a smooth (or smoother) transition than any other method through tough times.
(29 June 2009)
I spent about a year investigating permaculture, arguing it back and forth in my mind, and getting exposure to dozens of teachers, before I felt comfortable calling myself a permaculturalist. I wrote a long essay on my doubts and discoveries
http://cwo.com/~bart/essays/perm_err.htm

Two of the myths about permaculture I identified were:

1. Myth: You do permaculture with groups which are labeled “permaculture”
2. Myth: Permaculture knowledge is labeled “permaculture”

I think Sharon and some of the commenters at her blog were thinking along the same lines.

There’s no problem with critical thinking - but what I would suggest is that people not stop with a surface impression of permaculture.

There’s a LOT to permaculture, and it takes awhile to understand the many different aspects to it.

If you are bummed out by one Permaculture Design Course (PDC) or one permaculture teacher, then look around for others. There is a tremendous diversity, and what works for one person may not work for another. And before you spend the money on a PDC, for heaven’s sake, do some checking on the particular course and instructors.

-BA



San Francisco to Toughen a Strict Recycling Law

Malia Wollan, New York Times
San Francisco, which already boasts one of the most aggressive recycling programs in the country, has raised the ante, vowing to levy fines of up to $1,000 on those unwilling to separate their Kung Pao chicken leftovers from their newspapers.

The Board of Supervisors passed new recycling and mandatory composting rules on Tuesday in a 9-to-2 vote. The city already diverts 72 percent of the 2.1 million tons of waste its residents produce each year away from landfills and into recycling and composting programs. The new ordinance will help the city toward its goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2020, said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city’s Department of the Environment.

Under the new ordinance, residents will be issued three mandatory garbage bins: a black one for trash, a blue one for recyclables and a green one for compost.

Garbage collectors who spot orange peels or aluminum soda cans in a black trash bin will leave a note reminding the owner how to separate his trash properly.

Anyone found repeatedly flouting recycling protocol will be issued fines of $100 for small businesses and single-family homes and up to $1,000 for large businesses and multiunit buildings. The city has put a moratorium on all fines until 2011 while residents learn the ropes. Reaction to the new rules was as mixed as, well, recyclables.
(10 June 2009)



New numbers prove smart growth reduces CO2, cost-effectively

Kaid Benfield, Switchboard, National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
It's quite possible that California's new land use and transportation planning law, SB375, has been a game-changer. As most readers probably know, that law, which was strongly supported by NRDC, requires the state's metro areas to adopt land use patterns that curb sprawl and reduce carbon emissions to meet specified targets.

Suddenly people who two years ago wouldn't give smart growth advocates the time of day are talking about things like transit-oriented development and growth boundaries (if they still haven't caught on to revitalization and walkability, unfortunately), and mainstream enviros are beginning to seek ways to increase neighborhood density instead of opposing it. People are looking to the coming federal transportation bill as a way to implement California's measures on a national scale. While you still won't hear much about any of this from the Really Big Thinkers on climate, it's happening in spite of them.

Which is a pretty long introduction to a new report that will make smart growth harder to ignore as a carbon-reducing strategy. CCAP's terrific new report (courtesy CCAP)In particular, the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) released a study last Friday documenting how comprehensive application of smart growth best practices and improved transportation choices can significantly reduce transportation emissions at a cost savings to society. The report makes a strong case for investing a portion of cap-and-trade revenues in smart growth. Here are some of the key findings:

* Smart growth and smart transportation choices can reduce the amount Americans need to drive - as measured in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) - by 10 percent per capita from 2005 levels.
(2X June 2009)

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