1 WAS FORTUNATE in meeting Dale Allen Pfeifer this spring at a Peak Oil Conference in New York: Local Energy Solutions. I recall being struck by his factual, measured presentation and his analysis of key responses required in order to meet the challenges we face as a global community. A key theme was local responses and Dale presented a range of appropriate local responses pertinent to the general themes of food, energy, shelter, water and economy: themes that are the core focus of this book.
Subsequently, I learned of Dale's long familiarity with the subject of Peak Oil and his work to alert the general public to its far-reaching implications. It is heartening to me that we find much common ground in our assessment of needed response. He has taught me much about the realities of geology and exploration, and where this places us in terms of our fossil energy future. Having seen U.S. military hardware protecting the Oil Ministry building in Baghdad in 2003 while other ministries were bulldozing the remains of burned and looted files from their parking lots, I have some appreciation for the petrochemical influence on foreign policy processes and the human implications of resultant actions.
I approach the current situation from a background in ecology and over a decade of work in the broad field of international disaster response and 'development.' My first international aid-related xiu work was in northern Iraq between 1992 and 1995. My observations of the patterns of aid response from the ground through the 1990s led me, in 1999, to seek out a system that would integrate people, environment and design in a holistic manner. I was concerned that much of what we did mirrored unsustainable systems derived from the cultures of countries that provided the 'solutions,' or was simply lacking in an integrated design perspective. It was in this way that I came to do my first permaculture design course: the 72-hour intensive course based upon a curriculum developed by permaculture founder, Bill Mollison, first taught in the early 1980s and subsequently enriched by the work of many.
Permaculture is a contraction of two words: permanence and agriculture, or culture as there is no true culture without permanent agriculture. It is a design science that uses natural systems as the model for creating productive systems with the resilience, diversity and stability of natural ecosystems. Based on the foundational ethics of earth care, people care and return of surplus (fair share), permaculture works as a linking science with a set of core principles derived from nature. The outcome of good design is to minimize our footprint through efficient and harmonious use of resources in the creation of systems that are mutually supportive of key functions or needs. It rests firmly in an understanding of the energy equations highlighted within this book as a basis for design.
A sustainable system is one which, over its lifetime, produces the energy required to develop and maintain itself. In an agricultural context, this means that the system must be actively building soil and 'ecosystemic' (supporting functional ecosystem services). Broad-scale industrial agriculture as popularly practiced today has moved out of balance in terms of an energy audit, environmental impacts and the quality of the products as shown in chapters 1—4 of this book. Whenever we work outside of a natural scale, our systems become energetically chaotic and damaging. Likewise, as we harmonize with natural patterns, we are able to return to abundance.
Polycultural (mixed) production systems can easily be designed to produce 3-10 lb of food per square foot: many times that gained by current industrial agriculture, but with increased need for human involvement as designers and workers and partnering with biological systems. This can be achieved by shaping land to maximize natural water function and storage in the soil, using legume (nitrogen fixing) plants and trees within the system, and majoring in trees and perennial plants as the main productive crops rather than annual crops. The 'secret' to doing this is not in any one thing but in a beneficial linking of functional elements within an overall design: stacking plant functions in time and space, using combinations of plants that are mutually beneficial. It involves actively promoting healthy, balanced life within the soil by cover cropping, using mulch and generally exposing soil as little as possible whilst allowing on-site organic waste to return to the soil cycle.
As our global population reaches 50 percent urban, there is an urgent need to return food, fiber and materials production to the cities. As Dale has clearly pointed out, the U.S. urban population (and many in more rural settings) is currently highly food insecure due to a lack of local food production and networks. Solutions for cities include the return of organics and humanure to bioregional growing systems, increasing tree and perennial crops within open and green space, using vertical space on building structures for growing systems and climbing plants, and understanding how to work with microclimates that can be created in the unique urban environment. Water can be directed to ponds and growing systems rather than the traditional manner of running it out of the system using the shortest path.
Permaculture teaches us that our first task is to take responsibility for ourselves and those we love, and the way in which we provide for our needs. Becoming actively and positively engaged in meeting our needs and linking with or developing a broader community is a natural outcome of such awareness. The tools provided in the last chapter of this book provide an appropriate place to begin. Just as the cells in our bodies have banded together to get smarter by sharing awareness of environmental and other factors and cooperating in response (Bruce Lipton, 2005, The Biology of Belief), so our challenge on the macro level is to do the same.
It matters not what we call what we do so long as it conforms to ecological patterns, works with human communities and is applied, shared and replicated where relevant. That is our urgent task and one which we may relish as we share and apply proven solutions that work. Such sharing may occur using bioregional models for organizing resources in sensible patterns in relation to place and those who live there — and applying broader climatic design models across areas of similar climate. In this manner, we are encouraged to work locally and share our models globally in areas where they are relevant.
Andrew Jones works as a sustainable designer, project implementer and teacher using a permaculture framework. Holding a degree in Ecology and postgraduate studies in Environmental Management and Development, he has worked in an international aid and development context since 1992, including sustainable business initiatives in the US since 2001. Currently based in Brooklyn, NY, he is a board member of the Permaculture Research Institute and involved in a range of international permaculture initiatives.
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