attack is the best form of defense
The debate has also generated a lot of email traffic at both ends as well and maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise, after all, we’re talking about a matter of life and death here. It’s probably the most important issue facing anyone who can acknowledge the coming crash.
From has comments I gather than Jason is a bit suspicious about permaculture and has taken Ran to task for coming over all utopian. In doing so though he has uncharacteristically made a few errors and is being a bit black and white about things. I also notice that in attacking the idea that we will need to actively grow our own food he has forgotten to defend his position from the criticism that we need healthy ecosystems if we’re to rely on foraging. I hope he does this because if there is a good rebuttal I want to know about it. Like I said, lives are at stake.
I’m going to address some of his incorrect comments (although I note that some of his readers have already done so):
He seems to be implying that permaculturists want to use permaculture to prop up civilisation. Well, who cares if some are (and it should be blazingly obvious that Ran is not one of them, by the way), it’s too late. – all I’m interested in is spreading the word far and wide because most people where I am only know how to grow food using chemicals and they’re all going to starve if they don’t learn some new tricks.
Jason said: “Permaculture can not be used everywhere” and “But, what is good for me and mine may not translate well as a society-wide strategy”
Permaculture is a system of design so it most certainly can be used anywhere but also permaculturists emphasise spending as much time as possible observing the site and local ecology before making any decisions – what is good for me will depend on where I am and what is good for the rest of society will depend on where they are – it is not a one size fits all solution like we are used to in civilisation.
From a response in the comments section “…can permaculture heal the land, and feed humans, at the same time?”
Yes absolutely, for the ultimate example I again recommend this animated item (1.5MB)– which one of Jason’s reader’s did. Jason’s return comment was that some parts of the world are meant to be deserts. To be clear this was not one of them, this was a salt encrusted wasteland at the start.
One other thing, as can be seen from the above link, permaculture mimics the system of a forest by having multiple layers – tree canopy, smaller trees and shrubs. I attempted to ask Geoff Lawton in an interview if this would be enough to repair the ecosystem but was immediately sidetracked when he said that with permaculture only 2% of the current arable land would be required to feed the world’s population and the rest could go back to being wild. He said they had the stats to back it up but maddeningly we were out of time to discuss this. I think I will chase him up to see if he can provide them because frankly it just sounds unbelievable. One other thing, If permaculture is that good then clearly the world’s population would likely just keep on growing until it reached the limits of this new threshold – but again that’s not going to happen – it’s too late.
Jason does end by saying that foraging and permaculture can work in companion and this will undoubtedly be the case. Regardless like everyone else reading these exchanges it’s got me thinking about my crash escape plan and now I have a few vague ideas:
+Attempt to get my small town to adopt permaculture principals and generally prepare for the crash so that I have total security in my district. Where I live this will probably work believe it or not.
+Start an Ecovillage. If civilisation wasn’t crashing I’d would want to do this anyway. We’d have to be aware that we might have to leave it all behind one day but while we are there we will have the space to learn foraging techniques and, just as importantly, we will learn how to live together as a tribe and how to resolve internal conflict - something civilised people are very good at. After a few years of this I hope we will be a tight-knit community. If Ecovillage history is anything to go by becoming a successful functioning tribe is unlikely to happen if we leave it to chance.
+Ideally we would position the village backing onto a large area of native bush which we could even pre-plant with food crops although doing this in a National Park might be a tad risky. Either way it’s a place to go foraging in the event that we are overrun with hungry citizens or the government sends men with guns and big dogs or who knows what else. It would also give us a chance of coming back as well.
Anyway I’m giving William Koetke the last say. here’s something from chapter 16 of ‘The Final Empire’ that might be worth taking note of:
“As the planetary ecological crisis has deepened, anthropologist have focused their attention more clearly on the ecology of natural culture and are beginning to suggest that some "wild" rainforest environments are looking more like managed environments”
…“Catherine Caufield, in her work, In The Rainforest, tells of the Lawa living in the rainforest of northern Thailand bordering Burma. As Caufield describes them, the Lawa are shifting cultivators who live in settled villages and have been in the same place for many centuries. She states,
"They grow more than eighty food crops, plus another fifty for medicine and ceremonial and household uses. In addition, they collect and use more than two hundred wild plants that grow in their fallow fields. Their system supports about 80 people per square mile, taking fallow land into account. One square mile of cultivated land supports 625 people, a ratio that compares well with, for example, Britain, which has one square mile of agricultural land in use for every 750 people. Britain, of course imports 60 percent of the fresh fruit, 20 percent of the grain, and 23 percent of the meat its people consume, whereas the Lawa are self-sufficient in food."4
Caufield goes on to explain that they take great care of their land in terms of fire, soil erosion and soil disturbance.
The Cultural Survival volume, Indigenous Peoples And Tropical Forests, summarizes the, so far, limited observations that have been made of true rainforest food growing, called swidden. (This is distinguished from the destructive and ignorant temporary agriculture practiced by "frontier" settlers at the edge of rainforests…) First, the matter of soils is known precisely by most indigenous people. Soil quality is judged by the type of vegetation growing on it. It is judged by its color, taste, smell and by examining its subsoil moisture during various seasons. This means not that any one spot will be chosen for a plot but that each area is appropriate for plots according to the plants that will subsist best in that environment.
The food growing regime will not necessarily involve one or several plots, but may encompass many smaller ones according to the needs. During clearing of the plots, some of the plant species may be saved. Some of the tree species may be saved also for shade, wind breaks, to attract wild animals or for later use. In the planting one does not simply sow seeds but may use seeds, seedlings, cuttings, tubers and roots. In arranging the plantings, shade, light, soil, soil moisture, companion plants, nearby trees and other considerations will indicate the creation of micro-climates within the plot. All of these combinations will be transformed according to the different ecological zones that each plot has been located in. As the plot is "feathered" into the mature forest the matter of local animals is keenly considered in terms of attracting them to the area by having plants in the locale that the animals like and utilize.
The anthropologists have discovered that many plots remain in some kind of use for many years. With use, the soil and the growth of different plants in the plot changes. As the years go on, different plants are emphasized, often tending more and more toward bush and tree crops. There is mention in the literature of use of plots for 20, 30 and more years. One very important observation made by a few of the anthropologists is that this transformation from cleared plot to mature forest follows to a great extent the phases of ecological succession of the natural forest- except the tribespeople substitute useful relatives or plants of similar life habits for the plant that would ordinarily be in place during ecological succession.”