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Design for Change
by Peter Bane
Following a trail
of slightly mysterious clues, I found my way into a Permaculture
Design Course some thirteen years ago, in January of 1990.
Emerging on the other side a rainy fortnight later, I felt
a bit like Alice after she disappeared down the rabbit hole:
nothing was quite the same as it had been before. Or perhaps
it was, only more so. Whatever words I put to it now, my life
had changed: There was no going back.
That heady combination
of camaraderie, intellectual stimulation, intimacy, and holistic
learning provided a peak experience, one I can still summon
vividly to mind.
But what had
On the surface
and in short order, everything: job, career, relationships,
residence, studies, daily activities, associations, friendships.
What had changed fundamentally was my view of the world and
my relation to it. As my core values had at last been linked
with a coherent means of expression, all the outer forms of
my life underwent an upheaval. I had found a way to live responsibly
on earth, learned to see through present problems toward future
solutions, and I think most importantly, discovered that there
was important work to be done and that I could do some of
it. The power of making these discoveries in the company of
others similarly “turned on” was profound and
long-lasting. Why should any of this matter? Of course, the
turmoil and transformation were exciting and full of personal
meaning, but the changes I embraced in my own life have, I
believe, made a positive impact on society.
this is why I write—this personal experience of change
offers some insight about the process itself. And the process
of personal empowerment and transformation, engendered as
I suggest by taking the Permaculture Design Course, lends
credence to the strategy of teaching as a vehicle for progressive
It would be
foolish to imagine that my calling is the only way good work
can come about in the world. Certainly permaculture is not
the only answer to the world’s woes. But it does have
a role to play. And those of us who carry this gift need to
remember the value of sharing it.
by Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay.
2nd printing, 2000. 218pp. $31
The basic argument for permanent
agriculture: how to feed and house yourself in any climate
with the least use of land, energy, and repetitive labor.
Supersedes Permaculture One and Two
in the World Needs Changing?
Just as I begin
each permaculture course I teach with a brief exploration
of the global crisis, it seems necessary to point out the
challenges and opportunities presently facing humanity as
we call for change.
Readers of this
magazine well understand the dimensions of the global environmental
crisis: global warming threatens to disrupt planetary life-support
systems; all ecosystems are polluted and many forms of that
pollution are persistent and deadly to life; humanity is overspending
its ecological budget, consuming more resources than the biosphere
can provide sustainably; and we are enmeshed in a social,
political, and economic system that depends upon this fateful
consumption and at the same time shows increasing disparity
between a rich few and an impoverished multitude.
Despite the fact
that the vast majority of the world’s scientists are
agreed that global climate shift is underway, will have dramatic
effects on all living systems, and is undoubtedly driven by
human activities, governments and most large corporations
have thus far failed spectacularly to respond to this urgent
warning. It’s clear that institutions worldwide are
out of touch with reality. This appalling situation and the
continuing scourges of hunger and racism point to a social
and ethical crisis in our civilization proportional to, and,
I would suggest, at the root of the environmental crisis.
We need a shift
of behavior from the world’s most privileged citizens
and we need it fast. Reducing fossil energy consumption worldwide
by 90% in the next decade is probably the minimum price of
admission to a livable future. Logically for this to come
about, the economy will have to be re-oriented to reduce transport
and waste, patterns of settlement and building must shift
toward efficient use of land, energy, and resources, and renewable
energy production must be dramatically increased.
These changes must
be accompanied by widespread education for sustainability,
and they must take place in dozens of cultures and languages
everywhere simultaneously, in both industrial and traditional
How Do We
The changes the
world must make cannot be mandated by any single authority,
no matter how powerful, but must rather be adopted by people
everywhere from a sense that these are the best approaches
we can make toward preserving a livable world. Everyone must
have a stake in their success.
Seen from a mechanistic
point of view, the changes required by the present crisis
are unlikely to occur soon enough to be effective. Nevertheless,
we must imagine and work for the possibility that they can
occur. Indeed the present crisis, is in many respects, a product
of unbalanced, mechanistic thinking, and of institutions based
on that world view. To create a way forward, we must first
change our point of view.
The only resource
we have available to us that is equal to the vast, incredibly
complex, and interlocking problems facing the world is human
creativity. And it can only be unleashed when the barriers
of ignorance and domination are removed. This is the role
of true leadership today. My experience as a teacher of design
has shown me what insightful thinkers have also pointed out—that
people’s potential to solve apparently intractable problems
is far greater than we imagine, but, if that capacity is to
be realized, people must be given respect, access to information,
and a sense of the importance of the job to be done. The Permaculture
Design Course is a vehicle for meeting those conditions.
all about empowering people to take responsibility for their
own lives by teaching them how to design living environments
and economic systems that meet their needs. It is essentially
a way of thinking holistically, grounded in the truths of
nature, and works by shifting perspectives. The permaculture
design system is based in a simple code of ethics: Earthcare,
PeopleCare, and FairShare. Ethics tell us how to behave. The
premise underlying the permaculture movement is that if ordinary
people are able to design regenerative systems in accord with
these precepts, they will not fall victim to the manipulations
and follies of governments and wealthy elites, and more than
that, they will be able to assume leadership in their own
communities to bring about the changes in culture and technology
the world so desperately needs now.
is a powerful experience. It changes lives for the better,
and is a regenerative force, giving rise to more acts of healing
and empowerment. I have taught 30 courses over the past decade
and each has been a moving experience for me and for all the
participants. I am sure that every permaculture teacher has
his or her own stories to tell of careers launched, projects
or journeys undertaken, and lives turned inside out. The collective
bounty is immeasurable. Occasionally I hear from former students
and the news is usually uplifting. A grandmother in a course
I taught recently went home from the experience and restructured
her not-inconsiderable investment portfolio. Unable to dig
swales, but awakened to the need for sustainable economics,
she got out of the stock market and is setting up a revolving
loan fund for local permaculture projects. Such stories are
but the tip of an immense iceberg of positive changes. Each
time I teach, my own enthusiasm for permaculture work and
for productive change is renewed. The energies of amazement,
inspiration, gratitude, and relief pour out of people as they
experience reconnection to earth and tribe. This feeling energy
is the carrier wave that allows ways of thinking to shift.
A Designer's Manual
by Bill Mollison
pp. Global treatment of cultivated ecosystems. Resource
for all landscapes and climates. Lucid illustrations
by Andrew Jeeves bring Mollison's concepts to life.
Essential, in-depth look at earth repair and practical
Standing on the
shoulders of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, the permaculture
movement has inspired and trained upwards of 100,000 people
worldwide over the past 23 years. Bill’s tireless exhortation
to his early students was to go out and teach others. Many
did and their students and student’s students continue
to take up that charge. Though magazines and books have helped
extend public awareness of permaculture, and for most of the
past decade the Internet has extended the communications reach
of many practitioners and consultants, teaching has always
been the lifeblood of this immensely creative and vitally
needed social invention.
for the importance of individual action. This is one of its
strengths: it empowers people to take action for change. In
no arena of work is this more important than in teaching.
The hundred thousand and more who have trained in permaculture
are students of perhaps 500-1000 teachers. Everyone who teaches
permaculture makes an important contribution to solving the
global crisis. Obviously, with six billion humans on Earth
and more arriving every day, we need more people skilled in
the creation of sustainable environments. But we especially
need more people to step forward to teach.
How can this happen?
If my own experience
and that of most American permaculture teachers is of any
guide, teaching is more easily undertaken in teams. The Permaculture
Design Course curriculum is a substantial body of knowledge
and few people can hope to master all the many elements of
human settlement design, least of all at the beginning of
their training. The intensive nature of the design course
makes teaching it solo an arduous task for anyone. And not
least in importance, students learn better when they get to
hear the same message in different voices and different persona.
I know from feedback from my students that I’m a good
teacher, but people learn in a variety of ways, and my ways
of teaching don’t reach everyone equally well. Others,
including the colleagues I work with regularly, are better
story tellers, better dramatists, more empathetic, charming,
or kinesthetic. It takes all kinds of talent to present holistic
systems design. This is also in alignment with the first—and
largely unwritten—principle of permaculture: GET HELP!
And lest we forget,
for teaching to be effective, there must be students! The
whole premise of teaching for social change implies that if
people were truly aware of the imperiled state of the world,
and if they knew what they could do to bring about positive
change, then most of them would make the effort. Since by
many measures the world continues to drift toward catastrophe,
the only reasonable conclusion we can draw is that most people
are unaware of the extent of the problems or lack knowledge
of how to solve them. These are two distinct groups within
the population as we shall see in a moment.
process that moves an individual from a state of unconscious
ignorance to one of effortless mastery is marked by four broad
stages. The points of transition between these stages are
important for teachers and potential teachers to note.
Ignorance: Lacking knowledge of a subject or subjects
and unaware of one’s own ignorance or of the importance
of that knowledge. Regarding the global nature of the environmental,
political, and social crisis facing humanity, arguably half
or more of the world’s people are uninformed, ill-informed,
or deluded. Only a few of these are“blissfully ignorant.”
Most are suffering as a consequence of that crisis, but
don’t understand how or why.
here is to reach people through their suffering. The remedial
action needed for growth is inspiration and information.
The result is awakening. Writing, publishing, public speaking,
and media work can contribute to raising awareness. And
there is an important niche in teaching work to be filled
here. For every design course there need to be many newsletters
and magazines circulated, many showings of relevant films,
and many short talks, booths and displays in fairs, plus
radio talks and interviews, presentations to civic groups,
and the like. This is the ideal arena for new teachers to
Ignorance: Lacking knowledge of a subject, but
aware of its importance, and thus of the limits of one’s
knowledge. Many people in western countries have had enough
exposure through media and education to elements of the
crisis that they have awakened to its importance. Though
still a minority in society, this group constitutes tens
and probably hundreds of millions of individuals. Most do
not yet know how they can make a difference. This is an
important point of intervention for permaculture. People
in this condition can be reached through their awareness.
Growth from this stage requires study, and in the practical
arts, training. The result is an increase in capacity, or
empowerment. This is the group at which the design course
is aimed. The more awakened individuals we can train, the
better chance we have of turning history around.
Knowledge: Having knowledge of a subject, along
with the awareness of its importance, and deliberately working
to extend that knowledge. Those in this group are agents
for change. Awakened, inspired, empowered, and active, they
are pioneers of a better way of life. Numbering hundreds
of thousands to a few millions worldwide, their need is
to contribute and to strengthen themselves. Most are engaged
in various worthy social efforts. This group merits support
and provides a good return on investment of resources. People
in this group can best be reached through their work. There
is a need to link individuals within this group to others
in order to strengthen their collective efforts. Growth
from this stage requires practice. The result is mastery.
or “Unconscious” Knowledge: Immersed
in a subject and skilled in it such that exercise of that
knowledge is second nature. Think of your own capacity to
walk or talk. Most humans master these skills early in life.
Though most adult humans have achieved mastery in some areas
of work, few have mastered the knowledge and skills required
for responding appropriately and effectively to the global
crisis. Nevertheless, practice makes perfect, and there
is no shortage of opportunities to apply sustainable design
to human settlements. If the permaculture movement is understood
as a form of activism, part of the effort to illuminate
and transform destructive human patterns in relation to
nature and society, then its chief role lies in helping
individuals move from stage 2 to stage 3 in the above typology.
Permaculture offers training and thereby empowerment. The
design course is the chief means by which this takes place.
This accords with the principle of working where it counts.
The effort required to awaken, inform, and inspire vast
numbers of the ignorant unconscious is more than a small
group with limited resources can hope to achieve directly.
But the training of large numbers of conscious individuals
who want to learn is a task worthy of our best efforts.
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