Friday, February 25, 2011

Creating Nodes of Permanence

Akaido:  a martial studies, philosophy, and religious belief. Aikido is often translated as "the Way of unifying (with) life energy" or as "the Way of harmonious spirit." The goal is to create an art that practitioners can use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury. Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on.
“…only the ecological problems created by modern capitalism are of sufficient magnitude to portend the system’s demise.” Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom  (1982).
     Australian is the oldest and driest continent, the only one never to have experienced an ice age. Aborigines have lived on this continent for 60,000 years. There are still Aborigines who live in the dreamtime  when earth and man were one with the animals, the land and plants and their world was dreamed into being. Their society prospered and grew because they followed and learned in songs, tattoos and paintings, the great narrative of nature.
 And then in 1769 Captain Cook sailed into a bay he called Botany (Bay). The Empire had arrived and quickly things changed. Soon thereafter followed the Industrial Revolution and in about 200 years we’ve changed the climate.
Great civilizations have risen and fallen through the tides of time, and there is no evidence that ours should be any different. Our society has chosen the path of least resistance, exploiting millions of years of sunlight embedded energy in priceless fossil fuels. It's said it takes one hundred years of sunshine shining on one acre of land to  produce one gallon of oil.
The sun is the original source of all energy. It is a hydrogen explosion ninety-three million miles from Earth. Humans have learned to create smaller scale recreations of the sun and tested them at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
As a result, society is in a constant state of annihilation anxiety and has been since the end of the Second World War. It is an undeniable part of our collective unconscious. In the same way, AIDS, the idea of terrorism, and the existential fear we are killing our planet, are now part of the zeitgeist - the world in which we live.
The sun is life and central to all religions down through the ages. It is the light in a dark world. It is the central force that drives our system around which everything revolves. And we turn our backs at our peril.
Culture is the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a nation, a people, or social group, and begins with food. We need clean water and clean air to grow nutritious food; a permanent culture. This is our birthright.
We Are All One. 
The living matter of all vegetables and animal cells and tissues, is protoplasm, a complex substance of viscid semi fluid consistency, with the powers of spontaneous motion and reproduction, the physical basis of all life on Earth. In this context, humankind is simply a mass of protoplasm distributed over the surface of Earth and over time evolved as a sentient system and most recently has changed the climate, conquered and plundered, schemed and dreamed and forgotten where we live.
If we floated high above the Earth and watched from that great distance as night fell, we’d begin to see lights spreading across continents describing settlement patterns and standards of living based on electricity use. It looks like a luminous organism from here, spreading along the eastern coastline of Australia and growing darker the deeper it ventures inland to the desert and then finally dark.  And all around the world it is the same – China and India much dimmer than America; Africa mostly dark.
Mercantile capitalism (1) relies on growth and the continual depletion of natural resources and produces prodigious waste. Waste represents entropy, which is really unused energy that often finishes up in landfills and the ocean.  In fact the lights we see spreading across Earth from space represents waste and pollution. Industrialization has divorced us from nature. Therefore we have become less reliant on understanding nature and more reliant on technologies contributing to nature’s demise – which is our demise too.
We are part of nature and if we follow nature’s patterns we can regain harmony and recognize that our prime ethic should be to our children, family and community and that nutritious food, clean air and water security are our birthright and the essential ingredients to organizing our lives.
There is overwhelming evidence that the world as we have known it is changing very rapidly. But even if this were not so, there would still be need and desire for systems more attuned with nature than with machine mentality and television induced stupor, fast-food-You tube-sugar-binge-coco-cola madness (neurosis).
All this has happened very recently and is the direct result of “cheap” energy from fossil fuels. Most political structures in the world are based on supply of cheap energy. Oil, coal, uranium, water and natural gas provide electricity that drives industry. Growth fed by resource depletion drives capitalism. The accounting system in capitalism is based on fungible money and to a lesser extent, the same applies in communism and both rely on resource depletion as an economic model to drive the system.(2) 

Recently a new permutation, one of creating, dealing and profiting from invisible assets, to leverage more profit from the system, has overtaken conventional mercantile capitalism. Rather than conserving energy, in this case money and assets, the capital system encourages a centralized, fragile culture of debt and expectations based on cheap and available energy.
Suddenly we have reached the end of the rope. Most of us are unprepared. There is no evidence that conventional politics provides any answers. The chaotic world situation is something beyond our immediate control. Conventional politics is a sideshow to deeper, darker currents that manipulate basic human resources to service the few rather than the many.
Accumulation of capital by the ruling corporate class and large-scale movement of middle-income families to lower, will create deep divisions and worse in coming years.  Fossil fuel resources are finite and will end. Oil and natural gas seem to be reaching peak extraction; we are entering a time of less of just about everything we expect in our culture and unless mercantile capitalism can adapt a new paradigm, we are in for a steep and painful energy decent.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the former Soviet Union and Cuba suffered rapid energy decent. Dimitri Orlov, a Russian émigré, described the Soviet collapse in his book, Reinventing Collapse. The basic thesis is the Soviet Union and the United States are similar organizations following identical paths. There are many obvious differences but the bottom line is that they are empires based on mineral resources - mainly crude oil. The destinies of the two countries are the same and now it is time for the US, and the Western World to experience collapse. Financial insecurity, political instability, rising prices for energy and basic commodities and reduction of services as well as climate change, all over the world at the same time, invites collapse.
The Mycelium Network: Nature’s Internet. 
When one side of a forest is attacked by pestilence, the other side begins to move away and leaf-out in an act of resistance and survival. We believe trees communicate through the mycelium fungus web which stretches through thousands of acres and covers areas as large as states beneath the ground.
The mycelium network is a membrane of interweaving, continuously branching cell chains just one cell wall thick. We believe it to be the neurological network of nature. Mycelium stays in constant molecular communications with its environment, devising diverse enzymatic and chemical responses to complex challenges.
And so as the forest responds, so should we. In permaculture we design by moving from pattern to detail. Nature teaches a survival tactic. By creating nodes of permanence, starting at home with our families, we create conditions for sharing, exchange and support, reliable and resilient connections on a softer and greener energy descent path.
The conflation of permanent and culture was coined by an Australian from the small town of Stanley, Tasmania, on the stormy northwest coast of Australia’s seventh state. Primeval forests untouched by the glacial era, farmlands and clean mountain water, the challenge and bounty of the sea were his birthright. And though the Caucasian occupation of those lands three hundred years earlier was painful and dreadful, a residue of shared humanness and spirit still grows amongst some who survive today learning old truths in new ways.
Bill Mollison and his star student, David Holmgren, developed the theory of permaculture in Permaculture One, 1978. Together, they assembled Mollison’s observations to construct broad principles that might apply if we mimicked natural patterns in nature. It started from the premise of redesigning agriculture using ecological principles, but eventually it extended to the redesign of the whole of society, a system of thinking using permaculture principles.
For instance, the branching of trees, rivers, our own blood capillary system, follows predictable patterns in universal scale. From the trunk to the outer branches of a tree, there are no more than nine segments or branches. And the same applies to orders of rivers, sand dunes and mountain ranges. As a former surfer, I know the seventh wave is always the biggest. Understanding patterns, rhythms and cycles, informs permaculture design and can guide settlement patterns and systems towards more appropriate scale. Permaculture is systems thinking.
A simple example of patterns is the permaculture herb spiral. Usually we plant our herb garden in a straight row. But if we wind the row back on itself in a spiral rising in the center, a fifteen-foot long row becomes a six-foot wide spiral about four feet high; dry on top, wetter at the bottom, with a shady and a sunny side fulfilling many functions as growing niches. The spiral is a universal symbol in nature constantly repeated in plants, animals, water and the very universe itself (3).
The patterns of landscapes can inform patterns of settlement but up until now cheap energy from fossil fuels has influenced design so aspect to the sun, for instance, is seldom considered. Yet the sun’s free energy is available if we understand how to use it and the permaculture directive is very simple.
In cold climates, design on an east west axis with plenty of glass on the sunny side to bring in free energy and light, insulate and power down. In fact Mollison devised a simple formula. One may take the latitude of location and use that same number to ascertain the percentage of glass one should install on the sun-facing side of a structure to gather the sun’s free energy.
The reason a tree stops branching at nine is because it can no longer overcome the force of gravity to pump water to its highest leaves which, in an act of transpiration, provides the earth with rain (4). This teaches something about scale. If we extend beyond these parameters we have to pay with energy (to overcome gravity). Modern society has used cheap and available fossil fuels as our currency and created an unsustainable system. 
A sustainable system will provide more energy that it consumes over the lifetime of the system. Since energy, like water is finite, in permaculture we design to slow dissipation, to catch and store energy and hold it in the system as long as possible.
Energy can neither be created nor destroyed and is always seeking an entropic state, always “leaking” out of the system. Understanding gravity and entropy, the inevitable dissipation of energy from source to sink where it can no longer be easily captured and used, is a central design concept in permaculture. Understanding and applying these constants in nature, like the sun’s direction and gravity’s free energy, inform design.
Rivers exhibit predictable flow patterns that teach us about design and flow. Nature is never flat or straight. It is curvy. In permaculture we learn that by creating more edges and niches (which slows entropy), we increase yield.
Creating systems that mimic nature’s examples, tuning them to use less energy than they consume, feeding the energy back into the system as many times as possible until we create a web of outputs and inputs – one system feeding another before finally the energy becomes uncollectible - is a design imperative. A diagram of such a system has the appearance of a spider’s web, a resilient and redundant system that still works even when most of the web is gone. It can still catch a fly to feed the spider.
What is applicable on a small scale can be adapted to larger so it should be possible to redesign the Mississippi river, for instance, to comport with its natural contours, the forests to rejuvenate and speciate along its banks and shores and water catchment areas. Downstream flooding would be reduced and myriad niches of activity emerge. Such a strategy holds more energy in the landscape and water under the ground. From these basic directives, that of using gravity and understanding the fundamental rules of thermodynamics, comes multiple functions and benefits that enhance the landscape and communities.
Mollison said once that if we lost all our universities we would not have lost much. But if we lose the forest, we’ve lost everything. Sardonic and droll as his remark is, it is true that the forest gives us life. Soil grows in the fungal forest where mushrooms appear to bring us their message of survival and abundance.  By following nature’s patterns we can re-learn our lives, adapt and change.
In the sixties, Mollison protested the Vietnam War. Like America, Australia lost lives in that conflict. And there was outrage in the streets. But Mollison found no answers in demonstrating and for some years he sought refuge in the bush (the forest). It was here that he was struck with the idea of creating abundant food producing systems by mimicking nature and the idea of permaculture evolved.
Bill Mollison lived many lives – an eighteenth century man born in the twentieth century; an authentic bushman, fisherman, trapper, woodsman, scientist, naturalist, observer and then writer teacher and world traveler. He traveled far and wide with his message sowing the seeds of his idea. Mollison fathered the idea that by mimicking and harmonizing with nature we could create a permanent and abundant system,
Mollison postulated that through “thoughtful and protracted observation”, we can observe nature and act to regain harmony with Earth, whence our sustenance evolves. It is our task to maintain balance and harmony with nature if we are to survive and flourish as a system.
Creating Nodes of Permanence.
If we are to survive and prosper we need ways to protect ourselves from the inevitable devolution of the current system. It is unlikely the solution will come from governments, quite the opposite, since most governments rely on a growth economic model. That model has proven disastrous to our long-term future. We are going to have to learn to live with less fossil fuel energy, adapt and change and permaculture provides a proven model to help move to a new and sustainable model.
But this need not be a return to agrarian oppression or the cave. In fact permaculture seeks to design systems of abundance not based on the conventional growth-depletion model, but sustainable systems replicated many times, resilient and redundant fractals (5), self-repeating patterns described in the Mandelbrot set. The Mandelbrot set is a mathematical theorem describing an infinitely repeating pattern that shows up in nature. The Mandelbrot set is a superb and wondrous example of patterning and can be used to “pattern” what I call “nodes of permanence”. I urge you to check the footnote that links to Arthur C. Clarke’s  description of the phenomenon.

There are many small-scale attempts to wrest back control from the tyranny of out-of scale-systems. Local farming movements exemplified by farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture (CSA’s), localization movements, eco-villages and home-rule strategies are some emerging models. But perhaps the most inclusive is the Transition Town movement, begun in the U.K by permaculture graduate, Rob Hopkins.

The Transition Town movement is a plan to help us move from energy dependency, to local self-sufficiency. It is an aspect of permaculture outlined by Bill Mollison in the final chapter of his magnum opus, Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual.  The Transition Town movement provides a plan to redesign local communities. It is a worldwide phenomenon and is being adopted by local governments who are responding to community organizing that may save the day.

As the world reaches the tipping point for energy descent, oil becomes very expensive. A scenario of massive human die-off  is possible. The end result of the Industrial Revolution is climate change caused by over consumption of resources.  The greenhouse effect is simply a reflection of wasted energy we call pollution. It is quite literally, the signature of our historical period and will be measured in polar ice cores and stone that will tell this tale to the future.

History teaches that humans are loath to change until forced– until we hit the wall. And governments are unlikely to offer much help. Katrina is an example.  Even if we did not face climate change and oil depletion, pursuing permanency in culture in pursuit of abundance would be a right-minded way to live. Native American culture encourages us to look forward seven generations when we plan our children’s future.
There are proven examples of applied permaculture all over the world. There is a vibrant movement growing as we speak. We are part of a shift away from pestilence, to abundance. It is absolutely possible to live in a world of abundance and in a strange way energy descent creates the opportunity.
Some see a crash and burn descent curve, others a softer, greener descent. I think we have a choice and that change begins at home. The possibility of permanent culture spread far and wide inspires me despite the bleakness of the big picture.
There is no doubt that the inertia and massiveness of State apparatus is an impediment to positive, long-term change in our society. It is a negative force that has caused the problem and relies on technology, and the current economic system to maintain the status quo. But it’s over. In an aikido, in a tai-chi-like movement, we can elegantly step-aside and let the beast pass, redirect some of the force into positive applications to ensure our success and survival as a permaculture system.
In permaculture we talk about “edge thinking” – we understand there is more life on the edge where the field meets the forest and the sea meets the land. Some say if you’re not on the edge, you’re taking too much room.

The Industrial Revolution was the major technological, socioeconomic and cultural change in the late 18th and early 19th century. It began in Britain and spread throughout the world. During that time, an economy based on manual labor was replaced by one dominated by industry and the manufacture of machinery. It began with the mechanization of the textile industries and the development of iron-making techniques. Trade expansion was enabled by the introduction of canals, improved roads and then railways. The introduction of steam power (fueled primarily by coal) and powered machinery (mainly in textile manufacturing) underpinned a dramatic increase in production capacity. 

The development of all-metal machine tools in the first two decades of the 19th century facilitated the manufacture of more production machines for manufacturing in other industries. The effects spread throughout Western Europe and North America during the 19th century, eventually affecting most of the world. The impact of this change on society was enormous and is often compared to the Neolithic revolution, when various human subgroups embraced agriculture and in the process, forswore the nomadic lifestyle.

Mercantilism was the dominant school of thought throughout the early modern period (from the 16th to the 18th century). Domestically, this led to some of the first instances of significant government intervention and control over the economy, and it was during this period that much of the modern capitalist system was established. Internationally, mercantilism encouraged the many European wars of the period and fueled European imperialism.
The United States and most of the rest of the industrial world, runs on oil and electricity. Fifty percent of electricity comes from burning coal and about fifty percent of industry is run by electricity. Coal contributes about one-third of green house gases causing global warming. We are already over the threshold and still building more coal fired plants, particularly in China, to keep up with the demand for electricity. Therefore the situation can only worsen - unless we change the way we generate and use electricity. This implies a paradigm shift of such magnitude impossible to imagine.
At the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. in March, 2006, Senator Richard Lugar delivered a paper on energy security: “With less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States consumers 25 percent of oil. If oil prices remain at $60 a barrel throughout 2006, the United States will spend about $4,320 billion on oil imports in one year. Most of the world’s oil is concentrated in places that are either hostile to American interests or vulnerable to political upheaval and terrorism and demand for oil will increase far more rapidly than we expected just a few years ago. Within 25 years, the world will need 50 percent more energy than it does now.” 
Senator Lugar went on to say:
“…life in American is going to be much more difficult in the coming decades. We have entered a different energy era that requires a much different response than in past decades. What is needed is an urgent national campaign, led by a succession of presidents and Congresses, who will ensure that American ingenuity and resources are fully committed to this problem. We could take our time if this were merely a matter of accomplishing an industrial conversion to more cost-effective technologies. Unfortunately, the United States dependence on fossil fuels, and their growing scarcity worldwide, already has created conditions that are threatening our security and prosperity and undermining international stability. In the absence of revolutionary changes in energy policy, we are risking multiple disasters for our country that will constrain living standards, undermine our foreign policy goals and leave us highly vulnerable to the machinations of rogue states.”

We live in a spiral universe. The pattern of Earth’s movement around the sun and the solar system itself is part of a spiral galaxy. Apparently circular movement in fact moves as a spiral over time. And we live in that spiral movement.
(4)  Rain falls from the sky but most rain comes from the forest as trees transpire moisture into the air. In fact one might say that rain does not fall from the sky at all, but evaporates up from trees and the ocean. Whilst the ocean provides some rain it is actually the forest that brings us about eighty percent of rain. Forest destruction leads to drought and pestilence. Reforestation is the most important element in rebuilding landscape. 
fractal: a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.



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