Thursday, May 12, 2005

Permaculture and its Application to Global Justice

Holistic Movements with Permaculture

Notes from a talk at the 2005 Whole Earth Festival, Saturday May 7th:

Picture the blackboard at the front of the inside of this giant yellow dome -
A circle is drawn in the center with the word forest within it. Five spokes of a wheel emanate outwards like the rays of the sun, containing the words: diversity, cooperation, stacking, cycles and evolution.

Erik Ohlsen, the facilitator of the workshop, co-founded P.E.A. Planting Earth Activation.

In two years the Sebastopol-based group has planted 100 heirloom gardens.

Erik asked the group to re-form in a circle and then asked us to say why we think it is good to sit in a circle. The conclusion was that it was non-heirarchical. Yes, heirarchy exists in nature at times, he said, but so does cooperation, and it's useful to use de-centralization in social organizations. It "brings us into a common place."

Erik founded P.E.A. and took it to World Trade Organization protests in Seattle where they began planting guerilla gardens. They began taking over traffic meridians. Eric said that he wanted to create a model, bringing solutions in a place of resistance, and not just shut down the streets. During the Battle In Seattle Eric saw mega-unity-in-diversity from punks to business suits.

Our host gave us a basic definition of Permaculture: Modeling nature, create a "forest" of perrenial plants, and create a permanent's basically "food forest" gardening.

Eric's thesis was that Permaculture model can be applied to every aspect of culture, not just gardening. We need to model a forest in how we design every aspect of society.

Diversity the diversity we find in nature and therefore Permaculture. We are currently experiencing a proliferation of monoculture and homogenization in both farming and western corporate culture.

Cooperation it is a Darwinian myth that all is competition in nature. Competition does exist but there is also cooperation. Scientists couldn't understand how a strawberry plant was able to live and produce fruit in the understory of the rain forest with so little light available. They discovered that the tree whose leaves were high and able to reach the sun would produce the sugars and could bring them down to the mycorrhyza (fungi) which would deliver the sugar to the strawberries.

Stacking In nature and Permaculture "stacking" is an arrangement of plants to take advantage of all possible space, using tall and medium-sized trees with a lower shrub and herb layer. Care must be taken so that water and light compettion are at a minimum. The societal implications were not recorded in my notes on this one.

[Relinquishing Power] Another principle in Permaculture or a self-maintained, organized system (not listed on the board as one of the spokes). This is vital to understanding power dynamics, according to Erik.

Cycles Everything works in cycles. Time.

Evolution How can we evolve out of corporate empire?

IMHO, these last two seem more suited to being combined.

Erik asks: How can we apply Permaculture design to create communities that will last? It doesn't just take sustainability but "Resistance to Ivaders", using Starhawk's analogy to the pattern of historical patriarchal takover/military occupation. Erik works closely with Starhawk.

Permaculture is about webs/relationships/everything connected to everything else...

"We're a circle of designers!"

A group participation excercise begins:

The dome is divided into four quadrants: Yes, No, Effective, Not Effective.

We answer questions by moving to different quadrants and then we discuss our views. Why did we choose the way we did.

The questions include:

Is Peak Oil real?
Will solar power save the world?
Will biotech feed the world?

I went to the Yes quadrant for Peak Oil being real.

For "will solar power save the world" I went to No. Most people went to yes, except for me and Tim and Gabe. I spoke into the microphone and asked, "don't solar panels utilize some petroleum in their manufacture?" Gabe expressed concern over disposal issues.

The biotech issue was long and passionate, of course.

After the excercise Erik began to continue to inspire with more tales from the front lines. He started this organization, he said, to provide an alternative to the polarization rampant within the social justice community. He was tired of everything being "No" and "against." "The problem is the solution," he says. "Think whole systems."

In September of 2003, at the WTO ministerial in Cancun, they set up an eco-camp, utilizing rainwater catching, graywater, composting and rainforest gardening to create models. If you submerge enough oyster shells in acid rain it can neutralize the water.

"We don't have a water crises but a runoff crises! A consciousness crises!"

Every group of people contains all aspects of community for survival: you've got doctors, sewers, talents galore. We are each others resources.

The stories about geurilla gardening at the May, 2003 summit on genetic engineering in Sacramento were the most entertaining and inspiring. The homeless were able to harvest some of the produce, as one homeless woman who was present testified. She said the gardens are still being propagated through seed-saving.

Erik discussed the process of making seedballs and throwing them, in shell containers to protect from birds, onto degraded property. They include a diversity of seeds so that the plants that prefer to grow in that particular environment can choose to do so.

The seedballs were eventually charged with a crime and arrested by the local police. The police said they were weapons and put them in a box and hauled them off.
P.E.A. decided to host a workshop on the steps of the police station. They got a press-conference out of it. He said this is so much about "messenging." The cops got a press-conference out of it too. The police started lobbing seed-balls on film and called them weapons.

The conclusion of the day was: "We need sustainability and social justice woven together."

From the program guide: "Erik Ohlson is a Permaculture, Global Justice Organizer/Educator. he has spent the last six years building movements and nurturing campaigns that range from community gardens with ecological designs to global justice actions that confront Empire while modeling solutions to privatization. He tavels internationally, teaching permaculture courses and working with civil society movements in building soloutions and resistance at summit meetings of the WTO, G8, IMF, FTAA."

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