2017-01-07

Will Permaculture save the World?


Let me begin with a couple of uncomfortable questions.
Are you aware of the fact that, every day, 200 species are disappearing from the face of the Earth?
Are you also aware of the fact that, since the beginning of industrialization, the worldwide population of vertebrates has dropped by more than 90%?
If not, why are you not aware? Is it because in our lives as civilized people we are so much immersed in human affairs, so far removed from the natural sphere that we hardly notice what is going on around us, even when it happens on a grand scale? TV bombards us with music, films, news and other forms of entertainment, yet what is most important – because it lies at the foundation of our very survival – is never mentioned. Most of what we think we know is not experienced by ourselves, it is mediated knowledge.

Now, what, do you think, causes such gross deterioration of the biosphere? It is human activity: resources extraction, settlement, food production, pollution, all of them on a global-industrial scale. Mankind is literally consuming the whole world and turning it into human biomass and facilities.
Agriculture's contribution to the problem are the 7.5 billion people on the planet, a multiplication by seven since 1750, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It is for the food we eat that we do exist. This flesh around my bones is food, it is plants and animals consumed by me.

Our human population explosion has only been possible due to ruthless depletion of the soil, killing of currently 70 billion domestic animals and 170+ million tons of fish per year for meat, as well as growing expansion of fields at the expense of ecosystems. All of this is driven by petroleum products, from herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and pesticides to chemical fertilizer and plastic packaging and cool storage and long-distance transportation.
While the numbers are ever growing, we only have one finite planet at our disposal, and dispose of it we do. For there is no infinite growth possible in a limited system.
We know this for a long time already, so why don't we stop this madness?

The thing that is in our way is called 'Western world view', Utilitarianism, to be precise, and it basically says that we are separate individuals competing for survival in an indifferent world of inert masses that have neither meaning nor intrinsic value. In other words, everything around us is just 'our resources' and we can use it as we please.
What Utilitarianism overlooks is that we do depend on the functioning of the planetary system for our lives. Like with a brick building, we may break holes here and there for creating space for human activities, but if we take out too many bricks the building will just collapse on us, and collapse suddenly.

Organic farming and small-footprint lifestyles, if everyone actually agreed upon applying them, would in fact reduce the damage added each day, but neither is civilization willing to reduce its greedy utilization of Earth's bounties by the slightest amount, nor would it change the fact that increasing damage is done every day by an ever growing human population. Who are we to snortingly look down on the breeding habits of rabbits, goats and locusts?

I do work on an organic farm and I do live a low-impact lifestyle, yet those are not means of “saving the planet” or just “saving myself”. They are not means to soothe my conscience either; for I know that the normal healthy impact that I would have as a member of the global ant population, the elephant population or a stone age human tribe at the end of the Paleolithic, amplifies into horrific destruction in my current existence as a member of our blown-up global civilization. Nothing that we do can make a difference to our predicament – that humanity is likely to go extinct within a few years because we are inches away from a biosphere collapse we brought about by reckless extraction.

Permaculture farms, like gift economies and intentional communities, can be an expression of a deeper understanding rather than a means to achieve a goal. We don't want to make a buck by helping an old lady across the street. It is not our intention to achieve world domination by feeding our children. We don't seek to trade potato chips for the lemonade we bring to a barbecue. We do all these things for the joy of doing them, and the joy comes from the joy it brings to those who “benefit” from our actions. If “the World” is “saved” it is going to happen due to the understanding that existence is about more than this little me that wants to survive. A global awakening to this understanding may well trigger forces that curb or reverse the damage done, but to think of it this way is an attempt in instrumentalizing Awakening for the utilitarian exploitation of those Forces. Awakening then evades us while those Forces evaporate into a fog of wishful thinking. It just doesn't work like this.

To take this current moment, to hold it precious, and to live it with a sense of excellence so that we do the right thing, according to this understanding and without expectation for a specific outcome – this is reward and redemption in itself. The World, it doesn't need saving.

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