[permaculture] Fwd: On an ethics of Mr. Skvorak
scott at permaculture.org
Sat Aug 7 00:30:56 EDT 2010
Before one engages in judgment of some one else's actions the least they can
do is check with the person whose action is being judged. I find it
extremely unethical and distasteful for anyone to launch into a self serving
diatribe that is premised on judgment. I don't like it with missionaries,
evangelicals, right winged politicos, or misguided permaculturalists.
I do not feel any need to justify my actions vis a vis the Oklahoma national
guard suffice it to say that these men are going to Afghanistan to work with
farmers and herdsmen to repair an agricultural infrastructure that was
destroyed by the Russians. I respect their mission and their dedication to
helping Afghan rural people.
This is another example of a person talking to hear his head rattle.
From: rafter sass [mailto:rafter at liberationecology.org]
Sent: Wednesday, August 04, 2010 6:42 PM
To: permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org; Northeastern Permaculture (List)
Subject: [permaculture] Fwd: On an ethics of permaculture...
I'm FWDing an email on from Kevin Skvorak, a good permie who it appears has
been banned from this list.
Kevin's original email below, then my response follows.
Begin forwarded message:
> From: regeneration CSA <regenerationcsa at gmail.com>
> Date: August 4, 2010 7:26:06 PM EDT
> To: "Northeastern Permaculture (List)"
<northeasternpermaculture at lists.riseup.net>
> Subject: On an ethics of permaculture...
> warm greetings folks,
> So, i am wondering if anyone would like to consider some conversations on
the ethical dimensions of permaculture? (no pressure!)
> If you happen to feel so inclined to indulge some of my ponderings, here
> How can we frame in (more) practical ways the ethical principles of
permaculture? How do we analyze and discuss if we are achieving our goals
of earth care, people care, and fair share? How much of each does it take?
If two out of three of these are embodied in any given project, is this
enough to qualify as permaculture?
> I want to offer an example or two to help illustrate.
> Recently, Scott Pittman, director of the Permaculture Institute taught
some National Guardsmen on their way to Afghanistan some Permaculture
basics. For me this very tricky, if not perhaps untenable for a movement
(for want of a better word) that is espousing the values Permaculture is.
> In fairness, it seems to me there can be a couple of different
perspectives on this. One is that it doesn't matter who, or how, or in what
context permaculture is delivered in, it is "all good" as long as it gets
out there, and there are no contradictions in offering this info to the US
National Guard. Ok. One may hold such an opinion i suppose.
> There is also another way to view it, one that i believe more holistically
embodies the values we teach. While there may be some "good" that was
delivered to the few national guardsmen that attended the course, it was
far outweighed by the bad. (providing greenwash for a pretty bloody,
unprincipled imperial effort; possibly/probably damaging/sabotaging any
reputation that permaculture might have developed among the people of
afghanistan in the future; etc etc. Hence, imo this was a less than optimal
> A much better ethical one (again imho) would have been to refuse to offer
these token classes to some US soldiers engaged in an occupation, but
instead make an effort to offer them to like valued afghan led efforts on
the ground, unembeded in what appears (it seems to me) to be an ongoing US
led corporate/military/industrial/etc colonial effort of the most naked
kind. (It is a bad thing. the war is bad.)
> This is all easier said that done I know, and afghanistan remains a pretty
dangerous place for democratic and civil society groups that would be the
natural allies of Permaculture. And it will likely remain a very dangerous
place for such people, as long as the US military remains. A dilemma one
> And there are actually a lot of other Permaculture identified efforts that
appear to be on pretty shaky "ethical" ground. like all the "permaculture"
developments going in in global south "third world" countres, owned, and for
the benefit of (usually) global north, mostly of european origin folks. Be
this as it may - i don't want to waste folks computer time going into all
this. Because of course there also many wonderful, creative, and highly
ethical Permaculture efforts going on as well. (this isn't another blanket
condemnation of permaculture! i swear)
> What I am most interested in is "how" we dialogue about this stuff, under
what framing? what principles? what "context"?
> Maybe we just need to be more specific when we talk about "fair share".
For instance does fair share include an inherent debt by US and other
"developed" industrial consumers to the majority of the worlds population
not living such a consumer "lifestyle"? Dow we owe "Regenerative
Reparations"? (anyone can use this without attribution whenever they
> Do we talk about carbon or "climate debt". The language that came out of
the Cochabamba meetings on climate change is very thoughtful on this issue:
> and, i suppose another question to ask might be, how well do our existing
principles work in this regard? Are they achieving the goals of creating an
adequate intellectual framework on which to fully assess and discuss our
work? Is the vagueness on the part about our existing principles a well
thought/intentional in this regard? Is it tactical choice? Do we perhaps
feel that the vagueness helps us as we attempt the broadest possible "tent"
of permaculture? i am not sure....
> I am not meaning to be to terribly confrontational with all this, (tho,
alas it is my current nature it seems) and it is just something I am
meditating on at the moment.
> And for me "ethics" is not because we want to achieve some vague feeling
of goodness, but because we want to be effective.
> so for me, much of this all is "context" I am meditating a lot on the
question of context these days.
> peace and love,
> p.s. If anyone wants to fwd this to the national listserve, (i have been
banned by LL) i would be gratified as i would honestly, and deeply value
any insight on these issues from many of the minds and hearts on that
listserve as well.
> Regeneration CSA
> at Outback Farm
> 81 Clove Valley Rd
> High Falls NY 12440
> 845 687 0535
I have often thought that Pc ethics are taught in a watered-down and
feel-good style, that does more to create good vibes and excitement than it
does to challenge students, or help designers navigate the sometimes-murky
waters of choosing clients and partners.
The way I think about the ethics, and the way I train future designers,
revolves around the idea of putting some meat - and maybe even teeth -
behind the ethics.
That "care" is a tricky term, after all - because it can refer to emotion
alone. I like to think that, as used in the ethics, it actually refers to
the action of caring - of taking care of. So the question becomes, how do we
know when we are taking care of the earth, of people?
We can and should choose indicators and benchmarks, to help us know when we
are following the ethics, and when we are coming up short. Specific measures
are up to the designer, but there a few questions that I think the ethics
demand that we ask:
Care for the Earth: What, really, is our measure of ecosystem health? The
most popular in the Pc movement seem to be biodiversity and energy capture,
would easily accept topsoil depth, presence of top predators,
decreases in nutrient or contaminant runoff in surface waters,
structural/functional diversity, etc. etc.
What matters to me is not which indicator, but that there IS one -
that we have ways to measure our results - and see if we measuring up.
Care for People: What is our measure for social health? Trickier, even, than
measuring ecosystem health, but we still have to *actually think about it*
if we want to
accomplish it. The way that I interpret this ethic is
How is this project helping this community USE AND CONTROL
it's own resources sustainably - or regeneratively?
How is this project helping a community take control of its
own destiny - to self-determine?
Maybe not as easy to come up with a number or a measure for this,
but I want to hear you (and me) at least make an honest case
for how your work is doing this.
Redistribute Surplus: Trickier still, most often neglected, and exactly as
crucial as the other two. This one merits a little digression.
Most into to Pc presentations start with an "Evidence" section.
That's classic Pc, as many folks are aware - to spend just a few minutes on
gloom, and then focus on solutions for the rest of the time. I
present the usual littany of bummers for my evidence section -
deforestation, soil loss,
climate, peak, etc. etc., and then as the last item, I put up a
slide on "Inequality." I use this graphic for the slide:
Then I have a little discussion on "Why is inequality an ecological
These are generally very productive.
My own answers are -
(1) Because of the environmental EFFECTS of inequality: poor
communities are unable to defend themselves against toxic discharges, and
have no buffer against instability in the eco-eco systems, so bear
disproportionate effects - ESPECIALLY disproportionate
compared to their impact.
(2) Because inequality is an environmental DRIVER: as long as their
are people who are calling the shots about production and extraction who are
making a killing, and can buffer themselves from the effects
indefinitely, AND those who do the work and bear the effects don't have any
making power about production and extraction, THERE WILL BE NO
SUSTAINABILITY. Research supports this statistically: in counties,
states, and nations (3 different studies) the more inequality, the
worse environmental outcomes.
(3) And finally, because it's just freaking ecological, isn't it?
The movement of energy and matter through complex living systems is the
stuff of ecology, and we can use that lens and those tools to
understand it, and to change it.
SO, back to the 3rd Ethic. The way I see it, the question that the
3rd Ethic "Redistribute Surplus" demands of us is:
How is my work helping, in some way, to begin to flatten the
terrible mountain of inequality that lies between us and true
Or, to reverse the metaphor, how is my work helping to fill
the chasm that separates the 20% world from the 80% world, that MUST be
regenerate our culture and biosphere?
As for Scott's flirtation with the military-industrial complex, I'm actually
not all that interested in having an opinion.
I'd rather hear more, and ask some questions, than figure out if it was OK
or NOT OK. ;)
Thanks again, Kevin, for spurring discussion of crucial topics.
Liberation Ecology Project
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