[permaculture] Open letter to the Australian permaculture movement

Pacific Edge Permaculture + Media pacedge at magna.com.au
Mon Jul 1 01:21:10 EDT 2002

Thanks, John, for your comments...

> From: John Schinnerer <eco_living at yahoo.com>
> Reply-To: permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
> Date: Sat, 29 Jun 2002 01:32:42 -0700 (PDT)
> To: permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
> Subject: Re: [permaculture] Open letter to the Australian permaculture
> movement
> Aloha,
> It sounds from this as if the 'Australian PC Movement' is rather stuck
> in a formulaic rut and has missed the point of PC (it's the relations,
> not the elements)...although I've seen evidence (including here on this
> very list) that such is not the case for all those doing/teaching PC,
> in Australia and elsewhere in the world.

I'm not sure if the Australian permaculture movement is 'stuck in a
formulaic rut', as you put it John. What I do know is that many teachers
here have adapted design courses while retaining the core elements.

I agree that interconnections between elements is a core concept in
permaculture, especially where they have productive potential that can be
exploited by design. But the elements themselves are also important and are
critical in design.
> Also - if Permaculture is to include design of culture (which it will
> implicity anyhow, if not explicitly), it seems a bit of a cop-out to
> throw up one's hands and say that the dominant cultural shifts of the
> moment 

I'm not sure if you can design 'culture' anymore than you can design
'community'. I think culture would be the set of social beliefs and
practices that emerge out of some environment and the influences shaping
that environment. The role of permaculture, if this is true, would be to
design that environment, however the culture would be emergent from that
environment and would be unlikely to directly be the outcome of permaculture

Surely the 'dominant cultural shifts of the moment' are important to
permaculture designers as they form the contexts, the environments, in which
they must work? They are not some temporary, market driven phenomonon but
are real changes reshaping how people live in this country. If permaculture
designers and teachers ignore them, then they find themselves in the same
boat as politicians in this country are often accused of being out of touch
with social reality - their concept of society does not match the reality,
so their presecriptions fail because the reality is different.

There is plenty of evidence that the trends identified in the census and in
the study of Bernard Salt are real.

>(as told to us by a few 'specialists' with their own particular
> biases, which include our cultural love affair with numbers and
> statistics over and above actual human beings)

The trends I mentioned were identified by the Australian Bureau of
Statistics, which is regarded as a very credible source in this country and
overseas, and were based on data collected during the 2001 census, which
makes them current.

The trends had in part been identified in 2000 by the demographer Bernard
Salt in a study he carried out that was published as the book "The Big
Shift'. This was widely analysed and discussed and was covered in depth in
the media and it too is considered to paint a true picture of Australia's
changing demographics.

There is no evidence that the people involved in these studies allowed
'their own particular biases' to distort their work. Given the coverage of
both Salt's findings and that of the census results (including criticisms
reported in the media) any biases that could have distorted the findings
would surely have been disclosed.

>are nothing we can 'really' affect and we'd better join 'em cause we can't beat

Well, how do you 'beat them' with the small number of people involved in
permaculture and its consequent lack of influence and visibility in society?

I'm not sure if this is what you are suggesting John, but there has been a
tendency in Australia for permaculturists to see themselves as somehow
standing outside society. While this might be true for people living on the
social margins, it has absolutely no appeal to those making a living in
mainstream society and who do not want to pack up and move somewhere they
can live on the margin in both a physical and intellectual sense.

I wasn't suggesting that we 'join them' but that we acknowledge the trends
and work with them. That's simply saying that we should work with what we
have wherever we are - I recall Bill Mollison promoted that idea. The
findings reported by the census and by Salt are useful to permaculture
because they indicate the situation regarding the society we live in.

In Australia, permaculture started as a movement on the innovative, critical
fringe of society. Over the past decade there's been calls from permaculture
activists to work with the social mainstream. The findings describe to us
the trends within that mainstream and its characteristics, so it provides
permaculturists with valuable information.

Looking into the 'mainstream' from the fringe merely sets up a perception
that we are somehow different to others and further marginalises
permaculture. Maybe we really are part of the society after all.
> To me it's necessary to both work with 'what is' - e.g. the current
> cultures of urbanizing development and what's getting built - and to
> educate about the *consequences* (as seen via the PC lens) of 'what
> is', in case it helps some people to think twice or three times about
> supporting 'what is' any longer.

Yes, this is what I am getting at. That's why I suggested working with the
trends reshaping society so that we can influence them. That probably works
best when we set up examples that can appeal to mainstream thinking,
attitudes and beliefs and that appear safe and practical. I think that
publicly-accessible demonstration centres, of which there have been a
number, are good for this as are ideas and solutions describes in books,
video, online and on television.
> Also, in realms of whole systems design it has been theorized, and
> anecdotally shown, that sometimes (rather often, in fact) very 'small'
> sytemic changes have very 'big' systemic consequences.  So there are
> most likely openings for 'little' PC to initiate 'big' shifts in larger
> cultures.

I recall Dr Robert Gillman (Context Institute) telling us, when he was in
this country, that if around ten percent of the population adopted some idea
or practice then it was probably unstoppable and would over time merge into
the maistream. 

Unfortunately, in Australia permaculture has nothing even vaguely
approaching ten percent of the population which practices it. I find that
the more enthusiastic permaculture promoters imagine that their influence is
actually penetrating society to some considerable degree, but when you step
out of that mileau and work and spend time with people in the 'mainstream'
you quickly find that this is not true.

What we have found when teaching our organic gardening course with a Sydney
evening college is that one, maybe two people out of a class of 12 to 15
will have heard of permaculture but will not have much comprehension of what
it is about. Only one identified it as a design system. Usually, they think
it is a method of organic gardening. I think this might be typical of the
population at large.

...Russ Grayson; Sydney Australia
> I appreciate and agree with your points about the necessity of PC
> practitioners/educators to continually and thoughtfully observe 'what's
> going on' in our human cultures and integrate those observations into
> praxis/teaching.  That's what PC is fundamentally all about, as I
> understand it.
> cheers,
> John S.
> =====
> John Schinnerer, MA
> -------------------------
> - Eco-Living -
> Cultural & Ecological Designing
> Food - Water - Shelter - Community - Technology
> john at eco-living.net
> http://eco-living.net
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