[permaculture] Permaculture in speculative fiction - Kim Stanley Robinson

Keith Johnson keithdj at mindspring.com
Wed Dec 6 15:43:23 EST 2006

I'm wrapping up the 2nd installment of KS Robinson's global climate 
change trilogy and realizing he has gifted us hugely by promoting 
permaculture via his novels. He mentions it at least 6 times in this 
latest award winner and not in a casual off-hand way but as a core 
strategy for adapting to a rapidly changing world. Following are a few 
snips from various websites where he talks about permaculture. Pick it 
up at the library and read it. You'll be glad you did.
Future tense*
Sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson's latest novel, Fifty Degrees Below, 
is set in a flood-ridden America facing the consequences of global warming.

In the wake of a tropical storm, a low-lying American city is drowning. 
Buildings are demolished and bridges knocked out; tens of thousands of 
people are without electricity or fresh water; hospitals are bursting at 
the seams with the sick and the dead.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. But this isn't a retelling of 
(Hurricane Katrina), it is the opening of Fifty Degrees Below, the 
second volume in science fiction maven Kim Stanley Robinson's latest 
trilogy on climate change. And the drowned city isn't New Orleans: it's 
Washington DC.

These disturbingly convincing, exceptionally well-realized novels are 
the latest works from one of the undisputed leaders of the field in 
contemporary science fiction. Justly famous for his epic, award-winning 
trilogy on the colonization of Mars, Robinson's brand of imaginative but 
grounded sci-fi, combined with his gift for riveting narrative, fine 
evocation of place and flair for acute personal and social observation, 
has brought him many devotees, from within the genre and beyond. The 
topical subject matter of his latest novel, particularly in light of its 
disturbingly prescient depiction of a US under siege from the weather, 
will no doubt bring him many more.

Read the rest of the article at:

Snip from interview at:

LJ: Your work is well known for its views on ecology and environmental 
issues. In South Africa presently, there is a huge move towards 
enterprises such as Permaculture, not only in terms of environmental 
interest, but also as a way of empowering communities and creating jobs. 
Do you think that government-funded institutions are doing enough in 
terms of preserving the natural balance of our biological environment, 
or does the future of preservation lie within the self-determining 
concerns of the world's communities?

KSR: Self-determining concerns of the world's communities will have to 
make use of government-funded institutions, and government itself. It's 
a total-culture project. It's a pleasure to see the word "Permaculture" 
in your question, as this is one of the best names we have for this very 
crucial movement, but it is not a name well known in the USA. By and 
large, mainstream American culture is still in a state of deep denial 
about all this, and of course that is a huge problem. It seems to me 
worthwhile to write novels about such an interesting and important 
situation, just to heighten awareness.


Rational inquiry into everything, in part to enable the reduction of 
suffering---it's a kind of ethics and so naturally capitalism is 
offended and tries to buy it, tries especially hard since science makes 
all the new toys. Maybe capitalism will buy science, maybe science will 
help the other justice movements to engineer capitalism into 
permaculture, as in some kind of institutional genetic engineering 
project (history). Anthropogenic mutation. We're in the middle of the 
story, part of it.


"Utopia is a way of organizing one's science fiction and political 
thought - the idea that history can be made progressive by 
conceptualizing it as a dynamic process leading toward some kind of 
'permaculture' that is just and sustainable, or, to keep it all dynamic, 
more just and sustainable than what we are living with now. One way to 
think of it is to ponder: 'What comes after capitalism' because this is 
not a thought that capitalism as a system wants to have thinkable."


With Le Guin on the green side, it may be said that science fiction 
itself has changed, and now includes a healthy number of writers 
attempting to model futures that are environmentally sustainable. 
Sometimes it has an "eco-feminist" slant, as in the work of Gwyneth 
Jones, Molly Gloss, Karen Fowler or Joanna Russ; other times it has a 
leftist political bent, as in the work of Iain Banks, Ken MacLeod, Terry 
Bisson, or Geoff Ryman. Ryman's newest novel, for instance, called Air, 
describes the effects of globalization in ways so unforgettable that all 
who read it will be affected. With luck these new visions of 
permaculture and sustainability will become the new consensus future, 
replacing the city-world with something more vibrant and believable; 
something to work for.

Thus it seems to me natural and important that all environmentalists 
become science fiction readers. After all, being a green is in essence a 
utopian act, taking a stand on the future, saying "this is what we 
should do, now, for the generations to come." Science fiction envisions 
scenarios of all kinds, from utopian to dystopian. You can't commit 
yourself to a future, and struggle for it, when you can't see it; and 
envisioning the future is a kind of group project that we all perform 
together, with science fiction as the narrative wing of the project, 
providing the new visions, scenarios, test cases, and myths.

Try it and you'll see. It's very inspiring, and we can always use 

The most important inventions now must encompass our collective purpose 
and our aspirations for the long haul--like permaculture, the creation 
of productive and sustainable landscapes through means that leave a 
minimal human impact. With its fusion of justice, sustainability, and 
meaning, permaculture joins the co-op movement, the American 
Constitution, and Buddhism in a long tradition of positive inventions.
Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Antarctica

Keith Johnson
Permaculture Activist Magazine
PO Box 5516, Bloomington, IN 47408
(812) 335-0383
also Patterns for Abundance Design & Consulting
also Association for Regenerative Culture
also APPLE-Bloomington (Alliance for a Post-Petroleum Local Economy) It's a small world after oil.
also Bloomington Permaculture Guild

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