[permaculture] Stress Tolerance (was: Invisible Structures)

Gene Monaco efmonaco at comcast.net
Wed Feb 14 11:19:06 EST 2007

Good one Paul, and right on the money as far as I can see.
(Long reply below...)
The idea of building the Ark has rung true for a number of us for a long
time.  There's definitely a renewed sense that the heat's been turned up a
bit, and the reprieve that we got after Y2K (remember that?) has (as they
say around here) done been spent.  I remember Earth Ships and bomb shelters
A lot of that 'run for the hills' energy is what initially drove me to
Permaculture and the Tracker School.  Along the way, I've met many folks who
actually ran for the hills, stayed there awhile, then peeked out and came
back when nothing dramatic happened. But...
Having said all that, the time is a coming and these 'stress tolerance and
avoidance infrastructure' strategies do play a role.  There was a movie last
year called "Lord of War" with Nicholas Cage that really showed the
destructive power of the arms trade, centered in Africa.  Whole villages are
wiped out when the neighboring village's war lord gets a shipment of guns
and ammo from one of the top 5 dealers (which happens to be the same list as
the 5 members of the UN Security Council...hmmm).
Did anybody pay attention to the violence in New Orleans after Katrina?
Where the gangs were shooting at the Cops?  As an aside, does anybody
remember which area had the highest gas prices right after the storm?  Go
ahead and take a guess.
Well, it wasn't California: they have their own refineries (think Long
Beach), which weren't hit.  It wasn't Chicago land: they have their own
refineries (think Amoco), which weren't hit. It wasn't the Northeast: they
have their own refineries, which weren't hit. It wasn't even Houston, TX,
which is on the Gulf Coast and absorbed most of the refugees (I was there at
the time; gas that was $1.60 hit $2.80).  The reason again: they have their
own refineries, which weren't hit. 
The answer is Atlanta, GA, recorded at $5/gal.  Why?  Their gas comes up the
pipeline from the (Chevron) refineries in Pascagoula, MS, which were hit.
Forget price gouging, there was no gas in the tank.  If that would have
lasted a little longer, the gangs would have been on the roam.  A friend of
mine in Atlanta says they are already on the prowl stealing Air Conditioning
condensers from the outside of houses for the copper in the coils.
So here I was all along thinking that Atlanta, being at 1000 ft above MSL,
would not be affected by a 2' rise at the coast.  Wrong.
The system is more fragile than ever.  I say this as a civil engineer who
has studied and worked with the infrastructure.  Hell, if the power goes
out, we can't even pump gas out of the tanks--although that would be quickly
overcome by siphons (guarded by militia.)
There's an argument to be made that we should just stay in the cities and
work to change consciousness thereby maximizing our chances of avoiding the
collapse.  If there were one right answer for everybody, I'd say that's it.
However, ultimately one has to follow one's path and Vision, and there are a
few of us that feel the call to work on the infrastructure to weather the
storm, and provide safe haven for children and others that can't take care
of themselves or that are focused in the cities.  Kind of like saving seeds
for future generations. Or storing nuts or honey for the winter.  
I envy the animals who can just forage what's there and don't spend much
energy gardening.  But in this day and age, since the widespread dependence
on agriculture, most folks can't survive as hunter gatherers.  Tracker
skills helps a lot, but you still have to contend with the gangs and guns.
The one saving grace is that most of that gang/gun stuff will probably occur
in the cities at the coast (and of course Atlanta), and without too much gas
available, it will be hard to get further out in the bush to find the
One final thought.  Christopher Alexander (Pattern Language) describes
Privacy Gradient.  I love this pattern.  Applied to ecovillages an
individual ecovillage might have a street-front commercial area, which
gradients back and ultimately gives way to the bush with no roads farthest
back (hunter-gatherer zone 5).  
Now imagine a collection of ecovillages.  The most urban ones might be group
houses in the city with virtually no back yard, but from which the political
activists can work.  This gives way to a suburban group with community
gardens, CSAs that have simple access to the cities.  Further back along the
gradient might be Earthaven-type communities that are a good hour's drive to
the nearest town or small city but have woodlands, aquaculture,
eco-education, and retreat opportunities, but which lots of people know
about.  Then there are the communities farthest out in the bush that may be
most primitive and private.
The key to all this is interconnectedness.  If there's one thing I've
learned about the dark side, it's that they can't work very well in groups.
Our challenges are just that.  But if your ecovillage happened to get
overrun, you could go to the next one in another location or farther out the
Nobody knows how the future will unfold so it behooves us to work together
on this stuff.
BTW, if you happen to have a Vision to work on a very private project far
back on the gradient in the eastern US, please connect with me off list.
Ultimately we will connect with others doing the same things in other
locations to strengthen the network.  Think spider web of connections.



5. Re: Invisible Structures  Information (Paul Cereghino)

Message: 5
Date: Tue, 13 Feb 2007 22:18:44 -0800
From: Paul Cereghino <paul.cereghino at comcast.net>
Subject: Re: [permaculture] Invisible Structures  Information
To: permaculture <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
Message-ID: <45D2A9C4.2000801 at comcast.net>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed

Long one, but bear with me... Beware, the following monologue contains
multiple poorly defined concepts that could be easily misinterpreted...

"Personally, I am interested in any models/metaphors that folks may be aware
of that are analogues of "economic systems" that occur in nature. 
This might include such behaviors as squirrels hoarding nuts, but I am
really looking for energy exchange models that might be mirrored as we
design permaculture "economies""

In natural systems you can find any number of arrangements between species
that involve exchange of resources from facilitation to parasitism to
predation.  You can then proceed to find benefits and costs to each
arrangement as motivated by your cosmology.  Within populations you can find
all manner of social-political structure: 
matriarchy, patriarchy, anarchy, pure communalism... aren't our economic
arrangements just side effects of our socio-political models for control of

So I propose that 'economic system' is more of a symptom than a driver
-- our socio-political models establish power dynamics (primarily ownership
of resources and monopoly on violence) and these systems then just respond
to the resource environment by forming economic arrangements.  If you wanted
an ecological model you could adopt Philip Grime's model of plant strategies
(interesting interview at
http://www.sciencewatch.com/interviews/philip_grime.htm):  environments
dominated by disturbance reward 'ruderal' strategies focused on dispersal
and repeated recolonization of opportunistic niches.  
Environments with periods of extreme stress rewards those that grow slow and
invest in stress tolerance and avoidance infrastructure.  Abundant resource
bases favors those individuals that devote energy to competing and
controlling resources without regard for the future. 

You could describe our "economic environment" as being in transition from
one with an abundance resource base, benefiting 'competitors', to one
increasingly dominated by stress or disturbance.  Viable socio-political
entities must adapt to changing success criteria.  
Perhaps permaculture is a 'stress tolerator' strategy that won't really kick
in until stressors increase (oil and resource depletion + climate shifts),
but is vulnerable to 'disturbance' (climate craziness and violent chaos)
that supports more ruderal strategies (militarism).

I'd reiterate the idea that "economic patterns" are adaptive to the
combination of "social-political system" and "environmental condition".  
A economic structure has no horsepower without control over resources (Frank
Herbert said "he who can destroy a thing controls that thing..").
Permaculture depends, perhaps more than any other economic model on the
control of land (currently manifested by holding title).  
Permaculture economic arrangements support acquisition of control over land
under management systems that build fertility and habitat functions.
Permanent economies must in turn be supported by stable socio-political

Land trust systems seem a natural complement to economic structures that
leverage land ownership.  There is an informal system of conservation
acquisition in Washington, USA now underway.  NGO's buy land with ecological
value, use public money for salmon recovery to strip off 'development
rights' and then turn around and sell the remainder of land rights
(residence and compatible use) to a 'conservation buyer'.  This is a
'permaculture' model in that it is creating connections between existing
entities and stacks functions.  To enhance this 'guild' you could either
figure out how to create more conservation buyers, create socio-political
structures that subsidize the process, or find other capital flows within
society that can be diverted toward this kind of investment.  Land trusts
that acquire land without finding people to live on that land, run into
problems in trying to finance stewardship in the absence of residential
stewards.  Educational systems developed by local government to educate
private landowners to be 'good stewards' is a natural member of this guild,
as are 'conservation corps' groups that provide cheap labor to complete
'conservation' work.

The bottom line is that 'economic permaculture' is designing 'economic
gardens' in the context of the existing 'economic environment'.  The desire
for 'apartness' so we can shed the shackles of our 'fundamentally flawed
economic system' fundamentally separates the permaculture venture from the
sources, flows, and sinks of the existing economic environment, and so fails
to be good permaculture design.  The idea that 'permaculture' can only
operate through people "tuning in, turning on and dropping out" may have no
functional value.  As the resource environment changes (resource depletion +
global climate change) we will need to adapt, but those are not the current
design conditions.  So we must develop successional designs that take us
from here to there using existing environments, not imaginary environments.
Or we could contentedly work like Noah building our ark, quite certain that
the 'big one' really is just around the corner this time.


More information about the permaculture mailing list