[permaculture] Sharon Astyk: "Permaculture Future?: Part I"

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lflj at intrex.net
Mon Jun 29 23:41:24 EDT 2009

> http://sharonastyk.com/2009/06/29/permaculture-future-questions-perhaps-worth-asking-part-i/

"That said, however, I admit to some doubts about the political viability of permaculture as a solution for our 
collective crisis, doubts I’m going to articulate here, in the interest of promoting a larger discussion about 
permaculture, and about the possibility of movements in general as a strategy of mitigation.  I do want to be clear that 
I am not trying to undermine the enormous efforts made by people involved in permaculture and Transition, nor do I want 
to see them discontinue their efforts.  But I do feel that there are questions to be discussed and answered.

I should be absolutely clear here - all of my concerns about permaculture are about elements of permaculture’s 
presentation and emphasis - not about the overall goals of Transition or the permaculture movement. That is, even if I 
don’t qualify as an official permaculturist, even if I critique them, there is no question I want to work with 
permaculturists - their emphasis on scale, on  integrating food production and local economies, their emphasis on 
appropriate technology - all of these things are, I think, absolutely right.  The question is not whether permaculture 
is bad - I would deny that outright.  The question for me is whether permaculture and its offshoots, as they are 
presented and emphasized now,  can do what they would like to do - make a smooth (or smoother) transition than any other 
method through tough times.

The first one is a philosophical one - can permaculture as a movement actually attract enough mainstream people to 
really and truly make a difference? This to me is a sincere and serious question, and perhaps the deepest issue to be 
addressed.  When I have given talks at permaculture classes, attended group meetings, or given talks to permaculturist 
audiences, I’ve noticed a pervasive consistency among the attendees.  While there are exceptions, and I can’t speak for 
permaculturist gatherings outside the US, the ones I’ve attended (and I’ve attended quite a few in different areas of 
the country) have had some common denominators.  The attendees tend to be white and middle class, or if they are not 
middle class, they are very young, and immersed in alternative culture.  I don’t mean to stereotype, but most of the 
people who attend these groups tend to visually signal their attachment to historical leftist or alternative 
communities.  There are plenty of exceptions, but the predominance is of grey pony tails, yoga mats, priuses, flowered 
skirts and lefty bumperstickers.  These are not bad things - I grew up in precisely this culture and am quite fond of 
it.  But the absence of trucks with gun racks, right wing bumper stickers,  non-white people and other signifiers of 
ideological is somewhat disheartening, if you are looking for a universal movement. "

Puff speech.

There's another one who really hasn't figured out what permaculture is all about.

Why does permaculture have to me politically viable? Why can't it just keep people healthy and provided for and protect 
and sustain the land they live on? Why can't it spread as more and more people practice it in their lives? Why does it 
have to have a social diversity quota?

For some reason she hasn't seen all the right wingers, non whites, etc etc etc that are actually out there interested in 
and practicing permaculture or something nameless but identical to it. They're out there and they are doing it. Look at 
the origins of the organic and sustainable agriculture and back to the land movements of the 40's through the 80's and 
you will see all these people, from all ethnic, economic, educational, political and religious backgrounds.

Robert Waldrop wrote:

 > One of the issues Sharon raises in the article is
 > how permaculture would/will fare in a situation
 > where rapid catastrophic changes come upon us,
 > whether it be through climactic change, war,
 > revolution, fascist governments, resource
 > exhaustion, etc.

The only way permaculture will survive, as with organic agriculture, is for more and more people to learn it and 
practice it, continuously into the future. What is there to be gained by it having a political front end or be subjected 
to some form of social engineering? The organic and sustainable farming movements now have a political presence and it 
does no small farmer much good. The government owns "organic" which primarily serves large corporate entities and 
conventional/chemical/gmo corporate agriculture is now trying to take over sustainable agriculture by creating a set of 
standards for it by their own design for which they might seek govenment support. There is an alternate group trying to 
design an ANSI standard for sustainable agriculture; maybe there's  good future for that effort, maybe not.

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