Permaculture as Situation Planning

“The most important thing we can do right now, regardless of what the future holds, is to build community, solidarity, and a culture of radical mutual love.”

The future is uncertain. We do not know for sure what it will bring. Every model makes simplifying assumptions, and absolute information can never be attained. We do, however, have many methods that can tell us what is likely to happen and what is very unlikely to happen. We can use these methods of general prediction to predict not what the one future will look like, but what possible futures might look like. We can then use these likely possible futures to plan our actions for today. This process of situation planning allows us to be best prepared for the future, even if it is uncertain.

The process looks something like this:

  • Make a series of assumptions about the way certain actions, processes, or other developments will pan out
  • Ask ourselves how the above situation would impact the rest of society
  • Ask ourselves what actions we can take now to best prepare ourselves for the above scenario
  • Repeat for a new set of assumptions

Once we have exhausted the most likely scenarios, we can then look at our list of actionable steps and find the ones that overlap. We start with patterns in these plausible future scenarios and then work backwards to the details of exactly what we should do.

The actions that best prepare us for the greatest number of plausible future scenarios are the actions that we should be taking right now.

Let’s take a look at a couple of highly plausible future scenarios as an example.

Scenario 1: Climate Change Causes Extreme Sea Level Rise

In this scenario, rising global temperatures cause the thermal expansion of ocean waters and the melting of glacial ice, leading to sea level rise that puts up to 40% of the World’s human population and 8 of the 10 largest cities at high risk of flooding, increased storm severity, and unprecedented damages to critical infrastructure [107]. Such a scenario is likely to result in massive emigration inland from the ravaged, flooded coastal regions.

With such a massive influx of people, social unrest seems likely; at least in the absence of strong community organizing. Housing and sanitation infrastructure will become one of the most critical projects to prevent outbreaks of disease and widespread suffering and death. It will be necessary, however, to construct such infrastructure in ways that are carbon-neutral or carbon-negative, so as to not further drive climate change and increasing sea levels.

Developing food production, and particularly food distribution, infrastructure will also be critical under such a scenario.

With so many people displaced from their homes and places of work, it will be necessary to find meaningful tasks for these people to occupy their time with to promote cooperation and avoid violence and depression.

Many people can become involved in projects like building off-grid, carbon-neutral housing like these Earthships, developing permaculture forest gardens and nurseries, and creating local health centers for everything from cleaning and dressing wounds to making insulin and vaccinesbut only if the information is readily available!

That is why today we should be researching methods for carbon-neutral/carbon-negative housing, developing permaculture forest gardens and nurseries, and experimenting with local healthcare solutions. We need to document our progress, make it available, and spread the information freely to anyone and everyone who will listen. And we need to build a culture of cooperation so that people can work together on these projects.

Scenario 2: Climate Change Causes Failure of Industrial Agriculture

This is one that we have talked about quite a bit before (here, here, and elsewhere), so I won’t belabor it here, but essentially the practices of industrial agriculture lead to the depletion of soil health and biodiversity, which leads mono-crop farms to be extremely vulnerable to the effects of drought, flood, and untimely frost brought about by climate change.

Such a scenario would severely jeopardize the food security of the United States and other (post)industrial States. In addition, due to the amount of food exported by such States, the food supplies of other, less industrialized regions would also be at risk. The US is the largest exporter of food in the world [108].

With such a reduction in food supply, we would see a large increase in the price of food. This would lead to only the rich (who are largely responsible for the climate change in the first place) being able to afford food, with others left mostly to starve. This would likely lead to huge civil unrest as the hungry masses come knocking on the doors of the wealthy hoarders.

Countries like the US would probably stop exporting food for foreign aid programs. This may be enough to temporarily insulate US food markets from such civil unrest, leaving the majority of the burden on pre-industrial or industrializing nations, but as the climate continues to change and conditions for agriculture deteriorate, civil unrest is sure to ensue.That is, of course, unless we take steps today to mitigate those damages.

We need to create local, communal food production systems that actively mitigate the causes of climate change (by sequestering carbon, reducing energy demands, etc.) and safeguard against its effects (be storing water in the soil and ponds for times of drought, providing drainage for times of flood, fostering biodiversity, etc.). We must also develop decentralized distribution systems to get this food to the people who need it. Food Not Bombs is a great example of such a distribution network. We must spread the information on how to produce food in an environmentally regenerative and climate adapted manner so that people everywhere can begin to do it. And we must foster the kind of relationships between people so that they are ready and willing to help everyone rise up together, rather than pushing people down to get an edge.

Scenario 3: Stock Market Crash, New Depression

As impossible as this one might sound to some, it is actually not all that unlikely. While there are many reasons for events like recessions and depressions, one major factor is investors trust in the system. In 2008, when lots of sub-prime mortgages were sold and the resulting debt bought and rebought by various agencies, it became impossible to know if any investment was good or not, as it could be based on a mortgage that would not be paid. As a result, investors lost trust, pulled out their funds, and the bubble popped (this is a very simplistic view, curious readers should seek additional sources on this topic). The same is generally true of the Great Depression, when peoples faith in the banks failed and everyone wanted their money out all at once. The banks, of course, being State-sanctioned Ponzi schemes, didn’t have the money, and the result lead to the Depression.

The same is very plausible in today’s world. Massive profits have been realized by the tech industry in the last twenty years or so. Many of the products or services do not actually generate revenue per se, but instead rely on revenue paid out by other corporations for the right to try to sell their product through this new tech platform, i.e. for the right to advertise. If users of such tech products start to realize that they are being subliminally manipulated by such ads and reject them; or if a new open-source plug-in that virtually eliminates advertisements from a user’s device; or if people just decide by and large that local production of goods is better than buying from corporations; or if the climate renders such industrial production impractical, then such advertisements will cease to generate revenue for the companies, the tech companies will cease to be profitable, and the entire tech bubble could burst, leading to a massive contraction of the economy. 

There are many other factors that could lead to a massive contraction of the economy that could put us in a position as bad as or even worse than that of the 2008 crisis or even the Great Depression.

In such a scenario, many people would be left without jobs, without the ability to pay rent or buy groceries, and without savings for their retirement.

Clearly, collectivized housing and food infrastructure will be critical here. Being able to take free waste materials like old tires and turn them into off-grid homes or reclaiming abandoned office buildings for community housing would be necessary, and the formation of tenants unions to protect against eviction would be helpful too. Reclaiming big grassy corporate lawns or redesigning city parks to provide food for the masses would be necessary as well.

With healthcare provided by employers (at least in the US), it will be important to develop local medical centers to treat those that have lost their coverage due to unemployment and ensure a healthy population.

Building a sense of community is also critical to maintaining order in such a scenario. We can today lay the foundation for a solidarity economy where we share with each other to leave us all better off and create a culture of cooperation as opposed to a culture of competition. Sharing the knowledge of how to redevelop autonomous infrastructure is crucial to making it all work.

Notes and Other Possible Scenarios:

It is important to note that the above three scenarios are NOT mutually exclusive, and in fact, each of them is likely to influence and interact with the others in both positive and negative feedback loops.

It is highly likely that a large-scale failure of industrial agriculture would lead to a failure of the global economic system and stock markets, but it is also very possible that a failure of the global economic system would lead to such drastic reductions in industry and greenhouse gas emissions that the affects of climate change may remain relatively benign and the climate will eventually be able to repair itself.

Other plausible scenarios include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • global/nuclear war
  • disease/pest epidemic
  • the development of some technology that magically fixes all the world’s problems and allows global industrial capitalism to continue on as is for the foreseeable future
The Common Threads and Actionable Steps:

The fact is that we don’t know exactly what will happen, but we can imagine likely scenarios and then do what will best prepare us for the greatest number of such possible futures. In the above examples, the actions most likely to best prepare us for the most possible futures are:

  • The development of decentralized, regenerative food production and distribution infrastructure that mitigates the causes and the effects of climate change
  • Building of collectivized carbon-neutral/carbon-negative housing infrastructure out of free, “waste” materials
  • Development of local medical facilities for the treatment and prevention of various injuries and illnesses
  • The creation of a solidarity economy and a culture of cooperation
  • The documentation and sharing of information regarding the above topics so that everyone, everywhere can be prepared

The above practices not only prepare us for a wide range of likely future scenarios, but they also improve our lives today drastically. Even if the world stays exactly as it is — no climate change, no economic collapse, no disease or war — these strategies will still allow us all to live better, healthier lives with more freedom, more autonomy, and a greater sense of social belonging. The most important thing we can do right now, regardless of what the future holds, is to build community, solidarity, and a culture of radical mutual love.

We invite you to try this exercise for yourself: come up with some likely scenarios and evaluate them, or re-evaluate the ones we discussed here, and see if you come to the same conclusions of what kinds of things we should be doing today! Share your thoughts in the comments below!

A good video on permaculture and situation planning by David Holmgren can be found here!

 

References

  • https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sealevel.html
  • https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-american-food-giant-the-largest-exporter-of-food-in-the-world.html

One thought on “Permaculture as Situation Planning

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *