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Fight the Power with Permaculture – March 2014

Unfortunately some interest in politics is necessary to create and maintain stable open and free societies. Politics is not something we can ignore. However, probably the best way to fight power and control systems is to avoid reliance on them. Dependency is how government, major corporations, and other massive hierarchies grow in power and corruption.

We will explore ways of empowering ourselves, families, and our communities in what could be described as non-political ways. We can fight power by not feeding it. It is hard to put out a fire while throwing gasoline on it.

Permaculture Summary

To break dependency on hierarchical power, we must take a look at how we house, feed, and get energy for ourselves. Currently, these are all provided primarily by massive government-regulated corporations. Seeing as how both big government and big business are notoriously corrupt, new ways of thinking must be adopted so we will briefly explore permaculture. The subject is incredible in scope so only a miniscule number of strategies will be mentioned here.

Permaculture is often defined as an ecological design system based on the principal of sustainability. Sustainable development is often defined as organization within a global system with finite resources. That having been said, probably a better way of defining Permaculture is as an ecological mind-set where consequence-based thinking and problem solving are employed when making decisions in regard to development.

Bottom Up Approach

We have all heard the charged political rhetoric about promoting “sustainable-development” by corporate-owned government and media. It sounds nice but we have no reason to believe there is any sincerity behind the propaganda. Hierarchies of power are notorious for saying they are going to do one thing and then doing the exact opposite or perverting something well-intentioned into a distorted parody.

If there is to be any truly positive and long-lasting change it has to begin with us from the bottom-up. The paradigm, or zeitgeist if you will, must change in creative and constructive ways. This must start with us each individually, as families, and local communities. We need to do it ourselves.

Tribal Tech

When developing permaculture designs and systems, it is important to consider both high-tech and low-tech strategies. A synthesis between tribal and civilized ways of doing things is optimal. It is important to use logic and reason to develop permaculture instead of relying on faulty habits or cultural bias.

It is difficult to argue against using some modern methods. Testing soil composition for heavy metals using modern chemistry, for example, is probably a good idea. On the other hand, looking at how indigenous people coped with their specific environments only makes sense as well.

When starting a permaculture project, the local climate and ecosystem must be taken into account. Techniques used in a rainforest, like the living vine bridges in India, will, quite obviously, not be appropriate in Death Valley California. Adopting aspects of indigenous tribes in a given area can be highly advantageous in that particular locale.

For instance, when attempting a permaculture project in southern Arizona, it may be helpful to find out how the tribes utilized the desert flora instead of relying solely on methods which require altering the environment to grow domestic plants from temperate Europe. In this case it would be advantageous to find out how to prepare cactus fruit as food and the medicinal uses of the Acacia. Dwellings built by tribal people exploited the laws of physics in a way that can be adapted and combined with modern techniques to great effect as well.

That having been said, anywhere you go you will find micro-climates. Things like walls, ponds, and trees, just to name a few, alter the environment on small scales. With a little creativity, tiny ecosystems, fundamentally different from much of the surrounding area, can be established and easily maintained. This is particularly helpful to keep in mind when, for example, there is a demand for fresh domestic tomatoes in the desert.

Housing

Ever notice that homes in Las Vegas Nevada are almost identical in construction to those built in Duluth Minnesota and Fairfax County Virginia? The tiles on the roves are sometimes different, mostly, though not entirely, for superficial reasons, but other than that the methods and designs are the same. Are these designs appropriate for every climate?

The amount of energy required to heat and cool conventional housing can only be described as exorbitant. It is generally accepted that one must pay increasingly more money to the monopolistic utility companies to avoid hypothermia and heat stroke. This is not necessary.

As Earthships are testament, such as those in Tao New Mexico, homes can be built in such a way that little or no power is needed to maintain a livable temperature. They accomplish heating in the winter with an expansive array of south-exposed windows which can be covered or shuttered when needed. To prevent overheating in the summer they allow breezes through and use an earth berm design which incorporates a water reservoir for added temperature moderation.

The amount of time and money spent maintaining traditional western housing is also noteworthy. Is it necessary to have specialized materials shipped in from far and wide such as roofing? The answer is no. An intelligent design will involve durable construction and/or locally available materials. Earthships, built mostly from cheap, reused, and locally available materials, illustrate this concept as well.

Although Earthships may not be optimal for every climate, they do illustrate how knowledge of physical properties can be used to create practical houses. The basic Earthship design has been used in a variety of areas with varying degrees of success. With slight modification they can be adapted to work well just about anywhere.

Water

As remarkable as it may seem, water falls from the sky. It is true: even in desert climates some precipitation occurs and dew tends to form as well. Exploiting this fact using clever design strategies can make a huge difference between dependency on corporations and government and the empowerment of independence.

In some places rainwater collection is, technically, illegal to do without a permit or licensing because it is considered “upstream” and those who have purchased “water rights” from the local fascist tyranny can be adversely affected. That having been said, these laws are rarely enforced because of the obvious absurdity of the notion that one does not have an innate right to the water that falls from the sky.

Although rainwater collection does divert water from going directly into the water table, it does not draw from the water table either so the net effect on groundwater and runoff is, at worst, zero. Because the water is used more efficiently in permaculture designs it can actually prevent overtaxing collective water reserves. Collecting rainwater should not hurt anyone but be sure to check your local laws and regulations first.

A good permaculture design takes the inevitable occurrence of drought into account as well. With efficient use of water, much less is required so drought can be more easily tolerated. Tao gets about twelve inches of precipitation a year, drought by most regional standards, but advocates of the design are confident they can fair well even in particularly dry years even there.

IMPORANT: please make sure you have done your homework so you do not kill yourself or your family with some sort of pathogen or other contaminant from improperly stored or untreated water.

Food

Have you ever thought about how much pesticides are in your food? How about artificial fertilizers made from petroleum distillates? Ever wonder if those artificial preservatives are good for you? Now, with the advent of genetically modified Roundup-ready crops there are probably herbicides in your food too.

Another aspect of permaculture mentality is the tendency to look for natural biological solutions before resulting to advanced technology and synthetic chemicals. Permaculture has a real potential to provide much safer, healthier food. This is not the only advantage, however. When instituted from the bottom up in a decentralized manner it can help decrease dependency on uncaring corporations and abusive government.

We could try to get our governments to give us sensible centrally planned agriculture. We could also try shaving the color off of a balloon with a double-edged razorblade which would be just as realistic. On the other hand, we can just make it happen by getting it done ourselves. Rural, suburban, and urban applications will be discussed in summary.

Rural Areas

The most obvious scenario would be a yuppie moving out to the country to build an Earthship. Also, small towns can benefit from many of the same applications of permaculture as the suburbs. However, the farmer or rancher who intends to remain competitive may do well to innovate. Much of the same sort of thinking can benefit the farmer.

Right now people are figuring out that what many call “organic” food is safer than “non-organic” food. They are also figuring out that the chemical companies are doing nasty things to their food in general. This is a non-partisan affair. Humans do not like to consume poison, apparently.

To clarify, we are talking about the gardening or USDA definition of “organic” not the definition of “organic” used in the physical sciences. In the physical sciences, anything containing carbon could be considered “organic.” This is not what is being discussed here. This article uses the word “organic” to mean no artificial fertilizers, additives, pesticides, herbicides, or genetically modified organisms.

Generally speaking, nobody who has done their research wants to eat genetically modified organisms (GMOs). For Liberals, generally, this issue is more of a concern due to humanitarian concerns. Farmers in “third-world” countries are committing suicide in droves because the GMO seeds they were sold did not produce greater yield as marketed. They also cannot replant without buying new seeds because of the modifications. Conservatives are instinctively wary of “Franken-foods” citing perplexingly non-biblical religious regions. Libertarians, people who do not like labels, and other individuals who like to learn and think for themselves, have generally learned that GMO is bad news and think they do not want to eat it for a whole host of reasons. This is an human issue, not a political one.

It can be reasonably assumed that nobody with any sense wants to eat herbicides, pesticides, genetic experiments, or artificially fertilized crops or animals who consume them. As a result, organic foods are rapidly gaining in popularity and there is every reason to believe that this trend will continue. Right now, the typical commercial farmer is using artificial fertilizers to compete. Any commercial farmer who chooses to employ new permaculture-inspired techniques to maximize crop yield without relying on petroleum derived chemicals will likely gain dominance in the market.

Suburbs

Probably the most effective way for suburbanites to break dependency on Big Agra involves coordinating with one’s neighbors to plan suburban crops. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this means one may actually have to talk to one’s neighbors. This can badly cut into time spent watching corporate-owned network television, but it can work.

Swiss communities have been doing it for some time so the only excuse as to why we cannot would be that the Swiss people are somehow better than other people. It is possible that the Swiss are somehow superior. It is also possible that we just need to collectively pull our heads out of our couch-warmers.

The basic premise is simple: the local community gathers to discuss planting and decide amongst each other who is to grow what in a given year. The most experienced gardeners can help the rest of the neighborhood work out the details. Different people can bring different resources forward, costs can be shared, and able-bodied adults and teenagers can help elderly and disabled households with their gardens.

Some may be uncertain the can contribute in a meaningful way. This is simply untrue. Even the physicist, engineer, or mechanic on the block can really come in handy. As Michael Tellinger astutely points out, sometimes rocket engineers make lousy farmers. However, any individual who has an understanding of basic physics can bring traditional gardening and farming to the next level by incorporating permaculture techniques. Even the lowly, humble rocket scientist can help in this area.

The permaculture technique that may first come to mind when discussing suburban permaculture gardening should probably be aquaponics. In the true spirit of permaculture, aquaponics creates an ecosystem by combining captive fish with a hydroponic gardening system. Some people just put the fish in barrels but a more charming and aesthetically pleasing fish pond can be retrofitted to serve the same purpose.

One of the biggest benefits of the aquaponic approach is efficient water usage. Unlike traditional backyard gardening, aquaponics creates a system where much less water is wasted. In most gardens water is just poured onto the ground and drains away. This creates a scenario where the water company can charge you more money for a resource which, as mentioned earlier, falls from the sky. Families in your community need not use excessive amounts of municipal or secondary water to produce food when aquaponics are applied.

Other added benefits of aquaponics include, among other things: mosquito control, ease of gardening for elderly (once established), and potentially fish farming so long as local laws are observed. Other benefits of such community projects involve social health and togetherness. If you love to hate your neighbors and want nothing to do with them, that is your choice, but understand that true currency is social currency. Relationships are more valuable than silver, gold, or even Devcoin.

Cities

The urban environment, though perhaps the most challenging, stands to gain the most through the application of permaculture. Altering the way we manage our cities is of the utmost importance. Food and water shortages tend to cause mass-death and explosive social strife in population centers.

As much as possible, food needs to be grown and produced in the cities themselves; efficient and sustainable energy production and usage needs to be explored; and sensible water collection, processing, and usage must be implemented. There are a number of proposed solutions to make cities greener, sustainable, and productive.

The following are just a few of many concepts which should be considered and implemented:

• Rooftop farms and gardens.
• Collecting and utilizing rainfall and runoff.
• Farm towers.
• Growing herbs in racks on interior walls.
• Fruit trees and bushes in any available parkland.
• Communal planting and harvesting.

Fortunately there are an abundance of existing organizations within cities devoted to promoting permaculture strategies. There are likely to be many more as time goes on; especially if you help get more underway. Reach out to existing organizations and start your own as needed.

Energy

There is an interesting internet rage about supposed “zero-point” technology. As fascinating as the possibility might be, it is not necessary. There are plenty of already developed technologies which can be used to produce energy. Below some, though certainly not all, alternative energy sources have been listed:

• Practical and bird-friendly vertical wind technology.
• Cyanobacteria powered buildings.
• Solar water heaters using cheap and readily available materials.
• Traditional photo-electric.
• Photo-voltaic cells.
• Hemp oil.
• Water wheels.
• Tidal.
• Geothermal.
• Wave.

Some of the abovementioned ideas would require a collective effort to implement and maintain such as geothermal. However, some of this technology is available on smaller scales which would be appropriate for farms or even individual houses. Even a simple solar water-heating system can reduce expenses significantly. If you are planning to get a five-hundred thousand dollar loan for a house, what would be the harm in putting some of that money toward a solar system?

Regional monopolies, oil cartels, and excessive government regulation feed off of our dependency on oil, coal, and natural gas. It behooves us, as individuals, families, and local communities, to invest our time, energy, and resources toward reducing this dependency. It is encouraged that anyone and everyone devote some thought to this matter.

Below are links to some permaculture resources and other sites which may provide some inspiration. This is by no means a comprehensive list. Additional research is advised. Including your Country, City, and/or State in your search string may be helpful.

General Permaculture

Aquaponics

Earthship Specific

Please note that this is an unpaid promotion. At the time of this writing, the author has not received any compensation from Earthship.com or any affiliates. The Earthship concept is showcased here to encourage sensible, physics-based, sustainable building practices in general.

Official Site

Critique


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