Friday, December 19, 2008

Prescient programming : Last week, Thursday evening revolved around the television, to the exclusion of all else: not an admission you might expect on a permaculture blog? It was definitely culture though, the denouement of the BBC’s excellent serialised adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel, Little Dorrit. In brief, it's about reversals of fortune and how characters cope with both poverty and wealth. The episode began with the sudden collapse of Mr Merdle’s bank, leaving the thousands of people who invested in him facing financial ruin. It was set around 1855–57; in December 2008, we learn of the fall of another financial empire, not of the fictional Merdle but rather a very-much-real-life Madoff and his fraud of around $50 billion, leaving some rich clients penniless. A case symptomatic of the recent catastrophic near collapse of the global capitalist system.

I think it would be right to say that Gabrielle and I inhabit the middle classes. Normally, we read of bad news but don’t directly suffer: there exists a comfort zone between bad news and personal experience. On Wednesday, following days of a fair ski-slope of a decent in the value of the pound, I clicked on the website I habitually use to keep an eye on the £ / € rate to find it had tumbled a further 3% during the day. (Our revenues, including renting out our holiday cottage, come in £s.) So it is beginning to hurt. I’m not asking for any sympathy nor beating my breasts but I’ve found the experience rather sobering and instructive.

Cushioned from the stark realities, many middle class greenies—which includes us— are encouraged to believe that we can consume our way to a better world: Buy Fair Trade coffee. Buy organic bananas. Maybe even justify a long-haul flight on the basis that it’s eco-tourism. But, you know, that really isn’t the answer, whatever it is that we buy. You’ll be familiar with the eco-mantra “reduce, REUSE, RECYCLE” but, I suggest, we forget too easily the first and most important of these: REDUCE.

David Holmgren, co-originator of the permaculture concept, has it as “refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle” (Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, p 112). Now I don’t profess to really understand how Capitalism functions but it does seem to be predicated on consumption and growth—implying accelerating consumption. To quote Holmgren further:
The industrial processes that support modern life can be characterised by an input–output model, in which the inputs are natural materials and energy while the outputs are useful things and services. However, when we step back from this process and take a long-term view, we can see all these useful things end up as wastes (mostly in rubbish tips) and that even the most ethereal of services required the degradation of energy and resources to wastes. This model might be better characterised as “consume–excrete”. The view of people as simply consumers and excreters might be biological, but it is not ecological.

So we now have an extra incentive to reconsider our consumption. While I’ve got my head in Holmgren’s book, Gabrielle is currently studying Rob Hoskins’ The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience”. She’s been shocked by what she’s read and has moved from someone who thought she was pretty aware about climate change and peak oil to someone who is in no doubt of the situation, the challenges that face us and the need to take action. We’ve agreed to swap books when we come to the end and I’ll write again on the subject when I’ve read it.

Next blog, I’ll tell you how Gabrielle is still putting fresh green leaves-either as salad or cooked—on the table, two days before the winter solstice.


Val Grainger said...

Exactly! Everyone knows the 'R' mantra but when thought about carefully it is sobering! Reduce is the one along with refuse that everyone finds hard. We have been trying to get a remortgage of our property and according to the numerous people we speak to on the phone we live on far too little money!!! We keep being asked questions such as 'how much is your monthly clothing and entertainment budget??? what sort of allowances do you give your teenage son? How much do you spend per month on takeaways and eating out? Which satellite tv channels do you subscribe to?'
When I answer none or nothing to all these questions they get jittery.....and start to think i am telling porkies........they then ask about our food spending and cannot work out why its so low....i tell them we produce lots of veg and all our own meat and they cannot comprehend it!

Refuse and reduce along with reuse and recycle has no place in most peoples lives.....a shocking fact!

We want to buy another business unit to reuse and recycle waste wool to help other companies reduce their environmental impact.......they (the mortgage companies) think we are a rather weird lot and keep referring us to yet more underwriters who scratch their heads and fail to understand how we live debt free on our income!!

Now if we had an unstable job in say banking and could be made redundant at any moment but earned 90k they would have no problem lending us wonder the credit crunch is sustainable!

Louise Pen y Graig said...

Hi, I've recently discovered your blog and am reading it from the beginning, hence the comment nearly three years on! So far there have been many things I can relate to as we have a 4 acre smallholding in North Wales and have kept sheep, goats etc. We still have chickens, geese and bees and for the last few years have been redesigning it along permaculture lines.
It was the bit about consuming our way to a green world that really resonated as it is something I tend to be guilty of this. Also the flying, we have a daughter in Jersey city (US) who we visit more than we should on environmental ground but I con myself that I can 'permaculture' my way out of this through woodland regeneration and building soil. This is a long way from the really drastic steps we need to take!

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Sept. '11

I'm laid low with a bad back, thanks to trying to help a friend move a very large and very ugly repro duke box so have been slogging my way through my inbox.

That's my excuse for not replying to your comments earlier. Thank you for stopping by to leave a comment, I always appreciate them.

Val, blimey, I posted this back in 2008 and we're still so very preoccupied with the ongoing stresses in the world of finance but not talking about the environmental stresses which are so much more important. No environment, no finance.

Louise, you have a very interesting story to tell ... but no blog. Get blogging and tell us all about the permaculture makeover, I'd be very interested to read about it. Happy reading.